Ignite


I've heard people say the veil is thin in places like hospitals since so many souls are straddling two worlds. It's one of the reasons they can be uncomfortable to visit. 

There's nothing to distract you from your own mortality and potential loss. There's no filter between you and the greatest love that exists - the perfect kind of love that we came from, and where we'll return. 

In our daily lives, the pettiness and the "stuff" we build around ourselves shield us from having to face these universal truths. The saying "the devil's in the details" is correct. Details are the easiest way for us to forget our true selves.

To stay as close to the truth as possible, to pursue worthy goals and keep what's essential at heart, I'm choosing a word for 2017.

My word for 2017 is Ignite. 

The best way to clear away distractions is to light them on fire. 


Need courage to begin? 
Switch on the ignition. 

Worried about what others think? 
Burn up your desire to please everyone. 

Forgotten who you are? 
You are the flame.





Psychiatric Interviews


Filling out new psych patient forms is like looking at the scariest parts of yourself - all at once, in nervous handwriting, crammed onto a few sheets of paper.

Whenever I have to fill these out, I couch it in hours of self-care. I ground myself, build myself up a little, and bake something yummy. Then I gingerly slide the packet out from underneath a stack of heavy books. I wipe my brow and click the pen.

It's as if a complete stranger sits you down and says, "Now tell me all the things you hide about yourself."

That stranger makes a permanent record of all your shadow aspects and matter-of-factly says, "Mm-hmm, and how broken is your body?" You're asked to list your ugly medical history, your family's medical history. Not all the years you were fine and healthy, just all the times the poo hit the fan.

You realize that you're holding your breath. You're still alive, but only because there is a tiny amount of air escaping in and out of your lungs.

Without pausing, that stranger levels you by asking, "Tell me about the mental health of your blood relatives. How messed up is your family?"

You're beginning to shake and wobble. You think, Good Lord, I'm only 3 questions into this packet. You tap the pen on your lips and also think, How many extra pages stapled on is too many?

Finally, the stranger gathers some benign details and statistics. Just when you think you're nearing the end, you flip the page.

You must run down a checklist of "behaviors." These aren't pretty happy shiny behaviors because that wouldn't tell them anything useful. They don't ask, "Are you helpful and kind?" or "What do you excel at the most?" or "Are you good at baking cookies?"

Instead, that stranger leans in close to you and whispers, "How do you cope with all this pain and uncertainty? Do you spend too much money, join cults, bites your nails, eat only purple foods? . . ."


In the end, I check the boxes, feeling a little piece of myself chipped off with each mark. I tuck the packet under the heavy stack of books, so it won't accidentally end up on fire in the backyard.

Then I watch the Food Network and wait for my family to get home and help me remember that I'm really okay. All the things I have to do to stay healthy are difficult, but at least I'm doing them.

There are a lot scarier things than these psych forms. Not ever doing the psych forms, for instance, would mean that I was living in denial or in fear and not getting treated. My battered brain chemistry would be dictating my decisions.

I consciously choose to look at my darkness, so I can be the light, as well.




How I Set Boundaries


If you're a highly empathetic person, it's almost impossible to get through a day without feeling trampled - - unless you create and maintain proper boundaries for yourself. 

Boundaries are essential now when distant family is reunited and holiday parties are common.

We pick up the ability to read people in childhood. It keeps us safe. When that trait is overdeveloped and if we never learn how to have healthy separation from others, we can quickly sink into anyone else's misery, fear, or angst.

We might mistakenly believe that it's our job to make other people happy. It sounds silly, but it's automatic for a lot of us. We feel a heavy failure when we don't succeed. We tell jokes, make grand gestures, and give of our oil instead of our light.

We're left drained and devoid of the desire to be around any other humans for a while. (Cue the furry pet snuggling, a novel, and pajamas.)


As a mother, a grocery shopper, a friend, or a neighbor, I can pick up on the slightest anxiety. I can take it on as my own, believing that suffering with them is somehow helping them. Except when I do that, I have to help myself out of it, as well.

I finally understood a few years ago that I needed to remain outside the problem to most effectively guide another person. So as a woman who tends to blindly step into the abyss with a pained soul, I need constant reminding that I'm not that other person. I'm not responsible for their problems or their feelings. 

I might help them as a listener, and maybe even a guide, if they're willing. But I should not embody their situation and fix it for them. (See my many references to the need for control in other posts.)
When there is no distinct line between another person and me, it clouds my judgment, drains me, and enables other people's negative behaviors.



How do I remind myself 
that I'm a separate person?


1. I have to be constantly and highly self-aware. Since I have a lot of practice juggling mania and depression, I have a plan in place when I feel like I'm not fully present in my body.


2. I identify the signs that tell me a person is anxious, sad, empty, angry, etc. Sometimes that means being able to deconstruct feelings and look beyond someone's words. Even if the words are aimed at me and meant to hurt, I remember:

  This is about them, not about me.






3. I change the topic of conversation gracefully.

  I'm not responsible for their happiness.


4. If there's no way to change the topic, I try to remain grounded in my own skin. Therapists teach panic attack sufferers to feel deep into the ground. I turn into a processor of sorts. I shut off the "feeling" energies in their presence. 


5.  Later, I'm grateful that I handled the situation without crumbling if that's true. I translate any new data into opportunities for my own personal growth.


6. I'm aware of the topics that are nearly impossible for me to discuss objectively. They're the subjects that cause me to wave my hands around in the air wildly and talk in a shrill voice. 

That might change, but there's still some healing to be done. 




Why 40 is Fun and Scary: Part 2


Subtitle: Planking, Dabbing, and Bottle-Flipping vs. Ripped Jeans, Super Mario, and “the Bangs.”

My youngest son ran to me yesterday and told me to hurry downstairs because my other son was planking in the kitchen. I walked down to find my nine-year-old with his nose pressed into the granite on the island, his body stretched across the gap, and his man-feet millimeters from my fresh fruit on the counter. An image of me wheeling him into the ER explaining that he cracked his skull while planking flashed into my mind.

And that is one of the least annoying trends in my house right now. Dabbing has replaced the Whip and Nae Nae. Bottle-flipping can be heard at all times of the night and day. In a weak and strained moment, my mind began forming the words, What is wrong with kids today? So these things are now prohibited in our home.

I recovered quickly from the bottle-flipping fury, however, because a couple of years ago I armed my children with an old picture of me. In it, I’m wearing shredded jeans. I have braces, a banana clip, and, of course, bangs that nearly touched heaven.

If I’d been holding a Nintendo controller, it would have been the perfect snapshot of my generation at that time. It’s a great reminder that strange trends cross our path as young people and define us  - good, bad, or silly.

My kids could rightly ask, “Mommy, why did you destroy the ozone layer with Aqua Net?” 

I would have to hang my head and say, “Bangs were a status symbol, my children, like tiny waists in Victorian England, or foot-binding in China, but the opposite. The taller the wall of stiffened hair, the more glory and mystique that surrounded you.”

Of course, we 40 year-olds can take some satisfaction in knowing that when kids today have their own kids they'll have to explain not just planking, but poop emojis, too.







Why 40 is Fun and Scary: Part 1

I feel grateful to have lived in a non-computerized world for a time, and then to have watched the digital beast unfurl itself as a young woman. Every new tool is both a wonder and an annoyance to me.

I appreciate the beauty and the possibilities of the tech but also had no problem to be solved by the new tools available.

For example, if I were 25 I might think a Fitbit was kinda fun.

Since I’m 40 and I have kids, I don’t need anything to tell me how long I slept. Anyone who has taken care of an infant has the uncanny ability to tell you when they woke up, got out of bed, almost fell asleep on the couch, went back to bed, only to shut their eyes 42 minutes later and finally fall back asleep. A gadget documenting that would get punched in the face.

As a writer, this dilemma appears quite often. I could be streaming music from YouTube with wireless headphones while I’m on the elliptical machine dictating the first draft of a novel into Evernote, which will automatically appear on all my linked platforms. I could even purchase a Moleskine Smart Writing Set that digitizes notes and drawings that I write on smart paper with a smart pen.

OR, I could dig a stubby pencil and a grimy little notebook out of my bag and write notes while I’m sitting on the bleachers watching my kids practice. Then I can rip the tiny pages out of the notebook later and tape them together into a patchwork of ideas.  I can pin that crazy word quilt on the cork board above my desk and visualize the story that way.

I have one foot in the world of a gritty life where everyone smoked cigarettes and jeans felt like cardboard. The other foot is in a Swiss-engineered high-performance compression sock for athletes. The set cost $40. They’re like butter.


And I love it.

November

This was inspired by a sweet little post over at Sea Blue Lens.

The writer is a sister-blogger who lives in southern Maine. I love her photography and her sincere, soothing reflections. I secretly hope that by hanging out on her blog I, too, will be able to take inspiring photos one day. I also feel like I'm getting a peek into the future. Since she's north of me and in a time zone to the east, her autumn and winter arrive earlier than mine. 

Her latest post about November helped me realize that it's my favorite month. She described the once colorful leaves turning brown and beginning to decay in the cold drizzle. I realize that to some this transition is sad, even mournful.



For my perennially depressed people and me, I think, Finally! The skies match my inner gray. The crisp air bites and snaps like my sharp moods. Everyone around me starts to retreat indoors, rushing from a heated car to a warm house. As an introvert who could happily never leave her little office library, I do that year round.



My love for November also represents acceptance. When the child-like illusion that we'll all live in eternal sunshine in this life is pierced, you can fight it or embrace reality. The coming bleak white and gray of winter allows me to sink down into my inner world just a little deeper.



By spring, the first joyful tufts of green make my heart skip a beat. I smile at my kids' celebration of warmth, and I accept that my insulated dark days are coming to an end. I'll be expected to step out of the flow of writing and join "activities." 

It's the sacrifice I make to have my fall again next November.

A Bleeding Heart's Guide to Positive Change


Bleeding Heart is my default setting. 

Combined definitions of bleeding heart: dangerously soft-hearted; showing extravagant sympathy for an object of alleged persecution; giving in to emotions quickly

I'm not putting myself down. I love my heart as-is. It is my greatest strength and also my biggest vulnerability. It doesn't always serve me well. Sometimes I work to override it and break things down logically, calculating risks and studying facts. Ideally, I balance out the two naturally and act from that place. 

Right now that balance is helping me shape an action plan for life. It's helping me reconcile the stark differences between my philosophy and others. My job is to honor that part of myself and still be a responsible citizen.

Instead of crying uncontrollably or kicking down the Trump signs that people put in their yards (after the election no less), I retreated to the land of cold hard facts. Reasoning is my only tool.

I read a fantastic article that helped me understand people who voted for Trump. I enjoyed it because the social psychologist interviewed did not use derogatory labels. He studied facts and communicated the statistics. (A win for math and science and a helpful article.)

Jonathan Haidt says this:

Exactly, that’s right. I’m a fan of the political scientist Karen Stenner, who divides the groups on the right into three: The laissez-faire conservatives or libertarians who believe in maximum freedom, including economic freedom and small governance; the Burkean conservatives, who fear chaos, disruption, and disorder — these are many of the conservative intellectuals who have largely opposed Trump.

And then there are the authoritarians, who are people who are not necessarily racist but have a strong sense of moral order, and when they perceive that things are coming apart and that there’s a decrease in moral order, they become racist — hostile to alien groups including blacks, gay people, Mexicans, etc. This is the core audience that Trump has spoken to.

That’s not to say that most people who voted for him are authoritarians, but I think this is the core group that provides the passion that got him through the primaries.

Since this was the second mention of authoritarians supporting Trump in my world in the same week, I had a visceral reaction. I felt the adrenaline surge and wash over my extremities. My mind said, "Whoa, we don't need to flee or fight." My body said, "Really!? Because authoritarian is a super scary word."

When I reread the words, I noticed a HUGE commonality. Most of those people feared the world was falling apart, just as I feel now. Who has the right to keep their world? 

The answer is none of us. The liberals were slapped down. We are tripping over our own bleeding hearts trying to figure out why there's so much hate. 

If I've learned anything in my life, it's this: When people act out of fear, they're making decisions from a compressed, dark, and limiting headspace. Their actions scream, "Protect me and my own. Dehumanize the other. Might makes right. Force."




Two ways we can combat that mentality in ourselves and others:


1.     Education 

I don't just mean math and science. Those are essential, but I'm talking about the case for a liberal arts education available to everyone because it makes GOOD HUMAN BEINGS. Liberal Arts students have a broad knowledge of history and the inevitable cycles in societies. They can make thoughtful decisions.

One cannot, of course, force people to learn, but if it's financially out of reach for the demographic that is leaning toward authoritarianism, we're done. You can't argue with authoritarian. That's kinda the point.

We can offer people a different kind of power. Education is power. It greases the social wheels. It removes barriers to jobs, mental healthcare, and everything a person needs to be whole.

Power over Force.


2.     Belief in the Growth Mindset

Holding the belief that our brains can heal themselves and learn how to do better will protect our hearts from bleeding out. 




This is me being the change I want to see:



Good Things About Trump Being 
President-Elect So Far


  • It's a chance for any citizen to dig into how our election process works and question whether it's still viable.


  • Those who felt there was no longer a need for feminism or the Civil Rights Act may be jolted into a new awareness.


  • President-Elect Trump is clearly being educated. With new information he has changed his rhetoric when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, prosecuting Hillary Clinton, climate change, and other issues. 








5 Hottest Women

By "hot" I mean, on fire with amazing ideas and the courage to act on them. 

Also, I don't give a crap how they look in a bathing suit.



Sandra Day O'Connor

She grew up in the desert on a ranch near the Arizona-New Mexico border. She fell off horses, was stung by scorpions, knew the value of water, had a bobcat for a pet, and had mares named Hysterectomy, Scarhead, and HellBitch. She was toughened the old-fashioned way and, of course, became the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice in 1981. 


Susannah Conway

This photographer opened up and showed women how to journal, take pictures, and run a heart-centered business. Her website inspires and attracts women from all over the world to connect and share their stories through art. This post of hers partially inspired mine.


My Sister

Because this is my list, and she's truly remarkable. She's the woman you want by your side when you have a medical emergency, a veterinary emergency, or a bar fight. Need a ninja mom who has both homeschooled her kids and jumped out of airplanes? She is that person and also never loses a handstand contest. She could be the most interesting woman in the world.

                          Update: 

I may have made my sister seem like a maniac. What I should have written is this-  

You would never know she had jumped out of airplanes or saved countless people's lives because she is quiet in her strength and she fiercely protects the people she loves. That is the kind of strength I see in her. Just because I have a wild imagination and see her delivering a roundhouse kick to some fool in a dusty old bar who insulted her, doesn't mean she actually did that. It just means she could if she felt like it.


Joan of Arc

In the 1400s she convinced the monarchy to let her lead a 4,000 person army and lower the taxes on her hometown. She wore men's clothing, and had an ironclad belief in herself and her divine role on earth. She was burned at stake for being a heretic and/or a witch. (They burned her twice, just to be sure.) I'm sure her eternal soul greatly appreciated being made a saint 500 years later. Thanks, Men in Power, but she didn't need your validation to be awesome.


Maggie Stiefvater

An intrepid writer, she drags a reader into her stories with incredible figurative language. She also shares her writing process online, which makes her one of my heroes.




This post was inspired by a news story I read yesterday. My nostrils flared, and I exercised to exhaustion, but I was still irritated. I intentionally focus on the good, true, and light in this space, so I won't magnify ignorance, but I will send out some equal and opposite knowledge to counter it.





The feminist fire has been stoked yet again.






Thankful for my "people"



This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for the safe place I have to experiment with my writing. I'm thankful for my "people."

I once heard someone say there is no difference between art and prayer. I thought to myself, Yes, that's exactly right.

The fiction I have been writing addresses my deepest fears and my greatest wishes for humanity. I feel an enormous sense of responsibility for communicating those ideas clearly. 

When it comes to writing as art, talent can be built; grammar can be checked; style can be developed. Something like a novel usually starts with a huge, unanswered question, or an intense kernel of inspiration: 

Why do terrible things happen? 

What happens when people act out of fear?

How far should a leader go to protect her people?

What if there is no God? 

What if there is a God?


As a hypersensitive, joy-seeking person, I can often find myself falling into despair when difficult, sad things happen. Instead of hiding in a shell or building up a shield around me, I rewrite reality. I swap out the characters and the setting. I put them in peril and imagine how my protagonist will win out in the end.




So, if you're kind enough to take the time to evaluate someone's art, acknowledge what it takes for a person to put herself out there. Then find something helpful to say about what she shared before you give constructive criticism. 

I'm lucky to be surrounded by supportive family and friends who read endless drafts, laugh at my mistakes with me, and make me feel heard and understood in a very deep way.

Thank you, People.

For the Ladies and the not-so-ladylike Ladies


Someone recently suggested that I stop "airing my dirty laundry" in public. I'm grateful for that encounter because it made me want to dump the whole basket of laundry out. It also reminded me that I speak for those who can't. 

Suffering in silence isn't noble and can impede spiritual growth. 

My job is to be the best version of myself. I already tried not speaking. I hid stories and tried to suffocate them by not breathing. It made me sick. Writing the truth, even when it's not palatable, fills my lungs and banishes mental gremlins.

I don't view what I do as putting my problems on display. Writing is therapeutic because you can hold your thoughts in your hands. You can read them over with fresh eyes another day. You can light them on fire. You can even stash them in a locked drawer. The point is you have acknowledged something. They are less powerful that way.




Ever since I was a headstrong twenty-something, I have been overwhelmed by what my female ancestors have offered me in this lifetime. I remember saying to one of my favorite aunts when she asked me what I might write about years ago: "It always comes back to the women for me."

No disrespect to the men. I simply have a sacred duty to tell the women's stories. I find myself drawn again and again to the polarities of women - the heaviness and lightness they embody.

The heaviness is the kind that you feel when gathering clay in your hands and kneading it - earthy, watery, muddy. It's the life-giving creative force from which we're born. The lightness is the belief in things unseen that we use to endure the endless cycles of waiting, wounding, and forgiving ourselves.   

We all have stories passed down in our families of amazing people that came before us. They lived the kinds of strenuous lives that make our problems seem insignificant. My grandmother baked bread from scratch for her Mennonite family in an outdoor oven every day as a girl. She gathered the fuel from the fields, burned it down to just the right temperature, and baked the loaves she would feed to her parents and eight brothers and sisters.

I'm not going to lie. Older people used to irritate me when they tried to put their limits around what I said and did. It felt suffocating and frankly, it flew in the face of my unhealthy need to please and comfort people around me. In those cases, I couldn't be true to myself and abide by their rules.

At some point, though, I recognized that their journeys started long before mine and I couldn't possibly know all that they knew. They had different limitations to destroy and different scandals to incite - no less important than my own. 

My compromise was this: I heard them, accepted them, and respected them. Then I still went ahead and did whatever it was that seemed so scandalous.



Because my generation's job is to not wear pantyhose. (That was the first thing I knew for sure.)

Our next job is just to say it. 

Say it out of a loving place with impeccably chosen words, but say it nonetheless. If we don't say it, the next generation will have to.


             So, here goes:


            "No, I will not participate in ever-higher expectations for kids. Yes, I am going to hold dinnertime as an untouchable event, and no sports or school presentations or anything else will interfere with it."

             "No, I will not calm down. My anger, grief, sadness, and ebullience are natural emotions and won't stuff them into a tiny box."

             "No, I will not blindly accept society's labels.  Yes, I define myself. My worth is what I say it is."

             "No, I will not stop talking."


10 Steps to Writing a Book


To write a great novel:

1.     First you have to write a garbage, nonsense novel. 

2.     You need to shred that draft and shout, "I hate writing!" 

3.     You have to fall in love with the seed of your story again.





4.     Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you have written a "meh" novel that's disjointed. You must ignore proper nutrition, grammar, and personal hygiene to simply get words onto the page.

5.     You have to dream at night inside the fictional world you've been creating from the ground up for a year.

6.     You must take a risk and share the 15th draft. You need to print it out and suddenly see your work in a whole new light, unworthy of sharing. 

7.     You have to share it anyway - to get perspective.

8.     While they're reading it, you have to reassure yourself that no one writes a cohesive inspiring book in just a few drafts, bring your reader some coffee, and keep the kids in the basement so they're not disturbed.

9.     Working through the plot holes one by one, you must focus on the finished product and edit until your vision is blurry.


That's all I know so far, but...



10.    I'm pretty sure this step  involves letting go of "perfect" and releasing your story into the wild in the hopes that it entertains, inspires, and elicits joy from its readers.


So, if you see me wandering through the grocery store in yoga pants and fuzzy hair murmuring to myself, I didn't stop taking my medication. I'm just being a writer.





I'm Writing the Post I Need to Read Today

The mental Reset button on my brain has been pushed. I was crushed the morning after the election.

Sometimes something so fundamentally strange and jarring happens that I can't even begin to process it right away. In these cases, I allow myself the feelings that bubble up, whether they're angry, humbling, or devastating.

Then I put one foot in front of the other.

I call on the best parts of myself:  the hope, the creativity, the faith in education, the understanding and the pure compassion. I meditate, make a cup of tea, hug a friend, immerse myself in art, and of course, write.

Since I have bipolar disorder, I have lots of practice waiting - not acting until I can see more clearly. This was one of those times. So, a few of days after Trump was elected to represent me, my daughter, and the rest of America I'll say my piece.

I haven't been loud about it in the past but I am a Feminist. 

I have always been a feminist, I just usually call it "being loving." I love myself enough to believe that I'm worthy of joy. This whole blog is me being a feminist. Staying at home with my kids is me being a feminist. 

I know that most men are thoughtful loving people who aren't afraid of women. They understand that raising the status of women doesn't take anything away from men, and is, in fact, one mark of a successful society. 

I wanted to make this statement because I have loads of friends that think differently than I do. They abhor the word feminist. Many of those friends suggested people should be quiet and stop complaining after the election.

Ummm . . . No.  I still love you, but No.

That's not what I do. It actually triggers warning bells in my head when people tell me to be quiet. That usually means I'm on the right track. I speak for women who can't speak for themselves. I speak for women who are tied to and dependent on good-old-boys - - the women who grew up being good girls and feel it's better to be ladylike than to have a dissenting opinion.

I've been reminded of how easily things change when we operate under the "might makes right" philosophy.


This magazine lives between my Kings James Bible
 and my Harry Potter books. I like to stay well-rounded.


I don't live in an echo chamber. 

I do the hard work of hashing out differences with people who are not like-minded. It's dangerous and insulting to stereotype people who disagree with me, believing they're universally racist or misogynist. That's overly simplistic and not at all accurate.

I'm one of the progressive liberals who heard the rumblings of discontent from secret Trump supporters. I still believed Clinton was the better choice and that meant she would be elected.

Some of my friends can't afford healthcare. Some of them believed voting Clinton into office would open the gates to Hell. I read an article written by a Muslim woman of color who voted for Trump explaining that she took the risk that the people wouldn't let him act on the hyperbolic statements he made during his campaign. She wasn't making it financially and was anti-establishment.

These are my questions: Who is the establishment now? Have we killed decency and equality hoping that things won't spin terribly out of control? 

I hope not.

I hope Trump and his team work furiously through this dark night and astonish us all with their plans for unification and progress.

That's where I'm putting my hope. More practically, just in case the hyperbolic and hateful promises Trump made actually happen, I'm preparing for battle.


When I started studying feminism seriously, I was presented with the old guard feminists who wanted to work within the system as it was to improve the status of women. There was another group that believed the current system was built on flawed ideas and needed to be burnt to the ground and reformed.

I tended to side with the old guard. I was young, peaceful, and hopeful. The unfortunate side effect of my own country electing a man who has sexually assaulted women (among other things) is that I'm reconsidering whether or not this system provides what we need.


The only thing I'm sure of, is that this is NOT the time to be quiet. If anything, I've been too quiet.

Poetry and lyrics can crystallize ideas. Here is a gem that amplifies what I'm currently feeling:



Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
    purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

--Naomi Shihab Nye, from The Words Under the Words







Living in Two Worlds

I am officially participating in NaNoWriMo again this year. This really means that I am living in two worlds: the regular, mundane world of mom business & the exciting world of fantasy fiction.

It's my second time attempting National Novel Writing Month. Last year was a reality check - a fantastic "growth experience," I like to call it.

My goal is to write 2100 words a day of fiction. This translates into 3 writing sprints of 45 minutes each. No internet, no phone, and no cleaning. That last part might sound strange, but I can honestly admit that I dusted the top of my kitchen cabinets last week purely to avoid writing.

I have completed 1 sprint of the 90 sprints for the month. I thought that warranted a blog post. I need to celebrate that fact that I am actually doing what I set out to do. Not only that, but it is now 1.1% completed!

As an amusing side note, I thought I'd include a list of some of the things I've googled while researching for my book.



THINGS I'VE GOOGLED WHILE 
RESEARCHING FOR MY STORY


1. Are maggots safe to eat?


2. Bald eagle poacher high on drugs



This picture cracks me up.


3. French surnames in 1900 Missouri

4. Supershear earthquakes

5.  Is comeuppance a real word?

6. Minerals found in southern Illinois caves

7. Sexiest name for male protagonist (because my husband insisted I not use his name.)

8. Ways to die in Shawnee forest (Answer: Hypothermia & Water-born illness are the most common. Since these seemed decidedly un-romantic, I went with falling off the magnificent bluffs along the river.)





I'll keep you posted on my progress with NaNoWriMo & my googling.

It's time to slip back into my fantasy world. Ready, Set, Go!

Sneak Peek

In typical hypomanic fashion, I am working on 8,000 projects simultaneously. Here is a little snippet from my book I Am Awesome at Depression (very close to being done - for real). I would love feedback as I'm still in the editing stage.





This is my golden record*. It’s a space capsule waiting to be discovered by other potential life in the universe. It’s my life and my understanding of it transcribed into 21st century human English and transmitted electronically to whoever may come across it. 

Carl Sagan's Golden Record launched in the Voyager in 1977

Upon reading it, they will either decide it's gibberish, space garbage that floated into their atmosphere, or it will pierce a tiny hole in the illusions they use to shield themselves. They will know someone out there understands them.

When I was 24, I taught French at a school for gifted kids. In most ways, they were typical gangly middle schoolers, except when they looked at me from their desks, their sincerity and open heartedness took my breath away. Like most young adults, I was still carrying fresh memories of feeling ignored, misunderstood, and powerless as a child.

As the “adult” I promised I would never waste my students’ time and I would treat them like the precious beings they were. It was my chance to remake the world into a place I wanted to live. So instead of simply drilling verb conjugations, we sat together for 45 minutes every day and read The Little Prince aloud.

There are so many eloquent truths in The Little Prince. It is a gentle introduction to mortality, a reminder of what is essential to our existence, and the many paths we can take to forget what’s really important. It helps us remember who we are and why we are. The themes from the Little Prince’s story gilded my own. They helped me map my spirit and navigate the painful process of awakening into adulthood. It couldn’t have been any other way.

While I have lived my life chronologically, my understanding of things dips into the past and back to the present reverberating like frequencies in the universe, so that’s how I’m telling the story. We all have experiences that teach us something so fundamentally true, that it feels like we are coming back to an understanding that we had at one time already, perhaps before this existence.

When we are able to put this knowing into words, we feel in our bones that it has always been true, but we are just at this moment remembering it. I call this knowing God. We are an important part of this equation. Without our blundering and recognition and verbalizing, the truth is still there, but we haven’t illuminated it.

I don’t like to think of time as a straight line anyway. Imagine a sphere with an infinite number of offset pyramids drawn inside it. Each chapter here is a point on one of the circumscribed triangles. The point of light where the triangles meets the sphere is the point at which I bounced off the edge and traveled toward my next great life lesson.


*As part of the Voyager launched in 1977, Carl Sagan included a golden record, a time capsule he believed represented the greatest of human accomplishments and spirit. 






Chapter 1


WILD


An Unexpected Gift

The hourglass has been flipped. All four of my parents' parents are already on the other side of this existence. Losing them thrust me into reflection. Since my Uncle Abe and my grandmother have both recently passed away, I wanted to share this little vignette I jotted down a couple years ago. It is one way I choose to honor them and their imprints on my life.



Perched on the mountain brow in Hamilton, Ontario, my grandmother’s home was a special place to me when I was a kid. Video games, computers, cell phones, and the like hadn't yet crossed the threshold. Being in my grandma's home was a respite from the pressures of the world. This was a woman who used to bake the bread for her family in an outdoor brick oven as a girl. Her strength was forged by a simple Mennonite upbringing and raising a large family. 

I knew this might be the only time my own children could peek into their great-grandmother’s sewing room and be delighted by the upheaval of colors and textures piled on the worn wooden table. They might never again have the chance to see links of sausage hanging next to the old washtub, or collections of Mennonite history books stacked next to the record player. These were the intimate details that made my grandma so different from all the other grandmothers.




An 18-hour drive did not dampen my excitement to see the little brown house again. I raced ahead of my own kids and beat them to the front door. After hugs and customary greetings, my grandma turned her hearing aids down. This means, "I'm tired," so I sent the kids to poke around in the basement and turned to my uncle. He said, "I'm going to get some supper started, eh." He walked to the kitchen and gave me some time to absorb long-forgotten details in my grandma's house. 

I quietly slipped into my grandma's sewing room. I could hear my kids' whispery breath as they peeked through the cracked door to watch me run my hands over pin cushions, thimbles, and fabrics. Better than books, theses items told stories, showed their history in patina, long past trends, and stockpiled scraps from an entire lifetime.

Since my grandma was 95 at the time, I knew that soon this house would be emptied. All her remaining children would carry away the tiny bed opposite the sewing machine and the watchful portrait of a doe-eyed girl in a colorful dress that hung above it. The family would be forever changed. Instead of sadness, though, I felt grateful to have been a part of it.

Giggles brought me back to the present day. I was the mother now and my kids were growing restless. We walked to the park, played tag in the yard, and looked at old pictures. Finally the kids craved something familiar and watched a movie so we could finish getting supper on the table.

In my grandma's kitchen, the small juice glasses were standing on the counter waiting to be dunked, scrubbed, and rinsed. Warm water and clean-smelling suds always calmed my heart. 

I placed the last glass in its spot and carefully sidled up to my Uncle Abe under the glow of the stove light. I stretched my arm around his shoulders and squeezed. My head fell into his shoulder and we stared into the old cast iron skillet together. He couldn't get away because he was pushing potatoes and onions around in the oily pan with a fork. He wouldn't risk burning my grandma's Dikakeilkya just to escape my hug.




"You still do that, eh?" 

Random hugs to replace words I can't speak, I thought, Yes, I still do that.

I could have said, "Love me now, while I'm here. Let's have long conversations punctuated with explosive laughter or stifled tears. Tell me stories that only you know." I might have suggested that there are greater and more powerful things than failing organs and heavy regret.

Instead I hugged him tighter. Eyes shining, I left him with an imprint of innocent hope.


I'm glad I didn't speak and savored the stillness instead. Words would have only detracted from the beingness of that moment.



When  my first child was born, my Uncle Abe wrote her a letter. He asked that it not be opened until he was gone. When I read it I felt so loved. 


Dear little one,

If this letter has been opened before you receive it, I hereby grant you permission to yell at your mom, this one time – for 15 seconds.

I am your Great Uncle Abe on your mother’s side and as I write this you are only a few days old. A few months before you were born, your parents decided to move for reasons they described as a warmer climate. I suppose that’s my tough luck for I’ll miss visiting during the growing and learning years – watching you become an adult.

When your mom was a little girl, her mother regularly took the time and made the effort to visit. At that time I was unable to travel so I greatly appreciated the joy your mom always gave to me. As a three-year-old who told stories, as a pre-teen who had the ability to converse as an adult, as a twenty-something busy being courted, as a wife and as a mother-to-be, she always greeted me with a smile and a hug.

Everyone inherits traits from their parents, physical traits as well as personality traits. I remember that up to age 5 my parents were God to me. By age 10 I had discovered to my extreme disappointment, anger and dismay that they had feet of clay. In a few years I had resolved never to be like my parents in any way. But shortly it was confirmed as I had suspected earlier, my feet were no better.

So if there is a trait passed on to you from your parents, apart from your mom’s intellect and beauty and your dad’s brains, may it be your mom’s ability to give a hug. You must consider that your mom was cute as a child, pretty as a teenager and absolutely beautiful as an adult. When your mom gave a hug on greeting, it said, “Hey, I’m glad to see you.” It was one of her qualities that endeared her to me. If it was in my power to bestow a blessing on you it would be the ability to give a hug like your mom does. Master that and the world will be yours.

It is my belief that when people have children their primary purpose as parents from day one, is to prepare the child to leave home and negotiate their way through life. This, of course, means that the child has the obligation to prove that they are worthy.

By now your personality, character traits, and social behavior are well established, just not yet polished.

          When you cannot be a shining inspiration, 
          be a fearful example!

I LOVE YOU ALWAYS


                                                                Abe. 

My Dragon Skin

This was inspired by another post I read here, written by a woman across the world whom I'm never met. We do, however, share a profound love for Kundalini yoga and meditation. I love to see how it changes and heals people if they let it.


The words skin, scales, facades, masks, and shields have come in and out of my world several times in the last few days. I'm also tidying up my autobiography for editing right now, and my anam cara suggested I take another look to see where I was adding fluff or censoring myself too much.

I lifted the veil of protection from my eyes and looked again. I carefully flipped through the pages and then tossed them to the floor like they were on fire. The gaping holes in the story were so much larger than what had been written. I cried, my heart fluttered, and all at once, I was relieved. 

Fellow creatives will understand when I say I've been wearing a hole in the floor trying to figure out what was lacking in my work. The answer was EVERYTHING.

I've been repeating to my people that I want to be very careful not to hurt anyone in the process of trying to share a beautiful, complete example of how I fell apart and put myself back together. While that's true, what I really meant was that I didn't want to hurt me in the process. 

Guess what? That's not possible. After all, the ego's job is to protect us. My ego was shielding me from my greatest fears: that my story isn't actually worth telling and that my mistakes and darkness mean I'm not worthy of love or joy. 

It will take some time for me to rework my story now, but it will be a truer depiction of how exactly my self-worth was destroyed and how I put on my dragon skin to hide who I really was.