becoming available to yourself


Recently, I pulled out my journal to see if I could remember when I started working on this new novel.  I found the answer back in the July pages.  The months before I'd been wrestling with the balance between what I felt were two distinct callings.  One required availability, the other - writing - required isolation and focus.  I couldn't see how to make both of these callings work, so all through the month of June I am writing out an explanation to myself about what I think is the correct choice: availability.  The writing must not be important in the long run, I say to myself.  It's always about people, it's always about showing up.  In June, there is a sense of relinquishment.  I can remember the feeling of release, a certain peace.  Writing would wait.  Then in July, a succession of unexpected events.  These were small things:  conversations, decisions by friends, a gift from someone close, a paragraph in a book.  These were sudden and illuminating, like matches being struck in dark corners: Oh, I see.  By the end of that month, I had decided that I *must* write, even if it was just 250 words a day.  I would inch my way along both trajectories.  I told other people about my decision, committed myself, made it hard to back out.  I made it to 10,000 words, 15,000, 20,000.  At that point, the landscape began to shift.  Decisions were made apart from me, obligations, relationships sifted, time opened up in a new way.  There were more small things.  Every book I picked up - some I'd bought years before and left on the shelf only to randomly select them again now - was the story of a woman coming into her truth.  Every time I grabbed a magazine, it was a woman telling how she made the hard choice, how she chose her path and stuck with it even when it meant disappointing others.  Friends who all along had been counseling "availability, availability" began to say "it's time for something new."   I began to admit things in the journal I'd never allowed myself to say.  Things I wanted but hadn't given voice to.  In the space of four months everything heaved and buckled, became new ground.

What's interesting to me about all this is in hindsight, I'm not sure if the changes were  inevitable and I was just awakening to them, or if the changes came in response to my decisions.  When I look back, its almost as if this life had been lying in wait for me to choose it.  Each step I've taken has been met with a surge of reassurance, clarity, and confirmation.  But I sense that if I had not taken the steps...if I had stayed on the path I was already on, there would have been reassurance and confirmation there too.  I'm almost certain of it.  That scares me a little, to think I could have just gone on with what I knew and what felt comfortable, that life itself would have risen up and affirmed that choice too.  What might I have missed had I not taken the small messages, the little match flares that were revealing another way?  May Sarton suggests it:

"The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up."

I have felt this stagnation, an underground current pulsing, not allowed to find release.  When I think of so many women I know, I am struck by how their deep thoughtfulness, their tremendous strength and creativity is put to use holding relationships together, managing dysfunctional family members, being the emotional center of their homes or jobs or communities.  I cannot imagine where we'd be without such women, but I am also struck with the inequity of it.  What have we lost in terms of wisdom, art, culture, science, diplomacy, language, and much more by allowing ourselves to be available to everyone but our own selves?

It's something to think about.  Questions to ask ourselves in moments when we can be honest.  Step back, look.  What is pulsing underneath the surface?  What longing hasn't even been allowed the words to describe it?  What would you do if there was no one who needed your daily involvement?  There are seasons, certainly, when these longings and gifts have to take the background, but in my own life, they weren't just in the background, they were in a tight little box labeled "probably never" or "probably too late."  What about yours?  Are they somewhere they can be nurtured and watered even in a dormant season?

"And now we who are writing women and strange monsters

Still search our hearts to find the difficult answers,

Still hope that we may learn to lay our hands

More gently and more subtly on the burning sands." ~ May Sarton

Sending love and courage to all my brave-hearted friends today.


overcoming resistance

I went to the gym for the first time in almost thirty years this morning.  I went with my husband, who has been asking me to come with him for almost as long.  It's the kind of thing he thinks will be "fun," and I think will be dreadful.  It wasn't dreadful.  Just as he'd promised, no one paid any attention to me as I learned how to operate the bike and the weight machines, and just as he'd promised, it was kind of fun to be there with him.  It wasn't until I was heading out of the gym and on the way home that I remembered why I'd stopped going to the gym in the first place.  I was 18 years old and terribly self-conscious of my body and my fitness level  - and my semi-regular visits to the facility were drawing attention from an older man.  I can remember him waiting outside, leaning up against the concrete wall with a water bottle in hand, asking me in that slow male drawl how my workout was, telling me with a glance up and down that I was looking pretty good.   It was the late 80's - and it was a man's world.  It never occurred to me to stand up for myself and tell him to go away, or to complain to the gym, or even alter my schedule.  I felt uncomfortable so I quit.  In the Christian subculture I grew up in, that was my role in the world: submit, yield, or get out of the way, and I did.I'm at midlife now and I ditched the ideology of the subculture a long time ago, but the muscle memory is still there.  Someone makes a demand on my time or emotional energy and I instantly assume it's my duty to meet it even when I am mentally certain I should be doing something else.  The limbs twitch with conditioned motion, thoughts race along the grooves of practiced belief, and dopamine arrives to validate the action. In the old days, I called this comfortable, assured feeling "peace."  Conforming provided its own reward - and kept me from growing into anything more.

I'm most vulnerable to this kind of reaction directly after I assert myself and declare my intentions.  I've come to expect that any new burst of personal determination signals not a season of productivity, but a major catastrophe looming in the wings.  As soon as I hit the gym, the creepy old guy shows up in the doorway demanding attention, plucking the strings of my ingrained responses, encouraging me to yield to his demands.

"Resistance," says Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, "obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, spiritually."

she makes it happen

she makes it happen

Learning to recognize Resistance can be complicated - especially when it comes to us wrapped in religion, ideology, and gender-roles.  Some people learn early to recognize and defy it, but for me and many others, it's a lifetime's work.  We get there one revelation, one deliberate, defiant act at a time.

We can claim the truth that we are makers, artists, builders, weavers, nurturers, truth-tellers, poets, and our work matters.

So go to the gym.

Show up for yourself.

Tell the creepy old man at the door to leave you the hell alone and mean it.  (If he sticks around, show up again anyway.  He'll get bored when he realizes he has no power to disturb or distract you. )

You can do this.  We can do this.  We owe it to ourselves - those selves that sat back, that let other people succeed, that fixed all the problems and carried all the burdens, that pushed down feelings and desires, that made dreams smaller so they didn't disturb anyone else.  We owe it to ourselves to grow our dreams and find a way and be faithful to what has always been real and true inside of us.  So let's do it, okay?

Love you, my friends.


rabbit and bone



















Night closes gently over the desert sky in a curtain of pink and amber.  The dark, when it comes, spreads slowly down, as if from the center of a dome, pushing at the last of the pale light, driving it into the horizon. Then the stars come out, hundreds of them, a sequined carpet unfurled against the blackness overhead.  In the middle of it all, the Milky Way, shimmering faintly, hinting at color - purple, blue, a thin shaft of gold.  There is almost no sound.  Somewhere out in the miles of open land around us there are creatures stirring, moths that flutter toward any hint of artificial light, coyotes after their rodent prey, cattle sighing and squirming, adjusting themselves to their prickly beds, but we hear none of it.  It is only the two of us, wrapped in blankets, puzzling out constellations in a whisper, watching for stars to fall.

It was my daughter’s idea to come.  A birthday gift, to write, to connect.  Out here we have no internet to call upon, no cell phones to hunch over.  There is each day, there is each other.

We write.  We read each other’s stories and talk through possible plot lines.  We agonize over edits and the stubbornness of characters. When the words begin to blur together, we go for walks. Together. Alone.

The cabin is perched on the high point of a rolling hill, from there, you can see the jackrabbit trails winding through the sagebrush. Down on the ground though, the trails are invisible.  I head out for a walk alone.  There is no destination to aim for, no obvious route to follow.  I keep the cabin in my sights and begin to wander.  After a half hour or so, I find an old dirt road.  It is criss-crossed with the tracks of dogs (or coyotes), the occasional set of elk prints.  No one has driven or walked it for a long time.  I follow it uphill to a barbed wire fence, then turn around and follow it downhill till I find another.  A mile away I can see the roof of the cabin shining in the sun.  I wave to it, wondering if my daughter is sitting on the porch, watching me amble around on roads that lead nowhere.  If I were doing this in the city, the French would have a word for me: flaneur - the stroller, the passionate wanderer.  Out here, I look more like a simpleton, coated in dust and sweat, stumbling into rabbit holes and over rocks, snagging my ankles on the prehistoric flora, walking uphill, then down.  But there is no one here but my daughter to see and she understands.  While I walk my mind unknots.  I can feel the muscles in my legs contracting and expanding, hear my breath pulling in and pushing out.  I am here.  I am alive.

Just off the highway on the way to the cabin, we’d seen a hand-lettered sign on the side of the road.  “Beetle-Cleaned Skulls For Sale,” it read.  We were fresh from the city, sealed into our speeding car, dust-free, oblivious.  We looked at each other and laughed.  Who would want a beetle-cleaned skull?  That was ages ago, when I was young.  The sun is just descending into the western half of the sky, the landscape stretching unvaried before me, sage and grey and yellow-brown.  I search the ground, confident that in this liminal space I will find some bleached white testimony of a former life - a tibia, a jawbone, a knot of vertebrae.  Memento mori.  What is life without the awareness of death?  I find  the brittle grey bones of the sagebrush, and they crumble beneath my feet.

When it is time to leave the cabin and return home, we stand in the doorway, reluctance making us heavy and slow.  We are unshowered, grit in every crevice; we’ve eaten endless bowls of beans and rice; we have no idea of what is going on in the world outside the desert. At home we will be warm and clean and well fed.  There will be stories to tell and hugs to give, but we do not want to go.

“Supposing you only saw the stars once every year. Think what you would think,” said Tasha Tudor.  I do not have to think very hard.  How long since I saw the stars as I did in the desert?  A year?  A decade?   How long since I felt silence deep as water, slipped bodily into the stream of slow time?  Long, so long.  We clean the cabin, load up the car, stand in the dust and look out over the hills one last time, then once more.  "The wonder of it!"  I am here.  I am alive.  I make no resolve save to place myself here again and again.



In her hand lay the remains of a moth.   She'd found it on the bedroom floor as she shuffled past in the baby blue slippers Devon had bought her last month.  It was in the doorway, orange and brown, one wing tilted, the other torn, its legs bent tightly into its abdomen.  Or was it thorax?  She'd look it up in the field guide: moth anatomy.

Retrieving it from the floor took some time.  She had to take off the slippers, give herself some traction.  Her bare feet, purple-veined and thick-nailed, gripped the floor as she bent over.  Time was, she could angle from the waist and reach the ground without a thought.  Now she had to hitch her nightgown above her knees and bend.  The small of her back cracked, she wavered an inch or two above her destination.  Bend the knees more.  Ridiculous.  One hand held the door frame defensively, the other scrabbled at the floor.  There.

She straightened, heard the bones in her back creak and pop, felt a wave of dizziness from the sudden departure of blood in her head.  She caught sight of herself in the long closet mirror.  White hair standing on end, her face a bluster, satin nightgown hitched above her knees - the legs, once smooth and muscled, sagged and spotted, a curdle of veins in a knot along her thigh - her breasts swinging, two long-necked squash beneath the peach fabric. 

"It will make you feel pretty," Devon had said when they went shopping for the nightgown.  Pretty.  What could the girl be thinking?  She straightened, let the nightgown descend, fumbled her feet into the slippers.  With her left hand she clawed at the recalcitrant hair; her right hand protected the moth.

She shuffled to the living room bookcase.  Field guides, middle shelf:  North American Butterflies and Moths.  She carried the guide to the couch, shook the stiff insect body from her palm onto the coffee table.  It landed softly, wings down.  "...three pairs of jointed legs on the thorax."  That was it then, thorax.  Forewings, she read.  Compound eyes, probiscus, antennae, abdomen, hindwings, legs.  Straightforward.  A no nonsense creature, this.  She pinched the tilted wing between her shaking fingers and lifted it from the table.  Death had flattened the features of the head, she couldn't tell the antennae from the probiscus, couldn't even distinguish the compound eyes.  Or perhaps it was her own eyes that had flattened, made detail impossible.  She blinked and a viscous fluid slid over her eyeball, blurring the moth even further.  She dabbled at her eyelid with her free hand.  The world had fewer edges now, but it wasn't softer.

She let the moth body fall into the palm of her hand again.  It was spotted, the wings papery and translucent on the tips as if it had been dead for a long time, enough time for the scales to unhinge and drop away.  She imagined the moth crawling beneath the bed unseen, crumpling in on itself, time eroding the once lovely body.  It had stormed last night, perhaps a gust of east wind through the window had dislodged the corpse, sent it skittering to the doorway.  She tilted the moth into her lap, opened her hands.  Time would erode her to translucence as well; it was not far now.  Her own skin would darken and shrink around the bones, tear away into dust.  She accepted this without fear.  When she was younger she had feared death for its potential pain.  She could die underwater, or trapped in a cave; there could be a mudslide, earth in her mouth and throat; a car crash, the piercing of metal.  But she no longer feared such things.  She would die, she was nearly certain, in the same bedroom as the moth.  In a year perhaps, in a month.

The phone rang.  Devon, no doubt, calling to make sure she was awake and ready for her appointment today.  She rolled her eyes.  The girl was too efficient, bustling around with her oversized behind, clicking her long, decorated nails on everything she touched. 

"You want to keep your hair up Nana, it will make you feel better,"  she'd said when she made the appointment for her, as if a girl of twenty-five could know what would make her feel better.  Well, she was young, and she cared.  Martha Drubky had rotted away in a nursing home with no one to annoy her at all.  At least she wouldn't go like that.   She scooted to the edge of the couch and hauled herself up.  The moth fluttered from her lap onto the bare floor.  The phone was on its third ring.  By the time she reached it, the machine came on.  Devon's chirpy recorded voice, telling herself to leave a message after the tone.

"I'm on my way over, Nana.  Hope you're up and around.  It's salon day!"

She sighed and shuffled back to the couch.  If she was forty again, she'd cancel the appointment, braid her hair, put on that yellow sundress she'd bought in Carmel and hike up Paulson's Butte, watch the butterflies flirt with the meadow flowers.  She'd done that once, skipped work, left a note for Don, spent the day under the sun alone.  Marvelous day.  She leaned her head back against the couch, felt the remembered sun on her skin.  She must have dozed.  When she woke, Devon was standing over her, face shining vaguely with sweat, lipsticked mouth frozen in a patient smile.  She was supposed to be dressed by now.  Devon tilted her arm to look at her watch.

"Ten minutes," she said.  "Let's get you dressed."

She nodded, offered her arm for the hauling up.  When they were upright, she remembered the moth.  It was there on the floor, wings frozen open, a wild tilt to the left, hovering almost at the shadow of the couch.  Devon's foot in its strapped sandal came down heavily, just missing it, the disturbed air pushing the moth under the edge.  It slid out of view.  She almost cheered.  She imagined it in the darkness, resting on its tissue wings.  Devon led her to the bedroom, began the indignity of suggesting the wrong clothes, watching her wobble her ruined body into pants, a knit shirt, the sensible shoes. Lepidoptera, she thought, the same Order as butterflies.  Life span: one week to eight or nine months.  She was of the nine month variety, she supposed.  Somewhere under the couch now, the little brown and orange moth lay with its eyes fixed on the horizon of the floor and the wall trim.  She imagined its wings flexing, the eyes focusing, the threadlike legs straightening and bending.  Any time now it could take off again, bank toward some softly suggested light, follow the cant of some unseen road.

american summer


 In the extreme July sun

the old-fashioned roses are born,

and die,

on the same day.

Deer are called from the woods

by the soft thud of apples in

the long grass of the neglected pasture,


the smell of ripening tomatoes,futilely fenced.

Mullein tilts her span upwards,

reaches- almost -the arc of sky,

then topples.

Everywhere, heat shimmers.

The neighbor's flags,


once proud,

sag from the stiff reach of their poles,


dispirited as the rest of us.