I Remember… A Writing Challenge

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Running my hand along the textures of the past.

In an effort to stretch my writer muscles and foster connections with other writers, I joined an online writer’s group set up by a couple lovely ladies I know from a book club I did last month. (The book club was for Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. READ IT.)

 

Amber and Chelsea, the organizers, have been gracious and industrious enough to design a six week long writing challenge going over three types of writing: personal essay, fiction, and poetry. The first installment is the personal essay, a genre I’ve been interested in exploring more after reading books like Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner, and working on the Making Her Escape blog.

The first exercise this week was to write a letter to our writer’s block, an assignment I had little trouble with. It turned out full of gratitude and understanding that, for me, writer’s block is really a signpost telling me that something is off, and needs to be looked at before I can go forward. I like directions, even if they can be frustrating.

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A lot to remember.

The second assignment, which I just finished, was to riff off Joe Brainard’s memoir, “I Remember”. The concept is one you might have found in various literature or creative writing classes: start each paragraph with I remember. Follow the rabbit trail. See where it leads you.

 

Chelsea is sharing her efforts through this challenge on her blog, a practice I—and others in the group—have decided to emulate. So when I sat down to write what I remembered, I had this grand idea of sharing it with all of you.

Except, I remembered a lot of things that aren’t ready to share. A lot of things that could hurt people I care about, or expose wounds that aren’t healed enough to be opened to the fresh air. The whole piece is ruminating on a topic that I have sunk my teeth into over and over, and will likely continue worrying being the meat is still releasing tasty juices. But, I have to wonder in this moment, if sinking my teeth into the subject actually keeps that wound on this side of healed. Or maybe it just needs me to chew and digest until I find something clean? I don’t know.

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And the memories take on different flavors.

 

What I do know is that I will likely continue to explore what has become—and really always was—a mystery in my life. I want answers. I think it’s a common human thing, to want to know what makes things tick, or fail to tick, or tick to a different rhythm than we’re used to and therefore comfortable with.

I remember wondering what is truth.

I remember thinking nothing is, not really.

Nothing, and everything.

I guess it depends on who’s looking.

If you’re interested in joining this awesome group, Leap of Words, here’s a link. It’s a private Facebook group, but only for the means of keeping the work and words, we share with one another away from eyes that may not know how to support the delicate process of creative growth. I’d love to see you there!

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Moving, Shifting, Changing: Welcoming 2018

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One of my last days in Peru, at a burger joint in Huanchaco.

Welcome, 2018! I know this post is a bit late to the party since we’ve all been living this shiny new year for over a week now, but I’ve never been hugely punctual. It’s part of my dubious charm.

 

We all went through some crap in 2017. Our first year having a reality TV show celebrity known for his crassness and shady business dealings as the President of the US. Natural disasters that have made it seem, in the States at least, that the Apocalypse truly is nigh. Political and social unrest across the world, white supremacists coming out of the woodwork, threats to medical coverage and incomprehensible political machinations that seem to be systematically stripping the common people of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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Cats of 2017, from Peru to Colorado to Washington.

That’s just on the big scale. I’ve talked to so many people who have gone through some wild and challenging events this last year, and I can include myself in that category. I came back from Peru and immediately started having symptoms analogous to PTSD. (I still can’t quite bring myself to say “I’ve experienced PTSD”, which is another exploration altogether.) I spent months crying in my teenage bedroom, completely unsure about myself, my direction, my life, my purpose, my existence. I spent months reconnecting with my mother. I traveled up and down the west coast volunteering at festivals and living out of the back of a truck with my partner. I lost myself for a while in my old life in rural Marysville, doing things and behaving like someone I used to be until a number of face-to-face confrontations with abuse, addiction, dishonesty, and disrespect made my eyes snap back into the open position.

 

Finally, at the end of 2017, I moved. Finally. FINALLY.

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Our bunk at a community house in Bellingham. If it looks chaotic, that’s because it is.

 

It’s a move I’d been needing for months, years even. A move out of separation and solitariness into connection and community. A move that has meant shedding layers, relationships, and situations that were keeping me heavy and blocked. It a shedding that is still very much in process, and which has brought up all sorts of feelings of being unworthy and unlovable. After all, even if my relationship with certain people was unhealthy, they were still my relationships. And, by virtue of having so few of these friendships, the ones I had seemed intractable and of enormous importance, even as they were deeply problematic.

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You can never really tell what cards people are playing with, until they lay them down.

(I’m not saying friendship is unimportant. I’m saying that when you only have four or five people in your life, they take on more weight than any one person should ever have to carry. A situation which becomes especially detrimental when those relationships themselves are riddled with rust.)

 

Country living has its charm. Quiet nights, incredible views of the stars, daily visits by deer and hummingbirds. It can also be extremely isolating. When the nearest town is a twenty-minute drive and seems terminally devoid of all but the most struggling signs of community, it can be hard to maintain a sense of connection.

My new city is the opposite. (Except for the visits from the deer; they love downtown!) Full of vibrant people who bring themselves into the world through communion, through workshops, through discussion and communal living and art and poetry and D&D games and silliness and conflict resolution. There is part of me that asks myself to temper my response to this place, but there is a bigger part of me that says dig in, this is the good stuff.

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Oh yeah, we bought a motorhome. For one dollar.

 

I read a blog post recently from a woman who writes about her own experiences in community living. She expressed this feeling of bonelessness that comes from offering yourself to the world in the form of creative expression, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a deep and very real way. On the other side of this jellied feeling there lays the possibility for breakthroughs. This feeling is a signpost that Big Magic is in the works.

I am not boneless, not now. But I feel the potentiality there, within my grasp. Here, I have access to people, structures, and thought patterns that make space for my own innovations and offerings—should I choose to do so. That part’s up to me.

May we all say yes to healthy vulnerability, discomfort, and breakthroughs a little (or a lot) more often in the coming year.

Shedding My Layers Part One: Polyamory

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You ask, “Why do you cry with such

sweetness all around?” I weep as I

make the honey, wearing the shirt

of a bee, and I refuse to share this

suffering. I play the sky’s harp. I

curl around my treasure like a snake.

You say, “What is this ‘I’ business?”

Friend, I’ve been a long time away

from my center. What you see here is

your own reflection. I am still raw,

and at the same time well-cooked, and

burnt to a crisp! No one can tell if

I’m weeping or laughing. I wonder myself.

How can I be separated, and yet in union?

-Rumi

“I curl around my treasure like a snake.” This line, in particular, has caught me from this gorgeous poem. It encompasses, to me, what I have so often done with my sense of ‘identity’. I have curled myself around pieces of information and used them to define me. It’s something we all do, to varying degrees. We identify as our roles: mother, husband, student. As our social standing: pillar of society, hermit, fuck-up. As our jobs. As our diagnoses. As our emotions. As our thoughts.

None of that really describes who we are, though.  This morning, I felt buoyant. That does not make me buoyant, but at one time I did feel this way. I have been a wife—that does not, in perpetuity, make me a wife. And so one. I’ve even changed names throughout my life, so that, too, is a wiggly definition. Yet, without these labels, I am left with…what?

Well, that’s what I’m starting to discover. What is under all these layers I’ve collected over the years? With each definition I shed, something new arises. A spaciousness comes to light.

I’ll give you an example, one that is really not fucking easy for me to own up to, because of the path that brought me to this point in my life.

blog 11.2When I was sixteen, I was given a book called The Ethical Slut. Many of you have probably heard of it, or read it. For those who haven’t, it’s an inspiring nonfiction work on the practice of ethical polyamory. I ate it up. I identified with the author’s views on love, and sex. This idea that we should be able to love freely and let relationships grow organically appealed to me immensely. That we shouldn’t be ‘tied down’ to one, monogamous relationship. That ‘sex is nice, and pleasure is good for you’. The information in that book took root, and from that point on I identified as polyamorous.

Fast forward a few years, to the point where I met my now ex-husband. We dated for a while, then broke up. Then got back together. Then, because of this identity—as well as another I won’t get into at this point—we broke up again. I wanted an open relationship, he didn’t. Then, we got back together, and I worked hard at pushing this identity under layers of repression. I didn’t address it. I didn’t explore it. I hid it. And six years later it exploded with the righteous fury of a really hungry zombie. The marriage ended, in part because I demanded an open relationship.

Moving forward, I tried to embrace this idea. The jealousy and discomfort that came up in the course of trying to model the kind of relationship and free-wheeling sexuality I decided I wanted did illuminate many things, but never quite became the tool of discovery I hoped for. Instead, I made myself miserable, and plenty of people I care about deeply were pretty miserable, too. Still, I pushed ahead, sure that I could just keep wading through until something started to shift and I could see the light. I kept hoping, believing, that there would come a time when me talking about polyamory to another person would feel natural, and not like I was dressing up in someone else’s clothes.

It never happened. But I wanted it to, so badly. Not in small part because I’d used polyamory as a cudgel to maim my marriage, and hurt a good man in the process. I had to be polyamorous. I had to be open, and sexy, and free-spirited because I’d built so much of my identity around this thing.

I curled around that treasure like a snake, and I was damned if I was going to let it go. It was me, after all.

Except…it wasn’t.

These last couple months—hell, these last few years—have been a thunderstorm interspersed with breaks in the cloud letting brilliant beams of sunshine in. Focusing now on the last couple months, I’ve found myself recognizing bits and pieces of clothing I’ve been wearing that don’t actually belong to me. Big bits.

Polyamory is one of them.blog 11.3

I’ve always liked to think of myself as counterculture. Too cool for school (literally). I have always kind of loved the shock factor that comes along with parts of my identity I collected, and polyamory is definitely good for a bit of taboo, a bit of titillation. But one thing I’ve come to realize is that adopting something with the hope that it will make people flinch, or lean in with a leer, is no different than adopting something with the hope that it will make them like you. It’s still acting based on what someone else will say.

Why polyamory, out of all the ‘shocking’ bits of identity I could have chosen?  Well, relationships are a sticky, tangled web. One that I have enjoyed losing myself in. One I have enjoyed escaping from myself into. For me, sex has been, at times, a weapon. An escape chute. A tool.

It has also been a joining of souls. A Divine experience. Transcendent.

At times when I’ve wanted to escape, I’ve used sex as a means to do it. I’ve used relationships as a means to do it. At times when I’ve wanted to be closer to God, I’ve used sex and relationships in an attempt to fill that uniquely God-shaped void. In the end, using sex and relationships at all has only ended in more suffering. They’re not tools to be used. They’re opportunities to celebrate, to practice gratitude and connection.

blog 11.4As I’ve grown stronger in my relationship with God, and as I’ve found a more personal relationship with Shiva in particular, this need I’ve felt to embrace polyamory has evaporated. It’s a strange feeling, but, like I said, there is a spaciousness left in its place.

I want to be clear that I am not looking down on polyamory for anyone else. I do believe that for some people it can be a holy, ethical, aware practice, and besides, that’s none of my business. I’m also not saying that I am totally closed to the possibility that at some point in the future I may find myself in a situation where having an intimate relationship with more than one person is truly my Path. But, I can guarantee, it won’t look anything like anything I’ve done in the past.

I am done using my sexuality as a place to hide, a place to escape, or a weapon to hurt. And that feels pretty fucking good.

Thank you, polyamory, for all you have taught me. I am sorry to all of those who have been hurt in the process. I ask for Divine guidance in the next steps of this journey.

Namaste.

How To Go Back Without Going Backwards

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Me. 18. Mere minutes after getting my lower lip pierced.

I write this sitting in the bed I slept in when I was 16. Sitting in the room I lived in when I was 16. Staring out the window at the same view I saw when I was 16. I’m 31, now, but coming back to my parent’s house has forced me to look at many, many aspects of myself that I’d just as soon forget.

 

I just finished watching the first season of “No Tomorrow” (which I highly recommend, cheesy romance bits and all), and there’s a scene where the main female lead breaks things off with the main male lead because he won’t talk to his father. “I can’t be with someone who isn’t their whole self.” That struck a chord with me. I can’t BE someone who isn’t their whole self. I’m not willing to live a life unexamined, just because some of the really painful bits I’ve glossed over happened ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.

When I was considering coming here, instead of going to Seattle or South Carolina or wherever the hell else, I experienced a lot of anxiety. Was I admitting defeat? Was I returning to comfort for the sake of comfort? Would I fall back into those dark, angry patterns I grew so familiar with when I was a teenager?

Upon arrival, and for a couple weeks following, these thoughts plagued me. This room is even organized more or less the same way, with the dresser next to the window, the desk on the far wall. There are different things in the closet, different art on the walls. But the most important difference has nothing to do with the window dressing.

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Dug up from my ancient DeviantArt account

It’s me.

 

Yesterday, in search of collage material, I went through some files of old paperwork, school assignments, etc., that my mom had kept over the years. I found some startling things. A missing poster, that my mother made the second time I ran away from home. A letter, begging my parents to let me quit high school, written the day after my best friend came to me in the hallway and said, “You’ll never believe how many people don’t like you!” A scrapbook I made, half finished, with the last bit of paraphernalia a postcard that said I HATE EVERYONE.

Memories of my formative years, marked by pain. Feeling ostracized. Feeling unworthy. Feelings that have followed me, even as I’ve worked so hard to gloss over those years, put them in the past, let sleeping dogs lie. All that bullshit.

Because those sleeping dogs wake up. And sometimes they bite.

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Standing in my room. The flowers on the dresser are still on the dresser.

 

I also found, in those scraps of writing, a girl I recognize wholeheartedly. A biting wit that takes shit from no one. A strong sense of moral ground. A desire to be better, do better, share with the world. She wanted the same things I do, now, in many ways. “Inside you,” she (I) wrote, “is all the talent and ability you will ever need.” Which comes down to saying, “I am enough.

And I am. So are you.

And you.

And you.

I came back to my parent’s home for many reasons. To help my mom with the house. To gain wisdom, guidance, and companionship from my parents, my brothers, a few old friends. But mostly, I came back to put myself back together. To reunite with the girl I, too, set out in the cold.

I’m not going to lie, it’s hard as hell. But going back is the only way I’ve found that will allow me to move forward.

Here’s to you Caiti. Sara. Zandila. Eliza. Spiro. The girl with too many names.

You have a home here.

This love…

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This love is silent, like the quiet shifts in the snow before the avalanche. This love is powerful, like riptides that suck and pull and ruin those unsuspecting swimmers who get caught in the currents.

I’m caught in your currents.

This love has torn me to pieces and stitched me back together with a careful, steady hand. You’re in me, your hair holds my jagged edges closed. You let me bleed, because you know it’s necessary. This red, red love does not mean keeping me from pain, but letting me experience all the things I need to give myself space to grow.

I look into the sky, into your eyes, and I know that wherever I go, you will be there. I may not feel you, taste you, touch you, but there you are. As unshakeable as a mountain. As fragile as fall’s final leaves.

We are vast.

We contain multitudes.

This love is sangria on hot summer nights, my stomach sticky with sweat. This love is bonfires in the wilderness, oases in the desert, fingernails in my skin.

I will leave. Again. And again. And again.

This love will not.

Guarantees are made for appliances, not relationships. Not me, or you, or us.

I will soak up this love with every last scrap of cloth I can find, tie it around my neck, let the sodden ends rest above my heart. I am greedy for this love.

This love is grand. Unbelievable. A story or a poem or a song. A painting crafted from spit and tears and teeth. Beautiful and holy in its wickedness.

This love…

This love will pull me back, but will never make me stay.

I’ve Gotta Work On My Timing

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Flying over Colorado, looking at the snowdrifts on the empty plain.

I’m making myself a promise, here and now: the next time I return to the United States from a trip, I will not do it in January.

I repeat: I will not come back in January.

You’d think I might have learned the first time around, returning to the gray, wet winter of the Pacific Northwest after five months in India, the last month of which was spent on the steamy beaches of Goa. But, no, some lessons bear repeating.

I am back on United States soil, in Colorado, for the snowiest time of the year. Not the coldest, thank goodness, but when you’re comparing -6 Fahrenheit to 16 Fahrenheit, cold becomes varying degrees of oh-my-god-my-face-hurts.

There seems to be a purpose to the timing, though. I’ve been running away from home for years, as my mother pointed out to me recently. It started as a kid, 11, 12 years old, I think, when I first packed my bags and wandered into the wild blue yonder. I embarked on that expedition with three other girls my age whom, as I look back, I realize were integral in my development. We all had our troubles, which at that age we thought we could fix by completely avoiding. Something I think we all fall prey to, sometimes more often than not.

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Sunsets. The one way in which Colorado has never disappointed me is the sunsets.

Needless to say, that foray ended quickly, and I was back home before the end of the day. I have this vision of me being let out of the cop car (sorry mom; sorry, papa) and crying as I ran to my parents. It wasn’t a comfortable, relieved kind of cry. More a panicked, what-the-fuck-have-I-done kind of cry. Regardless, I was home, and that was that for a few years.

Then came my turn to run away with the older boy. Also integral to my development, in different ways. Not nearly as short lived, and a whole lot more interesting.

You know, I sit here thinking about all the times I really have run away from home, and it makes me not want to think about it anymore. Or, at least not admit all those times to you. To myself. I kept leaving, over and over, trying to escape…what? Colorado, certainly. The dry air, the cold winters, the restrictive politics. The memories. The connections. The complications.

One can only run for so long, before they find themselves exhausted and, often, lost.

A lot has happened since I left Colorado for what I swore would be the last time. Marriage. Polyamory. Divorce. Mushrooms. God. Love. India. Love. Peru. Love. It’s a lot to process.

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The one way in which Colorado never fails to disappoint me in is diving in the winter. Or, more accurately, not being able to drive in the winter.

So, I return to Colorado. To the house, and the room, and the family I have spent so much time away from. Now, in the middle of winter, that time of inwardness and reflection. I have practical reasons for being here, but they aren’t the reason I’m here.

Maybe it’s time for me to figure out how to leave, without running away.

And until then, I’ll just figure out how to stay warm.

Lovelovelove, lovelies.

Take Your Shoes Off, Stay a While

 

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The front entryway in the little house that couldn’t

Home. The word is filled with so many connotations and expectations, many contradictory. For me, the idea of home conjure up feelings of security and belonging, which march hand in hand across my internal landscape with feelings of desperation and isolation.

 

 

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In my hammock at the Frog’s Chillhouse Hostel, Huanchaco, Trujillo, Peru

Looking back over my life I can see the times I’ve built a home, most notably with my former husband. We bought an adorable 1900’s era Craftsman about a mile from a developing downtown neighborhood. I loved that house, and for a while, I loved the life I lived in it. Dinner parties, two adorable cats, a husband I’d pledged my life to.

 

Not long after we moved in, however, the cracks around the seams began to show. They’d always been there, of course. The enormity of owning a house just made them a lot more visible.

 

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Next to the Ganges River, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India

I have a nomadic spirit. I have a troubled and deepening relationship with that spirit. For a long time, I told myself I needed a solid, stable life. Once I got that, happiness and peace would blossom. What happened, instead, was that my need for travel, newness, and adventure got wind of my plans for living in one place for the foreseeable future and started throwing fits.

 

At first, this manifested as a sense of diffuse heaviness. I would walk around the house, touching the walls, looking at the art we’d so lovingly hung, and wonder why I felt out of place. Then came the depression, sneaky for a while, until I found myself sobbing underneath my desk at work, frantically dialing a hotline for help.

I went to therapy after that. That morning had shown me, without a doubt, that something was seriously off. I couldn’t fix it by myself. My husband was opposed to the idea. He took the mindset that we could figure out any problem, with either of us or the relationship, together. I persisted. Unfortunately, my therapist decided the cure for all that ailed me was for me to return to school.

 

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In the kitchen at the MWH community, Taray, Cusco, Peru

I stopped going after four appointments.

 

Eventually, my marriage ended, in large part to that pesky nomadic spirit. I crave not just new destinations, but new people, new relationships, new experiences. My former husband craves security, guarantees. It’s not wrong, I think, just different. We needed different things.

Going back further than the marriage, the house, I can look at my childhood. I never felt at home there, either. As the youngest child, sister to a pair of twins, I didn’t feel like I had a solid place in my family. I grew up in a city I never loved, never really wanted to be in. Colorado Springs was too cold, too dry, too narrow-minded, too full of big box stores and four lane streets for me to feel at home.

So, what does home mean to me, now? It’s hard to say with any certainty. As I travel, people ask me where I’m from. Outside Seattle is my default answer. If they probe further, which they sometimes do, and start on the subject of home my answer is always—given quickly—India. It is the place I felt most at peace in, most myself.

 

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Dirty, dirty feet in my apartment behind Goody Goody’s Cafe, Arambol Beach, Goa, India

This afternoon I stopped in San Blas plaza after I ate lunch to smoke a cigarette. I sat on the wall in front of the fountain and slipped off my hiking boots. When I was in Arambol, I hardly ever wore shoes, preferring to dart around town and hop on motorcycles with my feet exposed to the earth. I felt a glimmer of this connection as I sat there, enjoying the sun as it faded behind a threatening rain cloud. When I finished my cigarette, I picked up my boots and walked to my hostel, the soles of my feet eating up the cobblestone roads. During those few minutes, I felt taller, more confident, more connected than I have since I got to Peru.

 

So maybe that has something to do with home, for me: it’s where I feel comfortable taking my shoes off.