It’s Kind of Like Narnia

It’s kind of like Narnia. I entered the wardrobe.  So much has happened that nobody else quite understands.  I just returned and I haven’t been gone more than 32 hours, but it feels like I was gone for weeks.

Every one of us has a touchstone.  It may be something small like a scarf or a security blanket.  Or it may be a place, a sunny spot on the couch somewhere.  In my recent years I have found Pescadero to be that place.  A house in the northern California that calms me and brings me back to my center.  It is where I found my new sisters and the place where I have grown and changed and made friendships and connections I haven’t felt in decades.  Decades.

Since.

Decades since.

The perpetual comparison for all things moving in my life, the place and feeling and connection that will hold every other thing hostage has been Camp Monomonac.

I was there for the last 24 hours for the first real time in 25 years.

There was a sacrifice, some kismet, a turn of events that occurred and things just flat out led me to that place in the woods of New Hampshire again because, plain and simply, I needed to be there.  I was supposed to be on Cortes Island off the coast of Vancouver for a writing retreat. As I made the decision not to go I was left with an emptiness.  But I realized that I would be able to attend my camp reunion.  It’s funny, my friend Jen said to me on the way there that she never doubted I’d be going to camp.  She just knew it.  I just had to sit in the sand and dirt and pine needles of a space so sacred to me that I am often at a loss to explain it to others.

Places that hold this sort of power are not simply left at the end of the weekend or summer.  They stay inside of you and little things will bring it all rushing back.  There’s a certain smell of a summer rain, of a bathroom at the beach where wet wood and cement mix with hand soap.  The way a campfire, any campfire anywhere on earth will be the most comforting smell in the world.  I can never be in the woods without thinking of the circle of cabins I spent so much time in.

Camp Monomonac is gone in many ways.  It is now Camp Starfish and changing the lives of children and adults every summer, just like Monomonac did.  But despite being similar it was definitively no longer ours.  We had such an ownership of that place and took for granted that it would always remain as it is in all of our collective memory.  Whatever each of us experienced there has historically been confirmed by the physical space.

This is the chapel.

This is the boat beach.

This is Deer Cabin.

This is the Swamp Bridge.

These are the outdoor showers where I learned to become comfortable with my body in front of other women, even if in the smallest way.

Tiny changes have betrayed my memory.  The front porches built onto each cabin, while adorable and sweet, combat my recollection of the slap of the screen door and the rumble of sneakers down the steps of the cabin.  The shower stalls and countertops that were installed brought the rustic bathrooms into a different time frame and scraped against my memory.  I found myself defensive, even angry at moments.

The rules of the place have changed and although I intellectually understand the need for them, I was defensive and rebellious. I was swimming out too far with my friend Roselee and the lifeguard whistled us at.  We complained and reluctantly swam closer to shore, grumbling that this place was no longer ours.

It was a bit of a gut punch. “We’re Monomonacers, I thought. We have a damn HISTORY here.  This was OUR place.”

It was hard and we all know and support the work this new camp does with children.  There is a one-to-one camper to staff ratio, what an incredible program for these kids.  They have rules and regulations, but it is also 2018.  I went there in the 80’s and 90’s.  We had very sound safety regulations and as we joked this weekend, “never lost a camper”.  But it was a different time.  We enjoyed a great freedom to entertain and nurture kids in a way that I think is definitively different than modern times.

Many of the buildings have changed and there were many new ones added all throughout the property. Fire pits that all of us used at one time or another in our summers there have been filled in.  This was perhaps the biggest change for me.  Each one of us had a specific memory of fire. Candlelight walks through the woods, a roaring fire in the lodge on a rainy night, strapping canoes together and making a fire in a grill set atop, dinners cooked on one of about 15 different fire pits.  We were a fiery bunch, us Monomonacers.  We ate and shared songs and stories and prayers around crackling flames in those woods. We walked paths so familiar to us we didn’t need flashlights but knew in our bodies where roots and dips lay, carrying candles that dripped and left wax on our hands.  All the while singing and laughing, maybe sneaking a hand-hold in the dark.  So many things happened at Camp Monomonac and while I didn’t remember all of them, the feeling and comfort and complete familiarity of that place burned within me. And after a mere 24 hours I was devastated all over again to leave.

There’s no great take-away here.  I don’t have a revelation.  I know my heart is a little more filled than it was before I went but it also hurts again, a wound opened up.  The joy of the place and the pain of the leaving are swirling in my bloodstream. No time had really passed with most of the friends I saw, but, in a way, all the time in the world has passed. Growing up is a drag, man.  So I guess all I can say is to linger a little bit longer in the places you love, be them in your day to day life or in your memory, because going back is a gift, no matter how you do it.

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Sunset on Lake Monomonac pretty much sums it up
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Coordinates

Sometimes you need a touchstone.  You need to remember a thing that makes you feel whole and a thing that grounds you while you seem to float around.  It’s not even floating these days.  I’m getting tossed around.  The winter has been stormy; our seashore has been heaved up and poured into homes and buildings and has created chaos.  There weren’t many storms but each one left damage in its wake.

 

It was a flu season that hasn’t quit.  The darkness of winter has stayed despite the longer days and later nights, earlier sunrises. The stark trees still cackle and scratch and the tiny hint of green bud has barely risen to the ends of branches.

 

Looking ahead seems futile. It doesn’t help.  The winter has sat on its crossed legs forever and doesn’t seem like it feels the need to get up.  So no, looking ahead is desperate right now.  Looking back helps though.  Looking behind me at what has made me whole and warm and green is what I’m doing.

 

If we are lucky we end up with our best friends.  Whether it’s a spouse, a roommate, a parent no matter.  But we spend our days with the ones we love.  My husband has been my best friend for a long time and we have a good thing going.  Our kids are flickering in and out of our vision and they impart joy and frustration and anger at times.  But we have what we need and what makes us happy.  But there is always an other.  Something we have within us that is ours and feeds us more, or differently than our people can.  My sidekicks have always been cooking and more recently, writing.  If I stray from them for too long I get lost and the ennui of routine sets in.  and that’s happened this winter.

 

For the past two years spring has meant a trip to Pescadero, California.   It is where I find my renewal.  It is relaxation, warm and true friendship, soul-feeding meals, music and fires.  I write, learn about myself and my writing, look at the northern California trees and shoreline.  But we’re not going this year.  We all decided that it wasn’t in the cards for us for many reasons, some joyous and some sad.  It’s setting in that I won’t see these dear friends for four days in our sacred house with the fires and the laughing and the giant porch.  But also, it’s starting to feel like I won’t have the kick start I need to keep going for another year with my writing.  I know that I will have to do that on my own.  So I need a plan.  I need to remember that place in the woods and moonlight and spend some time there in my mind.  Those women are a huge influence on my writing and that I even started doing this in the first place.  None of them live close by, we live on different coasts, different continents. But we come together in that one sacred place and I know all of us are missing it right about now.  It’s silly, how a thing we have only done twice has become so much.  But it has.

 

37.2552° N

122.3830° W

 

As we wait for spring to finally open up and soften our lives, maybe looking back isn’t such a bad idea.  As much as we need to embrace our potential and keep an open mind about the future, sometimes remembering what fuels us can be just as powerful.  Because apparently this damn winter is going to last forever.

 

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gonna wear this for a while again

A Word After A Word After A Word

What is the difference between earning a living and making a living?

I have jus spent five days in the woods of California, along the pacific coast of twists and turns and oceans so fierce you cringe at the thought of getting caught in them. They slam the edges of the earth with a force that’s beautiful and intimidating. Kind of like writing. It is so beautiful and at turns utterly incomprehensible.

As I spent my days in the house and on the grounds of this place my book came alive again. It blossomed and opened itself up to me. I have been working on it for three years now.

“A word after a word after a word is power.” Margaret Atwood says.

It sure is. I made this thing that is more alive to me than a lot of things and it lives and breathes and speaks to me in dreams and waking. I didn’t earn it, I made it.

That’s the difference. I love my job and what I do every day but it has shifted quite perceptibly now into how I earn my living. I go to work and do the best I can, I have a great time and for the most part I keep it at work. It gives me a paycheck so I can live in a way that comforts and supports my family.

But how do I MAKE my living? Through words. Through pages and chapters and characters and scenes. This is what I do now and there is a stark difference between the earning and the creating of a living.

I rolled into my house at 4 am this morning. My husband and children were sleeping and the birds were starting to sing as the sun threatened to rise. I was reeling from this past week and couldn’t sleep. I cracked a beer and sat on the porch, listening to the east coast morning sounds, so different than the ones I’d been waking up to for the last four mornings in Pescadero. My clothes were steeped in fire from the great stone hearth and the giant fire pit at the edge of the property. I opened my suitcase to get my glasses out and the entire room suddenly smelled like that house in the woods, with a constant crackle of slightly wet wood, smoke and warmth that comes when the logs dry just enough to stop smoldering.

As usual in this place, with these women, I had a re-birth. I made progress in my writing, I broke down some shit that needed breaking and I have a plan to write this story again. I know how to tackle the revision process. That’s the making, that’s the building of my life.

The earning starts again on Monday and I’ll be happy to be back, but it’s entirely different now. It’s easier. It’s got a freedom running through it that no longer defines me through when I punch in and punch out every day, but what I build with my words.

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Worst place ever.

Green

This winter has not quit. It’s been cold and rainy for month after month after month. We had a few snowstorms but nothing that stuck, nothing that really made winter worth it. It was unseasonably warm for a few days in early winter, which just fucked with everyone around here. I have always loved the seasons in New England. I love the change and I love how each one settles into itself and we are in it for a time. But this winter has sucked me dry.

I thought 2016 was a shit show. We voted a man into our highest office who disgusted me, the country, and the world had been riddled with death and illness and violence.   I had a sick family member and was faced with different fears than I had been before. It has to get better in the New Year I thought. I has to. It hasn’t. Our government continues to baffle me, anger me, scare the shit out of me. We are headed down a very unsustainable road and while that is a comfort in some ways, because I know it will have to stop eventually, it it a horrible prospect because it will implode, or explode. My youngest child has been to the emergency room twice in the past couple of months with difficulty breathing. I got pneumonia. We are continually under-staffed at work. I never sleep enough. And then this fucking weather. I have been cold for months. It’s been raining for a week, or at least it feels that way.

There are so many things I want to do. I want to write more. I want to bake more. I want to read more books. I want to have more patience with my children. I want to take a goddamn walk but the cold rain and wind hasn’t quit. My hands can’t get warm. I can’t get outside to clear myself out and re-set anything.

I think the spring will fix some of these things. Looking out the window and seeing green and life and bright colors will start to knit my guts back together. The older I get the longer winter seems. The more the dead, brittle branches clack and shake and scratch. I long for soft sounds again. Taking a long and deep breath of dirt and green and spring bulbs popping open is all I can think about. Warm weather in the middle of winter is nice but it’s not spring. The sleeping earth isn’t waking up anytime soon and it messes with the senses. Now it’s time for things to grow again and I’m waiting with every muscle for it to start.

I have listened to more music this winter than I have in a long time. I have found new favorites and listened to lyrics and been moved by voices. It has been the inward movement of the cold days. Sinking into ourselves is the way we stay warm. We ball up against to cold and sit still. I have spent so much time inside myself this winter. I have done more thinking and listening than before. I’ve been hibernating and I am ready to stretch and open up.

Maybe it’s just getting older. I feel different than I did last year. Nothing much has changed by my insides are rearranged somehow. The longing for spring is so visceral and I can’t remember ever wanting it so badly. Things are sharp now and I want them to soften, I want to be surrounded by green and breeze. It’s supposed to be 70 degrees next week. And my daffodil bulbs are poking through the grass. Maybe the last dirty pile of snow has melted on the curb, maybe it won’t snow again. Maybe. It is the season of re-birth. And this year it really feels like it.

 

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feeling the warm air through open windows.  this kid…

#momlife

I have been a mother for almost 6 years. I have two young boys. For the first few years it was pretty lonely. I didn’t know many mothers and my kids weren’t in school so I didn’t have the opportunity to meet many. When Bowie was tiny we lived in an apartment I hated in a town I hated and aside from one or two women, I didn’t have anyone who was going through this journey of new motherhood to talk to. It was a lonely road and I had a hard time. After my three month maternity leave I went right back to work and dealt with daycare and working opposite my husband in order to deal with the void left from the extended hours of child care we couldn’t afford. It has been that way for years. I kept my work friends but they suddenly seemed far away from who they were before I went on leave. The life I lead had changed so much. I lived in that strange bubble for years. I had a two year old and an infant and neither of them were in any sort of social situation where I had the chance to meet other mothers and interact. We moved a few times during that period and that furthered my sense of alienation.

Then Bowie entered pre-school. There was drop-off and pick-up. As any parent knows, this is the time where you meet other parents. Standing in the cold outside the school, waiting for the kids to come out in their little line and spot you in the hoard of parents and run to you, arms open and smiling, as if they hadn’t seen you in days. I stared to meet mothers, talk to them and maybe exchange a number here and there. Birthday party invitations appeared in Bowie’s backpack and suddenly I was re-arranging my work schedule to take my kids to a Sunday afternoon party. I’d arrive, bashful and self-conscious to meet the other mothers who all seemed to be friends already. I would sit on the sidelines or just fuck it all and go and play with my kids on the trampoline and the foam pit because I had nobody to speak with and was too nervous to jump into the mom group off to the right.

Slowly, slowly that changed. I started talking to mothers and entering into conversations at pick-up. But everyone already seemed to know everyone else and I felt like the only mother who was alone in the group, shivering in my coat. I am an extremely social person but jumping into social situations where I am unfamiliar has never been my strong suit. But things worked themselves out and I found myself finally, finally having friends in my town. I went on play dates, went to birthday parties, met up at parks and had a sense of belonging in the social world of motherhood. It’s funny when it finally happens. I spent years feeling kind of alone, far away from my best friends, some of whom had children and were going through the same thing and some of whom did not. I had never stayed close in proximity to my girl friends, we dispersed after college, or soon after that, and they have remained as close in my heart as sisters but phone calls and face time has had to suffice.

Making friends when you’re older is strange. You don’t connect in the ways you did when you were young. It’s a different social scene and when there are children involved, everything is much more hectic and crazy. I find myself in that strange land of parenting while socializing and making friends. If one kid does something wrong the dynamic is suddenly tense and mothers look around to see how the other mothers are going to react. I have two small boys. There is a lot of banging and yelling, often crying. I have a very high tolerance for roughhousing and horseplay. I do not have any tolerance for children being flat out mean or hurtful but there is a fine line between play and Lord Of The Flies, especially when young boys are concerned. Sometimes things get weird. Sometimes other mothers judge you via your children. It is a strange land, this motherhood friendship circle. Bowie is incredibly scared of dogs. He will freeze, walk the long way around an entire field if he sees a dog near the playground. I sometimes find myself annoyed at dog owners on behalf of my kid. I think “can’t you see how scared he is? Don’t bring your dog to school pick up with a playground full of children”.   I still don’t know if this is actually cool anyways, but regardless, I have to step back and understand that this is my kid’s thing, not everyone else’s. There are dogs everywhere. He will need to learn to navigate this fear and I will protect him as best as I can, but I can’t control anyone else, nor should I. I think it is a constant battle between protecting your kid and learning how to teach them how to traverse hard things like fear and loneliness and alienation. When I sit back and reflect on how I parent, or how I want to parent I never feel up to the task. I never feel like I do a great job. I rarely know how to tackle a certain tough situation and I find myself flitting back and forth between actually teaching them something with words, letting them figure it out on their own and trying to set an example with my own behavior. Nothing ever really feels good enough and I worry about how I am doing. I don’t have any specific memories of my parents “teaching” me but I know they absolutely formed my moral compass and my reasoning and the person I am as an adult. I am sure they thought the same things I think about raising children. It is never easy, never utterly fulfilling, at least not to me. It is horribly difficult and lonely and scary as hell. But we are on this road and all of it is rewarding. It takes a village as they say. I cannot fathom going through this journey alone and I am certainly grateful to the parents, especially the mothers I have met along the way. They help me learn what to do and what not to do, they give me brevity, humor, raw feelings. We are here together and we have to trust one another with ourselves in this vulnerable time. We also have to trust one another with our children and help them along this road. It’s what we have and I am damn grateful for it.

Defcon 5

We are at a critical point here guys. I have the day off today and Bowie is at school. My half-assed mental plan was to cover all fabric surfaces with trash bags and towels and spend the day with Bix in underwear, diapers gone forever and potty train the shit out of this kid. He is more than three and a half. He refuses, he cries, he screams, he says he’s scared. We have not completely forced the issue because I know, like all rational parents know, that he will not be pooping in his diaper in 5th grade, high school, in his dorm room freshman year at college. But it feels that way now. And the judgment, oh the judgment. Know what? I’m really not super worried. I am irritated, I am so completely over poopy diapers and changing tables and wipes. I am done watching him hide in a corner to poop in his pants and flat out refuse to come sit on the potty. But I am not worried. With Bowie this same thing happened, although it didn’t take quite as painstakingly long. He refused, he would cry for his diaper. But one day the kid just did it. On his own mostly. And he never had a real accident ever again. So there’s that. So today was supposed to be holy-shit-imma-potty-train-this-kid-if-it-damn-near-kills-me Friday. But I don’t think I’ll do it anymore. He’s playing quietly in the other room; I’m drinking coffee and writing quietly in the kitchen. Screw it. Blow up your diaper today buddy. Let’s ride this one out.

I guess I’m changing what I worry about these days. I can barely turn on the news. I can only listen to NPR for about 8 minutes until I reach emotional Defcon 5 (War Games, anyone? Not that far fetched these days.) Facebook is kind of on hold. I moved the icon to page three of my phone so I don’t even see it. As we all know with this shit, if it’s there we will open it. Instagram is fine, pics of kids and cats, no problem. I look at The Weather Channel app a lot more. I text my friends a lot more. My carrier sent me an email that I was approaching my text limit for the month. 1000 texts. I have never come close to this before. We are all stuck in this crazy space of anger, fear, anger, sadness, anger, complete disbelief. A lot of us are taking action. A lot of us are just posting article after article that says the same shit over and over. The ones on this side of the fence, ultimately on this side of history, know this stuff. We agree with this stuff. I, personally, don’t need to keep reading the same thing over and over. It doesn’t help me. Having to constantly filter everything I read is getting impossible as well. What is the news source? Is it liberal? Is it conservative? Are all the facts there? Where can I go for more, trusted facts? It is exhausting. Being informed is more important than ever, I agree. Being correctly informed is even more important. But this shitstorm of an administration is gathering speed and rolling so quickly that I can’t keep up. Maybe it’s a ploy to make everyone so dizzy that we don’t see what’s coming. Maybe it’s going to create such a dissonance between the government and the people that we will be forever changed. I think we already are.

I have never been the activist type- like the protesting in public type. In high school maybe. I volunteered a lot, I had a car full of bumper stickers and I signed petitions. Now I am a little skittish in large crowds, I feel overwhelmed by the barrage of petitions going around the Internet and I don’t know if they change anything anyways. But my husband and I were talking the other night about how we can start to feel like we are helping all of this in some way. We know that communities are breaking down and hate is rising in our cities. How can we, as an entire family work to stop the bleeding in some small way? We talked about hosting a refugee family. We really actually talked about it. It is a commitment we don’t feel ready to take on at this point but having the conversation opened up a lot of possibility about how we need to do more to make shit better. We also talked about finding family-friendly volunteer opportunities in our area that we can take our children to and teach them love and acceptance and humility. These things aren’t world-changing on their own but collectively they make a difference. When you decide to help on a larger scale it’s incredible how much you see. There are so many opportunities just in this town. I live in a beautiful town and take for granted that everyone here has enough. I complain that sometimes we need more money or more free time or more whatever. The bigger scheme of things states otherwise. We have plenty and we have the freedom to choose how we spend our free time. I know I need to do something to combat what’s going on in Washington DC and around the world right now. I have to believe that the small moves, the ground-level attempts to help are what will keep us all human. And it’s easy to get wrapped up in this feeling. I know things are horrible and my sudden commitment to volunteer or donate money is a drop in the ocean. It doesn’t make me pristine and free from responsibility but it helps. Taking care of each other is what we need to do. The country is in a downward spiral and there’s a whole lot of every-man-for-himself up there. Rather than cowering in a corner, swearing at the TV, crying into my beer, I am going to try a lot harder to help. Yes, I know that I have had my entire life to do something. I have spent year after year in my safe little bubble. And for as many people who give this post a thumbs up I am sure there are even more who will say stuff like “Isn’t is nice that you have this revelation now? Where have you been for the past 40 years of your life? Why didn’t you care then?” There is a lot of that going around. There is a lot of judging. There is a lot of preaching. I am a 42-year-old educated, white, middle-class woman in a wealthy town. I get it. I know where I have come from and what that has afforded me. I know that my lens is different from other people’s lenses. But I feel at a loss sometimes. If I say nothing I am just another privileged white woman. If I say something it is nitpicked to shreds. There has to be a starting point for each and every person who is trying to understand and grow and learn more about the world around them. And for God’s sake, there has to be a starting point for people who want to help. Everyone has a threshold. For some, empathy and the desire to help others and protest and remain an active force in their community and the world at large has been there since they were small. For others it comes out later in life. Whatever it is that brings you to a place of wanting to help, a loss, someone in your life who is struggling with addiction, national and international events, these are all valid motivations. Embrace this shit, spread the word.

Here are a couple ways to find things you can do locally. There are family-friendly options here as well.

 

http://www.spur.community

http://www.lifebridgesalem.org

http://www.mybrotherstable.org

 

Too Big To Fail

Sometimes I feel like I am failing at everything. This life stuff is hard and I don’t often do a great job. But when I really sit down and take stock of things I realize I am doing pretty well.

My kids are fed and clothed; they go to school and go to bed at a reasonable hour. They watch too much TV though and they use the iPad way more than they should. But who doesn’t? There is no such thing as perfect parenting.

I have built my career for the last 17 years. I have cooked and studied and learned and worked and moved through the industry in many facets. I am finally close to home in a store and position I love. When I get there I am 100% present in my work. I am proud of where I have landed.

I have started thinking of myself as a writer. Completely. I write. I hold myself accountable. I don’t make excuses, I own when I am not working hard enough or when I am being lazy. When things get difficult I admit that I just stopped for a while because they were difficult. I recently looked back on the goals I set out for myself last year. I committed to revising my novel. I have done a lot of work and received some incredibly helpful feedback that has deepened my commitment and work quality. I am learning as I go, I didn’t take any formal writing classes in college or after. This group I am in is the skeleton for my education. I also vowed to post a blog every week. I have done that. Damn, I have written something each and every week and put it out there for almost a year. It’s changed and I have written so many different things, but the important part, for me, is that I never once stopped writing. Janelle said “the magic happens when we don’t quit”. That’s what keeps me going. This might be boring and nobody may read it, but I wrote it. And I hit publish and that’s what keeps the fire lit.

I keep deciding to stop this blog. Or change it to fiction. But I don’t stop. Saturday rolls around and something eats at me. I need to make the effort because once I stop it’ll be gone for good. So thank you for bearing with me this year. Thanks for making comments when you liked something. Thanks for just reading. This year is daunting. I have committed to do a lot more with my writing, and I have no idea where it will take me. I have committed to being better at handling stress and anger. Trump is starting in a couple of weeks. Who the fuck knows what will happen with that. All I can do there is commit to being more aware, to paying more attention, to learning more and to taking a stand where I can.

I complain a lot. I whine a lot. I know this and I try to curb it and to look more positively at things and I fail a lot. This weekend I was particularly bratty and a dear friend of mine bore the brunt of my shitty attitude. She called me out on my bullshit in different ways. She said kind things in other ways. She brought brevity and humor as she always does. And then we left it at that. But she went on to do something kind and selfless for me that took me aback and left me in tears. I hadn’t earned it and I didn’t deserve it. But she did it anyways. As we grow older and form new friendships it astounds me how we got along without these people up until now. It is the things like this that keep me looking forward and keeping the faith. With crazy toddlers and work and the current political climate it is really easy to lose faith in peace and calm. Putting our heads down and doing what fills us back up, appreciating the kindness of our friends and family, celebrating the love we are able to give and receive every day, these things are a balm when we feel cracked and dried up.

We sure have a tough road ahead. I am scared about a lot of things. I fuck up a lot and sometimes I own it and sometimes I fail to see the mistake I have made. The friends I have are my compass. My family is my compass. My writing is my compass. We all count on people and rituals to keep us pointed in the right direction and it is such a comfort to stop and think of the power that surrounds us. Cheers, friends. I hope 2017 fills you up.

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