Tag Archives: Feminism

Steps to Honoring Your Path

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. So hold them up to your window in the morning. Or under a desk lamp, or full moon, at night. Take a few minutes to inspect the foundation: what is it built on, these expectations?  Brick? Loam? Are they your wishes or others wishes for you? How many children are stacked upon the thing? Remember: the children go on top.

Now that you have identified its strengths and abilities, decide what tools you’ll need, and use them with intention.  Fix any weak spots. If writing is your goal, grab a pen and paper and S P E L L I T O U T. One letter at a time. Get real specific. It is a brand-new decade, we haven’t got the time to waste. Yesterday’s gone. What’s done is done. Keep your toolbelt close, you’ll be needing it.

Be rigid. All that gray-area crap is just bs. For some the opposite is true. For you it is not. You need all the stability and predictability and tough love that was withheld from you in childhood. Black. White. Life. Death. Yin. Yang. It’s been twenty years now since you’ve see your mother. Twenty years since you were 14. Since Y2K. A natural rebel, reign yourself in. For even when you wake and say light, light, light, be the light, you cannot shake the darkness at the root of you. Scorpio sun, Aries moon. Befriend routine, the sister to stability. Come to like them. Come to love them. Routine. Stability. Come to understand how much you depend on them. Day. Night. Repeat. Stop stepping into the worn, predictable trail of chaos. You are a parent now. Be sure to act like one. This is your one chance and you won’t get another.

This life is all you ever wanted—a sentiment that’s ringing truer and truer.

Husband. Marriage. Scary.

Know how you feel and know who you are by examining your truths in the light.

Husband. Marriage. Means trusting someone with my heart.

Husband. Marriage. Likely someday, certainly with him. But I want to make sure I can love and trust fully first. Humbly, I am still learning how to do all of that.

Like your child, grow everyday. Grow taller, grow better posture. Study the letters and shapes. Practice your walking: walking into situations that will encourage you to blossom. Walking out of situations that make you feel like you are wasting your precious time.

Do not let others distract you. Even those you lie next to in the night. They have your path and you have yours. Respect your differences. Laugh/brush them off. Your future depends on it. You do you. Sparkle. Shine. Let him laugh when you talk like that. Come back to him in your heart. Only a fool would not. He is your touching stone in this world. Stone. Rock.

Focus on finding your voice through your fingertips. Remember what you care about. Keep coming back to it. Remember: the children go on top. But do take advantage of naptime by writing. Spell it out.

If needed, refer to quotes from your Yogi Tea bag: Appreciate yourself and honor your soul.

If needed, shake off comments and ridicule from others: those who don’t really know you, your past, the unique combination of circumstances that make you tick. For better, for worse. Shoot. You’re here and kickin’. To you, sometimes, that feels like a miracle. If needed, tell yourself you are loved, even if you don’t always feel supported by the world outside your door. You. Are Love(d).

Make art. You always did. You always have. Except for those few times you slipped back into the gray mundane. Make art of the clothes you put on in the morning. Go ahead and wear that yellow dress. Make art of parenting. When you’re throwing the frisbee for the dog on a rainy day, draw flowers in the mud with the toe of your boot.

Do not forget the lessons of your ancestors: Be bold. Be bizarre. Begin again. Begin anew everyday if you must. Queen of the comeback, kid.

Do not forget your longtime mantra: Focus and follow-through.

And this one: Don’t start anything you can’t finish yourself.

Rigid. Bold. Brazen. Independent.

Most people say ask for help when you need it. But you know better. You know the world will poke at your weak spots so burrow down inside yourself and emerge with your wisdom and insights. Do what you know works. Stick with what you’ve learned. Imagine you are a caterpillar, now visualize the miracle of the butterfly, and emerge. Now fly.

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. The moon will do.

Now that you’ve spelled it out, what does it say? (For example, mine reads: “I want to be a writer when I grow up. Or a dancer. It was an old thing I’d written on a scrap of paper as a kid.)

Hold space for that little dreamer. Hold the scrap of paper you scribbled on as a child in your hand. Whether metaphorically or physically. Whether your dreams have morphed into something more realistic or not.

Notice all the steps you took to get here. Literally hundreds of miles walked, circling as if you were walking a labyrinth. Notice when space was not honored for your dreams and you had to fight hard for them. Literally gallons of tears cried, remember all the swimming you did to get out of there.

Say this out loud, “This is my space. These are my dreams. Mother, wife, or not.”

Say, “Yes, my dreams. They take up space and they take up time.”

Say, “Now or never. Here to stay or gone forever.”

Hold your dreams up to the light. See how they glisten and shine.

One billion bursts of color, uniquely yours for the taking.

Dear Aunt Dorothy,

Dear Aunt Dorothy,

Remember when you lived on that street I can’t remember the name of now—the one way on the outskirts of town, after you moved back to Crescent City for the second time? You were many years sober by then so our conversations happened around mugs of coffee, your second love. 

You had kitschy coffee mugs: Garfield, mugs with quotes about motherhood, one of the lady with the crazy hair, robe, and slippers. You weren’t a grandmother yet, which boggles me now since “Grandma” became your definitive role. Back then your mother-ness extended to me, your niece. 

Remember that night? We were jabbering, catching up. I was visiting from out-of-state and we only had so much time. There were lots of laughs. Cigarettes and ashtrays. If we ever watched television it was just the home videos you’d recorded of our childhood: Your boys reciting Jeff Foxworthy. Me doing cartwheels on the concrete pad outside the trailer on Olive Street. Crystal, who was just a baby then. 

Without having planned it, WHAM, I dropped the bombshell. The bombshell that would blow up your whole world: your present, past, and future. Probably you mentioned his name. My face must have shadowed. And then your openness, your vessel for others pain and suffering, allowed to me tell you—to tell anyone—what had happened to me right there inside our family. It happened in-between recordings, on set, hidden behind the inescapable patriarchy that permeated our culture and society.  

I was seventeen and had never told anyone before. 

I saw the lightbulb go on behind your eyes. This is the moment you that stubbed out your cigarette. Wait, what? 

I saw the quick well of anger and heartbreak rise inside of you. 

Disbelief. 

Guilt. 

Wonder. 

In a dark corner of your mind, I’m sure you were reaching for a gin. 

It was late. Your house was so small. As if turning on my heel, my laughter quickly turned to painful sobs. The burning-apple-in-your-throat-kind of sobs. My racking sobs filled your entire home, probably shook the coffee mugs in your cupboard as you held space for me. 

You didn’t call it that: holding space. Poor, white people don’t have vocabulary for our experiences. But other people do. We live through the tragedies, other people label them. People with food in their bellies and books on their bed stands, free from the everyday challenges we’d faced, free to think things through, I guess. 

Did you know that by now whole fields of study have been dedicated to our resurgence? There are probably university students somewhere right now discussing the phenomenon of the crashing white, rural American class. You would have hated that sentence I know. It made you crawly when I used words like phenomenon because it put you on the spot. You were an Army girl, a farm girl, and to no fault of your own you were never a scholar. We didn’t have the language to get to the bottom of what happened to me–the scary thing that I told you–so we just cussed a lot that night. Fucking sicko. Rot in hell. 

You probably had to go to work at the casino in the morning, but you held space for me. You always did that for others. You always gave more than you had. In the end, I believe, that’s what killed you.  

Cousin John, one year younger than me, must have heard everything that through the thin bedroom wall. In fact I know he did. He told me as much years later. Said he’d pressed his ear up against the wall listening to every word I’d said, welling up with anger, maybe tears. Cousin John is one of those sensitive men—men with single mothers tend to be. Yet another gift that women like you give.

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Do you remember the day you died? What was it like? Was it sunny? Cold? Did you argue with people that day? Hold space? Both? Did you start the day out watching FOX news? Looking at old photographs in your albums? How many cups of coffee did you have? Did you eat breakfast? What did you eat? I want to know. I want to hold space for you. Come back from the dead and tell me.

Years later you admitted that my “telling you” had a hand in your decision (if you can even call it that—the swift, perplexing fall from grace) to drink again. It was a single poke that sent you closer to the edge, eventually to fall from maybe ten years sober. At least over five. (I need to get my facts straight with the family.) 

I myself never felt guilty for that. I can’t take that on. I know there were others things, too. Men, maybe, who drank. You thought you could “be around them.” You couldn’t. No one could. You thought you could walk down the wine isle at the grocery store. You couldn’t. No one could. “And what are we drinking with the steak?” A waiter asked you with a wink, mentioning a wine pairing. You couldn’t. No one could. The billboard with a cold, sweaty beer on a hot, Sacramento day. (You didn’t even look at the billboard but your brain saw it and stored the information.) You couldn’t. No one could. A career waitress at a casino, you served drinks day in and day out. You couldn’t. No one could. 

It was your genes, expressing themselves. You couldn’t. No one could. I myself was never a drinker, but I have my “things.” 

Do you remember the day you died? Was it a pleasant day? Did you catch the sunset? Call your boys? It was springtime, I know that. Cousin John called me, it was two, maybe three, a.m. 

It must have been warm in Oregon because I stepped out on the back porch to take the call, having been alerted from sleep and knowing John wasn’t calling to casually chat.

“She’s gone,” he managed to get out. 

“Hello? John? What?” 

One never says the right things in these moments.

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We spread your ashes up on the hill above the farm. Your baby sister and her husband handled all the arrangements. Rented the town hall down by the river. Sprinkled photographs of you on the tables and designated a childhood friend to make the centerpieces. They managed to serve one hundred people pulled pork, potato salad and fruit. I don’t know if it was pork. I didn’t eat. I was juggling the newborn baby and rubbing John’s back, trying to be a friend to him. Suddenly he was hard to get through to. 

You meant a lot to a lot of people, so a lot of people were there. Later, in photographs taken above the farm on the hill, someone said the plume of your ashes looked just like an angel when the boys blasted it into the air.

It was the kind of thing you anchor to in times like this.

I didn’t know what to believe. I was reeling—angry—from your fall from grace to death at 61. Alcohol poisoning, the coroners report stated. I was thinking: one little sip—one little slip—then blip, you’re done. You were getting sober again. You were always getting sober. News would travel through the family grapevine: Dort hasn’t been drinking, 3 months now. Dort hasn’t been drinking, 1 ½ weeks now. Dort hasn’t been drinking, 5 months now! Honestly I stopped keeping count. There were so many starts and stops. But that, dear one, is what made you beautiful. Most alcoholics I know don’t even try. 

This was not your legacy. Don’t get me wrong. I am using your lessons to guide my voice. There is a point I we are getting at. I promise. Hang tight. 

You were always transparent about your alcoholism. You were almost curious. You talked to me about AA. How they make you have a sponsor. That they wanted you to pray. You struggled with both of those things. You weren’t vulnerable by nature. Not open with those who you weren’t close to. You just wanted it to be done and dealt with but you lived with a drinker, your second husband, and that, I believe was your biggest downfall…not leaving him to save yourself. 

Vodka in the freezer, you told me. You couldn’t. No one could.

You always gave more of yourself than was even there. Leaving ghosts of yourself behind for others to feed off of. Always wanting to give more, more, more. A pleaser, left thirsty.

I am using your lessons to guide me.

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Man. 

I was so distanced from all of this at the memorial. And now that I’ve said that about your second husband everyone’s going to hate me. At the memorial for me it was just this: one foot in front of the other. Don’t slip like she did. Your message to me seemed loud and clear: Keep your head up, don’t look down. But everyone else was crying and carrying on, while I was in some state of blissed out focus. How was I going to explain this? What was going on with me? 

Back in Oregon it took me many months to come around to how I really felt about your death. I saw posts on Facebook, “I think about her every day. I am so sad. It just makes me want to cry every time I think of her.” 

Why didn’t I want to cry? I did think of you. I looked through the scrapbook you sent me, your script written in black Sharpie: Love you always, sweetie niece, it read. 

I thought of how much you had going for you. I thought, don’t slip. I thought, dead at 61. I thought of you, as a girl, going off to Germany with the Army. Your glory days. You went from California to Connecticut to Germany. You made good friends—eased the awkwardness of socializing by drinking. Most of us do. For you it was different.

You had a boyfriend out there in Connecticut. I wonder if he was as different from you as the Connecticut boyfriend I had was from me. We looked the same: white, young, scrawny. We partied together and all of that. They thought we were “pretty.” They could never know the rural swamp from whence we came. We never knew the dollar amount of the steak on our plate. That the cost of that plate amounted to our weekly grocery allowance. 

I remembered that night you held space for me. How when you ran your hand up your forehead—holding the bangs out of your eyes briefly—I saw we had matching widow peaks and dark, thick hair. I saw we had the same oily, pocky skin. I could have been your daughter. 

I did think of you. Fact I walked out on the porch one day and said your name out loud. It was a rough day for me. I was weighing this and that. I was torn between saying “fuck it” and staying on the strait and narrow. I was grappling with my “things” like we all do. 

Exasperated, I asked you for a sign. I toy with spirituality, having given some of it up with I paired up with an atheist. 

“Just, anything,” I told you, in a way I hoped was sincere. 

I held my coffee mug in both hands. The one that reads “Mom is just Wow upside down.” I latched on to the wisdom that you taught me–dare I say telepathically–with your death: Relationships matter. Don’t do what I did. Don’t throw it away for the brief, frequent explosion of addiction and harm. Turn to the light. Every time. Walk away, completely, utterly committed, from the things that threaten you. Physically. Emotionally. Walk away completely. Don’t look back. 

I was open to receiving it. That’s what I was doing at the memorial, when I couldn’t stare down a gin and cry. Actually, I was honoring you. Head up, focused on the future.

It’s what you wanted me–what you want all of us–to do. Perhaps others have experienced this phenomenon. 

Maybe it was because I was looking for a sign so hard that it actually happened, but just then the wind picked up out on the porch. It was a warm wind on an otherwise calm day. I couldn’t fucking believe it, but I wasn’t going to look away as the breeze carried to one single tree out in the yard. Just one tree. Of all of the trees. And it was the tree that was closest to me, a five leaf maple. The wind blew my hair back just a little, and I closed my eyes, gripping my coffee mug in silence. It was late summer, early autumn, and the leaves had turned but were yet to fall from the trees. When I opened my eyes that breeze—your breeze—was whipping around that maple tree like a whirling dervish or Tasmanian devil from the old Looney Tunes cartoon. I mean it was really whipping. 

I even thought to run get my phone to capture the odd, rare event but of course I didn’t. You don’t fuck with something that sacred. You don’t exploit messages from the great beyond.  

I watched as that narrow, focused breeze stripped a previously full tree of most of its orange autumn leaves. It was a clear enough message that I thanked you, looking out to see the one bare tree among the others full of leaves. I breathed in, I breathed out. I felt validated and whole again. 

I didn’t care what anyone thought. I only cared that I was around to see my grandkids, should I have them someday. So I was willing to latch on to anything, even this crystal clear sign from the no-longer-living. I only cared that I was downloading the accurate message that you wanted me to have all along: Do not mourn me outright in the traditional way. Please just walk away completely from the things that threaten your health. Walk away and don’t look back. 

And in-between the lines: Spread the message. Relationships matter. Turn to the light, every time. And this: you are worth it. 

Remember that night? You were many years sober. You lived on the outskirts of town on a street I don’t remember the name of. It was your Demi Moore days: short, cropped dark hair. I was visiting from out-of-state. You were a fulltime mom to two teenage boys. You didn’t want them to come home to an empty house anymore, so you were there waiting with your recipe books and kitschy coffee mugs when they got out of school. Even when drinking though, you were a good mom. Excellent even. Clean sheets on the bed and all of that. You threw Thanksgiving together for the family year after year. I remember the time you had us cousins over to make gingerbread cookies during Christmastime at the house on A Street. You set up your camcorder and had the radio on. Bette Midler sang “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which may have been a new song then:

It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face,
you were content to let me shine, that’s your way,
you always walked a step behind.
Thank you, thank you,
thank god for you the
wind beneath my wings. 

 

Love, 

Your niece,

Terah

 

Steps to Reclaiming Your Dream

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@terahvandusen on Instagram:)

Steps to Reclaiming Your Dream

While being realistic,
hold your dream up to the light
take a few moments to inspect the thing, its foundation
see what you have built and
where you’ll need to go yet
identify the soft spots
the weak spots
an’ fix em
grab your pen and paper
and fill-in-the-blanks
take measurements,
plan the steps you’ll need to take
examine your toolbox, keep it handy,
keep it close
don’t be open, but be rigid
for some it is the opposite—
for you it is not.
a natural born rebel,
reign yourself in
befriend routine
come to like it
come to love it
come to need it
you are a parent now
it is different, but better
be rigid in your intentions
this is how you will accomplish them
do not let others distract you
even those you lie next to
they have their path and you have yours
respect your differences
honor your path
sparkle, shine
be a woman just because it’s fun
remember what you care about
like your new child,
grow with everyday
grow taller
grow better posture
experiment with clothing and hairstyles again
do you and don’t let anyone
take it from you
no boss
no man
no body
with their grave,
adult expectations
again, be a woman
just because it’s fun
remember what you care about
make a mantra if you must
you is smart
you is kind
you is important

if applicable,
take the quotes on your
Yogi tea bag to heart
like todays:
walk beautifully,
talk beautifully,
live beautifully
Make art
you always did
you always have
why stop now?
make art of work
make art of love
make art of parenting
do not forget the lessons of your ancestors
which were: be bold, be bizarre, and begin again
begin anew everyday if you must
but begin
begin again
queen of the comeback, kid
hold your dream up to the light
that longtime dream:
I want to be a writer when I grow up
or a dancer
hold space for that little dreamer
notice the steps she took to get here
notice how culture has made room for
man’s accomplishments and goals,
less for woman’s
notice when space is not made for your
dreams, but don’t waste time complaining
just declutter
simplify
clear the space yourself,
unapologetically say
“this is my space”
say “these are my dreams, mother, wife or not”
say “yes, my dreams. They take up space and they take up time. Yes.”
say “now or never. Here to stay or gone forever.”
hold your dream up to the light
see how it radiates and shines

Current Events

Now that #metoo happened and Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are going down. And that one comedian is going down too, and even he admits it…I mean, where to start?

9/10 women I know have been assaulted. 1/10 men I know, at least. When I worked in the social field I was required to report whenever an individual brought up a case of sexual abuse, and I did, only to be told on one occasion, “Oh yeah, she always says that but she’s lying.”

Is she? I mean why would she lie about something like that? The girl was so psychologically traumatized by the event she couldn’t escape it. She punched mirrors, and then was reprimanded for it. She spent hours in the bathroom crying. “She’s just trying to get attention,” my superiors told me.

Well for fuck’s sake, let’s give it to her.

What I didn’t say was: I punched mirrors too.

What I didn’t say was: you keep crying. You let it all out. It’s totally, 100% okay to be sad, and angry. It’s normal and healthy to feel that way and I’m glad your dealing with it. Oh yeah, and, FUCCCK HIMMM.

Regardless, the girl was hard to get through to. But I believed her. Why the hell not? What is the goddamn harm? Something’s hurting her, it’s clear. What really angered me was the way  the counselors  shut her down–no matter what did or didn’t happen. You don’t do that. YOU don’t KNOW that.

***

Uma Thurman, just this morning, was quoted on NPR. Angry, she said.

Angry.

She had always been afraid of revealing her anger and rage toward men. Those were her primary emotions.

Uma Thurman, coincidentally, is the actress who stars in Kill Bill and assumes revenge on a team of assassins, wielding a sword.

***
I have three essays on the topic that NPR is keeping, gracefully and rightfully, in the forefront. One essay I submitted two or three months ago, before #metoo, but it was declined. “Too short,” the editor told me. “It felt like it needed more of an ending,” she said.

I have read enough stories about publishing to know by now that I could potentially resubmit the same essay, new ending or not, and it would be more likely to be published. Timing. It’s half, or more, about the timing.

But I was smoking in the essay and I’m not smoking now so if I use that essay I would have to make that clear (take it out) and if I were already doing that, well I might as well change the ending.

But boy was I angry in that story.

***

Another story is called Stench. I wrote it in an attempt to just State The Facts and not skirt around the issue like I do in my poetry and in a good portion of my other writings. Sadly, the essay is far too revealing for my tastes.

I’d only publish it if someone paid me for it. Not much. Candy even.

***

In the final essay I braid one of my experiences with the experience of a girlfriend who was assaulted while travelling abroad and staying in a hostel. I also want to add to the story of another friend of mine who was flat out assaulted when some “friends” of hers drove around the block again and again refusing to drop her off until she performed a sexual act on one of them.

These were stories mentioned to me in passing. Nobody called me up and said “You’re not going to believe what happened to me!” No. Ha. That’s not the kind of world we live in. These stories are commonplace. Not that they should be. They are eventually told over tea and whispered in coffee shops and are rarely mentioned when men are in the house.

And they are just these sad little stories that  took us women farther  and farther from our bodies in a world where these very bodies are used against us in nearly every mainstream advertisement. “He won’t want to abuse you if you don’t look like this,” the world seems to tell us. Not fair. Not fair all around.

And they are not just sad little stories.

No, they are LARGE and ANGERED stories. Sword wielding stories, if we were to act like like barbaric men in the matter. But we only do that while playing dress-up and acting.  Because for the lot of history, we women have been civil.

And they are not just sad little stories just like Weinstein and Trump (!!) are not just dirty old men.

That’s what I was always told growing up: “Oh he’s just a dirty old man.”

I think we can all agree, it’s time to take “just” out of the sentence.

Oh, he’s a dirty old man.

Stay away from him.

Lock him up.

Fire him.

SHAME

him.

***

There is no synonym for pedophile.

 

 

 

Semblance of Ol’

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ISO isolated cabin in the woods, at the sea, or in the desert.

An army cot, wood stove, and a pen (2).

Enough shelter to keep me and my notebook dry.

A brook, frozen or flowing.

Solitude and space, modestly provided.

A closed mouth, open mind.

A select few good books, but not enough to distract me indefinitely.

A miner’s flashlight, for exploring the pitch-black spaces within me.

Backup batteries, matches, and lighters, stored in a single box.

Crackers, chocolates, coffee and water, running or not.

The type of place that won’t take your AAA discount.

Absolutely no mirrors.

Or people.

The type of place that scares me at first (the dark, the wolves).

The type of place that purifies my soul.

I can’t tell if I’m asking a lot or nothing much:

A wise guy, before the term became derogatory.

A location where no one can come asking for me.

The ability to fly and stay grounded all at once.

A toilet to drop my phone into.

A round trip ticket to myself and back.

Real, legitimate time for grounding.

The sound of water

moving

roaring

whispering

dripping

the sound of trees

talking

laughing

and creaking

around the house.

Old friends.

New levels of love.

Stones turned over.

Bread baked and savored.

Old ways of living restored.

Favorite songs and hymns reverberating in my soul.

The quiet and the solitude to

form my thoughts

into gold.

Something,

anything,

that is some

semblance of ol’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half-Truths or The Actual Woman

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I didn’t grow up to be who I was supposed to be. I wasn’t supposed to have oily hair or a messy bun. But I’ve settled for it. I wasn’t supposed to have unemployment, compromised driving privileges, trust issues, or a dying cat – that’s some other woman.

I didn’t grow up to be tame-haired and golden. I didn’t grow up to be worshiped by a man, doted on, a traffic-stopper, a perfect-in-every-way kind of girl. I’ve never been that.

Not only have I been to therapy, but I’ve walked away from it (that’s worse, it means I haven’t been helped yet). But this story is full of half-truths. You know, maybe I did grow up to be who I was supposed to be (how could I not? I was in control the entire time) (even that’s a half-truth).

I was supposed to be a role-model, for one. All nice girls wish to be role models, that’s how you know you’re good. But I couldn’t even pull that off (half-truth). You know you’re fucking up when a child asks you, “Are you a kid too!?” Eye.

Things have gotten better since then. I feel in control (half-truth). I accept the messy bun. I let the teenage neighbor kids see my climbing-out-of-the-car-with-two-paper-bags-of-groceries-clumsiness. I wish sometimes the girl could look at me with that want-to-be-like-her-when-I-grow-up-awe. You know the awe. But I don’t think I am that woman. I’ve accidentally watered the flowers in a see-through gown, waving at the neighbors. I’ve fallen in a hole chasing after the dog. I am someone else, slightly off-set of that woman. The alternate. The sister story. The girl with the hair falling in her eyes, needing to be washed. The girl with the floor needing to be swept, scrubbed. The woman in the gray dented station-wagon. The woman with the budding, not blooming, flower garden. The woman with $4.50 in fines at the library. The woman who just signed up for the Adult Reading Program (because she hopes to win a tote-bag). The woman who used to work in retail and now works in manual labor. The woman with a college degree, who makes $11 an hour. The woman who would rather paint and write more than anything. The woman with a few pretty dresses that she never wears. The woman who has many friends over the age of fifty. The woman who is apprehensive of parties, but loves them once she gets there. The woman who thinks she knows herself so well (but has a lot to learn). The woman who writes personal stories on her porch in the sunshine. The woman who wishes for tan legs, but won’t pay for them, or sit still long enough for them. The woman who wishes for the luxury of travel, an open road, snacks, a band to follow, cold beer…a bunch of things that aren’t really her, but maybe…The woman who has a defrosted chicken for the crockpot. The woman whose man will be home soon. The woman with her dog barking and her cat purring. The woman with the messy bun, fresh face, bare feet, tall grass, summer sun. The woman, the actual woman, I was meant to become.

Mantra for the Sane

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In writing I worry
I have said too much,
too little
I capitalize on
the funny parts
the sick parts
the sad parts
the parts
half worth
anything
to anyone
(likely not)
I leave out how
my Dad religiously
kissed my forehead every
morning before school
or that friends
parents often
said “we can’t afford
to keep  feeding her”
which only made
my hungrier
my cousins
called me
“oinker”
I leave out
the parts where
I was a happy, jolly
normal kid playing
make-believe and house
I leave out the parts where
I do not go hungry
But I remember
the good times
when I do the dishes,
the innocent times
when I sweep the floor,
the carefree times
when I call for the dog,
“I wanted this”
I recall
“This is all I ever
wanted”
I write my past
I plot my future
“I’ll be the husband
and you’ll be the wife”
I remember saying
“I’ll go to the store now
to get the groceries”
It will be so much fun
It is all I ever wanted
It will be so much fun
I recall, hand swirling
in a vat of dishwater,
igniting the suds
It will be so much fun
to be grown
It is all I ever wanted

This becomes a mantra
for the sane

It will be so much fun
to be grown
It is all I ever wanted
I’ll go to the store now
to get the groceries
It will be so much fun

But I’m Not Perfect Yet

Old poem, old photo, newly paired, never shared:

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But I’m Not Perfect Yet

Why the shampoos
with promising poems
“You’ve really got it now”
“Not your mommas hair-do”
“Beautiful, luscious, supremely clean”
Why all the claims and things
in the ads we see
I know some who
can take it
or leave it—
and why I ever accept it,
I don’t know
I was beaten with it
as a girl
see: media and magazines
images of youthful
concealed women
(concealing whatever doesn’t fit
with the current trend)
see: glowing women or matte
depending on the season
submissive yet dominant
bronzed and flirtatious
You hear confidence is
everything but I don’t believe
that to be true
(I pride humility)
I cannot blame myself
here, and neither should you
Some days I am bland
Some days I am sexy
Some days I’m just decent
and free
but all these days
I am taken with
thoughts of
What I Should Be
My eyes aren’t large enough
My hair won’t lay strait
My clothes just don’t look
that good on my back
Not nearly as good
as they looked strung
up on the rack
I contort myself
with belts and jeans
I pinch, prod and shave
I bleach
chop
polish
and press
I bend over backwards
trying to achieve
a standard that someone
somehow made me believe
I didn’t feel
good-looking
today, it’s true.
I wanted to grab every
woman and ask
“Do you feel this way too??”
I wanted to know
that deep down we
are all just the same
and that on the outside
none of us are ever
what they claim
on the backs of the
bottles of $16 gunk
those are just words and wishes
amounting to junk
intended to make a buck

Farm Her: New Job, New Life

I work on a farm now, helping care for hundreds of chickens, plenty of pigs, a handful of sheep, a field of cows, and three goats that are up-for-grabs.

My boss, a young woman not much larger than I, is southern-girl-polite, patient with me as I learn the ropes, and incredibly tender with her livestock. She is teaching me how to use power tools, perform animal husbandry, and push a little past what I think I am physically capable of.

So much of what I thought I knew about the world is being called into question. Namely, what I am good for: sitting pretty? Moving things? Growing food? Personality traits and body parts have taken on a whole new meaning. I can’t fall back on pretty, no way, no how. I don’t even put on makeup before I start my day. (So, if you know me at all, you know that everything has changed.) The one thing I have going for me is that I don’t mind getting dirty.

What used to bother me so much about customer service was the shallowness, the trivialness. I have none of that now. My boss is stone-serious about what we do. Because what we do matters. Believe it or not, I’ve only had one or two jobs where that was the case (working for the National Park Service was one, working with incarcerated youth was another. My post office job, well that was somewhere on the border.)

I’m working harder than I have in years, but it’s a different kind of work. It isn’t so mentally exhausting (not nearly as mentally exhausting as writing!). I whip around on a four-wheeler all day from one task to another with nobody asking me to “smile more,” with nobody’s wonky energy to pick up and take home with me.

I’ve loved all my jobs (maybe that’s a stretch, I’ve had a lot of jobs) but I often regret that I haven’t stuck with one and, you know, Started Making The Big Bucks. But this job? This job is legitimately good for me. This job is wholesome. Educational. Amusing (those piglets!). Active. Empowering.

I kind of feel like farming found me.  Although I did apply for this job, I also applied for about 10 different State Park jobs before getting turned down and, miraculously, getting a phone call from my new and lovely boss Jenni. And I’m glad I did get turned down by the parks because my exposure to nature at the farm is probably ten-fold what it would’ve been and I’m learning skill sets that will last a lifetime (I can’t believe I’ve made it to 31 without knowing some of these things!)

My values are being turned on their heads. Not all my values, but things like: what makes me a beautiful and valuable human being? What do I really contribute to this world? What does environmentalism really mean to me? And am I willing to act on those values? Where did that jerky come from? How was that animal treated? My former touching stones (shopping for clothes, getting dolled up, watching mindless movies) are eroding beneath me. It’s kind of scary, but exciting. This is just the start of something bigger, a drop in the bucket no doubt, but I am evolving and changing as a person and a woman and I am trying to get a foothold in this strange yet real new world.

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A photo my boss snuck of me on one of my first days at work. She posted it on the farm’s Instagram account and titled it “Chicks putting out chicks” #farmher

A Rainbow for Moonbeam

It’s easy for me to be mad at a mother who isn’t around. But she is out there. I do have a mother and I always have. She’s always been a living, breathing human on the other end of my string, with a paper cup of her own, listening in as I send messages of love/hate/love/hate. It’s certainly not indifference that I offer. Not these days. And I am here to say: I do not hate her. I possibly never have.

Today, I am reaching within the well of myself to find compassion for my mother. I do not have to reach very far. Her face pops up on my computer screen at 10:33 a.m. “Happy to be back at work!” her digital post reads. My heart bulges. She tags me and fourteen other people, coworkers and my siblings. She is beaming. I cannot ignore it, nor do I want to, because just this morning I was stalking my mother’s Facebook page. I noted that she no longer listed her old job at McDonalds (a job she left, oh, maybe a year ago). I narcissistically wondered if that was because I live with an organic farmer and sometimes talk shit about McDonalds, possibly online. Was she ashamed?

Now, here she is in her work uniform saying “Just got off work n home from my first day back! Had so much fun!” and her friends—work friends— are all saying “We’re happy to have you back!” and “Yay Darlene!” and there is a name tag on her black polo Darlene and she has rainbow, a daisy, and a button that reads I Heart Port Huron on her visor. She is a person, my mother. She lives and breathes and decorates her hat. It almost surprises me.

“Feels good doesn’t it? Nice bling! heart heart” I tell her. I use two hearts for emphasis. I do not know how to make the hearts colorful. But I am proud. Four heart proud, but I don’t say it. We do not communicate any other way but Facebook. I must text my grandmother now and tell her the good news.

Every now and then my mother will post an image of a casserole dish.  Inside will be chicken enchiladas or a noodle mystery dish. I do not salivate. I do not yearn for my mother’s cooking. But I do feel envious—of the enchiladas themselves. I am always shocked in childish way that she had time to make enchiladas but not time for me? I am thirty one now. It’s time to get a grip. As a child, I likely internalized the intense emotions I felt when noting, for example, that my mother made long, dangling hippie earrings—several different sets of them. Colorful things that took so many hours of focus and dedication. These pretty colorful things had taken so much of her attention. She could focus on one thing—it could happen.

Now I’m the asshole who, about 2 weeks ago, likely when she was interviewing for her old job, posted a sob story about having no mother. Real actual mother meanwhile sitting down to a Pepsi and a cigarette (that is my memory of her but PEOPLE CAN CHANGE so maybe she was drinking a cup of tea) and seeing her hurt daughter yet again going on and on and on about her. She feels ashamed. She wonders if her friends from McDonalds—other mothers, no doubt, some with upset children, some without—will see what I have written and judge her.

She does not deserve that. Nobody does.

Since I posted The Thing That Revealed So Much, I got to thinking: (a) my mother did some things right and maybe I should write about those things more and (b) my hating her for leaving me is so anti-feminist.

I got to thinking:

My mother has a great personality—I mean she’s fun to be around. People agree on that.

My father loved her, and she loved him. And I have the coauthored diary entry to prove it.

My mother is well respected by her coworkers. She should feel good about that.

My mother is super human. That sounds like a super hero—and maybe it is. Maybe she’s just yet to really unveil herself and fly. Maybe I am super human, being her daughter. I know that I am.

My mother has overcome a lot. I mean she’s still here and kickin’.

My mother had a lot of pressure on her as a child. She was raised by a strong Southern woman, my grandmother, who has always asked me to call her by her first name instead of Grandma.

My mother maybe didn’t get the help she needed when she needed it. Instead she got babies. That is super anti-feminist. Women struggle sometimes.

My mother has very pretty eyes.

My mother never really got any help from the men in her life, it seemed.

I am an adult now, and I see clearly the struggles in life. How one moment we can be totally on-point, the other moment, well: Not. Just really fucking not.

I got to thinking:

I am unemployed. Now is the opportunity to learn something from my mother. “I had so much fun!” she said of her first day back at work. I really need that kind of enthusiasm.

I got to thinking:

My mother was sick, in the hospital. That was why she left her job in the first place. Did I send a card? I should have.

I got to thinking:

There is nothing more miserable than being sick, ill, or in pain. Being of healthy-body, I sometimes forget that. I should not. I really, really should not. I have a lot to learn.

I got to thinking:

My mother moved to one of the poorest economy’s in America a few years before the recession. She is a goddess for finding a job there. I should raise my mother to the level of goddess. She deserves it. We all do.

I got to thinking:

I really overdo it sometimes.

I got to thinking:

I made people cry (even men) at my last poetry event when reading about my mother and our relationship. It was really pathetic. And I brought it all upon myself. I vowed to let some of that go. And it did—it kind of up and flew away right there in the room.

I got to thinking:

I am obsessed with my mother, but it is really just an avalanche of repressed wants and desires from childhood (and especially) adolescence. I can viscerally remember pushing these feelings/wants “away” from me, little did I know they stuck around, like a monkey on my back. Like a backpack of feelings I just couldn’t leave anywhere.

I got to thinking:

I am still unloading the backpack, piece by piece. And I am So Sorry Not Sorry for the witnesses.

I got to thinking:

I would seriously like for my parents to know the deep well of love I hold for them both. If something were to happen to either of them tomorrow—well I would wreck myself with the knowledge of those last few things I said to them. And that is just not fair. I want to make this right. I am going to make this right.

I got to thinking:

The intention of my working through these things in writing is to avoid the subtle self-destruction that our mommy/daddy issues can have on us in life. My parents both have these issues. I mean they could both fill books with the things their parents did and did not do. They could do the same thing that I am doing. My intention is to fill books with words and not myself with toxic substances and people and thoughts. There is a reason I do this: I am sitting and writing instead of smoking and fucking.

I got to thinking:

I got to thinking so many things I started writing them down on post it notes and the backs of business cards. I started collecting notebooks, oh about ten years ago, and now have so many, both blank and filled, that I feel slightly disorganized and certainly a little overwhelmed almost all of the time. But I feel rich in words.

I got to thinking:

I started writing this essay at 10:33 and now it’s 11:44 so really one hour of cutting my heart open and letting it bleed is really not so bad. It’s certainly fucking weird that this is “what I do.”

I got to thinking:

There really is a lot of time in this world. And no time at all, it seems. Time to make amends. Time to make change. Time to waste. Time is relative. Are you in a prison or playing volleyball on a sunny beach? If you are in a prison, time will be slow. If you are on a sunny beach, time will be fast.

I got to thinking:

I dreamed I was in prison the other night. Or in jail, or whatever. It was utterly, absolutely the worst feeling ever. I hated it. I had NEVER FELT THAT WAY. I thought I knew but I DID NOT KNOW. I have been in jail before but WITH FRIENDS. I really had no idea: I think most people don’t. It was a sickening feeling. The fact of being guilty, well that is beside the point. It was inhumane. In prison, time is torture.

I got to thinking:

If I could, I would free my mother from this imprisonment and shame. She does not deserve that, nobody does: it is inhumane. I would, in a heartbeat, pass her the key. Out, out, out! I would insist. Do not let me, or anybody else, imprison you. In essence, I forgive you. I’ve just been trying to make sense of it: for me. For wholly selfish reasons. I neglected your feelings along the way, and I am sorry. Not cool.

I got to thinking:

Of an article I read many years ago (I’ll pull it up now for good measure). “Missing Mom” it read “found in Florida, taken into custody.” Wait what? Running away is illegal? Wait, no now, that aint right. A mom can leave. Dads do it all the time. This woman, once “a perfect mom” was considered dead after leaving her family. A runaway mom is a taboo in our culture. My heart swelled for this woman. I could be her. This is a feminist issue. I almost want to applaud my mother now for leaving.

I got to thinking:

My brothers got the best of her. And the worst of her: this human being.

I got to thinking:

I am far too hard on others (my mother, my father, my boyfriend). I need to soften. I vow to soften. Soften or die.

I got to thinking:

How many more hours am I going to spend in self therapy?

I got to thinking:

How many dollars have I spent on traditional therapy? Zero.

I got to thinking:

I can make it all better through my writing. I have that tool. I am not scribbling anymore, tearing the page with the point of my pen like when I was a teenager. These words that I write have meaning. These black lines and curves can heal.

I got to thinking:

There is only now. There is certainly not yesterday. There is a hint of tomorrow, but not a promise.

I got to thinking:

And staring at my mother’s photo. Her smile speaks loudly. Somebody, somewhere took it for granted at some point. First, I suppose, it was the mother who adopted her out. That kind of leaves this deep gash in a person, I believe. Whether folks like to admit that or not: it’s a thing. I think the gash was passed on when somebody possibly took my mother’s mothers smile for granted, too. And her smile spoke so loudly, so that just aint right.

I got to thinking:

We are all equally important. We of different colors and intellects. We of different degrees of guilt and shame. We of different opportunities.

I got to thinking:

The only way to heal is to treat people good now. With the knowledge that people get hurt and the hurt makes things worse and the pain and violence in turn get bigger. Me, as an adult for example, need to watch the things I do and say with children. They are watching. They will blame me, someday, for not being a better example. As I have blamed (I’m erasing that blame now and replacing it with understanding) those who were supposed to be older and wiser than me. We are all learning. We are all on a spectrum.

I got to thinking:

And staring at my mother’s photo again. My little brothers know her. They “get her.” They’ve lived in the shadow of her shame due to me all their lives. Me, her first born. Her perfect daughter. Blech. Even I know she doesn’t think I’m perfect. But close. Because I’m so mysterious. I’m like that out-of-reach lover. I’m like the grass is always greener. I’m like: enough. Enough already. Swipe the slate clean, mom. I step down from the pedestal. If I could say one thing it would be this: I might’ve done the same thing as you. And, I love you. 

I got to thinking:

Have I said enough already?

I got to thinking:

I need to stretch.

I got to thinking:

Of myself. Like we all do. Like we all should.

I got to thinking:

A rainbow for Moonbeam. Hope.

I got to thinking:

Say something that will let her close that door and move on.

I got to thinking:

Say something that will let you close that door and move on.

I got to thinking:

Say something, anything, to make it better.

I got to thinking:

Stop writing and start working.

I got to thinking:

Stop working and start writing.

I got to thinking:

Do whatever it takes to make it work and make it right.

I got to thinking:

Today is a brand new day. Make it even brand newer.

I got to thinking:

Hope. Hope’s just a word that maybe you’ve said and maybe you’ve heard but that’s what you need man and you need it bad. –Bob Dylan, Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie

I got to thinking:

The end.

I got to thinking:

The beginning.