Fiction Not Fiction

the house blog 8.1
Because I couldn’t think of a better fitting picture, here is a photo of my old house, wherein the vaguely referenced events happened. Plus cats.

 

About a week ago, I set down to write a personal essay about an event that happened shortly before my then-husband asked for a divorce. The essay flowed out of me in one afternoon. It was not an easy afternoon, and the process of writing it all out, revisiting that time, left me in a bit of a daze.

 

A few days later, with the essay still bouncing around in my head, the thought of fictionalizing the essay’s topic came to me. It seemed like a really good idea. Write what you know is one of the most often repeated pieces of writing advice, and what do I know better than my own experience? Besides, I thought, maybe turning it into fiction can help me process some of the guilt that writing the essay stirred up. See, the event in question didn’t just precede the request for a divorce; I believe it was a contributing factor to the request.

I wrote the first scene. Hated it. Decided to come at it from a different angle. Still struggling, but I figured that just came from not having written much fiction in the last few years. That’s the easy answer, the one I could rest against. But it’s not the truth. Not the whole truth, at any rate.

What is it about this piece that’s making me want to avoid it? Shame. And longing. During one afternoon in my married life, I chose to pursue something important to me, through a person that wasn’t healthy, in a way that was hurtful to everyone involved. Including myself. Like seeking out sustenance, deciding to get fast food, and then stealing that fast food from someone else.

Except, life doesn’t get summed up so neatly in these little metaphors. My actions were also a cry for help. An act of revenge. A desperate expression of need.

How do I capture all this in a short story?

How do I navigate all this in myself?

I guess the answer is that distressingly simple-but-not-easy approach: one word at a time. One moment at a time. Until I’ve moved through some of it, or enough of it that I’ve learned something new and can leave it on this spirally path until the next time it comes around.

For the last couple house meetings, I’ve made it a point to set my intention for how I want to move through the meeting. It strikes me that this would be a good idea here. Then I’ll have something to aim for when I feel stuck.

My intentions for writing this short story:

  • Practicing fiction
  • Release some of the heaviness I’m carrying around from my choices
  • Forgive not just myself, but my ex, and the other people involved. Even just a little bit.
  • Treat everyone in the story with dignity.
  • Have some fucking fun!?

If I can bring even one of those into fruition, I think I could be satisfied.

Especially that last one.

Never lose sight of the joy.

 

 

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“She is repairing herself, hour by hour.”

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This essay comes from the prompt “The Beginning of the End”, in which we were asked to replay a memory, working with its birth and termination. I’ve been experiencing huge shifts in my energy in relation to my divorce, things rising up that demand attention, and this is just one manifestation of these curious and difficult earthquakes.

“I want a divorce.”

The sounds of early morning chatter and silverware scraping ceramic plates, children fussing and the squeak of wet shoes on tile dimmed around me, the world narrowing to the tiny piece of table that stretched between my husband and I. Forty-eight inches that might as well be a mile.

The words were not unexpected. They were years in the making, perhaps had even been bubbling up since the very beginning. It’s hard to say. Either way, these words marked the end, as they have a million times before. In the days that followed, I would contemplate that moment, replay it in my head until I couldn’t not feel the hard wooden seat beneath me, or see the tired droop of his mouth when I laid down to sleep. A mouth that, years before, made me fall in love with him.

I’ve always been a believer in love at first sight, for the very simple reason that I’d experienced it multiple times. This is not ‘love’ as in ‘this is the person I will be with for the rest of my life.’ It is ‘love’ that can take many forms, love that strikes deeply and demands an audience.

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A photo from the ceremony. I still have my stuffed goose, packed away in a box full of memories.

My relationship with my former husband—we’ll call him Adam for sake of ease, though I reckon most people reading this know his Christian name—started in much the same way. Only, the sight that struck me came not from our first meeting, but from me finding a photograph in his apartment, laid absently in an otherwise empty fruit bowl. He posed beside a young woman, wide smiles lighting up their faces. I saw that smile, and knew in that moment this was a person that would be in my life, even though I’d never actually met the man*.

What was I doing in the apartment of a stranger, pawing through his personal belongings? Let’s just say we knew someone in common, and gloss over the insanity that was my life at that time.

There was something in Adam’s smile that activated the familiar gut-tug of falling in love. I figured the woman in the photo was his girlfriend, though, and since I was wrapped up in my own relationship from hell, I thought my chances with this guy were slim to none.

I learned, over the next couple months, to never underestimate my gut. (A learning that I then proceeded to ignore with a steady conviction throughout most of our marriage.)

The woman in the photo turned out to be his sister, and that smile from the photo was soon aimed at me. I basked in it, like a flower emerging from the depths of winter to find the warm rays of the sun gracing it’s delicate petals. His smile held the world in it, I thought. His smile held me, and I needed nothing more at that time than to feel held. Supported. Safe. My relationship with Adam gave me all of those things, and so much more.

wedding kissIn time, though, I would realize that the payment for security is, too often, freedom. That being held can feel like being trapped. That what once felt perfect and complete can dissolve, like metal exposed to the sea air, rusting away until collapse is inevitable. None of which invalidates what was. I’ve come to understand that the success of a relationship can’t be judged by the length of the relationship, but by the health of it. Had neither of us uttered those four words-like-coffin-nails, and we somehow continued down the road we’d been going, there would have been precious little happiness. What’s the point of celebrating twenty years together if both parties are unfulfilled?

I want a divorce led to an eventual blossoming in myself and, as far as I can tell, in Adam, as well. I followed my dreams. I wept buckets of tears, yes, but the extreme pain of grief and renewal were far better than the prolonged pain of stagnation.

From a smile in a photograph to a wedding on a hill to a breakup in a diner, with countless stops in between.

*That I’d never met him before isn’t technically true. Our first meeting involved me being very drunk, in a Walmart, at midnight on Halloween, and is a story best left for another day. Suffice to say I didn’t remember meeting him.

The Weight Of Guilt

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The cottage cheese skies of winter in the Pacific Northwest.

After a few days of being sick in bed, I found my way back to Leap of Words, the online writing group I’m working with. The challenge was to write an essay about what it feels like to experience guilt, and whatever else comes up with the practice.

 

This would likely be a heavy piece at the best of times. At this particular moment in my life, it ended up being especially dark. We’re in the middle of a Pacific Northwest January, which means cold air, rain rain rain, damp socks in the morning and chilly feet at night, and a sun that rises late and leaves early. I find it almost insurmountably difficult to get outside during this time of year, and I don’t have a comfortable space for a home practice at the moment, so my physical exercise needs have not been getting met. (This is a Really Big Deal, I’m coming to realize.) I’m in a transition state with my living situation in many ways, and I’m also being confronted with some deep stuff I’m not really prepared to face (though I trust that I am capable of doing so) (mostly).

Add to that lingering illness sniffles, a poor night’s sleep, and some internal struggles/misgivings about an important relationship in my life and I end up with a sleepy, slightly grumpy, Sarah afflicted with an acute case of self-doubt.

Fun stuff.

Hands
I custom ordered that ring. It never quite fit, and he stopped wearing it after a while.

So I sat down to write this piece about guilt and of course what came out is my divorce. Or, more specifically, the reasons leading to my divorce. I didn’t cheat on my husband, technically, but with the way the emotional power dynamic was at the time, I might as well have. And that, my friends, was the death rattle of our marriage.

 

Honestly, the marriage was over well before that. He told me, at some point a couple months after we filed, that he’d given up on our relationship well before that point. He “stopped trying”. Which, as I write that, makes me wonder why. What was it about me, about us, that made him give up?

And then, will it happen again?

Am I fated to find myself years into a relationship where I am given up on?

Back to the topic at hand: guilt. So, yes, I felt guilt for cheating. More than that, by a long shot, is the guilt I felt and feel over the desires and needs that led to the cheating. To feel loved. To feel wanted. To feel sexy, and admired, and empowered. To express those feelings through physical contact of all kinds, and through conversations that are less about words and more about connection.

I chafe, big time, when I feel like my relationship dynamic has become that of friends who happen to share the same bed. Who say I love you, but don’t say I want you. When eye contact becomes sparse. When the preference is to focus on anything but one another.

So the guilt comes into play when I find myself in that situation, with years of history and promises made. How dare I ask for more? How dare I want more, when I have stability? When I have a sense of security?

lightbulbUntangling this mess requires going way back, and honestly, I’m not sure where to start. With my father, probably, because it always starts there. The first relationship where I felt like I’d been given up on. Without his influence on my life, without that through-line of feeling like I was broken and awful and defective running through most of my childhood, I probably wouldn’t have cheated on Every. Single. Person. I dated. I probably wouldn’t have slipped down the hole of drugs. I probably wouldn’t have felt the need to become the smallest, spikiest ball of anger I possibly could. (I’m not blaming him. He did the best he could with what he had. We all do. That doesn’t change the scars that I have to carry.)

Maybe if I’d been told I deserved joy, and freedom, and love as a child– no matter what I believed in, how I wanted to dress, or who I came to love– I’d believe it as an adult.

Maybe if I’d seen my mother treated as if she deserved those things, I could have internalized it for myself.

trailI have to move forward with what I have. I have to find a way to move forward that doesn’t just translate to running away. Because that would be easy, to sprint as fast as possible in the opposite direction whenever I find myself in a situation that pushes on these points. I’ve done it before. More often, I get a running start, then chuck a grenade behind me to make sure I can’t go back.

I’m tired of blowing things up. I’m tired of settling for less. I’m tired of not knowing how to navigate the space between the two.

I think being able to write this shows an uneasy but undeniable progress. And I’ll take any progress I can get.

Shedding My Layers Part One: Polyamory

blog 11.1

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.

blog 10.1
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.

Over the Hills and Through the Woods: Tripping Out With God

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High school me, along with the friend whose screensaver I lost myself in, as well as our hippiest of friends.

I’ve done my share of hallucinogenics.

The first time I took acid I was in high school, and I dosed with my friend Jennifer. I only remember two things clearly from that afternoon: staring at the top of my Starbucks Frapuccino and getting scolded by Jennifer because my attention to that swirl of whipped cream and caramel was definitely outside the realm of normal, and falling into the same dazed space while staring at the Windows screensaver on my friend’s computer.

Jennifer and I made good tripping buddies, for the short time we had together. We made good buddies, full stop, and she inspired me to be creative. That’s a trait I treasure most highly—and find so rarely—in relationships.

Then, post high school, I didn’t dive into my psyche with hallucinogens for a good while.

Well…there was that one night at a Rainbow Gathering, but it was weird and awkward and I’m totally not counting it. Moving on.

It wasn’t until after my divorce, a little over two years ago, that I touched any kind of mind-expanding substance again.

I was talking with a woman at the community here yesterday about her spiritual path, and my own. She asked me if I’d worked with the medicine—specifically Ayahuasca—anywhere other than in the context of the community and it’s programs. I told her I hadn’t, but it had been my experimentation with mushrooms that reintroduced me to God. She laughed, and said that had been her experience, too, although the details differ, of course.

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At the festival where I felt God move through me

It’s a cliche, isn’ it? Take a hit of acid, chew a cap of amanitas, brew some peyote tea, and listen to God.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m a cliche in many ways. I got young—got divorced. I got divorced—went to India to ‘find myself’. I took mushrooms—I got reacquainted with God. Throw in a healthy dose of commitment phobia, crazy cat lady antics, and my yoga and we’ve got a full-blown middle class white girl on our hands.

But I digress.

The whole reason I’m writing about hallucinogenics is because of where I am. This community is focused on working with sacred plants, namely Ayahuasca and Huachuma, in order to develop an expansion of consciousness and a relationship with Great Spirit. There’s more to it than that, but that’s a big part.

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Inspired to creative acts

Unlike my backseat trip in high school, though, there is a very, very solid structure and approach used when taking these particular hallucinogenics. There is a respect for the plant that I was missing when I lost myself in my Frappuccinno. Then, it was fun. This…this is work. There are fun aspects, because life has fun aspects. At it’s core, though, it’s not about escaping from reality, but rather about tapping deeper into reality. The reality being, in this perspective, that we are all spiritual beings put on this material plane for a purpose, and it’s up to us to pull on our boots, and let Spirit guide us down that sometimes rocky, uphill trail of that purpose.

It’s a practice in faith. In surrender. And I’ll be the first to admit I’m not there yet. My hands are tucked in my pockets and I’m eyeing that mountain with a fair bit of mistrust. Because we don’t have to climb. We have a choice in the matter. I’m not sure what I’ll choose next.

What would you choose?