Monthly Archives: January 2014

Aside 3 – Hay Season

Since my writing is done for today, I am going to take today’s prompt literally and let the child speak. I started to rewrite this story in my present voice but as I looked at it, the jaded adult could not get out of the way of my writing. Solution? Let my 17-year-old self who dreamed of writing someday finally be published. There are no edits here. These are the words of my then-self. I will let her speak. When I look inside at her face I see tears of joy and hope in her eyes at this chance that is more than she had even dared dream. Here is my voice of innocence.

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Hay Season
September 25, 1974

All those yellow bales speckling the field would be stored in his oversized shed which served as a barn. Age and weather had faded the walls of the shed to a lifeless grey which contrasted strikingly to the tall cedar that stood guard on one side. On the other side was a make-shift roof under which the cows were fed, and on that same side was the door.

Since the door was under the roofed area it was quite a chore to get to it. You see, eating wasn’t the only thing the cows did there. I think that was what accounted for our careful steps and the unwelcoming odour that filled the air.

But once inside the smell decreased only to be replaced by the musty smell of last year’s hay. Dust clung to our hair and clothes as grandpa picked his way across the room to open the sliding panel so the hay could be passed in. Grandpa slid back the wooden bar slowly. When the panel was opened, it seemed like every ray of light could be seen as they danced around in the clouds of dust that enveloped the room.

By the time the truck had arrived the dust had settled enough to make talking possible. Grandpa and the other men laughed and talked as bale after bale of the fresh sweet-smelling hay was passed inside. The stacks of bales weren’t always started right against the back wall of the shed because sometimes Grandpa would decide that there would be a good place for a room in our fort. He’d pace out an area big enough for two or three children to sit cross-legged and then would begin the piles on the edges of the area. Bales were stacked three high with a passageway left clear for a tunnel. Then he placed some heavy boards for a ceiling and finished piling hay on top of that.

Stacking the hay was never rushed. The placement of each “office”, “bedroom” and “living room” had to be carefully considered. In one fort we stacked the bales two high and one deep against the two adjoining walls in one corner than closed in a third wall. Then we found the sturdiest boards Grandpa had and with them formed the floor for a second story room. More bales were stacked as walls for that room and the whole structure was topped with a plywood roof strewn with hay. Of course we left an opening for escape to our tunnel below.

The tunnel was the finishing touch in each fort. Bales were crossed and criss-crossed in numerous ways leaving a dark narrow passage filled with twists and turns and bugs. Travelling it was hard because of the little seeds from the hay that hadn’t yet settled but we didn’t care! In fantasy the most the seeds could be were the dust of ancient fortresses or flies we must conquer or shattered fragments of bullets. Our games were always romantic adventures ending with a rescue by a daring knight or courageous soldier.

Our “knight” or “soldier” was grandpa who called us out for dinnertime. By then we were itching all over from the sharp ends of dried grass protruding from the bales and were glad to leave our fort on promise of a nice warm shower and a hot meal.

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Day 30 – Carrying the Load

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on.

Bill Withers, Lean On Me

Slide3There is a part of me that fears writing this next post. This is not a topic that is going to encourage readership but I think it is one that has to be talked about. From this place I am – dealing with depression but not incapacitated by it, I am a voice from the gap in between. I have been at places that are far lower than I am now. I have been stronger than I am now. Neither of those matter as more than hope and experience at this moment.

In the spirit of mindfulness, I can’t run away from what exists in this moment. Even the feelings we label as negative have their lessons to teach so that we can better live all of our lives. They also have the power to strengthen us for the future and to soften our hearts in relationship to others. We are the ones who can choose what these experiences do to us. I choose to let this teach me how to live fully. To do so, I have to listen and speak the truth that I find in my life.

I am not writing to take you down into the deep well with me. The fact is, I am hoping to hang on to the side at only this far down and climb back up from here. I can’t make you any promises. If I make this about pleasing you and these physical symptoms and dark thoughts continue then the “not enough” ferris wheel that I am trying to get off of will become more of my existence.

Neither am I asking you to carry this load for me. This is mine to carry. It is like the mercenary,  Rodrigo Mendoza, in The Mission, a movie from the past. At the beginning of the movie he is harming the indigeneous people, the Guaranís. When his fiancée and brother betrayed him in his eyes, he chooses to kill his brother. The results was a depression that fell deep and hard.

Now, I am not saying I have gone off and murdered people or done some heinous crime, but I was raised to have some very harsh and confused inner judges that haven’t quite been silenced yet. I’m working on that, but at times like this, they let me know they are still there. At an early age, I was taught that punishment wasn’t about what you do wrong but about what other people say you do wrong. In a child that becomes a boundary stone of fear of hurting others – that is, if the worse thing she can think of in life is to hurt others. It becomes a vicious circle if the signals in life are too confused and sometimes, there is some real need of repairs.

Mission 1986 real : Roland Joffe Robert De Niro COLLECTION CHRISTOPHELFor someone like me, there is a beautiful image of redemption for Mendoza in The Mission. Mendoza sank into a melancholy that locked him in his cell until Father Gabriel gave him a penance that resonated with the harm he believed he had done in life. He had him join him in the expedition up the falls to the home of the Guaranis. He had him pull a huge sack full of the weapons he had used to destroy others.

Mendoza took to the task with a stony determination that only a dying man can have when trying to save his life. You see Mendoza dragging the sack, pulling it free when it gets snagged, slipping and sliding from its weight while climbing a rain slicked slope. You are left uncomfortably frustrated at what seems like a futile meaningless task. Even Father Gabriel feels that way. At one particularly hopeless moment, he cuts the ropes that are being used to pull the sack.

He has freed Mendoza of the penance he had set. Surely Mendoza would be fine now. Mendoza just looks at him then goes and lifts that sack. In the desire to end his own discomfort at seeing Mendoza’s suffering, Father Gabriel has simply made the load more difficult to carry. There is a road Mendoza must walk to be truly freed.

His redemption comes when he reaches the Guaranis. Their leader finally cuts the last of the ropes binding him to his load and pushes it off the cliffs edge, Mendoza weeps. There is a lightness and a new fire in Mendoza that changes the direction of his life.

We don’t always know why others carry the loads they do. We may feel we have the answers, especially if we have been healing from our own loads but you can’t cut another person free. You can only walk beside them on that hard journey to the place where the broken pieces that have so long been locked away in the dark can come forward and cut the cords from within.

DSC01588Let it beI have learned long ago that this is not a journey that many will join me on. That is okay. I know that the right people will come along. I know that the journey will find redemption in those who I will be able to walk with because of this experience. I know that at the end of this journey I will be stronger than I was when I started.

First I will need to face those places I have hidden in the dark, pushing them out of the way in other healing times to deal with the things that seemed more important then. For me it has been a process of years. When I see how many pieces of me are standing against the darkness this time around, I know the journey has been worth it. I made it before. I will make it again.

Day 29 – Journeying to Sanctuary

DSC07285She is camped outside of my house of dreams. Luckily, she isn’t daring entrance into that place where there is still peace. Anxiety’s cousin has joined the efforts to find a permanent room in the house of me. I feel her presence like a heavy leaden cloak around my shoulders when I pass from that inner world of quiet into this world.

So I am going to write myself through this journey. I am going to keep reaching beyond this cloak that weighs down my shoulders. I am going to step out on this road knowing that there are others who also walk it. I am going to use the one way that I can still reach out enough to touch others and I am going to fight this visitation that has held me down at other times of my life.

There is a realization in the timing of this visit. For a long time now I have kept them at bay by being singular, not risking breaking out of my quietness into sharing with others. I had stopped trying, in any true sense of meaning to develop a community in my life. Fearing that I would not be enough, or even that I would end up ruining the party, I have kept myself from going.

DSC02637I had begun risking that as-much-as-I-am was enough and had begun touching my toe into the rivers of relationships with others again. Anxiety came screaming in. Though not present in an active way, she had still maintained some control on my life by keeping me isolated. If I broke out, if I develop relationships outside of me, she might have to move further away. All the feelings of not being enough became offerings on my door step to keep me inside.

It is like the words of the woman who has no fear of what she says. They know me well she said and goes on to share a story about how my anxiety rode along in a car with us on a scavenger hunt. She laughed at the story somehow not seeing that I wasn’t laughing too. I couldn’t help but remember the time she told me I was her “token friend”-like-me. People have a way of letting you know that you are not enough without fitting their mold.

I have to listen with every fiber of my soul for the other voices if I am going to make this journey to the sanctuary of healing where I can break the hold Anxiety and Depression have had on my life at so many junctures of change. Doing-it-alone was able to distance the Two from DSC02020the central house but not get them out of the neighborhood. This time, I can’t try to be enough even if parts of me are happiest in the silence of my arts. I have to care for the parts of me who fall susceptible to the beckon of the Two because I leave them alone too much. I hold them back from the relationships because I hate the way Anxiety has of showing up there.

This has not been the story of my life, just the story of what I have become. I can move forward in the story. I can begin writing a new chapter from this place I am right now.

I shared this on Facebook, words of a friend who comes to visit sometimes from another town:

Yesterday a friend really made my day. I struggle with an anxiety disorder that,  though better, rears its ugly head sometimes still. I was  visiting with this friend yesterday and mentioning how my anxiety can make being around me trying. My friend said, “It’s good to have self-knowledge, but you are worth it.” I think that sometimes, that is all it is. Needing to honestly look at where we can grow but still being able to know we are worth it.

doorwayThese are the kind of words I will need to listen to and remember in this next while. These and the caring words of others who share their own journeys. I will have to grasp outward with all my might but with the grace of respect and caring that is in the core of my beliefs.

Dear friends who read this, never give in to Anxiety’s and Depression’s siren call for isolating your life. Keep struggling to find your balance of relationships with others. I listened for too long this time around. It is time that I keep taking one more step then one more step into the world of others. It will not be easy. Anxiety and Depression know all my triggers far too well. My art and writing will anchor me and I will trust that the One who has been there for me before will be there for me again as I make this journey to the sanctuary of being enough just as I am.

Day 28 – How to Paint a Life

Assemble your materials.

Choose your canvas. They come in all shapes and sizes choose the one that feels like it stirs something in your soul. It is even alright to choose more than one to reflect the variety of being IMG_0462that makes you You.

Choose your medium. watercolors, oil paint, acrylics, natural dyes, collage? The possibilities are more endless then my knowledge of art. The choices you make will begin to form the work that will be created. Don’t be afraid to explore, to look at the works of others, to research all the possibilities. Then use the cash of your living to acrylics (3)purchase those pigments that stir your to life.(Since acrylics and collage are my mediums of choice, the rest of this lesson will speak from those perspectives.)

What will you paint with? Brushes, palette knives, found objects, fingers? Have a variety of possibilities within reach. Don’t be afraid, though, to look around you and try something you have never heard of anyone else using. This is your life. It’s meant to be unique.

Find your art space.

IMG_0458Choose a place that is your own even if it is in the middle of a crowded room. Prop the canvas up or lay it down ready for the colours you will play upon in. If you need two canvases at once, use them. This is your life, paint it in the way that allows you to hear the many facets of who you are as you tune to your world. That is where you need to begin.

Set the ambiance by play the music that makes your heart come alive even if it is the sound of silence or the laughter or friends. The IMG_0463 (2)surface-you can’t do this alone. Your mentor is hidden within, longing to step up and help you make this painting a masterpiece.


Begin by listening to the air around you while you let your eyes see, really see the canvas before you. Let it begin to tell you the colours to use as background of all that will come.

Continue looking and listening as you add layers or collage IMG_0454items. Don’t worry about spills or seeming mistakes. Let them become a part of the artistry in your living. By allowing things outside of your original plans, you will begin to see the canvas in ways you would have missed.

Explore possibilities. Experiment with texture and line. Paint and repaint. Arrange and rearrange. Pentimento, the repentance of old choices that leads to new layers is not only allowed but can bring your painting to a new level of being.

IMG_1538Don’t be afraid to stop and look beyond the canvas. Continue to question and learn, look and experience so that your canvases can become all it is meant to be.

Paint with joy and abandon, sadness and grief. Place all the colours of your life onto the changing image before you.

Only you will know when canvas is done and you are ready to move on. Some you will hang up to celebrate, others will be set aside to allow experience to grow until you can see what they will become.

Paint your life as only you can. You are the artist you have always dreamed of being.

Day 27 – The musician

The gentle picking of guitar comes from the other room. I stop to listen hearing the music rising and falling in emotional unison with the patterning of notes. He is a musician, this friend who has become so important in my life. I have always heard it in his songs but there is something about those notes in that moment that seals the words in me.

play guitar2When we met, it was the musician in me, the writer in me, the artist in me that he drew to the attention of our relationship. The words of a poem I wrote expressed for him the longings of his own heart. When we sang and played piano together, it was my voice he thought held the music. My talent was worth being supported and acknowledged. He looked past my feelings of inadequacy and saw what I could be and through that seeing, I began to express so much that had been hidden within.

Even then, he shared with me his songs, gentle tunes of living. His father, his journeys rode on the streams of piano chords gently played. He encouraged me, he pushed me to make music to which he sang along. My fingers and voice regained their strength. Those dreams I had for my life began to resurface and his encouraging friendship helped me to reach beyond my limits and return to teaching. Opening what was inside me I gained the place of inspiring music and creativity in children. The strains of my life became fuller, richer vibrations with my soul.

Dave 2 It was a music that fell into confusion when his journey took him to work in another town leaving an opening for the voices within that doubted my worth, my ability to believe I could matter in the life of another. Even the faith inside me when it broke to the surface came out twisted by the memories of the past. My life became a solo of searching to heal the hurt that leaked from my spirit. Yet quietly his music played in counter melody to my scattered longings, a steadying in the noises of my life.

The musical climax rose to crescendo in moments of loss for each of us. My loss took me on a journey far from the place I was now living to the home I had been distant from for so long. My father was dying. The notes of my life tumbled and fell upon the keys of living, quieting for moments of sharing the person who he had been, rising again in the devil’s chord of dementia’s ramblings in these final days of saying goodbye. My friend’s loss came in physical health as he faced the failing of his own heart. In those moments the music broke through into the song it would become – a sharing that crossed the miles while each of us DSC09137quietly played our melodies of living in the places we called home.

He is a musician, this friend who has become so important in my life. He hears the music, his mind, hands and heart working to build the skills and knowledge to let it sing out more fully on guitar, accordion and in his voice. He is becoming on the outside what he has always been quietly within.

Days 25 and 26: Openings

P1050380There is a door in my home that takes me beyond the borders of the world I walk in each day. It is a door that lets me see within others I might have passed on the street without the briefest hellos, not realizing the depth of their stories which resonated with mine. Through this door I have walked through vineyards of Tuscany, travelled the byways of Thailand, had writer’s chats with others in The Philippines, in Australia, in Spain and other far flung corners of the world. This door has led me to places where I have laughed and cried with others who have faced cancer, the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child or grandchild, a marriage, a divorce. So many passages of life have been shared as others have stepped through their doorways to meet with me in this world of shared thought.

At a low place in my journey, I met a friend in the place of shared thought who believed it was worthwhile to reach through the door into my life by letting me choose a trip – just for me – to somewhere that I dreamed of being, with one catch. It had to be within a day’s drive of my home.

duluth presentBOOKI lived in the flat inland province of Manitoba and longed to see the ocean. Our lakes are beautiful but did not feel enough like the ocean so I looked south to the largest of the Great Lakes and set my sites on a town at its tip. Duluth – only a name on a map and a few pictures I could find through search engines – would be my destination.

It was a place in my life where I was alone too much of the time. Anxiety was my full time housemate which limited how much of others I could physically have around. Knowing that I needed to break the syndrome of solitariness, I chose to stay at a bed and breakfast instead of a hotel. The one I chose was a couple of kilometers from the harbor. It was a place where I could park my car and walk anywhere I needed or wanted to go in the eight days of my visit there.

There is a sense of the divine that comes with such a gift from someone you will never see face to face and so contemplating that divine was a part of this journey. I did not feel alone. There HAZYMORNwere the morning breakfasts with others who were guests in the home. There were the brief conversations with the owners who lived in the carriage house out back. There were moments on the mighty grand piano in the living room where I could play my heart into the quietness on days that I was the only guest.

From my room window there were glimpses of the great expanse of water curving along the earth surface so that the far side was hidden from my view. It was only a glimpse of the water I could see from there. Tall trees danced in the wind like curtains blowing in the breeze. Just above the top of these trees at moments the haze would lift the waters would sparkle in the sun.

DELUTH.ME3 For days I walked the shoreline to the harbor exploring the sand bar, riding out into the lake in a tour boat, meandering through the quirky shops lining the city streets. I walked up the hillside that cradled the lake like a bowl visiting the gorges cut deep in the sides by flowing streams. I walked and wandered, and wondered where life would go from this moment where loss of direction has become the center of my life.

The morning I rose early, the sky still covered the town in a thick blanket of darkness. The lake was calling me though. Like a junkie needing a fix, I needed to feel the breezes and hear the sound of the water lapping against the rocks. I would not be in this place of peaceful contemplation much longer. Soon I would be making the journey back to the questions without ready answers that was my life.

Dressing quietly I walked out into the slight chill of that late July morning and started down the road to the edge of the lake. The harbor wasn’t my destination nor did I want to risk the chance encounters in the park so I walked straight to the water crossing through an abandoned field.

At the water’s edge, as was true all around the edges of the town, large boulders lined the lake protecting the town from its mighty carving tools that had caused such damage in the past to the more fixed nature of manmade structures. They were the guardians at this juncture where nature met man’s best laid plans. It was there, on those rocks that I found a seat for looking out on the steel grey of the waters.

A large ship and a small duck were the first outlines to begin to find definition as light began to rise. My heart was quiet as I thought of the friend who had done this for me but who I would never see.

The opening of the sun first made itself knows as tiny flickers of flame dancing to the shore on the tips of wavelets. The fire seemed so real. For a moment I wondered if, in fact, the man I could see on the shore was throwing something out into the waves. He stood silent, though, staring out toward the water, a black silhouette against a backdrop of trees reaching out over the edge of the water. I turned back to watch the duck riding quietly on the rise and fall near the shore.

glow4Suddenly I was enveloped by a reddish light. The water where I had been watching still wore its grayish hue. The shore on the other side of me still slept in the quietness of shadows. This light surrounded me casting my shadow on the rock behind me. Looking forward I saw the miracle of time and place that was mine in those moments. Shaded trees and elevation had somehow conspired to make this place I was sitting the meeting place with the sun. A carpet of red unfurled through the slightly pinkish grey on each side, right to me. I was held in a sense of majesty that stopped my breathing and opened the tears I held inside.

I was in awe. In those moments I thought of my friend far away and reached my hand out. But it is not that friend who held my deepest thoughts. I remembered a story of a people on a Pacific island who spoke of the day one would walk out of the sunrise to meet them and heal their wounds. In those moments, this was that One who seemed to have met me there.

The sun opened further bringing light into the day and I made my slow way back up the hill to pack for my journey home. Was it a minute? Five minutes? Less? Or more? I won’t know nor do I have a photo to hold that moment in my memory. Instead I have the indelible imprint in my spirit of that carpet of red rolled out through the greyness of my life, holding me until the door of the sun could more fully open, colouring my world again in light.

Stepping out onto that carpet of hope, I moved forward into what was to of the sun5b


Day 24 – Sometimes You Don’t

 IMG_5519Sometimes just showing up for the day and what it holds is all you can do. Some days As-Much-As-I-Can has to be enough. Yesterday was one of those days for me.

Day 22 the only offering I could bring to the 500 word challenge was a piece on my not so good close neighbor Anxiety. Earlier in the week, I had allowed myself to be included in something to a level I wasn’t ready for. In so doing I had climbed on the Ferris wheel of Not-Good-Enough and began spinning away. Anxiety saw her chance to get even with me for having kicked her out of her permanent room in the house of me. Knowing that the vertigo of high places would enhance my memory of her, she flipped the ride off while my basket was close to the top. The dizziness and physical symptoms were too much, and I had to choose to stop so that I could slow my mind enough to find a way down.

Day 23 the wheel had stopped and the dizziness I was experiencing wouldn’t even let me drive my car to get anywhere. Putting thoughts together to get small things done was a challenge. I couldn’t even get the words into my journal. There was no way I was going to be able to compose them into an accountability blog entry. I would have a day home but didn’t have it together enough to do what would have felt productive here. The day felt like it was going to end before it began.

DSC00813If I didn’t get off this wheel soon, Anxiety would be moved into her old room by the time I finally got home. It was a race against time as my survival instincts kicked in. My feelings of not being enough would defeat me if I didn’t face the trigger of feelings which had led to this irrational level of being in a full blown anxiety attack.

I had to find a way to get down to the solid ground of As-Much-As-I-Can so I could do the things which were priorities to me. I had to do this not only for myself but for those I cared about – my students, my family, and the one who had come to have meaning to my inner artist through our exchanges of writing and sharing of art.

I read it in some of the posts of other 500 word challengers and knew this was not an isolated experience. For others, the reasons usually seemed to be outside of themselves, but the results was the same. We were not able to measure up to the level we felt meant we were meeting the challenge. For some who had not had the privilege of so close a relationship to anxiety that they had gotten outside helpers involved in helping to move Anxiety out, this meant stopping for a day, a few days, a week. I totally got it. I began this challenge after almost a year of having shut down while I was dealing with some things in my outside world.

So where to start.

DSC01533Risking a look over the side of the basket, I began studying the supporting structures around me. There were people nearby who had shown their understanding in the past. I would let them know what was going on so I would feel a sense of a net below to help my courage. I climb over the edge of the basket and step out onto the frame of the wheel.

 I streamlined my activities in acknowledgement of the lower energy that accompanies the physical symptoms of anxiety. In classes, we work on skills that will build into the activities that are our goals for the term. In writing, I allow myself to write what I can. For Day 23, a poem becomes my only offering to share. I let that be enough. Grasping the structure I inch my feet toward the tower in the middle and the latticed metal that looks a bit like a ladder.

I let my words strengthen my grip. Laughter and quirky humor flexes my fingers, tightening their grip against my quivering insides. I keep my mouth shut when an opportunity arises to take on one more thing to do. I take the risking of speaking openly to a student who is harming himself by the choices he is making in relationship to others. I choose to stay engaged with life even when a part of me wants to hide.

I am not quite down to the ground yet but I am getting there. Anxiety, I don’t plan on rescinding your eviction notice. I may not be able to get you totally out of the neighborhood, but I will do whatever I need to keep you from taking up permanent residency in me again.