Monday, December 2, 2013

If My Knee Gives Out

I am a fearful runner. By this I mean, I do not like to explore very much when I go out running my five or seven or ten miles. I find a route that keeps to quiet territory (no intersections please; no waiting for lights) and I keep to it, quietly, though I like to imagine that my routine appearance makes me familiar to the houses I pass, the excitable dogs left home for the day and the flocks of geese who know their place as surely as I know mine.

These days, my route takes me past mountains that surprise me, they are that big and that incredibly close. I came to this new place on a long-forged whim. A whim that had been gestating for years, when I really get to thinking about it. (Once I sat in a booth at a coffee shop, across from me was a handsome boy, and I talked about my weekly commutes to the mountain town. It takes me up in its palm, I said. I was really talking about rescue; I needing a palm to scoop me up then.) Now, I am here, in the palm of the place, and I go out running below mountains blue and white and startlingly close. Even though I've arrived at this expected place, I am still fearful. There is no pretty way to talk about fear; it just sits inside of you, waiting to be waited upon.

To be certain, there are a great many things to fear in this life. You don't need me to list them all here; you've racked them up yourself in your midnight hours and grey morning lights. They have a lot to do with loss, I am sure. Of belonging, of credibility, of security. Of love.

I am afraid my knee will give out and I'll have to give up running.
I am afraid I will always be bored.
I am afraid I will always stay small.
I am afraid that the past will always tug at me, greedy child.
I am afraid that I have hurt people.
I am afraid that I won't be enough for him.

That was my list this morning. This morning I ran over wet roads, my knee only going weak once, as I leaped into the grass in the ditch to move out of a truck's path. But I climbed out of the ditch; I kept running. And, as is usually the way, I found a bit of clarity while I was out in the world. I was reminded of a trick my mother taught me, when the fear gets ahold of you:

Give it all up. To God. To the Universe. To the thing that is here with us that is bigger than us. Truly. Just do it. You can even look up when you do it. Or down at the earth beneath your feet, if that's where you find the big thing. Send it out of you. There is something that wants to take the fear from you. Because it's pointless. It gets us nowhere, friend.

My knees will continue to grow weak, but I know myself; I'll keep on running as long as they allow.
The boredom, the smallness, the past--they're mine to own; mine to turn away from, too.

I have hurt people. I am sorry.

I am not a savior; only a woman. His. That's enough.

Keep to your territory, quietly, if that's what you need now. Let your legs carry you there. Do not be afraid.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, September 6, 2013

How I Live Now

1. Run six miles down a road that passes green fields, the sun rising to my left in the east. Run past elms like old giants breathing slow above my dark head. There is a Rose Lane and a Dove Lane and a lane called Blood; down one of these a woman sells 'Fur Hats' and handmade doll clothes. There are mobile courts where women have planted purple and pink flowers in rusted wash tins.

2. Small town mindset as I see it now: There are two kinds of people for whom I pour coffee. Those who seek my story, who humble me with their welcome. Those who need me first to prove something--how long I shall stay; how ragged is my possible judgement; what is it I'm wanting here. Is it to take something for my own? Stranger, I do not know. For those who welcome: Thank you for your humanity. To those who doubt: We have lonely hearts, both of us. 

3. The school is to the east. From these new, white, double-paned windows that will keep us from the cold come winter, I sometimes watch you walking to work the way I watched you walk away from me before I knew you. These days, you'll come walking back. To me.

4. I am remembering that I know how to play the piano. Scenes from Childhood. Kinderscenen. I'll take out my cello one day and tune it up, pluck the forgotten strings, admire the polished wood, the curves like a lady, like a lady.

5. Three things, you say, are needed

Someone to love
Work to do
Something to look forward to

6. Certain things are still difficult; this is my proof that we're not dreaming. Still tired days, still low days, still moments of unraveling shame. When we were first beginning, and fear was following me around like a hungry cat, I'd count them up: Bad haircut. Empty bank account. No place to live. Sick dog. Distance. Doubt. All anchors to the ground. There had simply been too much too good to be true. Now I'm wearing a different coat: Collect gratitude in my pockets like smooth stones.

for Friday afternoons
for red curtains pulled against the sun
for your sleeping shoulder
for my hand on your back
for chocolate cake and milk in a wine glass
for the dog who stumbles along and along and along
for whiskey and ginger and nighttime walks
for all I have known
even the bad stuff
thank you
it got me here
and what I mean to say is that Here
is what I'd always wanted
but had never known
could be.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Deaf Like the Dog

I have a dog named Ernie. I've probably written of him before--he's also called 'the little orange dog'. Right now, as I write this, he's stirring up commotion in the woods that run down to the shoreline of the lake. All the little chipmunks and squirrels think he's a threat, one giant squirrel perhaps, and they want him gone. They shriek their dissent. Ernie, he's deaf as a doornail. He's placid in his exploration. He doesn't hear the ruckus he's created.

Two nights ago thunder cracked the sky above this lakeside home; split it clean open and then wept--rain on lake water--for an hour or more. We all woke in our beds throughout the house, startled into consciousness; all of us listening; one of us wondering if the automatic sprinkler in the orchard ought to be turned off; one huddling in the bathroom with the old big dog who fears the thunder the most. Ernie sprawled belly-up at the foot of our bed as if the night were silent as a tomb; the next morning we joked that he slept the best of us all.

Dog-deafness to deeper meaning, I'm heading there (I promise), but it's been awhile since I've been here and the muscle that's needed for this is a bit shaky, forgetful of capacity. Here's what I want to say: I haven't written in a few months because I've been frightened to write. Things have been changing--have changed--in some very large and elemental ways, and at the risk of jinxing what I fear every day will be jinxed, I'll just say it: I am deeply content. 'Happy' is too bubbly a word, perhaps, too prescriptive. Too expectant. I won't say that. But I'll say this: This new contentment, this sense of having arrived at some place in myself and in the world that feels centered and long-wanted and good has got me wishing I were a bit blind, a bit deaf, a bit dumb.

I wish I were blind to the things I stand to lose.

I wish I couldn't hear the voices, inside and out, that tell me I might be making a mistake.

I wish I were a fool, content to bask in beauty--as heartbreaking as it can be--wherever I can find it.

My little orange dog, he's happy--blissful--as long as he's got a bowl of clean drinking water. As long as he's fed some scraps morning and night. As long as he's got a few feet of bed to curl up on. As long as I scratch his soft, deaf ears. As long as I am happy to see him. My little orange dog, he's got no idea that his kidneys are failing him, that his heart is growing weak, that he can't hear the sound of my voice calling him. There is no fear of what may come, there is just this moment, and it's enough.

I want to be like Ernie, like my little orange dog. I don't want to be afraid to tell you that I have made some choices that have taken me to a new place and that in that new place I feel like I am finally home. I don't want to be afraid to love as big and silly and openly as I can. I don't want to be afraid to take my work seriously. I don't want to be afraid to be happy. I just want to work to be worthy of my life, and of these good things. It might not work out. I might lose a hell of a lot. I might be just a fool.

So be it.

Ernie doesn't care. Stop writing, he says. Come with me down the stone steps to the lake. Give me the rest of that piece of toast; it was good. He's done stirring up the squirrels. He's at my feet. He'll follow wherever I go, and love me right on through it.

Smart dog. Good dog.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

For May Day: Small Things.

My sister went to a farm and held a baby goat in her arms.
She told me that holding it felt like 'joy welling up within her'.

My mother came to town for a work-week visit and gave me the level-best moment of my whole entire day: a long embrace in late April morning sunshine.

At the house in the remote woods of northern Montana, where the river swells most springs into the fields, where my sister once wrangled the old row boat to float over sodden wheat fields, where at dawn (or any other hour), you can lace on your runners and cross the border into Canada, swift as four miles passing under your determined feet, at this house my father tends to the past, herds away the wild things that live fervently.

My little sister is baby-skinned and blue-eyed and blooming with shy, earnest, comforting love. To my stories she listens.

My old dog is dying, more quickly now, but he still turns over for a belly rub, still sleeps beside me, little curved sweet-potato body. I will grieve this assurance, for pure assurance of unconditional love it is.

The puppy at the park is but six days old, is nothing but soft and steady and eager life.

And small things--watch for them: sunshine on the kitchen floor.

The random act of grace.
The woman who stops you and asks where you got your shoes--linked humanity, just like that. 
The coffee beans are new and shiny with oil.
The job can be done if only you begin.
There will be hot water for washing, cool water for drinking, there will be people happy to see you.
There will be more light in the sky for longer.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, April 26, 2013


I had a pixie haircut when I was eight years old. My school picture from that year shows a small, shy, dark-skinned girl smiling without showing her teeth (a familiar image--often what I look like in pictures from my twenties, only a couple feet taller and a bit more time-tested). In the picture I wear a white, round-collared dress, a pink bow at my neck. And my hair is very, very short. In fact, were it not for the dress and the bow, I would most certainly be mistaken for an eight-year old boy. I don't remember asking my mother for this haircut, but I'm sure that I did, and my mother--being my mother--patiently granted my request.

I am envious of this little girl. I've recently chopped my hair again, and while there are days when I look in the mirror and like the exposed lines of my face and neck, more days I go out into the world a little afraid; it's one thing to be mistaken for a boy when you're eight, it's quite another to be mistaken for one when you're nearing thirty. So far, this hasn't happened. So far, when I've ventured out, people say kind things, or say nothing at all, or don't pay me any attention. I know, I know: it's just a haircut, you're thinking. Hair grows, girl. Bigger shit is going down. And you'd be right. But for just a moment, I want to say a few things about beauty, and vanity, and humility, because it seems like these are the things that either help or harm us when it comes to embracing the bigger stuff, the truths--minute and enormous--that bring us to our knees.

The haircut wasn't the thing that brought me to my knees; truth is, I was already kneeling when I sat down in the twirling chair and felt the scissors come close to my scalp. The haircut was the reaction; from my knees I was seeking outward motion, some sea change to shake me out of the larger forces that had me down on the ground, struggling to keep going with the new life I'd put into motion, the one that was pissing a lot of people off and painting, for me, a future utterly unknown.

The haircut did the trick. To push the metaphor, I'll just say this: the rest of me--body, mind, soul--was kneeling: in the face of certain truth. I was deep in the down-in-the-mud middle of figuring some big shit out. About myself, the world I was creating, the people I was hurting, the path that was asking to be forged. On my knees, I was humbled, because I wasn't pretending anymore. I was getting (painfully) honest for what felt like the first time in my life. So be it. But the hair wasn't following suit. The girl people saw on the outside--she was still trying to be someone she thought others wanted to see. She was still seeking goddamn approval. So she went to the salon.

Beauty: what the world sees on the outside.
Beauty: how we feel on the inside.

I'm working to embrace the latter. But sure thing, it's hard: the truth that I've begun broadcasting from the inside has suddenly been stripped bare and revealed on the outside. In a haircut.

Now there's new work to do--a big struggle with vanity. A big search for humility. But I'm glad. These lessons I've been meant to learn. And I'm hopeful for the learning: it's easier to learn truly when we learn from a true place. We forget that true place, it seems, as we grow. Our eight year old selves knew it without question: this is what I want because it makes me feel like the person I am.

This is what I want because it makes me feel like the person I am. Some days I look gamine and graceful; some days I look like an eight year old boy who needs a good night's sleep. This is what I see. What I feel? Mostly beautiful. Mostly humble. Mostly true.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

I'm Sorry.

That the dogs are dying. 
That there are miles, two thousand of them or more, between here and there. 
That I didn't get the joke, or like it. 
That I let the garden die. 
That I said too much. 
That I said too little. 
That I didn't try and that I tried too hard. 
That my hair was never long for you. 
That I am so cold all the time. 
That I was mean. 
That I was kind. 
That I was patient and impatient, both. 
That I wrote instead of calling. 
That I called instead of writing. 
That there are so many ways of talking. Just talk. Just listen. 
That I don't like clams. 
That I didn't go to shear the sheep that day. 
That I pretended when I should have been real. 
That I was real when I should have pretended. 
That I was late. 
That I canceled. 
That I said no. 
That I said yes. 
That I disappear. 
That I act rash. 
That I take my time. 
That I know absolutely. 
That I don't know.   
That I didn't ask. 
That I even ask at all. 
That I mouthed the three words instead of giving them sound, every night. 
That I cared too little and too much. 
That I didn't read the books. 
That I am sometimes weak to the bone. 
That I am sometimes so tough I push you over.
That I can't always help you up. 
That I drank that much beer. 
That I can't drink that much beer. 
That I don't want to wake up yet (let me sleep). 
That I didn't wake up and see, and live. 
That I woke up. 
That I listened. 
That I didn't listen. 
That I didn't say I'm sorry. 
That I said it. 
That there is so much and so little and that we've got it all to carry. Your yoke, mine; I'd take them up both, were I able. 

Never for its beginning, nor its good and harsh and honest life. Never for that. 

Thanks for reading. 




Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Machine

You often feel like you are not enough. You are a person who sometimes makes plans and then cancels them. You have a hard time saying 'no'. You say 'yes' to things you don't really want to do. You want to be able to do everything. You want to be able to be everywhere, at once. You don't want to miss out, or lose your place, or be talked about, or judged. You judge others, sometimes, and this makes you feel like a hypocrite. Is it possible to release all judgment? Perhaps. But it takes practice and time and most of all humility, and it takes these things in harmony over and over again--there's probably no way to perfect it. The human brain--which is something you've got--has a wire in it, that may appear essential, called judgment. Take the wire out and you've got an entirely different machine that might be difficult to drive. 

Try driving it anyway. There are different gears; one that is important is called acceptance, and that's the first gear, the lowest one with the most power. It gets you going. When you learn to drive the machine you first go out with a friend who has some practice with it; she's known you a long time and she is gentle because she sees that you are scared; there are other machines out there and they've got a plan, they're on a path that is their own, they might not be patient if you get in their way. Don't worry; keep driving. 

I'm not sure what the other gears are yet. They might have something to do with love and virtue and that idea of sameness--you know, we're all 'one'. Maybe that's the highest gear, that knowledge. When you get to it, let me know how you did it. I'm still working on gear one and it often gets stuck in the sticky stuff of guilt, and self-doubt, and a tremendous, tremendous fear. But it's like a machine, see? You are a person of common sense, who knows that when a machine isn't getting going, there's something wrong with it. You've got to coax it back to health. The hammer trick doesn't work--you can't beat something into motion, it's got to want to move, it's got to feel propelled, it's got to have energy. It can't feel judged, the animal part of it; and everything's got an animal in it, if we're willing to look and see. 

Judgment makes the animal retreat; it's got a shell for hiding. I bet that shell is pretty damned comfortable, too; I bet there are books in there, and a wood stove that is full of fire, and probably some food the animal likes. Why would it want to come out? Inside, the world is its known world--every floor creak and night noise has become friend, and no one says 'not enough'. In fact, no one says much of anything (except those inside voices, which we've all got--nice ones and mean ones, come on, admit it). In the shell, it's easy to find comfort and rest; it's also easy to get a little bored, a little wan, a little lonely.

So face it: you've got to go outside. Where you often feel like you're not enough. Where you say 'yes' but then say 'no' and worry about losing out. Where you make a shit ton of really unimportant and truly important mistakes, over and over again. Where you judge and are judged in return. Where you begin to wonder if there's another way, if your machine could be re-calibrated. Only this time it's just a tiny bit easier, because you've been out here before. You find that in the swiftest instant your judgment about the neighbor (who does that?) can be replaced by a kind of frank and elemental forgiveness when you see that the man is limping, that the woman carries a broken briefcase, that the son is so shy he can hardly walk from doorway to car, that the dog is just dying, that the daughter is in love for the first time, that they have--every single one of them--been enough and also not enough at the very same time. That they're all machines. All animals with shells and the living hope that one day they'll come out and find something a bit better. 

Thanks for reading. 


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Worth of Difficult Years

Dear You,

I've been meaning to write, but I've been on break from work and school, and while it was my highest goal to spend that time writing, writing, writing, other impulses took hold, and boredom set in. There has been a lot of bread baking (good stuff!) and dancing about the kitchen to the old Springsteen songs. I'm poor as a pauper but I'm paid in time. And this life, while I'm still young, is a good, young life.

(Note to Us on the refrigerator door: "Work is good for the soul. Remember this. Every morning when I wake up, I'll try to remember it too, and spend the time with coffee at the corner desk where the story is shaping up, where the novel is slowly unfolding itself before me, page by page.")

Here is something that my dear friend Lauren said about her plan for the new year:

"More than anything else, I want this year to be full of doing the right things: when they're easy or when they're hard, when others understand or when they don't, whatever level of courage or gumption or honesty or work or love they require. However joyful or sad they might be."

I thought you might like this, because I liked it, and generally we like the same things, though we don't always tell each other that. The things we both like--what this man said, that quote I pasted to the bathroom mirror, this joke--we discover them like secrets accidentally revealed. You quote the quote from the mirror one month later and I'm stunned to know what you remember, because I remember it too. Our shared life living below the surface.

But I digress. What I have not much revealed but what I guess you may know is: this last year was often a very damn hard and difficult year. I was elated at the turn of the clock to midnight (or hopped up on sugar from the cookies and the pink wine I shared with my mother and my youngest sister, sliding about the wood floor of the kitchen in our winter socks and pajamas, clanging pots and pans in the frozen air over the dog's bark, calling for the darkness to awaken).

The clock turned. And later, searching for sleep, I could hear my father's voice down the hallway in the house where I grew. He was talking to my mother. Then he began to sing an old cowboy song. Third boxcar, midnight train. Destination, Bangor, Maine. My mother laughs her laugh, and I realize what it is that I've been wanting to say:

The difficult years are also often the most worthwhile ones, in the end.

Think of everything you've born. It was actual weight; it had gravity and it was heavy on your heart. It made a carving of your soul, so much so that when you greet the day the greeting is entirely new because the world is somehow new. Without the difficult years, it's easy to remain the same. Before, I thought that staying the same was what I wanted--it was safe, after all. Now, I tell you: I want to be carved.

For it strikes me that the carving makes space for what is most important: pink wine and winter socks and my mother's face. My father singing his beloved a cowboy song, thirty-one years after they first found one another. It's true: nothing else matters but this. Sometimes it takes a beating to make us see.

I'll sign off now, and promise to write you again soon. There's much to do: boxes to unpack in the new house that is mine, a dog to walk up a snowy mountain, plans to be made for the work to be done that is good for the soul, a new year to begin.

Thanks for reading.