creating place

I am not a woman who wants to stay in one spot- who nests and is comforted by constant routine. I would much rather be traveling and moving- experiencing this world and all that is has to teach. If I had my druthers, I would travel near constantly- setting up in a place for three or six months to soak up the sounds, taste and histories. I would record as much as I could before moving on to gather new stories and share new experiences from another place chosen by the muses’ whisper in my ear or random spin of a globe I found gathering dust on the shelf of a diner. There would be no set agenda in my wanderings. My ambitions only to talk to people; finding my way into kitchens and learning about food customs; spending days listening to the oldest residents share how the place had changed. Days structured only by mornings filled with writing, afternoons of found conversations, and evenings of processing what had occurred would guide me through this world.

For now though, and forever, I am a mother. I co-parent my child so for eighteen years I will likely stay in one city and the change I crave must be found in different ways. My child and I travel when we can and that is a joy for both of us on so many levels that I never considered. Watching her take in the world is an adventure in and of itself, for my child has shown, from her earliest days, the gypsy blood of her mother shares a strong channel to her heart as well. A wanderer even in her own body, she moves constantly, fidgeting even when sitting still- locked into dreams of travel as she watches National Geographic videos or learning about the world through avenues such as Vox and Now This. Her access to “what’s out there” is beyond what my imagination could handle at her age of eleven. More beautiful is that she has let it be known the videos are not enough- she wants to experience those places. She tells me she wants to find a job that will let her be on the road, but before that she wants to start working as soon as possible so she can save money for travel and buy a “short bus.” She will convert the bus for living and travel that she will do for at least a year before having to get a job after college.

She has told me, “Mama, I want the kind of exciting life you have had, but even more.”

The world is our heart, but for now, here we sit wings clipped by COVID-19. Not by conscious choice, we have both stopped talking about where we want to travel or what new adventures we can go on over the next long weekend. She will be dancing around the house and occasionally just groans really loudly and growls, “I want to go somewhere!” I will ask her where and there is no real answer, “Just anywhere. I need to travel.” I will tell her I understand the feeling and it is hard to be unable to move, but we know that it’s safer for the present. Then we dive back into cooking or reading or writing- searching out microcosms to explore within our confined space.

She often lays on the couch- staring into space, fidgeting with a pillow. When I ask what she’s thinking, the reply is, “Nothing, why do you aways ask me. I’m just sitting here.” I see she is a tween finding her own thoughts and I must patiently wait to be let in. So I am learning to wait. On other days she lays staring, fidgeting, and will let me into her thoughts, “Mama, how much money do you think people spend on sales tax in their lives?,” which leads to a conversation on tax percentages and the fact that our nation has many socialist values, even in the midst of declaring we are capitalist society, and how there is a variance to all political structures. Then she tells me how many tax dollars Trump has spent on putting up his personal guests in his hotels and she wants to know if he’d go to jail if we did ever get to look at his tax records. On another day, she wants to understand why kindergarten isn’t called grade one, because it is really school, so maybe it should be called grade zero because that’s the start of the number line. Her mind is a fertile field of adventures in questions and possibilities.

++

We are about to move from a house-share situation into a 624-square foot cottage, situated on a steep hill, with a back porch built of stone blocks, and a yard full of more weeds and rocks than workable soil. I didn’t find this cottage, my daughter did. After days, no weeks, of pouring over real estate listings. She had shared dozens of properties with me and we had long conversations about why different houses could be wrong or right for us. One day, I finally told her the timing was too far out and I couldn’t handle discussing more houses, I was exhausted by the discussions of “what if.” But she kept up the search. She came to me the next day.

“Mama, can you just look at this one house? It’s new and $100 dollars below our budget.” I moaned in her general direction.
“Make it quick, kid.”

The cottage was so sweet. Built in 1958, clean lines, renovated to reveal high ceilings that followed the roofline, painted white throughout, beautiful hardwood floors and so many windows. Also, very close to the junior high she will attend in fall- hopefully with real-life classrooms and teacher interactions and all the activities she needs to keep her active mind and body engaged. We decided to drive by and look in the windows- after being stuck in our house for weeks, it was at least something to do. The yard was huge and totally unkept. The cottage was so very small, not a grand space to be filled, but a respite to return to at the end of the day. It has so much potential to be an oasis. I wished we needed it at the start of May, but we couldn’t move until the first of June. As we walked to our car, a man came toward us.

“Can I help you with anything?”

I told him we were just looking in the windows of the place- it was for lease. He said, “I know, I am the owner. You want to look inside?” We did. It was perfect. He was delightful and loved that she was about to attend the school down the road- that we wanted a place for at least three years. I told him it seemed perfect, but the timing was wrong. We wouldn’t be ready to move for another six weeks. He said he would talk to his wife and maybe it could work. That weekend we signed a lease. We could move at the end of May and he was okay with me working on the yard in the weeks between. It will be a place we can create adventures even when we can’t travel.

++

Gardening is about creating an oasis- a place to travel into other spaces without leaving the place you are rooted. Within the oasis, a garden grows and with time, you work with the land to create a space that will cycle through its own replenishment. With time and attention, additions of food and scraps that have broken down into nutrient rich compost, you turn dusty rocky soil into fertile planting beds. With gardening, you go nowhere physically, but create new worlds that are always evolving in place.

At this new space, we have be given the opportunity to start building our oasis before we actually move-in and building have we begun. At the front of the cottage, every time I turn over the soil, my shovel hits rock after rock. I am collecting the rocks, stacking them aside, making more room in the ground for rich soil to build itself. The rocks will become edges and we will paint them to make bright markers amidst the plants- warnings that things are growing there so please don’t mow them down. With time, I hope there will be nothing left to consider mowing. We will put in herbs and butterfly beauties and rains will come. Water will seep into soil and plant roots will stretch into the gaps and push into new space. With time, turning over the dirt, adding the nutrients, and water, the earth will call new insects and grubs will know it is a place they can breed and they will add to the land as well. With time, there will be new deep, rich soil in which to grow more and varied plants. We will see new butterflies and more birds, maybe a possum will drink from the saucer of a potted flower. We will eat the foods that grow and reserve a few of their seeds- allowing them to dry and wait out the season before the next season sees them set into the ground. Then, as we give back to the earth, we will ask, in return for our work as her custodians, for another season of growth.

We will read together and learn about herbs for food and healing. What does this part of Texas grow without interference? What do those plants have to share with us? What plants can handle the harsh conditions we have here? What are we willing to nurture and protect because it has a valuable property, but might not appreciate the intense heat that beats our summers down? What is not native, but grows around the world in climates like ours? Where can we travel in the garden we grow?

Like our travels, the oasis we create will not have a set agenda or borders. There will be a few “must do” plants, such as citronella and basils and squashes, but others will be experiments and some are both. The Hill Country okra seeds I just planted is one such experiment. I’ve planted it in front of my bedroom window, not just because it is a great producer, but because it grows tall enough that it will act as a cover for the bottom half of my window. By the end of summer, I hope to look out and see it’s bold flowers and purple streaked pods of green. I will say “thank-you” as I pick them, chop them, and braise them with tomato sauce and thyme taken from another corner of the yard- that spot that could erode, but will become stronger for the roots of the herb. Our little oasis won’t be everything we need, but as I envision what it can be I am not so anxious to find new destinations. As I walk around the yard that is three or four times larger than the little house, I envision the plants taking root, and can almost hear laughter from friends gathered to eat on the back porch- there is no room inside for a large table. Cool breezes rolling down the steep hill that cocoons the back of the property will ease us into staying for another glass of tea and just one more story. In all of this, maybe, just a little bit, I can see a side of me that might be okay with staying in one place for longer than a season.

choking

words sit in my mouth-
too many pieces of gum chewed til the flavor is nearly gone.
I can’t swallow the spit or blow a bubble- there has become too much to say.
the gum just sits.
words choking me- demanding to be set free.
in my mouth I feel I can not take anything back in, but will puke the emotion.
a geyser of bile that will no longer and never more be contained.

so so so many years that I could not speak my mind for every reason that was not mine but to keep another happy.
what would people think?
who would I make mad?
what if my words led to me losing my job?
don’t embarrass your child with so much emotion.
don’t make me look bad by telling your story.

and so the words and the stories and the song lust of my survival stayed in my brain-
my heart became heavy with confusion-
why would I no longer release its song?

but now, now the words are allowed to be free and the song bird’s cage is not just opened, but redefined as a home with windows swung wide and doors freed of their hinges.

1/13/2020

Society’s Turtles

a new walking bridge flanks the wooden train bridge, that

nature is diligently dismantling.

urban decay cradled this space,

not so long ago inhabited only by feral dogs and humans

now a busy path from paycheck lofts to office cubes

connects a fabricated neighborhood of flag ship groceries and hair salons

you won’t find a bodega or $2 dry cleaner in the mixed urban use zone.

it came up with plans to be shiny and young

— a place to begin before you marry at 28 and move to a shady place with solid schools and a country club membership.

lives anchored above, dropping shade onto new concrete and old shadows

from a very different light.

amidst it all people pass through with their world’s belongings strapped to their back

turtles of humanity’s kind, rarely will they be picked up and guided safely to a place where they will be protected. and like turtles perhaps they don’t seek others help

human turtles are left to make their way, instead of depending on a pond ruled by a set of social norms and expectations, comfort that can be snatched by the whim of corporate or social court, they fold into their carried home and go about creating their pond at the edges of the rules.

She’s not a pretty thing

She’s not a pretty thing.

There is no clean packaging or simplicity.

We share a bath and her voice becomes loud in the still, wet darkness.

I do not try to drown her with positive affirmations, but just sit and listen, I become terrified.

Her rage grows, I try to shrink away, but choose to keep the space.

Sobs overtake and she shakes my core, pounds the water and I hear my screams through tears that haven’t fallen in too many months.

It’s too much. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be the sole bread winner and parent. I can’t keep up with everything. I can’t just let things go. I can’t keep keeping the peace and being the balance. I can’t do it.

My mind won’t stop, I feel like I can’t do it. I can’t do life, not this way, but I have to do it. I have to keep moving forward, my daughter needs me. I can’t lose my mind, but the noise won’t stop. I grab pen & paper and muddle out. “You can do it. Let the anger forge a path. You don’t have to keep doing it the same way. You don’t have to keep hurting. Change your story.”

I sit with my anger and she finally knows it’s safe to surface and fill the space we share.

I sit with my anger and she is allowed to express.

Instead of imagining what I could do but not acting on my ideations, because “I’m not that kind of person,” I free her. Anger grabs for whatever is within reach- soon the room is smashed. Shaving cream and shampoo and soap are thrown against walls, the trash can is knocked over, and, as if watching myself, I get out of the bath. I see photos hanging on hallway walls. Faces with false smiles look back at me- pain relived everyday in hopes of creating balance.

Pictures are burned. My story begins a new chapter.

last night I danced

Last night I danced.
I danced in a way that made me fall in love,
with my body.
I danced with men I will never kiss, but people thought we were in love –
and perhaps we were, for that moment in time.

They held me
Guided me
Let me be strong
Admired me …

Supporting me a note longer,
letting my body fully extend …
before leading me into the next corner of music.

I stretched and dipped,
fell back, dropped low,
rose again.
I spun out, then returned.

My body active and engaged,
every line longer and every space aware.

Over those hours on the dance floor,
I felt more alive than I have in years.

I am on a high I’d forgotten I could own.
I had the best first date ever and need more of me.

self-care

The term self-care is bandied about a lot and I feel like some people really have it down. I am not – historically – one of those people. I overbooked, over-volunteered, overcommitted, and it was all freakin’ exhausting. The side effect, beyond exhaustion, is that behavior left little time to care for myself. Little time to write, work on creative projects, or have a bed that wasn’t covered in clothes.

After years of this behavior, I realized my lack of self-care was really about avoiding myself — if I stayed busy enough I could avoid the discomfort of being with me. By being busy, I could avoid the pain I never worked through from losing my father, not being able to say good bye when I was barely eight. Busyness let me avoid grieving a dying marriage I felt responsible for not being able to make work. Being too busy allowed me to avoid the sense of helpless over the pain of our country’s dysfunction. By staying busy, I could help everyone else, thereby feeling useful and necessary. Busyness was a way to feel heard, except that I wasn’t listening to myself.

Upon another streak of overcommitting, a dear friend made me take time to go to lunch together. We were preparing for an upcoming, multi-day event and he asked me what my schedule looked like for the event. I told him and his reply was, “And when did you schedule time for yourself?” I tried to fudge that I’d put in time here or there, but he just looked me dead in the eye and said, “Mm-hmm … You should do that.” Honestly, it had never truly occurred to me – I had a few hours of blank time on the schedule, but it was just for resting or eating or (more likely) being filled at the last minute with something “I needed to do.” Making time for myself felt selfish. Time to just be: What the hell would I do with that? Why would I want to just hang out with me? He clearly had no idea what went on in my brain when I was left to my own, solitary devices. But his words gut punched me – they were so straightforward, without judgement, and coming from someone I deeply respected so I did it. I made time to be alone.

Over that event, I walked around alone in pre-dawn and after midnight. Occasionally, I walked alone in broad daylight. I felt pain in ways I hadn’t felt before. I also felt a different kind of joy. I have always been extremely independent, but I’d never been comfortable alone. Over that long weekend, I met myself again, maybe truly for the first time. I learned that there was a lot I enjoyed about me and I lot I needed to figure out. I realized, maybe most importantly, that for years I felt I couldn’t be heard – that my voice somehow didn’t really count the way I perceived others’ voices did – but the truth was: I hadn’t been listening to myself so there was no strength to my voice. My truth was silent because it hadn’t been given space to bloom.

That weekend was almost three years ago. When I look back, I hardly recognize the girl who pretended to be so strong, but was so constantly shaking from within. That girl who needed validation, far more than she had confidence, has been replaced … not replaced, but rebuilt into a stronger version of (her)self. A self that by no means has it all figured out, but a self who is comfortable in that unknowing.

In that unknowing, I find new energy and the quiet comfort in knowing I will never know so many things – and that is ok. I now love spending hours hiking only with my dog or going to a movie alone or just driving to nowhere because the sky is a lovely color and I want to chase it for the few minutes it breathes in that space. Now I work hard to not overcommit and I’ve learned to say, “No thank you.” I’ve learned the importance of boundaries and find comfort in knowing what mine are – and why I need them. I write more, I love more fearlessly, and I realize I don’t have to carry the world on my shoulders. Now, I do what I can with the resources I have – it seems that is elemental to self-care. When I feel myself getting to “Too Much,” I pause. I turn off the world. I give time to myself so I can keep giving back.

identity

I feel it is important to keep my ID on me at all times, in case I am abducted. That way, after I am thrown in the back of a late model Buick, and later my mutilated body is dumped in low swampy weeds, and then children playing adventure biologist find my decomposing corpse I will be indentifiable because: I will have had my ID on me and my murderer, who will understand I am a planner, will surely duct tape it to my forehead.

But even my best laid plans can go astray. My driver’s license (aka ID) which was not so safely tucked in my back pocket, fell out while I was hiking last week and I did not realize it was gone until I had returned home and darkness has come.  I returned to the hiking trail, retracing my steps, but my ID was not to be found. Now I sit, and I wait, at the DMV while the digital “time until you are seen” screen moves from 52 minutes to 1 hour 3 minutes until a representative will be available to assist me.  A folder of identifying documentation rests in my bag, Common’s Questions runnin’ through my brain. — Why do you need I.D. to get I.D.? If I had I.D. I wouldn’t need I.D.  The folder I stashed the documents in normally just keeps copies of my military discharge paperwork filed away safely, but now the folder holds my social security card, passport, marriage license, divorce decree. Sitting in my bag is everything that is needed to become me. Yet not one of those items speaks for me.

I pull the folder of identity out of my bag to flip through all the documents – all the memories locked into the print of dates, locations, signatures, and official stamps. As I open the folder, I notice faded, forgotten penciled notes to a future that did not become mine. Phone number for an Army recruiter with notes about MOS (job number) 91W for healthcare specialist. Dates and station locations, a note that I would not have to repeat bootcamp and could retain E4 status. The girl who wrote those notes was not too far out of the Navy; feeling so completely lost as a civilian; wanting a clear line of command to guide her – though she had not been very good at following the line when she had the opportunity; now fearing every choice could be wrong, and still doing so many new things under a pretense of confidence. That girl, who declared she was ready to take on the world, was the poster child for “fake it til you make it” and was seriously considering re-enlisting because the civilian world made no sense to her. She was bursting with ideas and plans and desires, but all of those things were terrifying in the shadows of the silence of yet to be done. She was also dating a man who she loved for his inability to take risks … his desire not to draw attention to himself and just live a simple life felt so easy, balanced. At that point in life, she thought she needed balance, but didn’t know how to look within to find it so she did the next best thing: married someone who appeared to be balanced.

I picked up my divorce decree. A memory of the day, a couple months after marrying came to mind. I went to the Social Security office to complete the official paperwork to take my now wasband’s name. As I approached the counter, a clerk looked up with the enthusiasm of a sunbaked cat. I awkwardly announced that I was there because I’d recently married and needed to change my name. She took an obvious gander at my ring finger as if checking out the wedding ring bling was the highlight of her job and, noticing I wasn’t wearing my token of love, sneered, “Fill out this form, it’s in triplicate, press hard.”
Forms completed, questions answered, information input to database, she printed out a form, and sighed, “Sign here.”

“What? How?”

“Your name. With the pen.”

“Which one?,” I asked with honest confusion as she placed the pen in my hand.

“Your married name, sweetie. That’s your name now.”

In that moment of ink marking paper, I felt a betrayal toward my father who was a dad he never had to be. He gave me his name when I was a year old. In the seconds it took to mark my new name, years coursed through me. I was turning my back on the name got me into fights on the third grade playground. The name on articles I had published. The name that had taken me across the world. The name on my military uniforms. The name on my college degrees. The name that was my identity marker for longer that the memories of the childhood it was now linked to. But I was a girl who wanted things to “just make sense.” And for things to make sense, one must create order, which for me meant getting married and taking your husband’s name. I knew it my theory on life making sense was true because so many people did it and appeared happy, so it Had To Be True. With that faulty logic, I signed my new name — a name I had not even practiced signing before that moment. A name that took me through nearly a decade of marriage, has been shared with a child, and, though now divorced almost two years, it is the name that remains my legal moniker. It is now only part of my identity, and yet it is somehow not at all part of me.

I have experienced a long, sometimes arduous journey of life’s lost and found to arrive at the realization that no one has the ability to make sense of life for you. So many will influence, but no one will manifest your identity, but you. Each soul is responsible for the task of making sense of the journey it is gifted – encapsulated within these fragile life-suits. Each life will take us down paths that sometimes make sense and other times leave us feeling like we have wandered into a strange dimension, floating inside the in the head, of Kafka’s Gregor. We each grasp onto religions, relationships, communities, and rituals in attempt to make sense of all the world is and could be, isn’t and should be, was and will never be again. Throughout life, in an effort to understand our place in the world – to understand how we identify with ourselves and others – we grasp, let go, we change, lurch, grasp, grow and change once more. Sometimes, if we let go of our stubbornness to “have it all make sense,” life may reflect a glimmer of truth in the mirror of our mind. In the end, we must each live in a way that makes sense, and thereby holds truth, to us because ultimately that life-suit decomposes, and the soul carries forward even the memories time has faded.