Dog eat dog

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I interrupted something. Something private. I couldn’t help but feel like what I saw was not meant for my eyes. And when I say “my eyes,” I am referring to human eyes. It was as if I had walked in on two lovers in a darkened room, their eyes looking cruelly at me, judging me for my indiscretion. Yet as soon as I had barged into the room, we all became frozen in time. Together.

I was running late for work this morning. Speeding up the hill towards the main road, I could see hoarfrost on the blades of grass and small beads of water reflecting the sunlight back to my eyes. As I rounded the last corner, bound for highway 89, something caught my eye on the stretch of road just ahead of me.

Something was looking at me. iIt felt more like two yellow eyes were looking deep into me, almost through me.

They were the eyes of a raptor. Black, large, dilated pupils surrounded by bright yellow.

An Accipiter. Was it a Cooper’s Hawk, too big to be a Sharp-shinned, sitting atop a still body.

When I look at birds, I often only have a few split seconds to make an identification of what I’m seeing. So I take in as much as I can. In just this piercing moment, I saw eyes looking back at me, reddish orange hatchmarks all over the chest, a small body sitting on something that appeared to be dead, a grizzled grey body lying on its side in the middle of the road.

Some kind of mammal. A rabbit. Had it been hit by a car? Information and questions were running through my head, one thought beginning before the last had a chance to finish.

Just as I was putting what I thought to be the finishing pieces on the puzzle, the bird turned, flapped its wings, and took off to the left. More markings appeared: white patch above a tail with gray and even darker gray bands on its tail. Large wings making heavy beats to lift itself off the ground: long, straight tail. And it was gone.

I sat there for a moment, wondering what to do. But I already knew what I would do. Save the rabbit. It wasn’t my business to begin with, but it was now. So I put my car in park, changde my mind, drove up and over to the right side of the road so I didn’t become the next victim. And stopped.

I looked out the window. The creature did not appear injured, but I wasn’t sure if it had been hit by a car or brought there by the hawk and was thus only stunned. It was so small and vulnerable. My maternal instincts kicked in, and I desperately wanted to fix it, though common sense and study of nature told me otherwise. All I could think of was a desire to go out, pick it up, and magically make it better.

Were the rabbit’s eyes blinking? Was it alive? I did a cursory check of my memory to try to remember if Accipiters to kill their prey first or scavenge something already dead. Accipiters were not scavengers that I could think of, but are we not all opportunists when the moment presents itself?

The rabbit moved a little bit. I opened my car door slightly; it began to move.

“You can do it,” I whispered.

“Get out of the street. You can do it, little one.”

It moved off the road and into the woods ever so tenuously.

Lucky break, I thought. But for whom?

I should not have been there. I cost a raptor it’s meal. And I knew what kind of energy it took to get one. But I saved a life, too. Or did I? I know all too well that humans, thinking they are helping, often unintentionally disrupt the delicate balance of life.

I continued on to work, late and wondering about the consequences of my inadvertent actions. Driving on, I thought about the music I was listening to. I had turned it off right after I began driving so I could dictate the details of the incident. “The dog days are over” by Florence and the Machine.

What a decadent creature I was. My car was cold but warming up. Coffee and breakfast were ready on the seat next to me. I didn’t have to think too much about my next meal. I could take out a credit card and experience nearly instantaneous gratification. My own dog days were a far cry from the hawk or hare.

I kept wondering about the bird I had seen. Was it a young raptor who saw the road as a good place to eat? A clear space where grass and sand would not get into raw flesh while it ate? It was clear the rabbit had not been hit. It looked young, but I am no biologist. At any rate, some force beyond my understanding has brought us three beings together in this brief moment. I was the only one with the luxury to wonder.

We are works in progress

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I have been in Arizona for just over a month. When I first arrived, I saw familiar faces everywhere I went. At least, I imagined that I did. In the grocery store, at a local bar and restaurant, I would do a double take and the face of a friend would turn into that of a stranger.

Days and weeks passed, and I seemed to float in a haze of cleaning, organizing, and what I might describe as domestic bliss of some sort.

Within this haze, I experienced moments of clarity, when the reality of this great shift would occur to me. I felt them in my stomach, throat, and heart.

A couple of nights ago, a wave of reality and emotion hit me suddenly and with great power. Tears began and images swept through my mind, so quickly that I could not quite put them into words when my partner gently asked if I was ok. Maybe, if I just let them wash over me, they would continue on their way and leave me in peace.

Images of dinners with my parents, performances, faces of friends, brick and stone, my cat sleeping soundly beside me on a pillow all washed over me and with them, waves of tears I had not anticipated.

They had been just beneath the surface. How had I not noticed them until they forced their way out? I have worked so diligently to become aware of my own mind and body. I suppose that decades of dedicated training to ignore pain is not unlearned in a mere year or two or even though.

“I guess the honeymoon period is over,” I whispered in a voice muffled by emotion.

“It’s ok,” came the calming response. “We are works in progress, and we have our whole lives.”

I marvel at his ability for patience and grounding. I am not a patient person. I want resolution for painful encounters to happen right away. I try to create am immediate resolution in the wake of an argument, however false. Just make the pain go away and let everything be all right.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1992) has written of damaging effects of the desire to eradicate parts of ourselves that cause us pain, suggesting that we “throw out what is unwanted and keep only what is wanted. But what is left may not be very much. If we try to throw away what we don’t want, we may throw away most of ourselves (p. 52).”

I do not wish to be a hollow shell of my self, and I recognize that each experience of joy and pain and everything in between blends together to build the person I am today.

Thus, I am trying to embrace the idea that it is healthy to wallow in my feelings. I may not ever make sense of relationships that have gone awry or be able to fix them. But I can try to practice acceptance.

When I explained my predicament to a friend, he offered advice.

“Perhaps, you need to give your spirit time to catch up with your body.”

I am certain he is right. The quick and seemingly easy path to perfection is likely more damaging than helpful in the long run.

So, I am listening to the words of wise friends and reading the words of wise thinkers.

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And in the words of David Byrne, “I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out.”

Dreaming my dreams

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When I was a little kid, I kept a dream notebook. It was a small, Sanrio book with curling wire at the top. The front and back covers were the image and shape of the front and back of a blue penguin.

I kept the notebook on the nightstand beside my bed. Every time I woke up with the memory of a dream, I wrote it down.

Decades later, I rediscovered the notebook. It had been tucked away in a small box. I recently moved from Massachusetts to Arizona, and each time I move, I find and lose many of my possessions.

I would tell you about the contents of the notebook, but I have already tucked it away somewhere safe (i.e. I now have no idea where I put it and will likely not be able to find it until my next move or the one after that).

It has been a long time since I kept a record of my dreams, but I have not stopped dreaming.

I go through stages where I have numerous, vivid dreams each night and remember them clearly when I first wake up in the morning.

I move to a stage where I cannot remember a single dream or if I even dreamed at all.

In the final stage, I remember them in bits and pieces and try to make sense of where one left off and another began.

And back to the beginning.

My dreams are often linked to each other. At times, they seem clearly connected to my life’s current events, but sometimes they seem to come from out of nowhere. Perhaps, they are derived from past lives? A message from a former self across time?

In the dark, rainy hours of this morning, I left my dream slowly. It was as if I was in the dream but also knew that I would be waking from it. I was preparing to leave for a prisoner internment camp and was preoccupied with getting my two cats ready to go the animal care facility. I had heard that they take very good care of a person’s animals for the duration of their time at the camp.

I found both cats on a kitchen chair; it was a chair at the far end of the table where my family ate during my childhood. In fact, I was standing in that very room. I am only making this connection as I write. Strange.

Arwen, my female, grey tabby, was ready to go. She was sleeping in a canvas bag with long handles. Fin, a fluffy, greypoint Siamese, was lying on the chair beside her.

And then somehow they were both on the floor, and I was struggling to pick them both up at once. It was very important that I be able to pick them both up, but I just could not.

And then I was awake for a few minutes.

I must have fallen back asleep because the next moment I awoke, I was close to my dream world and could recall that I had just returned from the internment camp.

I imagine that I should find it odd that my greatest concern prior to going to prison was making sure that my cats were looked after, yet I cannot say that I am surprised. In times of urgency, I am able to stay grounded by focusing on logistics and details that need to be taken care of.

Also, I love my cats.

I know there can be deep meaning from dreams, but I am not well-versed in the analytics of the unconscious.

And what of your dreams?

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What can you possibly learn from me?

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When I first began writing, I shared some of my pieces with a mentor whom I admired greatly. He was a published author and enjoyed a kind of celebrity status in our small community in Alaska.

I approached him tenuously at a Halloween party. He was standing just outside the door to of our friend’s garage, the lights, music, and warmth from the party wafting their way out to us.

It was cold and dark, standard fare for December in Southeast Alaska.

“What did you think,” I asked timidly?

“It was really good,” he responded. “I think you could be a great travel writer.”

Travel writer, I thought, horrified? The response made it sound like my writing was fluff for someone to read while passing the time at an airport.

But I just thanked him and feigned excitement by his pronouncement.

He continued musing over my fate.

“I mean really,” he continued. I was reading something by a young woman in Homer (the title escapes me now). Why should I read her book? What could she possibly have to teach someone like me?

The last word stung.

ME

It was spoken with such complacence, as if he had already learned life’s most important lessons and had more to teach the world can he could possibly need to learn, especially from a young woman. The way he described her, it was as if she was completely insignificant in the world, a simpleton who had no business writing at all and was particularly brazen to dare to publish her thoughts in a book that she expected a white, middle-aged man to read.

It was as if he had read her book merely to mock at her naiveté.

As with most situations where a witty comeback was required, I wished my sibling was by my side. Whenever they recounted a heated interaction to me, I would exclaim in response, “but did you really say that?”

“Of course I did!”

Oh, how I wished they were here to help with my defense.

Instead, I just nodded and waited for another person to work their way into the dialogue so I could slip out into the darkness, unnoticed.

I had no response. I did not know what I could teach him or any other man his age.

Hours later (or was it days?), an answer began formulating in my mind.

Perhaps, I had nothing to teach them because they were not open to hearing what I had to say? I did not write with them in mind. They were not my audience.

Women my age and younger, perhaps older, too, were the individuals I was writing to. I had no problem writing to men, but they had to be willing to give me a chance.

What I wanted to say was that while I may be considered young to many, I had experienced a great storm in my life. I had moved through the storm and was just wending my way to the other side.

I wanted to tell those who would listen that the storm, while painful, was not as difficult to enter or navigate as they might think.

I wanted to give them the courage and permission they might need to do what I had done.

I wanted to say all this and more. And I will. This is just my beginning.

It could be yours as well.

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Cat Lives

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Of late, I have found myself musing over my mortality. Last night, I started calculating the years left in my life in terms of the number of cats I might possess (in truth, I am less certain that I possess my feline companions than the alternate option).

I am 33 (and almost a half).

I share a home with several felines. In order of age, eldest first and youngest last, they are:

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Smokey (Grey Tabby of slight design)

Gender Ambiguous Age 9

IMG_2760Fingolfin (aka Bruiser, Siamese Himalayan of stout stature)

Born summer-ish 2008, adopted September 2008

Male Age 6

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Arwen (aka Stella, Grey Russian Blue Tabby of rotund stature)

Born summer-ish 2008

Found at gas station in Skagit Valley

Adopted December 2008

Female Age 6

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Puck (Maine Coon of fluffy design).

Born summerish 2009

Abandoned litter

Adopted fall 2009

Male Age 5

Let’s say that the Skagit cats all live another 10 years, give or take. That will put me at 43-44 years of age. If I adopt another two cats (because let’s face it, four is just too much), each creature will likely live another 16 years.

Now, I am 60. What does 60 look and feel like? Will I want a cat? Will I want the freedomt to travel?

I could potentially get two more rounds of cats, possibly three if I am very long-lived and able.

Anyway, as I sat in the passenger seat doing the math, I could see my entire future before me. Did I have time to get an orange cat? What about a black cat to replace my beloved Izzy, whom I had given up to a family in Alaska before fleeing the state?

I love Russian Blue and Calico, too. There were so many choices and so many beings in need of safe haven and love.

It was clear that I needed to live a long life and also that I should probably try to relax a little bit.

I can remember my dad telling me about his desire to read as many books as possible before time ran out. Periodically, I think about all of the time I am wasting by not spending several hours a day dedicated to reading.

Am I just frittering away my precious time on this earth?

I don’t think I am, but there are so many hours in each day. Sometimes, I feel that I should be accomplishing much more with each passing hour.

Additionally, I must admit that I am a bit terrified of growing old. All of my joints and muscles ache, and I am still in the early 30s realm of my current decade.

And so I sit musing over mortality on a Monday morning.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this one life we are given; or if you believe in another realm beyond, reincarnation, or something entirely different.

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I am who I am, but who is that?

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 “I write for myself—and through myself for everyone.”

(Natalie Goldberg, 2000, p. 215)

I created this blog after my first year in a doctoral program. I was studying Sustainability Education, and professors and students in earlier cohorts had recommended that we keep a journal. I was about to move from a small town in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest to an even more remote community at the edge of the earth in Southeast Alaska.

It seemed a reasonable idea to keep in the practice of writing over the summer by committing to a post a week for a blog with a theme of capturing my experiences rooting myself in a new place.

And so I began.

I had never considered myself to be a writer. I had often wondered what it would be like to be a writer and imagined it to be quite romantic.

A writer is an artist with words creating images on an empty canvas.

I never imagined myself an artist, though dozens of people from all stages of my life have observed this identity as a deep part of who I am and how I interact with the world. My low self-esteem held me prisoner to embracing this part of myself. Someone else was always more gifted than I. I could never reach the level of brilliance they had already attained, so why should I bother?

I was quite a defeatist child. I rarely had crushes on celebrities because there seemed to be such little chance of ever realizing the romance that I refused to allow myself the gift of simply dreaming about something beautiful.

In July 2010, I allowed myself to dream. I began writing. What I had envisioned as a doctoral practice became a gift I gave myself.

It was less romantic my childhood visions. I found myself composing sentences every time I went for a walk in the woods or along the line where water meets the shore. It was more annoying than anything else. I grew so attached to the phrases and paragraphs forming in my mind that I had to repeat them over and over so as to set them to memory until I was near a computer.

Thinking about it now, I suppose that love can inspire us to madness, and this was definitely a form of madness. I am already prone to strange mannerisms and habits, so perhaps writing has always been in my blood?

Writing began as an exercise. It became a meditative practice. I began by writing about my relationship to place.

I was living beyond the edge of the “civilized” world. Flying in to Gustavus, one found little visual evidence of a realm inhabited by people. There was a paved airstrip and dots of unmaintained roads and houses. Yet, stepping off the plane that first morning, an owl pillow held close to my chest, I felt home for the first time.

I wrote about my connection to the flora and fauna, to landscape and waterscape. I took pictures of wolf and bear tracks and described bird song. It was a romance full of passion, like a teenage crush. I was certain that I would live and love Alaska forever, just as I had been certain that I would marry and live happily ever after with my first boyfriend. It hadn’t mattered that he wasn’t Jewish (as my relatives desired) or that he wished to change me to fit his own idea of who I was and who I could be.

First love can be fickle. And so, too, was my relationship with Alaska. I held on long after the flames had died out and insisted on stirring the coals in desperate attempts to rekindle what had been lost.

Loss is great fodder for writing. And my writing continued, despite my broken heart.

The subject matter shifted, however. I turned from writing about the world outside to a world within, what I came to call my inner ‘scapes. I focused less on the immediacy of the visual environment and more on what I could not see inside of myself—an interior environment that was wild and untamed and trying desperately to get out.

Who was marieke slovin? Who had she been thus far, and who could she be?

I wanted to find out. Through the practice of writing, I was able to peel back layer upon layer of cultural norms and mores, ever so gently, until I discovered a soft, warm, infant. It was curled up in a ball, breathing ever so delicately. At first, I did not wish to disturb it, so beautiful as it was all red and perfect in its innocence. Why wake it only to harden it with the realities of the cold, cruel world outside? But I had this sense that if I left it alone, it may wither and die.

So wake it, I did. It was a part of me, after all, and I was curious. I whispered my deepest secrets to it, and gradually it grew and took shape. As it grew, it seemed to spread out, like wings pushing out from a chrysalis casing. From something so impossible small and fragile, it metamorphosed into an entire being, one with purpose and newfound confidence. It had a different voice, yet there was something familiar about it.

It was foreign but seemed to spring from the vestiges of something I recognized.

The entire process took several years, and it was only looking back over the stages of growth that I was able to see myself in this strange creature. I had gone deep within and created something new.

Had this version of myself been inside of me all along?

Perhaps.

I remember a moment of extreme darkest and despair when a small voice came through the dark.

“If you do not find me now, I will be lost,” it whispered.

“Then you will be lost,” I heard myself snap.

“Don’t be so hasty,” it hissed. It knew from experience that I could be quite stubborn. “I know that you need me. More than that, you want me.”

“Maybe,” I hesitated. “But I am afraid. I do not wish to break and more hearts because of you.”

“And what of your own heart? Your own spirit? Your own happiness?”

“I don’t need it. I have been doing just fine all these years without it.”

“You of all people know that is not true. If you do not allow yourself to find happiness now, you may lose motivation. You risk spending the rest of your life as half a person. You deserve this.”

I closed my eyes and sat silently. Then came the words that shook my reserve.

“If not now, then when?”

Something hit me in the chest. It was a powerful force, enough to knock the wind out of me. Even more, it frightened me. I knew so many people who had spent years of their lives settled comfortably into unhappy habits. I did not want to wake up 20 or 30 years from now and realize that I had missed my chance to find true happiness.

“Ok.” The words were barely audible. I cleared my throat and continued before I lost my nerve.

“What do I do now?”

“Listen,” came the response.

And then silence.

Tales of sleepless nights

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My parents claim that I was a very good sleeper as a baby. I wonder sometimes if I was just putting on a really good show. I do have a flair for the dramatic and theatrical, so it could be a real possibility.

In all honesty, I cannot recall a time that I sleeping was easy. I can remember lying awake for hours as a child, my mind fixed on the hours of sleep I would get if I fell asleep at different times of the night. The running dialogue in my head went something like this:

If I fall asleep now, I’ll get X number of hours of sleep.

…..

and if I fall asleep now, I’ll get X number of hours of sleep.

…..

And if I don’t fall asleep immediately, I will be so tired tomorrow.

And so it would continue, my child’s mind worrying ceaselessly until I wore myself out and finally fell asleep.

As a child, if I had a nightmare, I would call out to my parents or sibling. My dad would rise and go into my sibling’s room.

“Marieke had a nightmare,” he would whisper in the dark.

My younger sibling would crawl out of bed and walk down the hallway to my room, blanket held up close to one cheek in a tiny fist, the remainder dragging on the floor behind them. Index and ring fingers from the other hand held steadfast between delicate lips, and a tiny pinky brushed repeatedly in sweeps against their cheek.

Once in my room, they would lie down on the floor beside my bed. Relieved by the presence of family, I would instantly fall asleep. It was years later that my sibling confided in me that they were terrified of the large, wicker bureau in my room and would lie awake, looking up at its towering features in fear until finally the morning light began seeping in.

As an adult, I tend to sleep better with a trusted companion, be it human, canine, or feline, but even then I do not always succeed. My mind can easily become active with even one thought entering the premises. One thought turns to another until I am held captive by a spiraling vortex of images and emotions from past, present, or future.

Most recently, the thoughts that have kept me awake have been from my life in Alaska. I imagine this has to do in part with my recent transition from Lowell, Massachusetts to Prescott, Arizona. Moving reminds me of the circumstances that surrounded my departure from Gustavus, Alaska. It was not a happy uprooting but felt more akin to a fleeing from a prison in the dark of night, hoping to get a headstart on whoever might be following suit.

Dramatic?

Well, I did not warn you I had the flare, did I not?

At the time, it felt like I was running for my life. There were a few friends who shared love and laughter and incredible support as I made last minute getaway plans. There were others who were less interested in the details of my departure.

Did I hear a sigh of relief from my supervisor and upper management in my division at work? I have met many people who claim that no one could dislike me, but I will be the first to tell you that this simply is not true.

I can be loving and generous and all heart toward people who embrace me for who I am; but when threatened and made to fit into someone else’s vision of reality, I become defensive and lash out in a desperate attempt to preserve my sense of self.

This is exactly what transpired at my job and with several members of the Gustavus community in Alaska. I have written about it a lot in an attempt to understand my own behaviors and those of others. I do not hold ill will toward anyone because I think we all did our best in difficult times with ways of being and perceiving the world that were at wildly different ends of the spectrum.

I am not a traditional kind of person. I am impulsive and emotional. And my practice, particularly since moving to Alaska and going through a divorce and a doctoral program in sustainability, has been to be as honest about who I am as possible while respecting and honoring other perspectives and ways of being. I do not always succeed in this endeavor, though I would like to think that each situation I move through I learn something and improve.

I was so desperate to maintain a tenuous grasp on what felt like the beginnings of discovering my own self, I cannot claim to have done well with managers at my job who seemed themselves to feel threatened by my journey to sustainability. They did their best to contain my independence and re-assimilate me into the fabric of tradition in small town Alaska where there are many big fishes in little ponds.

I played their game while biding my time and planning my escape.

Suffice it to say that my escape came at a time that has since become dark and painful when it resurfaces from the depths of my memory.

There were beautiful moments and connections with people and place in Alaska, but my leaving was not one of them.

Since leaving my connections with members of the community dwindled to a handful and then fewer people still with the passage of time. It didn’t help that I had two friends vying for the opportunity to rent my home and my choice please some and angered others so much so that my name was slandered around town.

You know that “sticks and stones” phrase they teach children? Well, names do hurt, especially when you are not there to even defend yourself.

Periodically, thoughts of the darker memories from Alaska resurface. They tend to return with the sting of a more recent happening.

This most recent happening has been building for a long time. It came with a simple attempt to “tag” an Alaska friend on a facebook post. Her name did not come up.

“Huh,” I thought. “Must be something weird with my internet connection.”

I went to her profile and saw the option to send her a friend request.

“That’s odd,” I thought again, the stirrings of something deep down beginning to rumble.

I sent her a friend request and sent a short, friendly message inquiring after what could only be a misunderstanding.

I waited.

Several hours (was it a full day?) later, I received a response, stating without any kind of sugar coating that it did not seem to be worth keeping touch as they had come to realize that our ways of perceiving the world for so very different.

I read the words once, twice, and a third time. Though I was not completely surprised by the response (her previous responses to my emails had become shorter and less personal, until all I received was one-liners), I still felt an emotional punch to the gut.

This person had been like family when I lived in Gustavus, and I had spent many hours with them and their children, in their home, hiking trails, and drinking tea.

In my mind and heart, the message read, “your perspective is one that I disagree with and am disappointed by; thus, you no longer exist to me.”

I had known this would be coming. Gustavus is small community. If you root yourself there and make attempts to belong, people embrace you. If you walk a different path, people shut you out. I had already been shut out at my work and in the music community, where I had long since stopped receiving invitations to play at music nights in people’s homes (yes, that one really hurt and is a story for another time, if at all).

When behaviors run counter, a cognitive dissonance occurs, and one must make a choice. Ignore the new information, find out more and make an informed decision, or find a comfortable way to incorporate it into your worldview.

My friend had made her choice. I had uprooted myself and others had spread word of my deplorable behavior as a landlord. We were different or at least my perceived behaviors were counter to her way of being.

I cannot say that I blame her. I know that I have made mistakes and hurt people’s feelings. Her words still hurt and hit at the part of me that even now feels raw from my time in Alaska.

So each night since that interchange, I fall asleep beginning with thoughts of my former friend. These thoughts spiral into a vortex of negative memories of other ways I felt hurt and abandoned by those who had offered fleeting support and professed to understand what I was going through, only to turn on me and project their unhappiness at my attempts to create my own.

Last night, the pattern began anew once more.

After several minutes of allowing my spirit to become awash in this storm, something clicked.

You do not have to put yourself through this, a voice told me. Haven’t you suffered and repented enough for whatever ills you have caused others and your own self. You are loved. Lowell loves you. Think of Lowell.

And I did. My thoughts turned to images of smiling, loving faces; to brick and mortar; to ghost signs and painted walls.

I felt a calmness begin to sweep away Alaska dust and cobwebs.

Hours later, I woke up to morning light beginning to seep into the room.

Letting go of Alaska

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IMG_2469Do you ever wonder if a relationship could have been turned out differently had the timing been better or if you had been in a better, healthier space in your life? I left Alaska years ago but have been haunted by our relationship there in dreams and waking hours ever since.

When I write about relationships, I am referring to both people and place. I recognize that people and place come in and out of our lives with each phase I experience. Some remain in my life, even from a distance, for decades to come. Others are more evanescent. All stay in my heart.

I have been writing about my relationship with Alaska for nearly five years now. Two years writing about my experience rooted in the remote community of Gustavus and the following three trying to make sense of the storm of the previous two.

I write as a means of processing and also of letting go. Whether or not I write, the emotions may stubbornly remain; however, I like to think that each time I write, I set a little piece of emotional tether free. I can close my eyes and imagine freeing one small strand on a thick rope that binds us together.

I was thinking yesterday about how some people feel like family when I see them after a long time has passed and others like strangers. Perhaps, some people are meant to come into our lives and we to theirs are times when we both need someone one to lean on. When the storm has passed, some relationships go with it.

When I moved to Alaska, I was at the very beginning of the greatest storm in my life yet to pass. It was a calm before transition. I went through so many changes that shook the very core of my own being. At times, I felt so out of control that I worried I would destroy any person who stumbled unwittingly onto my path.

Some who came into my life weathered the storm and others did not. Looking back now, I know things could not have been different. They were as they were meant to be. I did what I could, made mistakes, and learned from them.

So much of my interaction with people and place are wrought by my choice of perspective. More often than not, I imagine that I am at the root of any ill will that surfaces. I should know better at this point that any individual’s response to a situation has as much to do with their own inner demons as it does with how they feel about me.

I try my best to go deep into the heart of what is happening and to understand what it is going on inside of me and try to imagine what the other may be grappling with.

At least, I have come to appreciate that this is true for me and has been the case with people I have known. There was a woman in my circle of friends from college who I imagined never liked me and so I feigned dislike for her out of my own insecurities. At the very end of our four years, we discovered that we each had held the same fear about the other. Our honesty revealed these insecurities and misunderstandings. Communication gave us the freedom to be friends.

Honesty is key. I appreciate honesty from others, however painful it can be, and I try to be honest with my own feelings.

I have difficulty letting go, of material possessions and even more so of people who have been close companions at a time in my life. Many of my intimate relationships saw me grasping on for dear life long after the initial spark had gone out and unhealthy patterns set in.

Much of my experience with letting go has come from trying to accept the unfolding of events as they happened rather than imagining they could have been different, forgiving my self and others for the parts we played, working to understand our individual choices and inner demons, and giving my self permission to move on.

I think much of the difficult interactions have stemmed from my own personal growth. I went through a storm in Alaska, and it was by my own device. I wanted to go into the storm to find out who I truly was and to allow my self to fully be that person. Not everyone is comfortable with this kind of shift, and I think I set many on the defensive edge.

Part of embracing change is letting go of the past. This does not mean forgetting the past. It is always with me. For me, it means being free from the ghosts of my past. In some cases, I can only experience closure through my own choice to practice acceptance.

And it is time. I left Alaska more than three years ago. To truly be where I am, I need to let go of who I was.

So, to Alaska, I say:

You are the first place I felt that I belonged, and I felt it from the moment I stepped off that tiny plane and onto your wild ground.

Your wildness filled my soul but also made me lonely.

You were both sanctuary and prison.

I went to you seeking my self.

I left you to truly become that self.

You are in my heart.

It was difficult to be with you and also to leave you, but I am glad that I had the courage to do both.

I am thankful to know you are out there.

Goodbye for this life.

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There’s no place like home, wherever it may be

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In the darkness of the early morning this past Friday, I left Lowell. I left with a lump in my throat nearly three years after leaving Alaska for Massachusetts. I remember thinking it strange to shed tears for a place that had seemed akin to a kind of karmic prison sentence. I had not wanted to move to Massachusetts. I had left well over a decade before and vowed never to return. Yet, I wonder if it was a destiny of sorts to be reunited with the land of my childhood and to create a new relationship to place.

Before Lowell, I had never lived in a city. Lowell felt like a big city in March 2012. I was afraid to cross the street and thanked the universe for my life each time I survived a car ride anywhere. I felt like the people were against me, breaking into my car and making life so difficult with aggressive, defensive behavior.

Today, I sit with the sun streaming in through windows in a quiet corner of Arizona. No sirens; no bass from the cars below my window; no brick buildings; no canals.

Leaves are still on sprawling cottonwood trees, water flows in a creek across the way. The air is warm and dry, no sign of grit.

The landscape is familiar, yet I feel as though I am seeing it for the first time, truly seeing it as my home rather than a place I visit.

I think I fell in love for Lowell when I began to see it as my home and the people my community. I cannot remember the exact moment when this transition happened, but I do know that I began to feel at home when my dissertation was complete and I began to venture out from the my apartment sanctuary and into a world of music and misfits.

I am certainly not romanticizing my relationship with place. Each corner of the globe I have called home has had it challenges, and Lowell was no exception. It took much practice to not take idle threats, horns honking, and expletives too terribly personally. There were many nights of wine drinking as antidote to my easily shaken sensibilities.

A new chapter begins before the other has closed. I often feel this sense of abruptness when I uproot myself from one place and plop down in another. Yet the warmth and love I feel from Massachusetts is a far cry from the rawness and pain I felt upon leaving Alaska. Here in the desert, another place I never imagined I might call home, I am thankful for my time in the city of spindles and full of gratitude and love for the misfits who welcomed me into their fold.

I have come to realize that the people and places change me. I am thankful for that change, however difficult it can be at times.

And maybe, just maybe, I change them, too.

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Be(e) simple

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For the past three years, I have entered into the cool waters of Walden well into the autumn. My goal has been to swim until October and later, if my body can withstand the fast cooling temperatures of the deepest pond in Massachusetts.

This year, I have surpassed the October 1st goal by several weeks, all in thanks to the inventor of neoprene. Around this time last year, I received a wetsuit in the mail with a letter that read, “Now you can swim until the fish freeze!” I never had the chance to use it because the weather was not nearly as hospitable as it has been thus far this fall.

Hospitable it has been. Warm, humid, rainy, windy. Perfect for a dip in my favorite pond.

When I swim, I feel as if I have been granted the gift of entering another world. I am far away from the troubles of land dwellers. I can move my arms and legs and meditate on being surrounded by a liquid universe.

This past Tuesday, I swam way out to the middle of the pond. I kept my head above water, not feeling quite bold enough to get my hair wet. The possibility of hypothermia, even with a wetsuit, was not particularly appealing.

With my head above water, I could survey my surroundings in detail. A small commotion on the surface drew my attention. I noticed a tiny insect. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a wasp. It seemed to still be alive, so I placed by hand beneath it and gently lifted it above the surface of the water. I moved my fingers apart to let the excess water drain and tried to turn the creature over ever so gently. Its drenched body seemed so very fragile compared to my own. I felt like a giant sea creature, rising to the surface to aid in the rescue of a fellow traveler.

I tread water. Gradually, the wasp began to dry off and explore the surface of my hand first, then my sleeve. As one arm would tire, I would transfer it to the other. I knew this could not last indefinitely, but what to do? I am fully aware that humans with the best of intentions who interfere with nature’s systems often do more damage than good, yet I felt a kindred connection to this wee beast and wished to help.

Finally, a solution came to me. It seemed at once obvious and brilliant in its simplicity.

I could place it on my head!

I transferred it to the curly domain and continued my swim. The trip was successful apart from one mishap, where the wasp buzzed by my ear and my instinctual reflex to swat at it sent it flying back onto the surface of the water.

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Repeat rescue mission.

Continue swimming.

Two thirds of the way through my regular route, I noticed a second wasp. You might imagine what happened next.

Up and out of the water it went and onto my head.

Apart from a few moments of little legs wandering onto my forehead and causing a tickle, all went as planned.

As I swam toward the shore, my dad was standing waiting for me.

I stood up and walked toward the water’s edge.

“Are there two wasps on my head?” I asked him.

He took a close look. “Why yes, there most certainly are,” he responded.

I explained how I had found them and asked if he could carefully transfer them from my frock of curls to the shore.

“Don’t worry, they will not sting you. They like the warmth from your hand. Just place your hand beside them, and they will crawl onto it.”

Which is exactly what they did. In a bit of a daze, one wandered directly back into the water and had to be rescued yet another time.

Where they are now, I cannot say. But I wish them well on their journey, as I wish for you on yours.

“I should have taken a picture while they were still on your head!” my dad exclaimed after they were well on their way.” But it was too late. I guess some experiences are not meant to be captured beyond the fleeting beauty of a memory.

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