Navigating the Sacred and Mundane

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

My Crew

Finally back at my café and I open email to find a lovely note from Michelle O’Neil that made such a difference in my morning. Admitting (in a comments section of a blog) that I whipped a full bowl of cereal – a Bob the Builder bowl of cereal – at the wall in front of my toddler, she revealed that she, too, had broken something recently and that Bob the Builder was a nice touch.

Alone with my thoughts this morning, weepy, I think: what mother does that?! Except my mother, god.

These few days, between Carrie’s recent posts about incredible acts of endurance and mothering, Jennifer’s wonderful offering about emotion, Holly’s latest sharing, and Michelle’s Zen retreat, I feel held in a dynamic web of living and growing. I walk the edge, read these women’s words, and am pulled back to center.

Center being the acceptance of what IS, with the knowledge of the freedom to make a choice to remain present in the face of challenge.

Because really, preserving everything for the writing, is a tricky thing. In my experience, memoir requires true connection. True connection is a lived reality in the body, emotion in the peptide of every cell. I close my eyes in a dark theatre, built just for this, and I am there…not back there. But right here with all the feeling and the way the feeling has shaped every turn of sinew and expression in my eye.

Thanks, Jess, I’ve been roaming through music for the last hour. In the circle already, all these women, and I’m on the writing train, looking out the window and it’s everywhere I’ve ever been.

My gratitude to the circle of writing women in the blogosphere who help me to navigate. Down the river, in the rapids, the unknown around the bend, you help me to find my balance in the boat regardless.

Love and blessings to you all.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Stumptown Landing

Fri. morn:

Up at 3:30am. Flying over Crater Lake at 7:10am. Down below tributaries, fingers on the vast Western hand, connect to the long arm of the North Pacific Coast. Drifting on thoughts of water, but as I focus, it’s not water at all. Clouds roll and blanket, a body upon a body. We look out across the menagerie to feel into the space between one home and another.

It’s official. We’re moving to Portland. We sold a business. Plans changed and changed again. In the winding journey, we return to an original vision, seeds planted last year begin to sprout.

The last few days in Berkeley, I am knee-deep in financial information. Files and files and files. Old systems die while new systems have not yet arisen. Not familiar territory. Not the closing of eyes in fractal fields while threads of image and word reveal.

In my mind dormant synapses awaken slowly, logic and reason buried deep in an old trunk. It's been a long while since I have led with straight line information. I pull out that map to find my handwriting, scribbles pointing to detours and off-roads. I can stay on interstates if I have to....it's just those side roads always call.

Sometimes we have to go back and look for the bones of a foundation to make sure what we built back then is strong enough to hold up where we are now. And now we see so much more than we could have in the beginning of our travels. Better technology. The results of our long journey reduces complicated architecture to simple, clean lines. And the rebuilding feels good.

River crawls across my body as I type, between her Baby Einstein movie and the view over arctic looking cloud cover. On the way to the airport in the dark she asks three times, “Where we are?” and “What appening?”

Sat. morn:

Yesterday in Portland: CPAs, lawyers, realtors, schools. Legos and dolls in swanky offices. We sit perched on our seats. I look at my notes (what notes?) and eek out intelligent financial questions. I nod but he knows I have no clue. River grunts in the corner, and I think: thank god. Poop brings it all down home and we talk about kids and life and yoga class and bike accidents. This I understand.

Now. I steal away and drive in circles to find the road to City Center. I call around for wireless internet paired to great coffee. Everyone says go to Stumptown. I park and get out. Jesus it’s cold here! Walk around the block and ask a bellguy. He points, “Not from around here are ya? Next to Bijou, see? Can’t miss it.” I walk fast, and he yells behind me, “Best latte in town!” I enter, wow. Coffeehouse slash dance club bang. I order: medium, half-caf, low-fat latte. Hip coffee girl, silver filigree square glasses, yells, “Hey, we call it split-caf here!” I smile, “I’m from Berkeley, didn’t know.” Like a real professional she tips her chin up at me. We’re on the same page now. This I understand.

God, I love it here. As Carrie says, Happy Happy Happy.

Yes, Portland people. I am among you for two days, thick pile of documents in hand, preparing for the real coming.

Not the other coming - I visit a preschool and the director pulls me into her office to tell me that the reason it feels so good there is because the Great Physician in the Sky shines down upon her children. She throws up arms: Praise to our Savior, Lord Jesus Christ!

See what happens when your husband suddenly wants to be a minister? People come out of the freakin woodwork. Alrighty then. I’ll continue my search.

One step closer, though more sleep-deprived than I care to be. I’ll go home tomorrow with more of the vision in sight. Home to work, write, look over all the roots and begin to pull them up gently.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Musing the Grit

Yesterday morning Steve calls, "Hurry, go outside. Show River the snow." I pick her up and run down the stairs and she screams, "Wook Mama, wook!" Cars slow as they pass to marvel at the single white drift. A man snaps photos.

We are clearly not in Portland. No, this is what happens in Berkeley when we hear the word snow. We run. We stop in cars. We capture the novelty.

When I get close enough I halt and turn halfway back. "Wow, look at that! We won't touch the snow, sweetie. We'll just wave to it and say hi." I try to muster a quick excuse for our retreat.

It's not snow. I find out later: Fire trucks were in front of the house the night before. An explosion a few houses down killed a man. His wife and son made it out, but he did not. Last night I wake at 4am to the sound of chain saws, deep throttle engines. Steve whispers, "They've been out there for forty-five minutes. More emergency vehicles." I get up and look out the window. Right in front of our house, the longest fire engine I have ever seen. In front of that, an idling paramedics truck.

I grab my coat and boots. Go into the dark but no one is out. A block this way, down that way, not a single person, but I can feel them all awake, my neighbors in their beds. I call the fire department and the voice says, "Yep, another fire at the same house tonight."

For two more hours I lay in bed and feel for the first time how I am held in an electrical embrace by the structure of these walls. House by house, I feel connected, wired to each dwelling, with the thought that it takes a second for so much to happen. And I wonder if the women, lined down the street, under covers, rest a hand on their partner's body while they send up prayers for the crossing of a man freshly parted.

My husband says that I write too abstractly. I need to write more plainly, more detail. Tell it like it is. Hmmm. Ok. But who wants to read this?

Three days ago anon drinks a bottle of NyQuil, scarfs a box of DayQuil, downs a six pack, and inhales spray paint in a whirling hour. While he sleeps it off, I ask, "So, did you have your Starbucks today?" And we laugh hysterically. That line doesn't get old. She says, "No, I'd have to leave town for that. I'm at Walmart, whohoo!" We laugh too hard. On the other line later, other anon is drunk, crying about this and that but it's too slurred and blurred to hear so I delete the message.

Taking the little one to daycare and picking her up, she is into slugging me in the face. So hard that it makes this tough-girl wince. I have expert self-defense training to kick the shit out of anyone who tries to lay a hand on me again. They should have said, "Yeah, but when you kill the attacker, um, well, you'll have to put a lid on all those moves we trained your subconscious to act on in one second, because your toddler will pelt you in public.

Just discovered Brandi Carlile and rockin out to Eye of the Needle.


I'm at the cafe where I wrote the manuscript - very nostalgic place for me. I visit today to find out what's here. The big binder sits on my desk at home, and I want to know what is here now.

Off to Portland at the end of February for another famously great Jennifer Lauck writing workshop, with the beloved circle of wild writing women.

Wondering what I have in me and what it will take to seduce the muse?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Simple Signs

Before I turn down the covers I always check on her. Tip toe in the dark, cover her with a blanket, wait to discover the formation of her body in sleep. Every night I am moved by the simple shape of small arms and legs curled to center. Tonight she is a butterfly on its back. Arms up, elbows bent, a perfect halo to frame her budding cheeks. Legs fall open, a pond reflection of the arms, to make a limbed circle.

In the nights I get to watch how the body makes its own nest. I get to see the seed of a girl whose tendrils are full of trust.

One gift of trauma: I have to keep looking for signs of life. I have to watch the simple things intently for the information they hold.

Sewing. Needle goes in and comes out to bring two disparate pieces together. Healing. Enter the fabric of a wound, come up through the missing experience, weave the two together.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fertile Dirt

Sometimes it feels impossible to write with a two year old. Or, possibly, what I have to write at the end of that rope is unthinkable to admit.

Earlier today, enforcing a nap, I sat on the captive couch listening to gutteral screams, pleas, the thud of flung toys, and sad whimpers. For an hour. I know what you could be thinking, but I have tried so many alternative solutions to the nap dilemma that, finally, I allow her anger and frustration.

But those screams, in moments of fatigue, haunt me. The way the intonations resound through a small, feathered lung span – I am sent back viscerally to sensations that I hoped never to revisit.

I have not spoken to another mother about the way past traumas are revealed through the voices and gestures of our children. I anticipated the need for diligence, to keep an eye on the blueprint of trauma in my own body as I stepped into motherhood. But I couldn’t know how fast and how deeply the hooks would sink. Cell to cell, faster than any technology I know.

Not so hard to sit in therapy for years and talk it all out. Sexual assault - I have cried a river of tears. Wrath from a beautifully negligent, alcoholic mother – I thought I followed that root to the core. But now there is another River that came from my body, birthed in the rich ash of that phoenix-fire.

She shows me things I cannot bear.

Now she sleeps for the night and I crawl to the page, my foxhole. In the left corner of mind, I run across my old back yard in the dark. Drop to my knees at the edge, where grass ends and bushes hide a cave that housed the undoing of my girlhood. I take cloth from my pocket and unfold four corners one by one, north south east west for the prayer and pledge to return for the part of me that was left here. I take the dirt from a sweat lodge in California, cup it in hand, and disperse it to the night wind to sift across this unholy bed. With soft fingers I reach into the middle and dig. I scrape dirt until breakthrough, penetrating earth until I reach a twenty-year accumulation point, and gather a moist handful for my piece of silk.

I go to the field down the block, wade through overgrown weeds, close my eyes so that my feet can find that desecrated place. I drop, I sift, I reach and dig and gather, then move quickly across concrete and remember how tar bubbles burned my feet. Like this, around the neighborhood, I reclaim lost ground.

I am thirty calling to myself at eight and nine and ten. Down the hills, between houses, along the paths, I stop to greet the trees that watched me grow. Forehead to bark, arms wrapped, thanks and offerings for their Boddhichitta. True to life, they give back what they held for years: pictures of a girl, wind blown hair, sap on the face. Running laughter. Together we take back what was taken away.

A Muslim friend prays five times a day. Twenty times five, I take back what was taken away. And now, I am the one who takes from myself….I even take from daughter, until I halt in the dirt of a footstep, grit my teeth and fight the ghostly habit.

I am the girl with lost files, the raging addict, the wounded predator. And I am two, just beginning, crying out for my mama….I don’t want to go to sleep.

A spider, each leg poised upon the end of a web strand. Eight directions and dimensions. How to weave a different pattern, considering all that attaches to each element from behind? How to extend to open space where I have never been?

How did I know, forsaken so totally, the truth of Love? Therein lies beauty. Therein, faith. Still so forsaken in heart. Still in love with the hope of Love.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Love in the Meadow

This blank page, after the underground of winter sleep, is fresh air in the light of day. All morning, details. Yet I walk from room to room, followed by a wide meadow. The living green, morning lover, whispers – Write, Prema. Write with me.

Perhaps this is one joy in the second half of life. All the years of stalking love in the form of men, messy and heartbreaking and incomplete. Now, alone at my desk, eyes closed, head tipped back and up to the sky to receive…

And the phone rings. “I forgot the car seat,” he says. (You know when you’re on the edge of an orgasm, tipped over the edge just enough to taste it, then abruptly pulled back?) “I just sat down to write, jeez.” Gathering myself up from invisible velvet grass, “Ok, I’ll be there in a sec.” And I lament the other feature of the second half of (my) life. Just when I’m feeling the love, the private red light of motherhood flashes. I curl back into myself for an extenuated minute, linger in embodied water where lungs in every cell fill with the prayer: please let me remember that I am still a woman, still able to feel pleasure, still able to give pleasure, then jump up with honed precision.

Mothering - always an open cave. But now I fly, an unnested eagle looking for my girl. Talons out, I follow a signal in the air, her body already in my body.

A beautiful quote offered up by Mystic Wing righted me this morning, and so I was a generous person to my husband as I moved the car seat from my jeep to his. Collecting missing sippy cups, stray dolls, strewn diapers, he walks up behind me as I clean his car. “Sorry,” and I know he waits for the retort. But not today. “It’s ok, sweetie, I forgot, too. Thanks for taking her for awhile.” Kisses in passing, love pats, and I think to myself that he’s hot as I return to my seat, longing for the meadow.

In marriage we have a million daily choices to offer love or fear. I am guilty of sloth in this regard and it feels good to find the accurate label. And this is how we grow: a million slow turns toward redemption and renewal. Can I allow myself to begin again? For the hundredth time in a day will I tend to my wounds in a corner of thought or a corner of the room or while I wash dishes, then walk back to him as the beginner and gift my innocence for our mutual benefit?

This is the new sex. We must undress ourselves. In front of ourselves. That’s the first act of love. And then if we choose to share, it’s conscious, eyes wide open, where intention meets the grace of a hand on a button with integrity that beautifies the eyes. Through all the bullshit, all the hurt, all the stories, all the reasons to be right…we just step out of those clothes and find the real opening to the real clothing that warms a body of original light. As David Whyte offers in his poem, The Faces at Braga:

If only our own faces
would allow the invisible carver's hand
to bring the deep grain of love to the surface.

If only we knew
as the carver knew, how the flaws
in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core,

we would smile, too
and not need faces immobilized
by fear and the weight of things undone.

When we fight with our failing
we ignore the entrance to the shrine itself
and wrestle with the guardian, fierce figure on the side of good.

Why is this sometimes the most terrifying gesture? That even in the privacy of our reflection in the mirror, we retreat? And why do I assume I am the same woman, same identity from last year, last decade, while I watch the body/mind change, one with the current of clouds across every daily sky?

There was the time of searching. The time of teachings. The time of learning by falling, and by refusal to learn, the dragging through dark landscapes. And now, though I turn and look this way and that from a position with perspective, I know it is time to commit. Let the teachings and the life marry. Make vows...no more living together or secret affairs with mood and fancy. It's time to let the ritual engulf the doubt and come off yet another long road of wandering.

May the writing serve this purpose. And may the community of companions make witness and hold me to my vows.

Monday, January 08, 2007


I turned forty in the midst of great suffering....and this was my medicine. My best friend, straight off a moving truck for four days, flew in from Idaho with her 8mo old baby to pull me out of bed. Two other old and dear friends arranged child care and made their way to the city to celebrate at a lovely tea house.

My sister, having just moved herself, got up from tearing out flooring and spontaneously hopped a flight from Wisconsin to meet me by afternoon in Berkeley. She stayed through the weekend to help me recover and find my footing again.

This is the great medicine. A circle of women who love me and stand by me....and use their collective strength to help me find my own.

Blessings for their generosity, humor, clear and audacious thinking.

Devotion is medicine. Love medicine. Humble and true, it rights us again.

Now my girl is down -- I hear her labored breathing through the monitor at this late hour. But we're ok.

What I've learned: if I don't go deep and tend to what I deeply love - indeed, if I forget what I deeply love and in that forgetting overlook myself altogether, my life will take me to the root of myself in an uncompromising manner.

Rumi says:

You are a ruby embedded in granite.
How long will you pretend it's not true?
We can see it in your eyes.
Come to the root of the root of your Self.

You came here from the presence of that fine Friend,
a little drunk, but gentle, stealing our hearts
with that look so full of fire; so,
come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

I've been in the mud at the bottom of the pond and now I wait to see the lotus unfold. Happy to be submerged for the sheer trustworthiness of gratitude born from that darkness.

Slowly out into the morning, my girl with her head on my shoulder, "Wind, mama!" I squint in the sun, "Put your head down sweetie, stay warm, I have you." Like this we merge back into the story, the world pages ahead of us, and us, wide-eyed at the newness at the back end of lost time.

Everything fresh. Simple. Tender. Unsteady in a good way, a newborn colt. A new year.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Tired Soup

I can't think it out so I sit down to write. Can't write so I'll give it up to something else. Write me. Write through me. Carry me, I cannot walk.

I don't want to write about being sick any more than I want to be sick. At first being sick makes me mad - so damn inconvenient, espeicially during the holidays. Weeks go by and I am past mad. I am defeated, down. Another week passes and I am afraid, waking in the middle of the night, weeping.

How is it that we can be so in the dark about what happens in our own body? Amazing if you think about it.

You know the regular sort of deal during illness: if I get better I will be more mindful about this and that and, right, that other thing, too. And then comes the private pleading, appeals that head toward prayer. Prayer starts in the night, when I think I can't take anymore and then I do.

If this is a mountainous region, I try to find my way in my simple jeep. But around every turn, another unexpected visitor.

In four weeks I've had the flu, a womping yeast infection which turned to a bladder infection. Then a brush with toxic shock and staph. If that's not bad enough, I started fertility drugs. One day of reprieve, then a horrible respiratory infection. Coughing that doesn't end.

I drive myself to the ER early yesterday morning. I wait hours with a schizophrenic, Hannibal Lector, guy ranting on and on. Then I make it to the part where I get to lay on a gurney for another few hours, now with the HL dude next to me, divided by a thin curtain, whispering horrible, horrible things to me. At one point, after they had me take off my clothes and wait in the 'gown', he opens the curtain and screams, "What's the scariest thing that's ever happened to you? Have you been raped? Should I rape your daughter then cut her up and eat her at MacDonald's!"

They move me to another room next to a guy who tried to OD because he can't take living on the streets for a seventh year with HIV. For another few hours I listen to his self-talk about more horrible, horrible things.

And I think: Why am I here? What is this really all about?

I felt so relived and grateful to drive home after eight hours at the hospital, though all I left with was a prescription for cough syrup. I'm sure I will pay several thousand dollars for that cough syrup visit. Everything was getting better as I washed off the day, until I couldn't see straight out of one eye. I came home with Pink Eye! Of all things! WTF.

I lost it today - only I can't cry because then I cough and I look pathetic enough with my crooked glasses and cracked lips. I crawled up to bed last night at 9pm, oblivious to the New Year. So mad for more suffering and that I have to worry about River catching yet another infection from me.

That's my gripe. Phew.

I know people struggle every day with far worse conditions - it's just so hard to endure on-going pain and suffering in the body. So lonely. When appearance fades and all the things that hold up my identity retreat....who am I then? It's all nice to practice in a meditation retreat, but rather frightening when suddenly it's just taken away without warning.

We were planning to go away for my birthday this weekend, but the place burned down three days ago. See?? It's make you wonder, doesn't it? And last night we cancelled the birthday dinner - I'd like to be able to breathe and taste my food when I celebrate.

If I said it was getting quiet before, it's now quiet. Aside from the occassional fit of tears, I am remembering that zero feeling - when I've cried it all out and I am just me - all the way down and all the way back and ever-present.

Metamorphosis. The butterfly moalts down to soup. How long is that waiting between the old and the new?