Life will knock you on your ass sometimes. Out of the blue, on a sunny day, suddenly there you are—leveled by whatever it is. Getting back up is a struggle. It takes time and it hurts and it’s scary and even from your knees with bleary eyes it’s easy to see that the life you’re coming back to isn’t the same one you went down in.
Macular degeneration was one of those for me–completely unexpectable—TKO. Going (hopefully very) slowly blind was nowhere near my list of things to watch out for. I went down hard and stayed down awhile–angry, sad, depressed, desperate. Now, I’m working my way through those things (for neither the first time, nor the last) and back to my feet in a new life.
A life that brings with it a whole new way of eating, some serious sunglasses, a wealth of anxiety about vision loss, a lifetime of follow-up appointments, and the knowledge that my future includes someday losing my central vision and, with it, a good deal of my independence.
But it’s worth it.
I love it here.
There’s horses and whiskey and margaritas. I love laughing and lipstick and guiding my babies as they grow. I love the woods and the mountains, misty mornings, and wild thunderstorms. Music, poetry, snow-melt river water running through my hair, and warm sun on my skin.
My man, my friends, and my family are funny as all Hell and have kept me company, laughing or crying, through every nightmare I’ve ever had to face.
And I’m fascinated by the strange muddle of humanity I’m part of—clashing and connecting, messily growing into what we’ll all be and do.
Life’s wellspring of treasures is as infinite as our capacity to endure it’s horrors. And when I’m having trouble finding my feet in the darkest dark I keep at it, not because I have to or need to or should or can but, because I want to;
A couple of weeks ago I had a routine eye appointment and got some bad news about my eyes. I have serious signs of dry, macular degeneration in both eyes. Macular degeneration . . . sucks. I am way too young for it and have none of the risk factors, but the bottom line is, it’s likely I’ll be legally blind within 10 years. There is no cure or real treatment and no way to know how fast or slow it will go, just diet adjustments and vitamins that can sometimes slow the progression.
This news was overwhelming. I had and still have moments of suffocating anxiety about losing my independence and not being able to fully take care of my children/keep them safe. I am sometimes crushed under the weight of the knowledge that a day will come when I’m not able to clearly see their faces as they grow into adults, not able to see my daughter’s art, and not able to read or knit or drive . . .
Along with those dark thoughts, I’ve also noticed that every vein on every leaf, every grit in the cement sidewalk, every facet of the frost on every blade of grass, every hair on my horses, every minute detail of my surroundings has become a tiny miracle to me. I don’t try to see every little thing, but since that appointment, I just do.
The week before last was hard. I wasn’t hungry, I wanted to cry all the time, everyone was sick, and in the midst of the bare minimum I had to do to keep everyone alive and clean and fed, I had to plow through having the future I’ve always imagined would be mine ripped away in an instant and try to wrap my mind around what’s coming instead. To stay sane, I found myself mentally putting things in categories as I moved through my day: “Things I can Still do Once I lose my Central Vision, Things I can’t Do Anymore Once I Lose my Central Vision, and Things I can Still do with Some Form of Help Once I Lose my Central Vision.” I imagined how things will need to be moved around so I can do as much as possible for as long as possible. I set a schedule of never pausing during the day (lest I not be able to get back up and continue) and breaking down at night after everyone was in bed, and quickly exhausted myself on every level.
But this past week, after forcing a few good night’s sleeps on myself and while deep breathing through a mini-panic attack about it all, the realization came that right now I’m in the early stage and my vision is still correctable to 20/20. I can still do and see all the things. No doubt, there are dark days ahead, but now is not the time to grieve, now is the time to savor.
Going with my man for his first flying lesson and watching his eyes light up with pure, unadulterated glee when he turned the key and the engine fired up, taking my little horse for some play time in the round pen, making time to get back to my (rather long) reading list, and soaking up the sight of my children in a way I don’t think I could have when I assumed my vision would always be clear: these are the things I am focusing on (literally and figuratively, lol) now.
I’m not quite to the end of my thirties yet, but I think they’ve been about learning how to live on even when the living gets tough. Not to just keep breathing and eating, but to keep living–cherishing, enjoying, hoping, and holding my heart open even when it hurts.
When I started this decade, my initial response to pain of any kind was to close off and do everything in my power to not feel that pain again. But now I’m eight years in and it’s become pretty clear that if I keep that up, I’ll end up living alone in my bedroom under the covers for the rest of my life. This past week, I feel like I’ve cracked an incredible cheat-code for life–how to choose to truly live in the moment.
I want to close this with two things:
One, living in the moment is not natural. We worry about the future because we are aware that if we don’t make good decisions in the present, our future might suck or just plain never happen. Living in the moment is a skill to be honed, not just how to get in the moment and stay there awhile, but when to live in the moment at all.
It’s important to take precious time and allow yourself to project possible futures, sift through information that might shift your course for the better, or close your eyes for a visit to the past to avoid repeating mistakes. For me, especially right now, I know that if I’m ever going to make it to acceptance of this situation, I have to stop savoring the moment sometimes and let the full weight of the fear, anger, sadness, and inevitability of it all move through me. If I don’t, they’ll steal my joy slowly but surely from the inside. Still, this isn’t something I intuitively know how to do, I’m figuring it out as I go and practicing.
Two, I’m okay. Obviously, this isn’t how I wanted life to go, but it would take so much more than this to ruin it. I have too many good people, too many good animals, too much love, too much humor, and too much to look forward to (whether I get to actually see it or not) for this to keep me down.
So here’s to 38–letting go of what was, savoring and accepting what is, and setting course for a beautiful what will be.
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.
Usually when I write, it’s because there’s an idea that’s come to the surface. Something bothering me, like the grain of sand in the oyster and when I think there’s enough layers for a pearl, I try to write it out. But this morning I’m just following my fingertips.
I am itching to start a book club on You Were Born for This and laughing with myself over my abiding joy in them. I love them so much, I basically went to college for book clubbing.
It was lovely being back in the arms of my Southern sisters–an instant grounding in who I am and the fact that fitting in is for the birds; belonging is where it’s at.
Not working did not work out the way I thought it would . . . nonetheless, it is beginning to work out.
I’ve been sad for years and now I’m ready to fall in love with life again. The minute I had the thought, I blinked and the world looked different.
I love the weather here–it’s always doing something beautiful or disturbing and my senses enjoy the exercise.
This is me. It’s how I think and how I talk. I often unintentionally make it weird, especially with people who don’t know me well, by saying too much or going too deep too fast in conversation. But I’ve thought it over carefully this past year and, while there are several things I’m changing, I don’t want to change this part of myself–it’s how all my best and closest friends have been made.
The idea of “home” has always been tricky to me. I have no hometown, I have no one place where my family lives to return to, and I have no lengthy history with anywhere. So home has never been a place, but I never worked too hard to define it until lately. More on that to come.
For the past two days I’ve wanted to write and write and write, but that’s not my life at the moment, so I jot notes in little notebooks I keep hidden in my purse, my knitting bag, amongst the cookbooks in my kitchen. When the time comes, it will all still be there.
I’ve been thinking about Kerry a lot lately. It’s so painfully beautiful and cool that even years after his passing, I can still so clearly see his particular brand of goodness shifting things for the better. And it’s a comfort to me that, in that way, he’ll always be here.
Having read You Were Born for This twice now, I’ve decided that your life’s purpose is not something you find or choose or grow into. It’s something you can accept or not, but regardless, I believe you start living it the moment you’re conceived. My existence bent space and time when I came into being and whatever I was born for, it started happening back then. I can’t imagine my life’s purpose has been waiting all this time for me to wonder about it and figure it out.
I had to pull quills out of my dog’s nostrils last night with pliers. And, despite being the same weight as me and fully capable of eating my hands for hurting him, he just let me do it. That’s trust. And love. Whoever believes dogs have no soul has never really known a dog.
My new paddle arrived yesterday and I’m going to try it out this weekend. I’ve been feeling optimistic and like I need a shorter format for summer writing so I don’t do what I usually do which is neglect the blog entirely from whenever it gets warm until whenever it gets cold again. More on that to come as well. : )
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.
I’m off for a weekend completely by myself. Let me type that again: I’m off. For a weekend. Completely by myself. Alone. No one else. Just me and some books and some knitting and some coffee and some wine and my favorite writing utensils. And, of course, my fleece-lined leggings and coziest, fuzzy socks.
When I first planned this little trip, I made a list of goals to complete with all this time to myself. I haven’t been alone for more than a few hours at a time since my five year old was born. I’ve daydreamed about what it would be like to have hours and hours to do so many things. But yesterday, I was starting to make lists of what to pack and I realized I don’t have the mental or physical energy for a to-do list right now. I’m behind on literally everything and everyone I care about, including myself, in a way that a weekend is not going to be able to fix.
I felt pretty disheartened when these thoughts crept in. I have a lot of guilt piled up from all the things I haven’t been able to do, things I haven’t had time or headspace to write, and all the lovely people in my life that I haven’t been able to connect with the way that I want. My cup runneth over with blessings and is somehow empty at the same time–a feeling I’ve become well-acquainted with since becoming a mother.
Then, just as I was setting myself up for a nice, long guilt trip, a favorite poem came softly and gently and quietly to mind. It’s by Walt Whitman and it goes like this:
A Clear Midnight
This is thy hour, O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best Night, sleep, death, and the stars.
Now, all I hope for the next few days is to step away from lists, away from goals, and to give my soul a free flight into, well, probably not the wordless, my soul really likes words, but you get the idea. : )
My Sunshine is five and since she started school, she comes home most days a little maxxed out. It’s no good asking her for details about her day, she usually needs to eat then move her wiggly self as much as possible whether that means running up and down the stairs and through the hall with her brothers, heading outside, or dancing in the kitchen. But after dinner, when the boys are in their bed, and all is quiet, she’s ready to talk.
For a day or two back when she first started school, I discouraged this. I worried she wouldn’t get enough sleep if she was up chatting too long, but by day three-ish, I decided it was more important for her to have a time when we can just talk about whatever she wants.
Now, nighttime conversations with my girl are one of the best and most interesting parts of my day. She asks me questions, tells me what she’s been thinking about, and I get a glimpse into the inner workings of her busy and complicated mind.
A few nights ago, when we were done with books and had moved on to the snuggle portion of her bedtime routine, she said, “Jane got purple glitter and I got silver.” It was clear from her tone that purple was far superior to silver and she was quite disappointed.
I responded with, “But silver is so beautiful! Like the silvery snow glittering in the moonlight or your silver, mermaid necklace.”
I knew I’d headed down the wrong road when she replied, “I know, but silver is just boring and it’s not what I wanted. I really wanted purple. Purple is more beautifuller and I didn’t get any purple.”
This was my moment to pause. Lord, it’s tempting to make everything sound great to young children. And I’m so lucky to have a firstborn who regularly and without hesitation speaks her truth. She didn’t want silver, folks, she wanted purple and purple didn’t happen for her. My unintentionally toxic positivity was not helping. So after a moment, I changed my tone to match the bummed out tone she was using and I said,
“Girl, I’m sorry. Purple is so beautiful and I wish it had worked out that you got the color you wanted. Sometimes things go the way we want them to and sometimes, they just don’t.”
“Yeah . . . Wait! Did you ever not getted what you want?” she said.
Ooooohkay, I was feeling really good about switching gears and as quickly as I felt like I’d made it to solid, parenting ground, I was back in over my head. I decided to stay the course and said,
“Yes, lots of times.”
What followed was an amazing conversation about disappointment and how life can be unfair. We shared a few secrets, a few giggles, and lots of snuggle hugs; nothing too big or deep, she’s wicked smart, but she’s still five. And when we were all talked out, we concluded that some moments in life just suck, we can say that they suck, and we don’t have to like them or pretend we like them. No buts.
And I’ll just leave you with what I’m always left with after these moments with my wild child: Whatever it is I think she can do, she can do more. Whatever it is I think she’s capable of understanding, she understands more. And I only ever find out her capabilities and growth edges by giving her a safe place to explore (be that out in the world or in her mind/heart) and following her lead.
This morning I was looking through old drafts; I have nearly 100 starts I’ve never finished and I’ve been going through each one to either publish or delete. I was surprised when I ran into this poem I wrote in 2018. It was completely finished but never shared and I’d so completely forgotten it that I really felt like I was opening a letter from an old friend, which, in a way, I guess I was.
I may have cried a little. I spent a good, long while at the bottom, but I’m not there anymore, and reading this poem was a lovely reminder of just how far I’ve come.
Here I sit.
I’ve asked why,
why me, and
I’ve tried to climb out
only to slide back down even as I claw at sides too steep
for tired fingers.
I’ve been angry to be here
I’ve been desperate to leave
and keenly felt the expectation
that it’s past time to get up and dust off and move on.
I’ve scratched tally marks into my soul–
noting each day as it passes,
the way the moon and stars change position
but I can’t.
And then, just yesterday,
laying on my back and looking up
from my lowest point,
I realized why I’m here
and all my efforts to leave have failed.
It’s not even a secret.
But it was still a revelation–
Rock bottom is where you rest.
where you catalogue injuries and sore spots
where you identify and cast off the heavy things
weighing you down.
where you gather energy and resources for the difficult climb ahead–