Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Journey Is Perilous

I was supposed to arrive in Iowa at 4:30 this afternoon. A freak snow and ice storm hit TX just as I was flying in. The plane was delayed. Made friends with fellow travellers so I could borrow a phone charger. Chatted with a Ft. Dodge women who missed her baby and was carrying breast milk. What a warrior mom! Every obstacle known to mothers regarding breastfeeding from tongue tie to abscess that needed surgery and here she was at her one year mark, stuck in an airport. She was close to tears.

Kids were running around. Parents were screaming. Someone made a snide comment about a mother publicly breastfeeding. I missed it, else that awesome mom would have been treated to being thanked by me on behalf of everyone else, because good job!

My text exchanges went like this:

 "We are boarding soon. Maybe. I don;t want to jinx it by putting away my laptop."

" Stranded airport passengers can be entertaining and fun. My voice came back and I encouraged introductions, got folks helping each other charge their phones and sharing pics of their families. One lady started crying because she needed to pump for her baby at home, we've been here since noon! 

2 hour wait now for the deicer. At least we are on the plane. 

Everything is an adventure, a moment to cherish. Even if it's crowded and people are cranky. "
Talk about boarding new plane. Then broken. New plane. Crew recalled. New crew. Wait for de-icer. Board plane. Wait for de-icer. Crew recalled......wait 2 more hours on the plane until they can taxi back to a gate. We were on a runway. No food, no drink. Two screaming babies and a special needs kid, a plane full of business women were were PISSED,  all wrapped up in a small metal tube.

Finally, after 8 hours of this nightmare, they let us off, told us all hotels were booked and good luck. The contingent of angry Iowa women freaked out and became hysterical, calling other airlines, figuring out if driving would make sense, and more freaking out.
"Seriously though. I keep telling myself, it's ok. It;s not a plane crash. It's a delay. A delay is not tragic, it's annoying. "
I found a ticket counter that had a short line, it was pilots who didn't have answers, not really. But they told me that flying home wasn't likely until Sunday. And that I should just go home.

My texts turned to oscillating between swearing and calming myself down. But mostly swearing.

Iowa group followed me and were still frantically making calls because they had to be home! They had to pack for something or other and where was the luggage?

My head began to hurt. At some point I had scrolled fb for Dallas area friends. Bam. Cousin Candice. A good cousin to boot! Sweet. I fb asked her if I were to get stranded, perhaps she could put me up so I don't have to sleep at the airport? (Ticket agent said that all flights for Saturday cancelled too, fun).

She said yes! Goodness I am so glad for this warm bed right now. But all my clothes were in the checked bags.  I had airport yucky clothes on and kinda stink, but my cousin, who I hadn't seen since my aunt Chris's death five years ago, and before that it had been ten, she welcomed me into her home and her husband braved the icy roads to come get me. We had lived next door to each other as children for a year and done a couple family vacations as kids, but Cajun cousins are close always. For that I am so grateful.

Though the exchange with both our husbands was...cousin? Um, which cousin? Because...... yeah, we have some pretty interesting cousins. I guess she told him I was totally cool and Amish.

Yup. She told him I was Amish. So when I said on the phone, "You can't miss me, red coat and purple hair......" confusion ensued. I shook his hand and right away blurted out. You don't have to worry, I'm not one of those cousins. Though I am not sure he believed me at first, or now, but we'll see.

I'm going to try to coax sleep into hanging out with me tonight. This insomnia is no longer normal, but getting in the way of things like, you know, functioning. Candice made me tea and gave me chocolate, a shower basket, and is being so sweet. Now, if only sleep would get here. Maybe the ice is a problem for her too.

Also, I seem to have picked up a southern accent. It happens.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Parallel Universes: Leaving Ossabaw

I'll certainly write more when I get home, sort pictures, and come to my senses. Still, I need to get this down so I remember exactly what this feels like.

I have spent the past year researching and studying mythologies and folklore. Many of those stories have an element of faerie magic. I am holding those tales at the back of my mind as I process this.

The last hours on the island, I spent cleaning and polishing and helping people gather their thoughts and belongings to depart on the boat that returns to the mainland. Ossabaw is a coastal barrier island, one of the few that is nearly pristine wilderness and not housing or commercial tourism development. There are no grocery stores, no malls, no gas stations. It is perfect and as silent as a wild forest can be. Every morning I would wake and quietly slip out of the bunk room around 5am. I'd start the coffee pot in the kitchen and then slide on boots and coat, walk in the darkness the long narrow path to the dock.

I was never frightened of the open water at this place, at the dock. The marsh was in reaching distance and the view was more river than ocean and it felt like home, something manageable and beautiful. Every morning brought something new: the first was total darkness, walking alone I met a small group of Ossabaw pigs on the path. I couldn't see them, but hearing them close in the dark? It was frightening. I raise these pigs, I know not to meet them alone in the dark, even the gentle ones. The next few mornings,  fellow writers joined me in my early morning meditation. Watching the sun rise, quietly and subtly over the water, no blazing dramatic production, just a slip of blue, silky white, and the darkness falling away. The next to last morning it was pouring rain and I went anyway. Standing the the cold rain, I saw piglets playing the marsh and I felt so much wash away, I had been burning with ideas all day, writing furiously and spilling it all on  to paper, too fast and I was beginning to burn at both ends. The cool rain brought me back to grounding.

This world feels like a fold in time. I almost went to the college here, choosing the easy path instead (keep my museum job, have babies, and attend the local state university). Moving is hard. But these streets, these rivers, these people? They may have been my neighbors, my friends.....this place would have been my home. Or not. I mean, I could have been as easily killed by a rolling out of parking gear on a hill car, or gobbled by alligators, or married and have babies and moved away. I can't dwell on the what could have beens. Except for the feeling of having lived here already forever, knowing the landscape as if it were my birthplace. It is a strange feeling.

I thought that was that. The week was over and I scrubbed counters, stripped beds, put the clutter of books and pens away. I began to feel panic, I thought of the boat ride and dismissed my panic as the unreasonable phobia that I've been fighting for years. When it came time for me to get on the boat and go, I couldn't let go. I asked to walk the path instead of be driven. That long path I walked every morning, hoping the familiarity would ease the transition.

I began to cry. Or weep. Or completely fall apart. This place has hold over me that I can't explain. I feel at home here and enchanted by the music of the wilderness. Alligators and blue herons, marshes and bones. It feels like all the landscapes I have loved all rolled up into one.

No light mention that my love of poetry re-ignited here, just one year ago. A slow awakening, but I am working daily to bring it back to life. It feels like falling in love again, just as I remembered and maybe why I put it away nearly twenty years ago. Falling in love, the intimacy of words, especially poetry, is dangerous, always. I am careful and cautious, to a fault. But this? This is me falling apart and rising up from the destruction. Taking apart why I couldn't write, and re-mapping ways to travel around that.

The boat ride was as scary as I predicted, but it didn't rain so my fear that a monsoon would sweep me over into choppy waves was not realized ....this time. Friends held my hand, and eventually I stopped cowering on the floor of the boat and held my face in the wind.


Back on mainland, Jj, Holly (friend not child), and I walked the streets of Savannah in the delicate, cold rain. I started shivering, the deep down shivering that has only ever followed childbirth, by traumatic surgery. I knew it would cede if I slowed my breathing and calmed down and it did, but left me feeling dizzy. I bought what we now call a "Calm the Fuck Down" essential oil patch (Bergamot from Nourish) to help with the transition. This is when I remembered the tales of people stolen by faeries and then returned after living in the other world, the world of magic.

Ossabaw is a place that people see the poet and artist. Not the me that is a terrible housekeeper, a frazzled mother, an novice farmer, or a failure in all the ways that I struggle to keep all my busy in the air. No one cried because the bananas were broken, or fought over ponies, or made demands on my time ungratefully. There were chores to do, but always someone there to help. It was different than at home. I feel terrible admitting that, and I will go home and be more fully present.

I share with these writers this fragile and vulnerable side, my words, my histories, my heart. And they embrace it, know the struggle, and I feel so much less alone than I do on the range lands and rolling hills of my home. This magic is powerful, and the time precious. Just enough, even if I felt torn leaving it.

It was stepping on the shore of the return dock, the boat captain said, "This is the most dangerous part, when you get out of the boat, Watch your step."

Yes. This return is the hard, sad, necessary part. This is when the magic broke and reality settled back around my shoulders. This is when I started shaking. I can't pretend it was just the trauma of the boat trip. No, I really can't. I feel like the faeries have returned me and the enchantment has left me changed, in this dreamworld, like a cloak or a charm, an affliction that is hard to wake from.

Probably sleep deprivation and homesickness, but I had to write this all down before the feeling leaves.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Love Story, Coastal Barrier Island Style

 “Do not fall in love with people like me.
I will take you to museums, and parks, and monuments, and kiss you in every beautiful place, so that you can never go back to them without tasting me like blood in your mouth.
I will destroy you in the most beautiful way possible. And when I leave you will finally understand, why storms are named after people.”
― Caitlyn Siehl, Literary Sexts: A Collection of Short & Sexy Love Poems
This line of verse has really been stuck in the roof in my mouth. I taste it as I mouth the words. I am feeling it in my chest today, less in my head and more in my flesh.

This beautiful place is destroying me again. Destruction is what we need to begin creating, yeah? I feel this, the magic of this place, the really sharp sound of the silence and the water lapping and the darkness in which the whole house sleeps- this reminds me of home.

And yet, every time I stand under these live oaks I get that welling up that is just like falling in love for the first time. That sweetness and feeling that the world is slipping out from under me. Getting lost in the woods, or caught in the rain, or tripping over words and blushing deep down all over every inch of skin.

That's what being here feels like.

Layer on top of that the workshops and writing and being surrounded by people who listen and hear me, who know and love words with the same passion? Oh this is something I come home to. That's why it makes me sad to leave, but I know that this is special and I will return. I'll carry it with me through the year, in my pocket like a talisman.

And I will write.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Ossabaw Writers' Retreat 2015

I've been super busy this retreat, one because there are more writers here and two because I am actually working here too. Not just my college classes, but also the kitchen. I love it. It makes it feel even more like home, like I belong here, like I am part of the magic of the place. Last night I even hauled slop to the marsh edge to feed the pigs.

I'll write more when I have time, here are some pictures to tide y'all over.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Socks and Charitable Intentions

I just got done sorting and pairing up over 50 pairs of socks for various household members and there are still three loads of laundry left and a basket of onlys still to find their sole mate. When I need a pick me up, my husband buys me new socks.

There is nothing like a fresh pair of socks, clean and soft.

Still, I have panic attacks when asked to take my shoes off at people's houses. Oh dear God please don't laugh at my socks or shame me.

You see, when I was a kid socks didn't really matter in the way that priorities stacked up. There were other things to buy or tend to and socks were just socks and sometimes they had holes, never matched, and were likely stained or actually dirty with mud. We didn't have to take our shoes off in our house so the floors got dirty and socks picked that up. Laundry wasn't sorted at our house, it just got done and without fabric soften or stain sticks or anything fancy. Socks showed that.

It was another unspoken signal that we were poor. Please don't make me take off my shoes. This had nothing on the "free lunch" line though. That's worth a whole 'nother post.

Just a bit ago, our state senator Joni Earnst made a comment about how she had to wear bread bags on her shoes when it rained or was muddy to keep them nice. Yeah, ok. People exclaimed that the claim was pure and utter bullshit. That she was making it up. People outright mocked her. There were explosions of memes, articles, blog posts, just mocking.

I do not agree with her politics but every single time someone cracked another joke, it stabbed me in the raw wound that was my childhood. We were not the poorest, in fact, our family treaded the waters on unemployment and breadwinner returning to college and special needs medical bills quite well. We lived on the right side of River Street, we shopped second hand stores, and we had full bellies even if it was crappy 1980's food (I'm talking to you Velveta). We didn't have the funds for multiple Swatch watches or Gap clothes or ESPRIT bags or Easton loafers or Limited Express jeans hot off the rack. I didn't get to go on class trips to Paris or even play a sport if it cost too much money or time that I needed to watch my brother and sister. I worked as a babysitter and then at McDonalds. I sometimes worked 20 hours a week and took more if I could. At one point I had three part time jobs.

I wore grocery store bags over my shoes on rainy days, inside my boots too sometimes. I freak the hell out if I even think about purchasing a pair of shoes over $25. I stockpile socks. I can't stand the feel of wet or cold on my feet and for a good chunk of my teenage years I refused to wear socks at all, just slip on ballet flats. Not matter the weather, and you bet my feet were both cold and wet. Teen angst and rebellion was not my friend.

Joni has a right to talk about growing up poor. So do I. We both worked hard to achieve stability in our own homes. That's something that is difficult to do and heavily weighted in our favour in our society (rural white Midwest, sorry everyone but white privilege is real). It doesn't mean that we don't carry the scars of humiliation from the era when food stamps looked like monopoly money and not some discreet EBT card and poverty was a lot more obvious at the grocery store and in schools. Generics we bought were white labeled with black or grey text.

Don't forget socks and shoes.

When I worked retail, we were trained to evaluate customers based on profiling. Look at their shoes. Nice shoes, high brand? They have money. Look at their jewelery too. Poor people, potential shoplifters? They will give away their class by these details. I kid you not. We were class profiling and each time they pointed out a detail I cringed. I knew my second hand shoes or my Walmart knockoffs were giving me away too.

I still have anxiety about this kind of judging when I go into a new situation. I always buy new socks. Bright crazy socks. Holiday themed. Fuzzy. Handmade. Wool. You name it. I love socks. My students on campus can't help but notice my garish, often unmatching socks.

Seriously though, thinks about this next time anyone makes a bread bag joke or comment. Maybe it is outside your frame of reference, and be a hundred times grateful that it is, but it is what some folks lived and it isn't something to be mocked.

I am going a step further here. You know what? It's winter and here in America it's either cold or wet or both outside. No matter where you live there are homeless folks. For every joke you may have made or even listened to without speaking up? Buy a pair of socks and get them to a homeless shelter. Be so very grateful that your feet are warm and dry and do not take that for granted. In this historical era, it only takes one major life event to tip the balance and you and your family could be in line at the soup kitchen, hungry and cold, relying on charity or faith to get by.

Go get those socks. Change your Amazon Smile to a local charity. Do something that puts good out into the world instead of shame, humiliation, and degradation.

You won't regret it.

Saturday, 7 February 2015


 What I have been up to? Photography class. Trying to capture motion. Getting frustrated and super cleaning things like my bath tub and faucet (Norwex paste beats Barkeeps Friend in a scrubbing test, though both are good. Also, bronze sink fixtures from the 80's should maybe not be so enthusiastically scrubbed unless you like pale gold......just saying). 

Nervous energy fuels a scrubbing hand pretty darn well, but there are the in between moments that I can't do anything. These are the thoughts that pester me:

I feel like I don't measure up.

I'm not a good enough writer.

I am terrible at photography.

My kids hate me. Probably because I don't read to them enough.

My husband doesn't even notice me. Unless I don't come down to make breakfast.

My family shrinks every year because I can't fit in and it's easier to just cut me off.

Or else they just think I am full of hippie bullshit and still talk to me but only because it's funny later to regale others with how awful they think I am.

My housekeeping skills? Nada. Just don't talk to me about this. (sobs)

And so on.......

Then I get publication notices for my writing and photography. I get invited to conferences. I travel. The kids tell me that this is the best day ever! People ask me to teach them homesteading stuff. The kids and my husband rave about my cooking to strangers.

I wonder if folks actually see me. See the wounded and fragile person. See my insecurities.

Sometimes someone sends me a hateful awful email or message, someone who knows my vulnerabilities and can speak directly to those wounds.  I write pretty openly, so they are not hard to find. That cruelty, even from strangers crumples me.

It doesn't stop me from writing my experience. Well, not anymore at least. The cycle has one more piece though, someone else sends me something uplifting- telling me that something they read led them to ask questions, make changes, try something....and it was life changing for the better! Then I realise that I need to remember to tell people in my own life how much I value, cherish, and adore them, how much they impact me and my life.

I can get back up and into the world again. I know that life is not an even paved road with sweet surfaces and I am not running with perfect shoes. No, my life is running barefooted through pastures, walking the streets of Prague until my boots actually fall apart, climbing mountains, kissing children, breathing in sunshine, and sometimes trudging through rain, or snow drifts, or getting drenched in an ice storm to be a good shepherdess. I chose my own path and it rocky, hard, sharp, and wonderful.

I try and keep it real. Sometimes, that's all we can do.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Class Room Struggles

I am a professor. I know my material and chosen subjects. I have a near photographic and encyclopedic knowledge of the things I have chosen to learn about, history and architecture. I'm not saying that I know everything or even very much about either of them (considering how vast both are), but what I have learned I retain to an interesting degree which is why you want me on your Trivial Pursuit team. You really do.

Math and technical and coding and garble garble garble.....I really struggle to retail the details and to remember them in context. Photography is only a small part composition and artistic eye (which I can do) and the rest is math and equipment settings. Sure I can click over to auto and then just be really frustrated later when the camera did not do what I wanted......or I can actually learn how to use my camera.

It is hard. Harder than learning business calculus, which I spent hours with a tutor and more hours in the college math lab pushing myself to learn it and maybe pass the class. I did. With a B+.

Strange thing is that I feel more energetic with this challenge and I very much feel I am on the right track. Half the issue is learning the lingo, which I can store in the language and history part of my brain (the part that works!). The rest is practise and patience. I make a point to read the assigned chapters twice, once the day after class they are assigned and once in the hour before the class where the topic is discussed. Squished in the middle is a combination of researching the assignment, doing the assignment, and finding related youtube videos (because I am a visual learner too).

Then, I make a list of questions to ask. I "reverse" highlight, something I learned in college: I only highlight the parts of the text that I do NOT understand, write my questions in the margin and then ASK about these in class. That's what the professor is there for too, not just a crowd control manager, not just an assignment grader, expert in the subject you are teaching yourself. The instructor helps you find resources and frames the subject matter with a textbook and lesson plan, but it is really up to the student to figure out the rest and ask questions.

One of the real problems I see in American education is the student's expectation to be hand fed all the information and then gifted the grade for paying the tuition. I will not ever be that kind of student. I do not waste my time or others sitting in a classroom for a subject I do not care to learn. I am paying for it? I will make it worth my time and get the full value product. I will ask questions.

This is the shift that has to happen on the student side and I am not sure how else to encourage it, other than teaching the students who walk into my classrooms that I am a resource and they can ask questions and that they are the ones in control of their education.

Being a student is hard. Discouraging. Humiliating at times. Goodness. I turned in an assignment I thought I had done right only to find out that the flash was actually engaged in 3 of the 6 photos. I was completely freaked out when I discovered the mistake, too late.

It is one class, one assignment, and I learned from it. I may bomb this week's grade, but it is not the entire term. It still feels horrible. I forgot what it was like to be on this side of it. The struggle is real.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Snowy, snowy storm land

Winter has finally graced us with her pleasures and her wrath. It is really cold, there is so much snow, and did I mention cold? It is cold. So cold.

I am now really looking forward to travel. Cold makes my hands and feet hurt, makes sleeping near impossible, and everything is just miserable. I have so much nervous energy about travelling that I am cleaning like a mad woman. My tub has never been so very clean.

My closet is organised, I have sorted and culled my costume jewelry twice, and the list goes on. I hate being cold. I suspect that my cold=cleaning has caused Chad to turn the thermostat down even more. Grrrrr. Brrrrr.

I have also been thinking a lot. Thinking about posts to write. Poems to pen. Essays to compose. I have been dreaming of food and sweet tea and laughter.

I have been laughing with my children.

That's the part that is causing the most anxiety. I am going to be apart from them for almost a month. It is a long time. I'll stop home in the middle for 4 days, but that's not nearly enough. The kids are all encouraging me though, pushing me out of the nest to fledged and fly, and asking to skype.

Love. I love my kids. I love this life. Five years ago I could never have imagined a life so blessed with good friends and adventure. It gets better. 

It gets better.

It isn't just teenagers that need to hear that. It's young moms too. Women coming of age (that's what this feels like). It gets better. Discover yourself, your passion, and when you catch on fire you can better be the mom, wife, friend, lover, poet, (fill in what you are) that you have potential to be.

Ok, that took a motivational life coach turn that I was not intending. My thoughts on this are this though, it does get better. Just wait and while you are waiting.....dream it.