Tag Archives: writing

If I Took My Grief Out to Lunch

Dear Reader, Throughout the month of October I, along with a small group of other writers, wrote about loss in “Write Your Grief Out” with Anne and Maria Gudger. Here is one excerpt from that period, based on the prompt “If you took your grief out to lunch, what would you talk about?”

If I took my grief out to lunch, we’d talk about the way things used to be. How the other day I saw a small child sending crab pots off the dock into the ocean with her father. The way we used to do that before you became a vegetarian. Before you quit crabbing in the wintertime and raising rabbits for meat in our backyard. We’d talk about way before the tofu and carob phase, when you ate burgers and drank Budweiser. But that was never you, so I was glad I got to see your next phase too: your altars and spiritual books and how a real live guru came to visit us and stayed in our home and went on long walks with you in the woods.

If I took my grief out to lunch, we’d talk about the way things used to be. How half the pictures from when you were a boy show you at the top of some tree. Or expertly showing your hog for 4-H. Or snug in the middle of three sisters, volleying between tormenting them and being the soft shoulder they could cry on. How you had so much lived life before me, but it took you dying for me to really see that. The boy you’d been–wild as they come. The teenager you’d been–different, but popular and carefree. The man you’d become–a young, single father, your biggest challenge yet.

If I took my grief out to lunch, we’d go up river afterward. We’d blast Jonny Cash through the redwoods, roll down the windows, and stop for a drink of spring water gushing from Carter Falls. I’d take my grief inside the culvert under South Fork Road, where the runoff pours into the river in wintertime. We’d steady ourselves on the rocks, crouching just to watch the water run. Solely for the meditative purpose of it. We’d have no agenda. We’d have no to-do’s. We’d see a bald eagle and raise our hands to our chest in prayer. We’d skip rocks. We’d drive up further and park by Rock Creek. We’d travel up creek on bare feet. We might see a wild animal drinking from the stream; or a fairy ring of mushrooms, undisrupted. We’d awe.

If I took my grief out to lunch, we’d talk about the way things used to be. The time we rode elevators to the tops of the tallest buildings in San Francisco, just to look out the windows. Danced with other Hare Krishna devotees at Golden Gate Park, real ones who lived in the temples year round, not just for a few weeks in the summertime like we did. Venice Beach. Berkeley. British Columbia. All the food and the flowers and the strangers. How we’d come back to Crescent City in September tanned, hair windblown and faces happy, just the two of us. No mom in sight and all the freer for it.

If I took my grief out to lunch we’d talk about the way things used to be–because it’s the best balm to the way things are now. Less colorful. Less natural. Less free. I don’t know many daughters who can claim that the best gift their parents gave them was freedom and exploration–just for the sake of it. Without agenda. But if I took my grief out to lunch, we’d talk about that.

With love,

Mama Bird

What Matters Most

I shouldn’t still be thinking about the earrings I wore on the day of our wedding on Sunday, May 22, 2022, but I am. I’d wanted to convey that, despite Dad’s passing less than three weeks earlier, I was OK. It was all good and everything was fine.

But when I look back at the photos, I see me the day before the wedding, running frantically around the mall alone, bombarded with choices. There were plain gold hoops, bright neon feathers, faux diamond drop earrings, shaped like leaves, and the ones I got: showy gold hoops with crimson silk flowers. The earrings were distracting, and I hadn’t noticed that at the time.

What didn’t help is that until 72 hours before the wedding, I didn’t know which dress I was going to wear, my original choice never having arrived in the mail. It also didn’t help (or maybe it did) that, since Dad died, I decided that nothing superficial mattered anyway. It wasn’t what you wore, it’s what you said. It isn’t how you look, it’s how you see.

So on the one hand when I look at those photos, I think of those earrings as my “fuck it” earrings. The slap it all together and play-it-cool mood of that unique moment in my life. The wishing I could hide in plain sight. But the only statement those earrings seemed to be making was “whatever you do, don’t look at me.

Do I wish, instead, I’d have selected the faux dangly earrings shaped like leaves? Yes, I can too clearly picture how they would have sparkled when catching the sunlight through the trees. But would I take it back and change it? No. Not really, because something else would have been off. As is in life in general. As is when you are having a wedding and you are having a funeral.

In this life, it really, truly isn’t about the perfect look and the photo-worthy setting. And I give myself grace that I knew that going into it, and I placed my priorities elsewhere when I didn’t give myself a lot of time to shop for the earrings, and I didn’t take along a friend. I didn’t really get that “bride moment”…the one that they were selling me. For me that fantasy involved a careful putting on of my high-heeled shoes (I would wind up wearing slip on leather wedges), a cheers with my bridal party, Lorde’s “Royals” blasting in the background, my “Cinderella” moment. What I got instead was a mad dash to the mall for last minute, unplanned accessories, and, in the bridal suite, our children running around underfoot, only the sound of shrieking and chatter in the background. What I got instead was real life, what actually matters, the people, the experiences, and yes, even the innocent fashion mistakes.

Now when I think back on our wedding day, I remember being thankful it didn’t rain. I remember being grateful nobody got hurt. I remember that “My Sweet Lord,” Dad’s song, came on the radio on the drive to the mall and it felt like it was playing just for me. I remember I cried. I remember I was fragile, deep down. I remember I couldn’t afford to crack. I remember writing and practicing my vows. I remember carefully putting out the ceramic dinner plates and silverware, buffing smudges out of the wine glasses in the dining room late into the night before our wedding.

I am trying to forget the sparkly earrings that got away. I want to let go of notion that tells me our wedding needed to be more perfect than it was. That I needed to be a better bride. That I had somehow let something slip. That I should have spent even more money. Then, maybe, things would have really been perfect. Maybe. When the only thing that honestly would have made that day better, is having Dad there for it.

Love and mysterious blessings,

Mama Bird

Town

There is nothing more difficult
I believe
than relaxing

Than just being

We are human beings
Not human doings
Yet who out there is willing
to “just be” with me?

My most treasured doings
are working
then eating
then shopping
then teching out
then vaping
in no particular order

I am not doing a very
good job of setting myself up
to just be

Upon waking
I am already grasping grasping grasping
it’s astonishing
and yet today
I felt a calling
to be centered
and now, despite myself,
and after having taken a spontaneous U-turn,
I am laying on my belly in the grass
at a park and writing this poem

And for at least these few
short moments I will be free
from all of that grasping

I will be right here
barefoot
just being

This poem the closest
I will get to being present
because soon I will succumb
to the tornado of wants and desires
that is town
that is tech
that is quick and easy
and in and out of
my brain in a heartbeat

All The Tattoos I Never Got

Tattoos are expensive. But not the first tattoo I never got. The first tattoo I never got was going to be free, because my friend who was fourteen, had an older brother who was sixteen, and he was doling them out for free. He may or may not have been on something. But the real reason I didn’t get the first tattoo I never got–a flaming heart on the inside of my right hip bone–was because I knew Dad would kill me. Or that he’d want to. Or, at least, he’d say he wanted to. “I could kill you,” I could picture him saying, fists clenched like he wanted to fight, but without a fighting bone in him. All soft on the inside like the bubblegum ice cream he bought me down at CC’s Diner.

Plus I didn’t think my friend’s brother could do color, and I didn’t want a green flaming heart, I wanted a cherry red one with licks of yellow and orange flame coming off of it, like was on the sides of the hot rods down at the annual Sea Cruise.

The second tattoo I never got wasn’t quite as symbolic as my “love equals pain” flaming heart. Like my friend Aimee had done, I was considering a full back tattoo–a landscape. The landscape of home. A redwood tree, and the ocean, and maybe some rhododendron. The plan only got as far as that–a fantasy–before cost prevented me from even considering it. Months later, at 23-years-old, I moved from the high desert where I was living in Arizona, back to the Pacific Northwest. Back to the big trees and the sea. It hadn’t been about having a tattoo at all, but about answering a calling.

The third tattoo I actually got close to getting. It was on a whim which, I was sensing, had to account for at least half of all tattoos out there. It wasn’t even during a break up, or anything. I can’t even put my finger on why I was going to finally get the tattoo I never got. Something about being hip, or the potentiality of appearing as hip as I felt.

I almost went through with it. I thought about it for several days before walking into Cry Baby Tattoos in Eugene. I presented the tattoo artist with an image from my phone: two minimalist looking tattoos, a sun and a moon. Stick drawings for the backs of my arms, placed above my elbows. The sun on my left arm, the moon on my right. I kept thinking of a favorite quote, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

The tattoos would be a reminder to always be truthful, to seek truth in all situations. To demand truth. To be truth.

As soon as the tattoo artist stenciled the designs on my arms, a perfect replication, I looked into the mirror and suddenly my elbow wrinkles jumped out at me. I hadn’t noticed them before. And when I bent my arm at the elbow, the sun and moon stretched, misshapen.

When I confessed to the tattoo artist that I felt conflicted, and didn’t think I could go through with it, he responded gracefully, “It’s your body.”

The next tattoo I never got were the coordinates of home:

41.7353923 N -123.9828519 W

It was either that or a fiddlehead fern on the inside of my left wrist, to remember Dad by. Later, I learned that I didn’t need the coordinates of home tattooed on myself anymore. Because now that place would forever be a part of me. I could plant trees in Dad’s yard instead, and spend decades watching them grow. It seemed I had outgrown all of the tattoos I never got, which lead me to thinking that from here on out, maybe I should just let my scars do all the talking.

Moon Teachings

79 days ago, on May 3rd, 2022, my dad was knocked off of a tall ladder by the force of a tree branch he was limbing with a chainsaw. It happened at an odd construction job he took, painting some house. A side gig. A split second decision he made at the request of a neighbor.

That evening, after getting the call that Dad was in the ICU, I drove from Oregon to Northern California along the coastline. His only child, I was frantic and pleading with the Goddesses to save him. I worried about everything from the fate of his soul, his consciousness; to his potential suffering.

Gazing out the window at the ocean rolling by as I drove, I noticed the moon: a waxing crescent in Gemini. The night sky was crystal clear and the moon and the ocean were a painfully beautiful sight. An inky blue sea. A golden yellow moon. Brilliant silver stars. I needed everything to stop being so perfect. I needed the moon to remain as it was, and not to move an inch until everything was sorted out. I felt anything but in control. All was chaos and confusion…so how could it look so peaceful? 48 hours later, Dad would dearly depart us.

Today, at three p.m. on July 21, 2022, 77 days after he died, I stepped outside after spending all day inside a building at the university where I work. I looked up at the blue, cloudless sky and noticed the white reflection of the moon. A waning crescent moon in Taurus. It was another painfully beautiful sight, this moon, coupled with the gorgeous, sunny weather and flowering bushes lining every path and street. The moon had risen and set, waxed and waned, over and over and over again since the days of Dad’s passing. Had the moon betrayed me? Relentlessly marching across the sky? Didn’t the moon get it? Any why does summer feel the need to carry on, too?

Perhaps, I thought. Just maybe, I cautioned…maybe nature knows how to let go. And we don’t. My body softened, shoulders releasing just a little bit of tension. Perhaps I should be bowing to the moon and reflecting on its wisdom, rather than questioning nature at all.

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.

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

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