As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.
Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…
Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast. Email me for more info: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com
Grey day after grey day from this window where I sit with my laptop, writing…and the muse feels dark and fed up. And then a sunny day comes. And I remember what gratitude is. Please enjoy this piece on gratitude.
On Belonging (Or, Becoming the Flower You Were Meant to Be), by Kara Norman
Belonging is a difficult topic for me. Just last night, I found myself saying two contradictory things when speaking with a friend. I said:
1. When my husband and I have kids, I want to be careful about how many counter-cultural patterns I introduce into the house. As writers and shyly sensitive people, I am confident we will have plenty of refuge from mass culture.
2. In high school, I had lots of friends. I still have a rich helping of friends in my life. But I miss the person I used to be in my youth: hyper, excitable, quick to laugh. Eager to pal around. Kind of shiny.
* * *
I met my husband during our first year of graduate school in North Carolina. We were both aspiring writers. He was from Ohio – a tall crane of a man. He was five years younger than I, and cat-like. He hung around the coffee shop where I worked, scribbling notes onto napkins and sliding them across counters to me while I chopped carrots in my spattered black apron and shifted from foot to foot, hoping to alleviate the cramps in my legs from standing for hours at a time.
I was twenty-eight. I had a handful of meaningful, discarded relationships under my belt, and I was living with someone else. Until I screwed up the courage to break off the relationship, so I could be with the man who was to become my husband.
After the break-up, itself a strange flash of abuse by the boyfriend, I was semi-homeless. One of my friends generously let me crash at her apartment. I loved those days – awakening on her futon, her offers to cook me a fried egg. She served strong coffee and we navigated the morning delicately as her big-bellied cat waddled around the rooms.
I loved soaping myself with the wash cloths my friend left for me in the shower, the brush and its hairs strewn about the sink, her little kitchen with the little window that climbed onto a small roof ledge – everything screaming single, single, just as I want it!
But, as my friend also had feelings for the man who was to become my husband, and I hadn’t exactly fessed up to my motives in breaking up with my boyfriend, things quickly grew complicated. I was out of another place to live.
I didn’t mean to move directly into Tim’s apartment, his arms, our life together, but things just clicked. We had the routine of school, his teaching fellowship, my shitty coffee shop job, and nights together reading books, eating Chinese food, wandering the humid streets of our town. We had a life, and fell in love.
When I called my mother to tell her I had a place now for my dog, which my parents had been dog-sitting until I had either my own home or a cat-less place to land, she asked if I was still at my friend’s apartment. When I said no, she asked if I was getting my own apartment. When I said no, she said, “Oh.” I had minutes earlier told her about my new affair with Tim, and she was putting together the pieces.
But I had just turned twenty-nine, and for some reason, my parents always trusted me – or generally went along with whatever half-baked plans I drew up for myself. I retrieved my dog, installed his bed in the non-working fireplace in Tim’s living room, and got on with my life.
Months ticked away. Tim and I completed our second year of school. We moved into a house together. I was as rabidly insecure about my talents as a writer and how my spiritual colors fit into academic worlds as ever. I had moved from Asheville, North Carolina, a place people like to say was built on a bed of quartz. I had just seen a psychic to heal a long-standing soupiness in my soul. I was a little out there.
I was also prickly around Tim’s parents, a sweet couple who were born, raised, schooled, and living in rural Ohio. I was afraid they wanted me to be a conservative haven, someone they could agree with politically. I was socially agreeable, but burned with resentment at certain times: when asked to lie about Tim and I living together, when the topic of yoga felt on par to them with talking about witch-craft.
I took a yoga training class, meditated, journaled. None of these practices cured my loneliness. I was plagued by insecurities, a kind of self-hatred that built a thick shell of distrust around my heart, my body, my life.
And then, returning home from a round of golf with his boss, Tim called me into the bedroom. He held his testicles in his hand, one of them swollen. He hoped it was a fluke; it would go down. I persisted in what he may have been hoping for: I insisted we seek medical help.
I found a sub for the yoga class I was supposed to teach that night and accompanied Tim to the Urgent Care, where we sat in the waiting room for a few minutes before being seen by the kindest, hottest PA I had ever met – a man who was humbled by what he saw on Tim’s body.
He sent us to the hospital.
In the examining room, as we waited for Tim’s next PA, we saw the stacked boxes of medical gloves, labeled with the name of the company where Tim’s older brother worked.
I held Tim’s hand, assured him that whatever happened, we would take care of it.
He knew it wasn’t good.
I knew it wasn’t good.
Neither of us had health insurance.
* * *
We were sent home with an appointment for Tim to see an oncologist the next morning, and the information that some types of testicular cancer produce a hormone called Beta HCG, the hormone otherwise only found in pregnant women. If we wanted a short answer to our questions about what was happening in Tim’s body, there was a chance a home pregnancy test could provide an immediate confirmation.
We went to a drug store, bought a test, and ducked when we spotted our program’s poetry professor, the one with basset-hound cheeks and eyes that could drill to the black center of you. He was shopping through Valentine cards in the Hallmark aisle. It was February 10.
* * *
That night, we confirmed it: Tim was pregnant. Three days later, he had his right testicle removed, chucked into a “bucket,” as his gruff, sirloin-fed oncologist joked. His parents came down from Ohio and we all celebrated Valentine’s Day together, Tim on painkillers, walking with the support of a broom handle, a batch of brownies made by his mother, yellow and pink supermarket flowers bought by his father at Tim’s request.
It was beautiful.
We told only a handful of people in our small graduate program about Tim’s surgery and his removed cancer. They organized and delivered a rotation of gorgeous, hot meals, providing company and nourishment and food to our light-filled ranch house. We opened our front door to people we had only had class with previously. We ate burritos on our living room floor with dear people who were as afraid of social commitment as we were. One of my favorite professors dropped off a Himalayan salt lamp, chocolate chip cookies.
One of the best hospitals in the country approved Tim and his myriad bills for their charity care program. Tim survived. But the world was not the same after that. It was more dangerous and stunning than we had ever imagined. The shock of his young health – compromised – rocketed through the middle of our lives. In its wake, it left an open field. We could see further. We had space. And people who loved us filled it. We got engaged. I wrote a book. Tim picked a part of the country he wanted to live in and we moved there, because we could. And flowers grew in the open valley – delicate gifts that taught us to trust the world, our vulnerable beginnings in it.
BIO: Kara Norman lives in northern Colorado with her husband and dog, where she works as an administrative assistant during the week and watches birds at all times. She writes about staying true as an artist on her blog Sut Nam Bonsai (www.SutNamBonsai.blogspot.com), and works with a fellow writing friend on their art project Grizzly & Golden (www.GrizzlyandGolden.blogspot.com). She has written a novel, for which she currently seeks publication, and is at work on a memoir of how writing healed her life.