Tag Archives: letting go

When Doing Our Best Feels Like Failure…

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For those of you who feel like your best falls short sometimes…here’s some permission to GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!  (special permission for mothers of college bound seniors, in the throes of athletic recruitment!)

“Mom.  I’ve decided that I want to play baseball in college.  It’s my dream.”

This came out of my rising senior son’s mouth, early this summer, after his first few games with his new Legion baseball team.  This was not the plan.

I am a planner ahead-er.  Especially when it comes to my children.  So throughout my son’s high school career, I’ve gently teased out ideas of what college might look like for him.  What his dream would be.  The long and short of it was this:  A big school with great sports teams, near a city, with a lot of diversity and opportunity, and a strong Business School.  We knew he wasn’t D1 baseball material, and so playing ball at a large university wasn’t really on the map, even though I know how much he’s loved the game, all the way back to T-ball, buck teeth, and a scrappy little mop of blonde hair.

It was time for him to spread his wings and see what else there was out there to love.  Plus, he’s been raised in a small mountain community in NW Montana, unlike the Chicago of my youth, and the New York city of his father’s.  We were excited for him to start playing the field of life, not just the field of and around the baseball diamond.

“Just think—you’ll have a regular spring, for once.  You’ll have extra time to be able to expand academically into new terrain, and enjoy what college life has to offer.”  He seemed copacetic.  Relieved almost.  And frankly, it was a relief for me too– I’ve logged a lot of hours on those baseball bleachers, and he’s logged a lot of hours on that diamond and in those dug-outs.  It would be a good step for us all.  Because how could I pass up being in those bleachers as much as possible, even if it meant a long road trip.  Heck, in Montana, we’re used to those—all for the love of ball.  I was privately happy to put it in the rearview mirror.13325635_10153431308556266_4887280178150671123_n

And then that day in June…  “Mom, I love this sport.  I love the kids who play this sport.  I’m good at it.  I want to play in college.  I don’t care if I don’t have as much of a social life.  My team will be my social life.  I don’t care if it’s not some big university near a city.  I’ll play D3.  I just want to play baseball.”  Out of the mouths of not-so-babes.

I’m a mother.  Far be it from me to stand in the way of my child’s dreams.  And what he said was all true.  He’s a talented leftie pitcher, and a great first-baseman, and a spirited team member.  He never ever complains about any of it.  He takes it as the Hero’s Journey that baseball is:  The call to leave home, go out in the world, and come back, more the wise, despite some scrapes and losses along the way.  As of this June, he just wants “to play baseball.”  I remembered a seventeen-year old girl who just wanted “to be an artist.”  So I Googled D3 baseball colleges:  Small.  Liberal Arts.  No Business major.  Mostly rural.  And very…very expensive.  Plus, they don’t offer athletic scholarships.  Huh.

I quickly learned that on top of it all, the kids who get recruited for D3 sports, have been going to recruitment camps for years.  They’re on the coaches’ radars.  They know all about scholarships and are in touch with Financial Aid departments.  They have their lists in place and have toured campuses.  They’ve met with Admissions people.  Just when, I’m not sure.  Surely not in the summer.  They’re the Boys of Summer– they’re playing baseball every second of every day—eighty-eight games!  And if they play other sports, not then either.  AND, the cherry on top of the top:  it all has to be done Early Decision or Early Action…by…drum roll:  November 1st!  That’s in a matter of months!  And the cherry atop the cherry on top:  my son is the quarterback of the football team.  Just when are we supposed to visit campuses?  If he misses a practice, he misses the Friday game.  How does one fly from Montana to Pennsylvania, and upstate New York, and Ohio, and Minnesota, and Oregon, have a proper visit during the school week, and make everybody happy?  Never mind pay for it all?

We were late to the party.  Very late.

This is not my style.  Usually…I’m throwing the dang party.  How could this have happened?  How could I not have at least seen the potential of this coming our way and had a back-up plan in place?  How could I make my son proud, and make it through this without guilt, shame, the feeling of less-than, the feeling of failing him?  I hadn’t been able to save the marriage from ending, or keep his father from moving thousands of miles away, or his friends from moving, or his sister from taking an internship far from home this summer.  I hadn’t been able to provide a house full of action and fun like it used to be.  In fact, in the last five years, I’ve been working all the time.  Leaving him home alone.  Leaving him to cook his meals and fend for himself– the opposite of what I would ever have opted for as the mother to my son.  I was not going to fail him this time.  No way.

And so it began.  The baptism-by-fire SAT sign up and tutoring, the college essay boot camp, the virtual college advisor meetings, the recruitment videos and the camps in Long Island and Oregon, the Common Application.  I’ll save you the stress of it all, and me the blood-pressure spike, but suffice it to say that on top of my full-time job leading writing retreats in Montana, and a book deadline for a novel I’ve been working on for a few years, as a single mother, I was now scrambling to put together a schedule that would be do-able.  For all of us.  Not perfect.  But possible.  And all before November 1st.  Deep breath. 13450882_10153462757811266_6947302589785351012_n

But the breathing is shallow at best.

I am smack dab in the throes of it right now.  And here’s what I’ve learned:  You can’t be perfect.  Even with the best of intentions, as a mother…you’re just going to fall short sometimes.  Even with your heart and soul and mind as sharp and on it as possible, there are times as a mother of a college-bound child when you are going to look around and say, How did I get here?  I didn’t mean for this to happen.  I was trying so hard.  I was doing my best.  And my best…well, it just isn’t good enough.  And you’ll look around at the other mothers, and somehow, they are at the party that you didn’t even know existed.  They are seasoned party-goers, with gracious hostess gifts, and the perfect, in this case, little red-white-and-blue jersey, and ball cap, with the proverbial stadium seat sporting their son’s soon-to-be alma mater’s mascot.

And you’ll feel small, or wrong, or just plain bad.  And you’ll find yourself crying in bed in the early hours, or lying in the dark with heart palpitations, and the feeling of true hopelessness, desperation even.  You were the one that dropped him off on his first day at Montessori with a backpack full of black-eyed Susans for his teacher, with a loving note.  You were the one who lay in bed with him every night reading him Ferdinand, and Mike Mulligan, and Dr. Seuss, who sang him Lullaby, and played This Little Piggy, and taught him how to make homemade ice cream.  You were the one who drove over mountain passes for any number of baseball and football games—and that one time when he missed the bus, and you drove six hours to drop him off at camp, and turned around and drove six hours back.  You were that mother, yes you were.  You promised him you’d give him the very best of you.  And here you are failing him in his, to date, biggest opportunity, his biggest dream.  Because…what if he doesn’t get that scholarship money, and what if you can’t swing it to get him to more than three of those schools so he doesn’t even know where he wants to apply early, and what if what if what if…well, what if his “dream” doesn’t come true?

I know the answer.  He’ll be okay.  We will all be okay.  First world problems.  But still…this is one of the last things we can do for our kids—shepherd them into their next chapter, and the first one far from home.  We’ll see what happens in November.  We’ll see if he’ll get that golden ticket, and he’ll open that letter and smile, and nod, and fold into my arms in happiness and relief.  We’ll see if we get that moment of, “We did this.  This dream is going to come true!”  But even if we don’t, I have to believe that regrets are never really teaching tools.  We will always fall short somehow.  We’re mothers.  There is no A+.  There is only the very best we can do.  Even if we are late to the party.  Especially…if we are late to the party.  Because here’s the bottom line:  There is no party.  It’s really, in the end, just the Hero’s Journey, after all.

If you would like to take a break in 2017 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! Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

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(previously published in Grown and Flown)

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Particulate Matter– a Lesson in Surrender

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I forgot about this essay until the smoke from the fires burning around the West put me on a kind of house arrest this week.  All the windows were closed, every fan was on, and I longed for the fresh Montana air that I so love.  It reminded me of a perilous fire season in the early 2000′s and I searched through my files until I found this essay.  The baby in it is now a senior in high school, the five year old, a senior in college.  It was in the early days of my motherhood and I felt raw and scared and protective.  There were forest fires raging close to our beloved Montana home, and I was beside myself with the feeling of helplessness.  I was still mostly a city transplant.  I wasn’t completely resigned to what I now accept as the natural order of things in the wilderness.  Thankfully, the man-made structures in our valley escaped destruction that summer.  And thankfully, back here in 2017, the smoke cleared out with last night’s cool winds, the windows are open, and the air is fresh.  We can all breathe deeply again.  Reading this essay brings me back to a time when anything was possible, good or bad, and I was new in the field of surrender. Seventeen years later, I am glad I know that to be in the “flow” is simply to know that there is a “flow” in the first place.  Enjoy!  

Particulate Matter   by Laura Munson  This essay is dedicated to anyone who has lost their home or business to forest fire this summer.  Or whose property is still in peril.  It was originally published in the Mars Hill Review.

Montana is burning, again.  Outside is a slur of orange and floating ash that looks like we are living on the set of a Sci-fi B-movie from the Sixties.  The green grocer says it looks like a Jehovah’s Witness church marquee come true:  the world is ending.  The world is ending and all the Hippies are walking around wearing gas masks as if they will be the chosen race.  The farmers are harvesting their alfalfa crops, lungs and all.  I guess they figure they will meet their maker first.  To me it looks like life inside an old sepia-toned photograph with no one smiling except the baby.

My baby doesn’t know not to smile either.  He is ten weeks old—as old as the fires that burn in Lolo, Werner Peak, Moose Mountain, Big Creek near Glacier National Park and on and on.  One fire burns one thousand acres and counting, just eleven miles away from our house.  Another burns 14,166 acres, northwest of a town called Wisdom.  I close the newspaper and hold my baby tight.  Please God, don’t let our valley burn.download

AM radio has political pundits spouting off against environmentalists—mad that forests have not been thinned in the name of owls and small rodents, their threatened extinction a small price to have paid in exchange for the dozens of houses that burned in last summer’s fires, and the 900 houses state-wide that wait, evacuated, their denizens on cots in high school gymnasiums.  Others think it’s Conspiracy Theory—that the feds are not fighting the fire with the man-power they could in the interest of turning a profit on salvage logging in land otherwise protected as endangered habitat.  Some say the firefighters are heroes.  Some say they are “money-grubbing opportunists” in an impossible war.  Some say that they should let the fires burn—that the only thing that will stop blazes of this magnitude is snow or days and days of heavy rain, and that the millions of dollars being spent on fire lines and air attack is not only a waste of money, but a serious threat to watersheds, and renders the forest less resilient to fire in the end.  Old timers I know who have seen fires rip through this valley before just lift their eyes unto the hills and nod the way you might if Ghandi was your commencement speaker—Ghandi, the same man who said, “Suffering is the badge of the human race.”  My baby sucks and rests and searches for his thumb and actually says “Goo.”

I find myself walking around the kitchen with a fly swatter, taking care of tiny black fates– things I can control.  And I find refuge there.  I can’t see the flames, but I see on the news that in one day the local fire– the Moose fire– has expanded from 4,700 acres to 14,000 acres, with one flame front running four miles in four hours, another cruising three-quarters of a mile in less than twelve minutes.  Even if I could see the flames, my garden hose is short.  I go out to my smoky garden and spend an hour watering a thirty-foot long by six-foot wide perennial bed, and two pots of tomatoes.  I put my faith in my still-green tomatoes.  I have to.  I cannot afford to sap my faith in tomatoes with my fear of fire.  They say they could rage until the October cool-down and it is only August.  They say that fires this big have minds of their own.images (5)

There is skittish solace in the mundane things that need to happen whether our twenty acres of Big Sky are consumed in flames or not.  The baby needs to be fed.  The toilet paper roll replaced.  The dishes washed.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwich assembled for the five year old who will play hopscotch at summer camp today, unimpressed with the ratio of particulate matter to breathable air.  I try to ignore the hot wind that bends the cat tails in the marsh behind our house that in two months has gone from canoe-able pond with mating frogs and foraging Sandhill cranes and resting loons, to a dry, cracked vestige of grasshoppers and confused snails.  I try to ignore the fire bombers that drone overhead back and forth all day, driven by what I must deem as “heroes” in a war that we can only imagine.

I hold my baby and smell his head and think of all of us, living in the mundane despite the magnitude of mortality and belief and fear and faith.  I think of the tiny things that weave us together that we don’t think to talk about, but that engage the moral majority of our minutes here on earth.  Buttons, cups of coffee, socks and shoes.  And I want to cling to these things.  I want to dwell in the community of controllable things.  And instead of feeling their burden, I want to find the blessing there.  Not just because I am scared of fire.  Not just because I look into my baby’s eyes and wonder if our future will be long together, come fire or disease or what may.  But because the flames I cannot see remind me to love what I can love.  Or at the very least, to take the funnel clouds they leave in their skyward wake—sometimes climbing 40,000 feet– as part of the mystery that implores me to be content with my little place on earth.  My humanity.  My chores.  My grocery list.  But the smoke…the unseen flames…must I love them too?  Jim Harrison writes in his Cabin Poem:  I’ve decided to make up my mind/ about nothing, to assume the water mask,/ to finish my life disguised as a creek,/ an eddy, joining at night the full,/ sweet flow, to absorb the sky,/ to swallow the heat and cold, the moon/ and the stars, to swallow myself/ in ceaseless flow.

I struggle with this flow.  I struggle with my community of seens and unseens.
images (4)Outside the wind picks up; it feels gratuitous.  Sinister.  I drop my garden hose, short as it is, and return to the cool, stale-aired house, windows shut tight for weeks now.  I pace like a caged cat, peering out the windows at the pitching and heaving lodge pole pines.  Lodge poles need the high heat of forest fire in order for their cones to drop their seeds.  If the lodge poles could pray, they would be praying for this exact wind.  Am I to accept our destruction for the sake of lodge poles?  Am I any kind of environmentalist—any kind of faithful servant of the Creator, or steward of Creation, if this is my prayer:  Please God, make the wind stop?  Am I to be bound only to the mundane by my faith?  And accept the rest as Higher Order?  The Natural Order of Things?  My own fate therein?  I am a twentieth century woman:  isn’t there something They can do about this?  Some button to push…some button to un-push?

You see, somewhere in this “flow,” I am a mother; it is my instinct to protect.  I know that for me to attempt to fight the fire is fruitless.  What is my fight, then?  My meditation?  My prayer?  Can I be like Arjuna the warrior and fight, as the Hindu God Vishnu instructs, without thoughts of “fruits,” “with spirit unattached?”  Can I find Vishnu’s “meditation centered inwardly and seeking no profit…fight?”  Is my fight to be simply in the preservation of the tiny things that have been proven win-able in the ten digits of my human hands?  Sure Job had to give it all up, but must we all?  Must we at least be willing?  I scrub, I brush, I boil and bake—little strokes of faith—little battles won.  But I am not serene.  I am not surrendered.

I struggle with surrender.

The writer Annie Dillard in her Teaching a Stone to Talk finds God in a rock.  Is my Creator one who puts a rock, a lodge pole, before me?  Before my children?  Before this bounteous 20 acres of Montana in which we play and work and garden and grieve and pray and find home?  What kind of dirty trick is this that we are to love our place on earth—nurture it with all our might, but be willing to give it all up at the same time?  Wendell Berry in his Mad Farmer’s Manifesto says, “take all that you have and be poor.”  I don’t want to be poor spiritually or otherwise, if it means my land—the place where my children fly kites and catch frogs, where my husband and I have conceived our children, seen our first Northern Lights, built a Mountain Bluebird nesting house that the same bluebird returns to every year and whom my daughter has named, Hello Friend—if all this is to be reduced to char.images (2)

The apostle Paul says, “…we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  I am groaning.  But I have words.  I want rain.  I want windlessness.  I want.  I want.  I want.  Perhaps it is this wanting that the Spirit translates to the Divine.  The Buddhist tradition says that we will not experience release from our suffering as long as we have desires.  So am I a complete spiritual flunky if I admit that I feel deep desire to preserve my place here on earth– that I feel an entitlement to my place?  Just how much should we grin and bear?  Or groan and bear?  What can we pray for and remain faithful?

I realize that there are no finite answers to these questions.  But it helps to know that I am not alone in them.  Tell me then, Humanity, that I can pray for the wind to stop, and then after that…in my utter befuddlement, pray to the sweet and ruthless flow of Creation not only for tomatoes to grow in my pots, but for excellent tomatoes to grow in my pots!  Tell me that the Creator is both Lord of wind and tiny things.  And that we are not to be limited in the extent of our wants—our fears, our passion plays.  Please, I beseech you, Humanity, do not tell me that I am entitled only to my sense of faith and my sense of love but not to a loved thing on earth—destined to accept the burning of my house, or say, disease in my child, as if the wind is more necessary than a child.  The wind is created.  The trees are created.  A child is created.  My house is created.  Tomatoes are created.  My daily schedule of car pools and play dates and meals and laundry are created.  Is there a hierarchy to the importance of created things?  Am I at least as dear to the Creator as a lodge pole pine?  Tell me that there is a prayer for all of us.  Because all of us, on some level, matter.

My five-year old daughter comes in to show me that her first tooth has come out.  If I am to surrender to forest fire, tell me, oh Creator, oh Humanity, that this tooth matters.  I hold the tooth in my palm and smile at her and she obliterates me with three fell swoops:  “I wonder if God likes the fire.  I wonder if the fire likes itself.  I’m going to go outside to play now.”  Maybe surrender is not a letting go, but an acceptance.

A going in, even.

images (3)Tell me then, oh time-travelers in this wondrous and heartbreaking “flow,” that not only does the mundane matter, but that it is holy.  Tell me that we are in this holy pickle together—that in your ultimate helplessness on this planet, you cling to what you can help.  That you too contemplate the advantages of brushing your teeth before or after coffee, almost daily.  Before or after orange juice.  Before or after sex.  Tell me that you too keep the buttons that come in a tiny envelope, safety-pinned to your fine garments but with absolutely no intention of ever using them.  Tell me that sometimes you notice that you incorporate the use of your forehead when you are folding towels.  And that in that instant, you laugh out loud.  Tell me that you laugh out loud.  I want to know that we are both laughing.  From Peoria, Illinois, to burning Montana, to Massachusetts two hundred years ago.  It is the echo of that laughter which will save me at three in the morning, breast-feeding my boy, watching lighting striking, slicing through the smoky night.  And prayer, I suppose.  But after prayer, it is the echo of humanity, not God, I am waiting for.  I want to know that I am not the only one pacing alone in my “smoky house.”

Tell me all this, and then tell me that the Creator, to whom time must certainly not be a linear stretch as it is to we mere mortal peons, must on some level restrict himself/herself/itself enough to the created hill-of-beans of my mind, and find mercy.  Tell me that the execution of these tiny things are our greatest acts of faith.  Because they are our fight.  Our meditations.  Our prayers.  Prayers to the moment.  Prayers to our futures.  Prayers without ceasing.

Most of all, tell me that our Creator loves us for the fears we have that lead us to the clingy worship of tiny things in the first place.  Tell me that you believe the Creator gives us the minutia to help us deal with the Everything Else—to find our connection to the rest of Creation.  That the Creator designed us to need the community of tiny things.  Tell me that the Creator invites all of it, like a parent does a child’s wants for bubble gum in one breath, and the cure for cancer in the next.  And that we can both pray for the wind to stop and for the rains to come.  And the fires to end.  And our children’s lives to be long.  And then in the next breath…the next groan…pray for plump, juicy, hose-fed, sun-kissed tomatoes every summer, smoky or not.images (1)

—2000, Laura Munson, Montana

Note:  If you are travelling to Montana this summer or fall, please enjoy our beautiful wilderness which is full of smoke-free and wide open roads and trails, valleys, rivers, and lakes!   

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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Letting Go of Your Stuff: the Closet Cleanse

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Okay.  I’ll admit it.  I cling to things.  I’ve been working on it.  Hard.  And I’ve gotten pretty good at letting go.  Of places…and in some cases, of people.  That’s the hardest one.  I’ll leave it at that for now.  But for some reason, the stuff you’d think would be the easiest to let go of…is for me, the hardest.  And that’s:  old clothes.

Maybe it’s because they can hang in a closet, or lie in a box in an eave, unopened for years.  They don’t require attention or interaction.  And they don’t leave unless I make them leave.  Maybe I keep the small stuff in my life because when I’m lying in bed working with letting go of the big stuff, I can at least believe in the lie that those silly things in those closets and boxes are still there to save me a little…should I really need it…one difficult day.  Like today.

Because what does a full closet of old clothes mean?  Resourcefulness?  Gratitude?  Personal history?  And what would an empty closet, an empty box, say about my life?  Who would I be without the proof of an old wardrobe of the people I’ve been on this planet?  Would I be such an empty shell?

Of course not.  And I know damn well what fills a human soul.  It ain’t clothes, that’s for sure.  I know this.  And yet…I mean my Guess skinny jeans from the 80s?  My Police Synchronicity tour sleeveless T-shirt?  Jeez.  Get over it, girlfriend.  Sure, a baptism gown or a wedding dress—that’s one thing.  (And let’s not even get into the clothes I kept from my father’s drawers and closets after he died.  I can’t even unpack those suitcases.  That requires nerve I just…don’t…have yet.)  But my wrap-around corduroy skirt with the emerald green whales on it?  My old argyle knee socks?  Come on.clothesdrive_imgerotat

I respect those people who go through their closets every season, and are honest with themselves.  Haven’t worn that in two months.  Too fat for that.  Too skinny for that (like that ever happens, but I’m just saying…it could).  Sayonara.

I’m the child of Depression era parents.  I think in terms of darned socks and three minute phone calls.  I think of Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors that her mama gave to her.  Made up of the fabric of old clothes.  The fabric of old life.  When I’m giving myself a break for such hoarderly qualities, I say:  it’s because I love story.  Those clothes, that fabric– the stories they could tell.  But isn’t my brain the ultimate container for those stories?  And my journals?  And the people I love who lived through those times too?  So why do I need a Laura Ashley dress circa 1980?  My old Frye boots, the first time they were in vogue—70s style.  My kilts and Fair Isle sweaters from my impossibly preppy days.  My wedding shoes that no longer fit me because somehow my feet and ears are still growing, just like they say of old men.  My hippie skirts and even that tweed Ann Taylor suit with the shoulder pads and big wool covered buttons that I wore to all my temp jobs while I was writing my first novel in Boston.clothesdrive_imgerotat

And let’s remember that these aren’t just old clothes hanging in my childhood bedroom in a suburb of Chicago.  My parents got rid of their home of 45 years long ago.  No, I opted to pack these items into boxes.  I opted to have them shipped to Montana.  To not just one house, but to the next house we moved into—this one.  I have worked hard to preserve this legacy of old beloved materialistic crap.

Yesterday, a kind voice, not prone to bullying as I’ve procured the voices in my head to be now in my 50s, told me:  Laura, it’s time.

I dreaded it.  It took all day and a string of daytime talk shows all the way through Martha, who would probably do something industrious with all that fabric, like line bulletin boards or sew wine gift bags, or make chicken coop cozies…but let’s face it, I don’t sew.  I use duct tape when I rip a hem.

But I did it.  And you know what?  It was easy.

I guess if you hang on to something long enough, and it haunts you enough, and it’s benign enough…it loses its luster.  My grandmother’s silver and china are still shiny, for instance.  No haunt there.  But yesterday, it was like I was exfoliating my brain.  Opening up space in my house (and the house of my brain) that was full of grumpy ghosts who wanted out.  To move on and torture some other woman reckoning with the loss of her maidenhood, in some other bedroom in America.  They flew out of here so fast, they didn’t even stir the dust they’d been stashed in for so many years.  Didn’t even say goodbye.  And why would they?  They have been dormant—lording over fickle charms; thin talismen.  Ghosts don’t like to be dormant.  They like megaphones and chains.  I’ve left those for the other ghosts of the Big Stuff.  These ghosts were so outta here.clothesdrive_imgerotat

And what I was left with was a pile of clothes and dust and the remains of long dead flies and stink bugs.  Clothes I’d once beheld lovingly and thought—Oh, my daughter might want that pair of vintage riding breeches some day—we’ll get the leatherwork re-done, and the elastic too.  Or, my grandmother’s ultra suede suit might come in handy if there’s ever a dress-like-Barbara Bush Day in my imminent future—suddenly lay limp and dethroned on my bedroom rug.  And I wanted them out of there.

So I fetched five lawn bags, and shoved it all in.  Dragged them outside, and launched them in to the back of the old Ford pick-up to take to the Salvation Army.

For a flicker of a moment I thought, with a lunatic’s altruism and over-blinking eyes, “Well somebody in rural Montana is surely going to feel lucky to stumble upon such finery.”  After all, I’m the one who remembers walking through the streets of Chicago once, seeing a homeless person wearing the exact same bridesmaid’s dress I’d worn in a recent wedding and thinking how lovely it must be to wear a gown of peau de soie silk whilst rummaging through  garbage for soda cans—but also thinking how rude and unromantic and socially irresponsible even not to at least have the decency to keep the dread thing hanging in a closet somewhere.  To promise to wear again with those same over-blinking eyes.  Of course I was that girl.  I bet whichever of the other six women who got real and ditched that dress at the local Goodwill doesn’t have a pick-up full of clothes sitting in bags from the last 30 years of her life.  I bet she has a very dust-free brain.  As a rule.  Never mind her closet.

clothesdrive_imgerotatAnd then I laugh-snorted and got over myself.  Was I kidding myself?  No one with any level of dignity whatsoever would find any of this stuff wearable in 2017.  Sometimes one person’s trash is NOT another person’s treasure.  But then again, if I see someone walking down the street in a patchwork coat, made up of the fabrics of my life, I decided right then…I’d be pleased.  Because one thing seemed true in that grey on rust on plastic on textile moment:  one person’s clinging could certainly be made into another person’s winter coat.  That was for sure.  Fancy could indeed become function.

In a month, ask me if I can remember the clothes I gave away for adoption yesterday.  In a month, ask me if I care.

So many little stitches in freedom.

 

 

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Breaking Point: #11

We are rounding the bend toward Spring.  Each year at this time, I remember what gratitude is…in tiny things like being able to see the driveway again.  The call of the red-winged blackbird in the marsh behind my house that tells me we’re still worth returning to.  Open windows that blow out my Winter dormancy and wake me up with a wind that feels balmy, even at 45 degrees.  Each year at this time, I  feel myself losing that Winter brace against the cold.  And I re-learn that gratitude can’t be felt without a willingness to receive.  As we finish this Winter, I invite us all to actively receive the newness and hope of Spring.  We have another week or so of this Breaking Point series.  I am so grateful to all of you who have participated.  I’ve closed submissions due to time constraints, as with the first day of Spring (March 20th) I would like us to move out of whatever pain we’re in, and step into healing.  Or, you could look at it like this:  we can choose to use our pain to create emotional freedom by breathing deeper into it past fear and ideas of wrong and bad…and in-so-doing…let it go.  However we choose to view pain– teacher, guide, enemy…I want us to feel the power of the present moment with all its promise and abundance.  In other words, I want us to dance in the rain.  Thank you for sharing your stories and thank you for reading them.  We are all in this together.  yrs. Laura  

Today’s Breaking Point is from: Kat Holland at thebreakupguide.com.  (This link goes to a guest blog piece I wrote for them.) 

To go to their main page click here.

The “M” Visions

Intuition is the one thing we are blessed with – never ignore what you know inside.

My belongings are packed in a 10×10 storage unit and I’ve left my job and my community behind. As I wait for my plane to take off, I wonder what happened to my life. I had it all – a cabin in the mountains, a husband, a dream PR job and loyal friends. Why didn’t I see my life crashing…or did I?

I married a New Zealand man with disheveled sandy blond hair and a slender athletic build. He looked like Jude Law, only hotter. He was a great cook, charming and smart…or more like…a smart ass. He was a lawyer turned bartender because he wanted to live out every man’s dream of being a ski bum. You know…the kind of guy who wakes up, smokes a bowl, hits the powder in the winter, frequents the golf course in the summer, then attends his very part-time job. His profession didn’t bother me, as long as we were both happy. I loved and supported him and looked forward to growing old with him. I accepted his drug habits and his carefree lifestyle. He was my husband, the man I chose to spend the rest of my life with – I adored him and he adored me.

We had been together for 10 years, but in February 2006, my life suddenly spun out of control. I thought I had vertigo– my head whirled as if caught in a tornado’s vortex. It was my first anxiety attack. I was 38. Then, insomnia interrupted my shut eye, and when I did sleep, my pleasant dreams turned into nightmares. They were vivid and sexual. I questioned whether or not I was getting enough sex, which I wasn’t.  I witnessed my husband kissing and then thrusting himself into another woman and it became a re-occurring dream. It was never the same woman – she was faceless, and the sex appeared methodical and meaningless.

Hanging from above a cloud, I watched them in disbelief. When he saw me, he continued thrusting into her with a shit-eating grin on his face. Then I lunged forward like a tiger and bit his cheeks. My teeth sunk into his flesh and I chomped down as if gnawing on a rubber band. I hoped that I had caused him great pain but soon realized that the opposite was happening – he was mocking me. What I thought would hurt him, gave him immense pleasure. He looked me straight in the eye and laughed. The more he laughed, the harder I chewed, until I woke up.

When I emerged from the dream, I saw visions of an “M, but the name was never clear. The “M” appeared in all my dreams. It was an unusual “M” name, almost like a Mona, or Monique, though I never grasped the name completely. The dreams of my husband having sex with another woman were frequent, at least once a month. I began wondering whether or not I was losing my mind. In my heart, I couldn’t fathom that he was having an affair. He wouldn’t be unfaithful, would he? He confirmed that he loved me daily and boasted “I was his Heidi Klum.”

One day I woke up from the nightmare and confronted him. “Are you having an affair?” I explained all the details.

“No, of course not,” he said calmly.

“But, I keep having these dreams that seem so real. Are you sure you’re not having an affair?”

“Absolutely not,” he said adamantly. “You probably miss Marley.”

Marley was our 18 year-old black cat who had died a few months before. I adopted her from my best friend. She was a feisty cat and if you blew air near her face, she would jump up and bite you. We weren’t exactly sure why, but we believe smoke was blown into her face as a dorm kitty.

“You’re right, I miss Marley.”

Eight months later, my husband announced that he had been having an affair since February. I was furious because he betrayed our trust and I didn’t follow my intuition. The dreams now made sense, because the “M” was the first letter of the name of his mistress.

At the time, I knew my spirit guide (which I like to think was my cat), was yelling at me to wake the hell up and live a more conscious life. I was so caught up in being an overachiever, that nothing about me was awake. Not my spirit. Nor my soul. Nor my mind. And my identity had disappeared.

Now, as I sit here on the plane, I’m grateful to embark on a solo adventure around the world and discover a new ME. After months of being buried in the rubble and crying my eyes out, I’m in gratitude and I have found a new sense of balance. Life has thrown me a twist of fate, a new beginning. It’s a daunting journey because the “we” has vanished, but I’m about to discover who I am, what I love, and why I’m here.

After Kat’s travels, she created TheBreakupGuide.com, a blog that enriches, empowers and restores people’s lives after a break-up.

 

 

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What Does it Mean to Let Go?

I have a piece in the Huffington Post today which is in response to the question I get asked the most when I’m out on book tour: what does it mean to let go? How do you do it? Well, I don’t profess to have the answer, but I do have some strong thoughts about how to get in touch with our pain and to use it. How to reframe pain and restructure our thinking around it. I’ll include an excerpt here, and would love for you to stop by the Huffington Post today to comment. It is such a vast platform and I’d love to share my work there with its wide audience. Your comments will help drive interest to this piece and future pieces I write on my Huffington Post blog. Thanks and may this day feel new and light. yrs. Laura
Read my essay here

Excerpt:
In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I’ve asked myself a question lately about the human relationship with emotional pain: at what point do we acknowledge the pain in our life and decide to end it?

Is it only when we’ve endured great agony that we see its perils and decide that we don’t want to feel that way anymore? Is it only then that we change our perspective and start to choose happiness?

Or can we arrive at a commitment not to suffer simply by relating with life and its low-grade hardships as part of the whole? As not bad or good. Right or wrong. Just what is.

It saddens me to think that the latter is the exception and not the rule.

For me, it took 14 unpublished books, my father’s death and a near divorce to finally see that happiness is a choice. And one I was hell-bent on making. But it meant that I had to let go of suffering once and for all. And suffering had become my “normal.”

How is this possible — this letting go?

I believe the answer lies in the present moment.

We hear the phrase: live in the moment. But what does this really mean in its practical application? How do we achieve the freedom of choosing to let go of the future and the past and commit to the present moment, when life throws us curveballs and even grenades? How do we not worry or rage or micromanage? (read more)

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One Man's Trash…


When we were kids, a person my parents held in highest esteem gave us some Christmas ornaments. They were red balls with Santa’s caps, felt eyes, and faux fur brows and beard. My parents coveted them and would only let the kids hang them when we were dexterous and teenaged, and even then we’d get stern looks before they put them in our charge. “Two hands,” they’d say. When I was finally old enough to hang these ornaments, I did it with fear and self-doubt.

A point came many years later when I was staring at the Christmas tree with my father like we used to do– “dreaming” he called it, and I looked at those Santa ornaments on the tree, waiting to feel that old tingle of being gifted by “kings”…and I realized, in my adult cognition, that they for all intents and purposes were…really really tacky. And ugly. And cheap. We had given them so much meaning, and there they hung, like the emperor and his “clothes.”

“Dad, you know…those Santa ornaments? They’re kind of horrible,” I said.

His face scrunched into a look of disdain, readying himself for fatherly-flung disagreement that truth-be-told, had worn thin as I’d got older and smarter and more dexterous. And then his face softened. And he laughed. “My gosh, you’re right! They ARE horrible.” And we laughed and laughed and laughed and I’ll never forget it. A total castration of royalty, right there in our sun porch.

Still, even more years later, when my parents sold their home of 40 some odd years, my sister and I divided those Santa ornaments up like family jewels. Two for her, two for me. And every year since then, I’ve hung them myself, only recently entrusting them to my own children. Even though I know better than to cling to such things, those Santa ornaments hold some sort of power for me. I think it’s because my parents believed they had power. And I believed in my parents.

Then yesterday, I came in from grocery shopping and my husband was under the Christmas tree with the vacuum. My ten year old son looked at me. “We’ve had an accident, Mommy. The tree fell down out of nowhere and a few ornaments broke. But just think of all the ones that DIDN’T break.” I looked at the re-erected tree and scanned it, making a check list of my most favorite ornaments, dating back to my grandmother’s childhood in the late 1800s. Then I saw my son’s eyes dart to the coffee table and there were the Santas. Both of them broken. And you know, I cried. I did. I wept. I wept because my father’s fingers had touched those powerful tacky bulbs and believed in them. I cried because they were apart of his Christmas “dreaming.” I cried that my mother and father needed to assign power to a thing like a tacky Santa ornament in the first place. I cried that I had assigned them the same power. I knew the person who had given them to our family. I believed in her power too. And now she’s dead. And so is my father. And all that power is either in my memory of them, or died with them, or never existed in the first place. I cried because at Christmas time, no matter how good you are at busting through myths, it’s hard. You want to dream. You want to believe. But I knew that this was yet another lesson in letting go.

So I took a photo, and then I promptly tossed them in the garbage can, smashing them down with my naked hand, perhaps wanting to bleed a bit. They’re just ornaments. They’re meant to be enjoyed and part of their wonder is that they are so fragile. Memories aren’t. The love of a parent is not. I haven’t told my mother yet. I wonder what she’ll say. I wonder if a thing like an ornament matters when your husband is dead and your friends are dying all around you. Perhaps that is why I wept. I wanted that return to childhood where time stands still just for a moment every year, when I wink at those tacky Santas and feel their power. I know the “dream” is in me. But sometimes it’s nice to have a little boost. So tacky little Santas, may you rest in peace. Thank you for your years of service. I’m sorry you had to go the way you did. But I’m not sorry we believed in you.

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Holiday Baking Panic

My Pear Brandy Applesauce

As I’ve written before on this blog, I am not much of a baker.  Mostly it’s because I’m too stubborn to follow directions (I know, my loss.)   I like to riff on recipes, and that can work beautifully on the stove-top, but not so much when it comes to measuring out ingredients that make things rise and lift and puff.  So this time of year, I do things like make applesauce and add pear brandy to it and think pretty highly of myself. 

NOT my Bouche de Noel

Yesterday, at school pick up, one of my children announced, inbetween “can we go get ice cream,” and “my boots fell apart and I had to duct tape them together, but that’s okay, they look pretty cool that way because I used purple duct tape”….this little benign morsel of holiday cheer: “We’re having a party in French class tomorrow, and I promised my teacher I’d bring a Bouche de Noel (otherwise known as a Yule Log– you know, with the meringue mushrooms.) That’s what I get for addicting myself, and consequently my family, to the Food Network.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. This after an entire day wrapping presents and putting up garlands. Fun in theory, until your back starts to hurt, and you start swearing at tape dispensers and can’t find the scissors for the fiftieth time. “You want to make a Bouche de Noel TONIGHT?” Yup, those little eyes begged from the back seat right there in my rearview mirror. Ugh.

Bouche de Noel is one of those things that I’ve planned on making one day. Like, when I have grandchildren or need to impress a visiting queen or something. It involves layering and rolling and whimsy and frosting prowess– things I aspire to have one day. But not last night. Last night I wanted to pour out a glass of vino and lie on the couch by the fire and watch old Christmas musicals like White Christmas. Still, I’m a sucker for the word “Yes” when it comes to delivering in the way of homemade goodies and my children’s wildest dreams…so to the grocery store we went (mind you, I’d just been to Costco, something I dread– I have a hard time with the smells of hotdogs and radial tires comingling).

And you know…sometimes you just can’t be that homemade kinda gal– not this time of year– not when you start to resent this season that is supposed to be about love and giving and receiving and “dreaming,” as my father used to say with a tear in his eye, gazing up at the Christmas tree. So I gave myself a colossal break– grabbed the Betty Crocker and the pre-made frosting and the whipped cream in a can and called it good.

My child said, “Oh, I feel kind of sad, not making it from scratch. We’ve never made a box cake before. It won’t be made with love.” Tough crackers, I wanted to say, but instead I said something like, “Well sometimes you need to give yourself a break. It’ll still be made with love. It’s all in the intention.” Then I grabbed another box of cake mix just in case, because I had zero confidence in this “loving” endeavor.

I’d seen Tyler Florence make a Bouche de Noel recently on TV and I recalled needing to make a sheet cake, and then cut it in half making thin layers to cover in whipped cream and roll. (maybe we could just get a bunch of Ho-hos and line them up, yes? No.) I remember something about the dough needing to be especially springy and moist (my least favorite word). It said right there on the box: “Moist.” This, as a result of putting the called for cup of vegetable oil into your cake mix, and no, not EVOO. So I grabbed a bottle of Wesson oil– something I hadn’t seen since about 1972. And off we went.

After dumping out two attempts, a few hours later, this is what we came up with. Not so bad. My kid made little French flags taped to toothpicks instead of woodland meringues and we smiled at each other, pleased. “You’re a lot different than you used to be,” he said. “You used to be more Martha Stewart-ish.” It’s true. “It’s important to have range,” I said. Thank you, in this case, Betty Crocker.

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Household Rant

I know I am not alone in this: there are things that drive me crazy about the current state of my house. Things that make me so internally berserk that I have stuffed them deep into my toe joints just to make a pass through my house tolerable. Okay, maybe I like to pretend that I’ve actually let them go, but that would be a minor fib. Because, I mean SHIT O. Deer does it piss me off that my garden is still not put to bed and it’s the first week of November. And the hot tub– it’s like the most important room in our house (a family full of back injuries, afterall), it’s been broken for a year and a half, all for a simple, inexpensive, repair job which requires a board being unscrewed…and there it sits. There’s probably a dead racoon floating in it for all I know. But for some reason, that board goes unscrewed, and I’m damn handy with a Makita. What’s my problem??? Oh, and while I’m at it. Why do I tolerate mouse turds on my kitchen counter every morning? Why do I have a sponge that I designate The Mouse Turd Picker Upper sponge, and not call an exterminator to find the actual nest? Why do I just sometimes remember to set traps? Anyone wanna come over for dinner now? Ugh. And then there’s the mudroom. Are mudrooms actually supposed to be as truly muddy as ours is? Like mud from a few seasons ago? And should they contain a cat bed for a cat who disappeared uh– last spring? Again, it’s Novemeber. The cat is coyote food. Throw away his bed. You’re allergic to it anyway. Get rid of it. Sylvester Putty Tat be dead. Deep sigh. It’s giving me a near coronary episode just writing this, but there’s a point and I’m getting to it. Just hang on a second. Also, my office is a mess. There are paper piles all over it. Business receipts and random notes to myself that I can’t decipher but they say PRIORITY and Amazon boxes full of old photos that need homes in lovingly put together photo albums and and and. Isn’t there something called OFFICE MAX? And isn’t there one 15 miles from my very office, where I sit, ranting, sucking the oxygen from the universe with socks that don’t match and an inside out bathrobe? Considering pouring wine into my tea mug at eleven am because not only do I have no idea where my newest working copy of my novel is at the moment, but my computer is telling me that it may have a tropical viral infection, and my microwave is making a sound so weird that I’m pretty sure it’s going to burn a hole through my brain the next time I push Start, and there’s a pack rat living on my front porch, AGAIN (little untrappable fuckers), and I’m afraid to look under my bed, but there’s a certain smell and I’m pretty sure it involves food and a kid and a slumber party that occured when I was on the road promoting my book. That’s what I’m getting to: this house needs a mommy. Six months of being on and off but pretty much on the road is not working. I need to stay put. Welcome summer– oh shit– that’s right, it’s actually winter that’s upon us. How did I lose a season or two?

DEEEEEEEEEP Breath. Do you ever feel like this? Please tell me I’m not alone.

I need to put the garden to bed. That’s where I need to start. I need to write down the top three things that are driving me crazy and check them off. I need to stop passing by them and being overwhelmed. I need to look at them piece meal. Call the exterminator. Easy enough. Find my gardening shears and go out there and spend an hour. Maybe I won’t get the whole thing done, but I can do half, right? Half would be okay, yes? Feel me? What is driving you crazy about your house? Is it easy enough to fix? What won’t cost you a dime but will gain you sanity? Maybe start with a load of laundry. Not the whole Mount Saint Laundry. Just socks. Or maybe don’t do socks. Just find a box and throw the socks in it and grab a Sharpy and write: Sock Box. That’s what I’m talking about. Getting shit done. Solutions. We’ll see how it goes around here, but this girl has a weekend in front of her, and it’s gonna be all about un-driving myself crazy. The end.

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When you let go…


A friend and I were talking yesterday about how we want so much to “happen” in our family lives. That we have a hard time seeing any value in sitting around watching TV on a weekend day when there is so much to experience out there in the world. I used to be one who tried to impose this opinion of mine on my family. But I’ve learned that it only makes things worse. Begets even MORE TV watching. And what I’ve come to find is that really, it’s only a temporary thing. It’s not like they watch TV 24/7. It’s just a way for them to wind down after the long work/school week. We’re very active people, curious and creative by nature, always on the move. Sitting quietly watching TV now and then isn’t going to fry anyone’s brain or undo all those beautiful memories I’ve tried so hard to inspire. It’s a way for them to feel safe and even bond. How is it different than sitting on a boat fishing, for instance? Or in a duck blind? How is active always better than passive? I have found that the more I let go of active being the “right” way, the more active they become. This, for instance, happened last weekend. Log peeling for our friend’s cabin in the woods.
Lessons lessons, everywhere…when you let go.

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Bittersweet Homecomings

Click here to read my latest piece for the Huffington Post,”Bittersweet Homecomings.”  It’s about how you can’t go “home” again and what happens when you try…

I’m establishing a presence on the Huffington Post and would greatly appreciate any comments you’d like to post there!  It’s kinda like high school– if people see you cool cats commenting, they’ll want to read the piece, hopefully love it, and forward it.  Strange that the bulk of our society then is being driven by cyber reality– which is basically modeled after the way we behaved in high school.  Maybe there’s an essay in that!  yrs. Laura

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