Potentially triggering subject matter/subject I’ve not written about before. (WordPress having spacing issues.)
Pilgrimage, according to Websters:
1:  a journey of a pilgrim; especially :  one to a shrine or a sacred place
2:  the course of life on earth
The word or, rather, the hum of its definition must be in our DNA.  From the time we found our way out of The Garden or the primordial ooze, we human beings have felt the urge to journey.  Sometimes we go in.  Sometimes we go out.  Sometimes, in doing the latter, we also do the former.  Sometimes we make a mess of the places we’ve thought ourselves divinely led to.  Case in point, Columbus. Sometimes we find what we’re looking for … or what’s been waiting for us.
So embedded is pilgrimage into our collective consciousness, archetype and myth have sprung from humanity’s psychic stew. Odysseuss’s trek.  Dorothy’s yellow brick road.  Siddhartha Gautama’s beyond-the-palace-gate stroll.  Frost’s other road. Pi’s tiger-accompanied raft ride. Not to mention hundreds of versions neither you nor I have ever read or seen.
Closer to home, this writer is contemplating her own pilgrimage.  What with “home” now being her (my) friend’s trailer.  What with Starbucks using my resumes as coffee filters, Crate and Barrel ridding themselves of seasonal hires, and the dream job I thought I’d bagged … captured by another candidate.  In two years –between life-altering surgeries, months of nerve-damage-induced-bed rest, and wrenching divorce — oh, the bandwidth my  electronic stack of resumes has consumed. A forest in Oregon surely thanked Indeed, LinkedIn, and Monster for making job aps digital.
Of course, few who contemplate an arduous trek do so merely under the heading “displaced homemaker.”  Most have some dragon to vanquish. Or flock-o-dragons.  Some go because there’s nothing left to lose and nobody who needs them to stick around.  Some go for all of these reasons … figuring “pilgrimage” is something people do.  People in need of healing.
Joseph Campbell (of Hero’s Journey/Monomyth acclaim) makes this state of affairs sound a lot sexier than, in my markedly-unheroic-estimation, it’s been.
“Preparation for The Call To Adventure,” thank you Joe, sounds so much nicer than “What-does-a-51-year-old-unemployed-divorced-transvaginal-mesh-injured-empty-nester-living-in-her-friend’s-trailer-do-at-this-particular-juncture?”
But, heck, it’s a rainy night here in Northern California.  One that, perhaps, calls for a good metaphor. So, let’s go with Campbell’s take (paraphrased):
Separation/Preparation for The Call:
The unwitting hero is forced from the “ordinary world,” usually by what appear to be outside circumstances but are also internal perceptions that no longer serve.  Case in point:  Dorothy believes that her power/her dreams are beyond her reach. Losing her dog, encountering the faux psychic and, ultimately, the tornado uproot her from ordinary consciousness/the status quo/complacency/safety and thrust her into an alternative world/consciousness.
Sound heady?  It’s not, really.  If you live in my town and drove through the rain yesterday, you had yourself a mini-hero’s journey.
Okay, enough head.  Let’s drop down into the heart.  Mine.  Yours.
Mine has been broken six ways from Sunday.  Yours probably has, too, at various points in your life.  Does yours do this, too?  Break open, more and more and more?  Mine does.  If I hung out with Thich Nhat Hanh or Pema Chodron this might be a good thing.  Something we could talk about over tea.  Maybe write a few haikus about the way our hearts resemble split-open pomegranates.  In suburbia, over an Oprah Chai Latte, this kind of conversation — well, it’d be kind of a downer.  Better to go get a pedi and call it good.
Thus, my continuing separation from the “ordinary world.”
For the record, we’re not talking an-Elizabeth-Gilbert-leaving-the-husband-and-big-house-to-romance-hot-yogis-and-eat-pasta (she writes, trying to withhold judgment) sort of call.  If it had been up to me, I’d still be married — being of the “love is a decision” ilk.  I’d have kept working at it because that’s what I signed up for. I’d have also still been (most likely) shrinking by the day to stay the size my marriage required me to be.  It’s been suggested to me that my ex-husband gave me a gift I wouldn’t have given myself, albeit wrapped in a particularly ugly package.  Time will tell.
Either way, the following is also true:
This middle-aged woman has spent most of her life living at the effect of others’ decisions, seldom having the space or resources or guts or privilege to make many of her own.  A series of jumps from fires to frying pans (though, honestly, I’d been certain my marriage evolved into much more than the framework on which it was begun).  My life has been a series of reactions, honed survival tactics … each popped off like tied-together firecrackers. Of course I didn’t see this.  Sensed it, with the passage of time, but didn’t see it.
And I’m just too damned old … and too damned young … for that now. 
To the handful of readers who may still drop by (I wrote this here because it’s just too long for a Facebook post) and may be able to relate in ways you don’t want to share or don’t have words for or don’t want to look at because it’s too fricking scary, know you’re not alone.
I’ll speak to you now from the land, the “other world,” my cyclone-spun house landed on.
The truth is that, in my marriage and in concern for my children and in concern for my parents, I allowed myself to disappear.  Truth is that I carried forward the role I was assigned in my family of origin, as much as I’m appalled to admit it at this age.  I take full responsibility for this, by the way.  Not as a kid but certainly as a 40 and 50 year old.  The role carried with it certain survival strategies — ones that I’d mastered and ones that had worked even as they wore thin the contexts I applied them in .  Until they stopped working.  True, I didn’t see much of this until too late.  True, others involved carried their own stuff.  Also true:  It really doesn’t matter anymore … what share was attributable to whom.  Because, really, how does slicing the pie help? Yes, I still go there sometimes … but I can no longer go without knowing I’m wasting precious time.
So, pick a metaphor:  An emptied-out-well can’t nourish anyone anymore.  And a hollowed-out phantom can’t stand solid enough for anyone to lean on anymore.  In trying to hold too much together I contributed to its falling apart. 
And, yes, my heart is a split-open pomegranate.  And I’m going to carry it with me, as far as my pudental nerve and what little of the 401k that’s been repaid will take me, over the Pyrenees Mountains — along El Camino de Santiago.  The Way of Saint James.

When I was 18, I had a dream.  A dream that I’d travel through Europe with a backpack.  Instead, I got pregnant and had an abortion.  A year later I saw The Miracle of Life on PBS and had a panic attack, realizing I’d known not what I’d done.  There’d been a heartbeat.  A tiny heart I’d allowed to be stopped as I’d laid sobbing on a clinic table.  I remember the doctor’s assistant held my hand there in a brick-walled room. I trembled afterward, dropped the paperwork a receptionist thrust into my hand, and fled out the lobby door.  I remember a girl there — we were laying on cots after the procedures and before the lobby.  She was laughing.  Making jokes.  I remember thinking she was braver than me.  Stronger.  I wonder where she is now.  How she is now.  If the laughter was her protector.  If, after that day, she was haunted for years.  If she made later decisions in hope of somehow redeeming that one.  Like I did.

I’m not sure how I arrived at the paragraph above, reader.  And I hope it’s not too much for you to bear.  Still, I’m letting it stay here on the page because it came through for a reason.  Maybe for my own healing.  Maybe for yours.  Maybe because of this:  my mesh injury — my femaleness, my ability to reproduce, my ability to carry life within me and bring it into the world … or not … my choices and choicelessness around a single region of my body …  are like a series of dominoes falling in reverse or, rather, standing themselves back up…as if someone filmed them falling … and pressed the rewind button.

My most recent relationship, my divorce, my surgeries, my pierced and punctured vagina, my enmeshment/over protectiveness with CC, my marriage, my becoming a birthmother, my joining a conservative church counter to my being, my search for redemption, my belief that I’d sinned, my willingness to give sex to get love … all lead to there.   To that brick room.

And, yes, from there things root out out further.  My bad-tempered father.  My motherless mother… and on and on …

Much of which I came to terms with long ago.

I’m not sure why now, on this particular May morning, the brick-room part of my story sought the light of day.  I only know that when portions of my life find their way to the page, they are seeking to be let go of.  They are seeking to join with the larger story.  The universal one.  The place where human joins archetype and truth joins myth.


Over the last year, sweat lodge ceremonies have become a part of my spiritual practice.  In entering or exiting the lodge, we kneel and say “Mitakuye Oyasin,” (for all of my relations).  Those relatives passed.  Those still in this “ordinary world.”  Those souls who didn’t come to this world, by cosmic choice or earthly choicelessness. Or both.  There, in the lodge, I pray for all of them. 

There, in the lodge, this also transpired:  I came to know the man who taught me to say “all my relations” in Lakota.  A man I’d met and maintained a friendship with for many months, unready for more, and then finally welcomed him into my pomegranate heart.  In so doing, I also welcomed him into my body.  Into the place I’d shared, for 23 years, with only my ex-husband. 

I’d wondered who would be the one.  To whom I’d lose what felt like my second virginity.  For awhile, my friend Kristi and I had a running joke … wherein I’d find a hot youngish hiker somewhere along the Pacific Crest Trail.  Test things out.  That way if it went badly, if the pain was too intense or my body wouldn’t do what it used to, he’d go his way and I’d go mine.  We wouldn’t even have to know each other’s name.  But it was all talk.  I’ve never had a one-night-stand.  Never will.  My pomegranate heart won’t let me.

This man I chose to accompany me in exploration is a good man.  He was gentle and careful and held space for me.  For us.  There was no way he could possibly have known about the dominoes.  Even though he knew about each singular event, he couldn’t know the way they still, on occasion, bump up against each other.  Re-stack themselves and then re-fall.

It was an impossible task I asked of him.  To navigate the dominoes.  We did our best.  He, his.  Me, mine.  And now we have decided to remain friends… eventually.  Not an easy place to return to … after the hero’s journey we shared.

Last year, a couple of months after we met, he walked The Camino.  Last week, in a bookstore, a motherly clairvoyant told me to walk it.  Actually, I told her I was strongly considering it and, much like any number of motherly clairvoyants would, she said, “Go!”

Referring back to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, perhaps she (like Dorothy’s fortune teller) is part and parcel of “The Call.”

If I do go … If I heed the call … if my body allows it … and the stars line up … `

I will kneel at El Camino’s beginning.  For all of my relations.  And then I will do my best to let each of them go, trust them to God, The Great Mystery … and walk for my own self.  My own soul.  My own heart.  Mary-Oliver style.

Camino pilgrims are encouraged to carry with them a stone and, into it, symbolically place all that weighs them down.  All the guilt and shame and anger and sorrow and toxic stuff that needs letting go. At a place along the trail called La Cruz de Ferro, an iron cross stands.  It is believed that if a pilgrim lays her carried stone there, she releases all of that weight.

While I don’t know if walking for a month can heal, I know that it takes that long to break a mental habit.  While I don’t know if laying something down near an iron cross can heal, I figure there’s a reason ritual is still around and employed within every culture.

So … if I heed the call … and get on a plane … with only a small pack on my back…

I will carry a domino. 

If I make it to La Cruz de Ferro, I will lay it down.

Brain, Storm – for my mother


Also still relevant.

Originally posted on Workin' with What I've Got:

Sometimes what we writers write is sacred.  Sometimes we’re so close to the subject matter, we can’t quite render it for a reader.  This is possibly the case here.  Exactly three years ago — to this very hour, even the breeze through my window feels similar — I sat writing the first draft of the piece below.  (I wrote in present tense and later changed it.)  I wrote because that’s how I attempt to make sense of things.  That night, I was trying to make sense of my mother’s impending brain surgery … scheduled early the next morning, June 3rd, 2009.   I was trying to make sense of all that had lead up to it.  Believing, as my mom did, that it would succeed … yet bracing myself a little.  Trying to make sense of the senseless.

It’s a long piece, yet worth the read (I’m told).  Here is the…

View original 1,436 more words

Happy Whoever You Are Day


From the archives. Still relevant, yes? Hugs, Terri

Originally posted on Workin' with What I've Got:

As the second Sunday in May approaches, I want to say this to you:

Have a happy day … whoever and whatever you call yourself.  (I, myself, am going with “Terri.”)

Have a peaceful day.  A contented one.  One where you give yourself permission to just be you.  Maybe take a walk or a drive; listen to some good music or just breathe in and out. Be around people who love you, who support you, who generally dig your company.

Because, this weekend, if you’re a woman, society is going to try to mess with you. (Maybe not you, reading this … but your friend, over there, yeah, society is really gonna fuck with her this weekend.)

It’s going to tell you (or your friend) that mothers are better than women who aren’t mothers.  Then it’s going to busy itself (society) defining what constitutes a “real” mother.  It’s going to…

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She’s Got A Ticket to Ride

(Alas, WordPress is having formatting issues. At least on my Samsung. As a rule, these are early — sometimes first — drafts.)
 I don’t remember his name.
He was on the train when I boarded, east of Sacramento. Had gotten on a few minutes before me and was already seated.Brown-pony-tailed. Just enough facial hair. And, judging from the few strands of gray, a little younger than me. The eyes (bright) were what prompted me to do something I ordinarily wouldn’t have: introduce myself to a rather hot, somewhat-younger guy.
He asked me what I do. Always a tricky question these days. “I’m in transition,” I said.
Ah, transition, he nodded.At which point he asked me more … and I told him more … and he asked me more … and I told him more. Again, something I ordinarily wouldn’t do 10-minutes in. But, heck, I was on a train, toting only a small backpack, days from a scary surgery, heading to the coast where I would be attempting to hitch a a ride. Not much to lose.


He asked me about art. I asked him about music.


He asked me about my singleness. I asked him about his.


When I told him about a set of little fabric pumpkins I’d recently made, he asked if I filled them with my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s testicles. This endeared me to Mr. Pony Tail. Exponentially.

When I mentioned technology’s effects on marriage (she delicately words), Mr. Pony Tail admitted that he’d been trying Plenty of Fish … to no avail.

“I’d rather meet someone like this,” he said.

Like this.

Like the way he was meeting me.


He was on his way to a timeshare in San Francisco. First time on a train. He drove trucks for a living. Had been a full-time single dad to three kids and now, empty nested, was figuring out what to do with his days off. He planned on seeing a few bands, there in the city. Planned on winging the rest of it.

“The house is so empty with the kids grown,” he said.

“I hear ya,” I said.

We chatted our way through Roseville, Sacramento, Davis, Susuin City, and Martinez. He ate a breakfast burrito and I, a yogurt parfait. During lulls, he’d look out his window and I’d look out mine. I wondered, in the silences, what he was thinking because, well, this is what I was thinking:

Maybe he’ll ask me to meet him in San Francisco.

Maybe I’ll say, “Hey, come on out to Point Reyes.”

Maybe we’ll have dinner together.

Maybe we’ll take a walk.

Maybe I’ll buy a roll of condoms like Cheryl Strayed did when she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.

Maybe, because I’m having surgery soon … alone in L.A. … on that part of my body … with so little left to lose … I’ve also lost all inhibition.

Maybe my uninhibitedness will make up for whatever’s broken.

Maybe he’ll say to me, “Don’t worry about the brokenness.”

Maybe he’ll say “I’m a father of three. I know what can happen to a woman’s body. I’ll be gentle.”

Maybe I’ll say, “Even these thoughts are out of character for me.”

Maybe he’ll say, “After all you’ve been though, they make perfect sense.”

Maybe I’ll say, “I’ve never had a one-night stand.”

Maybe he’ll say, “Neither have I.”
“This doesn’t have to be a one night stand.”
“There’s a reason we met, even if it’s only to be each other’s bridge into these new empty-nested lives we each have.”

Maybe I’ll say, “Yes, bridges! I love that metaphor!”

Maybe I’ll lay myself out across whatever abyss he has to cross …
and then he will do the same for me.

And, after we’ve both crossed, we’ll look back at each other one time — wistfully — before turning, stepping toward our new lives.

He to his. Me to mine.


“Richmond Station!” The conductor called, bringing the curtain down on the movie in my head.

I dropped my plastic spoon into my empty yogurt cup as the train slowed to a halt.  Mr. Pony tail turned from his window, smiled at me when he heard the thunking plastic-on-plastic sound.

“My stop,” I said. Rising from my seat, heaving my backpack over my left shoulder.

A beat.  Just one beat.  He looked at me.  I looked at him. Then …

“Take care,” said I to I-don’t-remember his name.

“You, too,” he said.  Shifting a little in his seat.

I smiled, turned, and headed for the train’s open door.  Beyond the door’s threshold, across the bay, fingers of coastal fog released their grasp on the hills. Giving up morning to afternoon. By dusk, I’d be beyond those hills. Beyond a good many things, if only for just a day.

Like the receding fog, letting go.

I stepped off the train, gingerly, because my shoulders can bear a pack  but my groin remains a precarious, tender weave of flesh and sinew.

I didn’t look back, wistfully or otherwise.
I didn’t need Mr. Ponytail to be my bridge.
I would not settle to be his.

I had a backpack, a bus schedule, my own two feet, and whatever compass is granted to the blindsided. The whole universe laid out before me.

All I needed, and then some, to get where I needed to go.

Circle, Sphere, Shadow, Year

This post is in dedication to my sister, who has been a saint over the last year.  I owe her more than I could ever repay.


365. That’s the number we’ll be studying today, readers (my loyal friend-readers via FB and my very few-remaining/equally loyal readers who may arrive via email or various feeds if my blog is even still on them.)  I’ve continued to write, btw.  But I’ve done it directly onto my top-secret FB wall, to a “customized” audience.  As usual, first (more like first and a half) draft.  Thus, forgive typos and go with the general vibe where unclear. Back to the topic at hand.


365.  In The Bible, Enoch lived to be 365 and entered Heaven living.  In Gnostic texts, 365 signifies the levels of Heaven (which begs the question:  How far up did Enoch go?  And, because he was still a living human and, thus, wingless, how tired was he when he got there?). In days the number marks a year.  In degrees it marks a circle. But you knew that.

So it is that  year has passed between significant events in this writer’s life.

The first related significant events: My Transvaginal Mesh removal surgery, late September 2013 … and my vaginal/urethra/rectal reconstruction/scar-tissue removal/hopefully-alleviate-pudental-nerve-pain surgery about 10 days ago. I’ll get into a bit more detail about this later.

The second, related in a different way, event:  The surprise/abrupt departure of my husband of 22 years/3 months. A surprise to me, anyway.  A surprise that came, unfortunately, four days after I was released from UCLA Med Center with a filleted vagina/rectum/urethra, upon our return home to Northern Cal.  It happened while I was on a walk, actually.  Catheter in hand, I’d gimped about three houses down, trying to get my bowels to move … when I saw our mini-van pull out of the driveway.  He’s looking for me, I thought.  Turned out he wasn’t.  Turned out he’d been fine-tuning the departure while I was under the knife.  Turned out, well, a lot of things.  Some I knew in my gut … but had dismissed.  Some that had left me scratching my head/questioning my memory/sanity/intuition. Some, about which I had no clue.  Some about me.  Some about him.  Either way, more than I’m going to write about.  I’m going to write plenty.  Just not about that.

We’d had a tough decade.  All outside stuff, or I thought so, anyway.  Stuff he went through, which I won’t write about.  Stuff I went through, which I’ll summarize:  Intense grief about a loss regarding my first child/deception by the agency that handled the open adoption.  Some unskillful decisions I made in handling that grief.  My sister and I first seeing our mother through lung cancer, then, after a brief reprieve, losing her to a fate worse than death. Our father’s subsequent cancers, deterioration, his own heartbreaking grief, and his anger.  A history of familial dysfunction resurfacing upon my sister and I becoming their primary caregivers. My sister’s stress-induced meltdown converging with difficulties my youngest daughter was having/acting out and my skillful and unskillful — really good and really shitty — ways of addressing that. And then my broken vagina and, eventual entry into Intensive Outpatient Treatment for a stress/grief-overload meltdown not unlike my sister’s. (At which point I started this blog).

On the vagina front:  We talk about the shame impotence creates in men.  But the vagina doesn’t get its due respect.  I knew, since 2008, that something was very wrong in the hoo-ha department.  Surgeon dismissed it.  His local colleague dismissed it.  Long story short, by 2013, mesh had torn through me like barbed wire.  First making sexual intercourse painful, then excruciating, then impossible. Is that ultimately why he left? Was it a matter of unsown oats earlier in life? Was it his wife’s bouts of agoraphobia or her gradually getting better?  Was it her bouts of depression or his?  I’ll never know.  I know only that I bought a new bedspread and redecorated our bedroom, making a sacred space for our new life with my fixed vagina and an empty nest. A bedspread he would never sleep under. I loved him and have this peculiar (apparently) quirk wherein once I love, really love, it doesn’t go away. It changes over time but those I’ve truly loved, I still hold love for.  Always will. Just the way I was made.


The week my husband left (a bit over a year ago), I wrote a poem and a post. The poem was called Monday. The post was called “My Writing Teacher’s Question.”  Here they are, to refresh our memories:

It was a Monday, the last time I saw my wedding ring. 
Monday, named for the moon.
The moon, I can see her now piercing the night sky, a luminous circle. How many years did I share her cycle? How I miss our kinship.
It was a Monday, when the anesthesiologist said, “I’ll need you to take off that ring,” just before he injected Ativan and Dilaudid into my I.V. 
A Monday. To Christians and Jews, the second day of the week. The day, millennia ago, God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters …”  God called that vault “sky.” And there was evening and there was morning …
It was a Monday when, before the doctor wheeled me to the O.R., I wrestled my wedding ring from my finger, handed it to my husband, said “Put this in a safe place. Your pocket maybe.”
My husband who had, in that tender and terrible hour, “let there be a vault” between us – one whose construction I hadn’t seen. One not near as lovely and purposeful as “sky,” with its circle of moon.
Since then, there has been evening and there has been morning, 21 of each.  I, on my side of the vault, flow.   He, on his side, ebbs.
And now it is Monday again. The third one since I last saw my wedding ring. The third one since a surgeon cut into the part of me that once channeled the moon’s pull, held the tides in me that rose and fell. The third Monday since the good doctor quilted together what was left of my husband’s long-time fitted home. My children’s gateway. My magic center.
A single slice above my pubic bone – a red, sutured line – is what Monday offers now. The circle of my wedding ring, the circle of my womb, the circle of my marriage … waned, all of them.
Only the moon, that dear lady, holds promise of return.

“Terri, these poems are beautiful and sad.  Consider this just a literary question—what if the vault he created is as beautiful as the sky—how does the poem continue?” (My writing teacher/mentor asks. )

As my body does what it needs to do … goes about healing from a surgery that was much more than physical … as my heart attempts to begin a similar process, my teacher’s question shines in the murky distance, illuminated by something I can’t yet discern … somewhere far ahead of where I now stand.


It’s been a year, roughly, since my writing teacher’s question.  Time to approach it … even if not yet in poetry form.

“…what if the vault he created is as beautiful as the sky—how does the poem continue?”

Like this:

Two weeks after he left, sooner maybe, I got into our beater car (he took the newer one) and drove to the grocery store.  Both had become things I did only when there was a crisis that prevented him from doing it.  For some reason, when he’d go through something, I felt my power … and then, when he was better, it would wane again.  So it was, with deep breaths, singing a John Denver song, I drove to the store … and it was a breeze.  The drive.  The shopping.  All of it.  Beautiful.

Soon after, I drove to church.  When I first did this, I’d call my friend and check in “just in case I have an epic panic attack on the way.”  I had a panic attack only once.  Took a Xanax.  Got myself where I needed to go.  I love the drive to church.  It’s in the country, what’s left of it around here.  It stands on a hill above a pond, with a strawberry farm across the road.  I’ve been a member since 1991, when I married my soon-to-be-ex-husband there.  When I see the older sanctuary, where we wed, where my mother, who can no longer cry, wept with her big green eyes, my heart jumps to my throat.  I tell myself, one day, it won’t.  One day, the Divine love within me will reach up and bring my heart back to its rightful place.  It is a peaceful place to me, still, the church prproperty.  I went there when my mom was in a coma and the nurse said she wouldn’t make it through the night.  I went there, many times over years, to trace the names of people I loved who died and had their ashes sprinkled by the pond.  I went there to have CC baptized and helped lead youth group one year.  And then, for a short while, I didn’t.

I went back even though I could no longer believe in The Bible as a literal text.  When I could no longer pray.  When I no longer believed in a God who stood by while the kind suffer and the cruel prosper.  I went there when I figured the world was just a series of cosmic accidents.  I went when I no longer understood what “God” was or what to call “God.”  I went until I not only became okay with uncertainty, but rested in it.  An

d now I drive there again. Regularly.  And people there lov

e me and don’t subscribe to what I call “First World Spirituality” that says people with Ebola somehow manifested it into their lives.  Are mere victims of their own deficient spiritual life.  There where the pastor invites folks who aren’t sure what to believe up for communion and homeless folks sleep on roll-out beds on the sanctuary floor when it’s cold or too hot.  And it’s okay to be broken because, in our brokenness, we are perfectly human.  And I can drive there.  Sit by the pond as long as I want.  Imagine my own ashes there one day … where I’d intended them to be poured with my husband’s but, now, will be satisfied to have my ashes rub up against the ashes of some very good people — the real deal — whom I have had the privilege of knowing.  That’s beautiful.

And check this out!  After having been laid out for six weeks in April and May (Pudental Nerve), I was longing for some semblance of the summers I’d known for two decades. I still don’t drive the freeway far.  The frenzy overwhelms me but I’m workin’ on it.  But, by gaw, there’s an Amtrak Station walking distance from my house and tickets cost about the same as gas.  So, this gal who hasn’t traveled alone since the mid 80s thrust a few clothes and toiletries into a backpack and headed west with a bus schedule and directions to the Buddhist Retreat Center, where I got my Sangha on and spent the night at some random lady’s house who had ties to the center.

Next day, I took the bus all the way out to the coastal visitor’s center, with reservations for a bunk at the hostel and no idea how I’d get there — as there were six more miles between the visitor’s center and the hostel and my pudental nerve was throbbing. So, I hung out in the parking lot, sized people up, and asked whomever looked the most friendly if they were heading to the beach.  Turned out a nice couple from Santa Fe was.  We chatted about the kind of things gypsies chat about, hugged, and left each other’s company the better for our brief meeting.  Next morning, solo hike to the beach (with the kind of nerve damage I have, I can walk most of the time … it’ sitting and standing that hurt like a mofo).  Then another hitched ride to town for groceries with a female musician who’d just finished a “Tiny Desk Concert” a la NPR  (who also performed an impromptu concert at the hostel).  Beautiful.

Even more beautiful:  The day I chose to do this coastal trek would have been our 23rd wedding anniversary.  I’d been scared of the memories this particular beloved stretch of coast would hold.  That was “our” place.  I couldn’t imagine it without him, without our family unit.  And that’s when I knew I wasn’t going to give up one more thing to this divorce.  I was going to claim that slice of beach.  The whole damn vicinity.  To this end, the hostelkeeper helped out.  Upon hearing why I was there, she hugged me and said, “This is your place now.”

I went back again before heading down for my latest surgery.  This time, I wound up in a bunkhouse with four other women whose husbands left when they were 50.  We talked into the night like teenagers.  And between those two treks, I figured I had memories to face in the Sierra, too.  So I took the train to Truckee and hitched a ride to a nearby hostel and headed solo down a leg of The Pacific Crest Trail.  Cheryl Strayed’s got nothin’ on this 51-year-old.  I figure a broken vagina and severe nerve damage at five or six miles in a day ranks up there with 12 miles a day as a spry, healthy twenty-something.  I think she and I would have a few things to talk about.  Losing our mothers in a horrific way … and what that does to even a “grownup” woman.  It drove her to marriage-ruining affairs.  It, without all the other “icings” on the grief cake, drove my sister and I to dual clinical depressions… which, I’m certain, affected my marriage.  But, not unlike Strayed, I grew up friends with nature.  Since I was 18 and went to Squaw Valley on the fly, since before that, I’ve always longed — pined — for solo treks into it.  Again, like Strayed, I feel “less alone out there than I do in my ‘real’ life.”  Sometimes, anyway.  And, in traveling light and via public transport, I meet people and hear about their lives.  “What you’re doing out there is gathering stories,” my wise friend, Pat, tells me.  She’s right.  Again, beautiful.


It’s late and my catheter is starting to pinch.  (Also, my pyrotechnics-infatuated neighbor and his buddies are entirely too close to my bedroom window, doing something that sounds like a combination of drunkeness and breakage.)

I’ll leave you, reader, with this:  When I was in L.A. last week, awaiting surgery, I had to fast for three days.  Yes, fasting and double-dosing laxatives among the bistros and beautiful people.  There’s a huge difference between NorCal and SoCal … and I am the antithesis of a SoCal gal.

By the night before mesh-related surgeries, I’m so past hungry and so emptied-out-exhausted that I enter some altered state of consciousness.  One that allows me to roam around Westwood (the town in which UCLA sits) with my cell camera and find interesting things to photograph, which is to say … view the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

Turns out, it was a good night for roaming.  Not only a full-moon night … but an extremely-bright full-moon night.  Not only a bright-full-moon-night … but a blood-moon night with an eclipse scheduled for some inhumane hour.  A big, redish, celestial metaphor — the morning of vaginal reconstruction surgery – ripe for the interpreting.

I stood for a long time that night … looking at the pre-eclipsed moon.  A bright, beaming moon.  I could see the face in it.  It looked like the painted man-in-the-moon face from retro-Halloween pictures.  But I prefer to endow the moon with all of the feminine qualities that she exhibits.  So does most Folklore.  Moon goddesses are a dime a dozen, with the full moon mostly reserved for goddesses of the fertility/pregnancy ilk and the waning moon attributed to various crone deities.

There is no moon goddess of the 50-ish, newly-divorced, broken-vagina’d, solo-backpacker-with-pudental-nerve-damage variety.  So, maybe I’ll be her.  My special power?  Coming to terms with the darkness at my back.  It’s just shadow, after all.  And I’ve learned, having spent 365-plus nights by myself, having taken to walking at night in the Sacramento summer, having trekked some miles from the beach back to the hostel as darkness set in, and having studied photography for decades … darkness and light are just qualities that cast upon a thing.  They aren’t the thing itself.  The whole moon exists even when we see none of it.  The closet it still full of clothes on hangers when your bedroom is dark.  The trail is still there even when it’s hard to see.

I am still me though I’m no longer a wife.  You are still you when your particularly frightful shadow seems to blot you out.

It’s hard to remember this, I know.  Still, there it is.  And, yes, there is sadness.  Sometimes so dense, with such a pull it seems we will implode.  But we don’t.  Or maybe we do and, because everything is transient, it doesn’t last.  It’s a phase.  A planet crossing the path between you and your particular sun.

And sometimes, a day at a time, it’s just a choice.  Which story do we want to invest in?  The one where love dies and we become separate … or the one where love transcends in myriad creative ways … and, on this tiny orb, we are relatively all shoulder-to-shoulder with each other?

It’s been one mother-effer of a year (I say “effer” because people from my church may be reading this, some who actually don’t use the F word).  I came very close, at one point, to taking myself out of it (the year/the earth) and still the despair can overwhelm.  For the world felt too unkind. Something I didn’t want to be part of. A place where my broken vagina has been rendered burdensome by the one I, for so long, shared it with.

But … or And … here I am today.  Here you are, too, reading this after or amidst whatever has laid itself over us and, for now, has passed along its way.  We’re doing the best we can with what we have … with what we know.  Let’s assure each other that’s enough for a day.  Let us assure each other that you are still you, I am still me, the moon is still whole, and love remains … even when we can’t see it.

Oh, and Enoch?  The biblical character who lived to be 365 years old before he traveled, alive, into heaven?  He was Methuselah’s dad.  The week before my surgery, my best friend and I trekked up to see him.  Methuselah.  Not the man but the Bristlecone Pine Tree named after him.  A tree that’s almost 5,000 years old and, like Enoch, is still living.  So doing, the pine tree, by adapting to the roughest of terrains and climates.  I relate to Methuselah the Bristlecone Pine.  Gnarled, by all ordinary standards, malformed, barren.  But strangely, exquisitely even, beautiful.


p.s. –  3.65 is roughly the price of the post-surgery/fast-breaking chocolate milkshake my sister brought me.  Gorgeous!




Please, if you leave a comment, do not judge husband.  In his heart, there is goodness … and we all know I can be intense to live with.  My intention here is to address the larger scope of the year.

This Sweat Goes Out To The Ones I Love

*Sorry about the formatting.  WordPress is temperamental today.   
     Have you ever wanted to sit beside really sweaty strangers? Have you ever longed for the scent of unfamiliar body odor and smoke to sear your nostrils?  Ever dreamed of sitting in total darkness while pressed against said strangers and their body odor?  Yeah, me neither.  Except that, turns out, it’s pretty awesome.
     A friend facilitates a community sweat lodge ceremony most Saturdays and, either because he’s half Native American or because he’s a professor, he knows what he’s doing.  Still, menopausal, I’m rarely in need of more heat.  Also not a fan of small, cramped spaces.  So, when said friend first invited me, I declined. “My airless car is my sweat lodge,” I told him.  “I have a spiritual experience any time I drive on a Sacramento-summer’s day.”  Unimpressed, my friend persisted.  So it was that, some weeks ago, I asked myself the following question:  “What do I have to lose?”  Then I texted my girlfriend, Maya, and asked her what she had to lose. Neither of us had a good answer.  Besides, while heat stroke was possible … death was unlikely.  The lodge would be heated with hot rocks, much like the sauna at your local gym.  Unlike the carbon-monoxide-fueled deathtrap facilitated by James Ray, new-age guru-ish dude.
     Sarcasm aside, allow me to wax serious.  We’re dealing with raw, elemental things here: fire, water, heat, smoke, breath, darkness, light, prayer, release, acceptance, humans and their bodies showing up and holding space for each other. I thought it would feel contrived. It didn’t.
     First, the layout (by memory so hoping this is close) :  The lodge is comprised of willow branches and heavy blankets (taking the place of animal skins).  The lodge’s opening faces east, the direction of sunrise/newness.  The opening faces also the fire pit, about 10  feet away, representing the sun but also male, in general.  While, of course, the lodge itself represents female/womb of Mother Earth. All of which I could, given the right company, go Beavis-and-Butthead with … but I’m a 50-year-old woman … and a big fan of metaphor.  So, yeah, male/female.  Yin/Yang.  Fire/Water.  Balance.  Collaboration.  Interdependence.
     In the fire, lava rocks are brought to a red-hot glow and taken into the lodge’s center (via the firekeeper and a shovel) once the, uh, sweaters?  lodgers? … participants therein are seated.  Oh, and everyone enters and (and, later, exits) in a clockwise direction.  Had I known this up front, I’d have gone in first …  rather than hold out for what I thought would be a spot by the door-flap.
     The day of the ceremony, participants are to refrain from caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs, and other such toxins.  Some fast prior to the sweat.  Dress is to be modest.  Most wear shorts and t-shirts or tank tops (again contrary to the nudist vibe a la some new-age sweats).
     Before entering, each person bows, saying, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” (for all my relations).  The intention is that participants are engaging in the ceremony not only for themselves, but also for ancestors and descendents.  In this particular tradition (a hybrid of Lakota), the rocks are called “grandfathers,” originally believed to be the first things created.  Seven such grandfathers are brought in for the first “round,” which (after closing the flap) includes drumming, prayer, sharing what’s on your heart, passing the tobacco-filled peace pipe, and acclimatizing to crazy-hot pitch-darkness.  Sage and sweet grass are sprinkled on the rocks (which remain red-hot throughout each round) and blessed water is ladled over them to create steam.  Water is also passed from person to person, via the ladle, throughout the ceremony.  No hygienically-sealed Dasani here.
     The doorkeeper sets an intention at the beginning of each 15-to-30-minute round.  Our first round’s intention was, apropos enough, letting to of that which no longer holds healthful purpose. And because what’s-shared-in-the-lodge-stays-in-the-lodge … I will say only this: I thought this part of the ceremony would feel contrived. I was wrong. One elderly Guatemalan man, upon hearing of the community sweat, came specifically to release a tough experience he’d gone through a few days before. When he did, there were tears all around.  Hot, sweaty, though-we-are-strangers-we-really-are-all-in-this-messy-life-thing-together tears.
     There was also this:  something about enduring four rounds of crazy-hot … something about the collective release of salty human fluids … something about actually liking the feel of your sweat-slippery leg brushing against someone else’s sweat-slippery arm or shoulder or foot … something about the heartbeat of drums and your own heartbeat and the heartbeat of the person next to you, which you can feel in his or her pulse because you are so close … something, in all of this, that makes you feel both humble and like, well, kind of a badass.
     I wrestled, in the lodge, with the badass thing. As I prayed, I wondered if such an emboldened surge wasn’t in keeping with the tone of humility.  I wrestled with other things, too.  Released some into the smoke; onto the rocks. All part of the dealing-with-heat-and-fear-and-vulnerability gig.  Some time after round three, I’d become either spiritually-evolved or heat-stroked into a deep sense that God/The Great Mystery was chuckling in approval about the badass thing.  Chuckling and saying it was about time.
     It’s been six (seven?) weeks since then.  Did what I released in the lodge stay released?  Though I’d love to report that the sacred smoke washed me clean of a dozen things that need to go, truth is that release, in my experience, occurs in immeasurable increments. We let go a little. Sometimes we take back.  Then, the next “round,” we let go a little more.  One ordinary day, while we’re doing the laundry or pumping gas, we realize the thing is gone.  And by “the thing,” I mean the missing.  It’s the missing we tend to hold … because we think it’s our only connection to what’s gone.
     So, to answer my own question, yes — the grandfathers, the Great Mystery, God (which has something, maybe everything, to do with love — permanent, abiding love) surely took whatever increment I was able to let go of that day, imperceptible as it may be.
     Took it and — because where something is removed, The Universe seeks to fill the space — gave me something in return.  It’s all a cosmic-energetic trade, after all.  So the better question may be:  What did we, all of us in the lodge that day, exchange?  Not only with each other but with life itself?
    For me, upon kneeling down to leave the lodge on behalf of all my relations — be they harmonious, broken, abiding, or fleeting — it wasn’t as much about the increment I let go … as it was about coming to know, over time, what was granted to me in its place.
     Of which, maybe, the badass thing — aka recognition of my own Divine-given power as one of many human woman on this earth — was a part.  A part that, perhaps, my ancestors were rooting for … and my descendents will, in some unknowable increment, benefit from.

Swimming Lessons

In my mind’s eye the memory appears to me as if through Instagram’s “vintage” filter:

I am 6, maybe 7, on a diving board so bright-white it seems to glow beyond its edges.  Then I am turned upside down.  My dad is holding me by my ankles.  He is saying something. Something that is preparing me.  Giving me courage.

Water — sky-blue and speckled with sunlight — moves about five feet beneath me.   I feel the cool of it on my face.  I smell chlorine and a hint of mold.  Dad lets go.  Do I really remember that splash?  The weightlessness of that particular immersion?  Then I am right-side-up.  My head crowns above the surface.  I am treading water.  Smiling.


I was lucky enough to grow up in a neighborhood full of backyard pools … and summer found us immersed therein, daily.  The east-bay area, which is to say east of The Caldecott Tunnel, is anywhere from 10 to 20 degrees hotter than what lies on the other side of the Berkeley hills — in proximity to The San Francisco Bay.  So, in our neck of the woods, it got hot.  Or I thought it got hot … until I moved into the bowl-o-swelter called Sacramento, met someone who made it worth two heat-strokes, and settled in for the long haul.

Technically we …

ah, see …  I wrote “we.”  I still know myself, feel myself, as part of a “we.”  And I suppose, given that I’m recalling a period of time when “we” were still “we” … it fits, tense-wise.  So “we” it is.

Technically, we live … or lived … I’m not sure how to write that … because I still live there … but “we” don’t.  Hmmm.  How ’bout this:

Technically, our my town is east of Sacramento. Among The Sierra’s foothills.  Still, it’s hot.  Hot to the tune of 110 degree weeks in August.  And because our my town doesn’t boast proximity to The Sacramento River, as does Sacramento, proper, the  delta breezes don’t make the trip up Highway 80 to cool us me down at night.

Given that little weather/geography lesson, you know why we (still being a “we”) had to acquire an above-ground pool, back in ’05, via Craigslist.  Thusly, husband soon-to-be-ex whom I will refer to as “husband” now … for your sake, reader, and because I am about to switch back to past tense …

Thusly, in the Spring of ’04, husband drove to the pool seller’s apartment … where he was introduced to the above-ground pool, in pieces, in the seller’s storage space.  Everything seemed to be in order.  The pool-sides, the aluminum-rod-thingies that hold the pool up, vertically.  The other aluminum-rod thingies that hold it together, horizontally.  Thing was, when the pool arrived in our backyard, turned out it was missing key ingredients.  So husband returned to the seller’s apartment … to find him gone.  Which is to say totally evacuated from the premises.  After cussing out the apartment manager, husband, being a handy guy, managed to slap the thing together… all 24 feet of it (and, by gaw, 24 feet is big for an above-ground pool).  After some fun with a backhoe (i.e. sinking the 24-footer into the ground) we had ourselves … if not a “real” pool, well, a big-ass-can-o-water that served the purpose.

For years, April found husband rescuing March-spawned pollywogs (at my request), patching whatever holes the weather had punched, and fillin’ er up … while I planted alyssum and petunias and marigolds nearby.  For years, we — husband, daughter, friends, daughter’s friends, friends of friends — swam, played volleyball, had chicken fights, tossed around a huge sphere, and otherwise frolicked by day.  For years, husband and I skinny-dipped and star-gazed by night.  Always, at some point on said nights, I’d find my way to him and, put my arms around his neck … and weightless, curl into him.

It occurs to me only now … on those nights, I almost always found my way to him.  And, in my mind’s eye, the memory isn’t really a memory at all.  Something about the water.  The way we displaced it … is imprinted into my skin.


Last Thursday, a friend came over.  A friend armed with a power-drill, a metal-saw, and a shovel.  Since October 1st, our?my? … the above-ground pool had sat, collecting mosquito larvae.  A hole had sprung in it late last summer — some time before my surgery — and mending it fell off the priority list.  As such, the pool dwindled to about three-feet-deep.  Three feet-deep multiplied by a diameter of 24 feet across in all directions.

By late February, after a rain, I heard them.  The frogs.  A chorus of them.  I heard and I knew that, come April, pollywogs would fill the swamp I hadn’t been able to keep at bay, what with $8-per-gallon chlorine on top of $4-per-gallon gas.  And when they came, the pollywogs, so did the mosquitoes.  Even after the man from the county came and filled the pool pond with mosquito-eating fish.   The mosquitoes stayed.  They bit.   They bit until, some time in late March, I bought eight jugs of K-Mart brand bleach and — turning my head away, whispering I’m sorry… please forgive me … I’m so sorry — I poured.  I poured and went into the house trying hard to convince myself that pollywogs don’t feel pain.  Trying hard and not succeeding.


March became April and, last Wednesday, my friend and I waded into the green sludge and, with knives, slashed holes through the liner’s bottom.  The next day, Thursday, we sawed the whole thing into pieces.  Pieces that we pulled up and out of the back-hoed hole in the yard … and stacked in a dump-bound pile.  Midway through demolition, I remembered too much.  The swimming.  The frolicking.  The birthday parties.  The starlit nights.  The displaced water.  I remembered so much that I sat down on the hole’s dirt rim and wept.  It was hot for April.  Hot enough to swim in the pool that was now sludge between my toes.

Sitting there on the back-hoed rim, two memories came to mind.

First … how husband and I had watched the sun set from the rim of The Grand Canyon years before.  I had been scared at first to go to the canyon’s edge.  But … after a few days … I’d taken to laying, tranquil as The Buddha, on an outcropping that rose some-hundreds of feet above the abyss.

Second … I remembered my very first lesson in sink-or-swim.  How before I was let go … I was offered something that prepared me.  And it seemed the two very-different memories had one thing in common:  I’d been afraid.  Then, regardless of the drop or the potential for it, I’d become unafraid.


In my backyard, a 24-foot-diametered hole now gapes beneath the May sky.  I’ve resisted a morbid-or-artistic urge to stand in the middle of it, look up at the night sky.  My friend suggested renting a backhoe, filling the hole back in.  Told me that, given time and water, the crabgrass will do its thing and a weedy lawn will come into being.

Seems like a waste of time and money because I won’t be here much longer … in this little house with this little yard that is still, to me, home.  And there’s another surgery coming soon.  And a backhoe is even more expensive than daily chlorine doses … and … there are so many ands…

Still, I am here now.

Treading water.  Wanting to be right-side-up again. Afraid but remembering at least two times when I wasn’t.

Here I am now … damned weary of holes.  Weary of them and worthy of their being filled … for no other reason than I’m tired of looking at them.
















It’s not my recipe, but it’s good for what ails ya:

2 16 oz cans chicken broth (I use more)
1 package taco seasoning
1 onion (chopped and sauteed)
2 T jarred garlic (sauteed with onion)
1 bunch Cilantro (chopped)
2 small cans tomato sauce
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 can black beans
1 can corn
3 cooked chicken breasts, cubed
Boil broth, taco seasoning, onion, garlic, tomatoes, and tomato sauce for 1/2 hour then simmer and add the rest.
–  (Thank you, Kris A.)


My making soup, when the weather is foul or someone under our roof is sick, is not new.  My making soup for myself, alone –under a roof that is no longer “ours” — is.  Trouble is, soup recipes make too much soup for one … so I am reminded of those whose share will go uneaten:  My daughter.  My husband.

Still, I set forth to the grocery store today …. armed with Kris A’s recipe, a red nose, and a stack of Puffs tissues.  I love grocery shopping.  I love it because, for a long time, I couldn’t do it without having a panic attack.  I love strolling leisurely among the breads and cheeses and vegies and Febreezes, steering my cart gingerly around elderly women who hunker down in the canned fruit aisle, communing with my fellows in frugality (I.e. – I shop at a certain Arkansas-based grocery store.  Being broke allows one no room to judge a company’s cut-throat business model.)

While there, I make it a practice to be kind to the checkout clerk.  Do you?  If not, try it.  Ask him how he’s doing.  Ask if all that standing is hard on her back.  Find something to compliment him/her about.  You will make his/her day.  He/she will be astounded that somebody actually gives a damn.  I find this easy because, as I said, the grocery store was a tough place for me for a long, long time … so I’m naturally grateful to be standing (without sweating or hyperventilating or experiencing my legs as Jello) at someone’s checkout counter. It’s as if, after a pilgrimage beneath the near-seizure-inducing pulse of neon lights, I’ve reached supermarket Mecca — there near the glass doors, where genuine daylight traces the clerk’s face.  If it wouldn’t bewilder said clerk (or compel her to call security), I’d probably bow to her and say something like “Namaste” or, better, “Metta” or “Shalom” (because “Namaste” has been hijacked by Yoga-clothes wearing people, most who wouldn’t set foot in this particular store).

*Metta = Loving Kindness

Back to the soup.  Ingredients bagged, courtesy of the benevolent and underpaid clerk, I headed home to cook for my own sinus-infected self.  Because my own sinus-infected self is as worthy of soup (I keep telling myself, as if reciting a mantra) as anyone else who has come and gone under the roof that is now, at least temporarily, only mine.  Mine and, thankfully, Bo-the-ferocious-to-strangers Boxer’s.  (Who is utterly thrilled to see me when I come through the door, and not just because I give him treats.)

NPR fully-tuned in on the radio, a cozy gas fire (that looks like the real thing), a big pot on the stove, ingredients set out, I commenced to self nurturing … which has become, over the last 20-or-so years, as foreign to me as — as — well, pretty damn foreign.  Not Husband’s fault.  Not CC’s fault. I was primed in the art of self-denial.  Any dormancy it retreated into during the early part of my marriage, it more than made up for later.  The more Husband and CC grew into their lives — the more I supported them in so doing– the more I shrank out of mine.  Only I didn’t really know it.

So, this tiny act — the act of chopping an onion, sauteing it with garlic and a little olive oil, creating something that would ease no more than my own aching throat — was, I hope, a start.  A carving out of space.  A claiming of the parcel of air that my breath requires.  A shout to the universe, “Hey, wait a minute, I am … too!”

And it turned out good, the soup.  Damn good.   Still, when I covered the still-full pot and set it in the fridge, I couldn’t keep from thinking:  What if I packed up just a little for Husband?  What if I dropped off just a little with CC?  And my heart felt so full with the thought, the dream of my little family … and then so empty because that dream is … done.  But, who knows?  If God is love (which I believe is the case), then one day we may all sit and sup together again — even if in a different configuration.  But that time isn’t now … and I need to start getting used to it … even if it hurts like a Mo-Fo.

In the meantime, if you live nearby … I have soup.  Call me.  Email me.  FB me.  It’s really good.  It soothes the sorest of throats.  If you live fairly close, I’ll even bring it to you … because I once had panic attacks every time I drove.  And today — just for today — I don’t.  So arriving at your door, to share soup I made to heal my own sick self, will be a bit like reaching a holy place after a long pilgrimage.  Your welcome mat will be, for me, the promised land.  So it’s only appropriate that I bring an offering.

~ Metta ~

(As usual, my first “shitty draft” is yours for the reading.  Forgive typos.  Will edit tomorrow.)