The Power of an Autumn Cold

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“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses couldn’t drag me away

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain”

 

I caught cold whilst riding horses two Fridays ago; lately, I have been going riding with a few other families on Family Night at the local riding club. One of the benefits of rural life is that people get together to ride horses and have potlucks with wine and beer in the dark of a Friday evening; it is beautiful to watch all the teenagers racing their horses around the arena, teaching littler ones to ride horses at all, and then to, occasionally, get up on a horse oneself and try to conquer that lifelong fear of horses that was borne from being thrown at a Girl Scout camp all those years ago. We have been taking the teenager, River, because he told us a while ago that he really enjoyed riding horses. Two Fridays ago, the origin point of today’s tale, he told me he had changed his mind.

Have you ever raised a teenager? I have not, but I do teach them each and everyday and have done for many years. Next year is Lucky 11 in public school, and 15 in total. Anyway, I digress. River told me in the car, after mopily being convinced to ride bareback on a paint named Zoomey, that he really didn’t like riding because he had nothing in common with the other kids there. I asked if it was because they are all girls? He responded that they don’t have a lot of brainpower, and that all of his friends use their brains a lot. I asked, are you talking about playing video games? Moving on to the kitchen in which I was trying to restrain myself from, what Maw Maw calls, braining him while he told me that everything that Cody and I take him to do and everyone we introduce him to makes him uncomfortable, but when he is at home with his mother, he is totally comfortable, not shy and talks constantly. In this moment of teenage darkness, I chose the high road and told him I thought he should get out of his comfort zone and that we just want to make him happy. Inwardly, I was consumed with anger.

This was the beginning of the Transformative Autumn Cold: one that, even today, Sunday, nine days after initial exposure, still holds on to my lungs and nasal passages. It has a lingering force that can only mean one thing; I am supposed to learn something from it. So here’s hoping.

{Please bear with this tangent-filled exploration of my human psyche today. It all makes sense in the end.}

When I was 18, I became very ill which was, at that time, a mystery illness. I was hospitalized and was out of school for almost an entire semester. I lost most of my hair, had congestive heart failure, and an incredibly low blood count. It wasn’t until almost 20 years later, when I lucked into an amazing hematologist/oncologist who did a genetic fact-finding mission of my entire extended family’s bloodwork, was it discovered that my cousin Jackie and I both have agammaglobulinemia, a genetic disease that usually only affects males, but in our case, impacted two females of the same generation on the Blythe (paternal) side of my family. It was a crazy experience that was definitely transformative and taught me to appreciate every day of my life, and that my life had a purpose, although at the age, I didn’t understand what that was or even what that meant.

As I got better, slowly, and with the help of traditional and non-traditional doctors, I left home and moved to Austin, Texas to go to college at UT. After attending debate camp several times during high school, I had fallen in love with Austin and thought it was the bees knees of cities, and, I think, it was. A lot of people still think it is, as seen by the 150 people who move to Austin each day now. I would disagree, but I am able to as I now live in the country and like the slow life much better than the hustle-and-bustle-avocado-toast-trend-of-the-moment that seems to be the lifeblood of Austin these days. Oh, and not to forget all the music festivals.

I digress, again. Since getting sick two Fridays ago, I have experienced a lot of frustration. I was frustrated with River, and with the concept of blended families in general. I am not even sure if I would call ours “blended” as sometimes I think that Cody is treated like an afterthought, or a necessary chore, rather than an equal member and a father to River. (There goes that anger again!!!).

Digression.

In addition to raising a teenager in a blended family, Cody and I also take care of his aging grandmother, Maw Maw, who is in some sort of “rapid decline” as the medical people call it, but who, herself is in some strange space of denial-bargaining. She seems to think one day this will all stop; we know that it will, but not in the way that she wants. It is crazy disorienting to take care of someone who you “know” (?) is dying who herself has not acknowledged it truthfully to herself, except when occasionally she asks us to shoot her, throw her in the river, leave her out with the garbage, etc. (yes, these are statements that have all been uttered). I don’t know how to react to Maw Maw or tell her what I think. I just try to listen, keep her comfortable, and get her to eat something.

A few weeks ago, I took advantage of the in-house teacher counseling service at my school and went to a session with our school’s counselor, Mrs Williams. I talked about the struggles I have with taking care of Maw Maw at home, teaching 8th graders at school, and having a teenager at the same time. She told me to trust the universe and remember that Maw Maw’s age is a blessing, that each day is a blessing, and that I am there solely to make her comfortable and try to keep her happy. Other than that, I cannot fix or change anything and that it is really up to God, whoever I conceive of them to be. I agreed and had a mental image of my garden in the spring: full of flowers and butterflies and bees, and I remembered how happy being in the garden makes me, so I, at that moment, tried to consciously remember to shift my perspective from helping to supporting. That shift is a difficult one that I have to concentrate on each day, especially on days when Maw Maw won’t eat, or she calls me “that woman I live with”, her heart rate goes above 130, or whatever.

The last aspect of this current experience of transformation-via-autumn-cold is that my oldest friend and I are in a spot of disagreement, or perhaps a better phrasing is uncertainty about our relationship. I went to see her in India in June, and during that trip, said a lot of things that hurt her feelings, but she didn’t tell me any of this until an email I got last week. She works for the government, and lives in different places around the world for chunks of time, and then gets zoomed back to the US before zooming off again. She planned an amazing trip for us, and everything we did was beautiful and inspiring. Of course we didn’t get along every moment, but I have never traveled with anyone that I got along with every moment. Perhaps, most definitely, this says more about me than any friend that I have traveled with, but nevertheless, I was hurt by the fact that she didn’t tell me any of this while we were in the same space together, during which time we could have talked about this and she could have told me she thought I was being a jerk, and I could have told her that I was super worried about her and it was coming out the wrong way, and we could have found a place of peace. But now, she is about to zoom off to another country and the likelihood of us being able to talk about this in a meaningful way is quite limited until I see her again. And my takeaway from the email is that she doesn’t want to see me again, at least not for a while.

In this specific situation, unlike my frustrations with River and Maw Maw, I feel adrift. I am 100% sure I make mistakes, because I often do with people: ask anyone who knows me well. I can be harsh, overly-emotional, tactless, too optimistic, too domineering with my opinions, etc. These are aspects of myself that I was unaware of until I went through years of therapy to find out who I really was under those onion layers. Despite me *mostly* keeping those tendencies in check these days, or at least being very aware of them when they pop up and being active at fixing them and reinforcing the relationships they impact, occasionally they pop up especially with older friends, who have known me since I was 10, and knew me better when those layers were under wraps than now, when they are unwrapped and under psyche-scrutiny each and every day. My friend wrote to me that we are in different places in our lives, which of course is true; this is something I have been thinking of in terms of all my friends as I approach 40 years old. Some of us are single, some are married, some have kids, some don’t. Some live in far off places, some very close. Some have professional jobs, some have no jobs (lucky ducks — I think). Some are consistently sad or anxious, some are happy at their core, some don’t know how to be, some question themselves (all), some are blinded by ideas, and some see clearly. Some think they see clearly and yet are still blinded (all, again). Some are all of these things in intermittent moments: aren’t we all? While we are all in different places at this juncture that I call 40, but some friends may call 42, or 35, or 32, we can all be great friends to each other because we love each other and accept each other as flawed human beings who experience all the iterations (and more) listed above. Right? In what perfect moment are friends at the same point in life? I find it to be impossible, but more significantly, not important. I love my friends very much, and that force is much stronger than any job or house or partner, etc.

So, I sit here, at noon on Sunday, still sniffling, and wondering about all of these ideas. Teenagers, dying grandmothers, oldest friends who can’t really talk with each other; it is a quagmire.

Unless……

Yesterday, I moved a lot of wood: giant chunks, small branches, and a lot of in between sizes. They all came from cutting down a 236-year old post oak tree in our front yard that died. It was an amazing tree and we have many giant stumps to play with for the rest of our lives. It was hard for me to believe that its first year of life was in 1783: I have no idea what was going on here in 1783. Who lived here? Did someone plant that tree or was it just one of those magic, random occurrences of nature? I love that someone built our house just behind that tree and one more, as if they were planted for this house, when of course it was the other way around. As I moved all those chunks of wood, back and forth to the woodpile using the wheelbarrow, lifting heavier pieces just to see if I could, dumping them in loads, over and over again, I felt better.

I think the reasons I felt better were a combination of exercise-created-endorphins and an understanding of how I have changed in the last few years. Five years ago was the beginning of my last winter in Maine, when I lived in a cabin on a lot of land next door to a lovely neighbor and pig farmer who looked out for me. I heated my house with wood and really experienced solitude. I wrote many entries here during that time, whilst sitting at a round, pine table with my woodstove to the left and my sweet kitchen off to the side. There was so much snow that winter, and I lived on a property that felt like the target point of the whistling wind that came between two mountains across the road. Sometimes I would go outside in the evening to get frozen wood and would just wonder what the hell was happening? How did everything get so hard? It wasn’t until deeper in that winter that I realized two things: it had become that hard because I made it so, and that it actually wasn’t hard. I just wasn’t seeing clearly and especially wasn’t seeing all the people around me who loved me.

When I moved back to Austin the next late-spring, I was in a relationship for the first time in over four years, and really struggled with the same struggle. I asked: why is this so hard? Why can’t I run away? I don’t want to be here – or do I? Do I want to teach again? All of that time, I had these wonderful friends around and a lovely boyfriend who just loved me and wanted me to be happy. Cody had his own growing to do, but he did it, but in terms of me, he was always loving and encouraging. I had this barrier up that said something like…you can’t be happy because if you do, they will find out all these bad things about you and then what will you do? It was something like that, and was couched in my experience of getting pregnant at 15 and living in an alcoholic family with a Vietnam vet for a father who never let his own bad experiences go and a mom who sought to control everything at everyone’s expense. It is fascinating to me how we can get locked in our own psyches without our knowledge, because some series of experiences can be so painful or frightening. I was lucky because I did discover the key to my own salvation: forgiving myself, grieving for that painful experience, and finally seeing all the people around me who just plain loved me. It was then that I could love them, too.

One of my takeaways from my last 5 years is an understanding that I have no control over anything (I still struggle with this: referencing that convo with River, my issues with wanting Maw Maw to get better when it is not up to me, or being hurt and bewildered by my friend’s email). This popped into my head yesterday whilst moving all those loads of wood.

Another is that I have changed over these interim years, thanks to my friends, myself and cognitive behavioral therapy. It took years of talk therapy to get to the discovery of the need for CBT. I think it saved my emotional life. I realized yesterday, whilst in the woods, walking back to the front yard, that I am so valued and appreciated by people at my school, and I have the power now to recognize that and build on it. I don’t think I could see that clearly before, because I couldn’t believe that people would see me that way. I got divorced back in 2009, and I realized that the last time I felt this valued was just before the divorce; it was a great discovery to me that the experience of divorce, in the moment, set me further back on this journey. But then again, that experience was what spurred this self-discovery of the last 10 years, so there you go. I also feel so appreciated and valued by my friends. I feel terrible that my oldest friend doesn’t feel that I feel that way about her, even though I do. I think that old habits die hard, and apparently I crossed a line for her and can only hope she forgives me.

My last takeaway here is that life just keeps moving forward each day. I have found the key to juggle all of the dishes spinning in my life right now is to remember this in every moment I possibly can. My coworker Nicole says that nothing phases me right now, and my other coworker Tori says I have such a “chill vibe”. I think they are sweet, and definitely wrong about this sometimes (the emotional swings still happen!), but I love those notes of appreciation and I look at them at lessons in remembering to stay present whenever I can, in remembering impermanence and the lesson of trying to be equanimous. It helps me find peace in this chaos.

The only power I have in this situation is to love my people: love River especially when he makes me crazy. Love Maw Maw and try to make her laugh a couple of times a day. Love Cody and thank him for loving me, too. Love my friends and try to make sure they know how much I care about them, but not in a way that offends them.

I think I appreciate this cold now, can bless it and send it off into the autumn wind that is blowing around my house. Is that rain?

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Transitions and Transformations…

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I love old maps, don’t you? Can you see Elgin up there near the top?

The other day I drove in my burgundy Ford F-150 pickup truck to downtown Bastrop. I love driving the truck down the country roads of Bastrop County: they are wide and open and go past field after field after field. I see cows and trucks and tractors, enormous circular bales of hay, old cars and trucks, houses, trailers and water towers. I have always valued driving time as thinking time; the only time this is not true for me is when I am stuck in terrible traffic and then I just feel frustrated and defeated! But country driving always gives me a sense of clarity, distance, perspective and tends to be a generative process in the ideas department.

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Bastrop County Courthouse in 1930

The Bastrop County Courthouse (and Jail it turns out) is a beautiful, old building in the center of town. There were lots of people standing around the entrance, waiting for their docket times I suppose. I walked up the center sidewalk and noticed that a petrified tree stands to the right, sparkling in the sunlight. I asked a man where the County Clerk’s office was, and he pointed me to a small, carved pine door that looked more like a cuckoo-clock facade than an office entrance, but enter I did and found myself in room after room of age-old filing cabinets, lining the walls. The ladies sitting at desks were very kind, and I had my businesses (the farm and the jewelry studio) filed in no time, stamped, and, I suppose, entered into one of those large files along the walls.

The wind had been blowing as I got back into the truck, and I always take the spirit of the wind as a woman communicating something each time she blows and whistles about. Most of the time, I take her message to be one of, “get used to change” or, when she is especially vociferous, “a change is a-comin’!”. I try to look up and breathe in the wind, as if I will glean something else from the scent, or temperature, or force of it.

As I have gotten older, I am committed to understanding that the only constant in this life is change, and that we can fight it, or not. I choose not, and for this I can be considered flighty. My mother calls me a willo’-the-wisp, and I don’t think that either categorization is quite right. Do I follow the river of my life, ever-attempting to stay in the boat? Yes. Do I run from idea to idea? No. Perhaps I used to, but doesn’t everyone, in one way or another, do that in their days of youthful indiscretions and blindness? I would say so, even to people who think that they had it all figured out in their twenties and did things “the right way”. Those folks make me laugh a bit.

The herb farm has begun, I think that is what the wind was telling me, and upon its wings I will be carried forward. It is amazing to be able to dream an idea into reality. I am very lucky to be in my boat on this great river, and I hope I am able to continue my journey for years to come. Today is a short musing on transitions and transformations: I am also lucky to have the grounding force of a little brick house in Elgin and a very sweet man to have dinner with in the evenings. It helps this Goldberry take stock of the beauty of the day, and the understanding that tomorrow may be very different. The clarity of the present is, perhaps, all we really have.

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Wind from the Sea, Andrew Wyeth 1947

In a Building, on a Mountain, near a Telescope, Hurtling Through Space

 

20180619_173034View of the Davis Mountains

Over the last two days, I have spent my time at the McDonald Observatory, touring telescopes, learning about the origins of the universe, and gazing into the cosmos. I have learned about the age of the universe and cosmic microwave background radiation, and how there is a giant telescope with 91 hexagonal mirrors being built to stare into the heavens 10 billion years back.

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Hobby-Eberly Telescope being prepped for the HEXDET Experiment

Awe is an understatement when one looks through a tiny eyepiece on a 36cm telescope and sees the Cassini Division, or a group of stars that look like someone just dropped diamond dust on a piece of black velvet. The awe extends to the surface of each of those 91 identical mirrors, as you watch a lithe and agile woman scamper and climb underneath them in order to take dirty ones out to be replaced with perfectly clean copies. Awe continues when you see photos of your heroes, Carl Sagan and Jane Goodall, Galileo and Neil deGrasse Tyson decorating the walls and declaring the power of imagination and the drive to determine the beauty and power of a great idea.

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Carl Sagan!!! 

The experience of seeing these giant creations of men and women has been nothing short of stupendous. I have decided, and inwardly declared, that astronomy is this wonderful, magic, perfect-as-is-possible discipline in which people combine science, math, engineering, imagination and art. I have seen a telescope from 1939 paid for by a kindly bachelor banker who owned a car but never drove it, who paid for a beautiful German atomic crystal clock but never saw it, and who bequeathed his books, including “The Social Life of Insects” to an astronomy department that had yet to exist. Today I was able to wander around a larger telescope birthed from the need for better technology and the funding of the space race…it is a giant, a megalith of steel, lead, glass and concrete. In it are 4 or 5 mirrors, depending on what its being used for, that bounce light up and down and back again, into the floor below, to produce spectrographs of distant stars. I listened to two students tell us about how they are looking for evidence of exoplanets using the study of spectroscopy and this giant instrument that literally beams light from distant skies down below their feet.

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Harlan Smith Telescope, McDonald Observatory 

I have learned that there is no center and all positions within the universe are the center, at the same time. I have learned that the universe has some sort of three-dimensional shape but that it exists on a plane of its own creation and has a fourth dimension of time. Is time, then, a construct? Or is it real? What is real?

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The Art in Astronomy is surprising and beautiful 

These last few weeks have been trying, terrible, and emotionally despairing times for many. Seeing, as a part of the 24-hour news cycle, that our civilization is in decline far deeper than perhaps we had thought leaves us feeling fraught and frayed. Seeing our fellow humans in pain and as humans, though, is a powerful driver in helping all of us see our sisters and brothers as just that. I am an optimist, despite the dark that seems all around. I like to think that at least we saw each other in these moments, and we reached out to help, and help we did, though we must continue. I think the power of extending a heart-in-hand, especially to children and their mothers, will never serve us wrong, and perhaps is a step in the journey to what might be right and better for all of us.

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This is our Sun, whose light is passed through and projected on a wall, and refracted using a diffraction grating. Isn’t it gorgeous? 

I generally always feel that I am exactly where I am supposed to be in any given moment. It is a strategy that helps me find gratitude and peace with what is happening. I also have been lucky, thus far, to land on my feet. I have been wondering today, especially tonight, as I sat outside a 36cm telescope and listened to it sing like a humpback whale as it re-calibrated itself, as I stared up at the stars and listened to the funny conversations of colleagues trying to take photos of the moon on their smart phones through the Dobsonian Telescope’s eyepiece, that perhaps I have been here for a few days to remember the greatness of the capacity of human possibility and imagination. There is no greater evidence of that than looking at these telescopes up close and realizing the amount of dedication and dreaming that goes into each one of them. I asked the facilitator what drives the design and fabrication of new telescopes, and she told me, “scientific goals”. I asked her what scientific goals are inspiring the new, almost complete Magellan Telescope and she told me there were so many that it was hard to think of all of them. How wonderful an idea is that? That there are so many dreams that a real expert in her field cannot even think of all of them.

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Struve Telescope, McDonald Observatory 

I love Langston Hughes’ poetry and this one really stands out to me tonight, my last evening in this building, on a mountain, near a telescope, hurtling through space. May it serve you, too. With love and hope, P

 

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

20180619_172618The McDonald Observatory grounds from my southwest-facing window. 

Inspiration

 

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Here, I watch the sunset over the neighbor’s barn 

Over the last month, 29 new people have started following this blog. Since I have not regularly posted to the blog in almost three years, and am rather a fair-weather blog friend these days, I am taking this as a sign from the universe and the second nod of inspiration to get to it again! A few weeks ago, my mother’s best friend Jean also asked me: “what is happening these days with your writing?”.

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A bridge in Hogeye, Texas…a few miles from my new home

Challenge accepted, and with gratitude, as I have discovered, in the in-between times, that writing is a way that I understand my own experiences, my meandering wander through this game of life, and, most useful, it helps me remember the things that happened. I was happy to hear from a friend yesterday (and she is younger than me!) that she is now depending on her 4 year-old to help her remember new peoples’ names and the details of the day. Memory is funny: it’s like there is only so much space in there and so many little things get deleted. Perhaps it’s a survival skill.

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Chinaberry blossoms: this year, I felt like I had never seen them before. Maybe I hadn’t.

The same friend also inspired me yesterday by carving out a writing nook in her home. My house is quite small, so there is not a space for this as such, but I have taken the “dining room” (sounds quite fancy but it is really just a small, lovely room with two windows that looks out into the garden and is a pass-through to the living room) as the sewing room and so decided, yesterday, that it will also be the “writing nook” starting, well, today. In this room, along with the two lovely windows, is my sewing machine, the sweet hutch my lover surprised me with a while back (it houses all the fabric, the patterns and the sparkly things in the two lighted cabinets), a nice round brown wooden table, two brass candlesticks, four chairs, a wool rug with a hole at one end, and me.

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The sewing/dining room now writing nook

As I look out of the windows, I can see a windy crepe-myrtle tree and in it, a pair of cardinals. Mama usually shows up first and then is quickly chased by her partner, Red Papa. They are very sweet and chubby these days, no doubt from all the birdseed and everything else around the large yard. There are so many trees: trees in trees! In fact, in the center of the crepe myrtle is a small pecan. There is debate in the house about which goes. I vote for the pecan, as I love the crepe myrtles so much and a pecan there is too close to the house. There is also a blue ceramic birdbath that the doves love, and the grackles like to land in and splash everyone else. Beyond this scene is a white driveway shining in the early summer sun (when did it get so HOT?) and beyond that, the ever-expanding garden fence, a greenhouse, vegetable patches, and many flowers just beginning their pretty journey with us here at the new house in Elgin.

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The house with its first flower patch – now teeming with tiny flowers of myriad variety. I am sitting in front of those two full-sized windows near the back of the house in this photo. The small window is the window over the kitchen sink!

Paciencia, Paciencia is starting a new step in the journey it seems! I am leaving my current school in a few weeks and have transferred to the small middle school here in town. I will still teach the same things; the making of things, the drawing of things, the thinking of things, and the feeling better about ourselves way of things, but I will be able to bike to school on my wonderful bicycle, rather than sit on a highway in my wonderful car. My life is circling around me, the wagons of inspiration hugging a bit closer: more time for art, for garden, for writing. Here we are. Thanks for being along.

20180416_191831Is there anything as beautiful as a tomato and pepper patch in the afternoon light?

Heart Shapes

I have been being a snoop today. I like being a snoop, and am one of those people who is guilty of looking in peoples’ medicine cabinets and awkwardly moving around homes at parties gazing intently at curios and especially, photographs.

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“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Brené Brown

 

This is what I did today; in the somewhat vain attempt at unpacking, I found myself snooping in one of Cody’s boxes that is full of old photo albums. Two baby books filled with sweet notes from his mother and photos in that classic 1970s sienna tone. The photos are of a blonde baby who looks remarkably like two of his nephews, Paul and Dominic. There is also a scrapbook of his first three years, filled with more photos and birthday cards. Then there are a few more photo albums. Two are of old family photos that range from baby Cody to teenage Cody, photos of his parents and grandparents. His mom had brown hair then, blonde now, cut in that poofy 70s/80s style that I think all of our moms wore. There are photos of his father cradling him as a newborn, in the exact same way that he later cradled his own son when River was born in 2004. In those photos, you actually couldn’t tell but for the age of the photographs that the man in the frame is his father and not Cody, for when River was born, Cody cut his hair short and clean in the same style as his father’s when he was born. Little Cody peeks out of photos, holding fish on fishing lines, dressed up in terrible Halloween costumes, sitting next to his father and mother and grandmother, posing on the trunk of a very old, silver Honda Civic. His father so young, and Cody so small: the family resemblance between the two is so strong. They share brows and shoulders, height and lankiness. Later, Teenage Cody begins to look as he does now: very tall, thin, with long-lashed eyes. Those long lashes show up in one photo from when he must have been about two.

There are also photo albums from later life, from when he moved to Austin in 1998. Cody out with friends, on the road to Albuquerque and Amarillo, and photos of the highways in between. Photos of him in Amsterdam with an old girlfriend who looks very sweet and very 90s in her baggy pants and oversized t-shirts. There is a photo of Cody from when he was building his first tattoo shop, when he was 25, and he looks almost exactly as he does today: glasses, beard and mustache, t-shirt, jeans, tattoos from tip to tail.

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Living with someone versus dating them and spending nights at each other’s houses is so different: all the cards are out on the table. All of each other’s strange little behaviors are on full display for each other to eke out over time; learn to tolerate, appreciate, and love. Cody puts a paper towel under the french press every morning while he makes coffee and it makes me crazy because it makes no sense. He apologizes almost constantly, seemingly just for moving around. I keep telling him he doesn’t have to do that. I wonder what things he notices about me that bug him, but he appreciates because they are mine, all the same.

In a set of the photographs, I saw the houses he lived in a tpwn in rural Louisiana, when he was learning to tattoo. There are photos of his first tattoo on an orange. There are photos of his Uncle and Aunt’s house, surrounded by potted plants and 5 gallon buckets of soil. This photo shows me why he collects so many plants and 5-gallon buckets of soil. This behavior of his ties back to the past, gives him some sense of continuity of time, perhaps. There is a photo of him in front of the school bus he lived in during his time in Louisiana, dressed up in the same leather coat he wears when it is cold, in front of a cook-fire. Cody loves cooking on an open fire. There are photos of his grandparents camp house in Center, Texas: an old, white trailer with a deck in the front. There are photos of the back porch with his mom and dad and grandmother. Little did I know that by looking at those photos on a quiet, rainy day in July (thanks be for the rain!) that I would learn so much about the man who I thought I knew the most about: the man who has become my best friend and my companion in this life.

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A few years ago, during the time when I was at the beginning of my “nervy b”, as I like to call it, I culled through hundreds of photos, scanning some and throwing away the rest. I used to have two photo albums but I don’t know where they are anymore. In some ways, during that time, I chose, albeit with a frame of mind that had a distinct lack of clarity, to literally throw out much of my past evidence. Today, I realized the sadness in that is that not that the things are gone, and neither the memories, but the signposts are no longer. Perhaps we hold on to objects not just because they are precious but because they help us re-establish that continuity of time in our own lives. Perhaps if I still had those photographs, I could remember better the times in my young life when I was friends with a boy named Eric, son of my mom’s best friend Pat. We used to do things all the time, dress up, ride horses, be really silly. Eric now has schizophrenia and lives in Florida: I wonder if he remembers anything from that time, at all?

I got rid of almost everything I owned, sold it to strangers and left it on a street in Philadelphia to be combed over by neighbors from countries near and far. I used to have a bag of my great-grandmother’s hand-made lace. Where is it now? Not that it matters much, really. I suppose I am mulling over my own rejection of my continuity of time. At that moment, in the years between 2012-2014, I was so ashamed of myself and my decisions that I threw all evidence of it away. No wedding photos, and all evidence of Steve is gone except a box from China his father once gave to me. Even my wedding ring is gone, and I stuffed my wedding dress into a trash can on the back porch of that house in Philadelphia.

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Here I am, today, in 2016, going through boxes of my own and of Cody’s, as we piece together a new life in a funky house in Dripping Springs, Texas. I grew really sad during my perusal of photographs today, realizing that whatever I had that was like these objects before me, I had destroyed in mad, sad intention. It’s true that my parents have a treasure trove of photographs, so I need not really worry about that specifically, but it’s like I am looking back at these last few years and wondering about putting together the events in a chain that makes sense and represents my memories. I suppose that is what this writing project is all about: a memoir, the establishment of the story after many years have passed.

I love Cody for many reasons, but one of the main ones is his ability to recognize his own painful life events and hold on the positives. He has a very good sense of perspective and being present. He isn’t perfect, and neither am I. This morning I hung a bamboo shade of his on the window in the living room. It has a giant batik of butterflies on it, and it used to hang in the front window of his first tattoo shop on Burleson Road in south Austin. I remember staring at it during the hours of talking and tattooing that were the beginning of our long-standing friendship. And now it hangs in our house: the home we are building together, doing our best, muddling through, baring it all to each other, every day, and every night.

“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”
Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

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Stranger in a Strange Land

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In life come moments of clarity. This vision is only offered, not commanded. Your choice is to live in a state of grace or continue in normality. No blame. Fear can be an awesome obstacle when a time like this is presented. You will make great advancement and find your truth if you discharge fear and deconstruct your doubts. – the I Ching

The first tincture was of redwood and honey, I think, and the second was a spritz to the face that smelled like roasted poblano and brought me back to San Miguel de Allende’s dusty, windswept streets. In an instant it was changed to a murky, chocolate-flavored stuff that reminded me in some ways of coffee grounds. The last was a smear to the face of something golden from a large jug. This all happened during a story-circle for this month’s Pisces Full Moon: a circle of story-tellers and singers.

Moments of clarity and feelings of grounding have been hard to come by since my return to Austin; I feel like the place that I once called home is physically here, but everything is so different, including myself. Last night I saw old friends who didn’t even know I was back, and it made me realize that I haven’t truly been “living” here but continuing my attitude and behaviors of passing through, of being a drifter in one place or another. This is amplified now by still being separated from many of my belongings who still lie quietly in Maine, waiting for me to bring them here.

Last night’s theme was one of homecoming, and the first storyteller told a tale of being from Austin and just coming back after being a long time away in a very different place. Hers was the desert and mine was a northern island, but the feelings were the same. She said that a place becomes you, and I think she is right: I think I have even written here how I felt that life in Maine made you feel as if you were the environment that surrounded you: everything so interconnected, changeable, beautiful, mysteriously dark. Perhaps she felt the same away about her desert far away.

Homecoming is this idea full of levels of complication that start with the reality that you can never come home again: that home is different and so are its people. In my case, this city has transformed and swelled so that it seems like it is bursting at the seams, liable to just pour outward in a great torrent of people, cars, and buildings. This town, to me, always seemed a little sleepy and slow, not like Bar Harbor of course, but it was a nice feeling to feel at ease in a place all the time. And now the pace seems so fast that it seems likely to get swept up in it and carried along, without knowing which way you want to choose to go.

Is life so full of chapters? Apparently so.

Let’s All Try to Help Each Other Make Decisions

If everything is temporary, then why do we have to make decisions that sometimes negatively effect some while positively effecting others, or the self?

We have to make decisions because the oxygen mask must be placed on our own faces first: without self-love, self-respect, goals, and an attitude of cheerfulness, we are no good to anyone else.

I have a hard time advocating for myself: perhaps some of you share this. I find it difficult because it means confrontation and the risk that someone may be disappointed, hurt, or upset. Pre-recent times, I did a really good job of practicing my strategy of Avoidance. Avoidance is a magical strategy that someone taught me when I was little; they taught be to look calm, speak intelligently, dress nicely, be incredibly selfish, and when backed into a corner, leap out, run away, and disappear. It is a terrible and sad way to go through a life and this is something that I realized about three years ago, when I moved to Maine.

At that time, I had narrowly escaped a very dangerous relationship with another person, with myself, and with a city that seemed to have Bad Luck for Patience written all over it. But even my very presence in that city and the choices that led up to that move were the effects of that age old Strategy of Avoidance, and its brother (in my case), Rushing Through Life at Warp Speed. I had decided that I didn’t want to deal with the repercussions of divorce in Austin, and so I created a path to reinvention that has taken me here, there and everywhere, finally resulting in coming back to Earth and making some hard, but important decisions.

When I returned to Austin, I interviewed for the job that I was just recently offered. I interviewed twice, and was very encouraged by the interviews. I really liked the school and its students and was excited to be part of such a dynamic and forward-thinking place. After I interviewed and was able to substitute teach for a few days, I was confronted with Avoidance again. When Avoidance walks in, the conversation is usually the same. In my mind, Avoidance says, “but what about your freedom? Do you really want this? This is going to be hard.” And I used to say, as long as it was nothing to do with the heart or my personal life, “well yes, I do, and how hard can it be? I am a very capable person who is good at making plans and carrying them out.” In this specific case, Avoidance said: “but you haven’t been a classroom teacher in three years. It’s going to take a lot. And you aren’t even sure if you want this, anyway.” And I said back, “you know….you are right.”

I was filled with doubts: doubts about what I wanted, and what my abilities were. My doubts were confirmed when I did not hear from the school regarding a position for a very, very long time. I remember one evening when Avoidance was pushed aside by Pragmatism and Peace, who both said to me, “you know, if this is what you get to do, then you are doing something right.” And I said back, “you know….you are right.”

And then I sat, and waited. I wrote a couple of emails. I waited. I came to the realization that maybe Avoidance had let me tarry too long and I had done something wrong either in my Life, or in one of the interviews, or that this just wasn’t meant to be. I sat with that for awhile, and eventually learned to let it go. At this time, I was very nervous about jobs and money being that I have been working at a bakery part-time and not making as much jewelry as before. I felt I was losing my way, somehow, and that even though everything felt right and ok, I hadn’t found my place yet and I was worried about that. In ran Rush Through Life and said, “you have to do SOMETHING. This isn’t going to work.” I debated the options, the pros and cons, of what to do: whether to return to Maine and work for the summer, knowing that at least I would have a nest egg of some sort for fall. I thought about leaving Austin just as it was coming to feel normal, and uprooting myself again. I thought about trusting the Universe that the right thing would open up in my heart and hands. I made the decision that Maine at least made sense financially, and that since I had no other options, it was the best one to do: I knew the ins and outs, and could predict (basically) the path of the summer, and that it would be great to see friends and be in the party-party atmosphere of MDI in the summertime. I decided to go, and leave just after my immigration appointment on June 26th.

A few days passed, and I was beginning to plan how to get to Maine, and the plan for returning in the fall with the remainder of my belongings and some cash in my pocket. I realized there were good reasons to go, despite friends and family, and that I could continue to grow my career in the direction of jewelry and jewelry making. I realized that if I were to open my own space here in Austin, that I had more to learn and connections to make. So, I was going, and soon. And then there was a phone call.

The phone call was an apology and a request to come in to meet the following Monday. Early on that Monday morning, I had a conversation with Avoidance and Fear of Commitment. I thought, in that moment, that I was going to be asked to teach an entirely different class, one I was not 100% behind or necessarily skilled to teach. I sat in the parking lot for a minute, thought about going in with confidence and calm and communicating what I felt, and to Sashay Away. It was in this meeting that the administrators of the school offered me my teaching position of my pedagogical dreams: art-science-engineering. I sat in an uncomfortable chair, bewildered and laughing. I asked them if they were really going to hire me to do what I want to do, and what I have wanted to do for years. They said yes.

I realized, over the next few days, that this point in life is not only a turning point, but it is also a new chapter, and that fundamental changes are taking place. Yes, I made the choice to return in those early days of April, but I wouldn’t have guessed the changes that are here, that were here, and that would begin to happen in my own life. I wondered if other people think of their life in terms of chapters, or matrix points on the crazy flowchart of life. I realized that had I not gone to Maine and worked on all the myriad projects I had worked on, that I would not have been offered this opportunity. I realized that it is a priceless one, and that not only its potential but its long-term application was worth more to me than, well, in truth, any other career-related opportunity that I had ever been given. So I smiled and I took it.

Avoidance, though, being a tricky character, came back in and I delayed in sharing the news, due to wishing to not hurt anyone in Maine that I wasn’t going to come back. It took me a long time, too long, to be honest about that, and that is because not only do I care about all my friends and family up on that beautiful island, but it was also the place where I found myself, where I was truer to myself and grew to understand myself in ways I don’t think I ever would had I stayed here all along. I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, and most of the time, was happier for the experience. Occasionally I still felt pent in by my own feelings: especially in the winter. But I worked on understanding the temporary nature of day to day life, I grew to appreciate establishing a sense of calm and equanimity, and I truly began to detach from things and learn to love people and experiences. It is tremendously hard to not go back to Maine for these reasons and others that include comfort and quiet and that special place of peace that we all find on MDI, which is one of the reasons why those of us who know it love it so.

However, I had to make a decision about my Life, and about what was important to me and what would serve me best in the future. I had to acknowledge the changes that were happening and understand their level of gravity and importance. In other words, I had to grow up and learn that I could leave for the summer and let Avoidance take me on another journey, albeit a short-term one, or I could stand on my own two feet, look at the path my life has taken, acknowledge its rewards and its trials, and be here now. I feel like I am being given great gifts at this present moment, and I intend to stay grateful and present with them. I want to not run away from what is scary: commitment, success, long-term friendships, closeness, responsibilities. Despite my fear of that list of Scary Ideas, and I know there are others that I am not including for different reasons, I feel like I am at a time and place in my life to accept my choices, celebrate where I can, and continue to learn from every step along the road that I am lucky enough to pay attention to.

Although it is hard for me to write this, I am very proud of the last few years. Despite the emotional shifts and the intense ups and downs and the instability, the experiences of Philly and Maine made me a stronger, more grounded, and more understanding person of myself. This means that the selfishness is still there, but perhaps that old adage of awareness being half the battle is true. Maybe also is that one about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Avoidance and Rushing Through Life are still there: perhaps they will be, in some ways, there forever. But part of my subconscious-level new commitments since returning to Austin are to work on those aspects of my life and really try to examine why they are there so that I can be a more content person than I have been. My return to Austin has been full of learning how to commit, be in the present and not the past, and how to share. I feel like it is time to be at home; I don’t want to run away again.

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