Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Where words come to rest in the peace of wild things (a goodbye and hello)

[A goodbye to Beautiful rubbish, hello to new blog attempt, Take Two. I published my new website on Friday, only to have to recreate it in Wordpress. So sorry for the confusion, friends. It's with readiness and sadness I leave you with my last BR post. Thank you for joining me for different legs of this journey. I hope to see you as I continue new paths.]

. . . . . 

In the last few months, I found myself in a space where I no longer wanted to write. Not for "a season," or a break; I didn't want to write at all. I considered walking away from blogging and book writing to pursue forms of art that got me out of my head. But I gradually came to see that my aversion to writing was not so much to writing as a whole, but to the toll writing the chronic-pain-in-process stories had begun taking on my mental and emotional health.

I'd grown weary of vulnerability. Vulnerability of the depth and extent I'd grown into as a writer and storyteller. Since starting Beautiful Rubbish in 2010, I'd told numerous stories of grief in different forms. Death of a loved one. Injury. Depression. Relational heartache. Environmental and climate changes. Spiritual trauma. A complete shift of faith and beliefs. I told these stories within a search for beauty in the messiness of life; it felt beautiful for awhile. But within those stories, I'd reached a place where there was more I felt I needed to keep quiet than I felt free to voice. Writing eventually became another area of my life that silenced my voice, rather than unleashed it.

I finally admitted to myself that I've lived in crisis for the past four years. That I'm bone tired, soul tired, of writing a story that I live daily as unresolved, told in metaphors because it's not ready to be shared. The problem was, I knew now what depths and extent of courageous vulnerability I was capable of going to in my writing. Anything less than that felt like playing it safe.

Thankfully, I remembered that on this journey of learning to love myself, really truly love myself as I would another person, there had to be another way of understanding my reaction to writing. If I only listened, looked a little deeper, with no judgment. I ended up rewriting my personal definition of "playing it safe" to mean extending myself compassion. Self care.  Kindness. I didn't need to stop writing: I needed to tell the stories that fed my soul and gave my voice an outlet.

And I knew that those stories were my observations, encounters and relationships with the natural world. With my wild neighbors, my wild family. I needed writing to be a place where I could focus my passion for conservation and hopefully meet like-minded souls along the way.  I needed a new home for my stories.

Enter, my new blog.

Old readers will find a few familiar remnants of Beautiful rubbish here. These reflect the parts of me that are static: A deep appreciation of the natural world. A love of lyrical writing. Drawing metaphors from the world around me. Diving deep into the stuff of life. And just as I have changed drastically from the person who began blogging in 2010, much of what is expressed here in this new space is dynamic, like me. I'm mostly fluid, still transforming. And this is my fresh canvas.

New readers will see less of my personal life and more of my observations and interpretations of the world around me. I'm not completely shying away from vulnerable topics; not hardly. You'll likely find them woven in more gently against the background of nature. I've learned that who I am and what I'm about is best understood in this context.

Welcome to My wild family, where the human and nonhuman worlds collide, intersect, and inform each other in foreign languages that must be studied and learned over a lifetime. I hope you'll come back to visit, make yourself at home, engage as you feel so inclined.

Care to join me there? (click here for new site)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The ghost blog?

If you read my last post (which has now been reverted back to a draft), you're probably wondering where it went and why my new website looks, well, unfinished and different. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, good. And also, I'm working on a new website. I published it and soon after (much to my frustration and amusement) found out I'd created it in a format not conducive to blogs. 


I've never claimed to be technologically inclined, whatsoever. But yes, I'm working on my own (simple) website for a brand new blog.

More details to come... I hope to have the new site reformatted and live in the coming week or two. 

Please stay tuned!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

An unconventional truth

I am a mother.

This truth is starting to penetrate a culture-imposed shame: The defining moment and culmination of womanhood is in bearing children.  If a woman does not desire children of her own, there is something wrong with her. She is selfish, immature, afraid of responsibility. She is not whole. She cannot be fulfilled. She will deeply regret this.

I have never carried a sustained longing for children of my own. It has flitted in and out as quickly as it came only a handful of times in my thirty-five years. I always expected it would stay, one day, when the time was right. When I was ready. This is, more or less, what I was taught by Christian culture, by American culture at large. And so I've harbored a quiet shame, because it has never been my truth.

At least, not on the terms laid out for me.

But when I stayed up through the night caring for a baby squirrel, my heart was full. I felt whole. Alive. A receptacle of love and nurture and fierce protection. I was undone by this fragile ball of fur on my chest. 

And when I plant trees, tuck new plants in with burlap and mulch, extend a forest, I am sowing life back into the earth. Leaving behind a legacy, the fruit of which I will not live long enough to enjoy. 

When I pick up garbage from the lake, I am quietly fighting for the lives of creatures and habitat that I love. 

When I bring a lost dog into our home, bathe and brush and feed him, take him to the vet, stroke his face and speak soothing to him, I am offering myself without condition.

When I hang our feeder of sugar water out for the hummingbirds, I am feeding my family. Hoping to lighten the load of daily survival, offering a place of refuge.

When I frequently rearrange Pepita's habitat based on following her behaviors, I am listening to her needs, learning from her. I am affirming that she has a voice, however different it is from my own.

* * * * *

We never expected to go to the Seattle Home Show this past weekend and come home with a baby.  But that is precisely what happened. We were wandering through the expo in search of models of tiny homes and were sidelined by a tiny furball in a lady's hand as she addressed a small crowd. Curious, I pressed in. I'd never seen this animal before: a sugar glider.

photo credit
I moved closer to the woman with the sugar glider, and she handed him to me. He fit in the palm of my hand, his tail wrapped around the perimeter of his head like a scarf. His dark brown eyes took up half his face. I relaxed my hold on him and he scurried up my arm onto my shoulder, then hopped over to Ricardo's. Soon he disappeared inside the sleeve of Ricardo's jacket and my husband danced around laughing.

I looked at Ricardo with wide, shining eyes and breathed, We cannot leave here without one of these babies.

There are seven babies left, the woman announced to the crowd. I stepped up to her side and raised my hand, I want one.

I had just enough in savings to bring a baby home. The kind of spontaneity that makes me nervous, but might as well have been planned for how right it felt.

What should we name him, I asked Ricardo that night. Nothing seemed to quite fit our little marsupial. We went to bed and when we awoke in the morning, Ricardo read me a list of names. 

I chose Tarzan.

Tarzan, with the wings of fur that one day may allow him to glide up to 150 feet through the air. Tarzan, whose intricate hands, the size of an almond, allow him to climb the sides and ceiling of his cage like a king of the jungle.

The bonding process with a sugar glider requires time and patience. He does not immediately trust us. In fact, he is frightened of us. Every day in the afternoon, when I get home from work, I reach into his cage and firmly grab hold of him beneath his blanket. I transfer him to his zipper pouch, hung around my neck, and tuck it underneath my shirt, in my bra, right next to my skin. He needs to acclimate to my scent, feel my heartbeat, be snuggled tight and safe. He chatters at me anxiously. With my hand pressed flat against his body, I apply pressure until his chattering subsides.

He is like a crying infant. And I am a new mother. For the next few hours, we move about as one.  

We are a family of four: Two humans, one tortoise, one marsupial. As this kind of mother, I can only ever imagine expanding. 


Saturday, February 13, 2016

The piece of soul on my skin


I am seething. I am in agony.

I've slipped away to the laundry room, siting in the dark hugging my knees, and I want to slam my fist into a wall. A wall of human arrogance. Greed. Self-entitlement. That wall of we don't fucking care about another living soul unless it profits us.

My husband just showed me a video clip of a fresh atrocity in Mexico. A group of rich entrepreneurs decided to overtake a wetland habitat in Cancun and bulldoze it in the middle of the night. They're going to build more resorts. In the process, they destroyed ninety percent of the wildlife population in the wetland. Killed them, while they were sleeping. 

In the video, a young Mexican man is talking passionately, gently cupping a dead bird in one hand. It was buried in the dirt for two days before they uncovered it. The little bird is the color of the sun and the sky, and one wing is nearly torn from its body. He peels back the wing to show the gaping wound in the bird's lifeless body. I stare at it and my stomach clenches in pain, on the verge of retching.

A this point, I leave the room.

* * * * * 

On our walk down by the lake this morning, we can't escape the depression of the landscape. The low water level exposing garbage. The birds fishing as usual in a lake that is slowly ebbing away. The birds, the trees, the water, continue to emanate beauty.

But it is a searing beauty. An ominous beauty. It catches that elusive crevice between my ribs where I feel heavy things that can't be put into words. It sits there and quietly thrums its lament. And I can't do a damn thing about it but listen, refuse to shut it out, work diligently to undo a speck of the damage that's already been done, vow to do better in all the daily small ways that add up to something bigger. 

And here, again, the rage boils over. We've done this.

There are days I loathe being human.

* * * * *

I cradle my newly tattooed arm in my hands as the tears continue to fall. It seems since I got myself inked, I feel these violations against the natural world even more acutely. They are violations against me now. Maybe because I cared enough to have my own flesh engraved as identification with this nonhuman world that has already tattooed itself on my insides. More than beautiful artwork, which it is, it is expressive of one of my most deeply embodied beliefs: We belong to each other.

My arm hurt so bad at certain points while the artist worked, instead of trying to escape the pain (which I couldn't do), I went into it. I imagined myself as a tree being carved. It didn't take the edge off the pain, but it did channel it. I wonder what a tree feels when its bark is etched with a knife. Is it anything like piercing through a layer of skin with a set of needles? 

And now I have birch trees etched on my forearm. With a great blue heron flying through, a big wooden door set in the background of the trees like the entrance to a secret garden. It's a stunning work of art. And it's much, much more than art. It's one of my deliberate responses to the rage that boils up in me. Harness this, translate it into art, it says. Plant life where you can in all this death. The world is a festering wound of rage, filled with the voices of suffering, injustice, grief, violation, despair. I can add yet another angry voice to this, and it will quickly be lost in the noise.

Or, I can find another way.

This tattoo is my vow to love these others - all these nonhuman others that share the world with us - as I would myself.

At the end of the day, the end of a life, the most stunning works of art are those which have been wholly embodied. 

* * * * *

I wrote that shortly after I got the line work done on my tattoo. Yesterday, I went back to finish it, and it is a glorious painting on my arm. More glorious even than in my imagination, which is saying something for an artist. 

I woke up this morning, swollen and still in pain, popping another 1000 mg of ibuprofen. I gingerly washed my arm and rubbed lotion on it, standing back to see myself in the mirror.

I feel, somehow, like this tattoo is a huge piece of my soul that is now visible on my skin. It's hugely vulnerable, especially when most people look at it and assume "we belong to each other" is referring to my husband. 

What does it mean, then, only a few people have asked.  

Enough to write a book about, I reply.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bringing on thirty-five

I'm thirty-five today.

I say it again, I'm thirty-five years old, let it roll off my tongue without fear or judgment, regret or nostalgia. I just am. All these years of life and all the ages I've ever been, rolled into one unfinished number.


I was grieved to turn thirty, for a lot of reasons that felt painful at the time. I don't know how or where I'll be when I turn forty. But here? At the age of thirty-five? I'm content to own my years.

To really own them, the way I'm learning to own my body through all its changes. To treat it more gently, kindly, respectfully, instead of beating it up. To appreciate all we've been through together. To (try) to eye it less critically, to see it more as a watercolor painting and less like a chiseled sculpture. Instead of running miles and miles, which my knees will no longer allow, I walk for miles and miles of wide-eyed seeing. Instead of sweating in a boot camp class, I stretch and pose and feel my strength grow, my muscles lengthen, on my yoga mat in the living room. The theme of my life lately has been coming into my true self, my real skin, and I am loving that skin with all its history held in billions of tiny cells.

I started loving myself for the first time at thirty-four. I'm going to love myself more fully by the end of this year.

* * * * *

Ricardo and I celebrated our birthdays together this past Saturday, his fortieth and my thirty-fifth, among dearly loved friends - of the non human variety, that is. Driving an hour and a half south of Seattle, at the base of Mt. Rainier, we greeted all kinds of delightful friends at a wildlife park. Bison, moose, elk, big horned sheep, mountain goat, deer, cougar, wolverine, beavers, river otters, raccoons, lynx, grey wolves, snowy owl, barn owls, turkey vulture. Aspen, Douglas fir, Western red cedar, hemlock. 

We loved them all.

And I felt more at home among these ones than I do among most people these days. These are lean years of friendship, and I'm learning to live in the tension of that ache, and also to find friends in other forms and places.

The cold nipped at our noses and fingers and we awed at the frozen glory of the lake and the forest. We clasped each other's gloved hands snugly and basked in the warmth of companionship, the gift of another year together and the glow of dreams kindling fiery orange.

These are true riches.

* * * * *

I haven't had much use for written words these days. Most of my words have been coming to me in the form of paintings, and so I've been picking up my brushes and letting them speak.

At the age of thirty-five, I'm coming to see that living into my art is more than being a writer. I have more inside me than words. It's like learning a new language, expanding my speech, this growth of creative expression. Painting takes me beyond the limits of my words; words and painting combined open up a new world of speech. It's exhilarating.

So I lean into this inclination toward painting, even though I know nothing of technique. I haven't studied styles. I don't know the proper terminology. And for once in my life, I don't give a damn. For a change, I'm not doing this to try and be the best or get it right. I'm doing this for the pure joy of creating. 

Just as I'm not doing yoga daily with the expectation of ever being a yogi. Or doing the splits. Or looking as graceful and altogether flexible as the instructors I watch in my online yoga classes. No, I'm doing this because when I get on my mat, I can feel this is growing both body and soul. And because as months go by, I find myself doing things I said I couldn't do or at least inching my way closer. And it feels good, real good. 

* * * * *

I used to hate that my birthday was in the winter. As a kid, it made outdoor birthday parties impossible. But at the age of thirty-five, I'm loving my January birthday. In fact, I'm loving winter for the very first time. While I hear people constantly looking forward to summer months and warm sunshine, I'm wishing time to slow these few months of winter. To savor the crisp cold and, yes, even those dim gray days. To open more to the raw beauty of this season with all its mysteries, to its invitation to hole up inside and create.

And this, too, feels like acceptance. Contentment. Creativity. Growth. Hope. 

I am leaning into winter, into loneliness, into beauty, into creating, into kindness, into exploration, into what is. Leaning into thirty-five and falling forward with curiosity and anticipation.

Bring it.