Saturday, March 28, 2015

All the places I've called home




I grew up in California in a house that sat atop a hill. Tall grass and scrub oak blanketed the surrounding hills. The home buzzed with life. Two kids running hither and yon, a dog and a cat and a bird and various pocket pets that never seemed to stay around for long. The house was alive with joy and energy. The sun shone bright overhead and my heart soaked it all in. I lived there until I was thirteen, at which point my parents divorced. I moved out with my mom and not long afterward, the house on the hill was packed up and sold.

Next was a series of rented apartments that felt like way stations. My mom drifted from place to place, trying on new versions of herself, and I tagged along behind her. This went on until I was on the cusp of adulthood. I learned to hold my breath, to not put down roots. It was a lesson in the impermanence of life.

As long as I was unmoored, I decided, I would travel. I worked temporary jobs until I had enough money to travel, then I took off on some new adventure. I kept my possessions few and lived lightly. I traveled all over the country, and eventually across the ocean. I spent six months traipsing across Australia, going deep into the red interior. I found the land to be inescapably beautiful. I felt at peace there, my soul taking root in the ancient red land. This foreign yet familiar place redefined for me the meaning of home.

In my mid-twenties, I moved to Kansas to be near my mom. I decided to go back to school. I rented an apartment in an old Victorian house and settled in to the rhythm and beat of campus life. It was my first home that was mine alone, a place of blossoming. I filled it with books and travel mementos and quilt fabrics. Light streamed in through the big front window, where my cats perched on the sill, lazily twitching their tails. It was a place of joy and friendship, of creativity and freedom. The stuff of creation. At the end of my first year at school, within the span of a handful of months, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and died. I was bereft. But I stayed on three more years in my newly-made home, and it soothed my broken heart.

My next home was on an island in the Pacific Northwest. I was drawn there by the beauty and solitude, but hadn’t considered what it would feel like to be so alone. I imagined I would make friends, as I always had, but this proved a challenge. It never occurred to me that it might be difficult to meet kindred souls on a remote, rural island. I felt like I lived inside the pages of National Geographic. Bald eagles soared overhead and nested in the tall trees overlooking the strait. Orcas and grey whales breached and spouted. The cold sea lapped the shore. At night I could hear the mournful cry of foghorns and feel the vibrations from the cargo ships cruising silently through the dark passage. It was hauntingly beautiful, but the trees sucked up all the light and my heart grew lonely.

I returned to Kansas and moved into another Victorian-era home. The house was old and friendly and weathered. The dining room floor slanted downward and I had to duck to enter my bedroom closet. I painted the kitchen yellow and filled the house with quirky second-hand furniture. The house was light and hopeful, like my last home in Kansas, but I had carried with me some of the sadness from the island and it settled into the home. I stayed there for two years, feeling about, looking for a path.

Next came the house in the suburbs. I had never wanted to live in the suburbs - beige neighborhoods filled with beige cookie-cutter houses – but I let him choose the house. Life had taught me to bend with the wind, but sometimes I bent too far. I came to the house reluctantly, one eyebrow raised. My travel photos and quilts seemed out of place within its newly constructed walls. It felt like someone else’s home. Nevertheless, it was a place that birthed and grew children. A place where cookies were baked and faces cleaned and floors swept again and again. The house, benign and accommodating, nurtured my kids through childhood and sent them off to school. The seasons recycled themselves and life was pleasant enough.

But then there was the summer when everything fell apart. When violence cut like a knife through our family. His lawyer demanded the house and I, frightened and somewhat relieved, made preparations to leave. I was surprised, however, when the house held fast to us. The horror of that period drew out for another three years and all that time we stayed in the house. She held us there through the longest night, cupped in her hand, cushioning us from a series of sucker punches.

When the storm passed and we emerged, shell-shocked yet intact, I regarded the house with a newfound appreciation. I had never seen the loyalty and strength hidden beneath her beige exterior. This place I had leaned away from all those years.

She holds us now with an open palm, like a good Samaritan setting free a once-wounded bird. She wills us to take flight. I can feel her folding up our family’s history, like a laundered sheet, tucking it into a trunk for shipping. She is making preparations for a new family and some days I can almost hear the laughter of someone else’s children running down her hallways, strewing crumbs across her floors and gathering the oversized leaves from her yard.

When I lie quietly at night, I can feel our next house beckoning to us. I catch the fresh scent of towels still crisp from the clothes line. I hear the wind in the trees outside and the murmurs of my children in the next room. I feel the passage of time, like Fortuna’s wheel, carrying us forward towards the next new place, the framework of a home waiting for us to write our story into its walls.






Sunday, March 22, 2015

The 39 Reasons


  1. I have to write. It is in my blood.
  2. But I don’t have time anymore. My job sucks up all my time.
  3. I’m too exhausted.
  4. Besides, the community isn’t there any more.
  5. I will be writing into a void.
  6. I miss that sense of community so much.
  7. Life has become too heavy and serious.
  8. And what if I don’t write anything inspired?
  9. What if it’s boring?
  10. My writing has bored me lately.
  11. When I write too much, the truth comes out.
  12. The truth is painful.
  13. I don’t want to feel it.
  14. I’m hungry. I wonder if there is any cake left?
  15. I need a cup of tea, too.
  16. You know, there is so much heaviness associated with this blog.
  17. When I open it up, I remember all of it – the ups, the downs, the serious downs.
  18. It comes flooding back.
  19. I need to start another blog, one that is fresh and new, without that heavy history.
  20. But god that’s a lot of work, building a new blog.
  21. Yeah, no. I don’t want to do all that work.
  22. It’s not just the painful memories. I’m reminded of all the dreams I had, too.
  23. I’m reminded that my life hasn’t worked out the way I hoped it would.
  24. I’m still in Kansas.
  25. I feel old.
  26. I’m being morose. I would feel better if I started exercising again.
  27. Actually, I should be cleaning.
  28. I should go get my kids off the computer and do a puzzle with them.
  29. In fact, we should have scheduled family time once a week. No computers, no devices.
  30. What if I write and no one reads?
  31. What if people from work are reading? That’s always awkward.
  32. What if my ex’s family reads it?
  33. What if he reads it?
  34. He gets out in two years.
  35. I don't think Anna fed the cats. They are looking at me like they haven't been fed.
  36. I need to go to bed in an hour.
  37. Seriously, fuck all of it.
  38. I just want to write.
  39. I need to write.







Tuesday, March 17, 2015

For Kate

Photo credit: dreamstime
I have the Facebook Timehop app on my phone. Every day it delivers back to me the status updates I posted one, two, three or more years ago on that same date. Five years ago next month marks the day my marriage imploded. Four years ago today I was strolling along Bondi Beach in Sydney, preparing or the first Aussie Bloggers Conference (remember that?). Two years ago July I sat eating an ice cream cone a thousand miles from home, waiting for charges to be levied. A year ago last month my ex-husband was sentenced. The dates roll around in a circle, a series of awkward anniversaries.

It’s humbling to see the passage of time. When everything went south in my life, I kept the faith that some sort of salvation was just around the corner. My ex would be arrested. We would move far away. I would run every day and get fit. I would lose weight. I would start blogging regularly again and I would love it. I would write my memoir and get a publishing contract. I would find love again – this time a healthy, worthy love. As I sat wrapped in my pain, I willed these things to happen.

I would even start off down a rickety path towards one of these goals, but I never got far. I would put up an online dating profile, only to meet someone who was embarrassingly like the man I’d just left. I would look for jobs overseas, and get overwhelmed by the red tape and stacked odds. I would begin churning out blog posts, and then have my words thrown back at me in court. I would start running and eating healthier, only to have my progress interrupted when I had to pack up the kids and leave home to find safety. Two steps forward, three steps back. I felt like I couldn’t win for losing.

It pissed me off, frankly. After all, didn’t I deserve a reprieve after everything I’d been through? Hadn’t I earned some good karma? I had endured so much, why must I get more of the same? I figured I must be doing something wrong.

I remember one day, not long after returning home from the summer spent in hiding, I was driving through my neighborhood. I saw a woman out running on the same path I had run on six months earlier. I felt a pang of jealousy and thought, “Look at that woman running, like I used to do. She gets to go home to a house that is safe. She probably has family nearby and a partner to support her. I bet she doesn’t worry about money.” I envisioned a wonderful, successful life for this unsuspecting woman, a life that was the antithesis of mine.

And then, quite suddenly, I felt something inside me shift. I was now seeing myself running on that path, only I saw myself as an outsider might. I saw a woman who had been through some serious shit. Unfathomable shit. She would fashion a dream and then get knocked flat, and then she would get up and fashion another. And look at her out there in the midst of it all, trying to get fit! She keeps getting up and moving forward, spinning hope out of nothing.

The world tilted just a bit and it shifted my viewpoint. Instead of a failure, I saw myself as resilient. I felt compassion for myself. Love, even.

The gift of perspective dropped in my lap.

Today I read a post by a fellow blogger, Kate. She’s been through some pretty intense trauma recently. Several aspects of her story parallel mine and when I see her updates, it’s like that Timehop app -- I am reminded in a visceral way of the emotional journey I was on a few years ago.

Kate, I wish I could tell you that it will all be over soon. It might, then again it might not. But what you’re doing is spot on. You’re turning around to face it. When I stopped willing my situation to change and instead sat still with it, the ugly feelings began to dissipate. I sat there a long, long time (I’m still sitting).

You’re getting up each day and getting on with it. You’re traveling an unmapped road and making decisions in each moment about what’s in your family’s best interest. You’re taking a private journey in a sometimes-public way and because of that, you’re leaving bread crumbs for the countless others who suffer in silence. The ones you don’t even know about.

If I have any advice to give, it would be this. Keep following your instincts. Keep healing. Sit down with your pain, say hello, pour it a cup of tea, and it may begin to dissolve on its own. Maybe, when it does, you’ll begin to see yourself as those around you see you: strong, beautiful and full of courage.

There is no timeline. You’re doing it exactly right.







Saturday, November 1, 2014

And God commanded: Sit Still Already!



There are a hundred reasons why people don't pursue the things that they love and only one sure way to ensure that they do.

Read on and I will reveal all. The reason I know this is because I've spent the last several months reading books on how to set and achieve goals, how to live your dreams, how to write like a mofo, how to clear your energy blocks, etc, etc, ad naseum. I love reading books like this. Why? Because as long as I'm reading about doing something, I don't actually have to do it. It's one of the most hallowed and advanced forms of procrastination. 

However, if you were to condense the advice in all of the books above, it would come down to this: if you want to do something just sit down and do it. Since my goals are mostly centered around writing, for me this translates into: just write.

But wait, there's more. When you take action toward your dreams, life steps up to meet you halfway. The Fates breathe stardust on your work and magic happens.

When I sit down to write, it activates my procrastibrain. I type out a paragraph and then feel an overwhelming need to organize the kids' closets or advance the laundry or indulge my sudden and uncontrollable desire for coffee and a cinnamon muffin. When I finally manage to complete a piece of writing it's incredibly cathartic. I want to cheer and hang a Mission Accomplished banner across my back porch.

If you are doing all these things then, like me, you don't really see yourself as a writer. 

When I go into work, I work full stop for a good 8-10 hours. In a given day, I may interview a job candidate, negotiate a contract, create a salary spreadsheet, give a presentation and answer about fifty emails. I don't expect kudos for doing this. There are no celebrations, my boss doesn't high-five me and fireworks don't erupt into the air and light the ceiling tiles in my office on fire. It's just another day at work. I do it because it's my job. 

The trick, for a writer, is to view writing as a job. Or so they tell me.

Okay, okay, okay, said I, with a sigh. I will just do it. I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, which, if you don't know about it, means committing to write 50k words in the month of November. The last time I did this, it worked like a charm. I produced a 52,000 word draft of my memoir (which, incidentally, still sits in draft form). I knew it would be more challenging this year because I am working full-time. But I made the commitment to do it. And then something extraordinary happened.

I was walking out of a campus building on Wednesday after attending a social media training and missed a step. I did a dramatic, ankle-crunching triple lutz onto the pavement which earned me an audience of concerned citizens and an ambulance ride to the hospital. They diagnosed me with a shattered left fibula and sprained right ankle and sent me home with a splint, a bottle of Percocet and instructions to lie flat in bed for a really long time. 

So here I lie. Ambulation is near impossible. Even maneuvering from my bed to the bathroom requires fifteen minutes, a rolling chair, incredible tricep strength and the loss of my dignity.

Thus it was I woke up on the morning of November 1st, opened up my computer and wrote 3,000 words out of the chute. I could not stop to advance the laundry, cleaning was a pipe dream and even preparing a cup of coffee was beyond my capabilities (god dammit). I quite literally was robbed of nine-tenths of my go-to procrastination tricks.

One thing I learned from my ordeal of the last few years is that we get to choose our own life narratives. While we can't control the actions of others, we get to define the meaning behind any experiences we have. That is why I have chosen to see my accident not as an unfortunate mishap or evidence of spectacular klutzery, but rather the Universe hearing my wishes and creating for me the time and space to write. 

It also means that the next time I find myself procrastinating towards taking action in the direction of my goals, I probably should just go ahead and do it. Because it would be even more fun to be writing full bore with coffee and two working legs.

Lesson learned.


 When Scarlett Johansson fell down, she got an awesome meme








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