Category Archives: authenticity

Grounded by the Sea

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Grounded By The Sea

I was going to get away with it—again. This time, the destination for the diversion was the beach. Desperate to be pulled away, I ignored the question rising up inside of me. Instead of asking if I should go, I savored the rush as I walked to the fitting room with the $58.00 bathing suit, that I could not afford, but would make me look damn good. Eager to get it on, I placed the hanger on the hook and slipped off my clothes as I drank in the fabric’s tie-dyed design. It was just like a cup of sugary shaved ice that I craved as a girl. I imagined the person behind the counter of the wooden beach shack pouring three flavors at once. The bathing suit was blue raspberry, lime, and grape just before the colors blended together, before saturating every bit of the soft ice. Even though summer was almost over, I was going. Standing tall in the bikini, staring into the mirror, through it, I was already there. As I stepped out of my shoes, I imaged the bottoms of my feet burning on the sand as it radiated heat from the all day sun. Taking in the cold drinks, sea, and hotness, it was going to be heady. I need it! I insisted. Determined be filled up by the beach, I went straight the register and pulled out my credit card. With $73.00 available, I had just enough to get my fix.

That night, as I packed for the trip, I thought about how sexy I’d be, how much he’d want me, and how who he was didn’t spark a thing in me. Still surprised I’d agreed to go with this man, I tried to put it out of my mind as I found my good beach towel that matched my new bathing suit. I looked out the window to the porch as I made my way from my guest bedroom to my own. I couldn’t, he’d know, I thought as I walked toward the suitcase on my bed trying hard to control my craving for a clove. Pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth, aware of my breath, I needed to brush my teeth. I watched in the mirror as I brushed hard enough to make my gums bleed. I filled my cheeks with mouthwash, forced it around, and enjoyed the alcohol’s effect as it burned me. I held it as long as I could before spitting it out. I was relieved—proud—that I didn’t smoke. I was just as pleased that I’d agreed to take that weekend off. With it all temporarily under control, I was ready to get some sleep. I reached for my night guard and bit down against it; the tightness around my molars reassured me. My dental appliance was nighttime protection against the stress that had ramped up during that summer of 2006. I was ready for a break. I hadn’t had a bona fide beach vacation in well over a decade. In the two days away, I’d not only forget about work, I’d get some respite from all of the cumbersome uncertainties, my problems, that continued to mount and, somehow, were not my fault.

The next morning, I was feeling fresh. Excited to get out the door and on to the beach, I shoved my suitcases into my spotless, still new, car and slammed the door. After checking myself in the mirror, I went for the music. Instead of the usuals: Ani Difranco, Antony and the Johnsons, or Johnny Cash, I popped in a CD that, for the summer, had become my pick. KT Tunstall’s Eye to the Telescope must have been an impulse buy, not my typical choice—in fact, I didn’t really like it. She tried too hard and left little space. It was, in one word, overproduced, yet I listened. I cranked up “Black Horse and Cherry Tree” as she sang “You’re not the one for me,” while I merged onto I-40 speeding towards his house. I didn’t want to think about being “hot or cold”, just HOT—on fire, please! I didn’t want to think too much about any of the lyrics or consider who I was or wanted to be, but I played the song a few times on my way from Chapel Hill to Raleigh before turning it down as I slowly pulled in front of his house.

I wanted him to be the opposite of who he’d been on our first date. Hoping for intimacy, normalcy, not him, I made my way up his driveway and held my breath as I made my wish. Through the glass door I could see him walking towards me with that haughty daft grin on his face. Something happened in my chest (an Aurora Borealis viewing cancelled due to dreary skies type heartbreak) when I realized that the first date version of him would, in fact, be joining me on this rare and precious event. As he opened the door and greeted me, I hoped he didn’t hear as I sighed and flashed a duplicitous smile. Not wasting any time, he brought his things out to the driveway. My heart was heavy as he lifted his bag and finished loading up the car. I looked away attempting to momentarily get lost in the blue sky with only a few clouds—a sure sign that I shouldn’t back out. We got in, buckled up, and I focused, not on him, but the beach: sun, sand, and sea. We drove two and a half hours, long enough for me to know, without a doubt, that we were not right for each other. Our first date had been unremarkable, but on paper we should work. I wanted us to? I just didn’t like him, Guy, I knew right away, but I was attracted to the tension. I was excited by his aloofness, the distance between us. When he asked about a second date, to the beach, I said, “OK.”

Walking up the steps and through the front door of the faded yellow beach house, it was clear that this former retreat had become an abiding home. It was neat, small, but spacious enough and like the paintings of ocean scenes arranged just so, I was open and ready to walk through. Able to exhale in my getaway, I enjoyed the tour. There was a nice sleeper sofa in the sea foam blue living room and a color coordinated guest bedroom in back. The vintage nautical themed master stood command facing the beach and had its own bathroom that I never got to see. The guest bathroom was between the two bedrooms like the fresh stack of capri blue towels on the toiletry shelf, separating the sand dollars from the starfish. Off from the living room was a galley style kitchen and stools facing it and the focal point—the bar. There was a dining area that shared the living room’s space with a sliding glass door that served as window for looking out back at the neighbors’ small yards. Staring out the window I wondered, Who are these people living year round at the beach? They can never get their fill, I assumed looking at Wade, the homeowner and old friend of Guy. From the few minutes I’d known this seaside dweller, Wade went from safe enough to downright kind showing us around his raised house. Between Wade’s hospitality and his place with the inviting beach theme, it was plenty to feel right at home except someone was missing. I didn’t get to meet her, Jen, because she was away drying out.

Jen’s problem had been mentioned on the drive down, but I wanted to know more. I had questions—all of them. As we stopped at the kitchen, Wade gave us an update. “We talk when we can,” he explained addressing Guy then me like I knew her and the story. “She sounds like she’s doing OK,” Wade said looking down, leaning over the counter and smoothing out a kitchen towel on the bar. “Hope this time’s her last,” he whispered almost looking up at us, slowly shifting his weight before staring into space. “Wish I knew how long she’ll have to be there,” he added, making eye contact, trying to smile, wanting it to all go away. And that was it. There was nothing about why she was drinking so much or why she’d relapsed. Just that the beach was not the right place for her, well, them. “There’s too much temptation with a 24 hour party scene,” Wade admitted. He mentioned them possibly moving and that he might have to sell his old boat. “Wanna see?” he asked hoping we’d agree. With a reassuring smile, I looked at Wade to see which door we’d go out. We followed him down the back stairs, under the house to the renovated boat. I recognized his joy mixed with grief as he pulled back the custom cover to show us his treasure. I’d felt the same unwrapping the tissue paper that covered my new clothes after bringing them home from my favorite boutiques. In his eyes, I saw his connection to it all: the restoration and care. The things that mattered to him were clear. In that moment and for those two days, we were surrogates for Jen. It was obvious how much he missed her, but not her drinking. Missing her because of her drinking seemed especially hard on him.

We grabbed fountain sodas and a bite to eat before the three of us went out on Wade’s boat. It was nice being on the water until the salt air came at me so fast that I could hardly breathe. “I’m gonna give her all I’ve got,” I thought I heard Wade say as he pressed on the throttle. Was he referring to Jen or the boat? I wondered stumbling back. As I tried to find my footing, I looked up at the two men. What am I doing here? It wasn’t right and it wasn’t because of them. I tried to put the uneasiness out of my mind. Looking out at the ocean, focusing on the deep while keeping it light, I didn’t say much and I couldn’t wait to get back.

Later that evening as we got our fill of beer and fried food on the patio of a fish camp by the sea, I felt empty. I turned from Wade and Guy. I wanted to excuse myself but I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to be alone or, if Jen were around, I’d like to spend time with her; she’d understand. Looking out at couples talking, walking hand in hand along the beach, I noticed them looking down at their feet. I watched as the pairs of footprint shaped pools disappeared and it made me want something real. I would settle for a meaningful passing connection, a brief, but open conversation, just a hit of something solid. I needed someone, something to ground me.

After we left the beach and went back to the house, I ignored the tugging in my heart and deleted the scene of a true relationship in my head. I was becoming a master at it: distracting myself with whatever was nearby, and right there was Guy. Maybe it was just me. Maybe he wasn’t so bad. Even if who he was didn’t excite me, I could try to bridge the physical gap. If we kissed HARD maybe that would pierce the tension and I would get my steamy interlude on the sand. I wanted to be satiated for a bit.

As I changed into my bikini and grabbed my matching towel, I saw myself in the mirror, well, my body, not me. I knew what I was doing wasn’t right, and, as long as I didn’t look into my eyes, the consequences were as far from my mind as the work emails and unpaid bills. And I did look damn good! I was going to be a sexy make out star. And I was. It was, as he admitted, the hottest make out session he’d ever had. Our moonlit montage by the sea was somewhere barely above PG-13. It was just kissing, petting, no clothes came off, but it was sizzling. Evening became a late night and we were the only ones left on the beach. The stars were taken over by clouds as he grabbed my towel and shook it off. The fire followed us back to the faded beach house where the tension was resolved, the pressure released. Burned out, I tried to rest, but the emptiness was still there, resonating. Weightless, detached from my body, it was desolation. Nothingness. I had deserted myself by the sea. I was stranded with no night guard to protect me. Abandoned and dark, I was the dismal nighttime beach drifting off to sleep.

The next morning, it was rough facing the day—especially the guys. I had a headache and snuck into to the kitchen for black coffee to help me fain any feeling other than despair. After a few cups of joe and a day’s worth of Adderall, I was able to join the world, including Wade and Guy. I got ready and packed my bags before the three of us went out for an early lunch at a seaside dive.

The place was empty and I could feel Wade anticipating the same as we talked about leaving. I wanted to give the men some time alone and I needed a moment by myself so I walked out to the cloud covered beach. It felt right, with it just me. The bottoms of my feet did not burn against the sand. My shoes stayed on. The bathing suit, that barely got wet, was packed away with dirty clothes. I did not bring my towel. There was nothing to place in the soft sand. I did not sit, look out at the ocean, and lie back with my eyes closed seeing only red. It was all grey. Sober. A slight chill came over my skin from the breeze and sticky air. I kneeled and looked down hoping to find something to hold and take home with me. I noticed a tiny grey and white shell, already with a hole in the top. Even though I hadn’t done creative work in a while, with the shell in hand, I wanted to make something again. I would transform the shell while keeping her the same. Tiny and easy, I could see the piece resting beautifully in silhouette. Understated, natural, nothing showy, I envisioned. Just simple and honest. In that moment of clarity, it’s all I wanted to be.

March 1st, Making it Through

Mom and Me

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March 1st is special. Making it here means that I have–one again–made it through the hardest part of the year, winter. Since Mamaw passed away in 1989, I’ve dreaded Christmas and, since living in Alaska, I’ve struggled with winter. November through February is a tough time. “Just hang in there till March 1st,” I tell myself every year. Well, I made it! Again! March 1st! Here we are!

As good as I am at connecting things, it only struck me just today that my special day for making it through the dark period is also my Mom’s birthday. Since she passed away in 2003, I haven’t done much to acknowledge her birthday. March 1st has meant that spring with all the sunshine, warmth, and goodness is upon me. It’s my day of celebration for making it through the tough time.

Today, as I was looking for an old photo to go with a story I’m working on, I came across a birthday card from Mom. The card was from 1989, a front runner for Hardest Year of My Life. Mamaw (Mom’s mom) had suddenly passed away earlier that year and things at home were precarious, at best. I was in shock after Mamaw passed and there was no solace to be found anywhere especially at home. Seeing 1989 on the card brought up all the feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, and heart-being-ripped-out pain that I was feeling. 1989 was a bad, bad year.

Before finding this card today, I was waiting for a story to come to me, something to help me convey how thankful I am to have not only survived all the difficult things I’ve gone through, but how I am a better person for having experienced all those things. We don’t grow without struggle. This is something I didn’t understand until these past few years as I’ve chosen to go outside my comfort zone to get to the extraordinary things I knew were waiting for me. Growing up, I didn’t have a choice, but I do now. I could have played it safe and stayed put in an easy place, but that wouldn’t have been my life. It would have been me living someone else’s life. My life has afforded me opportunities to forgive big stuff and to learn what happens when I pray for my eyes to be taken from worthless things. It’s so good to be here. I’m me, the real me! I’m not someone who wants the white picket fence or happily ever after. I want realness, risks, and raw truth telling. I want the courage to say, “God bless you, but kindly get the f*** out of my way” to anyone trying to tell me I can’t live my dreams. Even though I still have work to do, I am living my dreams, basking in the warmth, and never dimming my light. I’m finally loving myself and I have such amazing love in my life.

I read mom’s message again as it fully reaches me for the first time today. She tells me that my struggles will make me into the person I have become. Here’s what she said:

7/30/89

Dear Dana,
I’m sitting here thinking how our lives have been changed during this past year. I’m sorry that your home life has not been the security and strength that is so necessary for a good foundation in life, but I know with your determination and intelligence that this will not be a stumbling block for you but a step forward in your endeavor for your goals.
Always reach for your goals, don’t look back, go forward and when you reach that mountain top be proud of your accomplishments. I know you will make it. Always remember that no matter what happens in any ares of our lives that I love you very, very much. You have been a blessing to me and I am so proud of you. Keep up the good work. Always keep God first in your life, remember He is always there for you and He will and can carry you thru all phases of your life if you will just let Him. Happy Birthday, my sweet Dana. I hope this is a wonderful year for you. With all of my love, Mom

Happy Birthday, Mom! I made it through! And this is going to be my best year yet!

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If you are struggling, it sucks! I’m not gonna sugar coat it. It is painful. I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this. Please also keep in mind that something good is on the other side. You will make it through. Peace and love to you, Dana

The Year of the Slop Bucket

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Mamaw kept the slop bucket under the kitchen sink. The bucket, the ritual, it was all curious to me. I didn’t understand it, how waste thrown at the edge of the garden was going to help that garden grow.

It was a just a mess and extra work for Mamaw. She’d have to get the bucket out from the cabinet, walk it down the back porch stairs all the way to the garden, and sling it. Splat! Just more debris on top of the shriveled up, rotten stuff from days before. The sight, sounds, and smells I remember well like so many other things with her including the bright green leaves from the radishes poking out nearby. Mamaw would help me pick and wash those pretty red root vegetables. I liked everything about radishes: their color, size, taste and special little spot. They were located in their own mini garden at the edge of the big one. That small garden, like Mamaw, was there just for me. The two gardens, the slop, Mamaw, and me were all there together under the persimmon tree.

Black and squashed, most of the ripe, fallen persimmons looked like the old rotting waste that lay at the edge of the garden. Sometimes, Mamaw would collect a bunch of just ripe persimmons and make a pudding. It was old people’s food, but I liked it. It was sweet and something you couldn’t by at the store. I only wanted the crunchy corner pieces, but I’d eat some from the middle if I had to. I liked watching her make it. That wooden masher and colander were vintage, like her and her food. Taking a bite out of Mamaw’s pudding, I’d think about the black smashed persimmons down by the garden and the decaying slop. It was honest, real, that decay and growth. Even though it seemed strange, I knew where it came from. It was as authentic as anything I’d seen in my young life.

This past year, 2015, was the year of the slop bucket for me. It was real, raw. Stuff got dumped on me and I dumped stuff. I discovered mini gardens still growing. I found comfort with the decay as I enjoyed the sweetness of life. I’m getting my hands dirty again and sinking my teeth into my truth and relationships. Mindful of the cycle, growth and death, I’m living like I want to die, with dirt underneath my fingernails and a bit of my husband’s flesh between my teeth. There’s more dumping to come in 2016. I’ll shed more layers and choose to become more vulnerable as I let go. It’s real work with so much more to be done. I’m rolling up my sleeves and salivating cause 2016 is going to be a bumper crop!

Johnny, Laurie, and the bees

My work

 

People often ask my why I work with these tiny beads. I’ll tell them that it’s meditative, often really quiet. With the work, I find lots of free association, deepest desires, memories, and prayer. I thought it would be neat to write something to help folks understand what it’s like for me. So, here you go:

I work and find what’s there, what comes to me. Each bead held, wrapped is a prayer I send up:

peace

gratitude

bees

the crying child in the distance

my dad

being with grief

my sweet, witty husband

his daughters

their needs

the tree outside my window

the countless pink blossoms

being here

being present

being at peace

BREATHE

those whom I have loved

those I have hurt

those who have hurt me

release and

BREATHE

I am sorry

I love you

forgive me

thank you

forgive

forgive

forgive

BREATHE

I belong here

doing this

now

I am worthy

I know now

years looking outside

finding it within

this is my intention

to create to be alive, fully awake

and help her, the one who will wear this, to also know

to find new life

to claim her worth

to heal her pain

and know she is loved

loved

loved

BREATHE

Johnny Cash and why he wore black

For all the prisoners who have long paid for their crimes

still there because she’s a victim of the times

these times

BREATHE

we are all worthy

set us free

help us set ourselves free

help us find our keys

KEY

Laurie

how kind she was to me

our backyard

green grass

swinging in the hammock between the big trees

peace

gratitude

bees

Dear God, I give you all of these.

Reach for Me

Daddy's Hands

Lying awake too early this morning, I stare up, into the darkness. My mind is unable to reconcile all the things that are happening, the new uncertainties. In bed with my husband by my side, to my left, I feel his warmth. Unwilling to wake him from his sound sleep, I gently offer my right hand out from under the sheets. As my desperate mind struggles, my soul reaches for help. With my palm turned up, God, the Universe, knows that I’m in need. Maybe, especially this morning, one of those who have passed will come take my hand, reach for me. I feel a coolness in my right palm. Maybe it’s the AC, the tiny fan beside of my bed, or Mamaw, Mom, Mamaw Mamie, or the one who just recently passed, Dad.

I think of Dad, his hands, and how he used them. The old home movie of him making mattresses plays in my head. He’s so handsome and strong. I recall his special way of holding his props, coffee cup, cigarette, and keys, as he paused to watch birds eat a few seeds. I see his manicured fingers pulling the lawn mower up the steep bank in front of our house. I remember him popping the hood of my car to check the oil. Each time three dips and wipes to make sure he had an accurate read.

My mind goes back to just over a week ago. As Dad lay in his hospice bed, I admired his handsome hands that I held in mine. I noticed that my nails had gotten long, which only happens when I haven’t been doing the things I should. I considered my life, creative work, and why I’d placed so much on hold. I wondered, did he ever do the same? “Daddy, did you ever want to be and artist, or do anything creative?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “I liked to draw horses when I was young.” That was his simple response. With those few words he told me a lot. He was a bit of a dreamer, much like me. We both love being outdoors and prefer buzzing, living things with wings to those that talk. I think of how strong and gentle he was, how he paid attention to details.

This morning, I imagine Dad drawing pictures of horses as he longed to be out, free. For him sanctuary was a blue sky, green grass, and colorful birds in the trees. I daydream for him. Dad quietly asks the horse to come down, gently reaching his hand out to barely pet her nose. He whispers to her, “Shhh, shhh, it’s ok.”

As the sun comes up, my husband, reaches for me, and pulls me in tight. I embrace him. With my right hand clinging to his arm, I feel his warmth, his life. I know that it’s all unfolding as it should. My husband and I are not alone, our needs will be met. There is comfort in his arms.

Where Do Bumblebees Go When It’s Windy?

Bee

Where do bumblebees go when it’s windy? I wonder as I head out in the wind for a run, trying to clear my head and lighten my heart. Being open is being vulnerable and vulnerability hurts. It’s hard for me to catch my breath.

I run past the flowering bush where I recently saw a bumblebee. So rare, now, to see big fuzzy bees. Today, as my hurt buzzes in my head and stings my heart, I think of bumblebees and the beauty they bring.

As I turn toward the creek, I stop running. The headwind stops me. It pushes back as hard as I push forward. I give in. It becomes a contemplative walk. I continue in the wind, turning uphill. Can the wind blow all of this hurt away?

I reach the path to my favorite bench by the creek in the woods. I walk across the rocks to my shady resting spot. Bees like the shade. I try to hold back my tears until I think I’m out of sight. Choking up, I look for an answer to my question about bumblebees and the wind. After a quick search, I learn that bumblebees go out in strong wind even when other bees won’t. My tears flow like this creek. As do the bumblebees, I know to keep facing the strong, powerful force, my wind, my hurt. No retreat to a hive, a home. Just keeping on despite this wind.

But, as I sit here with this hurt, in the distance I see a man. Feeling a little startled, I wonder if he sees me crying. Does he know? My eyes well up again as his wide-brimmed hat reminds me of a beekeeper. Is he coming to lead me home?

Uncomfortably Authentic

Uncomfortably authentic. It’s how I find myself each day. I set out rubbing up against the thorns, vines, and overgrown brush on the path that is my life, trying to reach deep, to get home, to my authentic self.

As I venture out each day, I find my center and try to stay in the moment. It seems easy. At the start, I can remember the way, while appreciating the tiny purple flowers, nature’s jewelry, that line my path. I effortlessly move along.

But then, sometimes, I lose my compass in the thick, traumatic kudzu as it works to choke out life. I spend too much time tangled up there, forgetting that I can rely on the sun, moon, and wind to get where I need to go. Remembering that navigation need not come from anything more, I free myself. Then, back on my path, I move on.

I find my balance walking on that narrow beam over the rushing river that flows between my past and present. I could easily fall into that river of what could have been and get carried away. More than once, it pulled me so far downstream that I spent a good long while trying to find my way back. Frail and on the brink of giving up, I barely recognized my path. But then, something about it felt natural and good. I trusted my instincts and continued moving forward. Knowing that it will all work out if I just keep trying. I move on.

I get near the dark, covered place that once was my home, the home I feared. I find it desperately compelling and nervously look over. It seems to tug on me. Days when I’m strong, I’ll walk up to it and look in. I never can quite see what’s inside. Whatever it is, I scares me. I tell myself that, over time, I’ve become less drawn to shadowy places. I get back on my path. I move on.

It can be a lonely journey, but, invariably, the clouds give way to bright sunshine. I welcome those moments of clarity. Today, as the sun peeks out, I see a red fox in the distance. Is she looking back at me? She’s beautiful. Proud. She’s fully aware of what I don’t yet know. Unafraid of her, I keep walking on my path. I move on.

The forest closes behind me. All things known and unknown, that entangled me, I leave behind. I can just stay on this path, this sure one, and move forward, move on.

I’ve made it home just as the sun starts to go down. The screen door closes behind me, I stand here looking out. I breathe in the sweet, sticky air. Do I reflect on the day? No. I’m just thankful to be here, now, to feel tired, worn, while knowing I’ve made it home. In my bed, uncomfortably authentic, I’ll sleep well tonight.