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.

dorm

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 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.

IMG_0327

IMG_0325

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

 

All Systems Go

Sunday, before dawn, I’ll be on my way to ArtFest and points West.  Just one final checklist to run through.

“Flight Controllers? Give me a Go/No Go for Launch.  Booster…”

We had our glitch yesterday.  Testing a new GPS device on the trip to Des Moines, I left the unit turned off, but plugged in when I went in to my meeting.  Two hours later—dead car.  Controlled hysteria ensued.  But, just like Mark Watney, I got to work.


2011-honda-cr-v-ex-lThe folks at my meeting found jumper cables, and I cancelled two other appointments to hurry home to my mechanic (since I could only hope it was a dead battery).  Even though they were booked solid, Rich, Rose and Jeff at Alley Auto hooked Corvus up to telemetry and determined the battery sound.  Just unplug anything from the USB when the engine isn’t running.  Good to know.

“FIDO…”

TomTom took almost two weeks to determine the problem with a celebrity voice I tried to download to my GPS unit, but now John Cleese is officially telling me where to go.

“Guidance…”

I love how easy it was to book overnight stays at Bed and Breakfasts through Airbnb.  It’s giving the hotels in California such a run for their money, that there’s a new tax on B&Bs there (the bastards).  All the B&Bs along my flight path confirmed and anticipate my arrival with utmost glee.  Or at least they promise not to greet me with a shotgun.

Guesthouse on the Green, Billings, Montana

“Surgeon…”

The sinus infection is nearly done, just a few sniffles and a mostly-baritone voice.  I’m taking my whole medicine chest with me just in case as well as good trainers for those fifteen minute breaks every two hours to walk off any fomenting blood clots or nasty butt boils.  Too graphic?  Just wait.

water“EECOM…”

I’m packing a cooler with lunch supplies, a crate of chips, enough Ramen noodles for two weeks, a bale of bottled water, and everything I need to make my daily Shakeology smoothie.  So, basically my whole kitchen  (Oh, and the seasonal jelly bean or two).

“GNC…”

The wild rapid cycling seems to have slowed the last few days.  Anxiety and mania have mellowed to gentle anticipation. A lot of that has to do with preparation and gnat’s ass attention to detail.  When the car died yesterday, I told my sister I was so glad I tested the GPS unit before Sunday, and that I was thankful Mom taught us to be anal.  My sis texted back, “Yes, it does come in handy.”

audiobooks-200x200“INCO…”

My friend, Ellen, at the library gave me an extension on the dozen audiobooks I borrowed.  Between those, my iPod, and a few additional CDs, I ought to stay entertained.  Since I’ll be driving seven to nine hours a day, I won’t have much time to stop at wayside junk shops, but if one happens to jump in front of me…

Back to Normal 10:10:15

 “Network…”

Sue, The Cat Whisperer, will be tending my ground crew while I’m away.  The steely-eyed missile men took to her immediately, and seem to know that she’ll be The Keeper of the Treats.  I’m so lucky to have reconnected with this friend from high school who loves felines as much as I do (and is used to a swampy litter box).

Kuralt-typing-in-his-van“CAPCOM…”

My friend, Cat, loaned me a laptop so that I can pretend to be Charles Kuralt.  My plan is to settle into a comfy B&B each night, cook up a bowl of Ramen noodles, and write a blog post of the day’s excitement On The Road.  I feel very journalistic and savvy since it’s a Microsoft laptop instead of a Mac.

My Butt Itches“Payload…

“I figured the other day that I’d made 87 cards in 81 days.  Since a therapist once told me to eliminate productive from my vocabulary, I’ll just say I’m pleased and amazed at that number.  Some of those cards were special orders or sold on my Etsy shop, but most are going with me.  The vendor show at ArtFest only lasts an hour (Hmmm.  We’ll see about that…), but I’m excited to show my wares and present a funky table display.

“FAO…”

A lot of people helped make this Bucket List Trip a reality.  From Cheryl and Tom loaning me a second suitcase and card displays to my deceased mom leaving me her Honda, I have relied on the kindness and generosity of my clan.  Thank you, everyone.  I am forever grateful.

So let’s go through that checklist one last time.

Changing the Story

Flinch

When my nurse practitioner told me on Monday that she was treating me for pneumonia, I felt an inordinate amount of satisfaction.  Smug, even.  And at the same time, I was angry and resentful that my friends and family weren’t rallying around me.  When I stopped to look at all that head-ichor, it felt contradictory and very, very old.

We’ve been exploring ancestry in our UU study groups—how ancestors may differ from relatives, how we receive transmissions and transfer them on to the next generation, how we are given gifts and responsibilities.  With that in the back of my mind, I began to see my reactions to illness and support as a transmission.  They are as much traditions in my family as oyster stew on Christmas Eve.

wicked witchThe only time we could count on our mom giving us positive attention was when we were sick.  She touched us with care.  She looked at us.  It was acceptable to wake her up in the middle of the night to say, “Mom, I don’t feel good.”  It was not acceptable to be scared of the Wicked Witch on The Wizard of Oz.  I learned that at the age of three, sitting on Mom’s lap.  “If you’re going to be that way,” I remember her saying, “I’m turning off the TV.”  I got it: Emotions=Bad.  Illness=Good.

It was also a long-standing tradition to value illness that could be named, especially by a doctor, or was freakishly out of the ordinary.  So, my brother scored lots of points for the fast growth spurt he experienced as a teen when he woke up one morning unable to move.  The story of my dad carrying him in a fetal position to the car is legend in my family.  Same with the story of my brother accidentally dropping a pitchfork on my sister’s face and how the tine curved around her eye instead of puncturing it.  These are the fairy tales I heard as a child.

merthiolateGetting a cold wasn’t legendary, but having warts that disappeared before the doctor could inspect them smacked of magic and mystery—and worthiness.  I knew when I fell off my bike I’d better have gravel for Mom to pull out with tweezers or I wasn’t worthy of her time.  I learned how to wash a wound, dab on merthiolate and blow the sting away, wrangle a Band-aid without it sticking to itself.  I learned not to bother Mom with minor injuries.

But worthiness carried over into other areas of our life.  Recently, I talked to my brother about this.  It was no secret that he won the Most Worthy Award in our mom’s estimation.  He wrote to our parents every week from the time he left for college until Mom died last year.  He came home for Christmas every year, a nine hour drive from Bemidji, often through bad weather.  He kept the same job with the state of Minnesota his entire work-life and still works part-time, though he is officially retired.  He’s a little eccentric, which somehow made him more dear rather than worrisome.

I asked him why he did it.  Why did he write faithfully every week for all those years?

“Mom told me to,” he said.

testMy brother passed a test I failed long ago—obedience and demonstration of affection.  It was our responsibility to prove to our mom that we loved her, to do what we were told.  After my dad died, I think my sister understood unconsciously that a new test was in the wind.  She called our mom every day.  She helped her buy a new car and new furniture.  Of course she wanted to support Mom in her grief and confusion, but there was a frantic quality to it, a blurring of boundaries that sapped my sister’s emotional energy.  Eventually, my sister backed away enough to rebuild her boundaries.  And, of course, Mom felt abandoned.  And angry.

As I consider my family’s emotional legacy, I see all of it playing out in me.  I made light of my chest cold as just another annual event and went about being stoic and “taking care of it myself,” because it was nothing special.  At the same time, I silently tested my friends and family to see if they “cared enough” to call or offer help.  When they didn’t, I got angry and marked them as unworthy.

My care-giver, Leanne, visited yesterday, and she slapped me awake like a Zen master.  “How can they offer help if they don’t know you’re sick?”

Holy crap.  I’d turned into my mom, expecting people to read my mind and anticipate my needs.  I had carried forward a story that may have started generations ago.  What happened in my mom’s young life to make her so insecure about being seen and loved?  What happened to her mother to demand a boundary-less relationship with her youngest daughter?  I felt compassion and sorrow, imagining my mother and my grandmother trying to scratch affection out of a barren landscape.  Or, more accurately, what they perceived as barren through the lens of this family fairy tale.

Oz

So, I did a scary and fairy tale-contradictory thing yesterday.  I announced on FaceBook that I had pneumonia and would appreciate kind words and help.  The outpouring of love and people rushing to come to my aid knocked me senseless.

I’m well aware that being able to say pneumonia still carries a lot more brownie points in my mind than the less worthy chest cold.  Editing this old story will take time and patience.  But my hope is that the legacy stops here.  Part of my work as a point on the continuum of time and ancestry will be to pass on a different story of who we might be.  In that fairy tale, everyone is worthy.

Scaredy Cat Postscript

Back to Normal 10:10:15

Houston, all systems nominal.  Green lights across the board.

Roger that, “Purry 1.” Glad to have you back onboard.

(Okay. I saw “The Martian” today.  These are my steely-eyed missile men.)

Cats. Go Figure.

bookCats are a puzzlement. I’ve lived with them my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are of searching the barn for the litters of spring kittens hidden like furry contraband by their mams. And after all these years, I still can’t predict or even hazard a guess about how they might behave.

I’ve read books, talked with vets, consulted other dedicated cat keepers. We’re all mystified. We might get to understand one cat a tiny bit—enough to keep from constantly pissing them off—but the next feline, like the next human, will be completely different.

sudokuThis is actually one of the joys of sharing space with cats. Learning their quirks, recognizing their different personalities, even devising unique methods to discourage unwanted behavior pose a fun challenge akin to Sudoku. The purrs, and blinky-kisses, and intellectual conversation are more than worth it.

I enjoy dogs, too. There’s nothing like a dog’s flat-out joy or unconditional loyalty. But where dogs are Captain Obvious, cats are Greta Garbo. Subtle, slit-eyed, cats rarely show all their cards and generally “Vant to be Alone.”  Or at least companionable on their own terms. Breach feline etiquette at great risk—a disapproving cat will make you pay.

knottsSo, I’ve tried not to make too much of Emmett’s nearly-constant state of anxiety this summer.  I know he’s the Don Knotts of kitties—bug-eyed and jittery with nerves, ready to bolt at the slightest hint of… well… anything.  But, it seems like he forgot who I was, where he was.  Nothing registers in his little brain except some awful soundtrack from one of the Friday the 13th movies.

I spent the last three days in Minneapolis playing with friends.  Driving home last night, I wondered how Emmett navigated my absence.  Did it stress him out even more, or was it a relief?

When I got home, he was tucked under the comforter of my bed—a good sign, a normal sign.  And then he hissed at me when I peeked at him.  A very good sign.  I’ll take hissing over paralyzed submission any day.

SharingAnd then this morning, after Henry stole my chair and I had to drag over the footstool to catch up on email, this happened 

Emmett got up behind me and fell asleep against my backside.  And he let me take a picture.

He looks a little mangy, but I’ll get the comb out tomorrow.  One miracle a day is all I can handle.

Cats. Go Figure.

Rounding the Bend

Nice CatI’ve been quite worried about my scaredy cat, Emmett.  It seemed like he just went off the rails completely this summer after being terrified by big, loud men tearing up our apartment, then developing a bladder infection from all that stress.  For the past two months, he’s chosen to live in his gulag—a cat-carrier in the relative dark and quiet of the bathroom with food, water, and litter box nearby.

He seemed tolerant of my visits, purring his BMW purr whenever I reached in to scritch his itchiest spots.  Henry and I coming in and out to attend our own hygiene needs also seemed acceptable.  But, he cringed to the back of his cell when I swept the floor, and literally curled up in a ball when I pulled him out in order to clean the gulag.  I tried not to bother him any more than necessary, but for the last couple of weeks, I combed and pet him during the cell toss.  He needed grooming.  And I needed to touch him.

Em Tempt1
I also tried to bribe him—get him purring then set a treat out on the floor.  He had to actually come out of the carrier to get it, or I’d pick it up and leave.  Being Emmett, he was completely inconsistent.  Some days he would come out three times to get three treats.  Some days he just stared into the corner of his cell, hoping the screw would just leave him alone.Em Tempt2

He also made little forays into the kitchen—slinking low to the floor for a few seconds before dashing back to safety.  If I looked at him, or talked to him—BAM—he was gone. And then, sometimes he’d come right over and arch up to be petted.  All my wiles were hit and miss.

Em Out1I used cat nip a couple of times to see if that would tempt him.  He did stay long enough to roll around in it one evening, so that felt like a small victory.  But, then, he refused to come out at all the next two days.   Contrary, thy name is Emmett.Em Out4

Yesterday, we went through our weekly routine.  I gently pulled him out for grooming and a pep-talk, dumped the stray litter out of his carrier, filled food and water bowls, tidied the boxes, swept the floor.  He popped his head out of the bathroom door a few minutes later, then zipped back inside.  I went to the grocery store.  When I got back, I told Em I was coming in to put things away.

The gulag was empty.

“Henry,” I whispered, “where’s your brother?”

Em 9:13Henry zoomed to the bedroom and jumped on the bed.  There was a familiar lump under the covers.  Henry yodeled non-stop.  The whole house was excited.

“Em.”  I patted him gently through the comforter.  “You came out.”

He didn’t stay when I went to bed last night.  When I pulled back the covers (slowly, and talking the whole time), he grumbled, then bolted.  But, when I came home from the coffee shop this morning, the bed was lumpy again.

This is good.  This is very good.

Everyone heals in their own time—even cats.

Kitty in the Coal Mine

Em in a BoxAs blasé as cats seem, they are actually quite sensitive creatures.  Stress makes them sick, especially if they are inside cats and can’t de-stress with normal feline activity like snapping a squirrel’s neck or dashing up a tree to escape the neighbor’s dog.  The urinary tract is especially susceptible.  My Henry develops crystals in his bladder without a special diet.  And now Emmett has a urinary tract infection.

Emmett has always been a Scardy Cat.  Plastic bags send him running.  As does a flushing toilet.  And don’t get me started on the vacuum cleaner.  He hates being picked up or handled in any way.  When we moved to the apartment, it took him almost two years to jump up on the bed with us at night and burrow under the covers.  He actually loves being petted and groomed, but on his terms.  That’s usually when I’m on the toilet or sitting quietly in my big chair.  I am the elephant in the room, and Emmett feels much safer if I’m not stomping around.

I knew all the hubbub this summer would be stressful for both of them—the bathroom remodel, the bed-bug inspection, and then my five days away in Minneapolis.  I tried to soften the effects—keeping them shut up with me in the bedroom while the contractors worked on the bathroom, providing lots of hidey-holes, having a friend they knew come visit while I was away.   Emmett went into deep hiding, which is fairly normal for him.  But then he urinated under my chair in the living room.  Houston, we have a problem.

So off to the vet for confirmation and a time-released antibiotic.  Not a huge concern.  But, I was hysterical.

Immediately, I was reliving a time in my life when a different kitty peed where she shouldn’t.  At that time, several traumatic events happened at once.  I wasn’t just remembering that time, I was in it, feeling all the terror and helplessness from twenty years ago.  I bolted awake from nightmares.  When the UPS man rang my doorbell, I screamed.  I knew I was over-reacting, but couldn’t talk myself out of it.  Then, I remembered working with my substitute therapist, Ben, last summer, and how I had the same kind of reactions.  He named it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It was hard for me to accept.  I’m not a war veteran or a rape survivor.  But as we slowly worked through the memories and flashbacks then, I began to see that what had happened to me was bad enough.  So I went to Megan, my regular therapist, and we worked through it again.

Bed Lump

Emmett and I are slowly coming back.  He’s spent the last two weeks in the safe cubby I made for him in the bathroom with access to food, water and the litter box.  He didn’t mind me sitting next to the nest and reaching in to pet him, but he bolted when I turned on the shower.  So, on the days when I didn’t go to the Y to shower, I tucked him under a blanket on my bed.  He complained loudly about being moved and handled, but would stay under the blanket all day.  He was too scared to come out from that safe, dark place.  To make sure he drank some water and used the box, I had to pull him out and set him back in the bathroom.

His fear broke my heart, but that reaction is also part of my old trauma.  It’s confusing, this layering of past and present.

A few minutes ago, he came out of the bathroom for the first time on his own.  I tried not to make too much of it, staying put in my chair and greeting him in a soft voice.  But when he heard me, looked up and saw me, he scurried back into the bathroom.  Emmett is my mirror and my Teacher in this particular lesson.  We both need to relearn who is safe and who is dangerous.  We both need gentleness and time to come back to ourselves.

Of Tribes and Farty Pants

Gathering at Barb's

This weekend I got to spend time with some of my Tribe.  These are folks who have travelled The Seeker’s path with me, going to workshops and intensives to learn how to be more conscious and mindful.  The four of us who get together in Des Moines for meditation are part of this larger community, called Foundation, as are people all over the country.

It was hard for me at first.  It always is when we come together.  I’m so used to being solitary, that more than two or three people can be overwhelming.  But I can say that to this group, and they hear me.  I’m safe with them.

I have history with these particular people, who knew me before electroshock.  Some of them hold parts of me I’ve forgotten.  Their memories of me are such a gift—like filling in holes with beautiful light.  Their prompts help me remember the person I was and, in many ways, still am.

Part of our tradition is to share meals together.  Food flows non-stop.  Many of us are trying special diets—vegetarian, vegan, Paleo, gluten-free, diets for blood type or a particular illness—so we’re not easy to please.  But we always have glorious, delicious meals.  It always works.

When we get together, we meditate and we talk.  Everyone is engaged, whether we study quantum physics, yoga or sacred dance; whether our lives are settled or are in chaos; whether we lead with our intellect or our heart.  Friction happens, which creates the best opportunities for mindfulness.  We get to watch how we react to each other and follow those reactions to the source—expectation, judgment, pattern.  Then, we discuss all that, too, if we want.

Often, our work together allows personal issues to surface—fears, anxieties, grief.  In the safety of the group, we can be vulnerable.  We can feel what we feel and be held by the group with compassion and genuine love.

And genuine laughter.  I never laugh so hard or as long as when I’m with these folks. Especially when Sandra whips out the Fart App on her phone.

Sandra's Fart Ap

Sandra and her Farty Pants app (I’m the one keeling over).

We gain so much from each other—not just the book lists we tend to generate, or the theories we throw around, or the practices we share.  We connect and are enriched by the connection.  We know each other on a deep level even if we don’t know each other well personally.  We really are We.

I drove back and forth from my home in Marshalltown to Des Moines each day, which takes about an hour.  While all my friends in Des Moines offered to keep me overnight, I wanted to drive.  I knew I’d need time alone to rest after being with a big group, and I wanted to be as functional as possible.  Driving home from Barb’s for the last time on Sunday, I felt in my bones that while I may be an introvert and solitary, I’m never alone.

Tumble Damp

Chevron

I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.  — Alice

After a very long spell of hypomania—a delicious month of productivity, creativity and blissful good-humor—I seem to have fallen into an industrial-sized clothes dryer set on tumble.  Rapid cycling wakes me up with hyper-vigilance and terror, then flops into stultifying depression, with a finishing spin of insomnia and obsession.  Tumble, tumble.

In times like these, it’s best not to take anything seriously—not the spiky little thoughts in my head, or any plan I had for the day, or misconstrued texts, or the dog barking across the street.  Better to put on comfy clothes and make popcorn.  Better to turn on all the twinkle lights in the apartment and light incense.  Better to read something like The Hunger Games that won’t tax my dendrites in the least.

And when the silly megrims come calling, better to smile at their oddness and offer raison toast.

Everything is funny, if you can laugh at it.  —  Lewis Carroll

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