Westward Ho! Day 11

Mill Valley, CA (9:30AM) to Golden Valley, AZ (9:10 PM).  623 miles.
Tunes: The California Mix (Eagles, Linda Ronstadt & Jackson Browne)
Audiobook: The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

I forgot that today was going to be my longest day on the road, so I really kicked myself for getting a late start.  I texted my host in Golden Valley along the way to update her on my ETA.  Unlike other AirBNB hosts, she was totally cool with a late arrival.  So, then, I just relaxed into the day.

John navigated us smoothly through the Bay area snarl (maybe it was a good thing to have missed rush hour) and got us headed in the direction of Stockton.  This excited me to no end as visions of Jared, Nick, Heath and Audra danced like sugar plum fairies in my memory. The Big Valley (or The Pig Valley, as I called it, starring Miss Barbara Stan-pig) played a seminal role in developing my fan-girl.  What is it about middle-school girls and horses?

However, we turned south towards L.A. before getting to Stockton.  Sigh.  I tipped my proverbial hat in the Barkleys’ direction.

Freeway signs warned that the ticket for texting while driving was $161.  As I am now a reformed seatbelt-wearer, I kept my phone in my purse and hoped fiddling with my GPS didn’t count.

Mojave_0551The highlight of yesterdays trek down most of California was entering the Mojave desert at dusk.  The mountains there were a completely different kind of animal as compared to their cousins up north; bare, tumbled rock stacked like the spines of prehistoric lizards.  At first the landscape seemed stark, but it owned every color of brown (slate, white sand, bloody rust).  Sage, scrub and Joshua trees dotted the sear plains.  I rolled down my window in the 93° heat to get a whiff of the parched, pure air.  And as darkness crept out from the rocky shadows, the thrill of it–me in the desert with nothing but stars and a few trucks trundling beside me–snapped me awake with joy.

IMG_0526To get to Melanie and Mel’s place, I had to take a twisty, two-lane highway through a tip of Nevada (instant Casino-land) and into Arizona.  We didn’t get lost once.  Melanie ran out of the house with her arms wide in greeting.  How lovely to have this funny, caring stranger waiting for me!I got a big basement room, complete with kitchenette and composting toilet, with a walk-out onto a fabulous garden, where you have another composter (I start checking the composter reviews myself, this thing is quite a nice one).  Very cool art on the walls, too.

IMG_0527I’m sorry I can’t stay and enjoy the desert ambiance.  It’s 7:14 and I’ve got to shower and get going.  Today I go to Durango and meet another bloggy friend, Robert.

And I shant be late.

Westward Ho! Day 9

Roseburg, OR (9:30 AM) to Mill Valley, CA (7:00 PM). 462 miles
Notables: Fink’s Time and Distance.

I felt the depression move in like a thunderstorm this morning.  It took forever to sort through my clean clothes, get everything repacked and rearranged.  My body ached and the barometric pressure of my brain thickened like glue.

The night before, Doris and I talked a long time about chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and cannabis.  In Oregon, she’s able to grow and process pot for her own use, which is a complicated affair.  She makes “pot-butter,” an ingredient in therapeutic cookies.  And just like any drug, it took trial and error to determine the right dosage.

I thought about my friend, Duane, who suffers constant, chronic pain as a side effect of his AIDS medications.  He and his husband, Jim, supported the law to make medical marijuana legal in Minnesota.  It’s legal there now, but the process of qualifying, registering, and then paying $300-$500 per month makes it unobtainable.  I thought about Jim cooking up some “pot-butter” in their kitchen and how delicious his cookies would be.

I’ve never thought about trying marijuana for my own pain.  There have been nights on this trip when I could hardly hobble across a room.  I wasn’t thinking about pot before, but I’m thinking about it now.

As I hauled all my crap out to the car this morning, I asked Doris if I could buy some cookies from her.  I didn’t know it was illegal for her to sell it.  When Doris told me that, I felt like so un-street.  And weirdly like an undercover cop.

IMG_0458She pulled a Baggie out of the freezer.  “I’ll give you one, though.”

Then, she went through instructions like my pharmacist.  Only eat half of the cookie.  Don’t eat cookies while driving.  It could take two hours for the cookie to take effect.  Plus a list of possible outcomes.  And another list of cautions.

So, I had my half-cookie about two hours ago.  Feels like I might sleep better tonight.

Oh, yeah.  I also saw Mount Shasta today.

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Westward Ho! Day 7

Our last day of classes.

I skipped breakfast this morning to write about yesterday and ease into the day.  The Fort has a little coffee shop, so I stopped there for a latte and scone before heading to Jesse’s class; a quiet walk through the morning mist to the other side of campus with only my bag’s wheels grumbling on the asphalt and the gulls calling overhead.  Lots of crows here, too.  And owls.  The Flying Ones offer lots of singing practice.

I think Jess’s class was my favorite.  We worked in black and white acrylic paint using a fan brush and our hands.  Primitive mark-making.  And like Michael deMeng’s class, we started looking for areas of interest and larger images.  I loved the energy and immediacy of it.  Black and white felt so much easier than color.  And Jesse was a hoot.  He told stories in different accents, so of course I loved him.

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Details from the pages; lots of little Mr. Bills getting out of the thorny, pregnant monster’s way.

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After lunch, it was finally time for Tracy Moore’s class.  This was the watershed moment. Could he teach/inspire/goad me into art journaling?  Was there a way to incorporate art into my daily journal practice?  Or were these two modes of expression forever separate for me?

Tracy’s very low-key, but passionate about art journaling.  He just wanted us to keep our hand moving over the page, doodling, trying different simple shapes while he told stories about his own process.  He talked about how journaling for him is a social experience, hanging out in coffee shops and bars with his journal and pens, inviting people he meets to draw something in them.  Some of his pages have lots of text, some don’t.  He admits that he gets bored easily and switches things up.

He also gave us a list of his favorite stuff; pens, techno doo-dads, stamp-making tools, online stores.  I made a list.

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Later I talked to him about being a writer who also does art and whether I could combine the two.  “Keep it simple,” he suggested.  “Try it and see what happens.”

So at the Last Night Party,  I sat with everyone else and wrote in my newly minted art journal and pondered this question.  The Seattle band, Surrealized, provided mood music and the door between my words and my art cracked open.  Is the separation illusion?  If both are allowed to play together, what else might join them?  What else might have been sacrificed to my bipolar scramble for survival?  What else waits for room?

I’m willing to push the door open a little wider and invite everyone to come play.

 

Westward Ho! Day 4

Spokane, WA (7:30 AM) to Port Townsend, WA (4:00 PM).  370 miles.
Notables: Sting’s Roxanne (Symphonicities version)

Between Spokane and Seattle

Well, really, ho-hum.  Another day of brilliant sun, snow-capped mountains, burbling streams.  It’s just all a little overdone, don’t you think?  I mean, on and on with the sapphire sky and pine-fresh air… can’t these Pacific Northwesterners show a little restraint?

We were doing just fine until Seattle.  I saw signs for a tollway and wondered, tollways?  When was the last time I paid a toll?  Do they still have big buckets to throw quarters at as you pass by?  Do I have any quarters?

Since John had no answers, I thought I’d better stop and inquire about proper procedure.  I didn’t want to get chased by Washington State Smokies (Were they even called that anymore?  Geez, I felt old).

Come to find out, the highway cams snap a picture of your license plate and you get a bill in the mail.  More stuff I never knew.

On the FerrySo, I was a little flustered when we got to the ferry.  I thought I told John to take a different route to avoid the ferry, but here we were.  The first time around, Cleese got us in the wrong lane and the Port Authority officer yelled at me (until he saw that I had an Iowa license plate and clearly no accurate help from my British Sulu).

 After I stuffed a sock in his recorded yap, I found my way to the ferry toll and holding area.  Clear sailing from there on (pun only sort of intended).

Looking Back at SeattleI’m finding that a GPS system can get just as befuddled as a human when the details become complicated and change quickly.  Two heads (one nav-sat and one bipolar) really are better than one.

Another hour of twisty two-lane highway through forest and, to my surprise, cattle ranches brought us to Port Townsend and Fort Worden.

I checked in, made my journal (which will hold all the art I make this week), dumped my stuff in my dorm room (which used to be the barracks), and started schmoozing.

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IMG_0364Dinner offered a vegan option (a to-die-for veggie burger).  Teesha made a few logistical announcements and introduced our teachers.

I made a few swaps (traded art bits) with the fun folk I’ve met so far, and came to my room to report and crash.  Tomorrow: ART.Art Swaps

 

 

 

Westward Ho! Day 3

Billings, MT (6:30 AM Mountain) to Spokane, WA (4:00 PM Pacific). 542 miles.
Pertinent Tunes:  Throat Culture’s Easter Island.
Audiobook: Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife

This was going to be another full day on the road, and I wanted to get to Spokane early enough to meet my bloggy friend, Linda, before I faded, so I set out before dawn.  Again.

I love that the day worked out just like that.  I love that I’ve been dancing with my bipolar disorder long enough to know what my limits might be and how to bring them into the dance.  I can’t tell you how much I love that.

So, John led me out of Billings under the cover of dark and flurries of snow.  He’s gotten me to every destination with only two hiccups.  Both times he told me to turn around and head back home.  I think I must have accidentally touched the screen, but still, mistakes such as these required proper admonishment and Python-worthy name calling.

runaway-truck-rampSo, properly chastised, he sent me up through the Continental Divide.  No more puny foothills, we were in the Big League today.  We traveled the kinds of roads that required special Runaway Truck Ramps for semis with fried brakes.  And wide places to pull off so one can attach their tire chains.  There we were, switchbacking and trundling along those straining Peterbilts, with snow and low-slung clouds obscuring the peaks.  Ooo, it was an exciting day!

And beautiful.  Majestic.  A complete Jeremiah Johnson experience.  There are no words.  Robert Redford’s “Agh” comes close.

Linda in SpokaneAnd then, it was Spokane, and bright warm sun, and Linda singing to me as she drove up the drive.  We’ve known each other through my blog (and my cards, and Facebook) for years, and finally got to hug and squee like proper girlfriends.  She took me to a little park for a nice walk and the beginning of our non-stop babbling. Three hours later, after a scrumptious Thai dinner and a tour of her home, she dropped me off, still singing.

Such an exciting day.

Westward, Ho! Day 1

Marshalltown, IA (7 AM Central) to Interior, SD (5:30 Mountain).  575 miles.
Notable tunes: Don Henley’s Cass County.  Audiobook: Terry Pratchett’s Nation.

It was a dark and gloomy night… er… morning.

Packed UpI could barely believe that THE DAY had come.  No more lists.  No more sleepless nights (There’s a Country song in there some place), just my nosey neighbor hurrying out to snoop as I finished packing the car, her barky wiener dog in tow.  In no time, I’d shaken the Marshalltown dust off my wheels and set out in the lowering gloom.

mink1First rest stop was Sac City, where I got a whiff of Skunk as I gassed up the car.  Auspicious!  Skunk became my Animal Guide in a sweat lodge ceremony eons ago.  Her scent still makes me feel protected and in the flow.  Then, when I walked along the North Racoon River, I spotted a mink at the water’s edge.  My aunt used to raise mink, so I knew it wasn’t just a weasel.  The gifts seemed to be tumbling out of the trees!

North RacoonIt felt wonderful to squish in mud along the water’s edge, to see geese and hear the bird chatter.  I was glad to have my hat, as the wind at 34 degrees still held a bit of winter.

And who knew Sac City was the home of Barn Quilts?  The things one learns On the Road.

Barn QuiltThe next stop was Tea, South Dakota.  I mean, really, how could I not stop for a spot of Tea after being bossed around by John Cleese all day (His best bit so far has been:  “In 500 yards, bear right; beaver left.”) and listening to a fabulous Terry Pratchett audiobook, read by a lovely British baritone (yes, there are actually a few of those I don’t know or claim as Pretend Boyfriends)?Tea, anyone?

A few hours further west, the skies cleared, the snow melted and temperatures warmed into the 50s.  No more adventures, just clear sailing in the bright sunshine and on into the Badlands.  I knew those naughty bits were close by, but didn’t expect to drive through the State park.  What a feast to wind through all that topographical drama!Badlands

The sun sloped from the west as I drove through The Circle View Ranch’s gate.  A family played ring-toss in the yard.  A scrappy herder-dog watched them from the porch of the main house.  Chickens meandered and pecked along the drive.Circle View Ranch

Badland Chickens

My room is lovely with a private bathroom.  I think my cowboy nephew would like it here.

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Time to wash my Ramen bowl and call it a day.

 

Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

As winter progresses, I watch this long spell of nearly-normal fade in the rear view mirror.  It’s a horrible feeling, watching that image of the real me shrink and shrink as the bipolar hitchhiker takes over the wheel.  I can feel the Vyvanse losing its grip and rolling under the tires.  I worry that I’ve forgotten how to do this—how to manage a life instead of living it.

Hello DarknessAnd, of course, all that is a story.  I’ve promised to guard against telling stories.

So, let’s just say it’s an adjustment.

There is more depression and distorted thinking, more fibromyalgia pain and insomnia, more compulsive eating and anxiety.  But, the truth is we all expected this, even while we hoped Vyvanse could beat back winter (we being my therapist, nurse practitioner/med provider, and me).

Miracle enough that an amphetamine meant to curb my eating disorder also managed to smooth out my moods for six months.  I don’t want to get greedy.  Six months of feeling joy and gratitude for my life, of sitting in the driver’s seat, can’t be minimized.  Ever.

And all is not lost yet.

Vyvanse acted like a screen door, keeping the bipolarness on the front porch.  But as soon as the drug flushed out of my system each day, the rapid cycling and mixed states poked their heads in and wanted coffee.  They’re just pushier now.  And obviously, they’ve been lifting weights this summer.

I couldn’t tell if V was helping at all the past few weeks.  I just knew I was miserable the moment I woke up and couldn’t discern any difference throughout the day.  So, I started taking V as soon as I got out of bed.  Now, by the time I finish at the Y, I can feel a lift.  The depression is still there, but quiet and more polite.  Again, this seems huge.

I’m trying to use these moderate shifts of mood to prepare for the hairier, meaner moods that will crash through the door.  I got groceries this morning and made two quiches (one to freeze).  If this pattern holds, I’ll bake a chicken/wild rice dish tomorrow and stick it in the freezer, too.  I can’t cook when I’m brain sick, so doing this feels smart and kind.  I am nurturing and being nurtured—like being my own grandma.

This is all new territory.  Mental illness tries to keep me from seeing that.  It tells me all is lost and will forever be lost.  But, that’s just a story.

The truth is—

—I’m on an Adventure.

Invasion of the Zombie Day-Traders

Dead AliveThe down-side of taking high-powered antibiotics and steroids is that they wipe out your microbial Security Team and hold up the process of sending in replacements.  This leaves a person vulnerable to opportunistic infections, those Wall Street-type pathogens that sniff out weakness and engineer a hostile take-over.

I got a wicked sore throat last week.  When I bought a little flashlight to get a good look, I can only describe the scene as Wes Craven-esque.  When I stopped screaming, I pulled out my dusty nurse-lore.  What I worried about being a strep infection was, in fact, thrush.  Two words, then I won’t traumatize you any further: Cheesy.  Pustule.  Now back away slowly from Google, grab up your shotgun, and run.

But all is not Night of the Living Dead-Serious.  My physical hobgoblins haven’t triggered any mental ones—other than a few wisps of depression that passed like cabbage-induced air biscuits (Oh, how I love fart humor.  Go here if you do, too).  And my friend, Linda, sent me some major distraction.

She used to own a shop in Minneapolis that sold crystals, semi-precious stones, jewelry and pan-spiritual gifts and tools.  She also let me try to sell my cards there.  The shop closed several years ago, and Linda stowed boxes and bags of inventory while she took care of other life-business.  Last week she sent me a twelve-pound box of beads, cabochons, broken bits, and a big grab-bag of unsorted stuff—mostly seed beads and tiny shells.  Linda’s clear-out was my Merry Christmas!

Chair VictorSo, after I gargle and swish my new medicine (sort of a cross between Milk of Magnesia and Lysol), I fight Henry for the good chair, then sit at the table and sort.  Henry likes to sit with me when I’m at my studio, but doesn’t care for the straight-backed chair that goes with the old dining table.  Even when I tart it up with his Girlfriend (a purple throw that he romances regularly), he still shuns it for my comfy, rolling desk chair.  He casts the Evil Cat Stink-Eye until I switch chairs with him.  If I’m not fast enough, he climbs in behind me and wedges me out.  Giving up the chair is a matter of self-preservation, not indulgence.  Other cat-keepers will understand.

Sorting BeadsIt’s a fine way convalesce: a hot mug of apple cider and green tea at one elbow next to my blazing Happy Light, one cat snoring at the other elbow while another swirls around my ankles, my Pandora station filling the air with The Civil Wars and Dave Matthews, a gallon of goodies to sort.

Oh, and then there’s the shotgun in the corner—just in case.

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Nesting

Henry's Pillow 2

It’s autumn.  Time for apple cider and the annual ugly chest cold.  Time to put away shorts and see if the crotch in any of my old jeans will embarrass me in public.  Time to start work on my Solstice cards and pull out my Happy Light.

I love autumn, even if the waning light makes me think St. John of the Cross was probably bipolar and talking about winter when he coined the term dark night of the soul.  I love the smell of corn dust and how it hangs in the air.  I love the slant of the sun as it hits a golden point on its arc, how it burns through a single, curry-colored leaf stuck in the weeds.

I’m profoundly aware of how much I’m enjoying autumn this year.  Even with bronchitis and a pantheon of prescription inhalers on my counter, I watch the squirrels in their pre-winter frenzy and feel joy rise up.  Like a breath.  Like a sigh.  Clear lungs are not required.

I’ve had moments of bipolarness over the past five months.  Moments—not days or weeks or months.  Moments where the illness broke through to remind me to stay sharp.  I can’t go back to sleep.  And I also don’t fight or fret when the illness presents itself.  This is me, too.  All of this is me.

New BookcaseMy energy amazed me, and the way my mind opened to possibility and change.  Over the summer, I catalogued my apartment—the rotting furniture, the squeeze and mess of a tiny space, all the ways I made do when the idea of doing more overwhelmed me.  Getting a new bathtub and replacing the damaged linoleum floor suddenly made anything possible.

On my trips to Minneapolis to see friends, I also visited IKEA.  I gave away or trashed furniture that was too big, too ruined or too inefficient and replaced it with four beautiful pieces put together with my own two hands plus one great recliner from the Club Furniture.  Now our living room fits us.  There’s room for the cats to chase each other, new places to nap, and a more inviting entry (rather than sliding in sideways and banging a hip on some ouchy corner).

Cabinet Before

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Cabinet After

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Desk Before

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Desk After

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I’m also working on more efficient storage.  I installed roll-out, metal baskets under my kitchen sink and bathroom vanity.  I cleaned out a skinny cupboard in the kitchen, found tubs that fit the narrow space, and got seldom-used art supplies out of the way.

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valje-wall-cabinet-red__0290149_PE424853_S4IKEA carries a wall cabinet—basically, an open box with mounting hardware.  I tossed the hardware and stacked two of those on my coat closet shelf to wrangle the magazines I glean for greeting card captions (My closets have lots of height, so I’m always looking for stackables).  There was plenty of room left over to store other crafty stuff.  No more cascades of musty magazines when I get out the broom.

Autumn is the season for nesting.  We make ourselves snug and warm, surround ourselves with treasures and love, settle in for the long winter.  Nesting makes a place a home.  We should find comfort and relief there.  And joy.

Sitting here at my desk, with Henry curled on his pillow, I listen to James Vincent McMorrow and feel my home breathing with me.

A moment of joy.

An Experiment in Justice

IsisMost of the time, attending the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines is a joyful experience for me.  I’m fed by the music, the ethics of the community, the wisdom and passion of the ministers.  I feel at home there.

But, because it is an Unitarian community, social justice is a big part of the zeitgeist.  We are called to wake up and “stay woke” to the inequity of our justice and prison systems, to the destruction of black bodies.  Sermons, like Erin Gingrich’s message a few weeks ago, Black Lives Matter, gnaw at my comfort.  Adult education classes include discussion groups about books like Jennifer Harvey’s Dear White Christians and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  Affirmed Justice small groups meet to plan how to incorporate Restorative Justice into our schools and courts.

I’m proud to be part of this vibrant, caring community.  I just can’t figure out where I fit.

comptonYesterday, after a particularly fiery sermon, I left with a plan.  I would go see Straight Outta Compton, the movie about the first gangsta rap group, NWA. Rap music scares me.  The language, the violence, the rage—they all scare me.  But, I know all of it is someone’s real, lived, experience.  I thought, I can do this.  I can watch this movie with curious compassion and be mindful of my fear.  I can do this.

I had read in the church bulletin that next Sunday would be the Blending of the Waters ritual.  Congregants bring water from a significant source, talk about what it symbolizes, and pour it into a common bowl.  It’s a way to acknowledge the gifts we all bring to the community.

So, when I got my popcorn and diet Coke for the movie, I filled the cup to the top with ice.  This would be my offering to the bowl next Sunday, this ice that would hold my fear and my courage.

I came out of the movie shell-shocked, over-run by the full range of my bipolarness.  I drove home crying, raging, and ultimately locked-down.  I sedated myself and went to bed, hoping for clarity in the morning.

And, by gum, that’s what I found.

My feelings of ineptness and desperation around social justice mirror my old feelings about work and being a productive member of society.  I had to keep trying to go back to work until I learned that my mental illness took that ability.  The stress of working is now a trigger.

Now I know that the stress of being an activist, of even considering being an activist, is also a trigger.  I can’t keep the pain, injustice and rage outside of me.  My boundaries aren’t that strong.

Knowing one’s triggers is important information for anyone with mental illness.  Self-knowledge and insight are vital tools.  Going to this movie set me free in many ways.  It gave me a new sense of clarity and purpose.  I will never be on the front lines with those in my church fighting for social justice, but I will be right behind them armed with my own kind of courage.

That’s what I intend to say next Sunday when I pour my melted-ice water into the community bowl.

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