Forest Fires, Drama Queens, and Authenticity

firefire

This is an excerpt from The Oat Project, from the rock concert chapter. It may or may not make the final version (coming this summer!!!). Enjoy…and now, back to it.

It’s like World Wide Wrestling. What is that fake-fighting impulse? Do we all have it in one form or another? Like the forest needs fire to burn out the brush to make room for new growth, does conflagration help our lives grow? Do relationships need flare-ups? Do authentic people show their fiery moods? Does being “adult” and “mature” and “consistent” actually squelch authentic life, dumbing us down, allowing us to hide, curtailing growth? Might allowing a little more “drama” (however intensely I hate it), even when slightly manufactured, lead us to more authenticity?

The Gifts of Empty

"Curried Coconut Oat Patties with Vegan Peanut Sauce"

“Curried Coconut Oat Patties with Vegan Peanut Sauce”

The kitchen is where my inner science geek and slapdashing artist get to dirty dance…pure alchemy.

Cooking has always given me energy, yes; but it also requires a focus, effort, and sense of play that I haven’t been able to muster often over the last year and a half since my mom died. In the midst of not feeling like eating–let alone cooking–apples and cheese, toast, coconut milk lattes, sweet potatoes, and cheese & pickle sandwiches have been my stopgap foods.

Today, my cupboards and fridge were running to empty. This week, the single mom artist life, in between/on the cusp of the big launch/project, caught up to the food budget, so I’ve been eating what was on hand. Everyday, I eat pretty simply anyway, and while going through more of mom’s stuff (yes, still; empathy to those of you who’ve experienced it), rearranging and reorganizing my house, apples and peanut butter or a baked potato with cheese served well for meals most days. Today, there was an apple and peanut butter left, but I ran out of cheese and potatoes a couple of days ago and sweet potatoes a few days before that, and I was just a little sick of the apple thing. But as I organized and cleaned the kitchen, I came upon a few things long forgotten, shoved in the back of cupboards. One was a bag of whole oats. And that sounded good, so I made them for lunch.

But for dinner, I was at a loss. Out of bread (gluten free, alas). Out of cheese, out of chicken or fish, out of salad. I stood at the open fridge like a teenager.

I could eat a pickle. Or yet another apple with peanut butter. Or more oats.

I wasn’t going to starve. But that sense of play and taste sparked in me as I looked in the mostly empty freezer. I pulled out the gigantic Costco bag of green beans and threw some of them into a pan with thyme and–looking over at the spices I’d moved this morning–coriander. While those cooked, I pulled out the oats I’d not wanted, looked at them, looked back at the spices. Ah. I put about a cup of them in a bowl, added a forlorn 1/4 bag of finely shredded coconut that’s been in the freezer for close to two years, added a few shakes of curry powder and salt, stirred, and let it sit.

I need a little protein…hmm. I got a can of diced tomatoes out of the cupboard, pureed them, and in a small saucepan stirred them with a little garlic powder, coriander, and salt, putting it on a simmer. While it reduced to about half, I ate the now-done green beans. Then, I made patties of the oats mixture and fried them up. While they cooked, I put a big dollop of peanut butter in a bowl, blended in a spoonful of chili garlic paste, then incorporated the thick tomato sauce. If I weren’t out of coconut milk, a little would have been a no-brainer. By then, the patties were crisply done. So I ate…food, a meal, a meal I made.

And it was delicious.

And as I sat here enjoying the taste, I recalled all the dishes spun from nothing when I was out of most food and had to dig deep into the cupboards. My pumpkin soup. How we make hot cocoa (from being out of milk). So many. And now “Curried Coconut Oat Patties with Vegan Peanut Sauce.” So much yumminess made from empty. So much from nothing.

I thought of the past two years and work and relationships. So very often, I sit before the book’s manuscript, working hard, seeing the finish line so close, wanting to plow through it, and I sit there staring at it, feeling empty, with nothing left to give or say. And beyond the book, I’ve felt so drained of any emotions but grief and missing my mom that it feels like the power to love and be in people’s lives has been as fleeting and gone as food from those kitchen shelves.

But then, I looked at this meal I just ate.

It’s delicious.

And it came from emptiness. Those depths and forgotten corners, that space, yielded rich sustenance…and it tastes good.

And if this can happen, so, perhaps, even when I’m on empty, can I continue to write, create, and communicate…my job. And perhaps, even in the midst of the empty space, I can reach out, hug in, and continue to connect even more beautifully and authentically than I did in the midst of stocked shelves.

Empty may feel empty; it may even be empty.

But empty is not dead. And I am thankful for its gifts.

Out of the Blue, a Poem for You

Thunderstorm

Some days, writing is like a laser beam: sharp, focused. Other days, it’s like a flood: deep, dense. This day, this morning, I woke with an emotional hangover. Yesterday–my second Mother’s Day without my mother–was heavy with unexpected grief, conflict, and affection. My children saved it, of course, as did the pie they baked for me with my (ever-Friend) ex, as did going through Mom’s shells together, telling stories, as did hugging each other in the aftermath of sugar and sand.

This morning, thankfully, a friend (this one) said to come to our favorite place (this one) to write. So I was saved from wallowing in that emotional hangover, from drowning. And writing happened. And it was like a flood today, ideas and fragments and shards of thought flowing out of my mind onto paper. And who knows where this originated (May we just let its origins lie, please, letting it be without the need to know, letting it be without expectation or even hope, though maybe finding origins in finally choosing life over joining my mother?), but here is one of those shards; a poem.

My Love shall be like Kansas
Jene’ Jackson, May 2014

My Love shall be like Kansas,
an open plain
an infinite space
upon which the sun of me
shall shine,
into which the rain of me
shall soak, tilth bursting new life,
across which the storm of me
shall rage,
shall gather its skirts to build the head of wrath up into the heavens
unleashing fury
wind water fire
oh, the fire
of lightnings past and future and Now
only Now,
bending blade
breaking bough
shattering windows behind which safety lies,
under which all others cower
in dark cellar holes
in the face of the flinging
lashing
furious
joy
of my love.

A Story of My Mother’s Last Gifts, at The Story Project – TONIGHT

story project may 2014

A little over two years ago, I told a story from the summer I wrote The Oat Project for a program here in Colorado Springs called The Story Project. Like The Moth Radio Hour out of New York City, it’s live, local storytelling without a script. Tonight, on this Mother’s Day weekend, I’m going to tell another story, of my mom’s last lessons and gifts. There are two performances, May 9th and May 25th.

Getting this story out has been so. very. difficult. I will probably cry on stage. But if I can do this, can stand at a pulpit in front of almost 300 people to give my mom’s eulogy, then tonight will be fine. I’d love to see you all there. Please wish me luck. And love and kindness and joy to you all for Mother’s Day. Please hug your mothers extra for me. :)

Here’s that story from 2012: http://youtu.be/BAGlFpbnwHc

 

Gigantic, Google, Macrosomatognosia, and Me

Attack_of_the_50_Feet_Woman

This post has no neat and tidy ending. It does have a soundtrack, though. Go here to listen to the musical version of these words.

It’s 11:38pm on “G” day for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I was determined to catch up and post today but got busy. So just now, I decided to go for it and write on the first “G” word that came to mind. It was “gigantic.”

Since childhood, I have occasionally experienced a strange sensation. It would usually be when I was going to sleep. Early on, I recall no cause, no recurring fear or anxiety. It would just happen. When I closed my eyes, it was as though radiating from the places where my body parts touched, I grew gigantic, universe-sized if I kept my eyes closed and continued to let my arm touch my leg, or leg touch the other leg, in endless variations. It was so scary. And though it happens less often these days, it hasn’t lost its pain.

In mulling over what I’d write on “gigantic,” I thought I’d Google (another G word) it to see if I could find an explanation. My Google luck is well-known amongst friends–ask me anything, and I’ll find it–but I expected this to be the time it failed me. Nevertheless, I Googled “feeling of being gigantic neurology.” And holy moly.

alice in house

It’s called macrosomatognosia and is a rare symptom, most often associated with migraines. It’s also called the “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome” (AIWS) from when she grew gigantic after drinking the potion. Well-known, researched and everything, there are papers on it and forums for those with it.

Over the last few years, as I’ve woken up and opened up, it’s felt like I’m becoming a real girl. And “down the rabbit hole” is often associated with a spiral. And The Oat Project has often felt like a potion to me. And I’ve discovered surprising ways that yes, I’m weird, but no, not the only one (especially in being a Highly Sensitive Person). And when I read the accounts of those with macrosomatognosia, I was–just now, mind you–floored. They described sensations exactly like mine, even “whole body pulsation” (sounds fun, but trust me, it’s unnerving).

Do I know what to do with this? Not really. I’ll probably research it a bit more to make sure I don’t need to “do” anything, but just knowing it’s an acknowledged condition helps to handle it and the sensations I experience more often. Cheers to Google, cheers to you, and may we all sleep well this night! Love and hugs, Your Ever Strange-but-not-the-only-One, Jene’

p.s. This is my “G” day entry for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I’m posting 6 days a week for the entire month of April, one post for every letter of the alphabet! This one is late, because traveling messed up my schedule. So stay tuned for the other catch-up blogs today and here on out, and check out some of the other 2000+ writers participating.

Face Your Fears

superwoman hang gliding

I am on a “bumpy ride.” Almost home. The flight to Denver was a turbulent one.
I almost did not get on this plane to Colorado Springs.
I almost got off after the pilot announced it would be a bumpy ride.
I think of all the friends in Denver who could give me a ride home.
I recall my envy at friends’ relief by using Xanax, how they wouldn’t make it through the day without it.

And then, my thoughts do this:
I wish I could dull my senses to happy.
I suck at taking pills, so no Xanax. Sigh.
I am hung over from last night’s wine and hot tub-soaked goodbye party, so more alcohol won’t work. Sigh.

And then, I look at the bored faces of those seated around me, seemingly unbothered by the pilot’s announcement. And my thoughts do this:
What if I had to fly to get to a book signing?
What if all my dreams came true and my writing actually got popular and thousands of people waited on me, wrapping themselves around a city block to get my signature on their copy of my book?
Do I care more about my fear…or their love?
And then, one of my favorite Dune quotes taps me on the shoulder: “Face your fears, or they will crawl over your back.”
Would I allow my fear to defeat my dream and the expectations of those waiting on me?
No. No, I would not.

I feel the pilot revving the engines to test for flight. And then, my thoughts do this:
Neither Xanax or alcohol would change these circumstances.
Neither would make the plane safer or the flight smoother.
They would only change my brain chemistry.
And I can do that myself.
The fear is my own to manage.
I decide which way my mind will go.
If I don’t manage it, my fears will ALWAYS crawl over my back in constant, chronic defeat.

I recall a hang gliding flight, strapped in over a tandem pilot at 2000+ feet above the ground. The wind, some straps and metal and nylon, one man, and me, far above the earth. I expected it to be quiet and peaceful, floating on the wind. Instead, it was shuddering loud. We cut through the air.
Flying is cutting through air.
Thus, turbulence is normal and expected, and a “bumpy ride” is not necessarily unusual or unsafe. I look out of the plane’s window, watching the jet prop hum. I fill my mind with the memory of soaring up into the spiral of a thermal, like a bird.

Then I recall Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, one of my favorite Miyazaki movies. The heroine flies her own wing with the same everyday blasé with which we ride bicycles.
I flood my mind with my longing to be like her, with the sensation I always get watching her ride the wind.
Then more images from my other Miyazaki movies flow through my mind as the plane taxis down the runway.
The sky is where I long to go. It’s my favorite part of Miyazaki movies: Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Nausicaa.
I fill my mind with my own imagined sensation of riding the wind.

It is memory.
I remember, and breathe.
And my panic calms and floats away.
And we take off.
And I breathe.
And I write these words. For me. For you.

Fifteen bumpy minutes later, we land. I am home.

p.s. The day after I experienced this, I was trying to recover from the trip, sore and exhausted, when suddenly my body kicked into its hypersensitive tingling panic in customary head-to-toe waves. Darkness began to overwhelm my mind as usual…and then I remembered the flight and what I did with the fear. So I decided that my body’s panic was instead the hypercharging energy I need to do what I want to do, to finish my book, to keep writing, to manage single-mom life, to just be. And my mind calmed and the darkness receded. I shall fly.

p.p.s. This is my “F” day entry for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I’m posting 6 days a week for the entire month of April, one post for every letter of the alphabet! This one is late, because traveling messed up my schedule. So stay tuned for the other catch-up blogs today and here on out, and check out some of the other 2000+ writers participating.

Exceptions: The Game of Thrones, March Madness, and I Do Not Watch Television

game of thrones

I do not watch television.
I do not own a tv.
If I watch tv, it shall never be in the daytime.
If it is in the daytime, it is only because I’m sick.

These are my rules.

The medium stresses me out. I hold my breath when in suspense. I have an outsider’s suspicion of the popular. I can’t sleep for a couple of hours after watching at night. The ads! Ack! I sold advertising for two years and know marketing and watch them wondering how people laugh at the disgusting manipulation! And though I pine for a tv every time a big game comes around–like the NCAA championship tonight–I remain at “no,” I shall not have one in my house.

But here I sit, not sick,  the morning sun clear and bright on the street perfectly visible outside my living room windows…and I watch tv. I mean, it’s on a monitor via the web, but still, it’s tv.

I am not cleaning (as planned). I am eating, which is good, as lately I’ve been in a stage of forgetting to eat. But I’m watching Game of Thrones and happy as a clam.

What happened to my rules?

I’m a preacher’s daughter. In our church, going to the movies was the province of the secular world, for less Holy Spirit-filled people. No movies. I saw five before leaving for college. And I actually understand why they forbade them. Movies are powerful vehicles of themes, information, doubts, and titillation over which the church could exercise no control except to forbid it.

But then, the VCR (for you young’uns, like a DVD player) was invented. And the exceptions started flooding through church structures, beginning in the homes of perfectly heart-centered, holy people. I recall noticing a feeling of almost secret chagrin in those who admitted owning one (shame, in other words). Today, going to the movies is acceptable–and perhaps those days are viewed as a more simplistic time.

So technology unmade the movie ban. When does progress unmake my rules? Can it be good?

Sometimes, when I break my own rules, the unexpected happens (though it happens so often, I should expect it). The church discovered the power of the medium as a result of the unmaking of their rule, now using video to more effectively broadcast their message.

And though I sat with some chagrin and shame at “wasting time” in the middle of the day, when I “should be writing” (though, holy moly, did traveling exhaust me this time), I was inspired. Watching Game of Thrones motivated facing down the writing of gut-honest-memoir The Oat Project. How?

Well, I love the book I’m writing. But I also have so. many. screenplays in me, clamoring for life on the page and screen. Watching a well-done story like GoT was awesome.

I am ready to be donedonedone with The Oat Project, get it launched, out there, plan the promotion, the tours, plot the next one on its theme…all so I can unleash the fiction inside of this crazy mind of mine–the screenplays, the sitcoms, the short stories, the children’s books, the novels, the songs, the poems. But first, I must crest the mountain of the First Book.

This line from Sunday’s GoT premiere particularly resonated. It was the former-knight fool’s words to Sansa. “Let my name have one more moment in the sun before it disappears from the world.” I write to merge my light with everyone else’s, to perhaps shine on someone else’s life, to make my life matter before it disappears from the world, a feeling inspired because I made an exception.

I would have made another last night to watch the NCAA championship game, but had no way to watch it, didn’t want to get out, and had stuff to do around the house. I shall make another exception next week with the next installment of Game of Thrones. And let’s just not even get into my subscription to Netflix. Exceptions matter. And they can be good, And I’m okay with that. May we all grow to the place of grace to ourselves when we make exceptions–frivolous or otherwise–so we may use them. Love and hugs to you all this day! Jene’

p.s. This is my “E” day entry for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I’m posting 6 days a week for the entire month of April, one post for every letter of the alphabet! This one is late, because traveling messed up my posting. So stay tuned for the other catch-up blogs today and here on out, and check out some of the other 2000+ writers participating.

Divergent? Or Derailed?

jj at katy

What do you do when you fall short of a goal? How do you Define it? Is it a Divergence? Or a Derailing?

Are you more motivated with humongous, “unrealistic” goals? Or small steps? I am slowly figuring out how I work best. I keep thinking that making big goals and telling everyone so I feel obligated helps me get things done. And it has, but only to a point.

As my eyes have always been bigger than my stomach, I tend to make very, very unrealistic goals. Yes, those big goals push me to produce more than I’d have accomplished without them. But I perpetually feel like a loser, which spirals down into less accomplishment than having no goal would have produced.

As I said in yesterday’s blog, I’m in California until tomorrow. I’ve been here for ten days, wonderfully hosted by two friends who wanted to support and give me space to focus solely on finishing the book. The last couple of days, before bed, I’ve been reading Divergent (can’t put it down, up too late, don’t care…cheers, fellow bookworms).

When I first heard the title, I thought of the usual definition of divergent, that of leaving the accepted path. It’s usually a negative, more like “derailing,” out of one’s control. But in the book Divergent, divergence is born of abundance. It’s too many talents, too much ability.

Right now, old Jene’ would say that because I’m not donedonedone with The Oat Project, as I’d planned, I have derailed on this trip. My big goal was to be done.

But yesterday, I realized that in the last ten days, I’ve finally—FINALLY!—gotten into the habit of facing the words, the page, and largely gotten over facing me from seven years ago, the pain of grief, the discomfort of writing a memoir, the constant self-analysis, the gut honesty it requires. And, I have gotten great work done, moved it forward far more than I could have if I had been home. Friends and strangers, writers and readers, keep reminding me writing always takes longer than planned, that the feeling of accomplishment is in the doing as well as the finishing.

Am I pissed at myself that it’s not done, that I will not be bringing a finished manuscript triumphantly home?

Yes.

But I can’t stay in that mental place. And that triumph will come, because now, I’m slogging. And I like the slogging. It’s not a derailing. It’s a divergence, but only from an unrealistic goal and in the sense of abundance. I don’t need the gigantic goal any more. I have the divergence of too much. It’s a big, often overwhelming, but deeply rich gift to be writing this. And I’ve diverged onto the only path writing can be, of slogging.

Reconnecting with my old self, literally from over 15 years ago, pre-marriage, kids, divorce, book, move, all of it. But I’m not done with the book. Even with a deeper understanding of Divergence, I’m still asking why I couldn’t finish–besides simply the sheer number of hours it takes.

(if you could see the pause here: breath out, trying not to cry in public, feeling/thinking shitshitshitshit, feeling like a loser, embarrassed, thankful)

Yesterday, it hit me: I have so much more healing to do than I realized. The first week here, I was a block from the ocean but didn’t go over very often. A BLOCK from the OCEAN. WhatthehellwasIthinking!?

I was writing, I told myself. And my grief-sensitized nervous system still gets overwhelmed by tons of people, so the tourists were too much. But then yesterday, I sat on another beach amongst few people, and realized why it had been hard. It was the weight of the sea.

After a while of sitting a few feet from the water, breathing with the waves and being soaked in the complete sensory overwhelm that is the ocean, I wrote the following (And is it hard to share this with you? Yes.):

Dear Mom,
Hi. The irony that I write to you now, when you can no longer read this, is not lost on me. But I shall go ahead, for today.
I’m sitting on a beach, looking out at the Pacific. I thought of you because this is something I would have liked to share with you.
I am afraid. Afraid that if I immerse in the water before me, I don’t know who will emerge.
Will it be me? Am I “me” any more, apart from the sea?
As I lie here on my belly, feeling my back begin to burn, I am close enough to these words to be mesmerized by the movement of ink soaking into the page.
I am afraid of getting in the water.
Will it wash away all the pain? Will it salt my wounds? Will I want to keep walking in, to disappear into the deeps?
That is the fear.
It might be too much.
For the sea is salt water as are tears.
Will I drown? Will I want to drown?
I wish you were here. Love, your daughter

I don’t want to drown. I want swim. I want to cut through the water of the sea like a porpoise. I want to play in this life, in my task of writing The Oat Project. I want to feel light and strong and supple in the water, feeling it as I move across land. I want to diverge more than I derail. And I want to see it that way, instinctively, because I know what moving in the water feels like, because the salt and sand of this place is embedded…as is my mother, as is my grief, as is the brilliance of the sun.

Right now, in just a few minutes, I’m going to go back to that place on the beach. And though I’ve already showered and “gotten ready” for this day, I shall immerse, the disdain of derailing drowned in diverging in the deeps.

Love and hugs. Jene’

p.s. This is my “D” day entry for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. I’m posting 6 days a week for the entire month of April, one post for every letter of the alphabet! So stay tuned, and check out some of the other 2000+ writers participating.

p.p.s. This message brought to you by my dear friends Mister, and Karen (go like her page and buy her jewelry!) and the dear ladies, ample wifi, lovely double shots, and great food of Katy’s Café.

Call Me! It’s California!

spiral stone

T-Mobile thinks I’m in Mexico.

Last night, as I arrived at the unexpected gift of two nights in a condo on the beach, my phone pinged. I wondered who might be texting so late and looked to find T-Mobile’s cheerful message: “Welcome to Mexico! Texts are $.50 and calls are $1.79 per minute!”

T-Mobile is wrong. I’m in California. But I am close enough to our southerly neighbor that the signal’s line is blurred.

Now, I’m a flexible person—“bendy”—both physically and mentally. My bones are loosely joined, longer tendons making them flow and pop in and out of alignment easily.

I naturally adjust to circumstances. Though others perceive this as peacemaking, I have always thought it was the logical course for a shy person.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if it is more a part of who I am, rather than a behavior imprinted by a nomad upbringing. Adaptability is almost always a good thing…almost.

My trainer recommends lifting weights “to tighten you up a bit.” I wonder if I need to tighten up a bit metaphorically, too. To bend a little less. To stand tall and strong for myself. To perhaps expect and hope sometimes to be the one around which others adjust. Not always. Just sometimes.

Sometimes, a little play in the line throws everything off instead of making everything smoother. Sometimes, jiggy doesn’t cut it. Sometimes, Spot On is best.

Because T-Mobile’s towers can’t pinpoint my location, I lose phone service. And though I am all about Flow and Flexibility and Surfing the Circumstances, I’m embracing a little falcon-eyed focus to craft and move into the life I want.

So, Cheers on this day, to being Spot On! (I’m talkin’ to YOU, T-Mobile)

p.s. This is my entry for day three, the day of “C” for the A to Z April Blogging Challenge. :) MUAH!

p.p.s Thank you, gals at Katy’s Cafe on the IB for staying open late so I could post this. You rock. xoxox

 

The Benefits of Bending

Bending

I woke late this morning after ten hours of sleep. I’ve been in San Diego for a week visiting a friend, and last night, I moved to another friend’s house. Getting away from regular life has worked well for focusing on finishing my book, moving it into the next stage…this time, FINISHING it.

So I’m here a few days more. Oddly enough, I’ve known both of these friends from when I lived in Florida, pre-1996…“Back in the Day!” Last night, she and I had a great time catching up years of life and experience. Waking, I felt the late night, the change of locale, and the being-away-from-home in my bones. I said good morning, we chatted, then my body clamored and I said I needed to do a little yoga to wake up. I went in my bedroom and started.

As I finished up the first sun salutation, I could hear Mark Whitwell’s voice in my head: “Just grab them and show them how to raise their arms and breathe and then they’re doing yoga!” My default is solitude. I acknowledge the need for it.

But this morning, I could feel the connection with my friend in the other room, still strong after all these years. And I knew. I knew I needed—for me and for her—to Bend.

So I stopped and went to her room around the corner and said, “Hey, would you like to do yoga together? I don’t do much, but I could show you my little routine.”

She smiled and said, “Yes! That would be great. I was about to do some, too, thinking if you did it at home, I could, too.” And we did my short sun salutation routine, and woke and laughed and breathed together.

And because I bent my routine, I did more yoga than I would have alone and felt better.

Sometimes, in relationship and even little things like yoga, How We Are—our personality, preference, even the disciplined routine—benefits from bending. Sometimes, we must Bend to properly bend.

Namaste. And cheers to Bending.