Still Laughing

This post is in response to what I posted on Facebook yesterday about “losing” my keys only to find them resting on my back tire where I’d placed them for “safe keeping” the day before as I hustled nine millions packages and Lucky out of the car. The AAA man looked like Vin Diesel and had been struggling to get into my car, and when I told him I found them he said, “I love you.” He also told me I looked good in my driver’s license picture which, given the day I was having, was in contrast to the hot mess of crying he met in my driveway.

A few women told me to “keep laughing” because it only gets worse and keeping a sense of humor is imperative to growing older and wiser, and I have to say to those ladies and everyone else: I’m still laughing.

I feel a little universally challenged right now, and though the punch line still eludes me I wanted to share a story about what a hot ticket I am among the older men in my neighborhood. This post was this close to being called Trust Me: I’m Not Hitting on You.

I like to go to the little pool in my neighborhood in the late afternoon for a swim, reading, and a little sunning. There’s a resort pool that has lots of people and waterfalls and activity, but the little pool in the neighborhood is close, quiet and relaxing. Except last Sunday.

Sunday I went to read and then have a marathon catch up with Emily on the telephone.  Before Emily called I was doing my own thing and there was a man doing his own thing. Perfect. Because everyone at the pool lives in our little neighborhood we’re pretty friendly there. When Dennis started a conversation I happily engaged with him. He thought maybe he’d fix me up with his son, who’s thirty-three, and asked me my age. I told him I’m about to be thirty-nine and he flattered me and said he wouldn’t have placed me over thirty. We were off to a fine start.

Dennis told me his wife had a stroke five years ago, and wondered if I’d seen him pushing her around in her wheelchair. I told him no, and that I was sorry. “Most of the time she doesn’t know my name,” he said, “But when I come to the pool or play golf I can keep an eye on her through my phone because we have a video camera in the house.” How sweet, I thought; how loving. And of course: how sad.

He joked that she told him he should get a girlfriend, and I laughed. He sat down again, closer to me this time and we chatted. He was funny and we had a few laughs. He asked me a lot of questions and upon finding out that I’m single he said, “What? You intimidate guys?” I didn’t agree about the intimidation, but we talked about the fact that a lot of guys aren’t interested in strong, independent women.

“Guys want a toy,” he told me. “Sometimes smart, opinionated women get the short end of the stick.” I agreed, but asked him the solution, thinking maybe this older father figure had an answer for me. “Be a toy,” he said, “Just be a toy.”

I laughed though I honestly didn’t think it was funny, and despite his bad advice I thought he was nice, and my heart broke for his situation. I offered my phone number and said, “I’m sure you have a lot of friends around, but I live right across the street. Please feel free to call me if you have an emergency and need a hand.”

He left and I called Emily back. I’d missed her call while Dennis was telling me the sad circumstances of his wife’s stroke. I thought it would be rude to interrupt him, so I didn’t. He called me ten minutes later and asked if it would be “Worth his while to come back to the pool.” Oh, sad, lonely guy wants to talk some more. “Sure,” I told him, “I’ll be on the phone for about 45 minutes, but feel free to come back and we’ll chat.”

He came back to the pool and looked like he expected a ticker tape parade upon arrival. He was impatient for me to get off and when 45 minutes passed he put his shirt on and interrupted me to say, “I’ve never seen anyone talk on the phone so long.” I laughed, thinking he was kidding, I mean he has a daughter so clearly he’s witnessed girls chatting it up.

He continued to throw a childlike temper tantrum but stayed while I wrapped it up with Emily, and then we had our first fight based on the fact that we’d completely misread each other. He thought I’d given him my number because I was interested in him. He thought I’d been flirting with him when I was just being my friendly self. He thought all sorts of things that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

He thought the fact that I’ll be here for another six-weeks meant I wanted to have an affair with him, and even as we had our first fight he continued to think that I was “coming on to him.” When he left I said, “I’m available to you as a friend, but nothing more,” and he responded, “I’m here if you want something more. I have enough friends.”

Obviously it didn’t end well.

Yesterday I was back at the pool in the afternoon and he showed up again. He stood in front of my chair and didn’t say anything. “I assume you’re here to apologize?” I said. He laughed, but was clearly not amused. He was sort of there to apologize, but sort of there to further pursue me as an option, and what makes this man think I’m an option is a mystery to me.

I was honest with him and brutal at times. “You’re married,” I told him, “And you have a daughter older than me.” This was a kind way of saying he’s old, though why I was being kind at that point is puzzling. I told him if I wanted to have a six-week affair it would probably be with a thirty-year-old. He took this as me saying I was entertaining the idea of an affair with him, because in his mind why wouldn’t I?

He told me he couldn’t believe how aggressively I was flirting with him, so clearly I’m interested. He told me a woman doesn’t act the way I was acting if she’s not interested in a man. And then I started to cry. Yes, I cried. In the middle of our second fight.

I told him I’m just friendly. I told him I’m a natural flirt and have bartender blood and seriously don’t mean anything by it. I told him that I make friends at the grocery store and that it makes me sad beyond belief that I’m living in a world where a woman can’t be friendly without a guy taking it as an invitation. “But you gave me your number.” The tears turned off and I turned friendly into feisty.

“Dennis. Seriously? Are you out of your mind? I gave you my number for an emergency. Because your wife is sick. Seriously.” He didn’t buy it. “I asked you if it’d be worth my while to come back to the pool and you said yes.” Oh god lord. “For conversation, Dennis. For conversation.”

He told me he isn’t interested in conversation and asked if I’m afraid of a one-night stand. I told him he didn’t know anything about me, but was treading in dangerous territory. Our second fight didn’t end too well either and he left for the casino.

I was irritated. It wasn’t just about Dennis, but about the fact that people can be so misunderstood. My gestures and good neighborliness were not advances of any kind. I will continue to be friendly, and am not going to let one old horndog stop me from being me. But the thing is, I am often misunderstood in a variety of arenas, and my tiff with Dennis made me think hard about that. It made me go down the ugly road of wondering if I can be understood, and if any of us can really understand each other.

He was at the pool today when I got there. I asked how he made out at the casino and he told me he lost, to which I responded, “Pay back’s a bitch!” I had one of my thirty new books that I’d gotten at a half-off used book sale today, and just wanted to read. From my new stack I chose a book of essays titled HERE LIES MY HEART: Essays on Why We Marry, Why We Don’t, and What We Find There. It’s full of great essays about intimacy, infidelity, living alone, and why it (marriage or not) might be worth it. It was an appropriate choice for a legion of reasons.

He tried to engage in conversation but I told him I didn’t have time for his BS today. A little while later he came to sit two chairs away and I kept reading, hoping (snort!) he wasn’t misinterpreting my actions. Not realizing that his sunglasses weren’t hiding the fact that he was looking in my direction I said, “Hey Dennis, can you tell me where the nearest post office is?”

He told me, and also told me where the closest good Chinese restaurant and pizza place are. I’d opened the door and he wanted to talk more about my rejection of him and his misreading of my “signals.”

“I’m really sorry,” he said. “I realize I upset you and that wasn’t my intention.” We talked about how gravely he’d misinterpreted my actions, and ran through the whole, tedious thing again. He said but you said this and you did this and then you did that and basically it came down to the fact that Dennis believed I was playing a game with him and playing hard to get. He was still looking at me as an option, but I set him straight. Again.

With his ego bruised he said, “You know. I wouldn’t even have hit on you if I knew how old you were.” “Right?!” I said, “I mean….I’m younger that your daughter!” “No, he said, “That’s not the problem. I like girls 25-30. You’re older than I usually go for, but you’re terrific and I’d make an exception.” He told me to stop intellectualizing everything and just “be a toy.” I mean, maybe, but not for him. No way.

Clearly my neighbor is delusional. Or I am. He told me I’d be surprised how many younger women are interested in older men because they have money. He told me he gets hit on every day at the golf course. He told me the infidelity rate is 40% in Naples. I told him I think that’s sad for a number of reasons I went into it in depth, and he told me it’s reality so I should get used to it. He told me he believes in god and I mentioned the commandment about adultery. I asked him if he’s cheated on his wife and he was honest but started with a question, “You mean before or after her stroke.” The answer was yes to both. Without knowing about Dennis’ devotion to god, Emily texted me: Dennis is sinned spelled backwards!

He told me—for the umpteenth time—that he’s good looking and in good shape and has money. I reminded him that he’s married and old and I’m not interested.  I wanted to suggest a good look in the mirror to old Dennis, but I’m not that cruel. I wonder if he’s immune to seeing his spindly legs or round belly or his hair that is startlingly white and poufy. I almost asked if he uses a blow drier on his doo, but will save that, if necessary for fight #4.

He left the pool and I stayed for a while, and when I left a different white haired man was peddling toward me on his beach cruiser with his Yorkshire Terrier in a basket on the back. He wheeled right at me and came on strong, I mean, friendly.

Ron asked me where I’m from and where I live though as the conversation progressed I realized he’d already known these things because the girl with the Subaru that had Montana plates for awhile stands out as much around here as a white, convertible Benz does in Montana.

Ron is from Wisconsin and his Yorkie was wearing a Blazer’s collar and is named Willie Davis after a Green Bay Packer. Not giving much of a shit about sports I wasn’t impressed, but I chuckled though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about being too friendly.  

He asked me if I cook because his wife doesn’t cook and he told me he’d love to talk to me some more. Then he told me he couldn’t stop staring at my teeth and I thanked him and he said, “Your smile is so lovely.” I told him I needed to go take my dog for a run and it had been great chatting. “I’d love to chat some more,” he said, “I almost knocked on your door one day. I wanted to know the girl who drives the Subaru.”

Huh? He elaborated that you just don’t see cars like that around here and he was curious about a woman who travels. Yes, clearly a woman who travels is into old men. Clearly. Clearly these old dudes have no idea that I don’t care about their money or their sports or whatever it is they think they have to offer me, and girls driving old Subarus with expedition-size travel boxes actually like guys who wear concert t-shirts and shorts that used to be pants. Guys with non-coiffed hair that grows over their ears but that’s often under a baseball cap. Guys who have jobs you can’t easily explain—not doctor or lawyer or accountant—and who can handle a girl being friendly without getting themselves in a tizzy over a denture-less smile.

At some point during our conversation I noticed that Willie Davis the Yorkie was air humping in his basket behind Ron’s back. I wanted to take a picture, but ya’ll are just going to have to use your imaginations with that one.

Meanwhile, a guy (my age) who I bought furniture from three weeks ago is still emailing me from “craigslist 3756491372” and I think he might be trying to ask me out but he’s skirting around it by saying things like “Are you still engrossed in your book?” and “Wow! Nice night. You should take a break.”

 It was interesting that I went to the home of someone my age to buy furniture from considering my demographic is a small one down here, and when my friend Carter and I were at lunch last week we had a hard time finding someone who was confident taking a photo with an iPhone. Brian was nice and good looking and funny, but what scared the shit out of me was that he told me—without embarrassment, shame, or hesitation—that he completely redecorates his house every six month. Completely. Twice a year. (See above description of guys I usually go for…)

I was there for awhile, touring his house that looked like a furniture store with so many things coming and going and we had an instant camaraderie going so I asked if the reason he was redecorating was because of a break up. “I haven’t had a girl living here in 5 years,” he said, again with no shame. Not that there should be, but I really wanted to know why the constant redecorating. “I’m not gay,” he offered though I didn’t ask. “All my friends think I am, but I’m not.”

Hot off the press: craigslist 3756491372 just mentioned he’s thinking about going to a local restaurant tomorrow. With nothing to lose, and because I enjoy a good banter (especially the weird ones) I asked him if he was asking me on a date. His reply, “Easy now… I may just ask you back to my place!!”

I am not lying. Not about any of this. I wrote back that he’s as bad as the old horndogs in my neighborhood. I didn’t remind him that when I was at his house the only room I didn’t get to tour was his bedroom because, he told me, he has guns in there. I know. Sounds scary, right? But he’s a cop. Or at least that’s what he told me.

Added to my important list of things to do: buy fake wedding ring. And keep laughing.

 

 

Getting (t)Here

I’m getting there. With this book, with this life, with my attitude shift which is often two steps forward and any number greater than that steps back. It hurts. It’s uncomfortable. It threatens to undo my seams and send my stuffing about the room. But as I always say to my massage clients, “Change hurts whether it’s physical or emotional. Positive change requires a stretch from a smaller place to a bigger place, and even change in the right direction can be uncomfortable.”

Taking my own advice remains on my list of important things to do.

I have a million things I want to say about my arrival in Florida, but first I have to talk about getting here.

My departure from New Mexico was bittersweet. I finished a solid draft of my book, which was what I went there to do, so even though it isn’t ready to print, I have to admit: mission accomplished.

To say that I was blissful upon completion is an understatement for the elation I felt. The event coincided with meeting up with Todd, an old Missoula friend, who I’d only seen once in three months. Despite us both regretting the absence of each other during my time in Taos, I consider it to be a blessing because the man is intoxicating. With the addition of him to my daily life I might not have accomplished the mission and might not have felt the joy of completion and a whole bunch of other things that wouldn’t have made the reunion what it was. Timing is everything and serendipity is beautiful.

Truth be told, I was ready to leave New Mexico several weeks before I did. The spring winds kicked up and I felt like they wanted to blow me out of the state, but I hung in there, hard as it was. Wind is an agitator not only of the earth, but also of the people on it. Wind tends to affect mood negatively, but that depends on the season, the person, and where you’re starting from. Remember what I said about change? Yeah, winds of change. But with over 96,000 words in a single document with chapter numbers and titles and all that, I started to look at the place differently.

My cabin walls no longer seemed to be caving in on me. Dust blew in and out of the cabin and covered me, my stuff and the dog, but I knew I’d only have to clean it once more: on the way out. Nights on the town seemed like a good idea and not something that would derail progress. I started to say “yes” a lot more and I liked the feel of it on my lips. I laughed, I flirted, I soaked off three months of sitting at my writing table into the hot springs.

My conversations transformed. I started to have a different story to tell my friends, neighbors, and Winda, the postmaster, who was sometimes the only person I’d speak to on the longer, lonelier writing stints. Instead of “Still working…” I was able to say with confidence, “I finished!” I realized what I’d known all along: these people were rooting for me. These people who I knew mostly peripherally were on my team, wanted me to succeed, and gave me hugs, smiles, and high-fives.

Many times I felt like a burden to these people because I felt like a burden to myself. Pent up from tapping keys I’d erupt into lengthy conversations about anything just to get some sort of exchange going to help temper the one sided conversation going on between me and the endless pages in front of me. But as my departure loomed I discovered something: I hadn’t been as much of a pain in the ass as I thought I’d been. They told me they’d miss me, that I’d helped them, that I’d been there for them when they needed someone to talk to.

Angie, the caretaker at the farm who soothed my heavy landing, gave me a handmade card (a classy one, not a crayon drawing) and a gorgeous (also handmade by her) mug that fits perfectly in my paw. It’s interesting: I received a mug on arrival from my childhood friend Rich, and a mug upon departure from Angie, a true angel. Is it too cheesy and/or contrived to say that my cup runneth over? Perhaps. Do I care? No way!

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Eric and Elizabeth, the owners of the farm, gave me a lovely send off though I’d only known them for a couple of weeks as they’d been in Ecuador all winter. It doesn’t do them justice to say they’re groovy people, and Eric told me he liked “meeting my energy” and hopes I’ll return to San Cristobal. I stopped on my way out for one more hug from postmaster Winda, who wished me safe travels. “Stay in touch,” she said, “You know where to find me.” I asked her for her P.O. Box number, and she laughed, “Um. That’s not necessary. I can find me.”

I left the day before a snowstorm hit the area and even before I got to Oklahoma I could feel it. I felt it between my teeth and in my eyes in the form of dust blowing around in sixty mph winds. The sky was blue but you could hardly tell.

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The day was righted by a stop at this ridiculously adorable cafe swathed in one of my favorite colors:

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Because I had the encounter with the elk on my way to New Mexico, it felt appropriate to set my sights on Elk City, Oklahoma for my first night on the road on my way out of New Mexico. It was a bad idea, but I didn’t know it until I arrived in town to find that La Quinta, my goto dog friendly hotel, was booked. Apparently Elk City is having an oil boom and I didn’t get the memo.

I ended up at the Motel 6, where they gave me a discount for not being an oil worker. The entire motel smelled and sounded like men away from home, and my room had linoleum floors. A quick finger swipe on the tub determined I would not be taking a bath, and would be wearing flip flops in the shower. Elk City doesn’t believe in good coffee, so I wouldn’t get one of those the next morning until I got to Oklahoma City.

My destination that day was Hot Springs, Arkansas, childhood home of Bill Clinton. I’d always wanted to go to Hot Springs. I attempted it once when my (now ex) husband and I drove cross country in 1999, but a snow storm made us change course. As we sometimes know things that don’t make sense, I knew i’d be back. As soon as I dipped off I-40 and into Arkansas I was in love with the state. No joke.

After three months in dry, arid New Mexico it was love at first sight. My hair, skin, and cuticles seemed to come back to life and I rolled the windows down and inhaled what can only be described as freshness. I’d been disappointed in Oklahoma that I ate a Starbucks egg-white wrap a few miles before seeing the all you can eat fried catfish sign, but all was righted when I found a place that served me pulled pork, beans, coleslaw and catfish. I washed it down with my favorite road trip guilty pleasure: Diet Dr. Pepper on lots of rocks.

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I drove through the Ouachita National Forest (put it our your list) as the sun was going down, and took lots of pictures, but my favorite is of the best travel companion ever doing what he does best: loving life and striking a pose.

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It wasn’t the way I planned it, but we pulled into the town of Hot Springs at dark. I drove the strip before finding the historic hotel I’d already picked out because it’s downtown and dog friendly plus has the added bonus of a restaurant with a dog friendly patio. I wasn’t hungry (obviously) and the place didn’t strike me when I pulled up, so I drove up the road to make a u-turn but instead stumbled on the Happy Hollow Motel, which looked like my kind of place. Serendipity: I love it.

This was it the next morning:

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I rang the doorbell for the owner and he checked me in—fifty bucks!—and gave me a basket of goodies including a few kitkats and leftover-from-Easter malted eggs. While I inhaled those, Lucky played mayor in the parking lot of the motel we’d be staying in for exactly twelve hours.

He found David Sydnor sitting on his porch. It took David and I about three exchanges before we discovered that we’d both spent the last three months writing books, me in my cabin, he at the Happy Hollow. I promptly took a seat and we talked for a good long time. I wanted to walk Lucky around town, but David and I had a few things to talk about first.

He runs a carriage company in Memphis and claims to have “the only barn where you can find diamonds and manure.” His claim to fame is his intricately decorated Mardi Gras carriage, which is one of the main characters in his book, his favorite grey horse another one.

He told me a true story about how one of the crystals fell off the carriage and landed in the lap of a nine-year-old girl who was going in for a serious surgery the next day. He told her the crystal bead was an angel tear, and when she went in for surgery she refused to let it out of her hand. The doctor obliged and broke protocol, wrapping surgical tape around the girl’s hand, securing the crystal to her palm.

After the surgery her first question was, “Where’s my angel tear?” They unwrapped her hand and the crystal was gone. The story goes that the angel tear went to heaven and the little girl got to stay. With my jaw dropped and eyes wide, David excused himself and came back with a red crystal in his hand for me. “It’s my last one,” he said, “and I want you to have it to keep you safe while you travel.” I strung it on dental floss and hung it off my rearview mirror next to my Northern Lights crystals from my deceased friend Corey’s mom, the crystals that I’m certain kept me safer than not when I t-boned the elk in the middle-of-nowhere Colorado.

Here’s David with the binder that contains his book, pictures of his horse (I can’t remember her name!) and the famous carriage.

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Pumped up from my time with David, I explored downtown Hot Springs and it didn’t disappoint. Lucky and I walked for almost two hours, while I chatted with Charlotte and got caught up after my winter of being mostly sans telephone. The town is beautifully illuminated at night, and it felt good to move through the humidity in shorts and a t-shirt. I didn’t get to go inside anywhere, but walked by the Gangster Museum of America, several old bathhouses and dozens of shops and eateries from another era. I spied my favorites—hear no evil, see no evil, smell no evil—in a store window and went back the next day to buy them for the Florida house without knowing how perfectly they’d match my mother’s color scheme.

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Bad weather was coming, so I didn’t have time for a soak before heading off to Memphis, but I filled up my water bottles at the spring. And again, I’ll be back. I just know it.

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It’s a good thing I stocked up on water, because let’s just say my time in Memphis wasn’t focused on hydration. We whooped it up. Bridges, my long lost soul sister, drove over from Alabama and we stayed at her parents’ house which recently sold. Things are getting packed up, and I’m quite likely their last house guest. Honored doesn’t do it justice, nor does it do justice to the hospitality I was shown by Bridges and two of her longtime friends, Marla and Monte Claire.

Bridges greeted me the way any good Southerner will—with a cold beer and a spell on the porch—then we had to move my car around back. No room for Bridges in the front seat? No problem! Lucky made room….I love the joy in this photo.

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We got ready for dinner, and I joked about being “under coifed” for the south. No problem! Bridges just happened to have a “bump it” (among many other necessary things) in her purse and hooked me up. Anyone can take a trip to Memphis, but not every Yankee can get shown around by three natives. We didn’t cruise Beale Street—apparently that’s for tourists and kids—but hung out in midtown and had what Bridges had promised me a month earlier: a “bigtime.”

Monte Claire’s sincere interest in my book broke me open, and Marla told me I was “a blast,” which given a couple of drinks on both ends and her accent I mistook for a moment as “blessed,” which threw us into hysterics. Goodness gracious, Memphis lived up to it’s reputation as one helluva fun town. {thank you, ladies…}

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And a solo shot of the demure and mysterious Marla:

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We capped off the night in a taxi that Bridges had make a stop at Crystal, her favorite late night greasy spoon. Crystal is one of those things that seems like a good idea at the time, but the next morning not so much. Just to confirm there’s not a lot of shame in my game, here’s me getting down with a burger in the back of the cab.

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Our driver had the patience and goodwill to take me on a middle-of-the-night tour of downtown, which Bridges and I repeated in the morning, which included drive-bys of the Orpheum, Sun Studios, and a pit stop at Gus’s Fried Chicken, my last request before driving into what would turn out to be a day of solid rain and near misses with tornados.

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I was sad to say goodbye to Memphis when we were just getting started, but I know I’ll be back. It’s a gorgeous town with an incredible pulse. It looks like this:

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I can’t promise you a “bigtime,” but really, you should do yourself a favor and visit that historic, gracious, beautiful city.

There’s not much to say about the rest of the day except that I was glad to be driving a Subaru with new tires as I hydroplaned my way through the South and into the panhandle of Florida. I used my earbuds and talked on the phone much of the way to good friends who entertained me with stories so I could focus on something other than my fear of being swept up in a tornado.

I hit Florida soil that night where I ate my first Waffle House meal, and the next day arrived in Naples where I’ll be hanging my hat through most of June. There’s only one fair way to describe my first few weeks in Florida, and that is to say that it’s been one awesome reunion and surprise after another.

But that’s another blog post….thanks, as always, for showing up and being a part of my journey. Big love to those of you I know, and those of you I don’t know yet.

The Moon Speaks. Listen.

DISCLAIMER: I’m posting this poolside from my phone, and apologize (sorta) for any errors.

You asked and I delivered. These aren’t my words–those will come early next week–but I couldn’t resist sharing these notes from Deborah O’connor, one of the best astrologers (and humans) I’ve ever met.

The full moon is in Scorpio tonight (my moon is in Scorpio, so ) and Deborah’s notes describe EXACTLY how life feels right now.

All the awakened ones,
like trusted midwives,
are saying, welcome this pain,
it opens the dark passage of Grace.
Rumi

Eclipsed Full Moon @ 5 degrees Scorpio
2:56 PM MDT
Thursday, April 25

We are asked to turn toward our fear of loss, to enter right into its epicenter.

What would happen if you were to look 180 degrees away from where you think your power lies and instead turn your attention to what lays you bare, makes you the most vulnerable, exposes you to your fear of losing everything . . . and what might you find on the other side of loss?

Please stop to consider this question for a moment: what might you find on the other side of loss?

Today’s eclipsed Scorpio moon has no interest in polite conversation over tea. It’s focus is on truth–not half-truth, not wistful yearning, nor worry over what might have been, nor hope for what might still be. This is energy which demands we pay attention to issues which have seemed too emotionally charged to haul out into the light of day and work through. So it invites us into the heart of our darkness, that we might find the courage to stay put long enough to tell ourselves the edgy truth.

You will probably feel this deep probing most intensely in your relationships. Scorpio wants us to be honest with ourselves about the things which undermine our integrity. It doesn’t miss the little lies we tell ourselves to make it through the days and nights.

You may find the courage to stay in your center with someone who continues to dodge their own demons by throwing their insanity at you. Or you may notice some line in the story you tell yourself about your life which is a half-truth you’ve composed to keep at bay your longing for a different script. We tell ourselves all sorts of little lies to ward off the reality of what is true. Today’s moon asks you to listen again to your version of your story–to discover something which you’ve been a little too afraid to notice before.

Sometimes we bury the real truth because we fear abandonment or abuse. Sometimes it’s shame which keeps us from exposing ourselves to the truth. But the intent of this moon isn’t to lead you into the heart of darkness and abandon you there, but to take you by the hand and hold you close while you acknowledge where you have been dodging away from the real story so that as you find the courage to face this inner knowing, you can free yourself from its power.

If you’ve ever been dragged down into deep water, you know the sensation of drowning, of struggling against the current until you either remember that you are helpless in the grip of this overwhelming tide, or until you wear yourself out so completely that you finally just give up . . . in any case, once you surrender to the power of the thing which is pulling you under, you find that you pop back up to the surface. But you are never the same after an experience like that because you came very close to the edge of life. And in that encounter a deep shift occurs which makes each day so sacred that anything which doesn’t serve the nobility of the heart is cast away.

Today’s moon will ask you to dive into the caverns of your psyche, to rescue awareness which you’ve dodged because you fear that in truthfully engaging with it, you might have to encounter loss from which you don’t think you’d recover.

The truth is that we will all continue to encounter bone-rattling loss, and death. But through these experiences we are led into the very heart of compassion and empathy. This is the hard scrabble of the human experience, but in staying with it we grow more and more real. Grace is never achieved through easy sailing. It’s arrived at through the gritty, untidy, razor edges of our lives.

I don’t want to paint Scorpio energy as something dark; it leads us into our own shadow and then helps us transform what we are afraid of into something we can use. It is just as apt to bring you into the realm of the magical as it is to help you release yourself from old emotional baggage. Usually these experiences occur hand-in-hand. This moon thrives on ritual, and is nourished by attention to all the realms, visible and invisible. It offers so much to us through dream time and allows for remarkable communion with the unseen world.

One of my dear friends awoke last night to a barn owl in her window. This owl was as real as she is, and there it was . . . a soft white presence radiant in the dark of night . . . a creature whose life depends upon balancing the equation of life and death, loss and flight. This ancient luminous creature of the night entered into her dreams and made it clear that we really have no idea where we are in time and space. This visitation is the perfect symbol for today’s Scorpio moon as it reminds us to keep all of our senses open to encounters which make no sense to the logical mind but which reassure us that our brave emotional work is noticed by that which is beyond our comprehension.

If all that is unfolding right now makes you feel vulnerable and exposed, please know there is a tremendous amount of compassion moving through this energy field. Probably the easiest way to access it is to accept what is happening, accept what has already happened . . . there is nothing which takes more courage than this. It is an act of absolute faith in the Unknown. This isn’t something everyone can manage. But you can. Close your eyes and breathe.

Let Deborah know if you’d like to look more deeply into your own life by having your chart and current transits.

Friends: You won’t be disappointed. Deborah is salt of the earth and the real deal. Her skill and insight are palpable

Her contact info: Deborah O’Connor
deb@lovedogdesign.com
http://www.lovedogdesign.com

Characters

“My life has a superb cast, but I can’t figure out the plot.”

I’ve had a magnet with that quote on my fridge for years, but I’ve rarely though much about the source since it felt like it had actually been written both by me and for me. I googled it, and as it turns out Ashleigh Brilliant has said a lot of clever and hilarious things in his time:

  • “The difference between friendship and love is how much you can hurt each other.”
  • “It’s human to make mistakes and some of us are more human than others.”
  • “Please don’t lie to me, unless you’re absolutely sure I’ll never find out the truth.”
  • “Strange as it may seem, my life is based on a true story.”
  • “If you don’t do it, you’ll never know what would have happened if you had done it.”
  • “I may not be totally perfect, but parts of me are excellent.”
  • “Strangely enough, this is the past that somebody in the future is longing to go back to.”
  • “Should I abide by the rules until they’re changed, or help speed the change by breaking them?”
  • “If I had more skill in what I’m attempting, I wouldn’t need so much courage.”

He’s a British author and cartoonist and I’m going to read some of his books. You too should check him out.

So…I have characters. A lot of characters in a big cast. In fact, I have 392,509 characters, which translates into 88,724 words, which translates into 246 pages, which translates into a BOOK. Yes, after an extraordinarily long gestation period I have given birth to a book baby. My winter of solitude has finally amounted to something. A-M-E-N.

It’s going to need a couple more months of TLC, but I’ve patched together my hard work into a single document and now I have a book. I’m sending it to a professional editor on Monday when I leave here, but today I have other plans.

Today I’m going to Ojo Caliente. I was going to go today anyway, for a break, but now that I’m leaving behind a book baby I’m going there for a cleansing, celebratory soak. I’ll swim, sun and read. I’m going to relax. Not pretend relax, I will really relax.

Twenty-four hours ago I was not relaxed, and sat with a friend yesterday afternoon doing that climbing/crawling/carrying on thing, and I just couldn’t be still. I needed a swaddle or a time-out. I was not even close to being still. My friend knew I had four more days to work on the book, but the way he looked at me it made me wonder if he thought I’d make it through four more days of intensity.

He gave me an out, told me not to kill myself finishing in the next four days. Then I heard the words come out of my mouth: “If I stop editing and just cut and paste the chapters I’ve already worked on in order I could be done in two hours.” Yes. That made sense. Why second guess the hard work I’ve already done? Why do we do that? The editor will help me figure out the gaps and the excess. He’ll help me. I’m so proud of myself for asking for help that I can hardly stand it, yet I’m acting like someone who scrubs the toilets before the cleaning lady comes.

When we parted I sat myself in front of a plate of pulled pork and less than two hours later I had a book.

Yes, I will work on it over the next couple of days. Yes, I need a concluding chapter and so far only have notes for it. But YES, my hard work has paid off. I accomplished what I came here to accomplish.

I love my characters. All 392,509 of them.

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Check the Weather

Most of you reading this know that I’ve spent the past eleven weeks mostly alone. I socialize, on average, twice a week for a couple of hours, though I’ve had a couple of runs of five days where it’s been just me, Lucky and writing. {Note for the future: that’s too many days alone for this girl. I find myself easier to be around when i’m bouncing off people.}

I live ten miles from a cell phone signal, so on the days when I haven’t left the cabin I’ve often not had a conversation with anyone (besides the dog) unless I’ve gone to the post office. The post office is the only constant in San Cristobal, and is just a mile up the road. The first night I was here I was told there’s a bit of cell service (though not for me) at the post office, but couldn’t find it because it doesn’t look federal, and is more or less a lean-to attached to the postmaster’s house. And I confess: I’ve occasionally jotted off a postcard just to have a reason to go there and exchange a few words with Miss Winda Medina.

Last week there was a welcome shift, and I got to do a bunch of talking when my dear friend Emily visited from Missoula for five dreamy days. During that time we drove a lot because the spaces between pin dots on the map are large in these parts, but in all that windshield time not once did we listen to music. Not the radio, not a CD, not even the song I couldn’t stop listening to before she got here.

Let me be clear: We talked almost constantly, but didn’t make noise just to fill space. We welcomed silence, contemplation and awe, but a few breaths later we’d be breaking it down and expressing our thoughts out loud before they’d fully formed in our heads.

We got deep into breaking it all down. I love the way so many conversations started with, “I’m asking you this because I know you’ll tell me the truth…” I can’t think of a worthwhile topic we didn’t touch down on, but in the end our conversation hopping left with us dozens of unfinished thoughts.

When we weren’t talking we were eating. In the beginning we forgot to take before pictures of the beautiful food, so ended up with only clean plate club photos like this one:

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Before we cleaned the Weiner schnitzel right off the plate we had the coldest ski day I’ve had here. It’s easy to believe March would be warmer than January and February, but it’s not. The winds kick in and make March feel like the coldest month of the winter. No joke. I’ll pass on sharing the photo of our frozen faces. Oh, what the hell. Here it is:

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The next day we explored town, but it was too cold to walk much so we drove back roads and swooned over the light that hits the earth a little differently in these parts. Even when the sun is diffused through clouds there’s an illumination that makes a person feel there’s a gaggle of assistants with flash diffusers, reflective umbrellas, monolights, and strobe lights. We rushed out of and back into the car for this one:

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Cold weather can be a blessing, because if we’d be able to be outside we would have, but instead we scored at a consignment shop. Emily got a blazer she’d been searching for forever and I got a vintage Italian merino dress and coat set. Ok, truth: I also got a couple of muumuus and a lime green pair of Dr. Scholl’s. Hello, Florida! {Emily says I really rock a muumuu, and I say she should wear short shorts year-round. This is friend love. Clearly.}

Then we had one of the best meals of our lives at El Meze. Mussels, collards and bacon, melt in your mouth pork belly……each bite better than the last. This is where we embarked on a serious run of fabulous meals. Ok, I should back up to mention that our waiter at El Meze was both Michael-Franti-hot and sweet. Worth noting.

We asked at El Meze for a brunch recommendation, and were told to go to Aceq, but found out they’re no longer serving brunch. We did our due diligence and even though we didn’t like the name—Dragonfly Café—we agreed that hippies make good coffee and baked goods, and a wait is usually a good sign.

We sat outside in the sun and wind (yes it was cold) and drank coffee while we waited, then we were seated in the coveted window-seat nook. Reward for our patience? Possibly. We lounged in that heavily pillowed, sun drenched slice of heaven while we drank mad cups of coffee and ate a ridiculously good breakfast based around homegrown eggs. Lucky, lucky girls.

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After brunch we hiked down to where the Red River meets the Rio Grande and relaxed in the sun on a rock in the middle of the river. We talked about a lot of things with the water rushing around us, but one of them was that some people will never get to experience being on a rock in the middle of the river and wouldn’t even think to put it on the option list. {sigh} People: it’s an option. EVERYTHING is an option.

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We’d left a message on the answering machine regarding a dinner reservation at Aceq, but it’s complicated when you don’t have cell service and as soon as you leave town there’s no way to get a call back confirming or denying anything. I know: It’s all so backwards, and it’s been interesting living “old fashioned” this winter.

We’d already made reservations in town, but Emily said, “Let’s drive over to Aceq and see how it looks and if we like what we see we’ll find out if we can get in.” We hit cell service on the outskirts of Arroyo Seco, right before we reached Aceq, and at 5:55 the message was, “Hi Jaime, We’ll have your table for two ready at 6:00.” Obvi it was meant to be.

{Note on “obvi.” At some point in the midst of all this eating, talking and adventuring we managed to watched the entire first season of Girls. The girls say obvi.}

We don’t know how it happened, but Aceq managed to beat El Meze. We had brussels sprouts, spicy lamb ribs, and the best friend chicken either of us have ever had. Our socks were blown right off. Yes, we talked through the meal, but mostly to say, “Oh . My. God. This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.” No photo will do the décor or farm-to-table food justice, but I’m not kidding foodies: put ACEQ RESTAURANT on your bucket list. (I’ve already been back!)

All that eating, walking, and getting deep into the marrow of life inspired us, though it’s hard not to be inspired by all of the artists who’ve called New Mexico home. Our highlight was the Georgia O’Keefe museum in Santa Fe, but we popped in quickly to the Mabel Dodge Luhan house which offers “supportive solitude for creative reflection.

The lineup of artists who were guests of Mabel is unbelievable (Georgia O’Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham and Carl Jung, etc.) and the spark and motivation set into those walls oozes right out. Of course, it could have been the light. Seriously, the house is on a hill and the sun was setting and light streamed through impossibly large windows that are positioned in such a way that just screams: someone really knew what they were doing when they built this place….

Mabel Dodge Luhan House Sitting Room

A workshop was going on, and the group was finishing their dinner but didn’t mind us poking around. Emily and I had flashes of thoughts and dreams for the future and it can be best summed up by this story of a friend of mine.

Years ago a guy I knew kept having run-ins with the law. I don’t know exactly what kind of trouble he was getting into, but he kept finding himself wearing the orange suit, sitting in front of the guy in the black suit. One day he said to himself, “I want to be the guy in the black suit.” And just like that he decided to go to law school.

{Translation: We can read the books and attend the conferences, but we can also write the books and teach the conferences. A plan was hatched….Because it was so unpredictably cold here, but intermittently sunny, we checked the weather a lot. So much it became a slogan for the visit. I think CHECK THE WEATHER will be a great name for a collaborative book and/or a workshop. There’s so many things you can check the weather for in addition to actual weather….}

Writing is serious business and it’s hard. It requires solitude, but it’s not the one person job I once thought it was. I’m lucky to have people in my life who empathize with this, but Emily’s a writer too, and she knows the struggle in a more intimate way. Thank goodness for friends like Em…. I’m grateful she was here to experience the remote cabin where I’ve been living with it’s terrible water pressure, it’s washboard access road, and it’s incredible silence.

She really gets it. She’s aware of how hard it was for me sequester myself away for a winter of writing. The choice to go was hard, the decision to stay almost harder. She knows what it’s like to face the blank page, the shitty first drafts, and the compulsion to do this this thing that can lift you up as deftly as it squashes you.

We spent her last day and night in Santa Fe and the Georgia O’Keefe museum was the first thing we did and our favorite. We were lucky enough to be there during Annie Leibovitz’s “Pilgrimage” exhibit in addition to getting to view O’Keefe’s paintings. We walked through the museum with our arms linked around each others, but before we did that we sat and watched two short films. One was an overview of O’Keefe’s life, and the other about her homes in New Mexico.

I loved everything about the museum, but the highlight was—no joke—the videos, which I realize sounds silly, but I loved seeing her face and body in action, hearing her voice, and doing the math.

Yeah, the math. Emily and I did a lot of math in that theatre, and mouthed numbers to each other with eyebrows raised and hearts light. O’Keefe and Stieglitz didn’t get married until she was thirty-seven, she spend her first summer in Taos when she was forty-two, and she didn’t move to Ghost Ranch until she was forty-seven. We also discovered that the art she did when she was younger was Not. Very. Good. But as she got older and traveled more it got (obviously) a lot better. Still-lifes and lighthouses did not bring out the best in Miss Georgia. Sun bleached bones and impossibly blue sky and flowers on a huge scale did.

So we did that math and it confirmed what we already knew: there’s plenty of time. So we can sink our teeth into that. While we check the weather.

I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do. – Georgia O’Keefe

I Love

Last Sunday I completed another ten-day Master Cleanse, and let me tell you: It’s not just a physical and cellular detox, it’s a deep emotional cleansing as well. I cried some of the sweetest tears of my life on the last night. Good stuff. I’m working hard on my book—the final push before I leave here—and wasn’t sure I’d write a blog post this week but I couldn’t help myself from writing a list of what I love right now.

I love my Taos writing group at SOMOS, who so graciously accepted me into their group and don’t judge me for just passing through. I love their stories, their writing, their insights; I love their honesty, compassion, and grace.

I love my neighbors. The one who offers me lettuce from the greenhouse, the one who meets me outside when I arrive home because it’s been a week since we’ve seen each other, the ones who have me for dinner, the ones who are never too busy to ask how my book is going, the one who sends Lucky home when he’s running amok.

I love that dog.

I love that although my nerves were ravaged after killing that elk they have righted themselves, and I love that I now see the fifteen-mile drive home from town as a thing of beauty and not a thing to fear.

I love that I got new really bright headlights out of that mess.

I love gratitude.

I love that I’m not nearly as judgmental as I used to be, and I love that means I’m also judging myself less harshly.

I love that the only constant is change.

I love the coyotes that won’t let me go to sleep and the rooster who won’t let me sleep in.

I love that we’re never farther than one sleep from a brand new day.

I love choices, options, and free will.

I love putting one word after another and creating a book that may or may not help others the way I hope it will, but which is helping me just be removing it from my insides. {cleansing.}

I love my friends and family.

I love hanging clothes on a clothesline, clothespins clipped to my hem and stuck in my mouth. I love how a simple action connects me, despite geography, to my grandmothers and their grandmothers. I love drying myself with stiff, line-dried towels and how that feeling takes me back to being a kid at the beach with my Mimi.

I love that the more things change the more they stay the same.

I love what I realized yesterday: That Missoula was a wonderful place for me to “grow up” because you can be whoever you want to be in that lovely valley, and you can grow into the person you’re meant to be. I love that I feel like Taos is the same—anything goes—and that in reality we can be whoever and whatever we want to be wherever we land. I love that geography is not the big limitation, ego is.

I love that I finally discovered a deodorant that smells like coconut.

I love that after years of being mostly on the giving end, I’ve been receiving weekly massages here in Taos and don’t feel that I need to apologize for it. I especially love that last part.

I love possibility.

I love that I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I can look at the people who’ve hurt me with compassion instead of anger, and wish for them health, healing and wellness.

I love floating in oceans and I love doing handstands in swimming pools. I love hot springs. I love water.

I love that I’m looking forward to taking my high-desert parched skin to the Gulf of Mexico for hydration and salt-water therapy.

I love that the next step isn’t as intimidating as it was a month ago.

I love hope.

I love that story I read last night about the doctor who cured criminally insane patients by improving himself. He did this by looking at the patients’ files and repeating, “I love you.” I’m sorry.” It worked.

I love life’s limitless possibilities.

I love the power of words.

I love the power of thoughts.

I love the power of love.

I love you.

Just Because

My family has always been big on “just because” gifts, and it’s a custom I adore and have adopted as my own. It’s such a thrill to buy someone something just because it’s perfect for them or the time, and not because it’s Christmas or a birthday. “Just because” gifts say I’m thinking about you and you’re special; they say I love you all the time, not just two or three times a year.

It always saddens me that people get so stressed out about buying gifts. Will she like it? Am I spending enough? What is he getting for me? Yuck. It’s sick and we all know it, yet most of us partake in the craziness. I’m a terrible spoiler of surprises, and if I buy someone a gift in advance of the holiday it was intended for I usually give it early. I just can’t help myself.

I recently bought my friend Rich a locally distilled bottle of rye, not even knowing if he likes rye, because it was bottled on his last birthday, the start of his fortieth year. It brought me so much joy, and as I learned through my friend Dan Comstock, “Giving and receiving are the same.”

Two days ago I received a typed letter—single spaced and over two pages long—from my friend Geoff. It contained just exactly the words I needed to read on that day, the fourth of a ten day cleanse. I save all my cards and letters, but that one gets top shelf. Among other things, he said:

It seems you bring out the nice side of me. I love the way you get me to be honest, how you can be direct with some care and that you don’t pull punches. I trust you so much…

Then yesterday I received a “just because” gift from a boarding school friend, which because of our age makes her clearly an old friend. We stay in touch but I haven’t seen her in forever, though I hope that with my planned east coast time this spring and summer that that will change.

I knew the gift was coming because Hilary asked me what color I’d like and my address. She needed to ship my gift UPS, and I’ve only received one UPS package since I’ve been here—and that one I intercepted on the road—but was confident it would work.

I live in a cabin on a farm with some other cabins and casitas. As the weather has grown warmer I’ve started to get to know my neighbors better, and in the past week I’ve had a couple of knocks on my door. They startle me, just as a ringing telephone will when I get back to having one of those.

For well over a month not one person showed up unexpected, and now I have knocks. Avi knocked yesterday when I was only half dressed, and I threw on a shirt to answer the door and he had a small, square box in his hands, “You got a package!” he said, “It looks like a ring?!”

I love that he thought it was a ring; how funny. Avi is twenty-three and adorable. He throws pots, works at a restaurant in the ski valley, and coaches a ski team. He’s never without a megawatt smile, and is one of the sweetest human beings I’ve ever met. He’d been feeling under the weather so I hooked him up with some herb concoctions and made him a “drink” that wrinkled the poor boy’s face. After that we set to opening my package.

Hilary is a sales rep for a company called Wimberly, and their bracelets were recently featured in People’s StyleWatch. I saw the spread in the magazine (one of my guilty bathtub pleasures), and when she posted it on Facebook I commented that I wanted it. May have said needed it….She sent me a message: I’m sending you that bracelet. What color do you want? The magazine showed the one with the bee, but the link she sent was of the horseshoe, which I also love and would never, ever argue with.

Without hesitation I said “Turquoise!”

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{Note: I did not wash or brush my hair, but did put on lipstick. And yes, it was tank top weather in New Mexico today. In case you were wondering.}

I thanked her before I received it and she replied:

I know you are going to love this piece and I’m so glad that you have chosen the bee. Bees are a symbol of the hard work that results in a sweet reward; a wonderful reminder to continue to enjoy the sweetness of our lives. Historically they are also one of the most prevalent symbols of rebirth and good fortune. Lady, I’m so impressed that you continue to appreciate, and most importantly acknowledge, the steps you have made as it takes a brave and strong soul to know how to be true to oneself.

P.S. When your book goes to print one of Wimberly’s horseshoes will be added to the mix.

I have no doubt, with these friends of mine, that I’m the luckiest girl in the world. Thank you, Hilary; thank you, Geoff. And seriously: thanks to all of you.

Stan, a Stinker

Eric Adema, my good friend from Kent, turned forty yesterday, and he asked this on his Facebook page:

“What I’d like more than anything else today is for everyone I know to go out and practice 1 random act of kindness on a total stranger. Most people I know do this anyway, but today make it an extra good one.”

How lovely, right? I think we should all do this on our fortieth birthdays. If we did—WOW!—the world would surely be a better place.

It was on my mind all day, but the thing about a random act of kindness is that it has to be spontaneous and, well, random. My friend Rich and I went out to lunch then ran errands around town. We stopped at Wired, the gorgeous, exotic coffee shop, and I thought about buying coffee and snacks for the high school boys who asked me outside, “Do we look seventeen?” But I was sitting outside enjoying my tea.

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Rich and I were on our way out the door, when he stopped to say, “Good Afternoon, sir” to a man eating soup by the door. “Sir?” he said, “I’m no sir. I’m not an Officer or a Lieutenant?” I walked outside and left those two to work it out.

I sat there in the sun, drinking my tea, listening to as much as their conversation as I could hear, which was punctuated with boisterous laughs from both sides. I’m deep into the book I’m writing now, but always thinking of new books. One popped into mind, “Rich and Jaime Travel Around and Talk to Everyone.”

It’s true; we do. Now, I wrote about Levi and Amanda last week and labeled then my newest old friends because although we just met, we connected quickly and I hope to know them forever. Rich and I are actually old friends—we went to school together starting in Kindergarten—but for many years we lost touch until this winter in Taos, so he’s my oldest new friend. And everywhere we go, we talk. We connect to each other and to strangers through talking and sharing stories. It’s awesome.

NOTE: I love my friends. Every single one of you who brings so much joy to my life whether you’re near or far. I mean it. So much.

Rich and Stan came out to join me in the sun. This is where Stan and I officially met, and we hugged right out of the gate. He smelled my hair and neck and swooned a little, but we cooled him down and then we sat.

We sat there for a while and learned so much about him. He’s ninety-two years old. He has five kids with five different women. His youngest is twenty-six and his oldest is twenty-five years younger than him. We didn’t do the math, but I said, “Your youngest son’s mother must have been much younger than you?”

He described her as being “As big as a house” but lovely, and she was at “that age” he said, so I asked what age, though I knew. “Thirty-nine,” Stan told me. I told him I’m inching up on thirty-nine and he said, “Beautiful single women make the world go around.”

Rich had walked away, and not knowing that we’re good friends and not a couple, Stan said, “I’m not a stinker. I don’t break up marriages. I don’t break up couples. But YOU….Oh, my Stan said, “You.” We hugged again. Lots of hugging.

Rich came back and we all kept talking about Stan’s travels, his twenty-five years in Taos, his shopping list of one item—dish soap, which he recommends for the tub—and then we looked at his sketchbook of drawings. He was in Japan during WWII, and he’s traveled a lot since then. He’s made a family for himself here with the Native Americans at the pueblo and with the Spanish in the area too.

He told us about big, white cat who showed up and who he decided to feed. He told us about his neighbors and their dog, and how the woman of the house is “More beautiful than Beyonce,” and how he brings her son two toy cars every day. (That may not be random, but it sure is kind.)

The sun dipped behind some trees and Stan started to get cold. Rich and I had more errands to run, so it was time to say goodbye, for now. I couldn’t help but think of my Poppy, his own service in the second World War, and the flag I received at his funeral that tipped my scales big time. He absolutely hated goodbyes and didn’t say the word, so we always said, “See you later,” So I told Stan we’d see him soon and we knew we’d walk him inside.

It was clearly time for more hugs. I stood in front of Stan to help him out of his chair, and he ignored my hands and put his two hands firmly on my hips. He liked what he felt and wasn’t shy about expressing it.

We hugged. And hugged. And hugged. Stan said a couple of things that aren’t fit to print, but there was a mention of what might have been happening in his sweatpants, which he told us he has five pairs of and wears every day. He smelled my neck some more. He nuzzled right in there. He told me he liked my earrings. He wanted a kiss and I delivered. He wanted a “real kiss” but I laughed it off. He got a little frisky. He reminded me he doesn’t want any more children and I told him I didn’t think he had anything to worry about. We laughed. Rich said he wished he’d caught the whole thing on video, but he did snap a couple of pictures of the Love Fest between me and Stan, who despite turning out to be something of a stinker, made my day.

That’s the thing about a random act of kindness. You make someone else’s day, but yours is made too. Thanks, Eric Adema, for encouraging me to take the time to sit and spend an hour with a darling old stinker of a man; you’ve certainly brought much kindness to my life, old friend. Cheers to you and forty!

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Hot Springs and a Church

Not in that order, and not just any hot springs and church. But how different are they, really? The both offer the same sense of peace and solitude–even in a crowd. To me anyway.

“I believe in God, only I spell it ‘Nature’.” – Frank Lloyd Wright.

And then there’s architecture.

But we start with church, San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos, an offshoot community from the Taos Pueblo. It’s old. I could have posted the picture I took of it, but since it is in the running for a building in the United States that has inspired the most depictions that seemed wrong. Georgia O’Keeffe painted it; Ansel Adams photographed it. And then there’s me with my iPhone.

The church is made of adobe—which Ranchos de Taos residents re-mud every year—and it’s said that for O’Keefe it was more like painting a landscape than a building since it’s made of the earth. She described it as “One of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards,” and that it’s as compulsory for New Mexican artists to paint as a self-portrait. Here’s one of her paintings that showcases the unique beehive buttresses of the backside of the church. She painted three images of the back and only one of the front.

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Adams shot the back and the front.

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The building adjacent to the church clearly does not get a re-mudding every year:

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Because of my constant, excessive hydration I had to go to the bathroom, so walked across the street to Martina’s, eyeing the trading post on the way over. When I walked into the trading post, Del Orr was teaching a (white) kid to make his own beaded moccasins and said, “Did you see the beams in that place?” He’s a gem. I thought he was talking about the church, but no, and he sent me back across the street to Martina’s to check out the back room before he’d let me shop. “Just walk through the big doors in the back,” he instructed, which is as much direction as I’d gotten in New Mexico.

I’d walked by those doors on the way to the bathroom, and hadn’t thought to push them open, but I’m so glad I did. I’m not diminishing the power of sanctity of a church, but I’ll tell you that I sat in that majestic hall and felt a sense of peace I hadn’t felt in awhile. And oh my, the stained glass.

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When I went back to the trading post Del told me that the beams are reported to be the largest in New Mexico. Maybe that was it–the sense of grandeur and preservation–another local claim to being the largest or biggest or oldest. He also told me that his trading post is the oldest continually operating trading post in the United States. I haven’t fact-checked this, but I believe him. The history in New Mexico is truly remarkable, and the connection to it so sweet.

“You can wear that with an evening dress or a sweatshirt,” Del said, obviously sensing my loose rules for fashion. I bought the necklace with my out of state check, wasn’t charged tax and Del and I exchanged a hug. Inside Del Orr’s Trading Post:

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Later in the week I decided it was time to find the local, natural hot springs. Levi and Amanda had gone twice in two days and raved about it. I knew that if I waited too much longer I’d regret it. I’m halfway through my stay here—the winter is not so young. More action is required.

I met a nice family from Maine in the parking lot, which was good, because even with all my traveling I’m still not excited to be alone in a gorge with a naked man, which is what I would have encountered had the family not been there. Solitude is usual the goal at hot springs, but I was grateful for this family and the children who were amazing, natural conversationalists.

It was a cold day, and I got out, dried off and dressed in the wind before they did. I snapped a photo of them soaking together and emailed it to them. Here they are:

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A few more photos from my time at Stagecoach Hot Springs, and one from the ride home. Love.

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Levi and Amanda: My Newest Old Friends

I was going to write about the amazing church I went to last Sunday, or how much I love driving into San Cristobal, off the pavement, past two cattle guards and over a narrow bridge and I’m home.

I thought about writing about how much I love making a fire for myself, even when it’s a multi-stage act of prayer, because I feel like after all of my years of longing I’m finally getting a titch of my Little House on the Prairie dream. Or about how I actually love how my phone doesn’t ring at the cabin and I wonder (and worry) about how I’ll ever go back to all the noise and chatter.

I considered about writing about my new writing group and how I can’t believe now—after three weeks—that I ever doubted it would be a good thing for me. They tell me my writing is engaging, snappy, confident and—my favorite—honest. I adore these people for their passion for writing, their compassion for others, and their stories.

But I decided had to write about Levi and Amanda.

There are the people you know forever—they make your heart tick and skip and weep—and then there are the people you know for two days.  My friend Geoff recently embarked on an ambitious project to write tributes for sixty-seven people (in four days!) who meant a lot to him and who’d influenced his life. The second line of mine is, “I thought I knew all the people I wanted to meet.”

I love it. Sometimes I think I hardly don’t  have time to visit and spend quality time with all of the people I already miss and love, how could there possible be room for more? But then I meet Levi and Amanda.

The first morning I was doing my usual—drinking coffee and sitting outside in my favorite early morning spot of sun—when Levi popped out of his cabin. I knew people were coming in to the cabin next door, and quite frankly, I wasn’t excited. Will they be loud? Obnoxious? Irritating? I’ve become protective of this space and my routine in it. I enjoy the quiet.

But I liked Levi out of the gate. He’s a farmer in Maine, and has a CSA. He farms land that his grandfather, who came from Holland to Maine in 1950 to build boats in Bath, left to him. Grandpa’s name meant “beekeeper” in Dutch and he lived up to it. Levi’s business cards for Center Pond Farm boast a honeybee, and though he doesn’t keep bees yet it’s in the farm’s future plans.

I appreciate Levi’s tribute to his grandpa, and his connection to the past; none of us would be here without them. Fact. Levi’s only been farming for three years and this year is the first time he hasn’t had to have a fulltime job off the farm. I barely knew the guy yet I told him I was proud of him.

Levi and I did a lot of chatting before Amanda emerged and then I got to hear her story. She works at a foreign exchange student organization; she didn’t study abroad herself but there was an interesting story why and it came full circle for her. This is a story she’s told before, but it wasn’t tired or worn out: it was authentic, just like her.

We connected immediately on my adventures living in Honduras and my “full cultural immersion” experience which I boil down—because I’ve told the story before too— to bullet points: I started a business, bought a house, and dated a native. She laughs.

I get one laugh and all of a sudden I’m doing standup at open mike night. I take a few risks, it’s going well, then something comes out of my mouth unfiltered, “The ranch supply store in Missoula has a sign that says, “Behind every successful rancher is a woman who works in town’” and as the words come out I felt then leaving but couldn’t stop them. I saw stars and hoped for the best. At least they’re only here for two more days. How much could they hate me for two days?

“Ha! Can you get me one of those?” Amanda asks, Levi laughs, I’m in the clear.

We talk and talk and talk. But they have sights to see and I have writing to do. We part.  I saw Amanda briefly that evening as I was leaving to go meet a friend and they were walking down to the fields to watch the sun set.

The next morning we chatted again, this time like old friends catching up. “What happens if you don’t finish your book,” Amanda asked, just like an old friend who can get away with a question like that. I paused, caught my breath, “It’s just not an option,” I told her. “I plan to finish it here, but if it’s not here it will be somewhere else. But, really, I’m going to finish it here.” Like a friend with a stake in your happiness, Amanda told me she has no doubt I’m going to finish it, especially because it sounds like a story the world needs to hear and I’m obviously compelled to tell it.

Can you say girl crush?

They had a busy day of activities and I had a long list of errands before my massage and writing workshop. I loaned them yak trax and ski poles for their hike, and told them to just leave them next to my woodpile if we didn’t cross paths again. I wondered if it was goodbye, but we just offered “See ya later. Have fun!”

Williams Lake, where Levi and Amanda went before they went back to the hot springs in the gorge of the Rio Grande and  to check out the earthships.

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I got home after nine hours in town. I really try to maximize the trip whenever possible and I actually made it through my errand list and to my appointments on time. On time. If you know me then you also now believe in miracles. The only thing I didn’t have time for was taking Lucky for a proper walk, so he crashed the workshop. He was naughty for an almost eleven-year-old boy. He sniffed everyone (one woman had a biscuit in her pocket), snuggled his face into everyone’s lap, and put his chin up on the table between each of us. He drank from the toilet (my fault) and acted like a pup. “Don’t make eye contact with him,” I finally said; he’ll settle down. And he did:

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My propane heater was on the blink, and after so many hours away the cabin was freezing. I was hungry and had a screaming headache. And then there was a knock on my door. I wasn’t sure if I should be scared or irritated; I wasn’t expecting anyone at 10:00pm. “Hello?” I said. “It’s Levi,” he responded. Oh. Thank. Goodness.

I opened the door and he had arms full of eggs, butter, half & half and a lighter—all welcome, useful things. “I love butter!” I squealed, “I put it on everything.” {it’s true.} He laughed. He came in and we chatted about their last day in the area. They really sucked the marrow out of this place hard core and I loved hearing about it.

They were getting up at 4:00am to drive to Albuquerque for their flight back to Maine, so it was time to say goodbye. “I’m going to miss you guys,” I said, sort of out of nowhere although the truth is it came from my heart and as hard as it can be to speak from a place of vulnerability it’s usually worth it.

We hugged and Levi said, “We’re going to miss you too!”  This surprised me. I mean, I’m here, often alone, tapping away at this keyboard sometimes for days on end; it makes sense I would miss my friendly, temporary neighbors. But they miss me? Some wacky writer girl who gave them a few tips? But I’ve been on the vacationing end, too, and I get it.

I don’t even have a phone at the cabin and sometimes the only voice I hear is my own telling Lucky how cute he is and how much I love him and within our three hundred square feet it gets old—I can say with certainty—for both of us. Our outside world is big. We walk, we run, we feed chickens, we turn our faces to the sun. But the fact is: I get hungry for conversation.

Levi and Amanda were a distraction, but a very welcome one. I enjoyed the exchanges and hearing something first thing in the morning besides my clicking and myself.

“Come visit us in Maine,” Levi said, “We have a guest room…” And I trust he said this knowing I don’t really have anywhere to be and don’t (physically) have any idea where I’m going. “Awesome! I’d love to get to New England this summer and I’d love to get my hands dirty. I’ll help out on the farm!” {despite the headache and the hunger and the frigid cabin I really did speak with all of those exclamations.}

I didn’t have a chance to tell Levi and Amanda about my inner Wendell Berry, who was my first real writer-crush. Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first, but I was just a child then. Berry is a standup guy. He is a poet, essayist, farmer and human who I admire for his willingness to speak up on controversial issues and I’m grateful I got to shake his hand once at a book event in San Francisco. But anyway…I didn’t tell Levi and Amanda that. Amanda had already friended me on Facebook that morning, and Levi had given me his honeybee business card. This was surely not the end.

These are not friends for two days; these are the friends you know for two days and hope to know forever. As Amanda said, “I’d really like to continue this conversation.”

Oh me too, new friend, me too. We have lots to talk about.

A Day in Questa and a Faux-Fur Coat!

So I’m hanging my hat these days in San Cristobal, New Mexico, which is about halfway between Taos and Questa, with the Taos Ski Valley being another point of the triangle. These are all dramatically different worlds, and I’m the monkey in the middle.

Until yesterday I hadn’t spent much time in Questa. Five weeks ago when I was on my way to the cabin, Questa was the last spot of civilization that I hit. Then I arrived at the Huxley Cabin, which wasn’t what I expected though it turned out to be just what I needed. {love.}

It was a love-hate with Questa upon first sight. It was dark that night–my head ached from whiplash, my eyes throbbed with all the uncertainty–and I couldn’t see much. I saw bars and gas stations with hand-lettered signs. I saw gated up shops, bars on windows, dogs in the street, and a lot of busted up pickups. I felt like I’d departed my country, and because I was deep into writing a memoir largely about living in Honduras it seemed appropriate, but wrong. Not what I wanted, but just what I needed. 

Since then I’d gone up to the Family Dollar and the Questa Supermarket, and another time drove through. I tried to go to church there once, but got the schedule wrong. Yesterday I decided to get a little deeper into Questa, and man I’m glad I did.

I went to the Questa Credit Union to see if they are in the Co-Op network with Missoula Federal Credit Union. They’re not, but the ladies were so nice and gave me a lollipop anyway. It’s a darling place, hand painted sign and all:

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I went to the Family Dollar (score!) but after that I wasn’t sure what to do. The town was sort of alive because of Valentine’s Day, and a shop advertised flowers and crafts. They sell ice, art, jewelry, drinks, firewood, snacks, and showers. Sounds like my kind of store! It didn’t look open, but they did say they had roses and had hung a Valentine decoration on the window. “What’s the worst that could happen,” I thought, but before I went in I took a shot (from the car as you can see) of the outside of that shop.

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Now, I’ve stumbled upon some awesome music since I’ve been here, but when I walked into Rael’s shop I was stunned—there was a craft fair going on, chili and baked goods for shoppers, and a guy playing guitar. When I opened the door he was playing Bob Seger’s “Still the Same” and a lovely woman named Patsy Archuleta said, “Hi Honey!” And I jumped right in. {what a song, what a welcome.}

Patsy is a painter who has moved into making jewelry. She shows her paintings at a shop on the plaza in Taos, but had a binder with photos of her oil paintings. Patsy’s good! Better than good, really. I wish I could link you to her website but she doesn’t have one.  She paints images of the Southwest, including a lot of the area churches. She wants to get up to twelve so she can do a calendar. She started doing the jewelry because her dad is in an old folks home and hauling paintings back and forth was unreasonable. This is a lady committed to her craft. Most of stuff was too flashy for me, but I bought a pair of earrings she made from an old concha belt. “The turquoise in the middle is real,” she told me, “But not the rest of it. Ten bucks?” Sold, Patsy.

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I also fell in love with a turquoise and mother of pearl necklace, but that vendor wasn’t present so I had a chance to meet Cynthia, the owner of the shop. “Twenty bucks,” she said, “No tax.” I told her I’d come from Montana and we don’t have sales tax there, so thanks. She asked me to sit with her and have a complimentary cup of coffee in the living room area of the shop, and I’m no fool.

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I told her I loved the rug, but it wasn’t for sale. While I was there two people asked to buy some of her father’s memorabilia in the back corner (cash register, card filing cabinet) and also, “Not for sale.” If you need anything for your Kodak 100—including a flipflash—Cynthia might be able to hook you up.

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She asked me where I’m living and how I like it and I said, honestly, “I love it,” which was not a surprise to me but it felt good saying it out loud. She asked when I arrived and when I told her, she said, “Oh! It must have been terrible arriving when it was so cold.” And that made me feel like less of a wimp. Win.

We talked about my book and she showed me her father’s book. She couldn’t give me her last copy, but said she’ll print more. Then she showed me another book—Treasure of My Valley—by Lucia Vallejos Gonzales—a local writer who is apparently a real trip and writes exactly like she speaks. I was sold when I read the back:

“I wanted to write this story for the next generation, about being conservative, about conserving for a needy time, about learning the hard way, about learning by doing. That you can’t get everything or that you get something through hard work and being a little stingy. We didn’t have help. We learned to tackle things ourselves. Success for us was to save. We learned about saving, about not using everything. About recycling. We didn’t throw anything away. I mean anything. I think that’s hard for this generation to understand. We recycled everything, clothes, food. We were self-reliant. We asked for the help of God. We accepted everything. It was a good experience having nothing.”

Right?

Then Cynthia husband, Armando, and grandson, Robert, came into the shop. Armando told me the easy way into Cabresto Canyon, but only after he’d already told me the tricky way to get there. I guess he decided he liked me. Robert was the show stealer of the day:

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Then Patsy gave me a copy of February’s menu for the senior center.

It was awesome at Rael’s and I felt good contributing to Questa’s local economy. I stopped at the grocery story, which is pretty awesome for a miniature grocery.

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Making good use of the space–a car next to produce!

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Hooter’s hot sauce doesn’t belong here!

…and then one last stop at a thrift shop. You know, just to see. I guess I’d paid it forward and the good luck was already coming back to me, because I scored a faux-fur coat from Marshall Field’s for $5. And it just so happens I have a dress-up party to go to tonight in the Ski Valley and it’s going to be cold. It doesn’t close, but it wraps around and it has a hood. I love hoods.

Speaking of hoods…I couldn’t pass up these shots on my way home.

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Me. Unedited.

The other day I was all sorts of a frazzled mess, but mostly it was the good kind. I was possibly over caffeinated or excited about this book that I’m finishing (and finally not “just” writing), or a little nervous to go skiing again. Maybe it was all three. A trifecta of nerves = lovely.

I met a friend for a pre-ski lunch, and on the way there I listened to all of my favorite songs and (dangerously) glanced at my best friend in the rear view mirror, but when I got there I actually got horizontal on the bench we were sitting at in a moment of pathetic dramatic despair. Our server peered over the bar at me and raised her eyebrow; I sat up. I ate, I drank, and I tried everything to calm myself—including not stop chatter-boxing—but the nerves, they just wouldn’t settle.

On the chairlift I described myself as a spastic out of control toddler, then downgraded myself to an infant in need of a swaddling. My friend is something of a saint, and he told me to breathe and assured me that I’d feel better when I got my skis on the snow because the movement and meditation of skiing would take my mind off all of the baloney that had gotten me into my tizzy.

“Look up at Kachina,” he said. “Those lines on the right are super steep, but over there on the left—you’ll be skiing that soon.” I suggested he was out of his mind, but his smile and laugh said no. When we got off the chair he told me to pose in front of the peak for a picture. “You’ll love it,” he said “When you ski it this will be a great reminder of when you thought you couldn’t.”

It’s just an incredible thing when your friends believe in you more than you believe in yourself, and whether I ski up there or not (I’d gamble that I’ll hike it regardless, being the lover of uphill battles that I am….) what this really boils down to is faith. Faith in ourselves and each other to be just a little bit better tomorrow than we are today.

And I believe this is what it’s all about: embracing the courage to be yourself when it can be scary, bravery to be yourself even when that self isn’t exactly what you’re striving for. Because we’re all works in progress, and the unedited versions of ourselves are usually always far better than any mocked up, phony version. As I always say: Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

So here I am with my butt stuck out a little too far, smile a little awkward, stance totally goofy. But this is child’s play compared to those pictures I posted last year of learning to surf with my rash guard hiked up and belly out and my face all “woah.” Oi.

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P.S. In the coming days there will be a part 2 to this: My love-hate affair with skiing.