life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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I’ll take the high road, and you take the low road

So often, I am inspired to sit down and write when something is bugging me. I think the yucky feeling tends to linger longer than those of joy, though I am working diligently to learn to let go of this propensity because it can be all-consuming, and it is not worth agonizing over the nasty stuff in life.

In this moment, I am feeling vexed by a particularly nasty message sent to me by a once very good friend. The note itself was troublesome but not earth shattering. To be honest, I was not entirely surprised by my friend’s response. Disappointed, but not surprised.

The email is simply the final straw in a series of events in a time of transition in my own life, as well as for my country and the rest of the world. The email is a reminder of just how difficult it is to achieve peace and empathy among people.

To some extent, we (and by we I mean people) are fundamentally quite similar. I say this not by way of promoting homogeneity. Rather, I mean that we all have basic needs that should be met. We all must breathe air; we all are deserving of equitable access to the resources that provide a high quality of life (healthy food, clean water, healthcare, etc.). You get the idea.

I believe in a sustainable world where people are seen as people first, rather than monsters. Very few of us are actual monsters. Alien, perhaps, but not monsters.

It is far easier to vilify than to empathize with another human being, particularly where fear or a feeling of being threatened is involved. Too often, I have witnessed and personally experienced the nastiness that comes when the latter path is taken.

I also know from experience that we are not all actually the same at all. We are born into distinct families and communities, the dynamics of which shape our perspective on the world and how we approach difficult situations. We walk our own unique path, and who and what we meet along the way serves to further shape our human mold. We also remember events differently than even the people who were there, standing right next to us.

While I do witness some beautiful empathy and understanding, and I try to follow this path myself, I also see the ease with which people succumb to the less heroic path. The presidential campaign and recent debates have been an interesting study in how difficult it is to shift from verbally committing to taking the high road to actually following that road.

In my own recent experience with a friend, I sent a message communicating about a pact made many years ago over material things and money. From the response that came several days later, which was pretty nasty and terse, it became clear that we each had very different memories of what had been decided. Even with the different memories, the tone of the response I received was not one I would expect from a friend, and I must admit a bit of shock at the intensity and extremity of it.

At first, I was really aggravated. My husband implored me to wait a while before responding. I know all too well how easy it would be to write back in kind, but I would feel awful about it. I wrote back one kind message and then another, apologizing for the miscommunication and suggesting we just forget it.

In reviewing emails exchanged from years earlier, it became clear how very grey those pacts were. I, for one, have always had a hard time creating healthy boundaries so I do not feel that I am being taken advantage of where money is concerned. When it comes to money and friends, I have had difficulty accepting money as payment for services rendered but later feel badly about working as a volunteer all of the time. I have gotten better and learned a lot from previous mistakes, but I am still a work in progress.

I can’t say that the nasty response endears me to this person, but I know that the response was likely inspired by any number of layers that make up a person. I also know that in the end, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how I respond. I can take the high road or the low road. The high road helps me sleep at now. The high road offers perspective.

People walk in and out of my life every day. I have lived in many places and in my travels have come to decipher my true friends. These are the people who engage in the dialogue, who see me fully, in all my rawness and vulnerability, and who accept and love me for the kind person I try to be and love me when I have moments where I struggle to be kind.

To you who have loved me in all kinds of weather, I am so grateful to you. To those who are not able to see me, I wish you clarity, love, and people in your own life who see you.

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The whole galette

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For our honeymoon, my husband and I spent three weeks in France. We are true Francophiles and love everything French (well, maybe not everything but certainly most things).

For my first marriage, I had wanted to go to Paris on honeymoon, but my husband, a far crazier birder than me, wanted so desperately to go birding in Costa Rica that I just couldn’t say no. Being an enabler by training, I acquiesced, and we spent between 2-3 weeks getting up at 5am with the sunrise and birding until 5pm with the sunset. We experienced one attempted car break in, one flat tire, and saw over half of the species found in Costa Rica, thanks to our bird guide and friend, Nito, who we had met at the national park where we worked in the summers. I called the trip, “Our honeymoon with Nito.” We even managed to spend a few fabulous days with two friends who had sold their home to travel the world for a year. With Nito and our two friends, we walked up a winding road that led to a ranch on the border between Costa Rica and Panama.

We parked our car at an obliging woman’s home at the base of the mountain.

It’s not far, Nito had told us before we began the ascent, and he repeated this phrase for several miles and hours before we arrived in the rain close to midnight.

Inside, we sat on chairs fashioned from the cows the ranchers kept on their property, and they told us about hunting the jaguars that hunted the cows.

The reason I share this story is not to demonstrate how much of a pushover I can be for the people I love. More so, I wish to illustrate the kind of experience I seek while traveling. I want to journey beyond the surface, which can be difficult as a tourist, especially if you do not speak the local tongue. However, the more experiential travel can come with challenging packaging. which leads me back to my second marriage and second honeymoon. They say the third time is the charm, but I am hoping this one sticks.

We planned to faire un tour of France, making a circle by rental car that would begin and end in Paris. The trip began relatively without consequence. Procuring the rental car seemed to take much longer for us than all of the other French people, who seemed to walk in and out of the Hertz store within minutes. But finally, we were on the road and doing our best to navigate with a lagging GPS to get out of Paris unscathed.

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We made it to Bretagne and spent several days with friends from my time teaching English to elementary school students in Quimper ten years earlier. We journeyed south to Bordeaux, where the real fun began. While taking a shower, I slipped in the bathtub and dislocated my shoulder. Luckily, my husband was nearby, grabbed my other arm to pull me up, and I was able to relocate (can one say this?) my shoulder. I say luckily as it was a Sunday, and the thought of trying to find a doctor was far from desirable. The cure for my first ailment? Drinking red wine and cognac from afternoon until night mixed with a little shopping.

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Bon.

We continued our journey, spending a beautiful day birding with an ex-pat British fellow who had come to France as a young adult to learn the language and had fallen in love with a Parisian woman (who wouldn’t?). the day was reminiscent of my first honeymoon with Nito, as our guide was set on finding as many species as possible and seemed to have an unending supply of energy with which to accomplish this task. Our final species was a little owl/chouette cheveche, seated atop a small chimney as the sky grew dark all around it.

Parking in Bordeaux was a miniature nightmare, and we were quite happy to quitte la grande ville pour le paysage encore (aka, we prefer the countryside to the city…typically, though our experience in Provence was to temporarily prove otherwise).

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A night in Rocamadour at a Bed and Breakfast run by a super friendly British fellow. So far, we were really enjoying the ex-pats. I knew something was up when he opened the door and was super excited for us to arrive. I thought, This guy is French? He’s so happy and expressive! Nope.

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Ailment number two came the next morning. We had a lovely breakfast, and I played a couple of songs on the ukulele for the innkeeper, his mother and twin sons, and the French couple sitting at the next table. We asked if we could take a photo with the innkeeper, and while my husband was preparing his camera, I started laughing at something the twin boys were doing, bent forward, and slammed my face smack dab onto a hard, wooden chair. Blood began dripping from my upper lip, which instantly began to swell until it eventually turned into what felt like a puffy beak. I love birds and joked with my husband that I wanted to be more birdlike.

In the end, I decided that I much prefer looking at birds than being birdlike. My beak was not so pleasant, and the pain and swelling brought on ailment number three, a sinus head cold in Arles.

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Ailment number three may also have been brought on by the fact that we spent an afternoon walking through the misting rain in the city of Arles and then returned to our apartment and kept the windows open wide to avoid the smell of old cigarette smoke from the previous tenants.

Tant pis. I can survive a cold, and I had brought with me a small, traveling pharmacy.

Each ailment had its way of testing the strength of our bond, though the physical element was mine alone to enjoy.

The third ailment was more of a shared experience.

Despite my head cold, we headed out to look for an eagle owl in a fairly unpopulated corner of Provence. An hour walking around without success, we were tired and hungry and ready for the picnic we had brought along, replete with a nice bottle of red wine.

Instead, we arrived back at the car to find a broken window, open door, and everything but my rock collection, an iPhone charger cable, and a roll of toilet paper taken from the inside.

Again, an ailment on a weekend, the day after Christmas, when everything in the vicinity was closed.

But we persevered. We had planned to head the next day to my husband’s friend from a study abroad program many years ago. Instead, we headed to her home that night, where we were welcomed into a warm home with a beautiful family, fed a traditional French meal, and able to calm our nerves (mine, at least) after driving on narrow, winding roads up to their house in the French alps.

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The blessing in strange packaging? We were able to have a truly cultural experience. In order to repair the window without paying 163 euro, we had to file a police report. Suffice it to say, we were thankful for our friend’s incredibly good humor and generosity in offering to act as traductrice/translator for us and helping to figure out where and when to bring our car in for the window replacement.

Somehow, despite potential mishaps along the way, all was well in the end. The gendarmerie was closed when we first arrived, so we went for a walk until it was slated to open (after a long lunch?). when we returned, it was even more definitively closed with a garage type door covering the entrance. Luckily, just as we were about to give up, a single police officer walked by on his way back to the office.

They only have one person staffing a police office in France? Strange, we thought, but we were just happy to have his undivided attention for the time it took to file the report.

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Window replacement was set for the following afternoon, but when we arrived the fellow working at the shop told us they had expected us the previous afternoon. Luckily again, for us, he was a kind fellow and offered to do the job that afternoon, even though his colleague had communicated the wrong time to him.

Ailment number three behind us, we headed further north still to the home of another friend. This time, we left our car in their driveway during the visit and not so much as a bird deigned to leave its mark upon it.

It was with great pleasure and exceeding relief that we returned the car without incident. Just a sigh and a quick exit.

The fourth and hopefully final ailment was quite literally and figuratively my husband’s to shoulder. His shoulder went into spasm shortly after our arrival in Paris, despite my wish to the river Rhone that our journey should continue without incident. Perhaps, the rocks I wished upon, gathered at the site where our car was vandalized, had been cursed? Or maybe, we were just destined for the full cultural experience so there would be no illusions should we decide to spend a sabbatical year living in France.

After two nights with little to no sleep, we decided to find a doctor. Thanks to monsieur Google, we found a Centre Medicale located a three-minute walk from our Airbnb apartment. Navigating via GPS once more, we found the center, though not without effort. There was only a small sign beside a set of tall dark green doors that my husband noticed after we walked past.

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Once we found the doors, it was unclear how we were supposed to get in. we pushed on the door, but it only gave a little under pressure before settling back into its track.

Maybe we call them? my husband suggested.

I pushed on the door again. Nothing.

He picked up his cell phone to find the number when someone opened the door from inside. Relieved, we stepped inside and followed a sign that told us the center for health was on the first floor (in france, the our first floor is the ground floor and is called the Rez de chaussée; our second floor is their first floor, if that makes sense). We headed up a winding set of stairs and entered the strangest health center I have ever seen.

The inside was lit up with lights and décor akin to the makeup section of a department store, with neon and pink and white lights. We stood in line. On our left stood a tall white counter with five staff seated behind it. As each person was helped and stepped aside, they would call out la suivante (next in line), and the next person would walk up. To our right was wall with with sets of jeopardy like design. On the left was medical and the right dental, both sides with rows squares that were all lit up in different colors, each with a different form medical care written inside. Traitement de la douleur, radiologie, acupuncture, etc.

When it was our turn, we explained the problem and proceeded to pay 23 euro for a visit with one of the on-call doctor. The woman seated behind the counter told us there was an open appointment at 11:15am. It was then 10:47am, so we decided to wait. There is always a long wait for an appointment in the states, so what was a half an hour.

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She gave us a piece of paper and told us to place it in the file box outside of Cabinet C. We were then instructed to sit and wait in the sale d’attente. Being from the United States, where people are germ-crazed, I have somewhat of a phobia of germs but nothing too irrational. I think more so, I was still recovering from being recently ill, and from the sound and sight of the people waiting, I was afraid we might both catch another variation of the current French plague—the woman standing next to me was pale and sweating and literally looked like she about to pass out and keel over—so we walked back down the winding stairs and sat in the windowsill of the ground floor.

We headed back up about fifteen minutes before the appointment and proceeded to wait another half hour. At half past eleven, a woman small in stature, with short brown curly hair, a long white coat, and loafers that would be sensible but for their high heels walked out of Cabinet C, down the hall, and called out: Monsieur Lewis (Lou-wheese).

She gave me not a first or second look, but I followed behind just the same. When we reached Cabinet C (and it didn’t take long), she ushered Rich inside and followed him. I think she would have shut the door on me, but I interjected that I was his wife and needed to help translate.

Comme vous voulez (As you wish), she said, shrugging her shoulders, lifting her hands up as if to express defeat, and rolling her eyes.

I speak English, she said with a heavy French accent.

Rich sat on a traditional hospital bed, and I was instructed to sit in the chair on the far side of the desk, closest to the door. (I guess that way, if I pulled any funny stuff, she could get me out pretty quickly.)

Questions were asked, and my husband replied. When he didn’t reply quickly enough, I would interject. At one point, the doctor snapped at me to essentially sit down and keep my mouth shut.

I wanted to shake her and yell out, that’s my husband! But instead, I sat down and took a deep breath.

The entire experience was in many ways both ridiculous and hilarious. This was a no nonsense doctor. Maybe, this is how it is in the French healthcare system, or maybe it was her personality. She was clear on her opinions and on what needed to happen next, which included an x-ray that we would need to get at yet another healthcare center.

While she did not seem to have any real idea as to what was wrong, she did manage to damn all of American healthcare—our practice of overprescribing medication, high costs for care, etc.—none of which I disagreed with, though she did criticize my husband for taking medication for high cholesterol.

23 euros for a visit, it’s not bad, right? she said to us.

We nodded and laughed. She was right, though the experience had felt a bit like we were animals being herded around by feisty cattle dog doctors. She was horrified when I told her what a typical doctor visit in the states would cost out of pocket. I think she actually gasped and put her hand over her mouth. It was quite dramatic. I loved it!

We really got her going when I told her we were on our honeymoon and Rich mentioned that our rental car had been broken into.

I think she wouldn’t have prescribed any medication had I not interjected to tell my husband to inform her that he hadn’t slept in two nights. She seemed to think that because he could move his arm in all directions, things were not so serious after all.

But you are not sleeping? She asked. That is serious then.

Um, yeah. That’s why we came to a doctor.

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We continued the herding experience at the next center for santé (health), where we took a ticket for radiologie sans RDV (without an appointment) and waited once more. This time, the waiting room felt a bit less plagued save for one young woman who intermittently emitted a deep, rasping sound reminiscent of what I could only imagine might be bronchitis or whooping cough. I was hoping for the former.

When our number was called, we were told that we could come back the following day at noon for an x-ray.

I was cranky from lack of coffee or breakfast, but I insisted we go to the pharmacie before eating. The pharmacie was tiny, and everything we needed seemed to cost 9 euros and change. There was no wait time for the prescription, however, and le collier (neck brace) was much snazzier than the large white one I was anticipating.

Things don’t seem to happen too quickly in French medical care, I muttered as we left.

But they are getting done, my husband replied, and without too much expense.

Things looked up after I had an expresso and a large bowl of French onion soup (just called onion soup in Paris) and several pieces of fresh bread.

The x-ray experience the following day was fairly straightforward. I was not allowed in because of the radiation, which made sense, so I took full advantage of being situated near a toilet (they are not always easy to find in Paris or desirable when you do find them). I had been pleasantly surprised by the number of helpfully located clean public toilets supplied with toilet paper during our travels around the country prior to our arrival in Paris. There seemed to be a pull off from the highway every few miles. Aire de x, y, and z, they were called.

But in Paris, you have to make use of every possible pit stop. At least, I seem to need to.

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We paid 50 euros with our American HSA card (the first center claimed they could only take credit cards with chips in them…tant pis). We were then instructed to wait another 45 minutes for the x-rays to be developed. No digital images in France, I suppose.

I was not excited to dilly dally around for another 45 minutes, but what else could we do? An hour later, we finally received the x-rays. They came in a white folder with a piece of white paper. Written on the paper was a short paragraph in French (of course) explaining my husband’s condition, which I did my best to analyze, though my command of the language does not truly extend to medical speak, which I can barely understand in English either.

And that was it. My husband emailed the photos of the image to a family member, who suggested he invest in a different system for carrying his heavy camera lens around.

The rest of our time in Paris was spent eating, drinking a lot of red wine, and walking around.

During our 22-day voyage de noces in France, we managed to visit several regions of the country (more, apparently, than many Parisiens see, we were told by a Parisien), four dear friends and their families, the gendarmerie, window replacement garage, and experience the French health care system.

All in all, it was a experience overflowing with culture, gastronomie, and the most important part…love.

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Tales of sleepless nights

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.


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Life in limbo

For days now, I have been struggling with a restless, unsettled feeling. I go to sleep worried that a future I have been imagining may no longer exist.

I feel emptiness from my lungs down into my stomach, a hollow space that I cannot fill. It is just empty. A void. Somewhere in the middle, my heart, right on the edge of communicating the emptiness through tears.

photo 1Since leaving the upper Skagit Valley of Washington state several years ago, I have been living in a perpetual state of limbo. Each time I think I am putting down roots, I tear them out of the ground just as they are attempting to cling onto the soil.

Within a state of limbo, I still manage to create some semblance of stability through actions that provide me with the feeling that I have control over some things.

I can clean my apartment, which I do with frequency.

I can shed burdensome layers of material possessions.

I can sing. I can write. I can create.

I can experience periods of days, weeks, even months where I fool myself into thinking I have control over the unknown when really all that I control is how I respond to people, place, and that which I cannot predict.

This morning, I woke up feeling like my roots were shallow, their will to cling all dried up. I wanted to hide in a dark corner, away from the world.

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I know from experience that hiding does not bring balance or happiness. I am an introvert who needs constant reminders from the social realm that I am loved and not alone.

I also know that hiding from what I am feeling will not help me find peace. I need to sit with it. What does it feel like? Where do I feel it? What does it look like? Does it have a name, shape, or texture?

I am presented with the challenge of determining if what feels real for me is a construct of my own inner demons and deepest fears.

Am I needlessly creating a reality that causes me pain? From where does this fear and distrust stem?

If I can trace the feeling back to its source, perhaps I can come to accept it for what it is and not allow it to rule my heart and mind.

I am learning about meditation, Buddhism, chakras, energy, and how to understand my higher self.

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I am lucky to have many dear friends who have become family. They live near and far but are always close to my heart.

They remind me that I am loved, that I can learn from these experiences, that I am not alone in what I feel and worry about, and that many people who have walked this earth before me struggled with similar demons.

I often find myself living in limbo, waiting for a future event that I have pinned all of my energy and hope on. This future time will be my salvation, a time when I will be free and my life will become easier.

A dear friend of mine told me the other day that the challenge is living one’s own life and ceasing to live in waiting mode. The only certainty there is in life is that you have you and you have today. And you have a chance to do things that contribute to civilization and beauty.

He reminds me that the pain I experience will also help me to sing blues songs with greater authority and authenticity. I laugh in response and try to take comfort in this seemingly small benefit.

Another person tells me that they say a mantra of something know to be true during times of unknown. I imagine mantra but am not sure I believe it in my heart. Thinking about breathing and repeating the words makes me fear that I will lose the tenuous grasp of balance I maintain by taking shallow breaths. If I breathe deeply, I risk falling into the abyss. I will not let myself go.

I am learning about acceptance of what is and how to dance with the universe. If one path I have been envisioning is not materializing, it may be time to open my awareness to what is possible and pursue a different path.

I am continuing to breath, to sit with the darkness and the light I feel in my heart.

I honor my spirit by honoring what I am feeling. It is real as I am.

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Flying solo

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In 32 years, I have become an expert in wishing for the things I do not have. I am less practiced in being thankful for what I do have and being patient for a future time when things may be different.

This morning, I asked myself: What do I want from a solitary life?

I lay in bed mulling over the question.

My two cats took the opportunity to come and snuggle.

So far on this Tuesday morning, the solitary life was a cozy one.

I thought about my music and research partner up in Maine. He gets up between 5-5:30am every morning to practice his new bass.

I reached under my pillow to get my cell phone.

9:41am.

Damn! Looks like I missed it today. I really should devote for time to ukulele and actually practice finger picking and playing scales.

It is not that I am lazy, I just get really tired. I thought that I would finish my dissertation and magically feel like a human being with energy again, but I guess that I am getting old.

My coworkers and I joke about all being extroverts by day and introverts by night. We deal with the general public all day, every day, and we love it (most of the time). We all express an interest in the night life when we congregate at the start of the day, but by the time 5:15pm rolls around we are spent.

Back to the question at hand: What do I want from a solitary life?

I want to create.

I want to write and improve my writing. I want to be published.

I want to write songs from my own stories and from those of people around the world using the Story-to-Song method I have been learning these past few years.

I want to perform.

I want to be recognized for my creations.

I do not want to live 3,000 miles from my lover.

I do not want to be tortured by my hormones.

Apart from the latter two desires, I think the others are attainable. I have my work cut out for me. I may benefit from growing some thicker skin as I begin to put myself out into the performance realm of the universe.

I create all of the time, but it has taken years for my to call myself an artist. I am collector of all kinds of things that may be considered of little worth to someone else.

I would not be this far without the support of friends, family, and you—my beloved readers!

Thank you!

Please post comments to my blog. I am excited for your feedback, ideas for subjects to write about, and ways to improve.

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You gave up Alaska for this?

from the airplaneWhen I headed north for Alaska, I was searching for something. I left with anti-depressants and panic pills in my pocket, certain that I would continue to experience difficulty filling my air with lungs and breathing normally. I was afraid of leaving my life in Washington behind. I had not set off on my own for many years.

By the end of my first summer in Alaska, something inside of me had changed.

“You are different,” an friend told me. “More confident and grounded in yourself.”

There was truth in her words. I had survived the summer. More than that, I had thrived. I had begun to envision a new identity as a musician and started playing music again. I felt the thrill of life in a new place in a remote corner of the Alaskan wilderness.

This confidence was newly rooted and still shaky.

I spent a painful two months in Washington.

During that time, a friend wrote to me in an email, “it will be darker when you get back.”

It was.

Alaska sun

I headed north once more at the end of a cold November, thankful to have my sister with me on the journey through the Inside Passage.

I left her at the Juneau airport a few days later and continued the remainder of the journey to Gustavus alone.

On the ferry were familiar faces, young and old. I was thankful for the company. The community of Gustavus is remarkable and unlike any other I have experienced. It was a gift to be a part of it for a time.

The winter was a dark and difficult time.

Another friend had told me that when she first got word of a job in Alaska, her coworker had chided, “Alaska? Be careful. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

I experienced this first hand. Of course, I am odd myself, and for a time I did not question the odd treatment.

Oddness is one thing. We are each odd in our own ways. Abuse is quite another. And after some of the worst abuse from a once friend and supervisor, I decided that my shaky confidence would not survive if I stayed for much longer.

Alaska sunsetBack to the lower 48 to take refuge in Arizona and then to a new life in Massachusetts.

It is from Massachusetts that I write on this overcast morning. It may be cloudy, but the sun is working its way into view.

This past weekend, during a busy Lowell Folk Festival, I walked across town with two visitors. When I told them I had moved here from Alaska, one of them chastised, “You gave up Alaska for this?”

I did. There are moments when I miss the wilderness and the sense of community. There has not been one moment when I have missed the abuse I received for being odd in a way that some individuals found threatening.

I am in Massachusetts. I am who I am. And I am my own blessing.

footprint in Alaska sand


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Un très bon séjour

My heart was heavy this morning when my dear friend Isabelle left me and Rich at the Quimper train station. Rich told me not to think about it, but it was like leaving a part of myself behind. La famille Marty is family for me. We have stayed in touch for nearly ten years since I left Quimper in May of 2005. Despite the questionable security of facebook, it has served us well for sharing our lives from a distance.

When we first arrived at her house on Rue des Pivoines in the ancient city of Quimper, we stepped out of the car and were met with cheers from the garden.

Pierre help up an enormous American flag and shouted, “Welcome home!” Laughter ensued.

“Vous faites comme chez vous,” Isabelle said when we first walked into her kitchen three days ago.

“Make yourselves at home.”

And we did. We were part of the family. It was as if I left only yesterday. Or even as if I had never left at all.

And there is a part of that wishes I never had. In France, I dream in French. My panic attacks have ceased. I feel alive and eager for adventure. I imagine leaving the united states and returning to Brittany to live once more.

When last I lived in Quimper, I was in a constant limbo between worlds—my life in Washington and in France. Now, I feel different, more free. I am older. I feel less inhibited to ask questions. I sense the privilege of travel and the preciousness of time with friends who live far away.

I feel older, too.

I get more tired than I used to after a day of exploring. After a week, I am completely exhausted. I am sure that having two languages swimming around in my head adds to the fatigue.

I sense more of an urgency to imagine the life I want and then to realize those imaginings before too much more time has passed.

I know that life is long and there is time. I know I should appreciate each day instead of living in a time that has not yet come to pass.

I also know that time passes quickly, and my own life on this planet is finite.

When I taught in France, Sarah, the daughter of Pierre and Isabelle, was 8 years old. Today, she is 16. She is a woman, beautiful and graceful. She wears makeup. Her body is more womanly than my own, despite the age difference. And I am so thankful to be able to see how much she has grown up in the 8 years since I left. It is remarkable.

What a difference from my solitary life in Lowell. We spent hours at the table, drinking wine and eating food grown and cooked with care. We spoke of many things, the subjects flowing as easily as the wine from the bottle into our glasses.

Truly, I was in my element.

Standing at the train station, waiting for the train, I could see my friend Emily so many years ago, waving goodbye as I boarded the train that final morning in Quimper. I could see her only a few years ago with our friend Christiane as we sat eating patisserie in the square by the cathedral in the center of town. Neither was with me physically but their presence was strong in spirit for they are within always.

I am sure I romanticize life in a foreign country. It is easy to do when I am unfulfilled in my own life.

It is a true gift to meet people from any place who instantly become family. I have spent most of my life searching for places where I feel like I belong. It has been more with the people I have met that I have found community and a sense of place than with the places themselves. I certainly feel a strong connection to the mountains, forests, and rivers where I have lived, but it is with the human and winged inhabitants that I have found my true home.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that I write on this grey, Breton afternoon. “La vrai Bretagne,” on dit. As the train speeds ever farther from my famille Marty and the charming city of Quimper, I feel it deep within, and I work hard to hold back the tears.

Many pictures were taken, good food eaten, laughter and jokes exchanged, stories told from the years of many lives around a table.

For this, and for so much more that words cannot express, je vous remerci la France, la Bretagne, et la famille Marty.