Fall

I’ve decided not to fall this year
Not to leap forward into the unknown
with an open soul
as I have always done.

There’s this anger inside
I’ve been shushing
this fire inside
I’ve been banking.

And Fall has come
with her chill breezes
her crisp apple snap
expecting that I will
rake the words she’s brought with her
into piles on the page and play
as I have always done.

But I’ve been watching the way
the woods catch fire . . .
Every leaf on every tree burning bright
until there’s nothing left
and they flutter away like so much ash.

Yet the tree is not dead.

I don’t want to die or
become someone or something else.

I just . . .
don’t want to think anymore.
Or plan or rest or try or ponder or wish.
I’m tired of insecurity and
this pervading sense
of uncertainty.
I’m tired of hoping despite disappointment
tired of working through it
as I have always done.

I’m tired.

Of everything and everyone
especially myself.
Nothing helps. I’ve tried it all.
Except letting go.
Which I have maybe never done.

So, this time
I’ll take the words
in burning hands
no tidy piles
no time for play
I’ll take the fire from the tree
and let it fly through me
instead of watering it down
I’m going to feed it these feelings
And watch them burn
Until it all flutters away like so much ash . . .

And I can change.

Saturday Thoughts

Most of last year, I thought I was watching myself figuratively die and be reborn as someone new. Turns out, I was actually just writing the end of one of the most beautiful and beloved chapters of my life so far. It was excruciating to go through, but I am relieved to find myself still me now that I’ve turned that last page.

I thought it was being surrounded by all that is deeply familiar that was such a relief out West, but now that I’m back, I see it was actually being surrounded by all that are deeply familiar with me that felt so good.

I go back there for courage and find it every time, but when I get back, I open my hands and it’s all slipped away. Is it even courage? I’m beginning to wonder if it’s actually comfort . . .

What if? What if? What if? I’m always asking myself–losing battle after battle in my mind. But it’s not a war, it’s life, and there’s nothing to lose but people you don’t have either way.

Sitting with my best friend over wine and pasta filled every crack in my heart.

The stars are brighter here than anywhere I went this summer and the air is sweeter, too.

We’re home now and as the weather cools and the leaves begin to change, my mind is slowly shifting focus away from the water and toward the words.

As my soul commands each fall, I have purchased fresh pens and a few, empty notebooks so that whatever comes up through the dark and chilly seasons will have a place to go and a way to get there.

The Lipstick Letters: Intuition

When I was trying to decide where to go next with the Lipstick Letters, I was torn between Memory, Perception, and Intuition. I was heavily leaning toward Memory for a long time, but even though I drafted several Memory posts in my head, none of them made it to paper.

Then, a few weeks ago, I went on a weekend alone to rest and sort it out. It was in that long, deep, lovely silence it became clear that my intuition had something to say.

I fought it. I was so sure it was going to say stuff like, “Get off your @$$ and handle your messy life.” But no. When I finally caved in, late afternoon on my first, full day alone, all I heard was, “Girl, you’re tired. Have a good sleep and we’ll talk in the morning.”

I slept from around four that afternoon until seven thirty, got up, had a snack, brushed my teeth and slept from eight until the next morning. And when I woke up, I could hear myself. I could hear myself so clearly it was impossible to deny how much I had pushed my intuition aside to survive wave after wave of grief in the midst of new motherhood.

I listened. And I learned.

My intuition is kind. Instead of being salty about being shoved down and ignored repeatedly for literal years, it was gracious and proud of me for slogging through, giving my kids everything I had to give, and making it to a place where I was strong enough again to go back and start working through that series of terrible losses.

Driving home, I promised to keep listening and act accordingly as much as possible over the following month. And I did!

I reached out when I felt like reaching out. I rested when I felt like I needed rest. And on days when my grief came knocking, I let it in and sat with it awhile instead of pretending I didn’t know it was there. I set a new boundary with my kids to ensure I get at least a couple of hours to cook or clean or lay down or fold laundry without interference each day.

I let my mind wander back through some choices I’d made over the past several years (another task I’d been avoiding) only to find that so much of what I’ve said, done, not said, and not done, was me in survival-mode. A mode I kept trying to get out of only to have another tragedy toss me back in.

Each whisper I tended to, I felt a little more of the weight of mistakes, the weight of difficult choices, the weight of loss, the weight of guilt, the weight of pressure to do and be more fall away. And even then, my intuition did not tell me to get out there and start rebuilding a new life out of the rubble of the unfinished one I’d semi-started here . . .

It told me to keep writing and sharing, to go get a hair cut, and to remove the gross, old wallpaper in the hallway. So. Yeah. Here we are. : )

I’m trying hard to avoid making these letters about advice. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my twenties and thirties, it’s just how much I don’t know.) But I have to say, if you’ve been shushing that inner voice out of fear of what it’ll say, then like me, you might be mistaking your thoughts for your intuition.

My thoughts can be anxious, angry, self-deprecating, and flat out cruel. My intuition is always loving, always tender, always gracious, and not just toward me, but toward everyone else as well. So much so, that nowadays when I’m confused about which is which, that’s my go-to way of telling them apart.

Bottom line? I’m beginning to trust myself and my inner knowing again. And it feels really really good.

Hair Cut

“Your hair!” she exclaimed,
as she pulled up alongside me,
shock and a hint of horror in
her tone and wide-eyes

“I know!” I replied with a practiced, rueful smile
she was not the first and would not be the last to ask
“Why did you cut it?”

In a blink
every truth whipped through me:

We were tired,
my hair and I
straightened out by circumstance
when we were born to be curly
.

Like Sampson, I mistook it
for more of me than it was.

I was feeling more like myself than I had in years
but still seeing someone else in the mirror.

Every time I pulled a wad of it out of the drain
I was disturbed anew at how closely
it resembled my thoughts.

My neck was creaking ominously
under the weight

of it–
living life
with so much death–
It had to go
I couldn’t carry it all
not one more moment . . .

“I needed a change.” I replied.

But she’d already seen–
she understood.
Her expression shifted to one of approval.

“It looks good.”
she said.
Then drove away.

The Lipstick Letters: No Way Out but Through

I decided to revive The Lipstick Letters on Christmas morning one year ago and since the moment I opened that beautiful box of possibilities, I’ve failed more times than I can count at seeing my vision for it come to life. I’ve told myself its because I’m always so tired. It’s because my thyroid meds were significantly off for nearly a year. It’s because I don’t have time. But these days, though I am still always tired, I do get a day off from my usual responsibilities every week, and I’ve started getting up at four a.m. so I have quiet time to write each day, and my thyroid meds have been back on track since June . . . so what is it?

To find the first piece of the puzzle, I had to stop looking at the lipstick and start looking at my home and my life. Something I did completely by accident, and if I’m being honest, I wish I could undo and push off for just a little longer.

I was getting Wilbur his breakfast from the little closet under the stairs where we keep his food. And for some reason that morning, I noticed Morris’ carrier on it’s side in the way back. (Morris was our sweet and salty cat who passed away in September.) Then, as my eyes traveled the floor of the little room back toward my own feet I saw that his remaining cat food is still in there along with Orion’s collar and leash. (Orion was our precious dog who passed away of old age in March.) Finally, I looked up to the shelf and, though my eyes have passed over them without seeing for years now, they were still just where I left them–tufts of my 17 year old, Why?lee dog’s undercoat I brushed the day we put him down and lengths of my beautiful horse–Tristan’s tail I cut moments after he died of colic. My mind took me straight from there to the deaths of my friends, Tammy, Brent, and Kerry, my beautiful cousin-Gena, then on to the baby Carl and I never got to meet. All these losses having occurred over just the past four years. I closed my eyes. I took a shallow breath . . .

Then, I poured Wilbur’s kibble into his bowl and did what I’ve been doing. I took my twins outside to play and when we got home, I made them lunch, cleaned up, put them down for a nap, and spent their nap time prepping dinner and cleaning. When they woke up, we got my Sunshine off the bus from school, had a snack, played, ate dinner, brushed teeth, read stories, and then I put them to bed. Once they were in bed, I cleaned some more, took stock of what was in the fridge for meals the next day, prepped the coffee, folded the towels, walked Wilbur again, fed him, brought in the horses, fed them, too, then went to bed. But I was up the next morning at 4am to write. It was still dark, the house was silent, and I tried to write about a shade of lipstick called “Memory” but the only memories I could think about were the ones piling up and collecting dust in that closet.

And that’s how it’s been every day since. Even though I don’t want to think about it any more now than I have at any point since I put all of those things in there. There hasn’t been time to fall apart so I’ve been holding it together but in that 4am stillness, I can’t ignore the call of that dark, sad, somehow both tiny and unimaginably large room under our stairs. Large enough to hold every moment I nearly broke, every tear I’ve held back, every minute I would have ached, hurt, sobbed, screamed, or shattered into a million pieces but didn’t because there wasn’t time.

So here I am, up at 4:30a.m. again, sitting on the couch in the beautiful glow of our Christmas tree, staring at a closed closet door that I’d rather just burn down than ever look in again. But, since burning down a closet that happens to be under your stairs in the center of your home is not recommended, I’m going to have to tackle it’s contents another way. And, while I’m at it, I’m going to have to accept that my heart needs to pick these things up, so I can set them down properly. My soul needs to experience and write this first. Then we’ll see about the letters. Right now, I’m just love and grief inside. It’s too heavy and there’s no room for a new project, no matter how exciting and worthwhile it may be.

I don’t know how this is going to go or how long it will take so I’m not setting any expectations. I just know that when it’s all done, I want the closet to be clean and the things I’ve chosen to keep to be in the light. A dark, dirty closet is no place to hold any part of the most treasured loves of my life.

So, if you want to come along with me while I thoroughly clean out the near-literal “skeletons in my closet,” come along. Maybe you’re holding onto to something you want to let go of, too. Maybe you’re like me and even though you’re about to start, you have no idea how to actually do it and the prospect of facing these memories is terrifying. Maybe we’ll figure it out together.

We. Ours. Us.

What has happened to we? To ours? To us?

Every day I look at Facebook–a medium that was not designed for in-depth discussion or debate, and I scroll through so many disrespectful, ugly, one-liners–cheap laughs at the expense of our ability to have community.

Every day I look on Instagram–a medium that was not designed for in-depth discussion or debate, and see complex, important issues reduced beyond their fundamental elements until they are unrecognizable, inaccurate, anger-bait.

No matter the medium, they’ve all become flooded with fingertips venting frustration with the world in the most unhelpful ways.  Preaching only for their respective choirs, but making sure the whole congregation can hear.

There’s so much we all agree on and could start changing for the better, but instead we expend our energy and time and resources bickering about trees while the forest burns to the ground around us.  You guys, WE are the forest.

We all want to talk but no one is listening.

We’re so busy cannibalizing each others impotent, online trash talk we don’t have any time or energy left for what matters.

And I’m not leaving.  I’m not pulling my Facebook profile or deleting people I disagree with.  I’m not ditching Instagram or taking a break.

I’m here.  And when I’m angry or frustrated or confused about the opinions of others, I’m going to ask them questions then I’m going to listen to their answers, respectfully, even if I disagree so hard it hurts.

I’m here.  If someone has questions for me about my viewpoint, I’ll do my best to respectfully explain my position, even if those questions are not respectfully asked.

No one’s mind or heart is changed by what we ban or what we destroy or break or pull down. (Though, these forms of protest have their rightful place for other reasons.)

No one’s mind or heart is changed by being humiliated, shamed, mocked, or otherwise belittled.

Listening is our most powerful tool for disarming anger, fear, and hatred.  Listening is our most powerful tool for understanding prejudices—none of which can be dismantled until they are understood.

Sharing fact-checked, non-partisan, intelligently worded, and kindly meant information is the best way to reach people who are willing to consider your viewpoint.

Listen, love, and offer grace when gifted with someone else’s truths, especially their difficult or ugly truths.

None of this is to say there’s no place for protest, contacting congressmen and women, sharing injustices to raise awareness, etc.  So many of our societal systems are so broken that sometimes exposure and protest are the only ways to force those systems to do what is just.

I’m writing this because I think we get so caught up in fighting the system, we forget that systems are created by and composed of individuals.  And those individuals do not usually have changes of heart due to protests.

If we want to actually change the system instead of periodically forcing the system to be fair, then we have to change hearts.

If we want to change hearts, we have to understand them.

If we want to understand them, we have to listen

even though we don’t want to,

even though we don’t think we should have to,

even though it’s hard.

Thursday Randoms

It’s wild to think that a year ago I was frantically packing, avoiding saying goodbyes I didn’t want to need to say, and feeling so unsure.

It isn’t easy making the transition from leading others, to leading only yourself.  I miss having a team, but I also love the deeply personal pride I feel after completing a project on my own.

One of my favorite things about being home with my Sunshine is the luxury of doing one thing at a time and giving all of myself to that one thing.  Whether it’s playing with her outside, cooking, writing, chores, or anything else, I no longer spend all my time doing one thing and thinking about something else that needs doing.

Part of the reason I loved this house the moment I met her is that a writer is meant to live here and I knew when I crossed the threshold for the first time that I wanted that writer to be me.

Motherhood is amazing and fulfilling and difficult and precious.  The rest of me is still here, too, and still needs to be acknowledged, exercised, and cherished.  It’s a balance I’m still working out.

Even on our worst days, I miss her while she naps.

Time to go, the dishes are calling, and since I let that call go to voicemail yesterday, I’d best pick up today.  : )

Bye!
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Winter 2016: A Family

Afternoons passed the slowest.  Particularly on these gray, winter days, with the wind incessantly rattling her windows in their panes and the impenetrable clouds blotting out every ray of light.  Not that the sunlight could really come through the plastic stapled over the windows anyway.  It would be hours yet before her evening guests-a family of squirrels in the attic, a bat in the upstairs bedroom, and a family of mice in the kitchen would scuttle in and wreak a bit more havoc.  How sad that she had begun to think of them as her guests!  What had become of her?  Once a warm and stately home, where mice were driven out immediately and a bat would never have considered attempting to enter?

Of course it was partly due to her age, she knew that without truly understanding what “age” was because the many people who had come, walked through, and left never to return over the past few years were always talking about her “age.”  But even more so, it was a lack of care.  The basement was full of empty coffee cans, once filled with fasteners and tools for this project or that and the stairs up to the pantry were creaky and musty.  The first story floors had all warped as she settled, her original supports having been replaced with temporary, ratcheting poles that had never been made permanent as intended.  The walls were stained, the wallpaper peeling, and all of the carpet was rotting where it lay, old and dirty.

The kitchen ceiling was cracked and sagging after that terrible leak in the roof.  The bathroom ceilings were stained as well, dry wall giving way to mold.  There was a new roof, now, but the damage remained.  Every available surface held evidence of the rodents that had taken over when the last, human occupant had left for good.  There were holes chewed through doors, excrement everywhere, and little piles of cracked acorn shells in the attic.  Who could ever want to live with me?  She thought to herself.

She had been truly beautiful once–the envy of the block with state of the art windows and so many in every room that sunshine poured in any time of day.  Six spacious bedrooms each with their own closet, a large yet cozy kitchen, two indoor bathrooms, and . . . oh . . . was that the front door was swinging open?  A moment passed before he crossed the threshold and she realized that the man was back again.

This one had come a bit ago and looked around.  They had talked of age again and he’d pointed out several of her more serious flaws.  Truth be told, it had been an entirely humiliating visit and she’d hoped to not see him again.  She no longer got excited when a person came to look, and this one had not been any different than the rest.  But now he was back and why?  Just to insult her further?  Mock her in her lowest hour?  He paused there, in the entryway holding the door open and she realized she had been so focused on her embarrassment reliving his last visit, that she had failed to notice he wasn’t alone.

At first, she thought it must be the other man or “agent” as she had heard him called.  He always came with whoever wanted to walk around pointing out her inadequacies.  Of course, it could also be Will, coming to check on things as he often did.  If it weren’t for Will, the pipes would have burst and all would have been lost after Mamie moved on.  Then she heard it, so faint at first, but getting louder . . . a baby!  There was a baby!  How long had it been since the sweet cries of a baby had echoed against the walls?  The pitter patter of tiny feet, the squeals, the giggles . . . oh how she missed having a family of her own.

They all grew up, of course, and grew old.  She had held some from their first breath to their last and it had been her joy and her honor to shelter them as they went about their lives.  Truly, it had been a fascinating two hundred and thirty or so years!  The way styles and gadgets had changed!  She would never forget when the wood stove for cooking had been replaced with propane! Or the day they turned her first light-bulbs on back in eighteen whatever it was.  So very exciting!  She’d had her doubts when they decided to move the plumbing inside, but it had worked out famously in the end and it filled her with pride to always have the latest updates.

But it wasn’t always easy.  There were hard times for the people she held and she could tell by the way they paced or sighed or spoke in low tones the children couldn’t overhear.  When the people worried, she knew she might not get her usual upkeep and she didn’t mind; she was built to survive such times.  But this had been different.  This time she had simply stood empty, something she’d never done before, and there were no people inside to care if everything slowly fell apart or became overrun with creatures.

First, the mice had come with their scratching and nibbling.  How horrifying that had been!  In no time at all they became quite bold, chewing holes right through the walls!  Climbing the chimneys to make each and every room their own.  Then it was the squirrels.  There were fewer of them, but the damage they could inflict was ten fold!  They chewed holes right through her solid wood doors!  Between that and the leak in the roof, she quickly found herself in state of wretched disrepair.  After which, began the parade of gawkers, none of whom wanted to take her on.  By the time the first bat slipped in through a broken, attic window, she could no longer muster any indignation.

A soft sigh brought her out of her sad rememberings . . . not the man, and certainly not the baby . . . it was a woman.  She must be the mother.  Had the man brought his family here to look?  If she’d had hands she would have been wringing them, but as it were, she could only stand tall and still with her terrible hope and her terrible fear known only to herself.  She had thought herself past the point of wanting, but to see a young family, it was impossible to not yearn for them to be hers.  And in her state???  What mother would want to raise a child in her rodent infested nightmare?

But before she could work herself up any further, she heard the woman quietly breathe the words, “It’s perfect.”

Perfect?

She said it with such awe . . . as if she couldn’t believe her luck.

They proceeded to walk from room to room discussing this or that.  The man would point out flaws, just as he had when speaking to the agent, and the woman would murmur some acknowledgment then start talking about paint colors and shelves and carpets and cabinets, counter tops, and windows, and curtains . . . she even picked out a room for the baby.  It was hours before they finally stepped out onto the crumbling, old welcome mat and locked the door behind them.  When the squirrels and mice came in from the cold to scratch and skitter about, she hardly noticed them and when the bat flew in to rest upside down behind a particularly large peel in the wallpaper she could not bring herself to care.

It was, without question, her best afternoon in years.

The Old House