100th Blogday—Reflections on a Blog’s Birth, Change, and the Optimism to Try Again

Spiralwoman.com was born sometime during the very early part of 2013. At that precise time, I was in a tunnel and the light was starting to show. I was ready to emerge. To write, live, forge ahead. Starting this blog was a huge affirmation of life and joy. I’m not altogether sure of the details of why that is so, but I know it is.

Happy 100th blogday to me.

What was going on? Let’s see. Within the prior year I had ended my marriage, taken a risk on new love, taken a leave from my job, moved 1400 miles with a cat in a truck, tried very hard, saw that love is not always enough, moved 1400 miles back again to a world where I no longer had a home or an income, relied on the kindness of friends, suffered the fucking agonies of hell with a heart, mind, and soul that felt more ripped up than one might imagine could happen to a “mature woman,” and refused to succumb.

I started this blog, 100 posts ago, sitting in the brilliantly sunlit family room of my dear friend Meredith, who basically gave me her weekend home to live in. Occasionally she showed up… a human co-habitant so full of love and grace that I felt blessed all over again by her. One of many blessings hidden in the pattern of growth, pain, and change.

By the time I showed up at her place, I had experienced the unconditional hospitality of three other friends. What I did not talk about on my blog, though I talked around it, was that my heart was, quite simply, broken. I lost love. Plain and simple. A second chance I thought I was being “given,” was no chance at all.

During that period of my life, when someone said, “This might help,” I tried it. No questions asked. There was no ego, no pride that could interfere with any process undertaken by the scaled back-to-the-bone self I was in that moment. I drank Valerian tea and came to love the bitter, nauseous smell and taste. I tried automatic writing to seek my own inner wisdom. I took epic walks in every kind of weather. I circled with women. I dove into solitude. I counted each day off the ledger of my sadness, knowing on a deep level that, eventually, there would be a day that was less hard. I wrote, for me and others, scraping together money until my leave was over and I returned to work.

Before summer came, I was on the way to being me again… mostly. People I loved experienced loss of their own, and I found I had the reserves to offer comfort and support to them. I had replenished my hollowness. One day at a time.

Part of the reinvention of myself included becoming a blogger. Part of it included being an idiot sometimes. Part of it included starting (eventually) to date again, and even having a few, short-lived but meaningful, angst-free relationships. Part of it included stepping into an entirely new job—one that scared and thrilled me and that I turned out to be really good at. I ushered in a new chapter at a workplace I loved with all my heart, turning my skills and passion to the task of making things better for everyone. A mission worthy of the reborn.

Fast forward 100 blogs… I am sitting at a coffee shop on a tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts with an all-new life barely begun.

Nantucket is my new home.

I love this kind of transformative challenge because it reminds me, once again, how tough I am. Emotional, highly sensitive, romantic, idealistic, trusting, irreverent, maternal Spiralwoman is also a survivor and a thriver.

All new everything. I can’t find my way around the twisting streets without getting lost. I can’t buy five items at the grocery store for less than $50. I can’t see the sun from my basement apartment. I can’t imagine the high season, when the cobblestone streets will be choked with cars. I can’t do a lot of things.

But I can… Crush my new, demanding, meaningful job. Host every friend I’ve ever had who is willing to come visit me. Live life with optimism and joy. Spend my weekends on the beach. Or writing. Or both. Be grateful for the lessons learned. Celebrate my 100th blogday!

Isolation is good for the soul.

 

 

 

 

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Location, Location, Location—How A Place Can Call Your Name

1982? 1983? Youthful, happy, reckless, free in C’ville with Molly and Bridget.

Here I am back in Charlottesville. Again. Or should I say: againagain. It’s been nearly a year since I spent two weeks here. There was an unplanned extra week as I waited for my car’s new transmission to be installed, attended the gun control march in the wake of the Parkland shootings, and worked remotely as I tapped in to the energy of a place I have loved for 42 years, since the first time I saw it.

Albemarle County, country road… ah Virginia…

I was 17, a senior in high school, and envisioning what my life might be. As much as I loved the town, Albemarle County (full of horses and country roads), and the University, I did not at first think I was going to go to UVA. It was quite big, and I was still thinking small. I came very close to attending Kenyon instead—an awesome college I have utmost respect for. But as I energetically pointed my sights toward Ohio, something shifted, and I veered off that course, landing in C’ville a month before my 18th birthday. Destiny is real.

Thos Jeff’s column-defined ranges along the Lawn

This town has been the source of some of my greatest learning. I received an incredible education, creating my own course of study at UVA as a privileged young scholar. The university supported me through my financial independence from my family shortly after I started my second year, and as far as the people at the school were concerned, it was NBD for me to be a non-traditional student, working full-time at the C&O Restaurant and taking two to three courses a term, fall, spring, and summer, and getting my degree two years later than originally planned.

Human connections of untold value and importance happened here. Lifelong friends, an employer whose gut reaction (he hired me after I said, “Hi, I’m here to apply for the job”) led to a learning journey like no other(and great money, FYI), and, of course, first love. And second love. And third.

My boss at the C&O when I was 18-23–I still love him madly. Sandy McAdams.  

Serpentine walls –UVA trademark and another reason to love everything about C’ville

I feel certain that my destiny will bring me back here to live again in the energy field of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the history—both tortured and significant—of this oh-so fundamental part of the nation, the learning community that is the University and the people and the town itself.

It is no freak of chance that Charlottesville attracts so many energy healers, so many writers, artists, and artisans, so many seekers. This place heals and it also (sometimes grudgingly, sometimes joyously) receives healing.

My astromap.

For kicks, I looked at how my astrological chart interacted with Charlottesville. Fascinating. One thing stood out: the place lends itself to exploring the depths of my psyche, meditation, contemplation, and self-healing. Sounds good to me.

Drawing by Georgia O’Keeffe of the University’s rotunda…

I have history here, a now here (now, this minute, sitting with my latte at a coffee shop among other coffee-seekers), and a future here. Life unfolds—or does it extend… like a sailor’s spyglass, to reach through the depths of now into the other nows that happen just out of sight?

When friends I’ve known longer than my kids have been alive hang out with me and my kids in C’ville. Serendipity.

I Don’t Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Last things often precede first things. The last night in a familiar home precedes the first night of a new life in a new place. The last oatmeal cookie precedes the first taste of a new cookie never imagined before. The last time ever I saw this place, comes just before the first time ever I grew wings and tried a new life in a new place with new people doing new things.

That’s where I am today, Christmas morning 2018. My cozy, beloved home of several years felt like “life as I know it” just weeks, maybe even days, after moving in. I’d moved out of a house I lived in for over 25 years—my marital home, no longer marital and then, no longer my home. And yet I truly believed, up until the moment I decided to move out, that nothing would ever feel “right” again. But guess what? It felt perfectly right.

Staying put was right until leaving was right. Goodbye became a big hello.

Ease and comfort, the familiar, are like a plush blanket that, with a deep breath, I push off myself. I stand up and walk to a door. This door was not there before. Curious and brave and a little scared (and shivering a bit because the blanket is gone), I fling open the unknown door.

My door…

Don’t get me wrong. I created the door. Now I have to use it. So, wearing my scarlet cape and witch’s hat, I will leap through it and suddenly the fear of goodbye becomes the gift of hello.

I’m leaving where I’ve been. I mean, really leaving! It’s a big deal for me. I’m not just moving two towns over, either. I’m moving a whole state over and taking a boat to an island. I’ll settle in on the island of Nantucket like a seed in fertile soil. I’ll grow and give and I’ll learn and thrive. I can’t wait to connect deeply to people and to the ocean, and to sink in to parts of myself that have been muffled by the familiar and safe.

I used to fling myself off the cliffs of opportunity all the time, without fear, and here I am again.

So much of what changes in our world is outside our control. The anxiety about how our leaders let us down every day, putting us in harm’s way, throwing our best outcomes away in favor of their personal gain—that is something I face head on in the middle of the night, a pillow clutched to my stomach as I coax sleep back towards me.

But there is no anxiety about my own personal changes. I choose them just as they choose me. Starting a new job, making a difference in the lives of people, forging a new and creative path for myself and my new employer—I have every confidence in those truths. I am not afraid.

What did you once fear… then embrace? What did you once imagine would never come to pass, only to welcome it as a natural next step, hardly remarked upon in the perfect flow of your timeline? Was there a day you dreaded, only to find that when it came, it lay the greatest of gifts at your feet?

My new Nantucket tree ornament.

The best thing about my move? It never occurred to me. My job? It was not something I would have imagined or considered. The feeling of lift-off reminds me of flying dreams I’ve had through my life. I’m ready to say: Hello.

 

I Can See Clearly Now (Almost)

31 years of love and loyalty

It started as a little swelling on my eyelid. A little pressure. I could ignore it, but should I? Life went on, but sometimes I would peer into the mirror, squinting to see better. What WAS that thing?

Over the course of a week, it transformed daily—hourly—into increasingly offensive versions of a vision-occluding sty. Finding meaning in almost everything is not a problem for me. And in this case the metaphorical significance of this ocular impediment was not lost on me.

I’ve been struggling to see where I’m supposed to go next.

Life changed on me, unexpectedly, as it often does, last April. It was a shock to my system, though, because the change was not on my terms, but on someone else’s. I am the epitome of privilege, because painful change (not on my terms) has happened only rarely in my life. Like when a lover left the country, and me, without warning once a long time ago. Or some major upheavals resulting from having a severely mentally ill mother. When major change (even the good kind) is imposed from without, the breath leaves the body. The eyes go wide. The feet stumble to keep up with the shifting earth beneath them.

But change, whether agonizingly chosen, instinctively leaped upon, or dropped like a bomb into one’s world, is always an opportunity for growth and personal transformation. In that way, even the most dreaded, hated avenues to this kind of growth are gifts beyond measuring.

So why the sty? What don’t I want to see? Is there a truth out there that I am unwilling to look at? Scared of? Is it just ontological skepticism keeping my vision blocked?

Truth with a capital T can be a slippery little devil. If you’re like me, you don’t often want to see it. And sometimes you do.

Slippery Truth… it’s like a little water snake poking its slick little head up to peer around before diving beneath the water again. All the people who care about me can see it, but I swim on, oblivious. Then, it gets my attention in small but shocking moments. The Truth snake—deep bone-level unhappiness, disturbing knowledge of betrayal, or a heartbreaking understanding that I am no longer valued—slithers into my bathing suit. Instant terror—which in hindsight I always realize was an overreaction—and before I know it, the Truth snake is slipping away again, soon to be a distant memory.

When will I grab the snake and look it in the eye, smiling at it, thanking it for the gift of knowledge that it brings? I eventually do. Why does it sometimes take so damned long? And this time…why must I create a giant infected pustule in my eye to show me the absurdity of my refusal to see?

My recent unexpected change –intentionally not addressed here directly due to matters of honor, practicality, and self-interest—sent me into a brief, but intense, cycle of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining—all within a day or two, then, for me, fear, harder to move past, and, more quickly than anticipated—acceptance, even relief. The clarity and surety of my need to move on was profound, and I wondered how the Truth snake had failed to convey that message, as I had found her in my bathing suit a number of times over the last decade or so. Am I really that slow a learner? Loyalty and love tend to hold me back. Let me rephrase that, I allow loyalty and love to get in my way of choosing positive change, and so change has to fall on my head like a volunteer ladder offering itself as an escape route.

I always survive. I always figure out what is best. I always, inevitably, end up stronger, when I emerge from the birth canal of transformation. But for now I cannot seem to see clearly the path ahead of me, though I know the path behind me is behind me for a reason.

I find myself a decade at least from retirement standing at the beginning of a huge unknown. Single, self-sufficient, both tough and tender, I am unsure. And I am sure. Regular employment has made me complacent. My certainty that this mechanism for transformation is ideal, necessary, and, in fact, the only alternative if I am to continue to grow and evolve the way I want to—it does not change how fucking scary it is to say goodbye.

Remember that philosophical question teachers ask their students? What would you choose, freedom or safety? The answer says so much about you, your circumstances at the moment, and your ability to see your own Truth with a capital T.

Whatever happens next, from now on I will be the only one allowed to apply value to myself. The only one to decide what is best for me. The only one who will dig in and extract marrow from my bones for causes and reasons to be determined only by me.

I am at the very edge of seeing where to put my feet. My outward vision is, for a moment more, blocked by a pestilent sty in my left eye. But it is coming to a head. Literally. My third eye finds itself clear as ever, and these two ways of seeing are in cahoots to get me to the place I need to go. An eruption of knowing is just around the corner. I seek help from within and without. I know my path is clear and glorious, and that when I finally see it, I will leap onto it with wings on my feet.

 

 

Flight and Flame: My Eostre Dream

I awoke with this dream still trailing through my consciousness. A gift for the first of April, for the magical season of springtime festivals and religious transport of all kinds.

The early part of the dream had faded, but in that first chapter there was a quest, a journey to an important destination. In my dream, it was called the Emerald City. I was the leader of a band of travelers—no, not a lion, scarecrow, or tin man, but other people connected to me in vital ways, perhaps through many lifetimes. It was a small group. We arrived.

The rest is as vivid to me still as if it really happened. After we arrived at the Emerald City, a larger, even more adventurous group of us headed out on an epic quest, or maybe it was a move to a better and even more fruitful future that beckoned. I was inspired by this band of adventurers, and they by me.

The hills we entered were lush and green and steep. The group, which included a wagon, some horses, and other animals, and probably 50 people, trailed out loosely in a line along the path into these hills. The journey was very purposeful, exciting, and joyful.

I was in the rear of the group, knowing I could catch up quickly by using my power of flight. So as I left the city, I soared high above the line of travelers and then dove down through the diamond-crisp air, swooping low to encourage them.

I discovered, as I called out, “Here we go! Onward!” that my breath was fire. Licks of flame shot out into the air in front of me and the journeying people below looked up in shock and amazement and cheered.

I could hear the flapping sound of the fire eating up oxygen, whipped by updrafts. I could feel, reflected back at me, the heat of the flames that came from within me. All in that brief fraction of a moment.

And, in that moment, I knew that something incredible, magical, monumental had happened inside me without my awareness and that from now on, nothing would ever be the same. The dream ended with me flying above, the others traveling along below, heading to an uncertain future that did not frighten us.

 

Stranded in C’ville? Checking My Privilege

I arrived in Charlottesville, VA last Monday. One week ago today, in fact. I got almost all the way here under my own steam. In other words, as usual, I drove. But the last 22 miles into town were under the steam of my old friend Annie. She had to fetch me from the automotive garage where I landed ignominiously when my car shuddered to a stop on Highway 29 and whispered, “I’m done.”

Here’s what happened and what I’ve learned.

  • I probably drove a few too many miles after I could feel how unhappy my car was about accelerating from a full stop. Has putting my finger in my ears and singing “LA LA LA LA” ever, EVER been a good strategy?
  • The reason I came down here is pretty basic: I love this place. Did my happiness at being here change because I didn’t have a car to drive around? Especially since I DID have a car to drive around, because Sarah, another awesome friend of mine, literally gave me unfettered access to her Subaru while she recovered from foot surgery and worked from home.But to be honest, I did feel unsettled all week. I mean, I had fun, saw friends, took a walk in a Virginia snowstorm, enjoyed the Festival of the Book, was warm, fed, blessed, and engaged in more great conversations per day than I can count. But I had a hard time sleeping and felt anxious.So what was it? Uncertainty? What was wrong with my car? How much would this cost? When will I have my own wheels back? And a little bit of “Waaah, no fair?” Ew.How on earth could I feel so sorry for myself when I am in one of my favorite places (maybe my favorite place ever), with some of my favorite people, doing some of my favorite things (from nerding out at panels and lectures about books to drinking Virginia wines to basking in C’ville beauty). I’m a spoiled, privileged person who needed to be slapped upside the head. 
  • In case I was not slapped hard enough, this happened: I got my car back Saturday. It took a while for the part to arrive because of the snow. (Note to self, don’t take weather personally as it is definitely not about you.) YAY! I had my car! I was so very VERY excited!

    Hugging my car when I got it back from garage… the first time

    Exclamation point-worthy happiness! I was so psyched that I even had Annie take a picture of me hugging my car before we headed back to town to join the March for Our Lives on the downtown mall. I got away with a car bill less than $500 and I was going to get to head home almost on time.Then my car died again. The poor thing could not make it even 30 miles without suffering terribly and saying, “No, no, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

    Getting towed… round 2.

    Tow truck (money). Wait till Monday (time). Wait till 2 in the afternoon on Monday. (Are you kidding me? I can’t wait anymore! I’m so spoiled and impatient I can barely believe I exist! Put me out of my toe tapping misery!) Then Cranston the mechanic said, “In my professional opinion, I’m afraid you need a … new transmission.” (More money! More time! More lessons! More slaps upside my head!)

Meanwhile, in a land called reality, as I scolded myself every day to be grateful, and was (mostly) successful, the March for Our Lives happened (check out the pix in that link). Record numbers of people at demonstrations all over the country and world. Young people taking to the streets in numbers even greater than during the Vietnam War (social media is the game changer there). I didn’t make it to DC as I’d thought I might, but I marched in C’ville with Annie and Sarah (who was on crutches no less)

March for Our Lives C’ville

and we joined our voices in song and, much more importantly, lent our ears to the students who spoke so eloquently about not wanting to die at school.

And… Writers and scholars, in town for the Festival of the Book, lifted their voices to elevate the conversation around many topics, from the racial history of the country to how to hold onto hope. Poets read their poems of anger and faith. Thoughtful, measured discourse happened. Beautiful words and beautiful ideas.

Perhaps the most moving event I attended was a conversation with Khizr Khan, famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention and for being insulted by our president.

Khizr Khan in conversation with Douglas Blackmon

His faith in the Constitution of the United States is impassioned and informed. He truly believes that voters will do their job to make radical change in the coming elections, snatching our nation from the brink and from the clutches of racist egoists with no agenda beyond their own self-interest.

In light of his sacrifice, wisdom, and undaunted optimism, I think I can deal with the inconvenience and expense of car trouble while a few hundred miles from home. I’m neither refugee nor victim. Neither disenfranchised nor unemployed. I’m privileged beyond imagining in a world gone mad. I’m grateful that I am here. Grateful I have a car that will be soon fixed. Grateful that I love people and am loved back. Grateful that I can read and write. That I feel joy. Often. That I have a pot of tea even now, sitting by my elbow, and that it comforts and soothes me.

I want to do better.

My week of “hardship” is nothing more than a non-sensical blip on the radar screen of my privilege and, though I’m not done learning, I am glad it slapped me upside the head.

My dear friends Annie and Sarah

 

 

 

 

Virtuality Check (not your typical blog)

I pinch myself. Is this my life? Or am I asleep on a beach having a vivid hallucination-induced dream. Like the convoluted geographically intricate dreams I wake in the middle of. Dreams in which I don’t know where I am, but there is a staircase or a porch. Something specific going somewhere or leading away. It is often made of unlikely objects, like wine crates, or giant pencils the size of barn beams. It seems plausible if a little unsettling, as the dream progresses. Sometimes there are moments of relief, joy, empowerment that explode unexpectedly. Other times I must take flight to escape a predator of uncertain origin, or a horrid dream-world plot twist.

The dream is invariably more real than any idea I might have about the dream. Or anything one might think of as actual, perhaps glimpsed through a curtain of eyelashes: a sun-soaked beach, the blue, distant horizon, a sandpiper at the edge of my beach towel.

But I don’t feel like I’m on a beach. Or otherwise plugged into a matrix of hallucinatory alternative reality. But still. I look around me and I can see the brush strokes in this “real life” and beyond, in the virtual world humans have created. The realm of tweets and counter-tweets, airbrushed, bumpstocked, drydocked, flimflammed reactions, counter-reactions, hyper-reactions to… that’s the part I don’t know.

Who wrote this version? Is there a theme? Is the theme the gradual dissolution of social consciousness and the relentless creation of narcissistically motivated power?

Times like this, other places I’ve been, or lived, seem more real and near than the place I find myself now. This chair, that table, this window, that bank of snow. Where did they come from? The story of their arrival is known to me, but is it known to me because it took place or because my brain trusts it as real? The brain that invented the whole story, perhaps, in a detailed mental construct, a subconscious screenplay, complete with smells and tastes.

The feeling of having my hair brushed and braided by a father dead now many years, a truth that lives even now at the very edge of my scalp’s sensory receptors, is more real to me (sometimes) than the sweat under my breasts as I grunt my way through class at the gym, the smell of my favorite coffee shop, or the talking heads analyzing why no one actually in power wants to do anything about assault rifles in the hands of killers. For example.

What I realize is that my brain, powerful organ that it is, loses its power over reality. I reach out and touch something. You, if only you were here. Or maybe the cat. Or the keyboard. Virtuality check.

My heart is what is left, in the end, to know the difference. To know that the madness “out there” is not “in here” –and never needs to be. We can stay in truth. Or try hard to. That place where the versions intersect and something immutable is imaginable. Conceivable.

A fellow blogger recently reminded me of the Wheel of Fortune—the ever-spinning, ever-rising, ever-falling wheel upon which we can be racked, or whose center we can seek. The seasons will turn with or without me, you, Twitter, Starbucks, or the grid. The sun and the moon will rise and set, and shed their influence, and their light, upon the world, regardless of where on the wheel we are, at the moment.

For the past 24 hours my power has been (mostly) off due to a snow and wind storm. The still place in the center of the maelstrom of 2018—I glimpsed it for a moment in the night when everything was completely dark. The wheel moved slowly, and I could see the spokes as they seemed to float past me in their circling path. But at the center, nothing moved. Head back, to look up at the darkness, I felt maybe, barely, the shifting of that slowly turning hub, but in that moment, I was able stay still and centered and realize, “I exist.”