My mother’s birthday & Dr. Quinn

Last night we watched the “Pike’s Peak” episode of Dr. Quinn. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it before, but it featured another Strong Female Character named Sam, who was fiercely feminist and had a zest for life and reminded me very much of my grandmother. Sam is terminal with leukemia and wishes to climb Pike’s Peak and die there. Like my grandmother, she wishes to die; unlike my grandmother, she has a decent reason to. Ian and I both sobbed through the episode, particularly the inscription Sam leaves for Dr. Quinn to find upon her passing.

“But I want no tears shed over my passing. Nature has it’s very own song, Michaela, and so few of us ever take the time to listen to its notes. So I have chosen a place where I know the chords will be sweet and clear and I will be welcomed back to the earth where all life begins and all paths eventually cross again. Please know your footsteps are certain to be recognized and when they are I will ask, as Emerson suggests when two friends meet again after some time apart, “What has come clearer to you, my friend?” I look forward to hearing of all your struggles and love, abut your mother and children and grandchildren, your mercies and trials. I hope to hear how you lived each day to its fullest, always daring to stay true to yourself. I’ll listen to how you loved and laughed and cried and played and worked. And took delight in each sunrise and gave thanks for each star in the night sky. And that all of your moments were as glorious as saying goodbye to a new friend or hello to an old, as glorious as climbing to a mountain peak or maybe even falling in love.”

It is very reminiscent of the attitude my grandmother has. I think Ian and I both know we’re growing up. We’re getting older. The fragility of life is no longer shielded from us, and we’re old enough now to know better than to think we can trick the system. Our frontal lobes are fully formed. We’re here, but we know it’s fleeting.

It’s my mothers 59th birthday today. It’s been nine years since we almost lost her. I don’t take her for granted. I’m so happy she’s here. I’m so happy I get to have a wedding with my family in attendance; just family. They, like we, are here…but it’s all fleeting.

Cultivating Manifestation

I am so supremely grateful.

This house. The grass. My small patch of garden. The brick path Ian built. The peony bush we inherited with the house. The windows. The sheer curtains that blow with the breeze. The patio project that is now in full swing. Our bedroom, which is a true oasis. Two cars in the driveway. My parents a mile away. The courthouse, where we will be wed later this summer, in view of our windows. The tall trees in our front yard – all four!!! of them, reaching high into the sky, with branches sturdy enough for kids to one day cling to. Two jobs, in town, both within a mile of this oasis. The birds that bath here, and drink sugar from red feeders. The butterflies that flutter in and out of the yard at will. The shed full of both gardening and lounging supplies. A refrigerator full of summer’s bounty. Tanning oil on the patio table.

None of this was certain, and certainly none of this was guaranteed. But it’s certain now, and certainly ours.

I pinch and pinch and pinch, and it’s real.

You can’t have it.

Is our love story even real? Sometimes I’m struck by the gravity of our engagement.

In this season, these latest seasons, I’ve started to take for granted all of the time and energy we expelled to get to where we are today. There was a time where this was so profoundly and deeply uncertain.

There were the months before I knew him, when I was skeptical and closed off. When I thought I knew who he was and hated what I knew.

There were the years when I first got to know him, when I peeled back each layer like an onion. And like an onion, nearly every layer made me cry. We played tug of war, each picking up and dropping the rope when the other gave a pull.

There were the years when we dropped the rope and came together. When we knew we had found something special and cradled it like an infant neither of us knew what to do with, but revered with the delicacy and adoration of the Christ child.

That first year together, we both knew instinctively that this was It. But we didn’t know the path that was unfurling before us. The family illness. The strife. The jobs. The fights. The parties. The cats. The move to Ellensburg. The nature. The school. The food. The trips. The move to Port Townsend. The love. The closeness. The complete entwinement of ourselves.

But before all of that was the years of unknowning. The phone calls in the middle of the night. The episodes of Nip/Tuck in my parents basement. The viewings of Die Hard in his parents basement. The car rides. The escapes to Port Townsend. The dinners. The drives.

All of those times, looking over at him. Watching him watch something else. Wondering who he was. Wondering if this would really ever be something. Wondering if we could really ever be something.

I wish I could tap that girl on the shoulder and show her our Now.

People have occasionally said they want what we have. Well, the reality is they probably don’t. It hurt a lot to get here. That tug of war was brutal. But even so, they can’t. There will never be a story exactly like ours. There will never be two people exactly like us. You can’t have it. It’s ours. And we fought damn hard for it.

And thank god.

The Importance of Nature

I recently came across a testimony by a Christian woman who was frustrated by people using the word “universe” when they could have said “god.” Her point seemed to be that you can’t have a relationship with “the universe” while Christianity offers an intimate relationship with god.

Now.

I’m not here to tell anyone who to have a spiritual relationship with or how to approach it. But I want to talk a little bit about the spiritual relationship I have with the universe, and what I mean when I say “the universe” at all.

I trust in the universe. Meaning I trust in the balance of all things: the presence and absence, the timing and location, the perfection and imperfection present in every single thing – tangible or not – about this plane of existence.

I believe that things occur for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

I believe that the primary purpose of our existence is education; learning from one another, studying ourselves, examining everything there is to be examined.

I believe that we are all connected to one another, or have the capacity to be. I believe there is a limitless amount of knowledge to be gained from examining the most pure and vulnerable among us: those that dwell in the natural world – or what’s left of it.

And I don’t think we, as humans, are unnatural or supernatural. I think we just have that very specific skill set of examination and self awareness that make us unique, just as the eagle is unique for its amazing skill for hunting or the cockroach has an incredible ability to thrive.

I find god when I examine the world around me. I don’t need to know human interpretations of his word when I can examine his actions at all times everywhere I go.

The message is “trust,” at all times, anyway.

I know god or the universe when I see any part of creation just being, acknowledge a feeling of appreciation for their being, feel the emotion of that encounter, and take away some nugget of wisdom, peace, or joy.

For some of us, god is too big or abstract of a concept. The seal is my friend. The eagle is my guide. The whale is my compass. The deer is my companion. The porpoise is my inspiration. The otter is my joy. The cat is my family. The tree is my shelter. The ocean is my home. I know these things, intimately. I touch these things. I’ve examined these things. I’ve learned from and loved these things, so intimately, with such care and reverence. As if they were holy. Because they are holy.

I see these things with incredible frequency. It helps that I live in a lush and beautiful part of the country, yes. But I have been blessed to encounter creatures in their natural habitats all over the world. Not because I’m special, but because I look. Because I care enough to look, to seek them out, to want to know and examine and touch the face of god.

I don’t think there’s any better way to do that than to examine all of creation. All of it. And if you believe he’s in all of it, that he perfectly designed and left a piece of himself tucked within every rock and whisker, feather and speck of earth, you might try knowing him this way too.


And finally, god goes by many names. If you’re a true believer in god, and if you’re a follower of any spiritual practice that believes there is only one god, you must believe that anyone speaking of “god” – regardless of the word they use – is speaking of the same god. To claim otherwise would be to admit or accept that there are other gods.

Another Beach Day

Today I found my first agate, which excites Ian much more than it does me. Which isn’t to say I’m not excited. I’m relieved. We’ve been combing beaches with increasing frequency lately and while I’m grateful for the practice for a myriad of reasons, it’s true that a big motivator is his fondness for rock hounding.

Ian’s dad loves fishing for steelhead, which a kind of trout and not, unfortunately for the alliterative inclined, salmon. The thing about steelhead is they’re very difficult to catch. In fact, they’re known in some fishing circles as “the fish of a thousand casts.” His dad loved to take him fishing, though, or wanted the company or wanted to share his love of fishing or loved to share his love of fishing…why do people drag people along to anything? And Ian begrudgingly’d go along, sometimes drumming up some excitement beforehand – sometimes leaving full of dread – and always came home swearing that he’d never go fishing for the “fish of a thousand casts” ever again.

It’s not that my attitude towards agate hunting is like that and I have no reason to imagine it ever will be. For one thing, we don’t have the fraught father-son dynamic working against us, which certainly helps. For another thing, I share his love for walking along the beach totally and completely. We were raised on Pacific Northwest beaches. Few places feel more familiar, free, home.

But agates are apparently as evasive as steelhead trout and my identification skills leave much to be desired. I’m content to walk the beach, humming to myself or maybe singing a real or made up song as we go along, looking at the water or up in the trees, watching my step, but mostly scanning for bits of glass to add to our jarred collection. Until I get a little bee in my bonnet that I’d like to find an agate or, more realistically, find a small rock that I think is an agate and get excited and call Ian over and make him inspect it.

“Oh wow, that’s a nice one,” Ian says, lackluster, which roughly translates to: “pretty rock, too bad it’s not an agate.” I don’t mind so much. The rocks I find are pretty – I’m very drawn to quartz and granite, rocks with strata, or ones with interesting shapes and textures. But agates have telltale traits that I’ve had a difficult time indexing and evaluating my finds against.

Until today.

First, Ian found a beautiful conical agate. It really is stunning. It’d make a lovely pendant. It’s orange and smooth, it feels almost like melted plastic because it’s so glossy and thick, with milky circles dotting the surface. I was kind of jealous, actually, because it’s probably the prettiest agate he’s ever found. It looks like amber. I’d love to wrap it in wire and wear it as a necklace. I turned down to scan the ground, gave myself another, “todays the day I find a big ole agate” affirmation, and took a few steps. It was right there in front of my right foot.

Shiny. Smooth. Orange.

“I found one!!” And this time, I was right. Ian gave me such an earnest hug, he was so excited. He smiled so much. He said he’d been hoping I’d find one for so long. And even though I don’t really care so much – agate hunting is his thing, and though I’ll happily go along and enjoy the benefits (fresh air, time on the beach, maybe even a picnic) – it did feel really nice to share.

A Beach Day

Two days ago we visited a new (to us) beach on Marrowstone Island. Our walk started out very nicely, on a well-groomed trail with a canopy of trees overhead and a consistent view of the spit. It felt good to be on a trail that’s new to me, and it felt good to share that feeling of goodness and newness with Ian, too.

The trail came to an end and introduced us to a new trail, but it also split off into a road that led down to the beach, so we took that. The beach was covered in seashells, clams mostly, but eventually Ian pointed out that there were sand dollars too. Sand dollars! 15 minutes from our house! I’ve never seen sand dollars outside of the coast. They weren’t nice and white, like they are in the stores when they’ve been dried out and cleaned – most likely bleached. They were kind of brown and mostly chipped. But it was still really exciting to see them.

We walked out on the estuary as far as we could before the mud started to give way too much to our walking shoes. There was a great view of Mt. Rainier. And the estuary was full of deep tide pools. I mean big. Like the one that formed out front of our neighbor’s place on Camano Island one summer when they must have used a backhoe and harvested rocks for their yard. That was one of my favorite summers because it created a real pool when the tide was low, and all kinds of sealife got trapped. I was young enough that the water was up to my mid-thigh when I’d go walking around it, searching for seaweed for a fake salad. I’d put crab carapace on top and pretend I’d made a delicacy, served to my imaginary friends on a flat piece of driftwood in the restaurant I’d converted my fort into.

I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. Until we were walking around the spit and the mud got too deep and it occurred to me how nice a pair of rubber boots would be. And then I thought, yeah, they were nice! My grandma bought both my sister and I a pair of tall green rubber boots, just for walking the tide pools. That’s how often we were in there. And I imagined, because it’s hard to remember, what else we wore with them, and how funny we must have looked on the hottest of days, exploring tide pools in our swimming suits with big camo-green rubber boots on.

I remembered, for the first time in a very long time, what it felt like to wade into the tidepools wearing those boots. The way the water pressure would push the boots close up to your skin, and you’d feel the cold inside of the boot. And the way you’d be careful not to wade too deep, or get too excited, for fear of splashing cold salt water up over the edges.

We didn’t have sand dollars on Camano Island. One summer we found a ton of moon snail shells, but they were few and far between after that. We didn’t have anemones either, not really, and definitely not like this beach on Marrowstone. When we walked back towards the main beach area, away from the serene estuary, I noticed the big rocks. Not so big a kid couldn’t flip it over, but markedly bigger than the rocks around it. I made a beeline and before Ian could stop me, decided to join. He did the dirty work of flipping the rock. That was always my least favorite part, because of the barnacles. We immediately saw movement. The shore crabs scattered and I saw the familiar twitch of a small eel, annoyed or maybe made afraid by our disturbance. Ian pointed out the hermit crabs attached to the bottom of the big rock and I cradled the smallest of the shore crabs in my palm. I hadn’t done this in years.

Ian and I agree that one of our life’s biggest regrets is that we never got to play together as kids. We met pretty young, but not that young. At least as far as either of us knows. And maybe we did! Who knows. The world is pretty small, and we spent several summers of our lives on opposite sides of Camano Island, doing the same thing: exploring tide pools with our butts in the air.

Being on Marrowstone the other day felt as if we were kids playing together. I’m glad he’s willing to do the dirty work of lifting the heavy rocks covered in barnacles for me. I’m glad he’ll point out the sealife I missed, and I’m glad he’s excited when I do the same for him. I’m glad that he can catch a small fish with his hands. I’m glad that he cheers for small creatures and big creatures alike; that he always flips the rocks over carefully, and then flips them back over with even more care. I’m glad he knows what a bullhead fish is, since it’s just a made-up name for a sculpin, and that he knows what their eggs look like when they’re tacked to the bottom of a particularly large rock.

We saw a lot of sealife in that hour of exploration and it made me really glad. We don’t live that close to Camano Island now, but we want to build our life and home here, in Port Townsend, for sure. I’m glad that we found a way to play together as adults, and I’m glad we found a beach where our future children can play together the way we played as kids, too.

On never, ever, not EVER giving up

I looked at my old college transcripts today. The ones that ended in 2010, with my mother’s diagnosis of cancer. The ones that had gotten really, really bad before the cancer diagnosis. The ones that my mother and I conspired to blame on her cancer diagnosis. The ones that really had nothing at all to do with my mothers cancer diagnosis.

The truth is, I was 15 when I started my first day at Everett Community College. I was 17 on my first day at Portland State University. And I started at PSU a week after the community college commencement ceremony. I was lonely all summer, and when the kids came back in the fall, I made few friends. The ones I had went off to their freshman level classes, while I climbed the stairs to my three and four hundred level courses, where I was surrounded by men with beards and women that knew about things like the Cold War.

I knew shit about the Cold War.

When we broke in to study groups, I was the one who had to raise my hand and suggest we meet somewhere other than the local bar. I constantly felt inadequate. Young. Stupid. What am I doing here? I’m not in their league. And it dawned on me that it was much easier to stay in my room, under the blankets, watching episode after episode of Roseanne or Full House, than go to class and deal with how young and stupid I felt.

So I failed. A lot. I withdrew, and when I failed to withdraw, I got Incompletes and Xs. I got Bs in the classes that I stuck out, usually thanks to extraordinarily patient and kind and understanding professors. Professors who saw something in me, and expressed it.

When my mom got cancer, I saw my escape. I planned to lie. I planned to say the two years at PSU had been successful! I’d finished! It was time to move home! And I did. I packed up my things and moved home. And then I got a tidy, business sized envelope in the mail. Return address: Portland, Oregon. I was officially dismissed. I was dizzy and sick at the same time. I sobbed on the floor and then found my phone and dialed. When my advisor picked up, I asked through hysterical sobs what my options were, what I could do, who I could talk to, what the next steps were. She had nothing to say to me. No words of support. No sympathy. Just that there was an appeals board and I’d have to “explain why 26,000 other students were able to get to class and [I] couldn’t.”

Over the next few years, that transcript haunted me. Even after the truth came out and my family was so sure I’d return, I lost hope. Every time I thought about applying to a new program, I was stopped dead in my tracks, mentally scrolling through the letters at the bottom of the alphabet. X, W, U, F. It was never going to happen.

I had a nice job and made nice money. I lived with my partner and we were playing house, building a nice life. I started to tell myself that it was fine. When acquaintances suggested I go back to school, I got smug. A stupid defense mechanism that didn’t help anything.

And then I took a chance. I applied. And I failed. And I applied. And I failed. And I applied, and I got accepted.

We packed everything up and moved across the state. I went to class on the first day, one minute late, and the door was locked. I looked in the classroom, made eye contact with some kids, and no one got up to open it. I was so mortified and angry at myself I cried the entire walk home. I called my boyfriend, sobbing, “It happened again. I’m the same. I’m the same person. I’m missing class.” I’m missing class. I’m skipping class. I was late. I promised it would be different this time. How could I let this happen? I’m so stupid. The whole way home.

The next day, I got to class early and told the teacher what had happened. She was horrified, had no idea what had happened, apologized profusely that the door had somehow accidentally locked itself, and I was reborn.

As, As, As.

I’m not the same person. I’m not the same person at all. I go to class — I mean every. class. period. — and I am the girl who sits in front, who raises her hand, who goes to office hours, who makes eye contact, who did the reading, who’s ready for a pop quiz, who groans when class is cut short. I’m the good student. I’m on the Honor Roll. I got a 4.0! I’m president of the anthropology club. I’m a double major. I just added a new minor. I have a cumulative GPA of 3.5!

I need to remember this story. I need to remind myself of my story. I need to remember my strength and sit in awe of myself. The next step is graduate school, and I can feel a part of myself putting up a stupid defense mechanism as I look into everything that’s involved. I need to not do that to myself. I need to remember that I am amazing and brave and powerful. I need to remember that I am NOT that student any more and that I will NOT be that student ever again. I need to open the doors to and for myself. I did all of this to and for myself. I can do this to and for myself again, bigger next time! I’m going for it. I’m applying, all the way around the globe. And I’m going to go, I’m going to find a program that wants me and I am going to go, again, and blow the lid of this thing. And impress myself again, a thousand times over.

The Book of Many Faces

I’m feeling pretty conflicted about Facebook tonight.

Well, tonight/yesterday/this week/the past month/always.

It really reached a head with the coverage of Ferguson. I’m really grateful that I have socially-minded friends, and I’m really glad that coverage (although limited to mostly social media postings) was there at all.

When I was in 5th grade we had to do a name assignment, where we researched the origins and meanings of our name. Alexis is a Hebrew name. It’s a derivative of Alexander/Alexandra, meaning “man-kinds helper.” I’ve felt that responsibility since I was 10.

Someone on my timeline wrote that it’s privilege that allows me to turn it all off. The fact that it’s within my control to turn it all off is in itself “privilege.” I don’t disagree; some people don’t get to shut their laptops and walk out into the sun. Some people are facing truly grueling standards of living. Some people can’t turn away because the view is too ugly; for some of them, that view is the only one they have or will ever know. But it hurts my heart so bad. The other day, I clicked through to a page where people were exclusively sharing videos of black on white violence, as if to say “Look! White people are victims too! But we never hear about that, now do we?” The comments made me feel like I needed to bathe my internal organs. It makes my heart race.

Some people, when they enter “fight or flight mode,” automatically respond with flight. I respond with fight.

A lot of the things I see on Facebook make my heart race. They make my palms sweaty. They make my eyes narrow and my arms shake. It’s just so easy to enter into the dialogue, to enter someone else’s psyche, and “correct” them. It’s so easy to jump in, offer unsolicited advice, and then blame the other person for “inviting the discussion.” It’s so easy to lend your opinion, you forget that that’s not what life is about. You forget that reading and listening, on this platform, are the same thing. And by automatically countering with an attack, you’re not doing the most important work of human interaction: listening.

Ultimately, it’s all moot anyway. There’s no reason for us to all be airing our grievances and opinions on all social and political matters, not when the result is us all pushed apart. I’m so grateful for a Facebook feed full of social-justice-warriors. That is the real privilege of my Facebook experience. I’m lucky to know so many people who care so deeply about the rights of others, the status of our country, or the environment, or the world. But when I get right down to it, the stuff I find most interesting on my feed, the stuff that I really enjoy and feel good about ingesting and digesting, are the posts about what life is actually like for those people I’m lucky enough to call (Facebook or otherwise) “friends.”

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe everyone else is much better at separating their friends’ wacky political posts as just that, wacky online commentary by people who have no real business weighing in on much of anything. I’ve started to detect a change in myself, though. I feel more combative, more righteous, much more easily validated — because if I put it down in a Facebook post or comment, it must really matter. But it doesn’t, not really. It’s only digitally tangible, after all, and that doesn’t mean a whole lot to the real world outside.

I’ve been doing a bunch of work on my family tree this summer. The most precious details I’ve uncovered are the private, the personal, the intimate details of peoples’ lives. The sterile records live on, but they only tell a very fragmented, awkward, bland, and incomplete story. More often than not, they leave me wanting more.

So I’m committing, here, to take the road less travelled (at least as far as my Facebook circle is concerned), and gear my posts more towards the personal. Our social media sites are a living scrapbook of our lives, and I’m tired of filling mine with what amounts to newspaper clippings. We’ll see how it goes.

xx

Bragging about my boyfriend (again)

I’m at “poetry camp,” engaged in a 10-day workshop on the Blues poem. Our instructors asked if we’d be interested in putting our poems to music and we all said yes! Naturally, I volunteered Ian to play piano as a third accompanist.

And so, last night he came. He’d just gotten through with a 24-hour fishing trip with his dad and a two-hour show with 20 Riverside in Everett’s heatwave, but he got in the car and drove over to camp with me. We got back at midnight, but he still came with me to the annual “Pie & Whiskey” night, where he met my friends and got his first taste of just how beautiful this community is. And then, this morning, he got up at 7, after alotta whiskey and little sleep, and came to class, where he improvised bluesy tunes on the camp’s baby grand piano. After class, we got sandwiches and explored the deep tide pools at Chetzemoka beach. The barnacles were huge, and we watched a heron pick fish out of the water like it was a bowl of popcorn. And now, a very well deserved nap. Three cheers for Ian! And poetry camp! And nature! Woohoo!

Well, th-th-th–that’s all folks!

I’m officially done with my second quarter at Central. This was definitely the most academically challenging, utterly fascinating, genuinely -educational- quarter of my college career (which formally began in 2006). Not only that, I expanded my horizons and got to LEARN within two disciplines I neverrr thought could captivate me (my new crush, anthropology, and the philosophy of metaphysics). And to top it all off, I was successful!!!

Leaving school and returning after three years was never a part of The Plan, but this term was the perfect reminder that I am exactly where I need to be and things really do happen exactly as they’re supposed to, good or bad. Being the slightly older/sadder/wiser student is completely awesome, seriously. I already had time and space to be a college kid and then I had time and space to step back and actually appreciate my education in a way I hadn’t before. And lust after it. For over three years.

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