Stretching… A Little

Some of us are natural go-getters, some of us would rather binge-watch BBC detective series.  Most of us roam around on that spectrum, depending on the weather and available bags of Cheetos.

My sister and I decided to push against entropy by planning a few day trips before the heat and humidity drove us back to Netflix.  Last Friday, we toodled off to Robbers Cave.  We spent a pleasant hour driving through bright sunshine, moving deeper into pine forest, eyeballing new country, and nattering in our Wyatt Sister shorthand.

My sissy loves caves, rocks, stones, waterfalls, so we hoped to find some of these (a cave seemed a sure bet).  What we didn’t expect was the climb.

Our part of Oklahoma sits at the edge of the Ozark and San Bois mountains.  I’d call the terrain “foothills.”  But that was before I stepped up and really said, “Hello.”

The brochure for the park calls it “a favorite of rappellers and hikers.”  I guess we both thought that meant the Gift Shop and guided tours would be in a separate area.  However, when we found the parking lot for the cave and looked up at a trail that petered out into solid rock, we hitched up our britches and prepared to meet Nature face to face.

Between my sister’s vertigo and my bulk, we laughed our way over boulders in a drunken, grabbing-at-any-hand-hold pace.  After about an hour of that, hikers coming down told us the infamous Robbers Cave was actually on the other side of this mini-mountain and “wasn’t much to look at.”

That’s all we needed.

Proud of our foray into fresh air and green stuff, we hobbled back to the car and found Maw and Pa’s Country Cafe where our cheeseburgers felt well-earned.


And in spite of all our huffing and puffing, our elderly bodies didn’t complain much the next day, which I attribute to our weekly yoga class.  And the fact that neither of us fell down.

Next Month: Fayetteville, Arkansas where we hope to find more antiques and fewer boulders.

Westward Ho! Day 15

Kansas City, KS (7:30 AM) to Marshalltown, IA (11:45 AM). 252 miles.
Notables: Total Miles Traveled: 5031.

A short day on the road.  Honestly, I should have planned more of those, but oh well.   Live and Learn.

adultorientalcockroachIt was a frantic start as prehistoric-sized cockroaches scuttled out of the way when I turned on the bathroom light. Okay, I thought, no shower today.

I saw another one—doberman-sized—in the “living room.”  And when I shook out my robe, his bigger brother fell out.

Now, I’m not an insect weenie, generally.  I either squish bugs or catch and release to the outside.  But, this was sort of the Last Straw on my Exhausted Camel’s back.  I packed up in record time (checking to make sure I had no hitchhikers) and got the hell out of Dodge.  Or Kansas City, as it were.

Once I was on the road, I texted my host, said it was too bad we didn’t actually meet (he’d brought someone home with him last night.  You know bachelors.  I didn’t think it was cool to stick my head up from the basement to say hi), and why I bugged out so fast.

In all fairness, he apologized sweetly and gave me a partial refund (Okay, I did sleep in the bed, but really?).

Me&CorvusIn no time, I found myself back in familiar territory.  I stopped at my gas station, took a small token of thanks to The Cat Whisperer, put my valiant Corvus through the car wash, and went home to my boys.

And, of course, there’s a notice on my door that Radar, the bedbug sniffing hound, will be here tomorrow.  Sigh.  There’s no rest for the bug-conscious.

Home HenryBack to Real Life tonight—Chinese take-out, a movie, and purring cats.

It’s good to be home.

Westward Ho! Day 13

Durango, CO (10:00 AM) to Lamar, CO (4:45PM). 351 miles.Spike
Notables:  Van Morrison’s Keep it Simple (thank you, Robert)
Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novel Small Favor (read by James Marsters, for all you Buffy fans)

CoffeeMeeting my bloggy friend, Robert, was like coming home.  None of the emotional crap I wrestled last night took that away.  He was the thoughtful, mindful, funny, articulate man I knew from his blog and mine.  His voice sounded exactly as I imagined, his clear gaze looked and saw.

We sat at Durango Coffee Company for about an hour, shedding the distance of friends who only know each other through letters. We asked big questions and dove deep for the answers.  And we laughed.

Robert wanted me to have some Van Morrison for the rest of my trip (I love how music-people know when you need a piece of music).  We strolled down to the music store, still talking, but we were too early.  And I needed to be on my way.  So, we took a detour to his truck where he pulled out Keep it Simple from his CD player and handed it over.

IMG_0552I was so enthralled, I forgot to have a barista take our picture.  Crap.  Next time.  Because there will be a next time.

The rest of the day took me through the Colorado Rockies, through lots of little burgs, and into a scape that looked almost like home.  Rock still juts out of Eastern Colorado’s skin, but the grass and trees are turning Prairie.  Soon all that tectonic majesty will be behind me and the sea of fields will take over.

IMG_0562Tonight, I get to cook my Ramen noodles in a sweet, shabby-chic B&B.  Lace curtains, antique furniture, quilt on the bed, and a retro bathroom all just for me.  There’s a house cat on the porch.  What Traveling Girl could ask for more?

Westward Ho! Day 12

Golden Valley, AZ (9:00 AM Pacific) to Durango, CO (6:30 PM Mountain).  469 miles.
Notables: (for singing loud) Wailin’ Jennys Live

IMG_0264 (1)So much for good intentions.

Melanie, my host in Golden Valley, lassoed me as I was loading the car, and we ended up gabbing for an hour in a sort of open-air living room;  old couch, recliner, and side table under a trellis in the front yard.  Magnificent view and another magical connection.

I cut loose before she could give me a tour of the property, though.  Like Mr. Frost, I had promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep.  Miles to go before I sleep.

So off I went across Arizona, through Hopi, Navajo and Ute land. There, buttes and mesas dominate; brick-red sedimentary formations.  Sometimes ponies pastured on top of them, which made for an unbelievably cinematic silhouette against the cloudy sky.

MV_dramatic_sky_jan_2011I spent most of the day on a two-lane highway with no rest stops and long patches of nothing between gas stations.  We women of a certain age don’t do well without regular “rest” stops.  Luckily, I grew up on a farm and knew how to duck into a cow path off the road.  Some skills never die.

I had texted my friend, Robert, and my Durango hosts about being late.  Robert said not to worry.  I never heard back from my hosts.  So, when I got to their drive, and the gate was chained and locked, I fretted.  Soon, Ginger drove down the lane toward me.  They thought I was coming the next night.  What worried me even more was that Robert said the same thing; he thought I was coming the next day and couldn’t have dinner with me tonight.

Did I get my dates mixed up?  It would have been so easy to do with all these B&Bs to keep straight.  I had a text exchange with my sister earlier in the day, and she noted that I didn’t give myself much down-time or slack in my schedule.  True.  And no place for fuck-ups.

All this really threw me.  Even though Robert and I made plans to meet for coffee tomorrow morning, even though Ginger apologized and said they’d looked at their AirBNB calendar wrong, I had to sit in my car for a while and bawl.

I know I’m tired, which makes me more reactive.  It also makes me more rigid (Go With The Flow went).  I felt choked by disappointment and embarrassed by weeping in front of strangers.  And really bipolar.

A teensy part of me watched all of it happen.  That part cooked Ramen noodles.  That part talked to Ginger and Phil about their old dog, Zeke.  That part took a deep breath and held the exhaustion tenderly.  That part of me is okay.

It’s getting bigger by the minute, that teensy part.  Pretty soon, all of me will be okay.

Again.

And still.

Westward Ho! Day 10

IMG_0503This was my day.  I could do whatever I wanted.  So, of course I woke up at 3:00.

My host, Mary, had suggested I get to Muir Woods early before the crowds (on a Tuesday morning in April?), but I took my time and lounged.  Still I got there a few minutes before the park opened, and the ranger let me in free of charge.  Score!

I don’t know if it was the super-oxygenated air, or the urpy switchback road down to the forest floor, or the incredibly ancient energy, or just kickback from my “special cookie,” but had a little difficulty navigating.  I finally took off my tri-focals, which helped tons.  Watching an uneven path through reading-strength lenses would make anyone trip over the wildlife.IMG_0490

It was cool and dark.  Shafts of morning sun sliced through the canopy, but few reached the forest floor.  A shallow stream burbled along one side of the path.  Birds layered their voices unseen high above.

IMG_0499Whenever a tree was close to the trail, I reached out for it.  Redwood bark is dry and rough–papery.  It reinforced how old they were, these sentinels with their fragile skin.

IMG_0485I stopped at the same bench on the way out and back to sit with a Guardian at my back and meditate.  The cool, scented air. The quiet footsteps of others on the boardwalk trail. The massive presence behind me.  I was there completely.  Grounded.  Alive.

I hiked for about three hours.  After sitting for a week, it felt glorious to move (even if I was a little dipsey-doodle).  I felt the muscles of my legs and back sigh.

Soon enough, more hikers and lookie-loos wandered in.  I heard German and Japanese, Swedish (maybe, Norwegian), Spanish and Russian.  I smiled as one young dad admonished his little boys to “keep your eyes open now.”  What good advice in this place.IMG_0487

I ate lunch in the café; all organic and locally grown delights, shopped in the gift shop, then made my way back to Mill Valley without John’s help.  I found a teeny, tiny Whole Foods, bought fruit and a salad, then camped out on my little deck to play with my journal and talk to the crow fussing in the trees.

A perfect day.

My Cyber Life

handmade greeting card, collage artThese days, what with my Zero Money Initiative in place, I spend most of my time at home on my computer.  And I’m finding a whole new life there.  It’s Pinterest, really, that’s sucked me into this Ether World.  I’ve found dozens of Pinners who share my interests.  And since my taste wanders all over the place, there’s a lot to keep me enthralled.

There are the nerdy fan-folk—the Tolkein aficionados, the Trekkers, the Joss Whedonites.  I’m in Nerd Heaven, wandering through all the rare photos, video clips, jokes and articles about my TV shows and movies.  There are the science puns, and inside jokes, and cross-over weirdness that combines Star trek with Firefly and Sherlock Holmes.  My geekiness runs rampant.

Battle Cry, The Hobbit, Thorin OakenshieldThen there are the serious armies of movie star fans.  Any male actor, living or dead, generates a plethora of appreciation (Female stars get plenty of attention, too, just not so many shirtless photos or comments about fainting).  Here, I have found my obsessive/compulsive, delusional tribe—women all over the globe tipping the scale from fan to stalker.  I breathe a little easier knowing I’m far from the craziest end of the spectrum here.  I’m actually rather refined and discriminating in my male appreciation.  Tasteful, even.  Ahem.

sheep, IrelandI can explore my love of Ireland and dream about going there by connecting with Pinners who are either from Ireland or who have shared their vacation photos.  I can listen to the music, meet infamous sons and daughters of the Eire, and learn the country’s history.  All the beautiful sites, the people, the festivals—they let me taste of the Emerald Isle while I scheme about how to get there.

endangered species, animalsThen, there are all the boards devoted to nature—weird and gorgeous wild animals; amazing forests, rock formations, fauna and flora.  There are Pinners gathering information on preservation, animal abuse, conservation, and every aspect of green living.  I’m constantly amazed, shocked, inspired and delighted by all these lovers of the world.  I can indulge in my love of elephants and skunks.  And there’s no end to the folks who love cats—great and small.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, TV, Joss WhedonMy cyber and material worlds are starting to mix, now.  I’m spending more time at the library searching for things I saw on Pinterest—books on visiting Ireland and England, movies like “War Horse” that I thought I’d never watch (but found out Tom Hiddleston/Loki  and  Benedict Cumberbatch/Sherlock Holmes are in it).  I picked up the first season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to watch some early Joss Whedon, and checked out a great mystery novel by Tana French on a Pinner’s recommendation.

I’ve heard Pinterest described as a horder’s dream come true.  A person can collect all their favorite stuff without taking up any space (or creating those scary towers of books, papers and clutter every proper psycho-killer’s home requires).  But, for me it’s gone beyond that.  Yes, I like to create my boards with a certain amount of flair and artistry, but I look forward to learning something new, digging deeper into a topic, sharing a funny video that I hope will make others cry and lose urine like I did.  It’s a new way of interacting, a new kind of community-making.

And it makes me happy.  That’s something to stick a pin in and hang on the wall.

Failure, Seeds & Tidal Waves

collage art, hand-made greeting cardsI woke up this morning contemplating failure.

I knew last week would be rough.  When the Y closes for cleaning each summer, my whole schedule gets disrupted, but I planned around it the best I could.  However, I couldn’t foresee the bolus of anger that ignited my stress like tinder.  I didn’t anticipate the sudden plunge into a mixed state or the overwhelming return of my compulsions.  And I certainly wasn’t prepared to gain back six pounds.  This morning Failure glared like a jittery neon sign in my head.

But, if living with bipolar disorder has taught me anything, it’s that life is rarely that simple or black and white.  I needed to look at my week again, and again, and again, if necessary, to see the whole picture.

In my reading about anger this week, Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about the seeds of anger that are in all of us.  Some have more seeds than others, or their seeds are strongly rooted.  I see that anger and resentment are deeply rooted in me. I keep old hurts precious.  I rail against Life and The Illness.  At times, I practice mindfulness and breathe into these seeds until they become transparent.  But, they remain.  Bipolar disorder, in me, shares a deep affinity with anger.  So, when my illness manifests, my seeds of anger sprout and grow strong.  It is part of the illness, and part of my practice.  Neither success nor failure, but an ebb and flow.

After my attempted suicide, my teacher said to me, “The illness got away from you.”  It does that sometimes, even after careful practice and planning.  I think of myself on a beach with my little buckets and sand shovels, diligently digging trenches and building sand castles.  Sooner or later, a big wave crashes in.  It blasts the castles and erases the trenches I’ve worked so hard to make.

Storms are part of the deal when you live on the edge of the sea.  It’s important to clean up the damage, but just as important to take inventory of what survived.  While my rage was huge and consuming this week, I didn’t aim it at anyone.  And I may have eaten non-stop to deaden the pain, but I still ate nearly-vegan.  I still have my buckets and shovels.

Tidal WaveThis life is so tenuous.  I make plans and set goals to try to keep the sand from constantly shifting under my feet.  Plans and goals are sticks I jab in the sand to find solid ground.  When the storm comes and washes the sticks away, I wail over my lost place-holders.  I forget that this is a Game, and harder yet, I forget how to play it.

The game is to Find the Sticks—those unique and beautiful tools we create to manage the illness—then Plant them.  We notice everything—the resistance of the wet sand, the strength in our arms, the sun on our necks, the pleasant rhythm of the Work.  We stand back to see the pattern and progression of our creation.  And when the Storm hits, we run for shelter, come back when the waters recede, and start again.

There is no failure in this game.  No winners or losers.  There is just the slow, steady Work and the inevitability of the Sea.

Friendship Forward

I left a lot of good friends behind in the Twin Cities when I moved to Iowa.  I only stayed in contact with a rare few, mostly because it was too painful.  They belonged to a life abandoned and forever lost to me—I thought.  A big part of my healing as been reconnecting with these cherished treasures.

This trip I went to see two women who set up residence in my heart years ago.  I met Jinjer and Carol at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community.  We were all seekers, trying to find a meaningful way to the Divine.  Bright, soulful, creative, talented and committed to the Earth, these two women became part of my everyday life.

With Jinjer I learned to be a better writer, how to craft rituals that would honor the Divine in nature, and how to take myself and others to that still place of communion with the Universal Source.  With Carol I learned how to use sound and music to reach a new level of joy and spiritual experience, and a way of moving and being in the world with compassion and grace.  Together we laughed and cried, played, shared every holiday, and every important event.

For years, I spent time in their home every week, so to walk back through their front door after more than five years made me light-headed with the sense of homecoming.  The spicy, fresh-baked-bread smell; the familiar paintings and books; even their beautifully remodeled kitchen and bath felt right and familiar.  It was as if I’d never been away.

Our friendship seemed like an independent entity—a swift, tumbling river that swept below us and carried us on its waves.  I knew them, and they knew me, and we settled into that knowing immediately.  Our conversation tasted the same as always—complex, dark-chocolate-rich, and so satisfying.

And, as usual, spending time with these two beautiful women left me clearer, lighter and more grateful for my life.  Insights and healing always happened when we were together, and happen still.  We are good juju together.

With this trip, I reclaimed Jinjer and Carol as my friends.  Present tense.  I won’t let go of them so easily again.

Triage

I’m going to say I’m back from the bipolar battlefield even if I’m not sure.  I seem to be back enough to do triage, sorting the casualties into who needs immediate attention, who can wait, and who is too far gone to warrant any attention at all.

What needs immediate attention is my home.  During an episode, I tend to “let things go.”  So, the bathroom needs a scrub, as does the kitchen.  Laundry, vacuuming and a general picking up and putting away.  I have a duffel bag full of pictures and photo albums to put away from creating the slide show for Dad’s funeral.  A general dusting might be a good idea, too.

Concurrently, I need to get my routine back.  It’s not too far off—I’ve been getting to the Y every day, doing a little writing and art—but off enough.  Watching TV during an episode is positive distraction, but watching too much and continuing on after the episode fades like this sets me up for mindlessness and compulsive eating.

Once I get my apartment and routine in order, I need to stock up.  The cupboards are pretty bare, which makes me reach for take-out, which I can’t afford.  I’m out of any kind of analgesic (Advil, Tylenol, et al.) and Kleenex (little things, but vital when you’ve got fibromyalgia and allergies).

Finally, I need to move ahead with projects and plans that I set for myself.  Check out another juvenile book from the library.  Call my cousin, Ray, to set up a time to meditate together.  Call my friend, Joyce, who I haven’t even told about my dad yet.  Go out to the Animal Rescue League and talk to them about volunteering. Get outside while the weather holds.  Dust off my sketchbook and draw.

I’m relieved to see no dead bodies in this triage run, no parts of my life that I’ve ruined or blown up, no relationships destroyed or bridges burned.  That, in itself, is a miracle, considering my past.  It makes me think I can actually evolve with this illness, learn from it, and make a few lasting changes.  One thing about bipolar disorder is that there’s always another opportunity to practice these new ways of thinking and behaving, always the next crazy-bomb set to explode.  Hopefully, the casualties will continue to stand up and walk away.

The Dance

Still plugging away here in Bipolarville.  I’m fine as long as I don’t have to talk to anybody or think.  This is why routine is so important.  I don’t have to think about going to the Y, I just go.  I don’t have to think about working on my novel or making cards, I just do it.  Because I’ve carved out those little grooves in my gray matter, and the marbles just follow gravity.

Interacting with people is another thing.  Friday I had dinner at a friend’s house.  It was just the two of us and his sweet little dog, so I knew I’d be okay on the social anxiety front.  I also knew I could be myself.  Even though Jeff had never experienced the full beauty of my bipolarness, I knew he’d be accepting of whatever showed up.

We had a lovely evening, but it was still work.  Simple things that come naturally between episodes required thought, effort, execution.  Things like manners and following a conversation.  When something struck me funny, I felt my laughter launching into that maniacal, uncontrollable realm.

At one point, Jeff mentioned he could tell I wasn’t my usual self.  His term for it was that I wasn’t as “smiley.”  And that surprised me, because I thought I was ever-so jolly.  It just reminded me that how I perceive myself from the inside, no matter how much effort I put into it, is very different from what leaks into the outside world.

I did a lot on Friday.  My friend, Nancy, gave me a much-needed massage.  I went to a movie.  I looked through my favorite art magazines at Barnes & Noble.  I found a state park tucked away in the suburbs of Des Moines and journaled at a picnic table in the westering sun.  And I had dinner with Jeff.  So, I wasn’t surprised at my exhaustion the next day.  I could feel how brittle my tolerance had become, as if my sanity had been rubbed thin by so much exposure to the world.

It’s a weird dance, staying upright during an episode.  I think I’m executing a graceful turn, when really I’m tripping over my own feet.  I’m only guessing at the steps.  But there is a deep knowing under it all.  If I can get still, I can feel the rhythm and recognize the music.  If I can breathe into that knowing, my feet will find their way.

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