How to Grieve a Father (Before He’s Even Gone)

After getting the news…

Go stand in the shower to cry, howl instead.

Wail to the heavens, his heavens, the heavens that he believes in enough for the both of you.

Squint your eyes at the crescent moon, the last moon Dad would ever know. Grapple with that for a minute.

Later, meticulously make note of the moon and its aspects: a waxing crescent moon in Cancer.

…Search for meaning. Always search for meaning.

Wonder aloud, tell him, “You were everything to me, Dad. And now you are everything.”

Light a candle, and then another candle, and then another candle. Burn sage and cedar wrapped in string. Sing the Maha Mantra over his dead/dying body. More wailing.

Then silence. Enough silence that someone says, “I think she’s in shock.”

Hold your hands in prayer. Pray for grace, pray for strength, but most of all, pray for his soul to be okay after falling off that ladder.

Notice his body swelling. His hands. His eyes. Listen when the doctors tell you it’s the machines that are keeping his body alive. Write all the dirty details in a notebook, as if that’s going to change anything. Prognosis: impossible.

Instruct them to keep keeping his body alive until all or most of his loved ones have come to see him, to say their goodbyes and their thank you’s.

Host them. Meet them in the waiting room. There are so many and they can only go in in twos.

Notice how his body is swelling. How at first he looked just like Dad, but now, not so much. Notice how he doesn’t open his eyes. Notice the artificial breath. Touch his hair.

Put your hands in prayer again.

Talk like Dad is in the room. Tell him, “So and so is here to see you, Dad.”

Surprise yourself by reciting the Lord’s Prayer verbatim during a too long silence.

After all the visitors, try to sleep next to Dad in a recliner that the hospital provided. Have trouble sleeping. Decline the offer for TV. Walk the halls of the hospital instead.

In the morning, instruct the doctor to unplug him. Play a favorite song. More wailing.

Let your grandpa hold you…something he’s never done before.

Weeks later, let your grandpa walk you down the isle at your wedding.

Ask the mortician to burn him with his tulsi mala beads on, wrapped around his wrist or placed around his neck.

Liken him to Christ in his obituary.

Don’t wash Dad’s laundry, because that means he’ll really be gone.

Place a portrait of him as a baby at your dining room table. His cherub-like smile greeting you every morning.

Place his adult portrait on your dresser, making eye contact every time you pass it.

Decide you don’t need Dad in your bedroom, on your dresser, looking over you. Place the portrait in the common room instead–a reminder to all who enter, “Father Gone But Not Forgotten.”

Search for rainbows. Stitch a quilt of silver linings.

Study Dad’s birth and death dates for meaning: 11/11/62 – 5/5/22

Find none because your mind is too blurry.

Place the jelly in the cupboard and the peanut butter in the fridge.

Finally wash Dad’s laundry, twice to get rid of the ICU smell. But refuse to put the clothes away. Then it’ll really, really mean that Dad’s gone.

Gone. Meditate on the origin of the word. It’s from the Old English “gan” meaning to depart or go away.

Dearly departed. Indeed.

Take a month to go pick up the cremains, which they present to you in a box inside a gift bag.

Tell yourself you’re going to buy little ceramic jars for the family. Then don’t.

Smoke too much pot. It was your and Dad’s “thing.” That and swimming or soaking.

Tell yourself you’re going to take yourself to the water every opportunity you get. Then don’t.

Tell yourself you’re going to send a card to the nurse staff at Sutter Coast Hospital. Then don’t.

Tell yourself you’re going to try not to be so hard on yourself for once. Then don’t.

Have breakfast with his baby picture everyday. Granola and that gummy smile.

Tap into that grief place through music. Play all the emotional ones. Unknown Legend. Eureka. Ripple.

Take a walk in the woods, it’s what he would have wanted.

My Sweet Lord

I am not a destiny person. Or I wasn’t until now anyway. I’m still wary of signing off on that whole concept. But I dare you not to think of God or the afterlife, when staring at a body you once knew, loved, even relied on, hooked up to a life support machine. Questions of what the soul is, where the soul is, and where that soul will end up are likely to swirl around in your consciousness for weeks, if not forever, if you are like me.

So that is where I am now. As I write this, it is seven days after Dad’s passing. I am reflecting on how in those moments of great challenge with Dad, in those hours that I laid by his bedside in the hospital, I surprised myself by curling up in the presence of Something Greater. It didn’t feel good to pray and to surrender—nothing felt good at that time—but it felt completely necessary. The experience with Dad made me question my own faith, or what little there was left of it. This is all to say, you don’t need spirituality…until you do. And you will.

I usually cringe at statements like “It was meant to happen” or “It was all part of God’s plan.” Now there is a small fissure in the wall of my beliefs, where the narrowest slip of light can come in. I didn’t become a believer overnight. Or rather over those 36 hours between Dad’s accident (a fall from a ladder) and when we took him off life support. But my defenses did soften. Where else was there to turn, but to some idea of God? To some idea of an afterlife? I couldn’t just turn on the television and forget about it all, though they did, perplexingly, have a TV in the ICU.

How could all of this, I questioned, from work to play and everything else in-between be orchestrated? It had all been said by others before but, if it were all orchestrated, why would innocent people be imprisoned and tortured, people who love with all they have become broken hearted, and children be born, and die, on the streets? Why is there no justice on this earth?

If there was such a thing as heaven, I hoped there was justice there.

According to many, the answer to why there is pain and suffering is that the soul has a need for spiritual evolution. That each has their own lessons to learn in this life, on this earth. Without conflict, our spiritual selves cannot grow or evolve. In the days after Dad’s passing, people started saying things like, “His work here was done.”

Dad used to talk a lot about religion and spirituality. And now that he’s not physically here, I feel I owe him the respect of listening, of leaning into his beliefs, of opening my heart and mind to what he’d been saying all along. His teachings have never been more relevant. In the moments by his bedside, I experienced more than one “ah ha.”

The best I can do for Dad now is to breathe more life into those wisdoms and teachings that he’d had. In his obit, which I wrote, I liken him to Christ. It’s a bold statement, I know. But some people don’t realize the well of compassion that Dad carried within him. Just one example, at the time of his death there was, and still is, a man living on Dad’s property. When we approached him and asked where they’d met, the man said he met Dad at the Mission. He’d just been released from prison, and Dad offered him a place to stay. As a child, there was always one person, usually a convicted felon, living on our land. These are people who had been shunned from society, with no place else on earth to go. And Dad was there for them, as hard as that was for me at times.

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” Proverbs 14:31

I didn’t know that scripture, I don’t know any scriptures, really, but thinking about Dad’s ways, I did a quick Google search. It turns out there are a shit ton of scriptures just like that one.

When the doctor came into the room—Dr. Christie—he asked me, with complete respect, why I had laid a hindi blanket across Dad’s body. I fingered the white cloth with the red Sanskrit lettering and depictions of Krishna and Rhada.

“Dad is a Hare Krishna…and a Christian, and a Buddhist,” I told Dr. Christie.  

He took a sidelong glance at the Bible I’d brought and placed on the table next to Dad’s breathing machine. He worshipped any God that was in front of him, I thought. But I can’t remember if I told Dr. Christie that or not.

A few days later, I was reading a book “Embraced by the Light” by Betty J. Eadie and came across this:

“I wanted to know why there were so many churches in the world. Why didn’t God give us one church, one religion? The answer came to me with the purest of understanding. Each of us is at a different level of spiritual development and understanding. Each person is prepared for a different level of spiritual knowledge. All religions on earth are necessary because there are people who need what they teach.”

It turns out that that book “Embraced by the Light” would help me access my spirituality through a side door: near death experiences or NDEs. I couldn’t come to that spiritual place head on, through the Bible or the Baghavad-Gita. I don’t jibe, and never have, with religious stories that read like fiction or with timelines that seem to counter science.

But I could get behind near death experiences themselves, I mean, Dad and I had both had one. His, we all believe, was what made him the way he was. But more on that later. I couldn’t possibly tell this entire story in one sitting. In my journal, where I have been laying down all the letters and words that have been helping me come to some place of understanding at this unimaginable crossroad in my life, my writing now shifts from addressing you, the audience, to addressing Dad himself. This change in style makes it difficult for me to continue the story and round it out in a nice, easy way, so I will share the next segment of what I have written in my journal, before closing this chapter and picking the story up in a different piece. If anything is to render me speechless, or wordless, it is Dad’s passing. So be it. The fact that I cannot finish this essay is a testament to my grief.

My next paragraph is, “I thought of how, since you were a boy, you’d had one foot in this world and one foot in another. You didn’t remember ‘what happened’ when you were in a month-long coma, or what happened to your soul in those moments that you floated lifeless on top of the water, having drowned, but it was clear that you’d met God.”

This is all to say that you don’t need spirituality…until you do. And you will. And also this: some things you just can’t write, or reason, your way out of.

Love and mysterious blessings,

Mama Bird

A Simple Potluck Dinner

Last Saturday we piled into the minivan and headed, for the first time since moving here more than five years ago, to a locally infamous community potluck at a place called Big Bear Camp. The potluck happens monthly and follows a different theme. I imagined themes like comfort food and Asian food, but wasn’t exactly sure. We’d long wanted to go to the potlucks but missed the opportunity during Autumn’s newborn phase, and then the pandemic happened, and it wasn’t until recently that the owners of Big Bear Camp, an engaging couple of retirement age, called us on the telephone. They addressed us as the “chicken people” and invited us to their monthly community potluck, which had just started up again.

We’d passed their sign before marking Big Bear Camp on the long, winding and wooded Nelson Mountain Road back when we used to drive it regularly to visit our good friends in Deadwood. The road connects our small town, Walton, with another small town, Deadwood. Deadwood was always a decidedly cooler place than Walton, but if anything were to change my mind about that, it was sure to be our experience at Big Bear Camp.

Time stands still in some places. Takilma, Oregon. Deadwood. And even, I would learn, at Big Bear Camp–located 33 miles outside of Eugene. I am certain that a million places like this exist across our country. They’re the places that don’t show up on glossy brochures. They’re places where GPS always gets it wrong. And where you are more likely to see a person walking in bare feet, with flowers in their hair, a beer in their hand, and their face toward the sun, rather than looking down at their watch, or phone; or rushing in and out of big box stores, and chasing the next “thing” at breakneck speed. These places are a step outside, even, your quintessential small towns–your Tombstone, Arizona’s; your Virginia City, Montana’s. It’s a place for locals where nothing, and I mean nothing, is being sold. Just bartered.

I immediately felt at home when we, after arriving late, were welcomed into the wide circle of what must have been over forty five people, who were introduced as our neighbors. In that moment I honestly felt more connected than I have in years.

After introductions, people made their way to the lodge for a potluck feast served on the wraparound porch outside. Lively discussions about solar energy, sustainable food production, and building homes using reclaimed local timber ensued.

“There’s more food inside,” a pretty elderly woman dressed in a blue wool coat told us. She sported coral pink lip gloss and I was immediately drawn to her, and inspired by her style. I almost regretted wearing my fresh-of-the-farm outfit: black from head-to-toe. Next time, I told myself, I’d wear some color. I wanted to talk to her, but before I could say a word she’d fluttered away.

It was eye-opening to see so many other likeminded and friendly people, right there in our backyard. I’d almost come to believe to some extent that these kind of people only existed in my phone. What a mistake that had been, and what a casualty of the isolated, pandemic-era.

After the feast, which was as lively as always for Steve and I–balancing our paper plates with metal forks and grabby, wobbly, three-year-old–the host pointed us to the “library” on the lodge’s second floor. We rounded the spiral staircase to a comfortable landing place for any parent and child. Energized as she was, I couldn’t get Autumn to focus on a single children’s book. That was until a little girl close to her age–almost three years her senior–wandered up. Autumn was content to have the little girl read to her when she offered, and the two happily played together for the rest of our visit.

For sometime, I sat in a chair in the corner of the library, just catching my metaphorical breath. Not catching my breath from socializing or parenting, things you might think of when I say that. But catching my breath from the fast paced and often artificial world outside the walls of Big Bear Camp and other places like it. Looking down from the loft library at all the people sitting face-to-face, eating pie under the glow of solar light, with not a phone or screen in sight; I felt both sad and happy. Sad because something as ordinary as sitting face-to-face, and really giving someone your attention was somehow a novelty now. And happy because I felt warm and fuzzy just witnessing and being a part of it all. This recently forgotten ritual: a simple potluck dinner.

I wanted to stay forever off grid, where the norms were flipped on their heads and where the something missing was at the heart of all the magic. When devoid of technology, we only have each other to connect with.

Of course I didn’t say any of this to anyone. And when one of the hosts appeared in the library on multiple occasions, I noticed that while he was speaking to me, he was also grabbing books. He grabbed one book off the arm of a chair. Another off a shelf. He did this very nonchalantly, as if I wouldn’t notice. Of course, I did notice. I noticed one was titled “Women of the Woods,” or something like that. I knew he was going downstairs to pass the novel off to one person or another, and naturally that made me happy. I liked to imagine how far back these traditions went, how long he and his neighbor had been trading paperback westerns. Two individuals, about my age, popped their heads into the library. Both said they’d been coming to Big Bear Camp since they were kids, that their parents read to them in the library I was sitting in. I smiled thinking of my own upbringing off grid, and how deep an impact my community had left on me, too. And how I desperately wanted that for my daughter.

This is all to say that the potluck was a reminder that there are still one million ways to live a life. And that time stands still, even today, in some places. Perhaps with this new awareness, we too can create a more intentional living space, built on a foundation of art, knowledge and community. And food. And although we did puncture a tire on the drive home, we will definitely be going back to Big Bear Camp’s next monthly potluck. And I’ll be sure to wear my colors.

Love,

Mama Bird

The Importance of Showing Mercy in Memoir

Like all of us, I’ve always been of the belief that actions speak louder than words. But over the past several months, I’ve been thinking about how loud words do speak, particularly if you are a memoirist.

I’ve had many years of writing and publishing (mostly here on my blog) to teach me that those who are written about will read your words closely and they will take them to heart, naturally. I have also had the luxury–I humbly admit–of those characters showing me extreme grace and forgiveness.

My memoir writing journey began in my very early twenties, and because I knew virtually nothing about memoir, other than having read a couple of them, I approached my writing this way: I wrote everything about everyone and used all their real names.

Now, I look at my pages and I see the truth, yes. But I also look at those pages and see real live people with real live emotions, and I have to honor that. At this juncture, having written the meat of the story, and revised it several times over, I have a choice: Do I change names or soften the story? Do I painstakingly sort through and assign similar sounding names to key characters? Cousins, boyfriends and bosses? Or do I keep their names and speak as if they are there in the room with me: with honesty, integrity, and compassion?

Writers in the genre have all heard the same line, “If they didn’t want to be written about poorly, they shouldn’t have behaved badly.”

It’s a fine starting point, a line to help you get your pen moving across the page. But I am curious to hear from other aspiring memoirists if it’s that same sentiment they think of when crossing over the threshold into querying and publishing.

Because, after all, most books do not become overnight bestsellers. What if we memoirists, in the end, sell our books only to our family members. If your book subject matter, childhood trauma, wouldn’t make for some awkward Thanksgiving dinner conversation, well I don’t know what would.

But here’s the thing, when it comes to me, the majority of those who have purchased the books I have self-published are not my family. I haven’t had a Thanksgiving with my mother, ever, and abandonment, whether comfortable or not, is central to my story. I cannot untangle myself from the truths and tell some other story. But maybe I can tell my story with a balance of both transparency and grace. Maybe. That’s what I hope for.

Back when I first started writing The Poetry of Place, long before it had a title, long before I’d changed my mother’s name to Moonbeam, and long before I started dragging my pages through critique group, it was all about the therapeutic benefits of memoir. I didn’t think of it in those terms back then, but looking back I’d really, really, really needed to exorcise my story. I was always a writer, from elementary school on up. So my story–once I finally realized it’s potential–became viable subject matter. And my intention morphed from the therapeutic benefits of writing to the creative challenge it presented: Writing a book worth reading.

So rather than “If they didn’t want to be written about poorly, they shouldn’t have behaved badly,” how about, “Hurt people hurt people.”

Most people agree with that statement, and I believe the message is being conveyed through my memoir. Therefor I cannot take responsibility, or blame, when expressing, in so many words, something that we all agree is true, that “hurt people hurt people.”

But that’s what it all comes down to, responsibly. Because memoirists aren’t just airing our dirty secrets, but in some cases the secrets of others, too. In turn we have the potential to create a significant portion of someone’s legacy. And that is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Ever.

As I cross over the threshold into querying (that’s the long process of landing an agent or a book deal), and as I refine its final pages, imagining its bound version, I weigh my options. I am trying to strike a balance that honors both what I’ve endured, and protects the inherent innocence of those surrounding the story itself. Because none of us are perfect. Not even close. I think the most helpful advice I have heard is to be as hard on myself in the story as I am being on others. I assure you, given my nature, that my flaws will come across strongly in the final story. No matter what version you get.

Love (above all else),

Mama Bird

This is How I Care for Myself

Only build what you can properly care for.

This is how I care for myself:

Some people listen to their bodies, I listen to my heart. Of course, it’s louder when it’s pumping full of blood, so I take big, long strides up and down the hillsides near our home. When the sun comes up in the morning, I raise the blinds in both bedrooms and make two beds before making the coffee. I work for that cup, I earn it.

This is how I care for myself:

If I have time, I sip my coffee seated by the window. I especially love the blue sky. I didn’t appreciate it as much pre-pandemic, but now, after everything, I value the blue sky much more. If I don’t have time, the coffee goes into a dented aluminum mug, long on function, but short on looks.

This is how I care for myself:

I paint my toenails a sunny yellow. I paint them myself because it’s more satisfying that way. I offer to paint other people’s toenails too, because I secretly like to do that. I love imagining the joy on their faces when they look down at their toes.

This is how I care for myself:

I write in my journal and I don’t care about the scribbles and trailing thoughts because I remember a time when it was all about the journey and not the product. It really can’t be any other way and still be true.

This is how I care for myself:

I register for a grief writing group because feeling and writing is what I do. And feeling is better than numbing. I do it to help with the anticipatory grief I am experiencing over my grandmother’s health. “It’s an investment,” I remind myself.

This is how I care for myself:

I sing and dance with the children, even when I really don’t want to (even when I’d rather be writing).

This is how I care for myself:

I only take what I have it in me to give in return.

This is how I care for myself:

I take social media fasts on the weekends. It doesn’t transform my life, but it helps me stay accountable to the things, and importantly the people, that really matter to me.

This is how I care for myself:

I put invisible, impenetrable walls up around me–porous for only a few.

This is how I care for myself:

I knock them down from time to time. I rock n’ roll.

This is how I care for myself:

I learn, slowly, what boundaries are. I communicate my needs, first to myself and then to others.

This is how I care for myself:

I get my hair trimmed regularly. I don’t need a cut, exactly. I just like feeling cared for. I wear a big, soft shawl the color of wine.

This is how I care for myself:

I accept whatever weird and wacky–or totally mundane–way I have of taking care of myself. I trust myself–now, finally–to care for myself in healthy ways, the best ways for me. I do these things regardless of what others think of it.

This is how I care for myself:

Some people listen to their bodies, I listen to my heart. Of course it’s louder when it’s pumping so I take big, long strides up and down the hillsides.

Second Life: My Relationship with Thrifting

I slathered some second hand shopping on my wounds today. The last time we spoke, my grandmother asked me if I’d “scored anything good” at the thrift stores lately. I blathered on about the red wool jacket I’d scored six years ago at the Super Goodwill in Eugene. Nothing too good lately. But today, I would make up for lost time. I’d taken an intentional day off work for some R & R. A born n’ bred thrifter, this was my version.

It is my belief that we are all hopelessly addicted to something. If second hand splurges are my poison, so be it. Inside St. Vinneys, beyond the Christmas décor, the pieces started jumping out at me. There was a pair of camel-colored suede cowgirl boots. I tried them on. They were too much. Too costumey. Other suede booties swirled in front of my vision. Christmas music clouded my ears. How are all the boots my size? I backed away from the booties, but not before settling on two pairs. One, a lived-in leather wedge to go with my wedding dress in the springtime. Two, a basic chestnut brown ankle bootie. I reminded myself it was justified. Second to our homes we like live in our clothing, right? And not to mention how good second hand shopping is for the earth. I would give these booties a second life.

A man who was in step with me when we walked through the double doors, now shuffled past me with a blazer draped over one arm, and holding a golf driver in the other. He didn’t look at me then, and he didn’t look at me now. His eyes were glazed over similar to the other mid-day, mid-week thrifters. If there were drinks here, I’m sure we’d all have much to share, and much in common. At least our affinity for thrifting.

The elderly thrifters are my favorite. When we last spoke, my grandmother told me her caregiver, the one who handles all her medical stuff, has been taking her thrifting as a treat after her appointments with specialists. Cacti and that same, familiar blue and white Goodwill sign welcome her when she arrives. “Hi, welcome in,” I can imagine the clerk saying to her.

“They pull out all the good stuff and put it up front now. It kind of takes the hunt out of it,” she told me over the phone.

“I know, I know,” I responded in the same tone of voice she would have used, with a hint of a southern drawl.

As my grandmother grows older, I am slowly turning into her. We are in step.

I ignore the impulse to buy a baby blue fleece sweater–Champion brand–even though it is in my color. I have a lot of colors. Black. Red. Lavender. Green. Instead, I scored a brand-new pair of Old Navy mittens, violet, still with the tags on, for $1.99.

Then I decided I need a new, used wallet. The one I unearthed has an exposed window for drivers’ license located on the outside of the wallet. Perfect.

In that section, a small backpack with a blue and white print spoke to me. I swear it literally said my name. So I didn’t even question that purchase, just tossed it in the basket. It was 25% off.

On the other side of the store, in the jeans section, I asked the clerk if the fitting rooms were reopened yet. Having them closed was pandemic protocol. She said no, and they would probably never reopen again due to theft. I eyed the fitting rooms, caution tape surrounded them. I knew better than to stay in the jeans section if I couldn’t try them on.

I have a couple firm rules for thrifting: 1. Try everything on. 2. If it’s not yes, it’s no. (The second one is actually a bit of dating advice I’d gotten from a friend, but I’ve found it applies here too.)

Four long sleeve shirts later and I was up at the counter finally checking out. The clerk didn’t know it, but I was going to be trying the four shirts on outside my minivan to ensure that they were the right fit (by the grace of the thrifting gods, they were). I even have a superstition around this: if I notice a dress or a shirt fall off a hanger, I place it back where it belongs, with hopes that the thrifting gods might bestow good luck on me in return for my good deed.

My total came to $59.90. I always act like it’s good luck when the total comes to “just” under something; as in my just under $60.00. “Alright, I kept it under sixty!” I chirped to the clerk.

It was something my grandmother would have said, as was complimenting the clerk on her red blouse, and asking if it was designed by Carole Little.

I’ll have to call my grandmother now and tell her what I scored: two pairs of boots, one pair to go with my wedding dress, one pair for work, a new, used wallet, a blue-and-white bohemian-esque backpack, that can double as a purse, and four basic, long sleeve shirts for winter. A lot has changed since the “fill a bag for a dollar” days of thrifting. But the closeness I feel to my grandmother when doing this simple ritual is one-hundred percent priceless.

Love,

Mama Bird

Breaking the Spell: I’ve Been Logging Off Social Media for the Weekend, But it Still Isn’t Enough

My experiment started innocently enough, and in December I’ll be approaching 40 consecutive social media-free weekends. I know you’re probably wondering how the experiment has been going. In short, it is difficult to imagine a lifestyle where I didn’t set firm boundaries around my screen-use. But…it still isn’t enough. (More on that later.)

I began logging off social media on the weekends on the morning of Saturday, March 6th. I know because I’ve kept track in my planner–“No SM weekends” is scribbled into the top right corner of each square labelled “Saturday” and “Sunday.” Step One of accountability. Step Two was to announce it weekly on my Instagram stories.

“Why do you do that?” A well-intentioned friend asked me early on in my experiment. My answer was for accountability, of course. If I didn’t tell everyone on the platform that I was logging off, what would keep me from logging on and abandoning the experiment? Through my past experiences with addiction, I’d learned that willpower sometimes isn’t enough. For more food for thought on that, just listen to this episode of Radio Lab “You v. You.”

Another (HUGE) thing that inspired this lifestyle experiment was a documentary I watched called The Social Dilemma. In it, a group of former employees of social media companies out the inner evils (i.e. no restrictions on the relentless algorithms) of our most loved platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and even Google itself. All very cringe-worthy material. If you don’t believe me, just watch it.

After the documentary, I was left feeling like I needed to break the spell of social media and gain control again. I knew I was facing an addiction in the eyes–I’d been there before–and I wondered how many others knew how to recognize the signs and symptoms. Thoughts like, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” came to mind. I wondered why our society condemns some addictions, and let others slide. Like was the case with tobacco, I think we just don’t know how bad it is yet with screens. All the signs are there. Like, I can see the writing on the wall. And I’m betting that you can, too.

During the experiment, my lowest screen time happened on a Sunday. That day, I logged just 13 minutes of screen time. Alternatively, I clocked five hours on a recent Thursday. So there is a marked reduction in my screen use by eliminating social media alone. I just don’t know if that difference is enough to satisfy my overall need for a better quality-of-life.

The truth is there’s nothing more maddening than feeling powerless. And that is the distinction that I have come to recognize between using social media apps and the Internet in general (other websites like news, online magazines, etc.). When I’m scrolling Instagram, I get to that place where my mind is putting on the breaks (don’t you this, you already saw all you needed to see today, you need to get up and make lunch), but my body/hands have a totally different response (scroll, scroll, scroll. Ding, ding, ding).

Having had some exposure to gambling culture, I always vowed never to get caught up in gambling. And I’ve achieved that goal. But when I find myself on a website, and was driven there by a social media advertisement, and I end up buying this Rosehip Face Oil endorsed by Crissy Teigan, literally a woman I barely know exists, I have to wonder: how is this all any different? The bottom line is profit.

It just feels so similar to other addictive patterns I have experienced–and overcome–in my life. I liberated myself from tobacco and haven’t had a cigarette in years. In my memoir, I write extensively about my experimentation and addiction to street drugs. The similarities are this: I know what I am doing is extremely unhealthy, but I’m going to do it anyway, because I feel powerless to stop. I am here to tell you that education, knowledge and intention can bridge an addiction to anything. It was my curiosity that finally led to my recovery of those other substances. I just hope in the future I can say the same about my scary unhealthy addiction to screens.

What matters most at the end of the day is the example I am setting for my daughter. The recommendation for a person her age is 1 hour of screen time per day. I can tell you that there are days that she far surpasses that recommendation. And that responsibility, of course, falls ultimately on me. So I’m looking for another story to write.

We are at a fork. On the one hand, there are smartglasses on the market now, and on the other hand, some people are participating in screen-free week and some communities are even experimenting with screen free zones. (So cool!) I’m just trying to decide which side of history I want to be on…and how far in any direction I am willing to go.

For the immediate future, social media-free weekends will definitely continue. I am now debating going completely screen-free on either Saturday or Sunday or both. Even as a woman on a farm with seven acres to roam, in a general environment and community that is not at all artificial, I find myself really struggling to find the appropriate balance. It’s kind of crazy. The cool thing is, I know I’m not alone. I know that you are reading this right now and thinking of ways that we can both continue to use the Internet more as a tool and less as a rule. I know that you are thinking of ways that we can preserve our creativity while still having a space to share and connect and relate with a lot of interesting people. I am open to hearing your thoughts, but if you direct message me on Instagram, don’t expect a response until Monday.

Love,

Mama Bird

Surrendering to a Season of Change

We woke up to rain. Big droplets clinging to the rhododendron and sunflowers outside the bedroom window. Every day on the weekend I ask myself the same thing: Should we stay home and clean, or leave and spend money?

It would be a stay home and clean kind of day.

Usually I welcome fall with open arms. If the fact that we named our daughter ‘Autumn’ is any indication…But this year I’m just not as warm to fall. The summer was long, and scorching. One of our farm cats perished in the 108 degree heat. More positively, we managed to get some family time in with loved ones. Long overdue visits and quality connections as we somehow managed to not even get the Coronavirus. Several times, I thought we had. This most recent time impacted A’s experience at preschool — she missed her first whole week. Over a cold. But we rolled with it. Rolling with it is just the way now. Things change all the time. With headlines like, “National Guard Deployed to Drive School Busses in Massachusetts” and “UN is seeking $606 Million in Emergency Aid for Afghanistan After Taliban Takeover,” we’re living in a totally new reality. Disappointments are common place. Ours are minor.

I started gardening this summer. With a lot of cooperation from my fiancé and our neighbors, a plot of food erected itself, now in view from our bedroom window, beyond the rhododendron and sunflowers. My life is layered and rich. We have tomatoes and peppers piling up in the kitchen, and are running out of freezer space. I’m going to miss the days of summer…stretching on and on. Brown shoulders. Blackberries. Golden sunsets.

With the rain, the environment feels to have shifted beyond its allotted amount while we slept. The moon when I last looked was half full — now it appears almost completely full. It is waxing and ready to shine. Last night, a coyote was howling — more like yelping — and it wouldn’t stop. I went outside to make sure it wasn’t down with the chickens, having a feast and tipping us off with its cries. Barefoot on the dry pale grass, it felt like no one was aware of this animal but me. It was ten o’ clock at night and everyone else was sleeping. I shone my cellphone flashlight in the general direction of the coyote — like what was that going to do? When I went back inside and crawled into bed, the yelping suddenly stopped.

Maybe the coyote doesn’t want summer to end, either.

This pandemic, hanging over us like a curse, feels just a little lighter in the summer. We can pretend that things are sunny, even when they’re not.

Then I came across this quote, which I felt echoed the changing season:

Historically, the Waxing Gibbous Moon symbolized the concept of ‘final steps.’ It is a time of the month in which people strive to complete their projects, just as the moon strives to become full. As such, it represents the hardest part of the month for many people. How the Waxing Gibbous Moon behaves is instructional for our lives. For instance, it doesn’t require the hard work of change. Instead, it trusts nature and energies and always transitions to the full moon, without fail. Thus, we should try to do the same.”

The words were an antidote. Meant to counteract the insecurities I am currently feeling about Autumn being in preschool and, more specifically, my routine changing as a result of that. I used to be on the farm all the time, now I will be in town two days per week, minimum. A temporary sacrifice to provide Autumn with her Montessori preschool experience. I don’t want to give up my work-from-home life, but when quotes like the above one jump out at me, I’m sensing that I need to adapt. I need to have some faith that something good can come from being in town. (It just goes against my instincts. Hashtag hillbilly.)

I will leave you with this, “Through the unknown, we find the new.” If you, like me, are feeling negative about the future because you just can’t predict it; then what better time to attract the things–and places–that feel right to us? My life is a blank page, waiting to be filled with all the right things. Finally, at thirty five years old, I feel like I can trust myself to choose wisely what will ground me. No matter where I am.

Love,

Mama Bird

On Doing Things for Myself, Not the ‘Gram

At the beginning of June we went home to visit my roots. We drove the four hours from here to Northern California. I didn’t just see my dad, but I revisited the land that, in some respects, raised me. The waters that taught me how to swim. The trees that taught me how to climb. The land that taught me how to respect it. Or at least, how to see it. How to listen.

Autumn and I spent one sunny morning away from the campsite and on the sandy banks of the Smith River. Usually extremely cold in early June, the water was fine. The deep jade pools were manageable to swim in wetsuit-less, because the snow melt had been so little. I wasn’t expecting it, but I’d worn my blue one-piece Speedo just in case. I also brought along my mask and goggles. Plus one extra pair. The others stayed with the children on the shore, while my friend Alice (we’d worked together at the Oregon Caves) and I swam and snorkeled.

We traversed the widest part of the river. A front-stroke and dive ever so often to catch a glimpse underneath the glasslike water. We took our time. Reaching the other side, sea-lioned atop two slabs of rock, we waved big mama waves to our little ones–who now appeared even smaller–on the sandy shore. They waved back.

We leisurely swam up stream, underneath Second Bridge, and my body pointed–briefly–in the direction of home. My true north. Alice didn’t know it, but a roaring gorge was further up the canyon. An impassable part of the river for most, and certainly for me. A passage that a male cousin of mine rafted down once, and swore he’d never do again. A passage that Dad ran on an inflatable air mattress. So many stories. So many laughs. So many dives this life of mine has taken.

I dove to the bottom of the river and dug my palms into the satiny sand. Eyelids safe inside my airtight mask, I let the sand sift through my fingers, certain that no other person had touched this exact pile of sand before. My feet rested on the bottom. I briefly wondered if Alice might want to play underwater tea-party, like us kids did when we were young, in this very river.

But Alice was floating on her back under the bridge. And in a few short weeks she’d be flying back to Germany.

The river back home, near our farm, was shoulder high and a little murky.

I pushed up from the riverbottom with my right foot, darting toward the surface, light filtering through the water the same way it did in nearby redwood groves. Coming up, I blew hard on the snorkel, and water blasted toward the blue sky. I was a little out-of-practice, but it was coming back already. The snorkeling.

(I was a fish. I’d almost forgotten.)

Back on the shore, Alice and I nursed the little ones, and dug our legs into the almost-hot sand. Satisfied smiles rested on our faces. A man and two women around our age showed up. They shook their towels out on the sand and pulled out their phones.

We had our phones too, of course. We had all snapped a few photos together, snorkel on my head, dry hair. I’d taken a few photos of Autumn exploring the shoreline. The same shoreline I’d first dipped my toes into.

We politely tried not to notice as the two women, probably our age, took off their layers and walked to the edge of the shore. Tip toeing on the river rocks, they held their phones in their hands. “Jump in!” Their companion hollered. “It’s not cold when you get in. It’s cold when you get out.”

I shivered, thinking: he’s totally right.

The women waded into the river carefully, up to their waists. They could have been locals. I’m sure they loved this river. Who was I to judge. Then one of the women tipped back her head just enough to wet her hair up to her hairline. She motioned for her friend to take her photo. They wanted, we all gathered from the shore, to capture that slicked-back, wet “look.”

The background was striking: deep pools of emerald-teal water. But from this vantage point, having just come from that same water, I worried that the women were missing something. Not seeing. Not hearing.

It wasn’t long before they got out of the water and huddled together on their towels, noses in their phones. I’m not saying I don’t relate to them, I do. I do relate to them, and that’s what I’m saying.

Just not on this day.

On this day the snapshot I took was scooping two handfuls of silky sand into my palms, and letting my past filter through my fingertips.

On this day the snapshot I took was my inhale/exhale through the snorkel as my body cut through the surface of the water.

So the contrast of these two things: the realness of that, of what I’d just experienced, and the falseness of a pretty photo, well, it got me thinking. Doing it for the ‘Gram is fine. But doing it for yourself is 100% better. It’s something I’ve always known, and now I feel compelled to share. Whatever it is, I’m in it for the realness of it. A pretty picture is just a bonus.

Love,

Mama Bird

I Needed to Make My World Small Today, and That’s OK

I have this thing where I ask myself: Do I need to make my world big today, or do I need to make my world small today? Big days are off-farm days. Small days are days like today.

I am mostly a small day kind of person. For me, it’s not about adding things, it’s about subtracting them. (Of course I sometimes–maybe even often–forget this and try to fill the void with material things or quick distractions.)

In-between housework and Zoom calls and farming and writing, I have been reading a book titled “Hare Krishna in America.” I am neck-deep in the memoir-writing process now, and I have a three day retreat upcoming at the end of June. Going into that memoir rewriting retreat, I want to better understand what Krishna Consciousness is. What Krishna Consciousness has meant to other Americans. I write about my narrow slice of experience with Krishna Consciousness in my memoir extensively, but I have always lacked a birds-eye view of the religion (or cult; even the label is controversial). The author, E. Burke Rochford, Jr., immersed himself in Krishna Consciousness in the late 1970s. Rochford worked to maintain his position as an un-bias journalist, while experiencing all that one would experience undergoing the transformation–the journey to becoming–a Hare Krishna devotee in America.

The scenes that Rochford describes echo my experiences. They tell me that those memories I have written down are true. In many instances, Rochford is referring to temples whose grounds I have walked on with my own bare feet. And perhaps most astoundingly, he describes Krishna Consciousness as a sect of Hinduism that branched in large part due to beliefs of inclusivity: Hinduism as a religion adhered to the idea that only members of a certain caste could achieve spiritual liberation.

Caitanya preached that all people, regardless of their caste or station in life, could be self-realized through their activities performed in the service of Krishna.” E. Burke Rochford, Jr.

It was no wonder why my twenty-five year old father, who was set apart due to a disability he suffered, in conjunction with a near-death experience, was (and still is) drawn to Krishna Consciousness. Given the background that I am learning about, through this book and other personal stories I am reading about online about Krishna Consciousness in America, it is easy to see how Dad extracted so much meaning, and so much hope, from the Movement. Many Americans, disillusioned with their own culture, did and still do derive meaning from Krishna Consciousness.

In a final act of transparency, my good friend who will also be completing the writing retreat with me in June, is writing about her childhood raised in another counterculture, one that is more commonly perhaps than Krishna Consciousness, referred to as a cult. That group was the Children of God. For fourteen years I have known this friend and we have connected over many things but this, somehow, the shared experience of being raised in very strict religious households or communes, was never at the center of our dialogue. Until now.

~ ~ ~

I have been having a hard time sleeping at night. I just don’t want to sleep or go to bed. I find it boring. Life is so much more interesting right now. My creative and emotional energy is high. I can’t quite put my finger on why. So after I nurse Autumn to sleep, too tired to write, I’ve been watching This is Us, an NBC family drama streamed from Hulu.

In it, the character Randall is reconnecting with his biological father, who disappeared from his life almost as soon as he was born. (If you know anything about my personal journey, it is easy to see why I feel kinship with this character. I, too, lost a biological parent very early on.) Anyway, there is a hilariously embarrassing scene where Randall is trying to express an artistic part of him that he believes is somewhere inside him, because his father was so artistic, he must be too. Randall is clearly trying to win his fathers approval, and bridge the years between them in a very short amount of time. It is painful to watch, because Randall sings a song and plays piano in front of a live audience, and totally bombs it. His intentions were good, but Randall momentarily lost sight of his strengths, of who he is, and how to best express himself. The vulnerability in that scene is heartbreaking, and heartening.

I can relate.

Sometime in 2013 or so, I took my poetry in front of a live audience. I didn’t rehearse like I should have. I think I cried. I think I’ve cried every time I’ve recited my poetry in front of a live audience. People I knew and loved were there. They told me “good job,” but, probably, they felt kind of sorry for me. My performance fell flat.

I should have asked myself that day, “Do I need to make my world big today, or do I need to make my world small today?”

I am a small day kind of person. Recently, someone asked me what my “happiness trigger” was. My answer: peace and quiet. Does that count?

I don’t know if it’s the Hare Krishna in me. The little calm devotee. But I am getting more and more comfortable with who I am, and saying “forget it,” to who I am not. I am not a performer. I am a writer. It is time to edit. To cut. To whisper. To be quiet in my surroundings, and loud and performative on the page.

My mind is poised toward this writing retreat, and my daily happenings are becoming more and more narrowly focused toward this one goal of sharing my story, my memoir, with the world.

So, what’s your story?

Love,

Mama Bird