life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


Leaving is a severing

Your life is like a comic strip, my mother-in-law said to me this morning.

We were driving back from the Toyota service department, where I had just dropped of my Toyota Prius to have the horn repaired. You may recall reading about my husband’s and my recent journey from Arizona to Washington, which involved a near miss in Las Vegas. The accident was avoided by my husband’s super intense honking on the horn, which resulted in the horn getting stuck and honking non-stop. I think we caused a bit of a scene when we pulled over by a compound yard and my husband tried to figure out which fuse to pull out to get the horn to stop honking while I sat in the car trying to hold a contraption between the horn and the steering wheel that was comprised of a nail file that had been broken in four pieces that were folded together in order to keep the horn from honking. Any slight move I made and the delicate balance was knocked off, causing the horn to blare non-stop once more and my husband to yell from beneath the hood.

Ah, memories…

I spent the next week arguing with our auto insurance company that this was collateral damage from a missed accident and should thus be covered by our insurance plan. I eventually won, but it took my “Put your supervisor on the phone” voice and a lot of crossing of fingers and hoping for the universe to hear my pleas.

There is always something going on, my mother-in-law continued. I had already been joking that I was going to drive her to drinking with the seemingly never-ending litany of stressful events she had been vicariously experiencing since my husband and I arrived at her quiet home in a community just north of Seattle.

I agreed with her on the comic strip front. The trouble is, I think I would find it a lot funnier if I were reading about someone else’s life. My hope is that someday (hopefully, someday soon) I will be able to laugh about it all, especially when the royalties for my very successful book start rolling in.

I have spent a lot of time and energy finding creative ways to let go of my attachments. This is no easy feat because I get very attached very quickly to all kinds of things—human and otherwise—in my life. I joke that I could have easily written the book The life-changing magic of tidying up because I have literally been living that book for the past six years.

I have gotten pretty good at sending my possessions, and even some furry beings, on their own journey. Each time I enter into a larger life transition, however, I eventually hit a wall where I cannot seem to let go of anything else. In the Belgium or bust life transition, I am pretty sure I hit that wall a month ago, if not more, but still I have to find a way to sever several more tethers to my former life.

The next tether will be my car. As soon as the horn is repaired, which could be any moment now, I will drive back to the Toyota service department, pay for the repairs, give my car a hug and a thank you for taking care of me, and send it off on the next stage of its Prius journey.

Maybe you are like me, and you grow attached even to inanimate objects. At least, we think they are inanimate. Have you seen 2001: A space Odyssey? Can we know for sure?


I have never named any of my cars, but I still feel a bond with each one. This Prius and I have shared many miles and memories. It has kept me safe and surrounded me in its vehicular embrace through many tears.

Maybe you are thinking, it is just a car, and you are right.

It is just a car.

I am also just a human, albeit a very sensitive one.

I remember a friend telling me that I had set myself free to do anything with my life that I wanted. I was sobbing into the telephone at the beginning of my separation from my first husband.

I wanted to believe that my friend was right, that I was free, but I still felt so raw from the process of detaching myself from the tethers of a life that did not make me happy that I could not imagine the freedom and possible joy that might lie ahead.

Several years ago, I wrote a song with a friend, who shared the story of how painful it was the first time she left her newborn child in order to have some precious moments to herself out in nature. The chorus of her song began with the phrase, “Leaving was a severing, then the greatest joy.”

I recognize that shifting away from one path brings so many others into focus. It can be easy to get swept up in the comfort of familiarity and to grasp desperately onto anything that offers a sense of stability. I do this all of time and especially when I can feel the ground begin to shake and open up beneath me. No one wants to be swallowed whole.

On the other hand, I do not want to be owned by my stuff. I really do feel lighter with each item I send on its way. I also recognize the privilege I have experienced to even be writing about the challenge of letting go. I have been gifted a life where I have been able to choose what to hold onto and what to bequeath to someone else.

Nearly a year ago, I let go of a little part of myself when my husband and I decided to ditch our middle names in order to replace them with our given last names. We had taken the step to become a married couple in front of friends and family, and we wanted to create an even stronger feeling of being a team.

My maiden name became our middle name, and my husband’s given name our last name. It took me a while to decide how I felt about it. I was the one with the different last name, after all. How many people pay attention to your middle name?

As I have been writing about all of this letting go in order to transition from life in one country to another, I realize that there are some tethers worth holding onto.

I made a call to the Toyota service department to check on the status of the horn repairs to my car. As I told the receptionist my last name and spelled it for her, I realized how much it truly meant for me to share a name with my husband. Speaking the name and having it feel like a part of me, I was reminded that we really are a team, however far apart we may be right now.

I deeply I treasure the bond that has been created and nurtured between my husband and myself. It can be fragile and tenuous at times, but it a bond that we have both sacrificed and fought for.

So, while I prepare to part with my wee Toyota, I am thankful for the perspective this severing brings.

Hold on tight to what is worth holding onto. Be thankful for the gifts you possess, but do not let them possess you.




Belgium or Bust

This past spring, my husband and I watched the first two seasons of the book turned film series Outlander. We had a running joke about the characters, most of who seemed to move between love, hate, and an intense enmity in quick succession.

Whenever we saw a scene with laughing that turns into sword fighting in the blink of an eye, we turned to each and say, I love you. I hate you. I will kill you!

The decision to turn our lives upside down to move to Europe for the next four years has inspired our own version of emotional turmoil, reminiscent of the Outlander series. There has been a lot of laughter, tears, and intermittent fits of screaming and expletives, and emotions seem to shift from zero to a hundred pretty quickly.

Waaaaaait a second. Hold up, you might be thinking right about now. Belgium? Where did this come from?

I realize that I have known for some time that the landscape has become Belgium, but in the tumultuous transition I have been experiencing these past few months, I have neglected to communicate the details to you.

So, please allow me to take a step back here and provide some context.

My husband and I got married in November 2015, not quite a year ago. Instead of traditional gifts, we asked for monetary contributions to help fund a honeymoon to France. We wanted to spend a few weeks taking a tour around the country by way of reconnaissance in case my husband’s sabbatical proposal to spend a year there would come through.

We are Francophiles. Independent of each other, we have been studying French and traveling to France for decades. Our mutual love of the French language was discovered within the first few minutes of our first meeting (or so a friend who was sitting near us has told us). The entire encounter is a bit of a blur to me now; something about love at first sight and time standing still, fireworks, and the like.

My husband (let’s call him R) has been sequestered in Prescott, Arizona for nearly 20 years. Now that his daughter is in college and his son has graduated and is pursuing a master’s degree, he is free to revisit the dream of his younger self to become an expat and live abroad.

Belgium was not the original destination my husband started musing over several months ago. It began with France. Well, to be honest, it began about ten years ago with the very tentative idea to pursue his own research and earn a PhD.

When I have an idea to pursue something, I typically dive right in. I am rather capricious that way. My husband is an Aquarius and tends to wallow in possible pursuits. He has also raised two children as a single parent, which can hinder a person’s ability to prioritize their individual desires. Kids come first.

I am in awe of anyone who follows the doctoral path while simultaneously trying to raise children and be part of a family. I may have worked full-time while working toward my own PhD, but the only other beings I was beholden to were my cats. They were pretty understanding of my need to spend hours at a computer, so long as they could take up residence on my lap.

Knowing the reality of what it means to pursue a PhD, part of me has been cringing ever since my husband made the decision to dive in full tilt into looking for the right PhD program. My husband, the Aquarian wallower, does nothing lightly. He began researching program, first in France and then around the world. He began researching the area of study he hoped to pursue.

R is a research librarian, and before long there were books piles on every available surface of our home. As he began to make connections with faculty in France, his research became more focused. Eventually, he found a global network of academics in the field of media ecology and honed in on a professor at a university in Brussels.

And so Brussels became yet another possibility in the growing number of places we might go. Metz, Nancy, Paris, Lille, Brussels. There was a program in Eugene, Oregon, but we had missed the scholarship deadline, and another in Toronto.

In this political climate, Canada was sounding pretty good, but I already had the taste of fresh croissant in my mind. I am not going to Canada, I snipped.

Having spent my life as what I now refer to as the path of the modern wandering Jew, I am fairly accustomed to putting down shallow roots everywhere I go because I know I will likely be coaxing those roots out of their cozy abode after only a short stay.

Wandering is one thing. I am used to it. With each change to the season, I can feel a deep desire to travel beginning to bubble up to the surface.

Limbo is another thing altogether. I have experienced limbo a lot in my life, and I don’t do well with it. I am not a patient person by nature, and the waiting game is not my cup of tea. So, I tried not to get too wrapped up in each possible new place we might go.

I want to be able to say that I did an ok job of staying sane and supportive during all of the limbo, but I believe in being honest. It has not been the best of times. It hasn’t been the worst, either, but I have not been the most grounded and mellow person these past several months.

I wonder if it makes a difference if I am the one to make the choice to move into a state of limbo rather than being on another person’s limbo ride, where I have less control over the journey and destination?

The jury is still out, but I will keep you posted.


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Mercury and me

I have been experiencing a range of emotions these past few days.

I am unsettled. I feel restless.

This emotional and now bodily response began when my music and business partner and I parted ways late morning this past Thursday. We had begun to unveil the discovery that our individual souls’ needs for work and artistic creation were vastly different than either of us had fully realized or appreciated prior to moving into a time of working together.

I am not a person who enjoys limbo.

To work together in proximity required intention, along with great transition and physical and emotional upheaval.

I left my job at a local bookstore. My music partner left his entire life on the east coast to drive to Arizona.

And suddenly, we were saying goodbye.

Were we breaking up? It kind of felt like it, but I was not certain. All that I knew was that each of our souls deserved to be honored.

In my life, I have learned to acquiesce to the needs of others. I have had difficulty saying no to any request that I know will make another person happy or will potentially encourage a person to “like me.” In attempting to bring joy to another person, I have learned to ignore my own requirements for a balanced existence. Over time, this propensity became so engrained that I literally had no idea what it was that I even needed to experience balance and happiness.

I spent a dark winter in Alaska beginning to peel back the layers of cultural expectations and fear of external judgment to find an inner voice that was in desperate need of rekindling. I cannot say that I have any desire to repeat that winter, but I came through the storm to a place of greater clarity. With that clarity came the realization that it takes regular intention to maintain healthy boundaries to live in a way that is sustainable for me. It is very easy for me to fall back into established patterns of enabling and self-sacrifice.

So when my music partner and I began to discover that our individual needs were quite different, I felt myself at a loss for how to proceed in a way that allowed me to honor his needs without losing my own self.

Hours passed, and I still had no idea what path I was meant to take.

This morning, I dawdled through my morning routine in preparation for the continuation of a seventh month journey through yoga intensive studies. I always feel like I have so much time before I need to leave, when suddenly departure time has come and gone and I find myself trying frantically to gather my belongings, coffee, and partially eaten breakfast and get into my car to leave.

Open the car door, put my plate on top of the car, jostle my coffee mug and spill coffee down my front. Run back to the house, clean coffee off of the outside of my mug and the front of my shirt and pants by splashing water onto the damp spots.

Back to the car. Place travel mug safely into the drink space in the console. Is there still coffee on the bottom? Should I try to clean it? No time. Back out of the driveway. Wave to my partner. Drive to training.

I arrived only a few minutes late and struggled to join my nine yogi companions in a manner devoid of anything remotely resembling grace. Together, we traveled on a road that led out of town and toward rolling hills and rocky outcroppings, where ravens floated above us.

Arriving at now familiar environs, we walked into a room dimly lit by candles and sunlight filtering in through several windows. I sat on a foam roller to try to avoid sending my back into recurrent muscle spasm.

Our teacher welcomed us and followed with the words, “Mercury is in retrograde. Do any of you know what this means?”

“Mercury is moving backwards?” one person ventured.

“Mercury appears to be moving backwards,” was the answer.

When Mercury is in retrograde, the universe is in flux. We are scattered and accident prone, restless and uncomfortable. We may find ourselves beating our heads against the wall trying to accomplish something that just is not working.

When Mercury is in retrograde is not a good time to begin new projects.

“Huh,” I mused out loud.

From across the room, I was met with knowing smiles. Pieces were falling into place. I began to understand that there was nothing I needed to force in this moment. I had only to be patient and let the mercurial winds pass.

All will be revealed.


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It’s not going to happen without me

I have made many an unconventional life choice in my life. I have followed my heart despite warnings and pleas from the people in my life.

In the past, I have stubbornly followed my innermost instincts when they told me to transfer to Brown University from Bates College and then back to Bates again. I listened to my heart as it led me from the continental 48 to West Africa. I kept following a small but feisty voice inside when I packed my car and drove across the country to the Cascade Mountains for a two-month internship. I did the same for the return trip and oceanic crossing to teach in Quimper, France.

The globe-hopping list goes on.

Yet somehow, in my most recent life shift, I have been slower than the usual to move forward. Reflecting on this odd lethargy, I experienced a revelation that I found ironic.

In the past, it has been other people encouraging me to be more traditional in my life choices. On this occasion, it is the opposite. I am feeling incredibly supported by most the people in my life, who have given me the gift of support and encouragement to leave any final thread of financial stability behind to pursue songwriting and musical performance full-time.

It seems that the stars are aligning to point me in the direction of focusing my energies on songwriting. Yet even with these gifts from the universe, I still feel reticent, almost afraid, to move forward.

On this occasion, I am the one holding me back. And my future as my soul desires it will not happen unless I make it happen through dedication, practice, and intention.

So what am I waiting for? I know that I cannot and will not make everyone happy with this choice, but I also know that I deserve to make myself happy. And I know that if I do not try, I will regret it.

So, bottom’s up. Here I go.

I hope there is a something soft for me to land on!

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Moksha requires letting go

When I open myself, I am vulnerable. I am open. I imagine that the idea of being open will lead me to a place of peace or of what yogis call moksha, liberation.

To be free, I must let go, but my body is at odds with my mind. It wants to hold on tight, to feel in control by maintaining a firm grasp on all that has happened in the past and all that may come to pass in the future.

Breathing in, I feel the push and pull rise up with sharp, deep, pain in my middle and lower back.

Breathing out, I tell my back and the rest of my body that it need not hold onso very tightly.

Breathing in, I remember lying on the floor of my beloved haven of a home in Alaska, unable to get up. It was a time of transition and stress, and my back was telling me to be still.

The pain of transition is felt in my body. The desire to continue my journey, free from the fetters of past hurt, comes from my heart.

Can I move through this pain to get to the other side?

Or will I be consumed on the path to freedom?

Can I find a way to breathe through it all, to find balance and equanimity between body, mind, and heart.

I am all three. All three are part of me.

I choose to move.

I choose to breathe.

I choose moksha.


Secrets of the Coyote

IMG_4398There is something wonderfully delicious about a dark, quiet morning. Stepping out of a darkened bedroom and walking on tiptoe through the house, I am privy to a secret that no one else will ever know.

How better to spend such a morning than with a hot mug of coffee and my thoughts pouring onto the page.

A friend reminded me yesterday that I have made an enormous transition in my life. I had nearly forgotten that my most recent upheaval from Lowell, Massachusetts to Prescott, Arizona only took place a few, brief months ago.

Has it really only been a little over two months?

Some things fade so quickly, the kinds of things I don’t miss.

The sound of sirens and late night parties from the college students next door

People in their car; check out lines, and all kinds of common places, in such a hurry and often so very quick to anger

Long nights of insomnia, trying to warm myself up alone in my bed

The uncertainty of sharing a future with another person

Some troubles from one reality fade with the change to a new life, while others remain. New troubles indelibly seem to take the place of those that no longer remain. I am reminded of what happens to rocks as they move deep underground. The softer rocks melt under the heat and pressure, and another mineral seeps into the empty space before it even has a chance to breath.

No reality, however romantic, comes with a promise of freedom from worry, self-doubt, or any of the other baggage that followed me from Lowell or any of my previous lives. This I have learned over time and many instances of uprooting. The grass may seem greener, but it is just a different species.

They say that life is not meant to be easy, but I wonder if my own nervous system takes particular joy in reeking havoc on the peace I keep trying to create.

I don’t think that life needs to be that hard, either.

I am learning more and more that my own perspective can make the difference. I choose what to focus on as I wake in the morning and drift to sleep at night and how much to let the idiocies of the world shake me.

“The present moment contains the whole of life,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh (2014, p. 47).

So I am trying to focus on each present moment, even the ones that shake me. If I pay close enough attention to the shaky feeling, perhaps I will be able to breathe some peace into it and soothe its rattling energy.

As I lay in bed a couple of nights again, my mind a buzz of activity over the most recent events that were cause for stress, I was shaken out of own ego and thrust into another dimension: the realm of the night.

While I lay warm and wondering, coyotes began to yip and yowl somewhere out in the darkness. I imagined them sitting atop the granite boulders that surround my house. The creatures called out in haunting song, short notes, long notes, staccato, and beyond. One mournful cry began as canine and ended as a woman crying. I imagined myself sitting atop the rock and crying out to the night, letting my own pain and worry transform from the depths of my soul into an unearthly howling plea to the gods of the night to hear me and ease my suffering.

I listened for a long while and eventually drifted off to sleep.

In the morning light, I opened my eyes and thought about the coyote symphony from the night before. I wanted to hold onto the feeling of hearing them, but already the intensity of the moment was passed into hazy memory.

How does one hold onto a present moment and stay focused and calm when each moment is so fleeting? Even as I write, my secret darkness is replaced by light that seeps into the every crevice of the fabric of the world outside my window.

Maybe, I do not need to hold onto everything and everyone so very tightly. For each moment I breathe in and exhale out, I am more than my self-alone. I am every one and every thing who has come before me and will follow after: “ancestors, culture, food, air, and water” (p. 57).

I just am.

Perhaps, this is one of the secrets of the coyote. I will have to listen more closely next time they sing. And maybe next time, I will join them.



We are works in progress

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.


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