Grief, part 4: Reclaiming

When my son was tiny, I watched a lot of Blue’s Clues. One of the most memorable recurring bits is a jingle Steve sings when Blue the puppy is looking for something she’s lost.

Go back, go back, go back

Go back to where you were

After leaving an unhealthy relationship, I need to reclaim my sense of self and of equilibrium and ownership over my lived experiences. I’ve been practicing that deliberately. I went back, to who I was and what I find most fulfilling and authentic, and I revisited relationships and geographies in order to reconnect and re-frame those experiences.

I enjoyed a delightful summer with my son in which I was finally able to be fully present. We created and gamed together, went camping and finally, traveled across the country by train.

Travel was both a challenge and incredibly satisfying. The challenges were primarily psychlogical hurdles. I had to give myself permission to make plans and execute them according to my own desires, and to set aside my irrational worries. Because I was able to do that, Mr. B and I had a low-stress, stimulating adventure we’ll both remember fondly for a long time to come.

B fulfills a life-long dream: breakfast in bed

I reclaimed my independence on that trip to visit my parents, and I reconnected with my sister after nearly seven years of estrangement. And I literally returned, deliberately spending time in places that held vivid memories for me and gently said, “I’m here.”

My everyday life is full of reminders of my dead relationship: a bench where an argument occurred or a restaurant where unpleasant revelations manifested, the site of a romantic evening out. Places where I reached a turning point in my wholly internal life, known only to me. The exact spot I was standing when I realized I was in love, or later, when I realized I was being lied to and manipulated. Touching those places again gives me a chance to heal a hurt, on my own.

the Suzzallo Library, one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever written in

It’s difficult to describe, but the process goes something like this: there’s a emotional resonance about those geographies. I acknowledge and release it so I can reclaim a space, for myself. Doing so isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I can say to myself, I’ve felt joy or sorrow here, and that’s alright. I’m here now, and I’m okay. The place doesn’t mean what it meant before, not anymore.

Now, I’m in a place where I can be myself again.

On Veganism

During my recent stint at the Clarion West Writers Workshop, I decided to return to veganism. I passed several years as a vegan in the late nineties (which feels odd to refer to as a distinct and past decade), during which time I carried a child to term, worked a stressful job where I barely had time to eat let alone cook, and found myself surrounded by unsympathetic friends and family. To top it off, I lived in a small town where few resources for vegetarians existed, let alone shops and restaurants for individuals living a vegan lifestyle. The internet wasn’t a big part of my life then either, as far as that now-ubiquitous resource is concerned.

At that time in my life, I chose veganism as a strictly ethical consideration. I didn’t wear leather and would essentially go without eating or eat junk to avoid eating animal products.

With all these factors working against me, I eventually gave up veganism and even the less-strict vegetarian path.

So, why go back? Several reasons compel me.

  • I’ve been inspired by fellow Clarionite Lauren Dixon, who is a long-time committed vegan and a positive, upbeat proponent of this choice. I watched her struggle with the controlled setting of the workshop with grace and patience (meals were provided for us, but eventually, several of us opted for local cuisine instead).
  • Living in Seattle made it easy to be vegan because of the easy availability of food choices. I was able to transition back with relative simplicity in that environment.
  • My family and friends are supportive now. Some of this has to do with the fact that I have better friends than before, and the rest has to do with desire on the part of family members to eat healthier.
  • It feels right, physically. I ate a lot of meat in the first week or so of the workshop because it was constantly provided, and my health suffered. When I switched, that changed. I just plain feel better.
  • And lastly, I’ve returned to veganism because I can. I live in the same dinky town, but resources have expanded. I’ve educated myself more, and I’m more responsible about my health than before (ie, I’m not trying to live off of fries and candy anymore).

Overall, it feels like the right thing to do, and I’m glad I made that choice. The hold-out, but not a deal-breaker, is Mr. B, whose penchant for mac and cheese has yet to be tamed by non-dairy options. But I’m working on it.

You can follow my vegan exploits, along with a those of a few buds of mine, on Twitter. Sometimes, there are even pictures.

And then there was Pie (and sand)

I promised a photo! Thankfully, I took one because, as they say, a picture will last longer. It was GOOD pie. I confess that I ate almost half of the pie all by myself. So much for the low-carb diet.

The delay in posting of the promised pie photo is the result of my family’s long-awaited trip to Anna Maria Island, which was incredibly beautiful. The sky was this gorgeous azure, and the water was perfectly clear and aquamarine. There was a moment when the beauty of the water was overwhelming and unreal to my eyes, a solid thing, like a delicately colored piece of plexiglass. Absurd, right?

Unexpectedly, I shed tears when I first touched the water. The oil spill is on the mind of every person along the coast, even though they pretend, like our innkeeper did, that everything is wonderful as usual. I said some prayers, and we had a lovely time for the most part. Mr. B ran himself ragged and fell into bed at 9 PM every single night we were there. I wish I could figure out how to exhaust him that way at home.

The sea turtles were nesting at night, which was something I would have dearly loved to witness, but I was too tired. We did go out each night in the early evening and walk in the twilight. Every night, when the sun touched the horizon, an interesting thing happened. Every person on the beach stopped (except Mr. B, who never stops moving unless he is unconscious) and stared at the sun as it appeared to grow smaller and smaller, and then wink out below the horizon line. It occurred so rapidly, and I found this unceasingly amazing. I mean, Florida is flat, but I rarely see the completion of a sunset because we live in a tree city. I was caught up every night in that motion, startled by it each time. It made me feel very small. It’s easy to forget that we live on a enormous ball spinning in space, and then you glimpse it turning.

Blessed be, Gaia. Oshun. Yemaya.

Today is a Blue-fingered Day

Mr. B had a lucky day, according to reports. I arranged for him and some of his homeschool buds to go to a local blueberry farm, where they loaded up the yummy little gems. I think it’s safe to say Mr. B put more berries in his mouth than in his bucket, but he had a blast.

It was blazing hot, of course, a balmy 90 degrees. When I finally sat down in the shade after an hour or so, I was startled that it took so long (about as long as it took for me to get overheated) for me to consider the contrast between my choice of recreation (blueberry picking) and the misery of farmworker labor (blueberry picking). A woman with four children in tow, one just an infant, was picking berries for the company, albeit in a different area, and I never saw her sit down for a break, especially not after such a short time. Just a thought.

The berries are amazing, though, and it was satisfying to pick them myself. It doesn’t look like much, but there’s more than four pounds in there. I may attempt to bake some sort of pie with them on Friday. There could be pictures!

Adventures in Parenting

Sometimes a little shutter clicks in my mind, saving a memory under the filename “What Homeschooling Looks Like.” It would make a great photo essay, if I’d really been taking photos during these moments when I was busy just living: Mr. B watching PBS in his underwear, Mr. B snoring on the floor of a dewy tent in a campground, Mr. B crouched in the hallway completing a math assignment (his favorite spot for doing homework), or Mr. B squatting on the sidewalk examining a dead lizard through a jeweler’s loupe.

Mostly, I trick him into learning stuff while trying hard to listen to a bunch of jabber about his current fixation without going crazy. Lately, it’s Ghostbusters, which is hilarious on some level. He’s constantly talking about ghosts and making up wacky scenarios about hauntings, drawing pictures, playing the videogame, and watching the movie (although that’s tapered off now, thank goodness). He even solicited a special project from my mom, the woman who can make damn near anything out of cardboard, and she constructed a proton pack that fastens to his back with straps she made out of USB lanyards. He wears it everywhere. Can you spot the intrepid heroes on the left, saving NYC?

However, sometimes I do take photos, usually after the fact, to remind myself that the frustration and sacrifice are (mostly) worth the payoff. Today, we made a bird feeding platform from a shelf that I picked up on the side of the road and an old terra cotta flowerpot dish. We installed it outside his window so he can watch birds (one of his Aspie obsessions –could be worse). He can see it from his bunk bed.

A couple of weeks ago, at Florida Pagan Gathering (happy Beltane, BTW), I took a deep breath and let Mr. B off the chain. He romped with his camp buddies and frequently disappeared from my sight, once for over an hour. I even let him participate in the so-called Celtic Games, where men and boys whack each other with boffers shaped like swords and toss big rocks. He took a beating and cheered and hollered himself hoarse, and it was probably the most fun he ever had.

Some days, it’s lots of fun being me.

Goodbye to You(s)

As they say in Jersey, see you(s) around. The term is over! I always feel a flood of relief when classes conclude. I no longer have all these groups of people depending on me to be energetic and helpful. Of course, I still have permanent people fixtures, known and loved, who require those qualities of me, but at least I don’t have to pour it out to strangers, for now.

This has been one of my best terms, honestly. I stayed on top of the workload, most of my students were engaged and hard-working (there are always a few who aggravate, wheedle and cheat), and I enjoyed my time with them. However, it’s incredibly draining for me, and a distraction from what I want to be doing. I’m glad to be done.

The truly excellent part of the fun is I have no plans to teach for the rest of the year. Summer is Clarion West, and fall is the time when I use all that knowledge I’ve hopefully gathered to make some magic happen. I also have a homeschooling responsibility that needs ramping up. Mr. B finally starting reading and writing independently this year, and he’s primed for big advances now that those building blocks are in place. Double excitement.

I’ve Made Nerd!

So, who can guess what this depicts? The talented artist is Mr. B.

A while back, I met a woman at an academic conference who told me all about her proposed dissertation topic concerning nerd culture. Apparently, her anthropology department was not amused. Her argument was “culture” is that which is transmitted from parent to child, and so on, down the generations. Nerds teach their children specific culture, hence, “nerd culture.”

There’s been a bit of talk about what constitutes “nerd” and “geek,” how they may or may not be the same thing, and so on, with quite a few unexpected people getting their geek on. Supposedly, geeking is cool now, so someone has to spoil it by co-opting it.

Wil Wheaton, who is a very polite and smart person with reliable geek cred, says a bit about this.

Meanwhile, keep transmitting. Somebody has to.


It’s Friday, the 20th of March, and there is still nothing from Clarion. Yet.

Mr. B and I went to homeschool playgroup and to the farmers’ market, and I checked my phone for email alerts about every fifteen minutes or so. You know, casually, trying not to seem disinterested in regular life.

I have cramps, it’s the first day of spring, and momentous news should arrive any time now. I need a nap, but I don’t know if I would sleep, as keyed up as I feel.

In other news, Mr. B is a Sith Lord.

Obsessed or Determined?

I guess I’m thinking too much.

It occurred to me this morning that the Clarion acceptance contact I’ve been waiting for could be a letter in my PO box, which I haven’t checked since Thursday, so I hitched the trail bike to my cheapo boardwalker, and Mr. B (my child) and I pedaled on down to the post office.

“Oh, my legs!” he wailed at some point. Anyway, no letter in the mail. I know that some lucky folks like Jordan Lapp have been contacted via phone call, but I’m thinking that may be a Clarion West thing. I have it in my head that the Clarion SD contact will be emailed/written. Correct me if I’m wrong!

But alas, nothing of note in the PO box so far. On the upside, while I was at the post office, I finally mailed the contract for the academic volume I’m editing to my collaborators so they can sign it, too. Nothing much is happening with that, so I keep forgetting about it.

Then back home to return to repeatedly checking my email in case there’s a notification in there. I also discovered a tidbit that might appeal to other Clarion hopefuls who are sitting around biting their collective fingernails. Clarion’s website suggests reading Kate Wilhelm’s The Storyteller while waiting, and a large portion of it can be found for free here. Or you can pay $16 for it.

I also tooled around in my garden today and got my toes dirty, which always forces me to slow down. It reassures me, too, that life goes on, however cheesy that sounds. I went back and listened to the UU service about springtime that I did last Sunday, which you can listen to here if you like, mortified as always by the weird sound of my own voice. There’s probably a scientific reason why we don’t sound the same way to ourselves as we do to other people, just like a kind of body dysmorphia where we don’t perceive ourselves the same way others see us.

Mentally rambling, that’s been my day. Just trying not to think about it as much by keeping busy.