Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Scavenger's Plateau

Little Bay de Noc, Lake Michigan
 8:14 am, December 6, 2012: sunless sunrise

I wrote the start of this post on my birthday, down at the lakefront where I go every weekday to walk and meditate, however I could not bring myself to get out of the car. It was raining, and the wind was blowing blowing blowing; the car was rocking from some of the gusts. The fact that it was my birthday didn't bother me so much in that I don't think too much about getting older; it was just another day to find the Good, to count my blessings despite all I was feeling, to keep up the daily routine I'd created for myself.

In the twelve months since my last birthday, I have gained more than another tally mark on the wall. The bits and pieces of my experiences this year have come to rest right in the front of my brain where I can cull from them lessons on life and on living. I take them on my morning meditation walks, on my solo camping trips, when shopping for steel-cut oats and toilet paper. I even take them with me for odd errands, like when I had to go to the laundromat to wash my bed's comforter and the quilt I had just taken camping. (Side note: the laundromat is a very lonely place to be, especially when one is laundering things that should be shared.) I took those lessons with me down to the beach after spending $4.75 in quarters and watched a wind surfer move through the water, at times becoming airborne. It was mesmerizing and unsettling at once, mostly due to the lack of rhythm: there are times when he would get stuck in one spot, unable to turn or glide away, and then another burst of air would lift him up off the surface of the lake.

Isn't that how life is? How birthdays are? Such a confluence of emotions? So grateful for so much, yet a heavy, desolate sadness for what's gone or lacking? I wish sometimes that the Universe would hand me my lessons in school primer form, composition book along side: Read the following passage. What did you learn? Explain.

I feel like I'm on a plateau. It sounds so much more gentle than being "stalled" or "stunted," and life in the past year has found me heavily relying on my network of friends to sustain my ego, to help allay my general funk. I wanted sunshine and clear skies on my birthday, yet I can't deny the beauty in the overcast-ness of the morning here by the lake: the greys and blues of the water and sky, the sand and marsh grass browns, the regularity of the waves, spots of white on the water's surface, Nature reminding me I'm not in charge. This soothes me, in a way: I am tired of being in charge.

And this brings me to the idea of self-care. I had someone tell me recently that I did a good job of taking care of myself, that even though I'm a single/un-partnered parent, it looked like I was still balanced, that my life was busy and full and complete. I'm not sure if this was a compliment or not. While I've always maintained an independent life, doing what I want to do pretty much when I want to do it, I don't ever feel like I'm taking care of my self purposefully; I'm busy tending to others, trying to keep them happy and healthy, distracted, comfortable. My talent lies in scrounging what's left from the care of others and making it fit into the care of myself, in making it seem like whatever was left over was exactly what I've wanted and needed all along: Scavenger. Giver. 

I would very much like to be taken care of, if only to have the experience and see if I like it. I think I could learn to like it, I don't know. I know the importance of being true to yourself and what makes you, but doesn't everyone need a respite from that? At least now and again, anyway. A permanent check-out isn't what I'm advocating- that's the dangerous part of our relationships and commitments, isn't it? That we unmindfully relinquish "Self" in favor of "We," the collective?


I've written about my propensity for crying, and how it seems to be useful. It is cathartic, yes, but the problem for me is that this catharsis never seems complete. It seems like, rather, the cycle of my emotions and issues doesn't get moved aside with the tears, there is no denouement, it just gets moved back to the bottom of the hill. Sisyphus ain't got nothin' on me. Your facade is built thusly: the scraps from the lives of others are swept up and mixed with an epoxy, pressed together and pressurized to resemble something like Real Happiness. And you continue to hope that one day soon you will be able to move in from the periphery of your own life, towards the center where you can be fully appreciative for Self. And you cling to this belief, this idea of Happiness in the collective sense and its ability to keep you. And so that's where this Scavenging comes in: What is left when the initial stark rawness of your independence subsides? What is left when everyone else's needs are met, Giver? Who is there to attend to your needs? What are those lessons stuck in your frontal lobe trying to teach you?

I feel like a fool, often, for believing that hoping for happiness is enough, that I'll be able to sustain _________. I struggle very much with the feeling that the joke is always going to be on me; that I shouldn't allow myself to relax and be cared for because I should be prepared for the worst- or at least the opposite of what I'd like- to come my way (history has taught me as much); that I shouldn't be focused on my wants and needs because those will take care of themselves. Eventually. After the others. When I finish the task at hand. When there is a pause, when the brain is resting, perhaps. 

This brings me to the title of this post, to the very particular sadness that comes with recognizing your constant hope for personal happiness has yet to be fulfilled. The plateau you're stuck on is the acceptance of not being where you'd like to be, despite your work on Self, despite that new awareness, despite the quality or quantity of the scraps you Scavenge. On your birthday, even. 

I needed to physically have my feet touch the ground, to allow myself the gift of my visceral energy connecting to my limbs, to experience the calm that comes from hearing the water and feeling the wind on my cheeks, eyelashes and -lids fluttering with the gusts. And yet the wind was howling outside my door, and it is still constantly in my thoughts no matter where I go or what I do; I could not get out of the car, I was too tired and chilled to even attempt it. My routine was broken.

And yet I feel obligated to find One Good Thing about this place, about this broken routine, about this expanse. What have I learned? 

At least there's no regression. Until next time, friends.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


As I was driving home from work the other night and reflecting on the events of the day, I did two things I don't normally do: I smiled, and then I cried. Usually I just sigh heavily, and more than once. But that day? That day made me think about the movie "Armageddon." 

Yep. The one with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. Where the guys all sing "Leaving on a Jet Plane" before they go up into space to save the Earth? That movie marks the point in my life when I started to go soft.  I didn't know it at that time, of course, but a change was underway.  Up until I saw that movie (reluctantly, I might add), I was probably best describes as...a hard ass. Pure sarcasm. Bitchy. Cold. Detached. Indifferent. Unemotional.

I am not any of those things. 

I'm not saying I didn't behave that way for a good chunk of my (adult, married) life, I'm saying that I wasn't being authentic. Big difference.

Anyhoo, I had noticed that more than a few of my Facebook friends were posting daily "I'm grateful/thankful for..." statements in anticipation of Thanksgiving, and I was thinking about what I was grateful for, what I should give thanks for. As I thought about the myriad people and events in my life I was thankful for, my mind wandered to how lives are seen by others- in books, movies- which led me to the aforementioned movie. I know, my focus needs work some days. And that I'm thankful for becoming a Crybaby.

That movie was the impetus for me earning my Crybaby Badge. And like I said, I didn't know it at the time (we never know the importance of events as they are happening, do we? That's why reflection is so important. Again, I digress...), but there was a shift which led me to who I am today: I cry at everything.

Really. And not because I'm sad. Not all the time anyway. Although I am struggling with how much I'm struggling with a few things (Um, Yogi Berra much?), its more related to the thankfulness for second chances, for renewal. And so I cry.

I cry when I'm hit with the smell of dish soap and garlic and whiskey and cigarettes and a wood fire. I cry at the unique papery musty smell of a deck of cards used over and again. I cry when I see the brightness and feel the warmth of the sunshine on a sliver of my bare skin during these Autumn days. 

Sometimes the crying is triggered by a word or phrase, or the memory of the word or phrase being spoken: Where you going, Jim? He reminds her of her father. Did he make it? You abandoned us. You're so self righteous. For always and all ways. Anytime. This is true. Are you sure?

Sometimes it's a song or a scene from a movie- or even a television commercial!- that sets me off, something in the deep recesses of my psyche is given a little nudge (or a big ol' push). Sometimes it'll be when I'm reading to the kids at school that I turn into a giant mush ball (see: Where The Red Fern Grows and Charlotte's Web and James and the Giant Peach).

Most of the time (and especially in my Old Life) I respond to emotions like these by suppressing them. My modus operandi for dealing with emotions or with hearing something uncomfortable/not what I want to hear is to immediately get busy stopping it from being fully realized: one hand gets busy building a wall to protect myself from further exposure to those feelings, and the other hand gets busy filling sand bags to keep those emotions under water. Reactionary rather than rational. Of course, it's a direct response to other people's problems: codependency behaviors die hard.

Fucking other people.

I realized that I had recently employed that behavior, and now having given myself the space to reflect on the situation and my response to it, I feel sadness that I allowed myself to revert, at how I might have made the other person feel. No one deserves to be ignored, especially not those we love. It's not fair for them to be adversely affected because of our vulnerabilities. *sigh*

And so first I cry. A lot. My next step after behaving badly is to move everything- the emotions, the situation that precipitated them, the people hurt by my actions, the aftermath- to the periphery. Avoidance! At some point, though, we need to deal with those emotions- those bastards!- otherwise we lose sleep, we are irritable, we are listless, we walk around in a fog and are unable to explain our way out of it. Still crying, too.

What next? Actually dealing with our stuff is often uncomfortable or even more painful. This (I think) can be due to our innate Fear of the Unknown. What will those apologies sound like? How will those we've hurt respond to those words? How will we respond their reactions? How can we aptly express gratitude for ____? We don't know what we don't know (Yogi Berra dies hard, too.). Of course we want to believe everything will be okay (and it will be, eventually): believing takes practice. Give thanks for the opportunity to try again. And cry s'more.

And so we come back to my Crybaby status and those Facebook posts. All of these things I've mentioned- the books, words, songs, movies, memories- those human experiences in another format, those everyday moments and all of our actions that make up our biographies, we can see them there on the pages, hear and read the pain, confusion, sadness, joy, contentment- all of it. It is there in our voices and in our every action as we tell the story of Self. Status Update What's on your mind? I am grateful for tears of pain, confusion, sadness, joy, contentment; for memories, for potential, for dreams. Tears of thanks. 

Cry, baby.

Until next time, friends.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Early Fall Travail

What is that feeling called in your gut? 

The one you can't get rid of, that makes you okay with eating nothing but trail mix and  drinking too much coffee, or with fitful nights not sleeping and being unable to clear your head space? The one that you spend hours trying to figure out what's caused it? 

The one that has you simultaneously loathing going in to work (because you'd rather remain pantsless and drink the aforementioned coffee all day), and then loathing to leave work (because you'd just go home to yourself and that feeling in your gut)? 

The one that has you going to WalMart for small items you may or may not need- like a new toothbrush or some shampoo- and you hope for a self-esteem boost from looking at the indolent troglodytes and twenty-something meth addicts that seem to breed there among the $3 t-shirts and smiley faces signs, but you end up exacerbating that feeling in your gut as you walk around and notice in every aisle that those very people have each other to smile at, and all you have is a new toothbrush?

The one that has you finding reasons to drive, or to just sit in the car in the driveway of your little rental dollhouse, engine not turned on, and you sit there and breathe deeply the solitude the space offers, trying to exhale away the feeling in your gut?

The one that has your iTunes "shuffle songs" setting finding only the most melancholy songs, because it seems they were written to accompany that feeling in your gut?

The one that has you wishing you were stupid and maybe not so introspective? 

The one that has you wishing your memory wasn't so photogenically inclined, that the imagery from any day past would maybe go away for awhile, or at least fade and take that feeling in your gut with it?

The one that has you unconsciously driving to the lake instead of home each morning after you take your child to school so you can watch the sun rise as you walk along the shore and out onto the sand bars? The one that has you praying for one of the blessings of the New Day to be that the feeling in your gut is less of a distraction today?

If you know what this feeling is called, please- please tell me its name- so I can ask it to do one of two things: 1) transform into something less confusing, or 2) fuck off and leave, already.

Monday, October 15, 2012

It Ain't Easy Bein' Green

"...a mass of tiny green things that looked like little stones or crystals, 
each one about the size of a grain of rice.
They were extraordinarily beautiful, and there was a strange brightness about them, 
a sort of luminous quality that made them 
glow and sparkle in a most wonderful way."
-Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

Do you know this quote? This part of the story? It is one of my favorite parts of the book, when things are just about to start happening to James. The green creature seeds- so pretty, so fascinating- just looking at them offers the promise of having what your heart desires most. The caveat? The magic is worked on whatever or whomever they first meet. Poor James. And even us, when we see things like this, reflections of our desires, we can't help but be myopic. 

My life is full of friends. They are all glow and sparkle. I use them to fill my days with joy, I use them as sounding boards, I use them as a repository of giving- of my knowledge or time or listening ears and heart and mind. I think they use me for the same things. Also, I'm a pretty decent cook. So, having these people around me, not judging me, keeping me safe, has been deeply humbling. How do you sufficiently thank the people who sustain you? One day at a time. And yet-

I had an experience recently that involved an impromptu counseling session, a massage, and a renewed focus on meditation. Last month I was feeling run down and totally out of sorts. My mind was still adjusting to my new knowledge (or re-discovery) of Self from my retreat, and my body was beginning to show signs of the stress manifesting in my life. What stress, exactly? I mean, I had just come off a three-week hiatus, no? Yes, and I still had too much going on in my head. What to do? Arrange for a massage with my favorite Buddhist Hippie Sage? YES. 

It was a Sunday morning, early, and I met him at his work space. It was one of the last best days of summer, and so I was already feeling wistful (Summer! Do! Not! Go!), but the sun was still warm, and I could wear a skirt and flip flops and thought I'd go to the beach after my session. Little did I know where the day would take me.

Me and the BHS started talking, me relaxing a bit from the long drive, both of us feeling each other out, trying to gauge mindset, making small talk in between these silent assessments. The BHS sat in the corner, cross legged in a recliner; I sat cross legged on top of the massage table. Both of us had our hands rested on our knees. I must have looked a state. The BHS says to me as our conversation moves from one topic to the next, "Honey, do you have any love in your life?" 

Now, my modus operandi is to analyze and be intellectual rather than emotional. Oh, the walls we build in the name of Avoidance! My hands instinctively went up to cover my face and catch tears. 

Yes. No. I don't understand.

We talked about my life and the people I held on to and marveled at- those people who are my tiny green crystals, all luminous and willing to share their magic with me. Three hours spent talking (okay, me crying and listening, really) followed by a massage passed. Deep questions, strong hands. Catharsis. My body needed this. My mind was only partially ready, but I felt calmed if not spent. I went home that night with a quiet determination to pay attention to my Core Friends, my Luminous Seeds.

" 'Something is about to happen,' he told himself. 'Something peculiar is about to happen at any moment.' He hadn't the faintest idea what it might be, but he could feel it in his bones that something was going to happen soon. He could feel it in the air around the sudden stillness that had fallen upon the garden."

My daily life outwardly returned to routine, to work and single parenting, to physical body care, to establishing a regular meditation practice and creativity practice, to time spent with my surrogate families. But I wasn't settled. I was still feeling peculiar, like James. Like I told one friend, "There is a disturbance in the Force." I was only half-joking. It got so bad one day at work, the overwhelming sense of discomfort, that I literally pitched a fit, collapsing onto the floor of my office, half laughing, half crying about how I didn't want to be there. And all my co-worker could do was stand there and say "Oh, please get up." We laughed, but I was being totally truthful, and he knew this, he sensed it. I wasn't alone.

I had to do something. I started taking walks at night to the lake shore. I'll sit and stare at the water or the sky, breathe the coming of Winter in the Autumn Damp. Recently, I decided to try a walking meditation on the stars; the swarms and night-star-clouds have helped clear my head, if only for an hour or so. My daily meditations since meeting with the BHS started out as being focused on thankfulness and gratitude for the love in my life, especially centered on my Core Friends, the women I use in one way or another- and their partners! Those men I know and use as supplements! After several sessions, though, I couldn't understand why I was still in a funk. Busy hands, wonderful friends, gratitude for all they bring to my life...why no movement? Why no progression from this spot on the road? What had I not yet learned?

And then it struck me one morning while I was starting my day: I picked up a pillow from my bed, the one that lays vertical next to me, the one on the side of the bed I do not sleep on. I grabbed it and tried to set it on the floor so I could adjust the sheets and comforter, and I couldn't let it go. I was overcome with such sadness over the fact that my bed- bought brand new after my divorce- was only mine. I am the only one to have slept there, to stay there. Loneliness, jealousy. One masks the other. I had been, under the guise of gratitude, coveting the lives of the very people I was thankful for. Talk about misdirected! I had allowed my emotions to creep into my thoughts and influence me in an unhealthy way. I had to sit with that, with the realization that I was incredibly jealous of what I saw around me, of the different kinds of joy others had and that I didn't at this point of my journey. I went back to my conversation with the BHS: did I have love in my life? Of course I did. Of course I do. But-

Friends traveling here and there and to the other side of the globe. Friends arranging date nights to reconnect. Friends making detailed shopping lists, complete with notations regarding coupons. Friends texting please pick up the Sunday paper. Friends taking dancing lessons. Borrowing houses. Borrowing pets. Borrowing partners. Borrowing from others' lives the bits I don't have, piecing them together, drinking the third cup of tea set out on the tray.

I look at these people and am happy for them, really. The joy they have is what I thought I had for such a long time, and is what I yearn for now in earnest. If I figured out one thing about myself in my work on identity, it is that I am a Giver. I thrive when I have the opportunity to share and give of myself. I am happier. I am more balanced. I am calm yet energetic. I function best when I have not just all of these friends and the resources they offer to me (and I, them), but when I have a Touchstone. The pull of the comfort of that kind of intimacy- the intellectual, emotional, and physical- is not only something I crave out of jealousy, but out of necessity. Personal Truth, right? I'm a Giver. I know the importance of taking time for myself (I need to do this more often, I know), but I also recognize and accept that part of my Core Self is to Give, to make life easier for those I love. 

And so what's making this section of my Life Path so rocky, what is partly responsible for the unsettled-ness, the restlessness, the disturbance in the Force, the peculiar feeling, is not what I have, but rather what I'm lacking: there is no Touchstone. That is difficult to admit, and it is difficult to know this and still be committed to finding the Good in my days, to be outwardly grateful and gracious, to still Give. I think back to the conversation with the BHS that day and how he knew- he knew- so much.

" 'My dear...' the Old-Green Grasshopper said gently, 'there are a whole lot of things in this world of ours you haven't started wondering about yet.' "

Where does this leave me? It leaves me to tell myself: stop over-thinking. Look at the Good. The glowing green seeds will work their strange brightness and magic. The wonderment will sustain. 

Until next time, friends.

Friday, October 12, 2012

30 Days, Days Nine Through Sixteen

So it is now almost the third week of October, and I'm still at it for the Creativity Challenge. I did take a break and let the cohorts catch up (read: I got a bit lazy), but as of this writing, I'm really unsure who is still playing along. No matter. If even one person made one thing that sparked their brain into action, that's enough for me; and as the creative process is endlessly fascinating to me, I can't wait to gather some of those people together and share what we did, even if what we did was only one thing we're willing to share. And so, here are a few more entries for you to peruse. 

Monday, September 17, 2012- Day #9= Cityscape.

I took this photo of the Chicago skyline while driving (I know, right?! SO naughty!). The approach is from I-55 and from the south. It is my all-time favorite view. Sure, you can get a nice panoramic view from the Sears Tower (I'll never be able to call it the Willis Tower. That just sounds so...WRONG, and also reminds me of "Diff'rent Strokes.") or the Hancock Building or even an airplane, but this reminds me of driving back to the city after visiting my parents. There was always a real sense of anticipation and/or anxiety for me, always wanting so badly to get away from where I was from, always wanting to get to where I thought I needed to be. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012- Day #10= Abstract.

This is not a medium I'm adept at using- gouache. It is also not a genre I feel comfortable with, speaking from a creation stand point; my usual subject matter falls toward people and landscapes (oh, the predisposition of the Midwestern artist!). This was so much fun, however, that I modified this and led a similar project with the kids at work, where I quickly learned about the power of childhood creativity- so primal! Check it:

Abstract watercolor paintings using a masking technique from Paige W., Larrissa T., and Trevor W.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012- Day #11= A Turning Point.

A true story is the subject of this writing piece. I want to work on it more, refine it a bit, but for now, I'm satisfied with getting it out, you know?

A Turning Point

It was January, and the prettiness of the city in winter had changed from Holiday Pretty to Dirty Pretty:  it was still snow covered and the cold made the streetlights and traffic signals and neon store signs still glow softly, intensely, but a salty gray pall splattered everything. So pretty, in a way.

We sat on the #81 Lawrence bus, out on the west end, just coming from the latest meeting with the agency we were working with, which was somewhere near where Lincoln and Western merge, that intersection just north of Montrose.

You were quiet, I was quiet. We never said much to each other after these meetings. We sat next to each other towards the back of the bus, me always by the window so I could stare out and think. I would think about what had just transpired and then what next was going to look like, and how or if you’d be a part of my every day. I think now that I knew then we’d be probably always be connected and in touch. Even then I knew you were an obligation.

The bus was overly warm. I pressed my head against the cold window and breathed with my mouth open, blurring the view, then wiping the condensation away with my cheap glove, then breathing again, wiping again.

CTA buses in the winter are always a gamble. Those giant polluting engines are too big to stay cozy while idling, and so the fact that the light had turned green, red again, and now green again while we sat at the corner didn’t seem unusual. We had nowhere to be. Some passengers grumbled about sitting for so long, though, and that’s when we noticed the crowd outside changing: businessmen and –women filtering into the crowd with the mothers and children. Toddlers walking at an angle, arm stretched up to a hand, snow boots barely touching the pavements. You asked if I was going to my apartment or yours, and if I wanted to stay. I shrugged, my eyes wide, I didn’t know.

The driver started to say something over the bus’ PA system, but it was garbled and mumbly. The drone of the engine mixed with the horns and car tires outside. Traffic noise, more cars and people making their way around the bus, moving on with the day. This was before cell phones and before I wore a watch, so we had no idea how much time had passed before the driver finally switched on the emergency lights and had us all exit the bus, paper transfers in hand. They don’t use paper transfers anymore. Or tokens, either.

I was very cold, and I was tired. I just wanted to go to bed, to curl up in a ball like a baby and sleep. When I think about how you were back then (and not just on that one day), it is clear that you were removed and not really all that interested in going back to the agency again. You were clear, in the only way you knew how to be, that you wanted me to make a goddamned decision, already. You were fine with not being in charge, or with not having your opinion matter. And all I wanted right then besides a bed was for you to be in charge, and to make your opinion known.

As we exited the broken down bus and climbed aboard the replacement bus, you asked me again what I wanted to do. I’ll go with you, I said, but I don’t think I’ll stay.

Thursday, September 20, 2012- Day #12= A (Recent) Best Moment/Memory.
Another writing piece that I really, really like and want to develop more, play with the POV. (You don't get to read this one.)

Friday, September 21, 2012- Day #13= Comic/Animation.
A drawing, quickly done. Maybe I'll post later? Nah.

Saturday, September 22, 2012- Day #14= Words/Quote Integrated Into Image.
I pulled a quote from a Raymond Carver story, "Intimacy." It's not a sex story- it is a testament to the complexities of relationships. Raymond Carver is a master. Read his work and weep at how you'll never be that good.

Sunday, September 23, 2012- Day #15= Group Picture.
This one I'm kinda excited about. It's really just a simple drawing I'm translating into thread, but to people who don't know any better, it could seem complex (hence, the sharing and talking about the process, see?). I'll have a pic once I'm a bit further on the piece and can break away from working on it. The image and the moment it captures also got me into some deep thinking about my wants and needs and (of course) circled back to identity and  the things people expect from you, from the you they know. 

Monday, September 24, 2012- Day #16= A Source of Irritation.
Lately, this is EVERYTHING. Just fucking look around. HA!

One thing I'm really appreciating about this challenge is that I'm really thinking about things during the creating portion, I'm forced to find a new way to see things in order to meet the challenge of the day- OH, FUCK! IF THAT ISN'T LIFE EVERYDAY!!!

(That was an Oprah "light bulb" moment, right there.)

(Also, I've fallen off the wagon on my "I'm going to try and curb my sailor mouth" thing. Me and swearing: "I wish I knew how to quit you!")

Until next time, friends.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

30 Days, Days Three Through Eight

That's right: My Little Pony Princess Celestia. 

Now that I've posted the third of three parts about my retreat, as promised here's an update to my 30 Day Creativity Challenge project. I'm not sharing everything I've done (but have listed the dates/day number/topic), especially the bits I've written; some things I think I'll only share with my cohorts of this challenge, and other bits I might not share at all. I welcome your comments, always. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012- Day #3= Tablescape.

I had a bit of trouble with this one as I kept thinking about food, which led to me remember that I don't really have a table at which to eat; I mostly sit at my DIY counter top bar, and weather permitting I sit outside on my tiny dollhouse deck in my red plastic Adirondack chairs, or I'll often just stand at the pink Formica counter top. So I walked around my tiny dollhouse, looking for a place to stage my food for the day (um...trail mix, coffee. That's it.), when I spied my journal on the bedside tabletop. See what I did there? 

Probably more important to me than food right now, my nightly bedside journaling has proven to be an immense and comforting outlet for me. So it seems only fitting that my books and journals be my image for this day's challenge.

This is what I see every night before I try to sleep- that beat up table, that stack of books, that lampglow, that plainly dressed bed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012- Day #4= Best Friend(s).

This is where I wish I had curated the list of challenges a bit more harshly. "Best Friend?" What am I, twelve? Ugh. I was feeling incredibly low and frustrated that day, and while I had friends to use as sounding boards, I couldn't pick just one to call "best." I also didn't have the words to explain any of those people without sounding like Stuart Smalley. So I went for a run to try and get some headspace.

I ran through the park, along the shore of Lake Michigan, legs pumping faster than they needed to be, music helping set the tone of my thoughts and the pace of those legs. Sitting outside after my run, I was drinking coffee from a treasured mug from a "best," and it dawned on  me that my Best Friends that day were all right there: music, running (with my favorite threadbare socks, even), and strong, hot coffee with cream. Those are the items I needed that morning, those are the items that helped me get dressed and go to work, those are the items that gave me a bit of strength. If that doesn't describe a Best Friend(s), I don't know what does.

Thursday, September 13, 2012- Day #5= A Favorite Place.

Another hard one! Challenge, indeed. I though about my favorite places- my little rental dollhouse, my parents' house, the beach-any beach, anywhere with my friends and laughter, or anywhere that made me warm all over and brought me joy. As I added more and more places to my list of favorites, I quickly came to the conclusion that my favorite Favorite Place was a feeling of joy and contentment rather than an actual, physical place on a map. And so I decided to describe some moments or scenes that, when I have them in my present thoughts as either memory or fantasy, I am transported. But the picture I'm posting here to go with these words is someplace I recently fell in love with, despite it literally being my back yard for the past 16 years.

A Favorite Place

The warmth of the sun on my bare skin, the sound of the water breaking on the shore, the stillness of the air.

The smell you catch in the grocery store that has you looking around for your grandmother, or mother. It is a certain perfume, or a mixture of garlic and coffee and dish soap from the kitchen, or (I don't know what other words to use).

The darkness of a navy-black sky, with swarms of stars punctuated by the brightest, closest constellations.

The sound of a laugh or a cough or the baritone of a voice you swear is your father’s, but it cannot possibly be, because he is five hundred miles away, asleep in his recliner or out fishing the Hennepin Canal for blue gill and crappie and bass and solitude.

The happy, floating, invincible feeling between a first and fourth vodka gimlet.

A lover’s arm across your body, or the linger of a kiss from their mouth in the crook where your shoulder and neck meet.

The smiles captured in a photograph when your children were smaller, happier, and unconcerned.

Three weeks ago, your Life swirling around, when you had no reason to be anything other than unconcerned.

A song that links to a memory of a place and time and another life and a person you used to be and whom you are grateful to have grown from because it means you have become who you are right now.

Friday, September 14, 2012- Day #6= Favorite scene from a book.

Saturday, September 15, 2012- Day #7= Favorite scene from a movie.

Sunday, September 16, 2012- Day #8= Self Portrait (#2 of 3).

I love this photo for a number of reasons: 1) It is my favorite part of my body, my neck/collar bones, shoulders, decollete; 2) I had just had a day so profoundly needed that I didn't want it to end, and so I love that this is a memento of that day; 3) I love the coloring of this shot, the way the flash of the camera illuminated my body and the room and caught all the right angles to highlight.

I gotta tell ya: even though I intended to use this challenge as a fire starter for my visual imagery/art, my writing has been front and center in my head, making my hands ache from wanting to scratch out the words on legal pad yellow paper before transforming them to computer bits. I've dug out books from my library that I haven't touched in years because of this challenge, and they have helped me focus and write and re-write; reading good writing helps you become a better writer, I'm convinced. The margins of my pages are just as filled as the spaces between the blue lines. For reference, some of those books are : A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman, Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver, The Woman Lit by Fireflies by Jim Harrison, and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro. Although I've always loved a well-crafted novel, short stories are my favorite things to read. 

I'll post again soon regarding this challenge, something I've written, and/or maybe even something I've drawn. Until next time, friends: read, draw, doodle, write, daydream, DO.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Recipe For Reconstruction

"None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet we still go forward. 
Because we Trust. Because we have Faith."
-Paulo Coelho, "Brida"

Part III of III

In the time since my retreat last month, I've struggled to get back into the swing of things. I've felt unsettled, out of sorts, frustrated, impatient...honestly, what did I expect? Instant enlightenment and an easy transformation/reintegration? Impossible. One thing I turn to when I'm feeling this way is the practice of structured creativity; another thing is to take care of others. 

I know, right?! So strong is the lure of the comfort of old habits! 

I've tried reallyreallyreally hard to break that habit (the care of others) and take care of my Self. I've used up all of my vacation time at work as of this writing (never fear- a new bank of time starts October 1st), and have enjoyed it so much. What's surprised me is that I've had to continue working on identifying my wants and needs more than I expected. I mean, I get that it's a process, this work on Identity, but let me tell you: there is so much more I want to do now, and I'm finally- FINALLY- grasping the full importance of Self first. Yes, I've always subscribed to taking care of yourself first in order to help others (by being an example or through hands-on actions). But post-retreat? I'm able to delve into the why of it being important to me.

Gather some food and some basic supplies- a place to sleep, something to write on, something to write with, something to move you. Take as much time as is available to you and add Introspection liberally.

Part of knowing who you are is knowing how you'll react to certain road blocks or life situations. I know, for instance, that I need to have some sort of schedule to my day in order for me to play. Yep. It helps me to know that I need to get ABC done before I can indulge in LMNO. And one thing I've really been lamenting is my job and how the current lack of structure is paralyzing me and my thought process. I know, right?! You would think that no parameters would make it so easy to be creative; alas, it is a big road block. 

Next, take the Blank Page as the Opportunity to truly present your wants and needs; be sure to check these often, as time may alter their shape. Review, reflect, and edit with prudence.

And the rest of my life? Well, there have been some challenges with Blonde Daughter this year, and those have had me questioning my abilities and intuition when it comes to parenting. Single parenting is never anything I would recommend, especially if you've had a partner at one point to help you and now don't. Not having that confidant to discuss matters of child-rearing with is frustratingly sad, especially when your child is dealing with her own internal battles. Knowing yourself first helps ease this pain, gives you material to tell stories that, whether asked for or not, can help your child come to an understanding about their challenges, can maybe guide them to a place they always thought wasn't really meant for them. 

After a time, share what you have created with those around you, friends and not-yet-friends alike. Learn to trust others, even if it leaves you feeling uncomfortable and unguarded and small and broken. 

My friends have, of course, been supportive and wonderful and encouraging throughout this process. Do they get it, do they understand the importance of this work for me? For what it means to how I'll live out my days? Maybe some of them do, I don't know. I know that I've been able to re-connect with friends on a level that is deeper and more genuine, and that the girl I used to be is lurking around, ready to make a move on those last pieces of the social construct that has been in my mirror for the past 20 years. 

Look around your feet for the sturdy bits, for the supporting bits, for the structural bits, for the shiny bits. Use these to build up not walls, but ladders, maybe, for others to climb onto. Be a Giver of _______. Anything, everything, yourself.

In short, what have I learned from my retreat? More than I could ever put into words, is what I think most days. And then other days I'll draw a picture or write a short story or take a photograph and think, This is what I have in my head when I think about _______ from my retreat. I need to share this before I explode with excitement over this discovery, this tangible and tiny flake. And then other days I'll think I've got it down, and during a three-hour conversation with a Buddhist Hippie Sage discover that, no, I have more work to do, that my pain runs deep and the wisdom at my core is just dying to get out. 

And that, friends, can only mean that the old saying must be true: the Journey is the Destination. And I'm so glad you're all here. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

30 Days

So I'm taking a bit of a break from posting about my retreat (here, here, and here) to share one of the projects to come out of the retreat: the 30 Day Creativity Challenge.

Have you heard of this? There's lots of versions floating around, lots of lists of what to do, what to create. One of the goals of my retreat was to tap back into my creative Self; I did, after all, graduate from art school. But saying you're going to be creative while you're still high on the bliss of a successful retreat and putting that bliss into action are two very different things. So like any good person, I Googled "creativity challenge."

The list I've come up with is a re-working of several different lists culled from several different sites. The only rule is that you use the item on the list to create something. For me, I'm focusing on imagery- drawing, painting, and thankyouJesusforInstagram- as well as writing; you could easily incorporate music or singing/songwriting, too, or even cooking or clothing choices. The main goal is to get you to think outside of your normal-ness. I'll try to post once weekly during the challenge to share what I've been up to, but no promises. My next post will be part three of my retreat posts. And so-

Sunday, September 9, 2012- Day #1= Self portrait.

What I like about this photo is how green my eyes look against that top. And that it doesn't look like I need Botox or Juvederm yet. And that I don't have bags under my eyes, and that they're not puffy, and that I look kinda okay with my face bare naked like that. 

Monday, September 10, 2012- Day #2= Animal.

For this challenge, I had to think a bit. I love birds, but didn't really want to draw a bird. So I thought about other animals, and naturally thought about people's pets. My friend Tha Doctah has cats. Hmmm. NO. I know several people with dogs, but...these pursuits were taking place in the evening hours, in my basement. What to do? A photograph of a pet? YES. Instagram to the rescue? YES.

So I found a photograph I liked and rendered a simple drawing in pencil. But as I was studying the photo and the drawing, I thought of a story to tell. So I did both. 

An Evening in August

She sat on the steps of the deck, looking out over the back yard and the items there: lawn chairs, a swing set, a rake, a garden hose, dog toys. And the dog. She was an old dog, maybe 8 or 10 years old, and her hips bothered her, you could tell. Some kind of shepherd mix, black, mostly, but with white on her muzzle and some on her chest.

"She can be a bit skittish with new people," he had said. But she had dealt with dogs like that before. Wasn't S____'s dog that way? All bark at first, and then quickly a mutual respect was established? That dog, Rezzy, was also a shepherd mix, but smaller, shorter, like a corgi or something.This dog was tall with matted fur that came off in clumps every time she petted it.

She picked up one of the dog toys and threw it out towards the fence; the dog retrieved it and brought it to her, tail wagging, excited barks. She did this- played with the dog- for a good 30 minutes or more. The dog tired and lay by her feet, which she tucked under the dog's belly, feeling the warmth and weight of this animal, feeling content.

What was it about a skittish dog? They were often her favorite ones. The docile and dumb labs or retrievers just lacked substance for her, even though they looked nice. She absently ran her hand over the dog's back, scratched its ears, massaged its neck. She grabbed the dog's face with both hands, rubbing under its chin, touching noses and telling it through a half-closed mouth, "You're a good girl. Such a good. Girl."

The patio door opened and the dog's attention shifted from the feel-good-ness of her hands to the figure in the doorway. The dog got up slowly and climbed the three stairs and walked into the house. She followed, sliding the screen door shut behind them both.

Get creative, friends. If anything, it can serve as a pleasant diversion from life for awhile.

Friday, September 7, 2012

It Takes A Village (and a List)

Take what you find and create something meaningful, write a message on the sandy shore,
leave part of your heart there, and yet take back a heart full of joy.

Part II of III

I am a list maker. I love making a To Do list, or a Top 10 list, or a goals list. I love the orderly way the items sit there on the page, each one waiting patiently to be completed and crossed off or read aloud and contemplated in conversation. I love the way that the single items merge to create one new, singular item. As the Queen of Procrastination Nation, it is indeed an achievement when I am finished with a list.

So as I was getting ready for my retreat (go here and here), of course I made a list. Actually, I made four lists: vacation plans, campgrounds, camping supplies, and people. Solo camping trip, though, right? The names on that last list were for meditations and prayers: twelve names, including my own. And so-

Once I got to the campsite, I really tried to let go of my regular routines. After all, that's partly what this retreat was about, wasn't it? Letting go of long-held habits and beliefs and identities? YES. I soon found out that my proclivity for list making was something I would not be able to abandon. 

I made mental lists of where things should go (the tent there, the firewood there, kayak there, backpack there). I made lists of all the ways I wanted to enjoy nature (kayak daily, swim, run Bruno's Run trail, explore the far shore of the lake). I made lists of what I wanted to accomplish creatively (read one book, meditate daily, complete at least three drawings, free write in my journal). I made lists of what to eat and drink (oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, eggs for lunch, trail mix whenever, potatoes and beer for dinner). 

And then, like all best-laid plans, my lists got pushed aside by the internal work I ended up doing, the challenging of myself to tear down my Self to the bare studs and get rid of the Secrets that were weakening my foundation. Damn. Damndamndamndamndamn.

All of a sudden, nothing was going as planned. It was the first full day and I was deeper into my demolition much sooner than I expected. The early morning rain dampened me, figuratively and literally. By late morning, though, the rain had stopped, but my center was lost. A run on the trail helped clear my mind some. A paddle around the lake helped me focus a bit more. Food. A fire. 

And then the stars came out.

It was one of those nights where you first look up in the sky and see only a few stars, only the major constellations, perhaps: Ursa Major and Minor, Sagittarius. And then you stoke the fire and look up again, and there are more stars than before. Take a drink of your beer, and there are more stars. Each time you look, the spaces between stars are filled in with more stars, and the sky is filled with bright star clouds. 

And then you see a shooting star. And then another. And another. You will see five in all, and after each one you'll say out loud: "Oh! Did you see that?!" or "Oh God, _______. I hope you saw that one." And you'll catch yourself smiling and crying at the same time.

Once I was certain the shooting stars were done with their show and the fire was only embers, I made my way to my tent for the night. And then the rains came again. And I quickly made another list of what was still outside and where: my beach towel, my life jacket, my coffee cup, my kayak and paddle. And then I held up the lantern inside my tent and inventoried more: my quilt made from race t-shirts, my Escanaba Eskymos sweatshirt, my Starbucks Via coffee packets for the morning, my bird wing necklace. 

And then I stopped. And I thought: these things, they are what helps define me, they forge my Core Identity, not the socially constructed one. The individual elements of what I brought with me are tangible symbols of my journey, of my Life So Far. They've helped shape me and helped define who I am and what I need and what I can offer. 

The tent and its somber colors, used once previously on an ill-fated camping trip with the wasband. The coffee cup, a gift from one of the girls I mentored. The coffee packets, a last-minute add-in from my training partner. The towel, bought on an excursion with a trusted confidant. The life jacket, borrowed from another lifetime. The sweatshirt, an advertisement for my newly embraced home. My necklace, a gift- an urging, really- from a friend wanting me to fly. My quilt, stitched from race t-shirts, all journeys taken before now, all a search for a challenge, all a reminder of my daily struggles on that date. The campsite itself, even. The place, the trail, the solitude, gifted to me by Fate in more ways than one. 

What to call these things? What is the heading on this list? Mementos? Touchstones? Souvenirs? Talismans? 

totem (noun)- an object or representation of such an object serving as a distinctive mark or symbol.

These items made up my totem, representative of the people and related experiences that helped me define Self, helped sharpen the focus on my True Identity- not the socially constructed one that up until this point, I'd simultaneously fed into and fended off. These items were a Visual List.

I was content with this revelation, laying in the tent, listening to the rain hush through the trees. My mind began to wander again and I began to dream in images of these items, stacked one on top of the other, bringing a message to the viewer. Did they serve as a warning or a welcome? Which did I want it to be? What was the approach?

That demolition, that nakedness, that discovery could only lead me to a place where I could rebuild. My foundation was stronger now, and my next list would consist of what I had left, what I was willing to pick up and embrace, and what I wanted to incorporate. What kind of story did I want to tell?

I fell asleep with my thoughts wandering further, asking what our stories reveal about Self. I had already learned about telling stories to myself, betraying my own confidences. Was it keeping secrets, or omitting the truth? How much do semantics matter? What is the lesson? We listen to reason and don't repeat mistakes and sometimes still fail to grow. It comes back to Balance and figuring out what works best for all of the Loves of Your Life, Self first. 

Until next time, friends.