Mirrors

There’s nothing like being brainsick over a holiday weekend to remind me of my demographic status.  I’ve struggled for several days with vicious, distorted thoughts, but holidays add more stress with regular support services closed, carefully constructed routines disrupted, and human support unavailable as they enjoy time with family and friends.  Long weekends are difficult, and I’m not the only one who feels it.

So far this weekend, emergency vehicles have visited my ten-unit complex five times.  That means half of the residents have been in such a state of crisis that their only option seemed to be 911.  And the day’s only half over.

To try to calm my own agitation, I went to our common room this morning to do laundry, sit in the quiet, and maybe journal. I found one of the window latches broken.  In the bathroom, the toilet seat was broken in half with feces on the floor.  I cleaned that last bit as best as I could, weeping at the level of distress that person must have felt.  Afterward, I emailed the apartment manager with the details, knowing she wouldn’t read it until tomorrow because it’s a holiday.

I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to be “high functioning,” to have friends I can text most anytime, to have a sister who would come to my aid if I needed it.  I don’t interact much with my neighbors, because some of them can’t follow a conversation.  Others are quite shy and introverted or belligerent and aggressive.  I keep to myself.

But I understand all of it.  I am all of it—at times introverted or belligerent, unable to translate my thoughts into words, unable to concentrate on what someone might be saying to me.  I understand being in crisis and feeling like there are no options.

I live in an apartment complex of mirrors.  It makes me more human to look into them from time to time.

The Justice League—Bipolar Style

Merely AgogI’ve been in trouble for a while now, mental health-wise.  The amnesia that comes with severe symptoms keeps me from remembering that this is normal.  My brain yammers that I’m getting worse, that my social skills are devolving, that all my tools are useless, and that, maybe, by brain is starting to liquify.  But, the reality is I’ve been here before.

One of the many vital roles my therapist assumes is that of Archivist.  She starts a sentence by saying, “When you’ve been like this before…” and suddenly I can breathe again.  I spend so much energy and attention on navigating the whip-quick changes of the rapid cycling aspect of my illness, it’s very hard to pull focus and take in the larger picture.  Shifts happen in the slow time of seasons.  My Richter Scale rarely registers a catastrophic event, but like earthquakes, the tension builds over time to an inevitable break.

Recovering this broader perspective helps.  I’ve survived 8.9 quakes before, so how do I do that again?  Before, I would check into Mercy Hospital’s Out-Patient program (day-care for the neuro-diverse), but like so many other mental health care programs and hospitals in Iowa, it no longer exists.  The programs that are left focus on folks who need functional help.  I don’t need help doing my laundry (usually).

My Integrated Health Caseworker said something like this yesterday, “You’re so high-functioning, you fall through the cracks.”

It’s a Catch-22, being a Bipolar Bad-Ass.

img_0977Friday, I went early to my therapy appointment.  I brought my wheely cart of art supplies and camped out at their little corner table in the waiting room.  They thought that was a brilliant idea, and invited me back whenever I felt the need.  So, I went again yesterday and stayed all day.

There’s no therapy, no expectation of interaction beyond a quick hello, but it’s a safe place that’s quiet and welcoming.  Sorta like going to a coffee shop, except the baristas love and understand me.  I call it “Out-Out-Patient Care.”

My therapist and I are also exploring alternatives.  What about a Mindfulness class that would provide structure and an emphasis on Doing The Work?  What about some sort of spiritplantjourneys.org retreat?  These things cost money, so we pulled in my caseworker to help hunt for grants.

I am grateful everyday that I function as well as I do.  AND it’s hard work to find services that fit me.  AND it’s hard to think outside the box when thinking is most difficult. But, I have an actual team helping me now—my own little Mental Health Justice League.  I’m not feeling much like Wonder Woman at the moment, but with a little help, I might be able to find that lasso.

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30 Days of Sandy Sue Altered: 16

Living Life

Inner GPS

Sing at Unnatural Hours

Remember How Beautiful

Purging

Haven

In the continuing effort to make my apartment a spiritual and creative Haven, I’m concentrating on my bedroom this summer.  I fixed up and painted an old dresser when I first moved in.  Now that I have my Dad’s nice chest of drawers, that pretty piece of crap got carted to Goodwill.  I also pruned a ton of esoteric reading from my Past Life, so another falling-apart bookcase will soon go as well.  And the old magazine rack/end tables I used as night stands are also on their way out.

Journals Purged

Five Years of Journals

I tossed my spiral notebook journals yesterday.  I had thought I would use some of the pages as art background, but I realized there was too much pain, misery and confusion captured there.  Why would I use something so disheartening in an activity that brings me such joy?

Journaling is a process for me, a way to See the lies my brain tells me and to release the emotional steam in my physical pressure cooker.  I don’t need to keep the details of my day—I won’t remember them.  Electroshock created a tidy black hole where my memory used to be.  Eventually, everything slides over the Event Horizon.  I was given the gift of living in the moment.

So when I read about my past, I can’t connect to the words.  At best, a fuzzy snippet, a dream-like shadow, might dislodge from the Void.  It’s enough to remind me of what I’ve lost.  And, again, why would I do that to myself?

So, into the dumpster they went.

I’m pulling everything off my bedroom walls, cleaning and patching holes.  Soon, I’ll paint, then shampoo the carpet.  I found a sweet cabinet and a set of night stands at Ikea that will boost the feminine, dreamy quality I’m creating.

Crucible posterOf course, my Romance Wall will be reconfigured as will all my Pretend Boyfriends.

I knew I needed a peaceful, calming image across from the bed, and found the perfect piece when my friend, Robert, posted some of his new photographs.  A large print of Blue Astor is forthcoming.

http://pin.it/2xJbINW

I’m looking forward to making my bedroom as clean, efficient and lovely as the rest of my apartment.  In the meantime, I have all these books to get rid of.  Below is the list.  If you’re interested in any of them, leave your address in a comment (it won’t go public), and I’ll send the books you want.

Oops! Too Late!  Taken to the Library on 7/21.  But you can still see what you missed.

  1. A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems (no editor listed. Avenel Books, a division of Crown)
  2. Almaas, A.H., Diamond Heart, Book One
  3. Armstrong, Karen, A History of God
  4. Bennett, J.G., Deeper Man
  5. Broch, Janice & Veronica MacLer, Seasonal Dance: How to Celebrate the Pagan Year
  6. Cameron, Julia, The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart
  7. Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity
  8. Cooper, J.C., The Aquarian Dictionary of Festivals
  9. Dacyczyn, Amy, The Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle
  10. Dahlke, Rudiger, Mandalas of the World: A Meditating and Painting Guide
  11. Damasio, Antonio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness
  12. Dickinson, Emily, Final Harvest
  13. Estes, Clarissa Pinkola, Women Who Run With the Wolves
  14. Farrar, Janet and Stewart, A Witches Bible Complete
  15. Ferguson, Diana, The Magickal Year: A Pagan Perspective on the Natural World
  16. Ganim, Barbara, Art and Healing: Using Expressive Art to Heal your Body, Mind, and Spirit
  17. Gearhart, Sally and Susan Rennie, A Feminist Tarot
  18. George, David L., Ed., The Family Book of Best Loved Poems
  19. Knight, Gareth, The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend
  20. Kramer, Gregory, Insight Dialogue
  21. Linden, Eugene, The Parrot’s Lament: And Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence and Ingenuity
  22. Moore, Thomas, Soul Mates: Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship
  23. Murdock, Maureen, The Heroine’s Journey
  24. Pearsall, Paul, The Heart’s Code
  25. Pearson, Carol, Awakening the Heroes Within
  26. Phelps, Kimberly Lilith, McMillian, Teresa and With, Barbara Lee, Diaries of a Psychic Sorority: Talking with the Angels
  27. Rilke, Rainer Maria, Selected Poems
  28. Rinpoche, Sogyal, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
  29. Robbins, Rossell Hope, Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demons
  30. Ruiz, Don Miguel, The Mastery of Love
  31. —The Voice of Knowledge
  32. Silverstein, Shel, The Giving Tree
  33. Stewart, R.J., Celtic Myths, Celtic Legends
  34. Tart, Charles, Waking Up
  35. —Living the Mindful Life
  36. Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love
  37. —Present Moment Wonderful Moment
  38. —Peace is Every Step
  39. Vaughn, Frances, The Inward Arc

Integration

IntegrationTwo weeks since I returned from my cross-country sojourn, and I still can’t find the words.  But, that’s never stopped me.  Words come.  They tumble down the nerve bundles from brain to fingertip and hit the keyboard all by their lonesome.  My mistake is in thinking I have to go looking for them.

A small part of taking this trip was curiosity.  ArtFest, my destination of record, was a gathering of art journalers.  I’ve tried art journaling in the past, even made my own journals, but it never stuck.  I journal—a fast, Artists Way kind of brain dump that vomits everything onto the page as fast as possible—and I make collage art—a multi-step process that can take days or months.

Could I find a way to combine the two forms?  I went to Port Townsend without a need to make it happen, just a willingness to keep an open mind and play with fun toys.

The question followed me from that creative crucible, down through the Redwoods, and into a conversation with my friend, Robert.  That’s the thing about people of a Buddhist persuasion—if there’s a question lurking in the back of your psyche, they’ll winkle it out of you, one way or the other.

So, in the course of our conversation, I blurted out that my real Work was to Be Me—to be in the world as mindfully as I could, to use all my parts (nefarious, broken or skilled), to accept them all, and just show up.

I almost looked around the coffee shop to see who was talking.  Words tumbled out of my mouth, prompted by nerve bundles attached to a question tucked in my gray matter.  Words I obviously had no control over.  Words that made absolute sense.

Travel Journal CoverI was talking about integration.  And I could feel it happening, like a broken bone knitting together or a spider spinning a fragile web across space.  And as I left Durango, the sensation continued.  I talked to it, held it gently, never pushing or setting expectations.  I wanted to see what it would do, not me.

So, I continued to work in the journal we made at ArtFest, pulling everything about my trip into it, creating something new, something more.  At the same time, I dug out the journals I’d made years ago and wondered what might happen in them.  And I pulled out my SoulCollage© materials, because they were another piece of this emerging creative process.

In a few days, the severe depression that usually peaks this time of year arrived—another part of me accepted and welcomed.  Not that the despair and hopelessness are any easier to ride.  I felt them drain my energy and confidence.  I heard all the old fears and horrors settle into their usual corners.  And as I sobbed with my therapist on Thursday, I also knew the pain and darkness as a valuable part of me.  This, too, Tara Brach might say.

Robin & Albert

I’m comfortable being the brave, battling, Bipolar Bad-Ass.  Proud, even.  But it’s much harder to let others see my seriously brain-sick self.  I feel too vulnerable, too liable to hurt myself or others with my pain, too out of control.  It’s part of the illness to want to hide, to keep the truth of it on a leash, to just wait until the cycle shifts and I can present as more-normal.  Instead, I joined my spiritual study group on Thursday—exhausted, incoherent, weeping—and felt the truth of integration even then.

My showing up touched each of them in different ways.  Etta called it a gift.  Martha said, “We want you with us, no matter what state you’re in.”  Chuck, whose daughter also struggles with BP, wishes what I have for her.

This is the path, then.  To use it all—in the world and in my creative efforts.  No need to look for words or have a plan.  I’ve got everything I need.

Westward Ho! Day 6

IMG_0405I smartened up yesterday, dumped out one suitcase, and loaded it with all the art supplies I need to schlep to classes.  I’d seen other people doing this, so it’s not my brilliant idea.  Just took me a day.

Yesterday’s classes were with painters.  I’ve longed to learn how to use paint since high school (when I flunked art class).  It’s always intimidated me, so I ran through a gammet of expected emotions throughout the day.  It was a challenge to stay present, to breathe, to remember who I was and that I was okay no matter what.  Both teachers were kind, funny, helpful, nonjudgmental.  All that made a challenging day successful.

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Again, these pages are just beginnings; a way to learn techniques and start applying them.  We all wanted weeks to keep working on them.

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In Michael’s class, we started with a wash of paint, then slowly pulled images out of it with repeated layers of wash and white highlights.  This is one technique I want to try again.  It has a spooky, otherworldly quality that I dig in a big way, but couldn’t quite grok in three hours.

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Then it was time for the vendor show.  Half a table turned out to be a lot smaller than I expected, so I ditched my idea of showing my bigger collages and set up my cards as best I could.  My table-mate, Lynn, and her girlfriend, started laughing at my stuff almost immediately, so that helped me settle down and enjoy myself.

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And all I can really say is, “Holy Shit!”  People crowded around my end of the table until Teesha flicked the lights to call quits on the show.  Even then, a couple of new friends hung around, digging through my boxes and exclaiming over details like WW1-era papers and gilding paints.  Compliments bombarded me like little Nerf balls.  I loved telling the stories of cards people chose; This is my grandma… This is my mom and dad…This image came from a 1915 holistic health magazine…  This group of folks loved it.  I was in my perfect venue.

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I started out with four boxes of cards and ended up with two and a half.  I haven’t tallied the take, but let me tell you, it’s much more than I ever expected.  I was in shock when I packed up.

IMG_0403And stinky, sticky with adrenalin.

And my back ached like a son-of-a-bitch.

And What A 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.

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.

Before

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After

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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.

Planting Flags

Duck DodgersI lived in or near Minneapolis and St. Paul for 24 years.  It was home.  It’s also where my life imploded under bipolar crisis.  So while some of my closest friends are there, and the energy and sensibilities of The Twin Cities resonate in me like music, the sorrow and loss of a life destroyed seep up out of the cracks.  I’m saturated in Minnesota, and my groundwater rises.

This past year, I decided to fight the sludge.  The idea started in IPR when we took a close look at my natural support system (friends, family, associations, etc.).  It was a relief when Aly, my case worker, declared my natural supports woefully inadequate.  Instead of fighting against feeling “needy” or berating myself for not being more sociable, I could finally acknowledge that I didn’t have the kind of support that would benefit me.  I no longer belonged to a Tribe.

Aly and I brainstormed.  From those sessions, I chose a dual approach—get involved in the Unitarian church in Des Moines and spend more time in the Twin Cities with my friends.

It has been a weird year, being a visitor in what feels like my hometown.  My zeal in the beginning caused me to over-extend myself, then watch shame and guilt rise about being symptomatic when I was among the people who understood and accepted me unconditionally.  How could I forget that these were the people who watched me self-destruct and didn’t run?  My anxiety or social phobia melted off them like October snow.

Dying of NostalgiaSorrow snuck up on me at odd times—journaling in a Starbucks, intermission at the Guthrie theater, watching a jogger with his golden lab lope along the crosswalk in Minnehaha Park.  Sorrow dragged memories up from the depths—regrets, bridges burned, the parts of my life that sloughed off and lay half-decomposed along the roadsides.

When I discussed this discomfort with my therapist, she said I’d have to dredge all that up and deal with it before the sorrow could lift.  “You have to know why you’re grieving before you can move past it.”  But I already knew why I was grieving.  I’d done that work.  Ad nauseum.  I wanted the “moving past it” part.

I decided to just Watch.  That always seems to be the answer to everything, so why not this?  I saw that sorrow came when I attended events alone, so I started asking my friends to go with me.  Lily and I went to the opera a few weeks ago (free tickets provided by Jim and Duane).  The show itself was dreadful (a German comedy, which has to be the definition of oxymoron), but Lily and I had a wonderful time swearing at the traffic jam caused by hockey fans.

I saw that sorrow rose when I felt separate from my friends’ real lives–a visitor instead of a fixture.  So I planned trips around going to Duane’s presentation to high school students and their parents about AIDS and safe sex, and Jinjer’s workshop on Beginning Astrology, and in December, Carol’s choir concert.

SPilgrimage Cafeorrow seemed to hide in my old haunts, places I loved in my Old Life, so I look for new places to plant my flag now.  A few weeks ago, Jinjer and Carol introduced me to Pilgrimage Café, a neighborhood restaurant with a quirky, delicious menu.  This past weekend I went back there by myself, and felt the café embrace me like a lover.  I sat at a repurposed church pew, my journal on the slab of wooden table, sipping pumpkin ale and breathing in the smell of welcome.

Slowly, I am reclaiming my old hometown for the Nation of Now.  I chose the unfamiliar and travel streets I don’t know.  I cherish my Tribe and go deeper with them while I forge new friendships and expand out like ice crystals knitting across the lakes.  There’s no room for sorrow in all that Light.

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