Tag Archives: gratitude

What If You Stopped Giving?

 

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If you read me…you’re going to have to sit a spell.  Pour a cup of something and pause.  I refuse to go into sound bytes…  With love, here is what I share with you today:

Somebody asked me the other day if I know how to receive without giving.

Huh.  I’d never really thought about that before.

I proceeded to tell her how I’ve been trying to receive the beauty of Montana this summer, as a writer and seeker and feeler– just being, rather than always running to the next thing.  Just being in my creativity before my writing retreat season begins in a few weeks.  And then I started to tell her about the book I’m writing and how I think it will help a lot of people and and and–

She cut me off.  “You were talking about receiving.  Then you switched gears.  And now you’re talking about giving.  I asked you if you can receive…without giving.”

Ok, fine.  She might have been a therapist I recently hired to help me get out of a period of life overwhelm with a kid in the throes of college recruitment, and wearing just too many damn hats in general.

I had no plain answer to offer her.  “It’s not like I think of myself as some sort of Florence Nightingale or anything.  I’m a gal who likes to take long baths and long walks and ride my horse.  I try to grab moments for myself as much as my life will allow.  And what’s wrong with a symbiosis of giving and receiving, anyway?”

She cut me off again.  “What do you do now that is just about receiving?  Especially from people?”

I thought about it.  “Well, I love what I do for a living.  I love what it feels like to help people fall in love with their words, their voice, their self-expression, Montana.  When I see those lights go on and their faces soften and open to their truth…it’s the greatest gift I’ve known.”

Her face was deadpan and now with a dash of severity.  “I’m talking about receiving from people without giving.  Do you have an example of that in your current life?”

I scrolled through my daily life for the purely receiving peopled moments.  I couldn’t think of any—not any I was exceptionally proud of.

“I have a great chiropractor,” I said.

“People you don’t pay,” she said.

“Well I have a lot of good friends,” I said.  “A couple of them did nothing but listen to me when I was going through a rough patch a few years ago.”

“What about now?  Now that you’ve gotten into the business of being of service.”

92631D5A-0404-471D-89A2-F4BD8D260510“Uh…”  I thought of all the remarkable people in my life.  And I thought about how when they give to me, I almost always feel the immediate compulsion to give back.  Or feel guilty for not giving back.  “Just plain ol’ receiving, huh.  Did I say I take a lot of long baths?”  I paused.  ”But I mean, the truth is, even when I take a bath, I feel a little guilty about it.  Like I’m stealing the moment from something or someone.  Guilty pleasure, I guess.”

She stared at me, holding her pen to her paper.

“I wasn’t brought up to feel pleasure.  I was raised by World War II people.  My mother’s famous line is:  What do you think I do all day—sit around and eat bon bons???!!!  We are not bon bon people.”

She stared at me.

Oh God—was I paying someone $150 to have them tell me I have to eat bon bons?  I cut her to the chase, “I eat chocolate, you know.  I enjoy good wine.  I love to go out for dinner.  I took my kids to Europe for Christmas last year.  It’s not like I’m some kind of a deprivation-ist.  It’s not like I get off on penury!”

She said, “Is receiving always about pleasure?  What if it was about support?

Huh.  Time was up.  Thankfully.

So I went for both—pleasure and support:  I went out for lunch with a friend who gives the best advice, who eats cheeseburgers and fries like they’re an entire food group, and who prides herself on day-drinking.  I once told her that her porn star name would be Guilt-less Pleasure.

We sat in a dark pub on a sunny day.  “Do you think it’s possible for you to receive without giving?” I asked her. 92631D5A-0404-471D-89A2-F4BD8D260510

She didn’t skip a beat, dipping her French fry into a ketchup puddle, her gel-polished nails shining with the same color.  “Of course.  I love receiving gifts.  I don’t just have a birthday week, I have a birthday month!”  She guzzled her beer.

“A birthday month, huh,” I said, doing the same, pretending I like beer.

“Oh come on.  You know how to have fun.  You had a kick ass 30th, and 40th, and 50th birthday party.  I was at all of them.  I’ll never forget that lobster you flew in from Maine.  Or that marimba band you hired in your back yard.  And that Christmas party you used to throw.  Straight up Dickens.  With the lumineria all the way up the hill?  Magic.”

I thought about it.  “I do like to throw a good party.  But this therapist I’m seeing would tell me that I’m doing it for my guests as much as I am for me.  I don’t know how to throw a party for just me, I guess.  Doesn’t sound like much fun, frankly.”  Then I added, because I didn’t want to be pathetic, “I take a lot of baths, you know.”

She gave me the same deadpan look, but this time it was for free.  Bonus!

“What’s wrong with me these days?” I said, staring at my cheeseburger.  “Once upon a time, some would say that I was a hella good hedonist.”

She’s one of those friends who takes a question like that seriously.  This time she pointed at me with her bloody French fry and her bloody fingernail.  “You’re terrified of being called selfish.  Aren’t you.”

Shit.  The Call of the Bluff.

I stared at my hamburger, suddenly un-hungry.

She moved into her cheeseburger with vigor.  “I bet someone called you selfish when you were a little girl, and you’ve been running from it ever since.  That’s what I think.”  Juice ran down her chin, and she wiped it and licked her finger.  “But what do I know.  I’m not a therapist.  I’m just a single mother.”  She winked at me.

I didn’t wink back.  “I know I know.  Selfishness is out.  Self-preservation is in.  Self-care is an industry.  That’s why I finally hired a therapist.  I need to figure out this Self-care thing.”

“I think she’s on the right track.  I dare you to spend a week asking for help.  Without giving a thing back to the people you ask.”  The final French fry: “And not feeling guilty about it.”

The waiter came.  “Can I get a To Go box?” I said.

So I spent the week not asking anyone for help.  And feeling guilty about it.  And even worse about how sorry I felt for myself that no one offered me help on their own.  And how lame I feel with this new awareness that I don’t ask for it.  And so instead, I hired a Self-care coach, just to practice.  And then I felt pathetic for having a Self-care coach, and a therapist, when I’ve been such a glutton for the fact that I haven’t had a therapist for ten years.  I’m so “evolved.”  I can do life so “alone.”  I “help” people for a living.  I am of “service.”  I take a lot of baths.

Shit.

92631D5A-0404-471D-89A2-F4BD8D260510Okay, so as it goes when you are wandering around with a blender head full of new awareness and longing and confusion…my car broke down in a parking lot.  Dead battery.  As I was coming out of a consultation, feeling very wonderful about helping someone construct their book project.  Turned the key.  Nuthin’.  Turned it again.  Shit.  And me without my jumper cables.

I got out of my car and asked a few people if they could give me a jump, feeling very not wonderful about bothering them in the middle of their day.  Neither of them had jumper cables.  So I called Triple A.  Tipped the guy $20, I felt so grateful.  This receiving without giving thing wasn’t going so well.

And then today happened.

I drove the Going-to-the-Sun road through Glacier National Park to take a hike up at Logan Pass.  I decided that it’s easier to receive from nature, and what better place to receive than this glorious part of the world—this definition of mountain majesty.  The wildflowers were out in profusion—the rose and blue gentian, the lavender aster, the spiking fuchsia fireweed.  The sky was blue, the clouds plump, the air pristine, the subalpine fir scenting it all with a heady elegance.  Receive receive receive.

Human being walking by with nice smile.

Me, taking shameless selfie.

“Would you like me to take a picture of you standing on that rock?  You look so happy!”

“Absolutely!  Thank you!”

Click.

I started to ask if she’d like a photo of herself in return.  But I stopped myself.

If she wants one, she’ll ask.  Selfish of me?  Nah. 

I decided to lie down on the rock and just be– feel the sun baking me into the earth.  So far so good.  Nature, humans, all abundant.  Receive receive receive.  And this feeling of great wholeness overtook me.  Was it pleasure I was feeling?  Maybe not.  It was more like support, like the therapist said.  This rock, this warm rock on this mountain top, held me.  I had everything I needed in that moment—warmth, water, space, time.  People around if I needed help.  Beauty resplendent in 360.  Receive receive receive.IMG_7506

And I thought, I feel relief right now.  I feel detonated.  Deactivated.  Benign.  Neutral.  I need to lie on more rocks in a place that is neutral.  Yes, neutral is what I’ll go for.  Not accelerate.  Not brake.  Not give.  And maybe not receive.  Just find this place of neutral at least once a day.  Maybe when I wake.  Or when I feel spent.  If there’s something to receive, it’s this.  This is the gift.  I’ve been trying too hard.  Maybe receiving happens when we stop giving.

So, wouldn’t you know…when I got back to my car, in this mountain-top parking lot, my battery was dead again.  And I’d forgotten my jumper cables again.  In my defense, I’m loaning out my sturdy Suburban with all the bells and whistles to my son, and am driving the “kid car,” and apparently haven’t learned one thing about life in Montana after twenty-five years.

The day was waning.  It wasn’t quite an emergency, but I knew that I would absolutely have to go Blanche DuBois, whether I liked it or not.  So with the dependence on the kindness of strangers bannered across my forehead, I bothered car after car, asking for a jump.  All tourists.  No luck.  The Visitor’s Center didn’t have cables either.  “I promise you, someone out there will give you a jump.  You just have to ask,” the ranger told me.

Shit.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI liked neutral much better than ye olde ask and…

So I went back into the parking lot, hating to bug all of those nice travelers, fresh off their mountain high, to dig into their trunks, and my engine.

I asked two guys fitting fishing poles into backpacks.  “Hey, do you have jumper cables?”

They looked at each other.  “Yeah.  But we can’t give you a jump or we’ll lose our parking place.”

My hamburger friend’s line blared at me with bloody shiny fingertips:  God, I’m so selfish for forgetting my jumper cables.  God, I’m so selfish for not getting my battery looked at.  God, I’m so selfish for working so hard that I don’t have my priorities straight.  God, I’m so selfish for taking the day off to play in the mountains and lie on rocks and be in neutral when I have a list a mile long of things that need to get done for my kids, and my career, and my house, and duh—my car.  I’m so selfish.

And frankly, I don’t know how it happened.  But apparently God responds to self-loathing mind rants.  Because suddenly, there was a gang of smiley people all gathered around me, with a petite woman with long black hair taking charge like we were on Survivor.  She pointed at people and things and my car and me, and I took her orders.

“Get in your car,” she said.  “Put it in neutral.”

Yep.  Neutral.

IMG_7502And four strapping men stood at my hood and one of them shouted, “Push!”

Another strapping guy was at my window saying, “Crank the wheel,” and I said, “which way?” and he reached in and grabbed the steering wheel and cranked it for me.  “Now brake,” he said.  And I braked.

“Pop the hood,” another one said.

“Uh…this is my daughter’s car.  Not sure I…” like I’d never driven a car in my life, and never dealt with one crisis moment in my life, and believe me…normally I am the woman with the long black hair.  Two weeks ago I was galloping through a Montana meadow while a horse bled out, to get help.  (The horse is fine.)

But I was just…frozen with all this help.

And this guy reached in to my car and pulled a lever and the hood popped, and there was a truck, a bright blue truck, hood to hood with my car, and people were “operating” on my engine, and I was just out-of-body, cable to cable, charge to charge, until one of them shouted, “Turn your key.”  And I obeyed.

The car started.  Everybody clapped.  Surgery successful.  The girl with the black hair hollered, “God Bless America!”

I wanted to jump out of my car and hug them all and ask them where they were from and offer them local’s advice about where to go in Glacier, and in the Flathead Valley, and to take down their names and send them thank you notes, and heck, invite them all over for dinner.  But I didn’t.  I just said, “Thank you.  May someone do something nice for you today.”

And I drove off.

And yeah…I felt a little stupid.  But more than that, I felt supported.  And what I didn’t feel…was selfish.  Not in the least.

And when I came home and told my story to my hamburger friend, she said, “Has the Universe ever not supported you, Laura?”

And as much as I wanted to say, There have been times when it hasn’t…the truth is that no.  Never.  I’ve always had support.

I just have to live in a way that lets me find it.  And that might mean that I have to ask.  But mostly, that means that I have to receive the support that is all around me.

If you would like to take a break this fall and live the writer’s life in the woods of Montana, find community, find your voice, and maybe even find yourself…check out this video and info, and email the Haven Writing Retreat Team asap to set up a phone call!

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Full Nest

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Listen to the sounds of my Montana marsh

Every spring when the birds come back I feel so grateful, and also, a little bewildered.  Are we really that worthy?  How can they leave Belize or Costa Rica and do quick fly overs in New Mexico and Arizona and want to brave the jagged frozen Rockies and the turbulence and the cold to come back to Montana?  How can they look down over white-out and say, “There.  That’s where I’ll land.  That’s where I’ll make my home and my family and teach them everything—absolutely everything.  And then send them off.  And then empty my nest of even me and leave again…back down to the desert and to the jungle and to the sea.  Only to do it again.”

Just when I’m thinking that I can’t stand it one more day—my life in infinite shades of grey, ice shrapnel defining my every winter step….they come back, casting their votes on this place I call home without migration.  They need this place of echoes and countenance I guess, to do the work of their lives.  As they’re heading north, I’m telling myself I need what they’ve had– color and light and for my body to be winged and nimble…and not braced against the air outside my front door.  I’m tired of my daily buck up—the forced flinging open of my front door every morning to feel Montana’s fresh slap—you’re alive and you can take it.   So that I can be grateful then, for the retreat back to the warm woodstove breath of my house.  Even in spring.  It won’t be a warm outside welcome for months.  Not Belize warm.  A Canada goose stands on the ice of the pond in the meadow.  A mountain bluebird on my hoar-frost encased mailbox.  I look at the chickadees and ravens and magpies and flickers—are we really worthy of all their faith?

I have watched.  For twenty-five years I have watched.  I know them by their faces, their nests and feathers and flocking.  I know their symphony, and sometimes Stravinsky cacophony that is the world outside my door beginning in March.  Oh that cunning allegro, oh that fine mezzo again, oh that tricky staccato followed by that day-is-done decrescendo.  But I have never really learned who is singing what.  I don’t know why.  It’s similar to the way I go through an art museum:  take it in first.  Then step forward to read the plaque.  What’s in a name, if you don’t feel your way to it first?  It was the same way with trees and wildflowers when I moved to Montana.  I needed to feel the wholeness of it all and know it by season.  Know that when the dandelions are out, that the bears are coming to the avalanche chutes.  Know that when the calypso orchids are blooming, it will be time to celebrate my first born’s birthday.

But yesterday, it was time to know the symphony by its players.  It overcame me like a long lived itch that I suddenly needed to relieve.  I don’t know exactly why and maybe it doesn’t matter.  Maybe because I’m finishing a novel I’ve been writing for two years and I already miss its characters.  Maybe it’s because a year from now, my youngest child will be planning his college migration.  For whatever reason, yesterday, I sequestered myself to my bed and cranked open the window as wide as it would go.  And I listened to the marsh below, piece meal.  Song by song.  All day.  Picking out their riffs and going on the internet to birding websites to hear the songs from the singers I suspected.

Who knew that a little thing like a nuthatch made that roadrunner’s meeep meeep?  I’d thought it must be a furry creature all these years, slicing through the forest’s music.  And that upward aria I’ve heard for so long, usually at dusk?  A little thrush I’ve never laid eyes on but who surely lives in my back yard, faithfully and hopefully:  the Swainson’s thrush.  I knew the bossy red-winged blackbirds, of course, because how can you miss them?  And the ubiquitous robin’s song.  You have to be paying no attention at all to miss those.  And the chickadee’s my tree, this time of year.  But the one I really wanted to know, was what I’ve always thought must be our western version of the mockingbird—that schizophrenic song that doesn’t know quite what it wants to say.  And yet it says it over and over.  I scoured the internet and my bird books trying to find what bird was behind this rote sentence in too many genres.  I’ve always wanted to tell it to settle on one.  I like the poetry at the end, personally, not the throat-clearing at the beginning, or the screeching in the middle.  I figured it had to be something rare.  Something elusive.  Maybe even exotic that I’d missed in all my wandering in the woods, looking up, paying attention.

Finally, at the end of the day I thought, What about a sparrow?  A regular old sparrow.  What song do they sing?  And you guessed it.  That one.

My son came in and said, “What are you doing?”

“Learning my bird songs finally.  Did you know that the most simple birds make the most unique songs?  And the smallest make the loudest.  And the biggest birds, sometimes the faintest.”

“I’m going skiing.  It’s the last day the mountain is open.”

“We need to make that list of colleges to look at, you know.  Soon.”

“I know.”

Then my daughter wrote me a text from her college dorm room in California.  “I’m going camping for my birthday.  You know I swam with a blue whale over spring break in Baja.  I don’t think I told you.”

And I wrote her back, “I’m so proud of you.  I hope you know that.”

And I thought…maybe it’s time to learn them all…so I can say a proper good bye.  Because they come back, you know.  They come back.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

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The Merrier Me

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When laughing didn’t hurt…

Like a lot of people this weekend
who opted to tuck in front of the fire in lieu of holiday parties, I watched Rudolph, which always stresses me out and I’m not sure why I go, “awwwwwwwwww” when I see it’s going to be on television because that abominal snowmonster still freaks me out and all those sad toys with Rankin Bass puppet mouths, and then Frosty (ditto—he melts!  A little girl cries next to the puddle once known as his former self, and there’s a cloying bad guy that he can’t shake with a weird rabbit helper—I forget what happens in the end.  I think he moves to Brooklyn.)

download (1)And then the healing began.  Mary Poppins.  Two hours of Mary and Bert and tuppence and votes for women and evening govnah and magic umbrellas and bottomless carpet bags and sidewalk chalk painting portals into barber shop penguins and carousels with real horses and hilarious helium tea on the ceiling and and and.  Even though she leaves them in the end and they all have to find their inner Mary Poppins.download

The only thing of it is:  I laughed.  And that is a physical response to emotions I haven’t let myself feel for two months.  The who what when where why how of it has to do with a horse and my tendency to act over-confident when I’m scared.  And a loose cinch.  In short, he zigged, I zagged.  Bottom line:  if you’re going to ride horses, you’re going to end up on the ground sometimes.  You just hope you don’t hear actual bones cracking.  Three of them.  Ribs.

If you’ve broken a rib, you are now making the face I make when I see the abominal snowmonster.
download (2)It suuuuuuucks.  Breaths are reduced to small sips, coughing and sneezing are a delicacy you can only succumb to if you can’t not, sighing is not recommended, sleeping in any position at all is nearly unattainable (I seriously almost bought a recliner and put it in the living room), talking with any animation is ish-y, singing is better left to a dull hum, crying—meh…and laughter?  Laughter is verboten, like the Burgermeister Meisterburger has some sort of hold on you.

You know that kind of laughter that happens at weddings and funerals and graduation speeches that you can’t control?  It has total occupation of your diaphragm?  Well, that’s one of my central goals in life.  That kind of belly-womping primordial caccination.  With snorts in-between.  If you can’t breath deeply, you can’t pull it off, not by any stretch.  So you have a choice:  Laugh your way into scar tissue that will remind you of your stupid horse tricks for the rest of your life when you climb a ladder or reach for your shoes.  Or go deadpan.  Poker face.  In short, I’ve been officially depressed.  I lead retreats.  I needed to go on one.  Just not in my bed for two months, groaning.bdd9bf5f53c4df963b2e91e3a5b2e939

And now that it’s the holidaze, the Kay jewelers people don’t help.  Or those Folgers ads.  Or all the perfect Facebook Christmas trees.  Or the families in matching sweaters on my Christmas cards.  Or the fact that I haven’t gotten a Christmas card out this year and probably won’t.  In my mind, it’s still October.  Thanksgiving hasn’t even happened.  I’m finally going out for a ride on my horse after a grueling fall work schedule.  I’m tired.  I feel sorry for myself.  And I’m going to do something nice for myself, damnit.  He jigged.  I jagged.  And I watched fall become winter from my bed for the most part of two months.

But I’m not writing this to complain.  I’m writing all of this to say that I now know what gratitude really means.  Bless you, cup of tea that took me twenty minutes to make, including the hard launch from bed– the roll, the sidle, the squirm, the shuffle, the sit, and the big one:  the stand…the walk…and the stairs…the stairs, the pick up the tea pot, the fill it with water, the ow ow ow ow ow all the way back up the stairs, back to sit, to the slow timber back into the pillows.  Oh.  And then there’s the tea.  Waaaaaaay over there on the nightstand, a century of inches away.  “Forget it.  Let it get cold.  I’ve just done the Iditorod.”  And there she lay.  Watching the sun move around the house and the moon rise, and all of her responsibilities fall like the leaves she never got to on the lawn, and the snow that’s coming, that came, and all the people she’ll have to ask to help her do simple things and all the shame around one stupid moment on a horse that she was planning on riding every day for eight straight weeks of much-needed horse therapy.  Her new craving:  Epsom salts.  And oh, that cold cup of tea.  If only someone would come in with a fresh steaming cup and fold her laundry…  Still, I have never been more grateful for just being able to get up and make the tea, never mind drink it.

That said, all that woe-is-me managed to loop itself around to a world of hurt that I’ve never experienced before.  I’ve never taken anti-depressants, and for the first time, I seriously considered it.  And then, just as I was thinking this would be my permanent world…I caught myself laughing at something on Jimmy Fallon.  And it hurt…so good.  And I realized what was really wrong.  It wasn’t the horselessness or the shame or the frustration or even the pain.  It was the lack of laughter in my life.  Without laughter, I was living in a colorless world of fair-to-middling.  I had untrained myself out of delight.  Joy.  Unabashed explosions of glee.  And it had to stop.  I am a laugher.  No matter what.  I needed to get back on that horse.  (The other one can wait.)

So on Saturday night, in my eighth week of recovery, my ribs more mended than not, with permission from Mary Poppins and her tea-time wack-wonkery, I let myself laugh.  Ecstatic laughing.  In hee hee hees and hoh hoh hohs and hah hah hahs.  It made LOL look like mere titter.  And man…did it feel good.  My whole being felt light and alive in a way it hasn’t for far too long.  I am so grateful for this simple and essential human ability.  I love to laugh, indeed.  Laughter really is the best medicine.  LOLOLOLOLOLOL!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

February 22-26 (one spot left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
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September 20-24
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October 18-22

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***According to Mayo clinic laughter is just what the doctor ordered!

***PS.  In all that lying around, I did manage to write 150 pages of a book.  So there’s that.  #grateful

 

 

 

 

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We Gather Together: or How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving 2016

IMG_0091Thanksgiving is here and families are assembling from all corners of the country.  And unless you come from a family I didn’t know existed, this year brings with it a new challenge, on top of the usual political, religious, sexual, gender, racial, and on and on differences.  This year all of us…ALL of us…experienced something that let’s be honest:  blew us away.  A business man is going to be the 45th president of the United States of America…and it has a lot of people…well, feeling pretty un-united.  This is problematic in too many ways to opine about now, plus I’m probably not smart enough to make any fetching points that haven’t already been made by people like David Remnick and Noam Chomsky.  (Now you know who I voted for.  And why my teenager says, I shouldn’t post this because when you talk about politics, you get “butt hurt” for it.)  I don’t even want to know what that means.  But I am sure:  we all need to find our Thanksgiving gratitude.  So…

I’m not here to talk about politics today.   I’m here to write about something I’m truly worried about for us as a nation:  How to make Thanksgiving work this year.  Really work.  Uh oh…I smell a top ten list coming on.  As you might have noticed, I loathe top ten lists.  But this year…we need to boil some sh** down.  So here goes.  No hate mail please.  I’m trying to help:

1)    Maybe don’t bring up politics or religion AT ALL, and I mean a total moratorium on both of them.  Like even in the family Grace and in the What I’m Grateful For thing.  Talk about the weather.  Talk about the gravy.  Talk about why you love the person sitting next to you.  Talk about the walk you’re going to take after the meal, and on the walk after the meal, don’t talk about anything other than the weather and why you love the person you’re walking with and what you’re going to buy on Black Friday, especially if it’s at your local independantly owned mom and pop shop.  Wait– stay off the homogenization of America theme.  Maybe go back to why you love the person walking next to you and call it good.

2)    Maybe, unless you’re from Cleveland, talk about the Cubs winning the World Series.  And if you are from Cleveland, talk about what a super bitching game it was all the way to the end.

3)    Maybe…be the artsy token weird aunt and say, “Why don’t we take a vow of silence during our meal, in honor of the Pilgrims and how they felt silenced enough to leave their country and fight for their religious freedom.”  Oops.  Axe that.  We’re not bringing up religion or politics, remember.  Or race relations.  Maybe just take a vow of silence.

4)    Maybe ask the host to give you a play by play break down of how she/he cooked the turkey.  If she/he brined…FABULOUS.  This will take up at least ½ an hour of the meal and the pride which he/she deserves will gush.  Gushing joy and pride is a good thing in the way of feeding loved ones.  Let’s raise the rafters on that!  (True to the holiday, we’re going for gratitude.)  If he/she deep fried the bird, you can compliment them on their rogue courage.  If she/he basted every half an hour and made their own giblet gravy, you can take deep bows and call them Martha Stewart.  If you need more content, you can ask them about their position on to stuff or not to stuff.IMG_0097

5)    Maybe play an after meal family game.  Like Pictionary.  Or Scattegories.  Just stay away from Celebrity Apprentice the Board Game, and Bridge.

6)    Maybe decide that this is the year where you truly will put your unconditional love barometer to the test.  Love them all.  Love them especially because they voted for someone you couldn’t stand.  Love them for their differences.  Love them for the conversation that is behind it all:  I need to believe in something.  Everyone is scared.  Voting shows hope.  And that’s what we want in the end:  a hopeful nation.

7)    If you are in grief over the election, find someone who is too and talk to them.  Do it privately in hushed tones.  Is stirring the pot, or even raging at a friend or family member (or some random innocent who was invited last minute) going to help anyone, especially you?

8)    If you are in victory over the election, see #7 and do the same.

9)    Maybe sing Kum-bah-yah and mean it.  It just means Come by Here, which is what you did in trusting sacred traditions and the community of family and friends.  Sing it loud.  Sing it proud.  Sing it because you have the freedom to sing in the first place, no matter who you did or didn’t vote for.  Maybe dust off your old Free to Be You and Me album and sing along!  (maybe skip William Has a Doll)

10) And ten…maybe have a dry Thanksgiving to keep the fight, the right, the wrong, the very ugly out of it.  Or heck, if you’re in MA, CA, OR, WA, NV, or CO, pass a joint around.  Oh wait.  Don’t talk about that either.  Stick to the “this is what I love about you” theme.

May we all enjoy peace this holiday season.  Let love and gratitude show us the way.


IMG_0093Peace and love, (and some humor for crying out loud)

Laura

Are you longing to say what you want to say?  Find your voice?  Haven Writing Retreats is now booking for 2017.  Click here for  our calendar!  The gift of voice awaits you in the woods of Montana.

 

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Thanksgiving, the TSA, and Two Cabbies

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post a few years ago, which captures gratitude under duress.  May we all travel safely, and with GRATITUDE this Thanksgiving holiday!

 

Give the gift of VOICE this holiday season!

Haven Writing Retreats:

February 22-26 (a few spots left!)

Talking about your travel debacles is about as appealing as talking about your dreams. So I’ll be brief. I missed my flight yesterday, late night in Salt Lake City, after two prior flights, en route to Montana where I live. They shut the door in my face. There was crying and swearing involved. One of the lovely things about living in a town with a small airport: they hold the last plane of the evening. They know their passengers have paid their dues in high prices and multiple flights to get to that last leg over the Rockies, which will certainly go bumptey bump in the night. And they’re decent human beings about it. Usually.

This was the day before the busiest travel day in the United States. This was after a week of being gone from my family on a business trip in Miami, which is a great place for a business trip so I’m not complaining. Put it this way, I’m just glad that the biggest Book Fair in the country isn’t in Fargo. But if it had been, I likely wouldn’t have been wearing sandals to lunch earlier that day and I wouldn’t have likely forgotten to change into shoes, which I wouldn’t have likely packed in my roller bag and checked. I wouldn’t have been getting into a cab in a balmy 10 degrees with my homemade pedicure showing, heading to a Comfort Inn. I would have been wearing winter boots. Which would have been a good thing, since the Storm of the Century was inching its way into Utah, according to the Haitian cab driver, who seemed to be less worried about being cold and understandably more worried about things like cholera. I asked him if he had family back in Haiti. “Yes,” he said. I asked him how he dealt with it. “Day by day,” he said.

I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I had a voucher and a room waiting for me and the hope of a metal flying machine taking me home tomorrow. “What time is your flight?” he asked. “Two thirty,” I said. I saw his head shake. “Is there a problem?” I said, afraid. “The storm is coming in right around then. You might be spending Thanksgiving in Salt Lake City.”

I started feeling sorry for myself again. Who was going to make the organic bird with the organic cranberry relish and the gravy that wins my children’s hearts every year even though they’re in their disgruntled teen and pre-teen years? Who was going to turn on the Macy’s Day parade and put the cloves in the oranges and set it in a huge pot of apple cider? Who was going to make sure that classical music resounded through the house while the turkey cooked? Who was going to polish my grandmother’s silver and make sure the good linens found their way to the table for their first of three annual appearances? Would they eat at the kitchen table? Would there be television involved? Would they forget to read Truman Capote’s “Christmas Memory” at the table? Would they say grace?

I was NOT going to spend Thanksgiving in a Comfort Inn in a blizzard in Salt Lake City in my frigging sandals.

But then I remembered–cholera. Homelessness. Haiti. My little family would be just fine without me, truth be told. And if that happened, I would have the opportunity to practice thanks for not shining silver and a legacy in linens, but things like warmth and safety.

The next morning I turned on the Weather Channel. I have an obsession with this station, and I promise myself that I will not watch it prior to airplane travel, as all it does is get me worried. Who am I to know what airplanes can handle in the way of wind sheer and gusts and blizzard conditions and winter storm warnings? But I did it anyway. I watched the damn Weather Chanel for a solid four hours, fretting and updating my Facebook Page, wanting somebody to cyberly hold my hand. Should I stay or should I go? The storm was supposed to hit exactly as I was to leave. The plane would be small. The turbulence would be fierce. Two things I loathe–small planes and turbulence. I would have the chance to practice all that I’ve learned in the way of fear-busting and inner calm. I’d use that I’m-a soldier-being-rescued-from-the-jungle-fronts-by-helicopter frame of mind I’d procured in hours of therapy. I would breathe and I would practice being in the moment in gratitude.

But DAMN. “If there’s one place you don’t want to be in the country today folks, it’s Salt Lake City.” The anchor man was, in fact, standing at the airport holding onto a pole of some sort, grounding himself from the wind.

I went into warrior mode. “I have a date with a bird,” I said out loud. And I got in a cab, the power lines and Christmas decorations blowing above the streets of Salt Lake. This time the driver was from Sudan, Africa. His country divided in war. Half his family back home. “How do you handle it?” I said. “One day at a time,” he said. I’m not kidding. Both cab drivers.

So when I got to the airport and I raised my hands over my head at security in the pose that the media has been ranting and raving about for weeks, I said, “Thank you.” I smiled at the security guy–
“That wasn’t so bad,” I said. “It’s a privilege to fly, after all.”

“We haven’t had one complaint,” he said. “People want to be safe.”

It’s true. People want to be safe. And when we took off into the wind, bumptey bump over the Rockies, I gave my true thanks. I didn’t need a bird on the table to deliver it. Happy Thanksgiving.

(stay tuned for my famous gravy recipe…)

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Memory Lane Monday

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February 22-26 (only a few spots left)
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June 21-25
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To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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As you might have noticed, I resist the formulaic Top Ten lists that are all over the internet, as much as I resist the sound bytes that have become our attention span.  My blog posts are too long and likely too reflective.  But when I started this blog, it was with the express intention of making easy, informal connections with people, without the publishing world as carrier pigeon.  My true love is long form writing– the novel/the memoir, and I am hard at work on three books as I write this post.  That said, when you fall off your horse and bust a few ribs, life reduces itself to the nitty gritty, and it’s worth noting:  It literally goes step by step, and we better be grateful for each one, even though they hurt like hell-fire in our thoracic cavity.  Suddenly, I am finding gratitude for two inches to the left at night in just the right painfree position.  Dodging a sneeze with deep sniffing.  The smell of lavendar oil.  And very ungrateful when the toilet paper roll slips out of my hands and rolls…rolls…rolls…to the other end of the bathroom.  What was last week “another damn trip into town to do errands” when all I wanted was to be in my bed reading and writing during this hiatus between leading writing retreats, maybe taking a little walk…is now something I long for, just like my golden retriever when he’d see our busy purposeful steps to the truck, sure of some sort of adventure that the front porch couldn’t provide.

While these ribs heal, a few minutes on the front porch is all the adventure this body can take, never mind the potholes and washboards of a country road.  And so it brings me back to a Top Ten list I wrote, sort of mocking Top Ten lists, last year that sums up why I love living in my town– this town I can’t wait to re-visit hopefully next week, grateful for the wind in my hair, and a list of errands to do, and even a good old fashioned sneeze.

First, however, perhaps it might be useful to list the top ten possible reasons I fell off my horse and am in this pickle:

To stop working so hard

To feel grateful for tiny things

To stop multi-tasking

To stop letting unfinished projects bother me

To let the piles go

To leave the unpicked up things unpicked up

To make friends with the dust bunnies

To appreciate a firm pillow

To be grateful for a window with a view

To be grateful for people who bring me soup and make me tea

And now…Drum roll….

Ten+ reasons why I live in Whitefish, Montana

September 4, 2015

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(*note:  You’d think it has to do with skiing and golfing…but it doesn’t.)

Because I can go outside to get something out of my car naked.

Because if the UPS guy drove up while I was getting something out of my car naked, he wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.

Because I can go into town in the same outfit I slept in and no one would even notice and if they did notice they’d say, “Good for you.”

Because we have old fashioned streetlights with hanging flower baskets on them, an ice cream parlor, a toy store, a hardware store, and a brewery (and a whole lot of other cool locally owned stores and restaurants).

Because when you go to the Post Office, people ask you about your kids by name.

Because the health food store owners know more about my digestive tract than I do.  And they hold my babies when we load the car.  (I love you Rick and Dawn.)

Because we have a Winter Carnival where grown-ups dress up like Vikings and Yetis and Queens and Kings and ride floats and jump into a frozen lake.  And lots of people come to watch and think it’s fun.

Because it doesn’t matter how much money you have.  And nobody really cares, if they do know.

Because we’re all the same in a snow storm.

Because we’re all the same in a forest fire.

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Because we’re all the same when there’s a grizzly bear or a mountain lion on the trail.

Because the Great Northern Railroad comes right through town and I can feel connected to my hometown Chicago, and another favorite old haunt, Seattle.

Because Glacier National Park is on a lot of people’s bucket list and for us, it’s an easy answer to the question, “So what do you want to do today?”

Because we believe in our wandering rights and have 26 miles of non-motorized trail meandering through our greenbelt, with more to come. (The Whitefish Trail)

Because we have lakes and rivers all around us.

Because it serves up things to write about daily.

Because we have a Farmer’s Market that everybody goes to, even if it’s hailing.

Because people care about the Arts here, (not just about skiing and golfing).

Because on school field trips, my kids go snow-shoeing, ice-fishing, and skiing.

Because they broadcast the local high school football game at the grocery store.

Because people read the local paper.  That’s all we’ve got, anyway.

Because at Christmas-time, we string the same vintage bells across the street as they used in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Is that ten reasons?  I need to drive my kid to school in my pajamas now.  Oh, and I need eggs.  But maybe I’ll just get those from the neighbor’s chickens.

See more about Whitefish, Montana

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Thank God!

Retreat in Big Sky Beauty!  Haven Writing Retreats

June 19th-23rd (Full)
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I’ve noticed something lately that I wish I’d noticed a long time ago.  Maybe if I’d been listening in church as a kid I would have learned it then, but I was too starry eyed– staring at the blues in the stained glass, dreaming about all the things there were to dream about.  That’s what church was for me:  a time to dream.  And believe.  And feel tucked into community between my loving mother and father, to harmonize on good old fashioned hymns, and to take the Holy Eucharist and really believe I was having a feast with my other loving parent:  The Big Guy.  Who somehow could make himself small too, wafer and wine-sized that fit into the cup of my soft little girl fingers.  I was always so thankful for that.  It was the thing that stood out for me Sunday after Sunday:  God could be bigger than the night sky, and small enough to rest on my tongue and be swallowed down with sweet communion wine.  I learned to be grateful because of the Holy Eucharist.

Somewhere along the line, I started expecting things to happen.  And I lost much of my gratitude.  I guess they call that entitlement.  It’s a highly unattractive quality, and one to skip at all costs if you can.  I started to get easily angered when the smallest hardships would happen.  Not the big things– those I took in slowly; piece meal.  I had faith that the Big Guy would handle that stuff.  I just had to pray for grace and for God’s “will” to be done.  That was what my sister, mother, and grandmothers told me, and I listened.  It was a much easier prayer than, “Gimme gimme gimme.”  But the small things…were another ball of wax.  I’d stub my toe and fling the F word.  I’d lose my place in line and want to make “a federal case” about it, bringing in words like “justice” and “fairness” and “wrong.”

Maybe it was because my parents had been brought up during the Depression and wanted my life to be light and blithe, but I don’t remember being taught the lesson that life is not fair.  There is no such thing as “fair.”  And if you think there is, you will suffer.  When people were mean to the little guy, I’d barge in and try to come to their rescue.  Or at least sit with them at lunch if I didn’t feel so brave.  When a kid would cheat in class and get an A to my B (especially when they cheated off of ME), I would fume in my diary, and fume in the school halls, and fume in general.  Sometimes I’d take it out on my Bichon Frise during our obligatory after-school walk around the block.  I’d tie him to a tree, and climb it and hide from the world.

Somewhere in the mix, my very best friends’ lost a sister and a father to cancer, and I realized that the safety I felt standing between my mother and father at church was not the rule.  It was the exception.  I was mad at the world.  Life wasn’t fair.  I did not feel grateful at all.  I felt duped.  The Communion wafer only worked in church.  So that meant…I was mad at God.

I brought my anger to a teacher in high school.  He said, “Well if you’re angry with God, that means you believe in Him.”  That really pissed me off.  I didn’t want to believe in a Creator who would be unfair.  And I took a long break from the whole mess.  I was mad at God, period.

I travelled around, studied other religions and spiritual texts, asked a lot of questions, and started writing books as a way to sort things through.  And somewhere after the birth of my first child, when everything was so pure and full of wonder and mystery and total surrender, gazing into the miracle of birth and new life, I realized…I wasn’t really mad at God.  I was mad at institutions:  school, family, church, society.  I felt like I’d been lied to.  Things didn’t all add up if you showed up a certain way in life.  They just didn’t.  There are no promises, no matter how good of a person you are, or how bad of a person you are.  Life happens.  Life is daily.  And life is painful.  And beautiful too.

And the only thing that made any sense at all was something that glimmered and winked at me from my past.  The Love message.  The Final Commandment.  So I took it and ran.  I wanted to forget about unfairness and suffering.  I just wanted to know what it was to live that final commandment.  I wanted to Love God, and my Neighbor, and maybe even in-so-doing…I’d learn that last little piece:  I’d learn to love Myself.

By and by, I had another child, and both of them grew, and I started to see them raging against a stubbed toe, or a mean girl comment to the underdog, or an injustice in the classroom, or a bad call on the soccer field,  or any number of “unfair” things life dished up.  And I sat them down and said, “I wish I’d have learned this a long time ago:  Life is neither fair.  Nor unfair.  Life is just life.”

They looked at me like I was an anarchist.  And maybe living into the Final Commandment renders a person just that.

“Stop expecting things to go a certain way.  Just love.  Be love.  Forgive.  And love some more,”  I said with the fervor of an Evangelical.  Maybe not the best way to sell a teen on something.

It fell flat.  In a kid’s mind, there’s no muscle in that way of thinking.  Because school teaches us that life is structured and the structure keeps us safe.  We get rewarded for certain behavior, and punished for others.  If we work hard, there are rewards.  If we look the part, we will be rewarded.  If we have certain types of friends and excel at certain types of activities, we are rewarded.  There is no Worst Student award.  There is no So You Had a Bad Year award.  There is no You Sat on the Bench award.  There is no You Eat Lunch Alone award.  You Didn’t Get Into Any of the Colleges You Applied To and Yer Going to the Community College award.  And yeah.  That sucks.  And the very best mothers, and teachers, and aunties will tell you:  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

But I want to teach something different.  I want to say that there aren’t lemons and there isn’t lemonade.  It’s all in your perspective.  That’s all.  For that I can breathe deep.  Feels good, doesn’t it.

So what does that look like in daily life?  Here’s how it played out last week and why I’m driven to write this post this Saturday morning in Montana, with the kids still asleep and no one rushing yet to get anywhere, on time, in uniform, to perform, to “battle,” to win…  Even when I say that it’s not about winning.  They hear Blah blah blah.  For now they are just quiet, and breathing, and warm in their beds and I’m on my second cup of tea, in my pajamas, with nowhere to go.  These are the moments to really receive what the week may have taught in the way of lessons.  And I got served up a good one.

I was having lunch with a friend and she was telling me about her divorce settlement.  She’d just finished her last mediation and she said it was the bravest she’d ever been.  They didn’t have the money to hire lawyers, so they negotiated the Parenting Plan, and all the division of assets, including the house, stock, back taxes…all of it…without any real legal counsel.  Just the mediator making sure they didn’t decapitate one another in the process, making minor suggestions based on who was crossing their arms in front of them and sneering.  “It was terrifying,” she said.  “But I got everything I wanted.  With the exception of my marriage.  But I guess that’s been over a long time.  It’s like a death, though.  You have to grieve.  You can’t skip steps.”  She sighed.  “But I think I came out okay in the settlement.  The mediator seemed to think so, anyway.  And my mother.”

“Thank God,” I caught myself saying.

She looked up at me with a sharpness in her exhausted, cried-out eyes.   “You know…why do we only thank God when things work out the way we want them to?  You know what I’ve learned in this whole divorce experience– watching my kids lose their core family, watching them have to accept another woman into their lives, watching them feel embarrassed in front of their friends, watching the break down of what was for years such a strong foundation…like trying to hold water.  Impossible.  You know what I’ve learned watching that water drain through my fingers no matter what I do to be a better vessel?  We don’t learn from the good times.  I didn’t learn anything from nice vacations to the tropics or years of perfect Christmas card photographs, or theme birthday parties all recorded for posterity’s sake to show what?  That we had something precious and beautiful and powerful and unshakeable?  No.  It didn’t end that way.  And what does that mean?  That we’re all fucked now?  That nothing from the past was real?  And that nothing in the future matters because the water fell through our hands and we couldn’t do a damn thing about it?  No.  No.  No.”

Her face was red and her breath shallow and I wanted to hug her, but I was sort of scared of her.  I’d never seen her so strong and present.  So I just sat there, waiting.  I knew I was about to learn something big if only I had my mind open and my heart wide.

“I’ve learned that the best Thank God we can utter is when things DON’T go the way we want them to.  When life serves up total and utter SHIT!  That’s the time to drop to our knees and say, Thank you, Lord.  Thank you.  Because that’s where the lessons are.  That’s when we grow.  That’s when we can really understand what it is to love in its most pure and simple way.”

I could feel myself resisting it.  Why don’t we want this to be true?  What are we so scared of?  I remembered the last night’s sunset and how it yielded to star after star popping into sight like, “hey– I was here the whole time, you just couldn’t see me.  Maybe you could remember a thing or two about holy mystery and all that dreaming at church you used to do.”  I had felt gratitude that night sitting there, parked by the meadow, watching night come.  But being grateful for divorce?  Or cancer?  Or death?  That takes a master.  Doesn’t it?

I gave it a whirl.  All week when things came up that I didn’t like or that felt uncomfortable or dangerous or just all wrong…I mouthed, “Thank God.”  When the toilet, dishwasher, and hot tub all broke in the same day, I mouthed, through clenched teeth, but still:   “Thank God.”  When I found a pack rat nest under the hood of my truck and black smoke billowed through the tail pipe, I screamed, “Thank God,” but it kind of sounded like a swear word.  Still.  When my kid threw up at school, I said, “Thank God,” and stocked up on chicken broth.  When I tried to release a mouse into my yard rather than snapping its neck with a conventional trap, and my dog attacked it…I whispered…”Thank God,” but with a question mark.  I decided there is no right Thank God.  It’s just an openness to the flow of life being exactly as it is, and even exactly as it should be, if you believe in should.  Or design.  But even if you don’t, gratitude busts through suffering, and I think we could all use a dose of that.

I’ve decided to try to get back to that little girl in church who didn’t necessarily need things to go a certain way.  In those days,  I had the safety of my mother and father and this Creator called God that the minister promised existed and on top of that, loved me.  That was all I needed.  That kind of blind faith is what I want back.  I don’t know who or what God is.  I’ve had hundreds of ideas about this subject for years.  When I was little I used to say, “But who is God’s God?”  I don’t want to have questions like that any more.  I like the mystery.  I often say to my kids, “If we’re supposed to know, we would.  Just receive the message.  Just love.  That’s hard enough.”

But does it have to be so hard?  I think the way to it being easy is in the spirit of what my friend taught me this week.  If we can find gratitude for EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING, and receive it as a holy gift…well, I dare say, with tears in my eyes and the tea kettle telling me there’s a third cup for me this fine Montana morning…that holy gift is the gift of freedom.  May you have thanks for everything that makes up this day.  And may you feel free in it.

 

 

 

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #13

The bare bones of the blank page. The architecture of story. Apparently the muse decided to go on Spring Break today.

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.

 

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Lost in Translation?

A lot of things have been blessings in disguise from this journey of book, but one of the greatest ones has been knowing that my words are reaching people all over world.  Wow.  Wow.  The UK has been amazing. So have been the Auzzies and Germans. Thank you.

Hearing from a blind woman in Israel who tells me that my book helped her through the greatest loss of her life and that is the death of her seeing eye dog to cancer.  This is the power of story.  To know that my words, written here in my small room in Montana, are being translated around the globe:  well that is just hitting me.  And it’s hitting me hard.  Today I got my words in Chinese. 
And recently in German. Soon in Dutch, Italian, and in Taiwanese.
Universal truth is universal truth.  It crosses oceans and countries and cultures.  Thank you.

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

For Mother’s Day

For all the mothers out there, this is for you, but especially for mine.

From my Huffington Post blog

My mother always says, “Once a mother, always a mother.”

Growing up, I never really liked the sound of that.   I thought it was sort of Bates Motel.  What would I want with a mother breathing down my neck when I was an adult?  Telling me what she thought about my hair or my outfit.  Giving me unsolicited advice about my relationships or my scruples or my religious orientation or my politics.  Staying up until I got home at night and yawning the next day from worry and lack of sleep.  It sounded like trouble.  Wasn’t adulthood all about freedom, after all?

Her own mother used to take me aside and say, at age ninety, “I’m worried about your mother.  She works too hard.”  I’d stare at her in total confusion.  How was it possible for someone to worry about my mother?  She was the one who did the worrying in the family.  We were used to it.  Having someone trumping her worry felt…awkward.  Sort of pornographic or something.  I didn’t like to think of my mother as naked as that.  Vulnerable.  Human.  I didn’t like to think about her as anyone’s little girl.

What I didn’t realize was that my mother’s worry made me feel safe.  It gave me the confidence to be thankless for having a doting mother in the first place.  It allowed me to be reckless with that relationship.  I had a friend whose mother didn’t seem to worry too much about her and I loved the way it looked from the outside.  She got to have unchaperoned girl/boy parties.  She got a car when she was sixteen.  She got left alone.  I wanted to be left alone, not dragged to church and made to be a lay reader.  The mothers of lay readers were dorks.  I was so not a dork.

“I’m praying for you,” I’d hear over and over through the years.  Those words stung.  They felt condescending.  Like I was some fallen angel who needed help with her wings and my mother was some sort of mystical seamstress.  I could sew my own wings thankyouverymuch.

“Call me when you get there,” she’d say all through my childhood and into my adulthood.  I’d roll my eyes, but still, I’d call.  Whether or not I’d admit it, it felt nice to have someone keeping track.  Especially as my wings expanded more and more and took me farther and farther away.  Secretly, I liked knowing there was someone out there paying attention.  But there came a time when I stopped calling my mother when I “got there,” wherever there was.  It seemed juvenile.  Co-dependent.  Not that much different from when I’d stopped telling her that I’d had a bowel movement.  I remember that exact second as I got ready to scream it across the house in my usual fashion.  Why did she have to know this piece of information?  Gross.  I knew my way around prune juice should I need it.  That was my business.  Just like arriving safely from a trip.  She didn’t need to know my every “move.”

You can see where this is going, can’t you.  Yep, you guessed it.  Now…I’m a mother.  And now I’m praying for my children.  And now I worry about their regularity and whether they got “there” safely.  And now I need a mother worrying about me worrying about my children.  Because the truth is…no one cares about you quite like your mother.  I’ve spent the last few years traveling for business and I never know exactly where I am when I wake up.  But my mother does.  “I’ve been following you on Facebook,” she’ll say.  “I’m sorry about the pillows at the hotel in Pittsburgh.”  Which is her way of saying, Could you please send me your itinerary.  I worry.  But still, until recently, I resisted.  I resisted my way all through canceled airplanes and seven hour layovers, ten events in twelve days and 4:00 wake up calls and so many strangers and so few hours with my husband and children…until I just wanted to break a little.  Come apart and cry and rest my head on an understanding lap.  But I’m a grown up.  Grown ups don’t cry because they’re tired and miss their pillow.  Grown ups have big important work to do on airplanes with laptops and Blackberries and printed out Mapquest directions and self-important roller-bags.  They don’t need their mommies.

“I was on the phone with the airlines all day yesterday tracking your flights.  I can’t believe they re-routed you to Detroit.  Thank God you weren’t in the tornadoes.  I wish you’d send me your itinerary so I could know your exact flight information.” 

You hedge.  This is not her burden to bear.  You are a grown up, damnit.

“You must be exhausted, darling.”  And deep, old tears well up.  You are exhausted.  And you think:  are my husband and children tracking my air travel debacles?  And you say, “Actually, I’d love to send you my itinerary, Mom.  Thanks for keeping track.  It means a lot.”

You’ll admit it here:  it feels good knowing that someone is praying for you.  It feels good that wherever you are, there is a person paying attention.  Braving 800 numbers.  Making it their job to know that you “got there safely,” even if they stay up late and yawn all the next day.  You’ll be the same way with your children, even when they’re adults and have kids of their own.  Because you know now for sure:  once a mother, always a mother.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  Thank you for caring.

From my Huffington Post blog

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Filed under Motherhood, My Posts