Wardrobes, Wonder and Lamps

Every time I see the lamp post in our neighbor’s yard, I think of “The Lion, Witch and The lamp_croppedWardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. Almost small beside a huge blue gray spruce tree, the light stays on night and day.  Every morning, the spruce, untended yard and the chaotic twittering birds take my wistful self almost elsewhere.

I recall that dark, wide wardrobe door, and want to step up into the coat filled darkness. To feel my way through wool and fur. I’ll stumble out almost stupidly blinking into the winter light and on snowy ground. And there will be the lamp post shining among the trees,  leading me to a uprising.

I miss that little girl. Where is the wonder I once felt?

Reading has become a distraction, not a wondrous plunge. My feet stay ground bound, despite the space opera paperback in my hands. Grief, cynicism, pain and “reality” have devoured my joy. I don’t embed myself in books anymore, maybe because I’ve never forgotten my aching grief when I realized Narnia could never be real.

Since that 5th grade pain, I’ve grown up (whatever that means). Immersed in work, bills, kids, my relationships. Playing and writing songs can bring me that loving joy, especially when I am sharing music with friends.

A friend of mine gave into my mild begging and brought me along to see Neil Gaiman speak here in Cincinnati. Neil spoke of wonder, stories, reading, children and of libraries. He took us into his world, coaxing every listener to wander with him for a while.  I happily put aside my own inner thoughts, eagerly leaning forward in my theater seat to let him lead..An anomaly for anyone who knows me.

Maybe wonderment isn’t that far away, after all.

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Secrets and Truths

When I was younger, I became accustomed to keeping things to myself. My fears of not be respected, of being judged or taken advantage of, made trusting others with my own hard truths and insecurities well nigh impossible for years.

A bit of back story.
I was severely bullied my senior year of high school, and no adults or other students were willing to recognize what was happening, much less step in or help me cope. The fact that it was a boarding school, only compounded the impact. And then I married (unknowingly) a bully for my second marriage.

The first go around “taught me” that I couldn’t rely on others to help or take the time to understand. The second round reinforced those habits and thoughts. I got through and out of (or finally escaped when I graduated high school) both situations mostly on my own, with utter determination, grit and frankly a lot of emotional pain. But those habits of intense self-reliance and emotional aloneness remained.

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Four years ago to the utter shock of those who knew me, I joined a Universalist Unitarian church. I found a sense of belonging that I was missing and a safe space for my (then younger) kids to learn about different types of religions, and to better understand diversity.

As part of my journey, I chose to join one of the small groups, each one made up of four other congregants, run by our minister. Meeting once a month, in each group we focused on the spirituality in each of our lives… listening to each other and sharing observations of each other’s experiences and asking each other questions. We were not there to solve or analyze each others problems, to bond socially or try to “fix” what the other other person was experiencing. (While I am not describing what happens in each group particularly well, let’s just say that it’s designed and intended to be a safe space.)

Depending on the individual, spirituality could mean talking about our own personal hearts and lives, to experiences at church, to our work, to our family situations.

I was reasonably comfortable talking about some of my own challenges and questions that first time around, but didn’t really take a deep dive.

This year has been the second time that I’ve been in one of the small groups. And it’s been a rough and tough path for the last two meetings. I’ve uttered painful things long kept to myself, because they feel so tender and vulnerable. And I’ve struggled with my own defensiveness and internal judgment when I speak.

(I have talked to my partner Jim about these things, but no one else until now.)

When others speak their observations to me, it’s difficult for me to not judge or deflect their words. Sometimes my very defensiveness is pointed out, with what feels like an expectation that I’ll suddenly change gears and begin to “hear” whatever is being said.  I don’t know what to do with this other than to agree with their “observation.”

At those times my own emotional history of being taken advantage of, of being betrayed, manipulated and lied to rises up to smack me in the face. Those reactions and memories stand between me and those who are trustworthy. I feel deeply exposed, as I vainly try to ignore my intense need to protect my heart and hide away.

How do you learn to accept or hear the input of others, when you’re struggling to feel safe to begin with? How do you stay focused on knowing that for now, speaking your own truth is more then enough?

Caffeinated Chipmunks, Katahdin Rains and Just Being…

The sound of today’s rain on our roof reminds me of a couple of days Jim and I spent in a three-sided shelter at Katahdin Stream Campground in Maine.

Before Jim and I left on vacation, the person who was coaching me “observed” (a term for feedback I guess) that I needed some time to just “be.”

Dominic wasn’t wrong.

My Dad died late February from Alzheimers, and then that spring we house hunted, bought a house, and then moved into that house, all in six months. My work as an executive coach was heating up as I signed on more clients and I had begun interviewing a collection of IT executives to write a white paper.

So, no slowdown there.

Since Dad’s death I had also pretty much flung myself into preparing physically and mentally to hike Mount Katahdin, the endpoint of the Appalachian trail in Baxter State Park. That effort was to both honor my Dad and well, give me some way to channel my grief and sadness. I completed the tough twice a week workouts put together by my fabulous personal trainer Jason Harbin, who knows me well and knew exactly what I was doing. I pushed myself through several longer hikes at the Cincinnati Nature Center throughout the summer. I also finally got fitted for (yes they do exist) tri-focal toric contact lenses to make the tough and rocky hiking journey safer, faster and more fun.

There was a whole lot of sweating, journaling, packing and unpacking, venting, busyness, grief, stress, crying and coping in that seven months…But truly just being? Not so much.  Did I really care at the time? Ah no.

Both Jim and I pretty much worked on house and work stuff (and we had my two teenage sons for a month as well in July/August when we moved), literally until we drove away to Maine. Our only real breaths were to order food for the trip, some trip planning and reservations and then a mildly frantic stint of packing and “waterproof the tent!!” a couple of days before.

I can’t tell you how glad we were that this was not a true backpacking trip..Neither of us had the brainspace to worry about how much stuff we needed to actually carry in each backpack…Car camping was just fine, thank you.

Fast forward our trip to when we were actually camped in a lean to in Baxter State Park, about two days in. We had attempted Mount Katahdin on Monday, and had to turn back due to hail and high winds.  We were not sure if the weather was going to clear before we had to leave. Our hopes were pinned on Friday, which would hopefully be clear based on current weather reports.

Keep in mind, I had prepped for this trip for six months and there was definitely emotional baggage and pressure felt by me and by Jim FOR me.

And then it rained steadily Monday night, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We had had no electricity, and cell phone signal since entering the park (not a bad thing really). I had hurt my big toe on my right foot during the first ascent on Monday. I needed to stay off that toe if I wanted to hike again Friday. (Mind you that too-long toe nail did not cause permanent damage and was easily trimmed but the swelling needed to come down.)

So Jim went off to hike on those days leaving me to journal and stare into the rain and to just second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour….finally give into “being.”

I don’t change gears well. Well, let’s just say I do change gears, it’s just not a smooth transition. And stopping all together? Um…what does that look like?

So that’s what it took for me to finally “be.” No internet access, lots of rain in a three sided wooden shelter, with the occasional sighting of a 95 mph chipmunk dashing back and forth under the shelter. (We counted 20 sightings in about four days.)

I finally got tired of writing in my journal, finished my library books, and attempted to draw a lame sketch or two. Then I just sat on the shelter floor on my air mattress looking out (still counting chipmunks, of course).

I could hear the rain thrumming on the roof and Katahdin Stream rushing past just beyond our abode. For a while I confess, I vacillated between feeling a rather frustrated boredom and something more low key…for me anyway.

And…My heart slowed down, my breath eased back and my body gradually relaxed. I could do nothing about the weather and there was no way to keep my mind “busy,”, it was out of my hands.

And for that time I was just….being.

Honoring Dad: My Katahdin Adventure 1

On February 21st 2017, I lost my Dad to Alzheimer’s.

Dad introduced me to the outdoors…Sending me to a Canadian summer camp where from 5 years old to 15, I learned to love canoeing, hiking and backpacking. At the home that he and Mom had built in Haslett, Michigan I spent many, many hours in the “back 40” acres riding our 3-wheel ATV, with lunch tucked behind the seat, and Patty our Irish Setter romping alongside. I climbed trees, fished in the pond, watched muskrat and cranes in the back marsh and admired the deer eating crab apples in our front yard.

His example and support have and still play a defining role in my life and I know that he would not want me to stay in deep grief for long after his passing. While he would understand–he would also want me to continue loving and living intensely and intentionally…even more so now.

The final sentence of Dad’s obituary published in the Lansing State Journal said:

“In lieu of a memorial contribution or floral tributes, Allan would prefer that you go out and experience your own adventure in his honor.”

So when I read that again the first week of March, I looked up at Jim and said…”It’s time to go back to Katahdin.” And our journey began.

Journal Entry: 9/3/2017
Right now Jim and I are on the road, driving to Millinocket, Maine going north on I-495. Millinocket is the gateway town to Baxter State Park, the home of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the 2,100+ mile Appalachian Trail.

The weather is rainy and cold, with overcast skies. Most cars just look grey, with water mists flying up from the black pavement highway. Jim is driving his trusted 18 year old Saab (which he towed home and got fixed after its turbo charger blew up in Maryland a couple of years ago). I am in the passenger seat, writing in my journal and using my smart phone to look up potential eating spots, scan the weather, and help Jim navigate.

Last night we stayed in East Greenbush, NY outside of Albany. We ate dinner at a delightful bar called “Albany Ale & Oyster” where I enjoyed a yummy beer called “Dinasmore Stout” that tasted like s’mores, and devoured Manhattan Chowder with slices of crustini, along with half of Jim’s Reuben and nibbled freshly made potato chips delivered in a small brown paper sack with grease spots on the outside.

Yesterday we drove through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Today we are driving through New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and then to Millinocket, Maine.

After leaving the hotel this morning, we inhaled cider donuts at the Golden Harvest Farms produce stand.
GH Cider donuts 1

As we rapidly munched each donut, we talked about Jim’s brother and sister-in-law, Dan and Julie, who love those donuts and have just moved to an east coast city, from a house not more than five minutes from this farmer’s stand. I also wondered if Emily, their daughter-in-law, had had their first grandchild. (As of 9/12/17, their son Nick and Emily are new parents…yay!).

Car trunkWe left Cincinnati on Saturday, Sept 2nd at 7:30ish am in a car stuffed with too many clothes, backpacking and camping gear, 27 (too many) Quest bars (lunches), about 16 smoothies (breakfasts) and 16 dehydrated meals (dinners) from PackItGourmet and Hawk Vittles and of course…10 packets of Starbucks mocha for my morning coffee 😉

Driving to Millinocket will take about 20 hours…According to Google Maps it would take around 350 hours or 14.6 days to walk the same route. (Never mind sleeping, eating, weather, terrain and who knows what else!)

Harvey, the Texas hurricane is playing havoc with the weather. So we are not sure if we’ll get to even attempt ascending Katahdin. Hiking Hunt trail in a little rain is fine..In a downpour not so much. However unlike six years ago, I won’t scaling boulders and rock hopping with a cracked rib (sustained beforehand) that along with icy sleet, forced us to turn back.

Learning How to Say Goodbye

Years ago, a friend made a request of me. She asked that I find a way to say goodbye to a dear long lost friend who had died of pancreatic cancer (it was Lan Laskowski to those who knew him.)

At the time, I was caught off guard by Lan’s death. We had not talked in years, after he had divorced, remarried and then withdrawn from our friendship (and other friendships as well, as I discovered later). That didn’t take away from the time we had spent together, our close friendship and how he had played a powerful role believing in me as I became a singer/songwriter.

For several years, Lan, Maia (his wife then) and I would attend or hang out together at science fiction conventions (SF cons). I was new to cons, so he introduced me to many of his longtime friends and acquaintances. I still fondly recall a SF convention in Urbana-Champaign Illinois, where I played music all night while exchanging stories and songs with Graham Leathers (who later became a close friend). After the con, I pretty much passed out in the backseat of our car, as Lan and Maia safely drove us home through an intense Midwest snow storm to Michigan.

I always smile when I recall the two freshly baked cinnamon bread loaves he mailed me, when I was homesick for my Michigan friends after moving to Cincinnati. When I opened the heavily foiled packages, the heavenly smell of cinnamon bread wafted out into the kitchen. Lan’s memory is forever linked to that homey fragrance.

Years later, I was in Germany on my honeymoon with Tom (now my ex-husband) when I read Debbie Ohi’s blog posting telling of Lan’s death. That night Tom held me as I wept.

How do you say goodbye to a long ago close friend? I didn’t attend his funeral, and didn’t have any friends who lived nearby who knew him. And reading the posts online about him, didn’t ease my grief  and sorrow.

Laura’s request helped me figure out a way to say goodbye and honor the difference he made for me. So I decided to take on something that Lan did, that I admired. To adopt one of his habits, I guess.

Lan was a strong and solid friend, who listened well and  paid attention. He unconditionally supported my efforts as my ability to write and perform songs grew and developed those first couple of years. (i.e. when my efforts were umm less than stellar.)  He recognized what was important to me and let me in on his interests, joys and worries.

So I chose to begin treasuring my closer friendships, to consciously appreciate those friends and do my best to not take them for granted.

I’ve been walking that route for about 18 years now…and well I don’t know if I’ve always  been successful at consistently following through on my commitment to this particular practice. I do know that it’s helped me remember and celebrate a wonderful and warm friend and friendship.

My Dad’s Daughter: Legacies & Coping

Sometimes I find the amount and variety of tasks and goals overwhelming as I build this new business from the ground up.

I can’t fully give up the writing/marketing consulting yet, it’s still a good part of my income and then there’s all the work and the new/changing mindset of being an Executive Coach. (top image credit)

Every now and then a weird line graph pops up in my head.

  • One line is my Dad gradually descending into more health problems, frailty and forgetfulness/memory gaps as the Alzheimer’s progresses.
  • The other line is my coaching business gradually ascending as I finish my training, get certified, continue networking and building productive relationships, etc.

Dad’s sense of self was deeply tied to his work as an entrepreneur. He was always starting a business, building the business, dealing with financing, creating new products, partnering with engineers, large customers and the government. He always pushed forward; working incredibly hard. He founded the first company when Mom was pregnant with me. He sold it (with his business partners) when I was 15 years old and he was just 40.

His example ran though the background of my life and now that continues. When I struggle, when I feel insecure, when I work to help and build relationships with someone in my (new) network and business career who sees me as an executive coach (vs. the copywriter/marketing consultant) I think of Dad.

About a year ago, I came up with one way to handle the challenges before me, from the guilt that I cannot move to Michigan to help Mom, to knowing that both of my parents want me to be doing exactly what I am doing, to the internal transition and stress of my new career path, to being the parent that my kids need me to be..

And that is the acronym “WWDD.” This stands for “What Would Dad Do” (#WWDD).

It inspires me to continue pushing forward while acknowledging how I am feeling to those who care about me. It enables me to show up in a different way, to take on leadership roles at church and in my professional associations. To do things I have Never Done Before. To occasionally flail until I figure it out. To feel vulnerable and yet okay with it, when my partner supports me through every step, in whatever way I need because we are both vested in this change.

This journey is incredibly humbling, inspiring, unnerving and strangely renewing. Like Dad, my work plays a integral role in who I am and how I choose to show up. It’s changing me for the better and that is both wonderful and scary as hell.

So yeah, #WWDD, is MY mantra for now.

Stories & Memories…Learning About Loss

Many years ago, I was married to a marathon runner in Michigan. JY and I met at Michigan State University (MSU), when he was a graduate student and I was finishing my undergraduate degree in advertising. We met, when one of his friends asked me out in the parking lot of the university athletic center (I think his friend’s name was Ted.) During our date, we ended up getting together with JY and realized that I got along with J. better then I did with Ted. So, we began dating that spring.

After a couple of weeks, J.’s father died unexpectedly from a heart attack. He had lost his mother to cancer years earlier, so this left him feeling so very alone and bereft, not understanding why these things happen. We continued dating and for the next couple of years I witnessed someone I cared about deeply somehow figure out how to handle the loss of their father.

JY would have the urge to pick up the phone to talk with his Dad about a baseball game, or a scene in a movie would trigger sadness and memories. We would talk about what his Dad was like when J. was a teenager. Sometimes he felt more free, not as locked into the expectations (or lack thereof) of his Dad. At the time, I would do my best to listen and hug him as he grieved.

Before his Dad’s house was sold, J. and I drove to Binghamton, NY and stayed for about a week. I recall that we watched the summer Olympics on his Dad’s old TV, slept on a mattress in the living room and made popcorn on the gas stove.

It was my first cross country road trip on my own and we were supposed to meet J’s brother as well. So I was a bit anxious about the whole thing and yet, very much wanted to support J. as he slowly came to grips with his Dad’s death.

J. ended up with his Dad’s large American made car, what I would fondly call a “land yacht.” He drove that car until it was rear ended (J. was fine) right after we divorced in Cincinnati.

Now I find myself in the same position…at times. Dad is still here and yet he’s not. I keep a photo of him and I in my office, from when I married JY. In that photo, Dad was about 50 years old, standing next to me in my white wedding dress as I prepare to walk down the aisle at The People’s Church in East Lansing, Michigan. Today he is 25 years older.

Dad at Wedding