In Between

Which is it? Not the end of summer? Or definitelythe start of fall? 

Down at the creek, I can’t make up my mind.  The end of summer is heartbreaking. It is dark now when I sit by the window with my coffee and my notebook. The night air on my pillow is cool. There will not be another day at the beach where the hot hot sun makes me anticipate the cold cold water of Lake Washington. It is heartbreaking. Also, I am heartbroken. 

But fall…the beginning of fall is a delicious settling into home, a welcome retreat after being outside for so long. Back in. Boots, fire in the fireplace, soup. Getting ready to make altars to my beloved dead, for their time is drawing near. 

Of course the land doesn’t have a line at the edge of the season.  There is a low, golden slant to the light, and the spiders on their large and perfect spiral webs are now the size of my thumbnail. These are signs of fall but not yet deep fall, not flooding the banks, salmon returning, smell of rain followed by smell of frost fall… For now, there are leaves on the Indian plum that are both green and yellow but mostly they are green. The creek is slightly higher but the earth still smells dry.

 

When We Do Not Leap Alone

And so she marries. (She takes the job. She decides to move to a new city. She divorces… At some point, we leap.)

You’ve done this. You’ve hesitated, deliberated, perseverated. You’ve thought until you can’t think anymore. And then, said “Yes.“ (There are ways to know our own true yes. Maybe you know that already. And maybe, it’s not so easy in the moment, or when you are young, or when your mother is whispering in your ear, “He’s a catch. This is success. Don’t be a fool.“

So, we become The Fool. Of course: The Fool is the learner, the archetype who ventures into the unknown. She is the hero, the child, the one who is willing to leap. (Images of this archetype are everywhere, from Hollywood’s modern myth-making to ancient tools like the Tarot. And in the tarot, The Fool is card 0, the one who begins the journey of the Soul.)

We become The Fool in order to bear the leap: into a new city, a new job, a new, bigger version of ourselves. But perhaps we don’t leap alone. In most pictures of The Fool, she is accompanied by an animal, – a little dog cavorts at her feet, a cat sits on her shoulder.

Or, in my case, an owl perches in the bole of a tree.

Or, in yours, a fox looks out from her den. A coyote laughs. An eagle folds her wings, preparing to dive, a crow chases, a boar bares a tusk… The Fool in us says “Yes,” (As you have. As you may again, perhaps soon.) And her wild self is awakened by the leap. Even the leap that, in the story of Bluebeard, looks like marrying a murderer.

But that knowing comes later. This is how the journey works: later the wisdom, later the danger that transforms. 

For now, our heroine sees only what is before her. For now, she packs her things. It is the night before the marriage and she is alone in her room. Outside the windows, the trees sway in a high wind, occasionally reaching out to brush their long fingers against the glass. The indigo sky glitters with stars.  There is a trunk open on her bed, she is folding clothes, filling the trunk with the parts of her past that she reckons necessary: the fine dresses and the satin slippers, yes, but also… her hand pauses on the rough brown leggings she wears into the woods. Her eye turns to the woolen cloak hanging from an iron hook on the wall, the one with the hood that hides her when she walks at night. The candle flickers and there is a soft knock on the door.

“Come in,“ she says.

It is her sister, Renée. And behind her in the hall, Esmerelda. 

“Put on your cloak sister,” Renee says. “Before you go, we have something to give you.”

(We leap, but not alone, and not without the advice of our sisters.)

The Next Bluebeard Workshop is April 19. Join Us.

Signs That She is Winning

Down at the creek it is so cold. Not cold enough to ice the creek over, as I saw happen one winter a few years ago. But cold enough that I wrap my scarf around my neck three times so that I can still walk slowly and see the also slow signs of spring that are, nevertheless, emerging: buds the size of seed pearls on the snowberries, Arrowhead leaves emerging from the freeze-dried winter soil and above me, the tips of the Alder branches dead decorated with the tiniest beginnings of catkins, fringes on all the twigs.

So fucking slow.

But it slows me, which is partly why I come. Though I need it less lately... I have entered into some state of patience with myself that I haven’t known before. I am treating myself as if I am beloved, with some consistency. Yesterday I was journaling and I started to write “I should have...” and then  stopped there and wrote instead “Arg! Don’t talk to my beloved that way!“

Who was I saying that to?

My inner critic, the one I have called Edith for about 10 years. That was a stroke of genius, naming her… Not a stroke I claim as my own, though it has served me well and I have passed it on many times.. It was offered to me by a coach friend, Michele Lisenbury Christensen (who is now a relationship and sex coach!! Check her out.)

Clarissa Pinkola Estés talks about the inner critic in her version of Bluebeard. She calls it “the natural predator.”  She says that there is “within the psyche naturally an innate contra naturum aspect” which is “against development, against harmony, and against the wild. It is a derisive and murderous antagonist that is born into us, and even with the best parental nurture, the intruder’s sole assignment is to attempt to turn all crossroads into closed roads.”

She also says “In folklore, mythos, and dreams, the natural predator almost always has a predator or stalker of itself as well. It is the battle between these two that finally brings about a change or a balance.”

Now, I have, as you know, a bone to pick with the debasing of the word “predator” to mean a destructive human instead of an animal that is a sign and keeper of a complex and rich ecosystem. But, putting that aside for now, I feel this. I feel this balance rising within myself: My animal’s lust for life force vs the critic’s small-ifying and constrictive powers.

So I will give my animal credit for this new patience with myself, for this new fierceness with which I defend the beloved which is me, for the way I am willing to match the pace of my growing life to the emerging buds of spring: Slow.. With faith that it is inexorable.

I Am My Own Pet

I love it when I’m right!

Yes! Yesterday, I was all about taking care of myself and how that makes my animal wake up and want shit and that makes me glossy and I feel terrific.

Still true today. No! Even more true today!

Because one of the wonderful women who is working this myth with me sent me a link to this blog this morning about the science of being good to ourselves and how important it is and there are three tips and tip number two is to treat yourself like you were your own pet.

Boom, Baby. I am my own pet. I am my own pet snowy owl, who blazes out into the night, talons curled but ready as I hunt the darkness with my supernatural senses and wait for my chance to strike.

I think this makes me both Harry Potter and Hedwig, which is a pretty cool trick. For the record, I always felt more like Hermione. Not as cool. But, that same blog also has an entry on how to be cool! Not that I need it. Because I am my own pet owl and it doesn’t get any cooler, or glossier, than that. 

My Animal is So Fucking Glossy

I remember what I want! I remember what I want!!

I’ve just had the most amazing weekend of self-care, in which I walked, napped, played with fire with a group of fantastic women, made beautiful bouquets and gently remembered the whole point of this is to enjoy doing good things for myself and for the world!!

I WANT, AGAIN. And it’s a good thing.

In part, this is arising because, yes, I’m taking better care of myself... And playing with fire always helps! But in part it’s also arising because I’m getting ready for the next Bluebeard workshop and looking at how we might raise our voices, how to say Yes! and say No! because we are listening to the animal parts of us that know what we really want.

Last time, I told the whole story. We took the big view and played with the big themes: what deals we’ve made, what we are willing to look at and willing to know, now

But this time we are diving into the beginning, when the hera of the story is being courted by Bluebeard, and she knows that there’s something off about him. She knows he doesn’t make her animal sing. (Or howl or hoot or bark or caw, as your animal prefers…)

And yet, she doesn’t say no. She says yes to him, when he asks her to wed.

This is a problem.

I think there are a lot of reasons that this happens, that we say yes when our animal is like "um.. No!"  

In the story, it’s because he puts crimson ribbons on the horses and has nice snacks. You know: stuff. I get that. I like stuff. But, I bet there were some other things going on behind the scenes, too. Things that make it hard to hear our animals, like constant busy-ness. Or false urgency! Maybe he gave her a deadline! Stupid deadlines used to trick me into ignoring my animal all the time. (Also, I’m wondering, where were her sisters? They knew enough to say NO. Wassup with the sisters?)

But most of all, I’m wondering: where the fuck was her animal at the time? Not glossy and jumping around and wanting shit, that’s for sure. And that’s the part of this story that’s missing. The part where there was something that she loved so much that she would never have considered taking less. Whether it was climbing trees or finding shells or building bonfires or making up dirty songs. Something she loved doing so much that she lost track of time doing it.

Losing track of time. That’s the sign of a happy animal. That’s the tell-tale scent of YES, BABY! (What makes you lose track of time? Does your animal perk up, just at the thought?)

This weekend, I lost track of time all over the place. It was a luxury. I lost track of time by the creek, watching the wind dance in the treetops. I lost track of time making bouquets with fallen branches and magnolia buds, and spontaneously sauna-ing with my neighbor and dancing in Kim's living room and did I mention napping?

My animal was so fucking glossy by Sunday night you’d need shades just to look at her.

There is something here. There is something in this story that is leading me inward, into the life I want. Funny that it’s happening with such a creepy myth, but I think that the times are so creepy that only rewriting a myth that is equal to the creepiness of this moment could give me this much momentum. Something is happening. I am adding in that part of the story. I am willing to want again. 

 

Falling Becomes Flying

What I know is this: transformation has stages. There is the standing at the edge of the cliff, filled with a sort of lusty anticipation. Everything behind me is known, too familiar, too small…Everything before me? Unknown…

What if I leap?

Of course, once you do leap, there are certain things that are helpful and certain things that are not. Looking back, not helpful. Looking down, also…not.

Looking in, helpful. Looking around, at where we are now and who is with us, very helpful. I know this, because 12 years ago I felt the intoxicant of creating a story that is mine and no one else’s enter my bloodstream. I began working with stories, living them as I was writing them. And I became the woman that I am today, by which I mean authoring my fate by stepping the edge of what I think is possible and thinking Is this really possible? Can I get away with this? And finding that it is, and I can, and doing it, and finding a new edge, and repeat.

And here I am, in another period of transformation. I am falling again, and all around me, old lies about who I can be and cannot be are falling away as well. I can tell because those lies are almost always accompanied by another kind of story, one that traps instead of transforms: the villain story. “I can’t… because he…” “I can’t … because she…”

Those villain stories tend to be invisible cages that we build for ourselves, maintain, protect. They have been for me, at least. But there is something about leaping that breaks villain stories. Those cages turn into sticks twisting in the air, as undone by the pull of the unknown as all the other familiar, old things that kept me small.

After 12 years of working this intentionally, it still feels like falling sometimes.  But not always. Sometimes, it feels like freedom. sometimes it feels like I'm having the time of my life. Sometimes I remember this: what is behind is not alive, what is before, beckons. I am not falling, I am flying. And there is a mouse running under the snow.

Speaking from Your Butt

Tonight a witchy friend came over to show me exercises to claim the voice.

There’s so much to this. There’s hearing the voice in the first place, which is hearing the animal.

There’s honoring what you hear, and not letting the little tricks of patriarchy silence it: false deadlines. What will people think? And of course, the knowledge of all the dead women who did speak up/ look/ know before and how their bodies are dismembered in that room downstairs, the room whose key I am not supposed to have.

My friend showed her anger at work and lost her job. She still has her voice. A job can be replaced, but a practice of silencing becomes habit.

But I’ve been the young woman who saw what happened to the older woman who spoke.

I’ve been the young woman who listened to the warning, and wandered the cage that I bought with my silence.

I am now the older woman who keeps speaking and risking….But still, in the kitchen tonight, as I spread my feet and practiced letting my voice drop into the low registers, as I practiced “speaking from my butt” as my friend put it, it took focus. I felt the difference when my ass was engaged.

Another friend, who is an opera singer, said the same thing to me last week. I was asking her about vocal warm-ups. She said “Well, I know lots of those. But the main thing is, am I singing from my feet?”

Feet… Butt… Same diff.

Speaking from the ground, which you own, which you claim with your voice.

Try it. Order your latte from your feet. Say no from there. Say yes!  Let your animal have your voice. 

Demanding to Be Upright

I want to break this myth.

I have spent so many years living stories that I was writing as I was living them. I was not writing them alone. I was in the invisible grip of systems – capitlistm, patriarchy, white supremacy – that I didn’t see and didn’t understand, as well as the ones that I did see and did, deeply, understand: the seasons, the rise and fall of the creek, the bud and fall of the leaves.

And I became the woman that I am today, by which I mean authoring my fate by stepping the edge of what I think is possible and thinking is this really possible? Can I get away with this? And finding that it is, and doing it, and finding a new edge, and repeat.

But there is a myth here that is so big that we are trying to break.

And in my work with myth, I’ve always worked the edges. Ritualized it and wrote it and followed it’s contours, explored it’s depths… but never broken it while I worked it.

I want to break this myth. I had coffee this morning with an old friend and we talked about all the women my age, who have risen in politics and communications by running into barriers and learning to be silent and find a way around. So much that we don’t even see the habit.

Another friend tells me she isn’t connecting with her animal yet. But every other kind of animal is appearing to her. Hawks and owls especially. She has opened the door to the wild.

I want to break this myth. Where does it start? I think about the other version, where the pea and lentil seeds grow in the moonlight, and help her find her way home. It has to start before that. Maybe it starts before she goes on the first picnic. Maybe as she goes into the woods, she opens the door to the wild. Maybe the animals speak to her, and she turns her horse from the path…

And then my beloved fellow witch, artist and myth-breaking friend Samantha Ravenna Shay sent me a video of a dance performance of Bluebeard by Pina Baush and I felt that woman, who was once me, dancing and being dragged through the sand and leaves and demanding to be upright.

When did I start breaking this myth? Because I know now that I already am. I call myself author, I have pulled on the thread of my author-ity like the long long string of a sweater that is woven all around me. When did I begin that? I began that when I began to write fiction 12 years ago… and I felt the intoxicant of creating a story that is mine and no one else’s enter my bloodstream.

So what if we broke this myth as if it were fiction and we were prepared to be totally intoxicated by our own authority?

What would we write then?

 

 

"Witches Aren't Scared"

“Witches aren’t scared.”

A friend said this to me. She said this to me in a session because this friend is also a client. (This is one of the ways of breaking patriarchy.)

She had just asked me if I’m ever scared. Which is funny, because I’ve taken some of the biggest risks of my career, if not my life, in front of her.

Also, I think she’s amazing. So I want her to think I’m perfect. And also, I don’t want her to think I’m perfect, because I know that is the end of intimacy.

So I say “Dude. I am scared all the time.” And she laughs.

We had just been talking about now. This moment, by which I mean the crossroads where all these choices feel so important and big. We are women in Seattle, which is a place that is inventing the future and facing and solving and also facing and not solving the big problems. We are women in this place, which feels like a laboratory for this moment, and we have resources and voices and influence. (As I write that “we have resources and voices and influence,” I feel ashamed, like there is something wrong with women stating their power. But I know that is a lie, so I name it and say it anyway.) 

We are women who have power to do what must be done now. In fact, she had just said that, better than I could. She looked at me with fierce hazel eyes that are full of intelligence and trees and said “We can get shit done.”

But still. Yes. I’m scared. So is she. Because we are here on this edge, where the stakes feel high. And I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m doing it anyway. So is she. I say so.

She says, “I’ve never seen you scared." Then, with a laugh: "Witches aren’t scared.”

We both laugh. It’s true. The image of a witch is of a woman who is flying through the night on her broomstick, in command of the elements, navigating the night, in her wisdom and fearlessly magical.

Fear-less.

But that’s not real. What’s real is this, facing each other, facing the other women and men and queers and trans people in our lives, facing this moment and (for me at least) still reaching for my broomstick.

Wordlessness Part II: HOLY SHIT!

(See Wordlessness Part I: "Making the Sky Out of Sticks.")

I sit down on the arrow-shaped boulder that I have called my altar for more than ten years and it is dry and I realize that all this sun means that this is the rare February day when I can lie down and look up into the treetops while they are sill bare, festooned only with moss and lichen and what birds there may be and so I do. I spread out my tapestry backpack on the boulder and Sunshine the dog lays down on the abutting sandbar. I look up into the trees.

There is almost nothing I like more than looking up into trees.

I begin to bring my attention to my breath, observing the in and out. In and out.

In and out. 

That branch is dead up there. It would make good firewood. I think I’ll have a fire tonight! When my sweetheart comes over, we can enjoy it together… Is it going to make the house smoky? Am I allowed to have fire in these days of global warming?

Dear gods.

Breath in, breath out. In, out.

A ball of lichen on a branch. Breath out, breath in. A Seagull, skinny white wings and the long wedge-shaped tail.

The sound of the waterfall. The sun is making a star-shaped pattern through the branches. The light lines the branches of the big leaf maple.

Breath in. Breath out.

Two seagulls.

Breath in. Breath out.

The slight movement of the tips of the trees in the breeze and the slow undulation of that movement down the branches to the trunk.  Breath in, breath out.

A seagull again, now to the south, higher still.

Breath in, breath out.

Wait, is that a seagull? It is pure white. It's wings are too thick.

It's tail is very short, Almost no longer than the wings.

Holy shit. Is that? No, it’ can’t be. HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTT!!!!!

THAT’S A SNOWY OWL!!!

Wordlessness. She drifts above me, so slow, so far above. She turns, white, turns.  

Breath in. Breath out. For a long time.

*

*

*

My timer goes off. I rise and wonder and say nothing, even in my head. I walk up the slope, up the hill to my home. 

Where I begin to wonder? 

Was it a snowy owl?

I look up the wingspan to see if it is close to seagulls... look up the shape. .. I know that one was sighted in Seattle in December; I check to see if any have been sighted in the last 30 days.

(The answers? Close: 48” vs. 52”. Yes, that shape. No, none in the last 30 days.)

I think it was. I do. But, do you see what happened just now? With measurement came tiny mind, the end of wordlessness. Trying to “make the sky with sticks.”

But was it? I believe it was.  And i see that that belief: “snowy owl” is caught up in words. Which I love. And also, I know that they serve when they walk me down the path to the boulder, where I lay on my back and breathe and know the movement of the trees and the feathers and the way that in that moment the breath stopped and stopped and stopped before it started again. 

Wordlessness Part I: "Making the Sky Out of Sticks"

“You want to ask questions now… But you can’t. You can’t get a word out. You just stare for as long as you can because suddenly it will all be over, you will get your name back and life will begin again… [Later] experiences are translated, now made of words, like trying to build the sky out of sticks.“

            Craig Childs, Naturalist, Writer, Anima-Spotting Badass. (Not his official title.)

 

I found this quote in Martha Beck‘s Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, in which she describes of the importance of “Wordlessness.” She says wordlessness is the way to move beyond our tiny minds and into the parts of our selves that taps into wild wisdom.

Now, I am a word witch. Words have always been the knives with which I carve the story of my life. But I have also dropped into wordlessness, over and over. That’s where I became a witch. That place is where magic lives and where the story is before it is born.

So when I read this, I could feel it calling.

Incidentally, I would like to say that’s why I haven’t posted in 2 days, and this would be partly true, but I would have to include a lost phone, Saturday’s karaoke and my first weekend frolic since this daily discipline began. So, I say to myself what my teacher said to me about commiting to a practice and missing a day. “Self,” I say. “I forgive you. Now start over.” And so if not posting is not my use of wordlessness, then what? Finding my way into the wild.

Craig Childs knows about words and about the way they get knocked out of you by encountering the wild because he is the aforementioned animal-spotting badass. You should read his books. It was in Crossing Paths: Uncommon Encounters with Animals in the Wild, that I read his suggestion that the way to see wild animals is to sit still for 15 minutes. This is how long, he says, it takes for the birds that froze when you walked up to start moving again, for the alarm calls to subside, for the small creatures to begin to creep back towards whatever good place you have found.

I am thinking about this as I go down to the creek:

I want to be with the wild, because I can feel that the wild has been with me.

I want to be wordless, in a non non-posting way.

I want to tap into the vast wisdom beyond my tiny brain.

So, I’ll just sit still. Without words, just watching. I’ll meditate by the creek and I’ll watch my breath and watch nature. But no word- ification! Just observing…. For fifteen minutes.

This will be great.

(Up Next, Wordless Part Two: HOLY SHIT!! HOLY SHIT!!)

 

The Path Home

 As I walk by the creek, I scan the path for signs of what’s happening in the tops of the trees. Little bits of the branches break off and show me that way up there the red alders are putting out the first, green catkins. The cottonwoods or not yet budding, but I have learned that when they do, the perfume of their flowers is called “balsam of heaven” and has healing qualities. And I know that if the winds come while the cottonwoods flower, some of the branches will blow down onto the path, and I will gather them, and in this way I will learn a new medicine.

I recently read another version of the Bluebeard myth, in which the path and the woods feature. (Look: the Osoberry is fully in bloom, the first flowers of spring. After many months of gray it feels like a miracle. )

I dropped off my son at school this morning. After many days of distress this week, I am washed clean. Or at least relieved at the calm after the storm. I set a predictable schedule with him last night: we would leave each morning between 6:50 and 7:10. I can commit to this. I make coffee, I pack his lunch. We are ahead of the game. At 6:40, we sit down to play a little chess before he leaves for his dad’s house for what feels like forever. At 7:05 we are out the door. It helps that I have seen through the veil of busy-ness to what my boy needs. It helps that I have accepted that it is okay to wear a snowman onesie in many more places than home, including daycare dropoff.

This other version of the myth is called The Robber Bridegroom: the young girl is going to marry a man because of his rich house and spite of her misgivings. Just so. She is invited to go to his house “for dinner.“ When she gets there she learns from an old woman (some ancient maternal wisdom that is still surviving at the time the story was told and retold and retold, as I am telling it now) that she is to be the dinner. Some part of the girl knew this and so as she walked to the man’s house, she scattered peas and lentils along the path so that she could find her way home. Shades of Hansel and Gretel.

Funny how fairy tales weave with the same threads a different cloth. Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs are eaten by the birds. They are lost with no trail home.

But this girl does not scatter dead crumbs; she scatters living seeds. She is allied with the wild forces of life. She spends only one night in the robber bridegroom‘s house before she escapes with the old woman’s help and when she leaves the evil house, the peas and lentils have sprouted and in the moonlight the leaves glow and show her the way home.

When I leave Forest’s school, the pearl of dawn is turning to real light. I am allied with the forces of the wild. Snowy owl, the pace of earth’s change, which is within me. I am growing. It is both invisibly slow and irresistibly constant. As I walk along the creek, as I think of this, I scan the path for what is happening above and around me. There are no lentils or peas sprouting, but the green canes of the wild roses are just swelling with leaf buds. This creek shows the way to the season ahead. Another story, another piece of the wild shows the path way home.

 

The Ice Dam Breaketh

Be careful what I wish for.

Last night I wrote that I wanted the ice dam to break, to let the torrent of feelings loose… And this morning the ice dam broke! With my kid.

Awesome.

Yesterday I had this long difficult conversation, full of feelings that I was trying not to have. The conversation was about how this person in my life “had changed the plan without talking to me“ and me feeling “disrespected.“ (At one point it I was told that I might have some tiny control issues. To which I replied, deadpan, “I don’t have control issues.” Which at least got a laugh.)

(By the way, note to self: anytime I hear myself saying “Don’t feel that,” it’s a red flag. Danger! Danger Will Robinson!)

And so there I am. Angry about “not being respected” and trying not to feel.  Cold cold anger. An ice dam around my heart.

And then writing that I want it broken.

And so begins a new day. I get up at 5:30 to write (because I have a schedule, but no control issues.) I make the breakfast and also I’m rearranging things because I have a client who may or may not need me at an emergency at a last-minute meeting this morning.

When inform my son that we will be leaving for before-school care later than usual, he loses it. He starts yelling at me that I’m ruining his day and ruining his life.

For some reason, I really really really want to tell him to shut the fuck up.

But I do not. I use my skills. I take a deep breath. I take another deep breath. I’m in the bathroom, leaning over the sink, trying to put on some under-eye concealer, but I put it down and say “Come in here .”

He comes into the bathroom and sits on the toilet and I look at him and say “I will talk to you about this, but I don’t want to be yelled at.” His face is furious. I look at him and I think about not teaching him to have an ice dam about around his heart. I say, “Do you want to go to your room and scream for a few minutes and then talk to me?”

He takes a breath. He looks at me with giant eyes he says “No mom. Then he says (I swear to all the Gods), he says “I just wish that if you’re going to change the plan you would talk to me.”

Oh man.

So I do. I drop into vulnerability and I realize that he has been asking me for a predictable morning routine for a while now, and I’ve been so busy spinning plates that I just did not fucking hear it.  So I tell him that and that I’m sorry about today but I can choose a predictable time that we leave the house and work around that in the future. And he seems okay.

And then my client says no, they don’t need me after all.

And then for some reason my son backslides and starts talking about how I don’t pay attention to his needs.

And I totally fucking lose it. I mean, not physically. But the mean voice to just get in the car. And the kind of shaming around the difference between wants and needs, as in “You want to get to Blazing Trails in time for the game. I need to work. I need to pay for this house.”

WTF, Andrews?  That is NOT the move.

And then I am literally, so furious that I can’t even drive the car. I make us go back in to the house until I calm down. He is telling me I am mean and and I tell him I am not sending him to school like this, we are going to figure this out.

When really, what I needed to do, possibly, was send him to school to get away from his totally nuts mother.

I send him to his room. I go to my room. And at least have the wit to I pick up my phone and play the movie of the owl that I watched last night: the snowy owl, riding the breaking ice like she owns this shit. Like there is not a freezing abyss below her waiting to suck her down and that ice dam the only thing between her and oblivion.

I try to imagine what that would feel like.

It would feel like not trying not to feel.

It would feel like riding my emotions, even… enjoying them? Instead of shutting them down. I take another breath and I can feel a smile, a crack in the ice. .right behind my heart. 

Forest comes to my room and hugs me and says he’s sorry, which makes me feel better and also worse. We leave. We are halfway down the hill and he starts to complain again and it's end days in the minivan, I am in total cray-cray land. I can feel the crack, widening but I am going to hold this shit together and stay in control. I actually start to turn the car around to go back home. And Forest is utterly befuddled and starts to cry. And then I pull over and start sobbing and sobbing and sobbing.

Great chunks of ice, breaking and moving. Ice dam? Gone. Torrents running forth.

Be careful what I wish for.

He tells me to breathe. He tells me to breathe again. He asks me if I can take the day off. In my head, the tape is running that I am the worse mother ever and he should never have to ask me these questions.

Later my friend, the one I had the difficult conversation with yesterday, says that it’s a good thing for him to see me not in control.

Later, another friend, to whom I confess being a terrible mother, says “Yeah, but there’s being a terrible mother for a morning and there’s long-term trauma-creating terrible mother. Don’t confuse the two.”

All of that is later. When we get to school, we hug, we go in. He is talking to me about 80’s music. He says goodbye and I do not, for some reason, feel that I have ruined everything.

I do feel, though. As I drive to the creek, I feel. As I get out of the car, and Sunshine the dog stretches his long gold body into a lope down the meadow, I feel. As I walk down to the water, I feel. And instead of rushing through so I can get in my steps, or make my bus, or check my mail, I actually go down to the boulder that is my altar and sit on it. Sunshine lays on the wet sand next to me. And I ground and I turn east, and I feel air. I feel it, and I am so grateful to feel and I commit that for this day, I will stay connected to my breath. And I turn south and I feel. I feel the mischief and hunger of fire and I commit that for this day I will ride my emotions like that owl riding the breaking ice, and enjoy them. Like a roller coaster ride. And I face west and I commit to feeling my feelings and then North. Earth. The Osoberry are nearly in bloom. All is changing. I can see the Dogwood branch right at the edge of the bank –three summers ago, I watched a hummingbird swoop under the umbrella of leaves and settle onto her thimble-sized, lichen-covered nest. Now that branch is bare. The fingers of spring that have touched the Osoberry have not yet reached the Dogwood, but they are coming. There is growth and movement and life here and I can feel it again.

What to Do with Anger

Owls can turn their heads 270 degrees. They have facial discs that funnel sound into their asymetrical ears, so that they can pinpoint prey in 3D. They can swim, but they get wet: they have sacrificed the protection of oil on their feathers for the blessing of silent flight.

I can swim.  I can't rotate my head 270 degrees but I can wiggle my ears and they do look sort of asymmetrical when I do it. 

And I am learning when to to get wet and when to enjoy the ride.

I had a difficult conversation today, in which I was informed that I have a cold anger. I have heard this before. I was taught this, actually, at my mother's knee- hers is a frozen rage. This is what happens when anger is forbidden, as it was to so many women for so long... 

But this cold anger also comes from multiple trainings where I learned about what happens to the brain's ability to make any kind of decent decision when flooded with fear, anger, shame. Basically, I learned that the only good decision to make at that point is not to make decisions. That the only win is to be able to recognize the point at which reason leaves the building, and stop doing shit that you can't undo.

And then I get this block of ice in my chest.

I want better choices, choices that move and free me instead of locking me up. And I am willing to get wet. And for this year, I am willing to learn from my ally Owl. 

So I googled: "Owls Ice."

And got hockey and an ice cream parlor in Porter Ranch, CA that has flavors like "tiramisu with brownies" and "wasabi."

But I'm not rage eating! I'm rage freezing. And I want to stop. I want the feeling of breaking that ice dam around my heart, and the violent rush of the freed emotions... doing shit.. that I can't undo...

Arg! No!! I know what unprocessed unrestrained rage does. I don't want that either! 

What's a woman to do with anger?!?

Sigh.  Well... Make art, I think. So I write some.

Make it my ally, I think. So I google again. This time "Owls Breaking Ice."

And I find this video of a snowy owl, which is the species that is living in my dreams now, riding the ice as it's breaking up, turning her head and looking like she is enjoying herself, in an owly sort of way. She is riding the ice, as I want to ride the rage. Ride it, feel it, and not be tossed by it or silenced but be in it and in my body and connected to the elements and looking around with my 270 vision at what I know to be truth and not truth, even the ones that are hard.

And you know what? Today, I did that. At least part of the time.

And that was before I searched "Owls Breaking Ice"

What would it be like to approach anger like this more: enjoy the ride, instead of fear the damage I might do? What would it be like to have joy and anger and ride the ice as moves and sets the waters free? 

Come Out of Hiding

“Who were all those amazing women and where have they been hiding?!”

Said the email from one of the amazing women after workshop I.

It is time. To come out of hiding.

This came to me so clearly this morning, I had coffee with a woman I’ve known for a long time, but never really seen until today. Like me, she’s been working in progressive causes for many years and we have crossed paths and smiled at each other. For my part, I was inclined to like her because so many of the women I knew and love loved her.

But this morning, we got together for coffee and I learned what a badass she is. A truth teller with so much heart.

She is working in a new job, fighting human trafficking. On election night, when the woman we’d both been pulling for didn’t win the mayor’s race, she realized she couldn’t live with the “cushy” (as she called it) job that meant working for people and purposes she didn’t believe in.

She put in her notice two weeks later, with nothing lined up.

“I have never felt more like myself in my life,” she said this morning. She is a couple months in to a new job she loves. And we talked about what it’s like when the truth is a door that you walk through. And how, in our late forties (Wait, late? Never wrote that before… But yes. 47. Late 40’s. Owning every bit of the wisdom I’ve earned.)…how in our late forties it feels like we’ve arrived finally…

And then she goes to a conference on child sex slavery.

And then I have a conflict with a colleague.

And then Trump tweets.

And it is clear that there’s no arriving and the world is a total shitshow and we are each standing alone, perched above the (hissing Princess Bride voice) Pit of Despair!

“What keeps you going?” I ask.

She looks up. Then tells me about how, in the middle of aforementioned conference -- on such a difficult subject that I actually don’t want to type it again… okay. Fine. Child sex slavery. Whew.– in the middle of that conference, they paused the program to put a slide of “puppies in dungarees” on the screen and talk about self care. “Not as taking a bath or getting your nails done or drinking a glass of wine,” she said. But as feeling your actual feelings and noticing what’s happening to you and doing what you need to do to feel and keep going and show up for each other in the work, even if that means taking the time to talk about your feelings in the middle of the work day.

We both come from the martyred, urgent, must not stop non-profit world. This is revolutionary stuff.

“What keeps you going?” she said.

“Stories,” I say. Because that’s what stories do for me. The ancient ones, the ones that name patterns that we know, or are trying to break or learn from, the patterns that resonate in our souls so much that we tell these stories over and over, trying to feel what's real and live our lives and answer the questions: how do we know when to leave our homes? Say yes? Say no? Risk everything? Befriend the animals?

Come out of hiding and cross a threshold.

The Abyss

Today the wonderful Lisa Lind posted that she faced down her life-long fear of heights by walking over a swaying, barely-there-feeling suspension bridge in New Zealand. She “ugly-cried the whole way across, to the point where I had to somehow stop myself from tearing up too much because well, seeing is important to life on these devil contraptions.”

 

I love this woman, scientist, witch with her brave dry wit. When I read that, I remembered that

I have this fear also, and that the way that I faced mine was with my voice.

 

I was on my first backpacking trip, in the Elwha rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula. I was 23, on a class trip, and had no idea what I was doing. It was only dumb luck that it was not my soaking wet down sleeping bag that made us all have to pack up and emergency evacuate. I would have brought down to a rainforest too. When an April snow threatened my classmate with hypothermia, it was all over.

 

The thing was, there was this log bridge. I’m talking a log. 20 feet long, crossing over a ravine. Eight foot fall onto boulders. No rails. The top about 18 inches wide, if that, crisscrossed with saw marks because that would make it safe.

 

On the way in, when we stopped for snack by the pretty ravine, I munched on the trail mix I was carrying in my ridiculous rookie 40 pound pack and looked at the trail headed that direction.

 

I asked my rugged, outdoorsy pals: “How do we get across the creek?”

 

“The log.”

 

“Ha, ha,” I said. I really didn’t believe them. When I found out they were serious I was ready to turn around. I had frozen on the side of a fucking hill from my fear of heights.

 

Did I mention no rails? Boulders like gnashing teeth below?

 

But there were 25 of us on this trip, and the dudes were all my friends. They told me I could do it while the rest of the class crossed, one by one and then waited on the other side of the river. 

 

25 people waiting for you to chicken out or witness you fall to your death by gnashing.

 

I decided better death than dishonor.

 

One of the guys carried my pack across and I walked across with my hands on the shoulders of another. This is an indication of my terror. My feminism was utterly conquered by my fear.

 

We found our campsites, made fires, I discovered the sublime pleasure that is Internaltional Foods Café Vienna with a healthy shot of Yukon Jack. And it rained, but we were in the rainforest and the moss made up for it.

 

But then it snowed. In April. Plus, aforementioned wet down sleeping bag. Our professors went from tent to tent, slapping the flaps. “Pack up, now.”

 

On the way out, it was everyone for themselves. We were not moving in a group. I packed my wet tent, wet clothes, it was freezing cold but all I could think of was the log, every step bringing me closer to crossing it by myself, with my swaying,wet, stupid-heavy pack.

 

I was so terrified. My chest was tight, breath close, peripheral vision closing in. So I started singing.

 

I am an old woman, named after my mother

My old man is another child that’s grown old.

If dreams were thunder, and lightning was desire,

This old house would have burned down a long time ago.

 

I sang Angel from Montgomery all through the woods, as the snow covered the moss and roots and the boulders, as the landscape changed.

 

I know that what that feeling means now. My landscape has changed in twenty five years but not that feeling: Chest tight, breath close, peripheral vision closing in. It is the feeling of not trusting myself. It is the feeling that Bluebeard’s wife had when she said yes, even though a part of her was screaming no.

 

I know that feeling when it creeps in. I’ve worked at it. It happens less, but it runs deep. It is what the patriarchy offers women over and over: shelter for silence. I know it that this is the dearl, but I no longer believe it. I know that the shelter is not shelter at all. And I am not being asked to be silent, but to disappear. And now, as then, singing is the thing that always breaks that fist around my throat.  

 

I love to sing. In another life, I want to be a torch singer in a dark bar, alone and vibratingly in love with the music even when there is a crowd.

 

In this life, I am not that. But, what I lack in tune I make up for in willingness. I go to Karaoke, I sing in front of groups with gusto, I believe in the power of using my voice in ways that feel scary, in times when I am scared because I know that the singing leads to the moment when I can step forward over the abyss.

 

When I got to the log, my professor was there waiting for me. So was my friend John, bright blue eyes and white blond hair and a hand out. “I’ll take your pack,” he said. “And I’ll come back for you.”

 

The little creek was now a raging river, filling the ravine with white foam and rushing steel water around hungry rocks. Three days of rain and snow in the mountains above us.

 

“No,” I said. “I can do it.”

 

My professor knelt down and rolled up my rain pants, which were dragging on the ground. Then he put his hands on my shoulders.

 

“Keep your eyes three feet in front of your feet. Start walking and don’t stop,” he said.

 

I did. I still am. And I'm still singing.

Wait a Minute

I AM a top predator. I mean, second of all, Planet Earth II says so in it's "Cities, episode. And if David Attenborough's supple voice says so, it must be true.

But first of all, I  suddenly thought that yesterday, as I reviewed all  the work that I am doing to maintain this elite territory. Spending another weekend doing laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping and cooking and realizing that this is not unusual. This is the price of the order. I do not mean to complain... although I do wish that I could be the kind of top predator whose laundry entailed having her fur licked. But that's neither her nor there! The point is, I was looking at the hours I spend maintaining my territory and suddenly flashed to one of the women in the workshop, who returned from her trance to her ally with the message: "Are you sure you want to be a predator? It's a lot of work."

 

Beginning Money Magic

 Today is Imbolc, Candlemas, the midway point between the winter solstice and the fall equinox and it is light until 5 o’clock and that means that my days of creek deprivation are over. It is light early enough that I can go after dropping Forest off at school. It is light late enough that twilight falls as my day is over.  I can see what feeds me again: the delicate snowberry branches covered in white globes, the budding osoberry.

 

It is hard to get through the dark time of year. There are always dark times. By “dark,” I mean times when I cannot see; I do not use dark as a racist synonym for bad, though it is a habit I am still sometimes trying to break. There are always times when I can’t see, sometimes can’t even see whose house I’m living in.

 

There’s a point like that in the myth, after she has married him, before she has found the bodies, when a part of her doesn’t want to know. I have had so many times like that in my life. My marriage to my ex-husband was like that. I didn’t want to see his constant and unceasing anger. I didn’t want to see how child-like I was in my hope that he would be the male provider and I could be the female, pleased and surrounded with treasure and his house. I am sorry for it now. I made him a villain, as did he. I made me a victim as did he… and the opposites are also true.

 

I am thinking of this today because I went to see a money coach, my first session. This is good magic for Imbolc, which is a holiday for committing to a seed.

 

The session was hard. I went to see her for two hours and she asked me questions about my relationship with money now, (a monster who I have to control) and ten years ago (a lie that I tell myself about endless abundance) and ten years before that (a flapper in a beaded red dress who goes out dancing with me.)

 

Twenty years ago, I was living in San Francisco and bartending. It was a different city then: my hourly wage covered my rent and I walked around spending my tips on food, fashion and … fetishes? Not really, but I do like alliteration. Ten years ago I was tormenting my ex husband with my spending. And now I have just come out of a period of remaking my work and risking everything to do it.

 

I think part of the work of this myth is be to be very, very clear about what building my own house looks like, to come out of what she calls “the money fog.” I haven’t written much of this, of money, or my marriage, for fear of saying something that would be upsetting to someone or present me as less professional. At the workshop last week, one of the women said that we don’t talk about money because we know that all that we have in this country is built on slavery. We don’t’ talk about the money because then we would have to talk about the bodies. But that is a kind of dark I don’t want to live with anymore. The willful not looking and not speaking. A gag instead of a voice, a blindfold instead of a December night that turns slowly toward spring.

 

Hearts in Talons

I know there are owls here. I’m looking into the tops of the evergreens; no self-respecting owl would roost in the bare deciduous trees this time of year.

 

I’ve been looking for the large, I mean seriously small-dog-sized-large–shape of a great horned owl. But a friend of mine said that she saw a little owl on Seattle University’s campus a couple weeks ago and I know that western screech owls are common here too.

 

There’s a snag by my altar boulder that has been pitted by woodpeckers and would be a perfect home for screech owl.

 

At any rate I just want to see them kill something.

 

Really, I’m that angry. I’m so so angry and I don’t know why.

 

I say this to my colleague on the way to a client meeting and she says she is angry too. Tells me a story about telling her neighbor’s mother-in-law that she is racist and her handyman that he is sexist. She uses more words than that. But she has the conversations. When that moment happens, that the person you know, or sort of know, or love, says something that makes the fist around your heart seize like a mouse in owl talons because you know it is wrong.

 

My old friend Liz and I had drinks a few weeks ago, and I told her about a circle I had facilitated a few days before.

 

It started with an allies circle, where I read a list of statements about the experience of being a woman. The statements started small:

·      I have had someone tell me to smile more.

·      I’ve been catcalled.

·      I’ve been complimented on my looks while the men in the room were complimented on their brains.

 

There were 25 people in the room, people from a department I’d been working with for more than a year to address gender disparities in the culture...That’s such jargon. Sexism. SEXISM. But when I look at the word, I want to go back to the jargon, to make room for the men to not be villains and I know at least part of that is the role I’ve been taught - to protect men -  but it’s also that I know that villainizing is a sure sign that you are still writing the same fucking story. And I know these men. I’ve seen them open their hearts over the past year, and seen them step up.

 

Speaking of stepping up, that’s how an allies’ circle works. The guide reads the statement, and everyone who feels that the statement is true for them steps in. And the other people stand, and offer their silent regard and support and witness.

 

We started with those small statements. And built to

·      I have been groped by a stranger.

·      I have been groped by a man I knew but it was so subtle that I didn’t know what to do.

 

Picture the women stepping in to the center of the circle and some of the men.

 

·      I’ve had a man make eye contact with my chest and not my eyes.

·      I’ve had a man make eye contact with my chest and not my eyes and said something to the effect of “my eyes are up here.”

·      I am regularly interrupted by men who interrupt other men much less.

·      I’ve experienced a man stepping up and offering support when I needed it.

 

Picture the women stepping in and the men witnessing

 

·      I have a friend or family member who has been abused or raped.

·      When a man walks behind me at night I am totally aware of exactly where he is, and what my escape routes are because I am afraid of being assaulted.

 

Picture almost all of the women stepping in.

 

But there was a moment that eclipsed all that… or maybe it was the result. A moment when a woman across from me explained so poignantly what it’s like to feel that, all of the time, and manage it, suppress it, keep it together. And the woman next to me connecting with her, like a laser, saying Yes. And somehow communicating the cost of that, every day, the cost of keeping all those dogs at bay.

 

How did I get here from owls?

 

Ah. Yes. I was telling my friend Liz about the allies’ circle. About how brave the women were, and how profoundly I loved the men who showed up for it.

 

I was going to tell you about the trick she taught me for speaking up, in those moments when someone you know, or hardly know, or love, says some racist or sexist shit.

 

But now, remembering the men, who watched and listened and didn’t let their shame eclipse their witnessing, I feel less angry. I feel less like watching owls kill things and more like flying... Remembering that allies circle, I remember that I love, and the fist is not quite so tight.

 

So I think I’ll stay on that. Hold these cards, hearts showing, in my talons for the night. And share that trick tomorrow.