I Will Be

A journey through the grief of miscarriage

I had the makings of a child in my womb for eight weeks and five days.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, the pain and bleeding started, and I knew. I didn’t want to know, but there it was. It was the beginning of the end of a pregnancy I had longed for and rejoiced in. It was over before we even got to speak of it, and there was absolutely nothing I could do. Continue reading “I Will Be”

Mea Culpa

 

We walked today, picking fall flowers, dried seed pods and colorful leaves. Chattering like a busy chipmunk, she found pretty rocks in the gravel, drew line after line for us to race from, and marveled at the troops of soldier mushrooms. It was more a meander than a walk, but definitions matter not to a four-year-old. Her thoughts bubble over into words like a flowing well in the flat lands; there is no filter, no pause and the music of it all soaking the earth is innocent and pure.

And it never stops. Ever.

Even in her dreams she is talkative and loud. A social sleep talker, telling her stories and voicing her fears.

But it is a respite to tune into her world, letting it drown out my restless mind that takes eternal practice to quiet for even the rare millisecond. She is my practice. Continue reading “Mea Culpa”

Constantly Good

 

Somewhere along the winding dusty road, I came to believe that change is good. Change is good for the simple reason that it can’t be otherwise, or it wouldn’t happen.

Choosing to believe in a friendly universe seems nearly impossible at times; oh, how we suffer! How we hold tight to our suffering, our persecution, believing it makes us so righteous! I have treasured mine, wrapped it up safely with golden bows and security guards. I have glorified the martyr-making tales of woe residing in my mind.

But then the fireflies come out, a thousand of them at once. The wildflowers bend in the blue-sky breeze. The white caps roll and tease and polka-dot the lake. The starry edge of the universe wraps itself around all that I know like a glitter headband keeping the wild hair from my eyes so that I may see and dance and sing to the skies. Continue reading “Constantly Good”

A Thousand Thank You’s

Henry David Thoreau once said, “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

The loud drone of the chainsaw and the silent work of the lopper created a mismatched chorus as we painstakingly carved our way through the dense woods. It was sweaty, heavy work clearing the dried deadfall, the thick clusters of green wiry willow, the wet and rotten trees that had long since slumbered back into the mossy earth.

It was Mother’s Day, and the fact that I ripped tree after tree from her lifeblood was not lost on me.

“Thank you,” I said time after time to the infant trees as I dug the steel blade of the shears low into the earth to cut their sappy flesh at the roots. When Tony readied a large one to fall, I stopped my work to watch both in respect and morbid awe. Old-growth popple, ash and Balm of Gilead were the parents we toppled, and each short-lived thunder as they hit the ground shook loose a pang of sadness mixed with burgeoning  gratitude.

“Thank you,” I sang while the saw sang louder.

It had been a lonely winters’ end here at The Angle. My heart has long ached for a tribe that understands me, for people who think like I do, for women who want to work and laugh and give together. With spring came cravings for a kindredship the lack of which I haven’t known since experiencing Seattle’s lukewarm welcome. There, it seemed everyone kept newcomers at arm’s distance for a set time. But then I met my tribe and the doors of fellowship were thrown open.

Here, it seemed to be my tribe right away. But the years of freezing and thawing, off and on, hot and cold, seem to decay more than what’s left to the weather. It seems no one knows each other at all.Column 57 (3).JPG

“Thank you,” I whispered as the fires whispered hotter. We built piles as we cleared around them, stacking the good wood for winter, burning the brush and the dead. My whispered words were lost in the varied din of our logging, but I kept on.

A Course in Miracles teaches that loneliness is an identification with the ego. The bit of god within each of us yearns unceasingly like a magnet for the rest of its bits. We ache for each other and for our source, for the offering and acceptance of forgiveness at the deepest level of our beings. It is from this illusory separation that stems all fear, all depression, all loneliness. My paraphrasing is greatly simplified, as it would be of the Bible as well, but the sentiments ring truth to me.

To avoid feeling what I was feeling, normally I would throw myself into a project while holding a drink in my hand. But, booze takes more than it gives, and projects, even seemingly altruistic community projects, are a fulfillment mechanism of the ego as well.

My therapy this time would come in the sweating work of clearing land by gloved-hand. Aye, we bought land. The timing and parcel were right, and a piece of paper now says we can clear, build, farm, do what we will on that piece of land. I know at my core that no person can “own” a slice of the earth – though corporations like to pretend as much – but we, my little family and I, are simply borrowing space for a time. My promise in every Thank You that I offer back to the land as I trim her twiggy bangs is that I will leave it to itself as much as I can and that good things will come from my taking.

“Thank you,” I gasped as I wrestled the wicked willows. The earth does not easily give up her own, that is for certain. She hasn’t given up on me either. She lays her shorn back at my feet, my unpracticed tread forming the narrow path that will become wider and stronger as it is used. It’s why I repeat the gratitude. It’s a beginning, a pathway, a thought that I want to dominate my life.

I want to see not what I lack but what I have. I want to see not our separate little lives but a tribe of those who know the land. I want to give not for what it gets me but because I am called to give. I want to work not for the buying of more stuff but for the care-taking of all that needs care.

“Thank you,” I breathed again and again, as I lay down the path. “Thank you,” I sighed, as I sink back into this gift of a body. Thank you, I intone to the mothers of Earth and the Mother of all.

“Thank you.”

(Published in the 5/16 issue of the Warroad Pioneer)

 

 

Life after drinking

Last week I was filling out a new patient health questionnaire, giving details on my exercise level, water intake, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco use, when, for the first time ever, I marked the None box beside alcohol.

None!

I used to lie on those questionnaires, downplaying.

It’s been one year. One dramatically different, altogether quiet and peaceful year. A month into sobriety, I had a glass of wine at a fancy dinner. It seemed like the thing to do, but it didn’t taste good and I felt like a fraud, drinking only to fit in. I ended up leaving it. In hindsight, I can see that dinner was a turning point, just as checking the None box was another. They are clicks, switches, personal proofs I relish encountering from time to time to remind me that I am done.

In my 20’s, I used to say that I was suspicious of anyone who didn’t drink, as if they were lacking and abnormal.

I spent my 30’s in a whirling social life, part glamorous, part bohemian, all indulgent, with alcohol as the frosting on a crumbling cake. A friend’s words ring in my ears to this day: “We love Kellie; we just don’t love drunk Kellie.” I was the girl who was too drunk to drive home at most parties. I would reliably show up with champagne at any Saturday morning event. I could have a blast doing anything so long as cocktails were involved. And of course, they always were.

Column 53 - Champagne
Eight years ago, I was very good at opening and pouring champagne. 

Booze is so ingrained in our way of life that I’m inclined to become something of a conspiracy theorist: i.e., this great numbing of the masses is one of the many tools meant to keep us as distant as possible from our birthright – the Peace that Passeth Understanding. It should be a universal wisdom allowing our release from suffering, our enlightenment from the dark grasp of the ego, our salvation from a hell we wrought and wrangled ourselves.

Many years ago, author and spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer said something that rocked me to the core…his own teacher had helped him to understand that so long as he was drinking (he had a one-beer-a-day habit) he would not be able to reach his spiritual goals. Heaven on earth wasn’t possible. Enlightenment was out of reach. Even from just one beer a day.

Such was the power of the almighty drink. Such is our propensity to create false gods.

Drug and alcohol addiction have a nasty stigma in our culture, as well they should, being life-destroyers and all. But in terms of spirituality, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, addiction is addiction is addiction. Sugar, shopping, success, sex, social media, etc., …it’s all a paltry replacement in our sadly human attempt to fill the void left gaping and raw from denying our connection to God.

Drinking just happened to be the one I needed to address first.

I was lucky. I had a drinking partner who loved me, loved Us. We quit together, even while we were apart and drowning. Once we had rebirthed our commitment and moved back in together, it was easy to put Us first. Socially here at The Angle, there was almost nothing we did without a drink in hand or imbibing heavily beforehand. So we quit all that too.

I’ve struggled here in this isolated place having zero friends that I see consistently. But, I was a selfish friend anyway. I was a lousy employee, a mess-making daughter, a neglectful sister, a whining writer, and even a bad mom.

But as the sober weeks wore on, each one easier than the last, life started to change. It became slower, sweeter and infinitely more satisfying. I don’t fear missing out as I used to and I don’t feel left-out, though we often were in the beginning.

My intuition is back. My patience – once I got through the physical and emotional detox – has increased. My desire to create is more purposeful and much more determined.

My skin and hair are healthier. My vision is sharper. My reflexes are keen and dependable. My struggle with extra weight is ever-present, but it’s now about making Tony’s favorite pasta and Iris’ favorite granola bars, rather than about consuming a thousand calories from a bottle on a barstool.

I hadn’t known how to love, how to give, how to listen, how to be still as I do now. The emotional ups and downs still come, but they are manageable because I’m aware instead of numb. Guilt, self-hatred and death used to plague my thoughts. No longer.

The first time I reached to join hands with my little family around the dinner table, it felt terribly awkward. I didn’t know how to pray so I looked them in the eyes and said quietly, “I love my family.”

That’s what not-drinking has become for me. I love my family, I love my man, and I’m starting to love myself enough to want what God wants for me.

I know it’s important to bless my past. I even bless the booze. I’m grateful for the journey. After all, it brought me here.

Here to this place where not drinking is normal, where the love of my nuclear family is just the beginning, where Check boxes help define how far I’ve come.

Life after drinking is worth the challenge of change. Life after drinking is finally living.

 

(Column 53 – Published in the March 14 Warroad Pioneer)

The Giving Tree

Column 33 Published in the August 16, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

So…he asked me to keep him out of my column. And for the most part, I will honor that request. But some of the things he says and some of the things he does are just too darn funny or so utterly remarkable that I simply must remark.

If only so that the joy they bring remains. And the lessons they impart catch.

My ex and I recommitted five months ago, to each other and to being sober.

We are clear-headed, communicating, co-parenting and doing so with a whole lot of laughter and compassion. It feels amazing. Miraculous. Like another honeymoon phase all over again.

Though we both know sobriety isn’t a magic pill for relationship smooth sailing, it sure has been a booster shot towards that end.

Once, many years ago, he told me that I would never fit in here at The Angle. At the time, I took it as the worst possible insult. I so desperately wanted to be welcomed and to know this life and these people. I threw myself into whatever community cause fell into my lap. It felt right and good, and I had no qualms giving hundreds and hundreds of hours c. I tried to convince myself all the while that it was an altruistic gift, even while my ego was constantly craving praise and validation.

His words seemed a brutal prediction, but I can see now that he wasn’t judging; he was protecting. He recognized my thin skin and soft heart as completely exposed in the fearless way I’ve laid it all out there in my writing, in my giving, in my asking for nothing in return. He knows the way of it here so much better than I ever will.

“Anyone who gets involved here will get burned,” he whispered into my hair as I wept in his arms.

Words like a wasp sting have plagued me for a week – words that implied I steal from the miniscule Angle Days’ budget, that I believe everyone here is a drunk, and that I don’t have this community’s best interests at heart. I gave these untruthful words unwarranted power and they robbed me of my workday smile, took the joy out of an event I cherish and cast a wearying spell that left me planning my escape from The Angle.

But don’t get your hopes up yet, Wasp.

Wrapped in his loving arms once more, I feel a bravado akin to what it took to move here. Just as I have always done, I will say what’s in my heart in the only way I know how – through words on a page. I don’t do confrontation – it only makes me cry. I don’t do gossip – it feels wrong on all fronts. But I do write. And I write with love and full-frontal honesty. I am a woman who has found a bit of her voice, and just like in politics, that scares the bejesus out of those who cling to the old ways and fear change. The first thing change-haters do to women who speak up is attempt to tear them down in any way they can.

But bee stings fade. The pain dissipates. And love returns. Even for those who are not so fond of me.

I love The Angle. I love the people of The Angle. And I don’t do love by sitting down and fading into the background. I’m not afraid to point out patterns that aren’t healthy about something that I love. I’m not afraid to write about unpopular topics that are nonetheless important to who we are as humans and spiritual beings.

Even though I’ve only been here going on five years, I have something to say about this place. But more than anything, a writer simply wants to start a conversation. Please, if you have a response to anything I’ve written, just come talk to me. Or write anonymously to me. Don’t say cruel, baseless things that are bound to get back to me in twisted, worse-off words than how they started.

It’s instances like this that turn the word “small” of our small town into a bad word. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

But it doesn’t have to be like that here. We all have a completely equal opportunity to stand up and get involved. Criticizing those who do is part of our national vernacular, but can’t The Angle be different? Can’t this beautiful and amazing lifestyle prove itself above the mudslinging of everywhere else? I believe it can.

On each trip to and from town, I watch for two specific great white pines and a lone cedar that are marked with large red X’s. One such trip in the future, I will see them no more. They are healthy, beautiful trees older than me by a century, I’d wager, and the thought of their senseless loss gets me emotional. I don’t want to know the ridiculous reason they suddenly need to be cut down. I don’t want to feel the urge to fight a losing battle for them, even though I already do. They are part of this Angle community just like I am and just like everyone and everything else.

I stopped my truck and trailer on one trip home, wrapped my arms around one of the trees and held it, just like my man had held me when The Angle cut me down. I hid my face when people drove by, but yep, that was me, out there on the road hugging a great white pine, my arms not even reaching half-way around. If you had stopped, you’d have seen tears rolling down my face because life and people can be so cruel at times.

And then I moved on.

The tree has given all she had to give as a whole, tall sentry. And now she’ll be cut down, moved along and will give some more in some other form.

And so will I.

The Task at Hand

 

Column 31 Published in the July 5,2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Well hello there, July. Welcome, and we’ll take you, biting black flies and all.

June, the moody mistress that she was, blessed us with an abundance of variety. Steady? No, not she. She took us from whipping winds and bone chilling wet to sweltering heat that sat heavy and dense like a used towel left to dry in a heap.

A recent June day, I remarked to no one in particular in my otherwise unoccupied vehicle, “You know it’s a Windy day when there are miniature white caps on the standing water in the farmers’ fields.”

I love the long drive into town passing the many fields in their different states of dress and undress. The neighboring farmers are the buffer as we move from our densely wooded community to the progressively more open and populated, albeit still sparsely, outskirts of these rural towns. The hearts of their downtown areas and the bustle of their local commerce is a welcome change to the remote day-to-day life that is The Angle’s.

Our tourism economy here at The Angle gives the impression of busy-ness everywhere you look, and indeed we are a hard-working community. But there’s also a hint of loneliness that hangs in the air just as it does on the busiest city streets.

Peculiar to our species, no doubt, we are seeking. We are aching. Wondering. We get so consumed with taking care of our own egoic pursuits that we often fail to make the heart connections that are so vital to our growth, our happiness.

The tabloid of my life at The Angle: the off and on relationship, the ragged, yet wholehearted endeavors to find my place in our misfit community, the craving and searching for soulful, authentic connections, it all continually points me back to learning about love, forgiveness and God.

A Course in Miracles continues to be an almost daily guide for me. It has reminded me yet again that ANYTHING, if it’s not Love, is fear. If a thought doesn’t bring joy, then it is riding on fear, however deeply hidden. Stress equals fear equals illusion equals false, no matter how fiercely I believe in it. If a thought brings anything other than an abiding joy, it is not of God, not of reality. What a bonanza that knowledge is! I write it again and again solely so that I may continue to learn it. We’ve created all these illusions ourselves, and I can finally see that breaking down the fear-based illusions is my life’s work.

There is a certain peace that has settled in now that I no longer have to strive to learn unconditional love. It seemed such an impossible task even mere months ago. I would fail and fail again at every test, judging this, fearing that.

In fact, “unconditional love” is redundant. If it’s not unconditional, it’s not Love. Fear can create love-like feelings, but it takes only a careful look and I’ll see the cracks in the foundation.

Love is our true nature, and we’ll return to it regardless of our earthly wanderings, our raging Get and Keep egos, our ramshackle life stories created largely on fear.

Recognizing what fear has built in my life is my task now. Perhaps that is why my journey led me here, back to Minnesota, to The Angle, so that I may lead a simpler life closer to family and closer to the land.

It would seem there are less trappings here and that living more wholesomely would be a boon. Oh, but Egos are tricky beasts. They will latch on to anything, wrap their fear tentacles around it and create stress under the guise of achievement. Mine has built the illusion of “so much to do” that at times, I can barely breathe.

I was a steady drinker for two decades of my life because my ego had run rampant. Escaping felt like part of surviving, but in fact it only slowed my recognition. I see now that addictions are so prevalent in our culture because we are so mind-identified. Alcoholism has a nasty social stigma, for sure, but if I’ve learned anything over the past many years, it’s that addiction is addiction is addiction.

Guilt seems like a noble cloak to wear in the aftermath of addiction, but it’s not. Guilt comes from fear.

There are many who would argue to the death that what they fear is indeed real. Fear seems real to us because we believe in it and we believe in it because we created it.

I don’t want a life lived in defense of what I’m afraid of. I want a life broken open to Love. Raw and real. Graceful in it’s slow reveal, like the pregnant fields on my drive to town. Like the beauty in my three-year-old’s sly smile as she learns new and better hide-and-seek spots. Like the subdued glory of the pink and white lady slippers that pepper the ditches along our rural highways for just these few shorts weeks this time of year.

I want to see it all. Especially my fears. Bring it on, July.

 

 

(Alas, my lady slipper photo was too blurry. The above photo was pulled from Flickr via the MSFT bank of online photos using the Common Creative content licensing. I don’t know the person’s name to give them credit, unfortunately. So beautiful.)