Shorts :: Marcy and Martha

Recently I attended an all day writing retreat entitled “The Next Season” at Hidden Lake Retreat in beautiful Eagle Creek, Oregon. The grounds were absolutely magical, with several acres to explore.

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Serenity in the woods


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The surging fish ladder


During the morning session, 12 writers participated in 15 minutes prompts. The first one started with a chuckle. One of the facilitators removed a sheet from the floor, which had been covering a mysterious lumpy pile of…shoes? She asked us to each pick a pair.
We all got up a bit hesitantly. My eyes slid to the pile, and instantly I knew which shoes I would choose. Can you guess why?
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Marcy                     Martha


Then she said, “I’d like to know what these shoes are saying to each other.”
…really?
Well, it turned out to be the most fun prompt of the day! So, here goes. It’s not going to win a Pulitzer, but it sure was fun to write.

“Your edges are curling, Martha,” Marcy sneered.
“You’re no spring chicken yourself, Marcy.”
“At least I’ve managed to pretend I have some class left,” said Marcy.
“Who needs class when you have a story?” Martha retorted.
“Remember Cinderella and the Glass Slipper? The shoe that got left behind ended up in the hands of a prince! No one cared about the shoe that stayed with Cinderella. Sure, it may have looked better, scratch-free, but the other slipper will always be remembered as the one who brought Cinderella to her prince!” Finished Martha.
“God, Martha!” Marcy huffed, “Why are you such a drama queen? That’s just an urban legend. Besides, you’re just a $20 slide from DSW. Get over yourself.”
Martha simply replied, “I know you are, but what am I?”

 

#iamabooknerd: Tweets from Wordstock 2017

There are those who believe that a book is meant to be enjoyed once, then set free. What’s that saying? If you love something, let it go. These folks are staunch believers that you can never get that initial frisson of excitement again, so why bother reading anything more than once?
Then there are people like me. I’ve read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides at least five times since it was published in 2002. Every single time, I get that rush. Every single time, I turn the pages in ecstasy, words like fine chocolate. Every. Single. Time.

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Love love love this book!


Last Saturday I braved the rain and ten thousand other book nerds to attend my very first Portland Wordstock. I dressed in layers, but not too many that I would be sweating all over the books I would inevitably buy. I brought a hat for the trips between venues. And I packed my water bottle but sadly, forgot the snacks.
|Tweet| #pdxbookfest tips: Bring major snacks. By the time you find a short enough food truck line, it’ll be time for your next reading.
Hands down, my favorite reading was from the duo of Jeffrey Eugenides and Danzy Senna. Jeffrey admitted that he cracks jokes to keep nervousness at bay, but he certainly didn’t seem nervous while keeping us in stitches. His quotes about character development, Detroit, and his new book of short stories, Fresh Complaint were tinged with guffaw-worthy, self-effacing humor.
|Tweet| #pdxbookfest tips: It is completely a-okay to fangirl out over a middle aged man with hilarious hair and a Mr. Rogers sweater… if it’s Jeffrey Eugenides. #iloveyoujeffrey #youtooDanzy
I’d never heard of the other speaker, Danzy Senna, but that didn’t stop me from buying her book, New People, after hearing her read one paragraph, then speak of the philosophy behind the book.
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Cannot wait to crack this open!


|Tweet| #pdxbookfest tips: Get to every venue line at least 40 minutes early. I was exactly 30 minutes early to my next reading and it’s at capacity already.
I picked four other readings that I wanted to attend. I made it into two. I realized that in order to participate fully and effectively at Wordstock, you need at least one other person: a friend to hold your place at the venue…someone to grab lunch at one of the food carts while you wait in line for the bathroom. A buddy to get autographs while you scope out the next event or the enticing book fair(s). Someone who remembered to bring a large enough backpack for all the books you bought. Tandem attendance is essential! #lifelessons
And did I mention the Wordstock pre-funk on Friday evening? What is Lit Crawl? Two words: Booklover’s Burlesque! Lit Crawl Portland was spread out all over downtown Portland, bringing together readers, writers, and the oh-so-curious. I attended two events at Cassidy’s, but the most memorable was the Booklover’s Burlesque.
I watched the burlesque with a man I met on Tinder last year. Early on in the dating process, we realized we were star-crossed lovers. According to Willy Shakespeare, such pairings are often said to be doomed from the start…and ours absolutely was. However, our adventures always turned into amazing dates, so we continue to see each other every once in a while as friends. If you haven’t tried this, it’s absolutely wonderful to have a plus one with whom there is established chemistry, but absolutely no expectation or goal. //tangent over//
The tiny room was packed before the show even started, so we squeezed in tight behind the beveled glass windows and watched, fascinated. Since we were outside the room, we couldn’t tell what they were reading. I’m still curious whether it was some sort of erotica, whereby the burlesque would make the most sense, or if it was randomly chosen material with the burlesque added for paradoxical flair. Either way, it was scintillating, titillating, and delightful to watch.
Overall impressions of Wordstock weekend?
*Totally overwhelming lines and crowd, totally AWESOME experience.
*It’s an awfully large/loud/crowded event for a bunch of introverts.
*Did I mention I got to see Jeffrey Eugenides?? #IloveyouJeffrey #YoutooDanzy
*Next year, I want to be prepared! Partner in crime, snacks, scheduled break times, the works.
*BE EARLY FOR EVERY DAMN THING.
So! Did you go to Wordstock? If so, was it your first time or are you a seasoned veteran? Do you have any tips for next year?

Old Flames, Rekindled

This weekend, as on many weekends in the summer, I went berry picking with friends. Spencer, my favorite new coworker, picked me up early on a Sunday and we headed west towards the land of plentiful berries and wine. I look forward to Oregon’s U-Pick berries every year, but this was Spencer’s first time. I couldn’t wait to have his review of the experience.

Though we are new friends, we’re getting to know each other by leaps and bounds, partaking in many lunchtime walks together and a lot of giggles. As fast friends, I became comfortable being 100% Becky early on, so at some point in the car ride, I sang a few verses of a song that was on the stereo.
“Hey, you’ve got a voice!” He commented. Indeed I do! There is no possible way I could escape the house of Swank without having formed some sort of singing voice; my parents were both constantly belting out tunes of all kinds in my formative years. I heard folk songs, hymns, jingles of favorite NPR shows, you name it. My sister and I were always encouraged to join in. We sang in church here and there as well. Whether or not I was any good, I hadn’t thought about in years, but I was glad to know my “training” had held up.
We got to the fields at Rowell Bros. and began filling our buckets, and I swiftly tucked the singing into the back of my mind. Though he had forgotten his sunscreen and hadn’t had time to eat, Spencer appeared to be having a great time. I was in my little corner of heaven, moving methodically through the berry bushes, dumping handfuls into my bucket. I had to stop myself before I hit five pounds of blueberries, though I could have easily gone for more. We hopped next door to Smith Berry Barn in hopes to finding some marionberries, but left with a flat of gorgeous blackberries instead. Not such a terrible compromise.
Afterwards, we loaded our berries in the car and drove towards home. Spencer asked me, “Do you know that song from Frozen… “Love is an Open Door?” I answered that I was sure I’d heard it in the movie but didn’t know it by heart. He responded not with words, but by bringing up the lyrics on his phone and turning on his Spotify to the Frozen soundtrack. “It’s a duet.” We both smiled.
And so it began. The first time I stumbled through, not knowing the pauses and speaking parts, of which there are several. But I loved it! As soon as the song ended, I asked him to play it again. He grinned, knowing I was hooked. “You sound really good!” He said excitedly. The second time around we really got in sync. The third time was better yet!
I felt exhilarated. I’ve always been a musical person, whether expressing that through singing in the kitchen, playing piano (9 years of lessons!), trumpet (5 years!), or most recently, by belly dancing and adding flair to my twirls at the salsa club. Music runs in my veins. I hadn’t meant to stifle the singer in me…I had learned new hobbies, focused on other things as I got older. I hadn’t realized how happy it made me until I was reminded so joyously.
How amazing it feels to have stumbled back upon something that makes me so happy! And how about you? You can find a flame, whether it’s something completely new or an old one you’ve let go. Blow gently, feed it some love. If the flame ignites into a fire, take the opportunity to cultivate it and see where it goes. Let me know what you (re)discover this summer.

Imagine If…

If I could imagine what life may have looked like, had I not taken this particular journey, I would ask—why did I choose this life? Some people believe that our souls choose this particular body in this particular time and place before we become a fetus, before we are born into this world. Given a true choice, wouldn’t I naturally opt for a thinner body with medium size breasts and straight teeth?
Erin Pavlina makes these assertions:

When you are in the ether you remember that you are a part of consciousness and that you are being sent out into the world to experience, learn, and grow.  You know that physical life is temporary, and that the pain and adversity you face as a physical being is but a moment in your existence.  Why do people choose to enter a life that is filled with pain and torment?  Because from the perspective of the ether, any pain or adversity is but a blip of discomfort in the grand scheme of things.  It’s like asking if you are willing to suffer a paper cut in order to gain vast wisdom and knowledge and tremendous personal growth.

In my mind, I imagine it like a rope swing. I think about the journey that my roller coaster self-esteem-driven body has taken me on, and I see myself considering the options of taking another bite—would I let out a barbaric yawp into the ether and fly into the wild earth? Or would I stay safe—take another bite and let myself sink further into my comfort zone?
If I’d let go of the rope and created a life for myself, full of lean, athletic bodies, popularity contests, and a virginity that withered well before my twenties, who would I be?
Would I have been that vulnerable woman who said yes to the unknown? Would I have met a man in college and stayed in the Midwest? Would I be a mother? Would I tuck my children into their beds at night, kissing their soft cheeks, brushing hair from sweaty foreheads, shushing their protests, then closing the door silently behind me in sweet relief of another day without tragedy?
Would my husband and I become so used to our mundane life that we approach our fifties without a hint of sexual desire? Or would one of us be struck with a yearning so great that we must express or explode—and because the other is our best friend, we must confess—that the tumble-dry cycle of our sex life simply isn’t enough?
Would we then go to a series of sexual enlightenment workshops, awkward at first because this is all new, and sometimes the worn-in feeling of familiarity is much preferred over the fear of the unknown, to find later that we have both fallen in love with our instructor (And who wouldn’t? They are all at once sensual, kinky, loving, torturous, and safe.), who then somehow convinces us that this is completely normal and is actually a reflection of our renewed lust for each other?
Would we then leap back into our home life with gusto and a plethora of spontaneous sex—in closets when the children are in twilight sleep, on the balcony where our neighbors just might see, or with a voracious interest in play toys of all kinds?
Would I, as I am inclined to do, reflect earnestly in my journal, each paragraph a rabbit hole for the next great big blank page?
Oh white space, you are inviting. You tease with your crisp cleanness and your ample availability. You offer your lush white bosom as a landing pad for a sprinkle of thoughts, then a deluge, then a monsoon of words and creativity. I am wet with your weather. Consume me, let me soil your innocence with my wisdom as well as my curiosity, for it is that which completes the circle in the end.
Imagine if…

Bridging the Gap

“You should go for it!” Claudia said after we had shimmied our hearts out. I was sweaty and utterly exhausted, and had no patience for whatever she was babbling about. She gestured excitedly to the poster hanging on the studio wall. The large, colorful advertisement shouted at me: One day, six workshops! Sepiatonic presents Samba, Bollywhack, Expanding Movement, Afro-pop Fusion, Waacking & Vogue Fusion, and Isolation Drill Bits…We are Bridging the Gap! “There is still scholarship money available!” She told me gleefully. The application involved several essay questions and a video audition. “Oh,” Claudia mentioned quasi-casually, “and the application deadline is tonight.” How in the world did she think I was qualified for this kind of scholarship? I’d never even heard of half of these dance styles! And how would I stand out among so many talented dancers? I imagined them all recording their auditions on a stage in front of a live orchestra, finger cymbals winking in the spotlight and $900 costumes flashing to the sound of the audience’s ooohs and ahhhs, while my audition would most likely consist of me in my clammy workout gear in my living room.
Bridge the gap
But Claudia never doubted me, even when I had little faith in myself. She had been my belly dance teacher now for over eight years. Yemaya had been my first mentor, and the one who helped instill solid muscle memory and strength in me. Several years ago, when she moved out of the country and I expressed panic at losing her—just when I was beginning to perform—she reassured me that a new teacher would guide my dance education from then on. Claudia had been nothing short of amazing. In addition to the solo performances I had already taken on, duet, and troupe performances had been checked off under her watch. I built my style, and learned to better understand my strengths and weaknesses during her classes. I also admired her insistence on learning from a variety of teachers—she was all about building the self through a community. She knew my uncertainties and apprehensions almost better than I did… so I tried to trust her conviction in my ability.
I went home and thought about it, determined to make a decision that was based on fact, not fear. Normally I would have pushed all hopeful thoughts out of my mind and gone to bed, making excuses of why I couldn’t do this. I’m tired. It’s too late to submit. I’m not qualified. What was bridging the gap, anyway? I Googled the group’s website: Bridge the Gap is a way to stay connected, to collaborate, to innovate, to celebrate diversity, and to keep making art and growing community in these fearful times of oppression. The more that different artists, thinkers, feelers, and awake people of our communities unite, the stronger of a power we are against forces that strive to annihilate free-thinking, passionate creativity, and diverse and alternative lifestyles in our country. It sounded like something magical and daring… It sounded fantastic…it sounded like it could be perfect for me. My dance community was wonderful but small, and expanding mine could only build me up as a dancer and a human being. Suddenly, I knew I needed to do this.
I started with the essay questions. I’m excellent at tests, especially long form writing ones. I considered each question, and wrote each answer with loving intention in my heart, excited to share my passion for dance and the experiences it had provided me up to this point. Then, the video. I propped up my phone, pressed play, and performed my best 30-second belly dance/Latin fusion that I could muster after two solid hours of dance class and a full day of work. I watched it, then re-watched it at least three times, then re-recorded it at least three times, then took a deep lungful of air—don’t forget to breathe—and clicked send on the application.
A few days later I received a reply. I opened it nervously. I had submitted my application literally at the eleventh hour. Was it possible I actually got in? I had to read it twice for it to truly sink in. I had won a scholarship—for the full day of dance!
I walked in that Sunday feeling terribly nervous and only somewhat physically prepared. I had packed way too many snacks and not enough confidence, but it didn’t matter. I was here now, and the embarrassment of running out the door trumped embarrassing myself in the classroom. First up: samba. I had taken a few samba classes over the years, but I was absolutely overwhelmed by this style. My arms were on fire after the first few rounds of choreography and my feet were constantly playing catch-up, but I grinned through the sweat. Overall, I was keeping up! I could do this! The smile didn’t leave my face for the rest of the day.
Bollywhack was next. Kumari Suraj is a force, a stunning, feminine presence that I was immediately attracted to. As a curvy woman, I was ecstatic at the sight of someone larger than a size two teaching the class. It turns out that this combination of Bollywood (The dance form used in Indian films) and Waacking (Waack/Punk is a form of dance created in the LGBT clubs of Los Angeles during the 1970s) was exactly what I needed to experience. I instantly fell in love with the crisp, energetic movements introduced by two seemingly opposite styles of dance, but it worked, and Kumari stole a piece of my heart. Following were Afro-pop Fusion, Expanding Movement, Waack and Vogue Fusion, and the last, which unfortunately I had to miss due to a previous commitment, Isolation Drill Bits. The workshops made me feel weightless. Nothing mattered but the movements, and my physical body was almost secondary to the energy and spirit I exuded.
This community of dancers was a diverse one—not only belly dancers, but those who samba, waack, vogue, play, flounce, whirl. People who aren’t one type of beautiful. Men with giant braided ponytails of hair, flinging them madly, within dangerous distances of other dancers. A big and beautiful dancer like me, who astounded the crowd and made me want to rip out my eyeballs and send them away with her, to continually watch her dazzling generosity of movement and flair. These people were all so human, so robust, boisterous, and raw. I could read it in their eyes; they proudly polluted the definition of societal allure.
My definition of what a dancer is has forever been altered. There is nothing like the rush of power I feel when I move to the ancient Middle Eastern music. Belly dance makes me forget to feel self-conscious and be proud of who I am; I forget to crave the comforting stability of the status quo. Dance obliterates my worries and wraps me in a bubble of protection that I yearn to hold on to in my everyday life.
A dancer of stunning feminine essence was born in a basement studio. My name is Maysam Janan, meaning beautiful heart and soul, and dance has set my heart on fire. Shaky or strong, my breath keeps the fire going, and the community I continue to build will hold me up when I can’t fuel it alone.

Women's March on Washington: Portland Style

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Courtesy of Stefan Dietz via Flickr


Yesterday, I was one of those who was going to stay away from the crowds of the Women’s March in downtown Portland. I am all for marches and protests, especially peaceful ones, but I also suffer from some anxiety surrounding these types of events. It’s not claustrophobia, but it does in a sense carry some of those connotations. To a certain extent, if I’m being truly honest here, I also kind of just didn’t want to be bothered. Bothered to go out into a cold, rainy day. To try and find a bathroom where the line isn’t half a mile long. To make sure I didn’t get pepper sprayed or get caught up in violence. To be on my feet all day.
My friend Claudia had stayed the night with me and she was getting ready for the March while I puttered around the kitchen, sorting out my day. She said, Why aren’t you going again? I said, Well, I have some things to do, and then an appointment, and…yeah. Kinda shaky excuses. Claudia, being one of my dearest friends, looked me in the eye and replied,

What will you say when future generations ask you if you were at the Women’s March on January 21, 2017? I had a hair appointment, the traffic was bad? I’m gonna say I joined thousands in a beautiful day of solidarity.

Well that arrow hit its target right on the nose. I packed my backpack with a hastened clump of waterproof clothing, snacks, hydration, wet wipes, and we were off to catch the bus. The first one flew by our stop, packed front to back with passengers. The collective groaning of a dozen people let loose on cue. Luckily, I live by a frequent service stop with several bus lines, so about seven minutes later another one came and it was only about half full. Huzzah!

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Ready to roll out!


We got off the bus and headed to the spot where we were meeting other marchers. Claudia and I hadn’t exactly planned our entrance very well, and since we were already running late, had expected we’d just grab some food somewhere and take it with us to the march. Except every quick/fast service restaurant was packed with protesters. And it was pouring rain, so eating outside wouldn’t be as effortless as we had imagined in our head. And even if we did manage to eat our food without first soaking it in Portland’s famous “weather au jus,” we were standing butt-to-butt, and, since I’m so short, I’d most likely be eating a burrito to the tune of someone’s accidental elbow throw. That just didn’t sound fun to me. So Claudia and I broke off from the group to get something solid in our stomachs a little farther out, with the intention that we would meet up with the other ladies again later. We went to Thirsty Lion, since it’s huge inside and they are usually prepared for crowds. The restaurant was quite full, but we got seated right away. Our waitress was super! She was quick during a very busy time, answered our questions expertly, and best of all, helped us in a tiny way that had a huge impact. I asked her if she had two trash bags that we could have. At first she didn’t understand. I explained the beauty of how trash bags make fantastic makeshift raincoats! In the short half hour or so we’d been outside, Claudia and I were already partially soaked and it was not looking like it would let up any time soon. She came back with two industrial trash bags. They were gigantic—and perfect! We set up our new look. Rip a neck hole, two arm holes, help your neighbor put it up and over the her backpack, and there you go! We looked like two drowned rats with hump backs! Trés chic!
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I didn’t know what to expect when we re-entered the crowd. I know the protests the night before had drawn all sorts of agendas, both peaceful and a little less so. There were flash-bang devices discharged, pepper spray dispensed, and a lot of anger spread out over the city, held mostly at bay by the Portland Police. I protested in the past during the Iraq War. Back then the police I experienced were much different. Instead of trying to prevent conflicts from arising and helping to keep the protests contained, they would bait protesters into angry reactions, thereby enabling them to “legally” detain protesters. I’m not sure when they beefed up their training on civil unrest events, but I have to hand it to them—they have recently done a much better job overseeing the crowds. (This is just my opinion. Feel free to comment below if your experience has been different.) Instead of putting on a show as tyrannical monoliths of punishment, they displayed their humanity. Cops with pink pussy hats on waved us on. Most of them smiled broadly at us as we walked by. I tried to thank as many as I could, because let’s face it, no matter how you feel personally about the police, you must understand that theirs is a tough job.
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The energy was palpable. Everyone there was a cousin of the spirit! We laughed maniacally in the rain, danced in the sloppy mud mosh pit, shouted chants of positivity, squished butt-to-butt with our new friends, giggled at the amazing creativity of the signs, and most of all, came together with the intention of unity.
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When the younger generation asks me where I was on January 21, 2017, I’ll tell them I was right there alongside the most beautiful, diverse, and loving group of people I have ever known.

Anger

I am FURIOUS with my neighbor!! She raises an ire in me that is incredibly hard to control. She spits venomous words at me and baits me to engage in a senseless fight that basically consists of her accusing me of sleeping with her boyfriend because I strut (her words) back and forth in front of their apartment, encouraging him to admire me like a prize pony. (According to her, my strutting occurs when I am grabbing my laundry from the basement—in my sweatpants and pony tail. I must look damn fine in those sweatpants! Why do I even bother putting on dresses if ya’ll really like the sweatpants??)
For the record, I am most definitely not sleeping with or at all interested in her partner. I tell myself I won’t take the bait and return fire. I try to convince myself I am in control of those faculties that tell me to just WALK AWAY. But every time she confronts me (four and counting), I get this urge to try and convince her I am a good woman, a good person… And the thing is, it really doesn’t matter! What’s she going to do, nominate me for the Nobel Peace Prize after she realizes her horrible and embarrassing mistake? Not likely!
Her anger isn’t about me. In fact, I’m relatively certain she knows I’m not actually sleeping with her boyfriend. It’s about what is inside her heart that makes her lash out at a perfect stranger. She is obviously hurting. Even before our feud started, she never had a friendly word for any of her neighbors. She always has a grimace on her face. It makes me sad for her. Not so sad that I don’t deliver several choice words in the privacy of my home after a confrontation, though. I let my blood rise to a boil and I vent for far too long to my girlfriends about it. It runs over and over like a movie in front of my eyes, and I can’t stop it.
For me, anger takes on two costume changes. One I see as something negative, dark. The dark side is the one that makes my veins bulge out of my neck, makes my head ache and my fists clench. I feel the sweat form at my temples and a slow burn starts at my crown and moves into my chest. It makes me feel like I have lost control. It makes me a victim. And this is not who I want to be.

Every issue, belief or assumption is precisely the issue that stands between you and your relationship to another human being; and between you and yourself.

Gita Bellin said this, but I have heard it many times over. Is it true? Am I seeing part of myself in this hurting human being? Why can’t I just let it go? Am I that same, sad girl? Twice, I’ve let myself actually yell back at her, which is very unlike me. In the moment, I truly believe I’m defending my honor…but what is really going on?
mirror
The other side of my anger is light and bright, and I see it as pure motivation to change what I don’t like. For example, my recent promotion came out of what started as anger. Did I stomp around and suffer in silence while continuing to go to work every day for less than I deserved? Well, yes, but not for long. I used that anger as fuel to focus on the prize. Once I had a clear vision of how I was going to change my situation, a calm feeling washed over me and I began working on my goal. The nerves and anger dissipated quickly.
Now what do I do with that emotion when it comes upon me? I’ve read articles that tell me to “sit in my anger.” Why the hell would I want to do that?? I don’t want to stay sweaty and fired up. I want to smile and giggle like I usually do.
Is this “sitting in anger” actually a technique of loving myself in all states of emotion? To sit in anger is to accept it. It is painfully obvious to me that I am very hesitant to sit in any emotion for long. Could I really slow down, stop trying to cut to the front, and appreciate standing in a long line in order to get to know that part of me that gets heated?
Maybe.
What do you do, readers? I welcome your suggestions, your hugs, and a few paper bags to breathe into when my neighbor comes a’shouting again.
 
 
 

Cherry

I’m new here.
Take me in,
Show me your
Ants on a log.
Show me your
Childish smile, your
Sanctuary.
It’s nice to be by myself, but
Hands clasping hands
Brings me to the somebody else I could be.
I’ll let her out.
I can push away the disappointment
I once had when I was younger,
A pin in a row.
I’ve opened my eyes and stepped in,
Toe by toe, then
pull back into the cold.
It feels good to be here,
My solitary pen dripping fuel
Of a new me
Onto a medium I have yet to explore.
I’m not sure if I’ll let it explode, absorb my words,
Or lick delicately my fingertips,
because it’s intoxicating.
Alone, my table is full of containers to satisfy.
Below, empty space holds colors of smiles,
Smells of dirty feet unafraid to stain shoes.
Even better, sweet toes tapping the uncertainty together,
A lush feeling.
A youthful submission to consciousness.
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Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices: Part III

I have about a million thoughts as I settle down to write Part III of this series, Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices. You can read Part I here and Part II here.
This week has been tumultuous. There’s no other way to put it. Partly it’s the election and subsequent reactions to said election; partly it’s about other, more personal things. I’ve seen pictures and stories of odium, examples of great love and selflessness, and all the shades in between. This emotional back and forth has taken a toll on me. I’m exhausted.
When I get so exhausted, I am particularly vulnerable. I have these fears that wash over me, dark feelings that know the perfect time to strike. These thoughts have an incredible ability to make me feel inferior and different. Strangely, when I’m feeling great about myself, I celebrate the Becky who stands out in a crowd, who doesn’t do things because everyone else does, who doesn’t cave to every trend. I think that’s part of what makes me special. So in my heart I know these false feelings of inferiority only prey on me when they know they can.
Thankfully, in my journey I have come to recognize these as passing notions. I use several tools to center myself when I find I’ve been caught up in an emotional cyclone.
The very first thing I say to myself is I control how I react. I can’t control what happens in the world. I can’t even control what happens in my life half the time, but only I can choose to take the world’s baloney and respond by either pulling out two slices of bread, or grabbing the compost bucket and trashing it. I make that conscious choice.
Something else that really helps me is to use one of several new age tarot-like decks that I own. I’m not skilled at reading cards by any means, but it gives me calm to pull one or two from my “Healing with the Fairies” oracle deck, my “Affirmators!” card collection, or my “Native American Animal Medicine Cards.” These things ground me. They give me something tangible to focus on. This evening I meditated on the state of the world, and then pulled a card from my Animal Medicine deck. I pulled the Hummingbird. Two things stuck out at me. First, I was captivated by this line: Hummingbird can give us the medicine to solve the riddle of the contradiction of duality. It intrigued me to read on, because in my meditation before I pulled the card, I had asked the universe to help me make sense of the yin/yang balance of everything that is happening right now. I think everyone can appreciate the struggle of seeing the light in the dark, grudgingly acknowledge the crack that lets the light in (RIP Leonard Cohen). Well, hummingbird is here to help.

“If contrary Hummingbird sings its forlorn song, perhaps you should journey into your personal pain and know that your sorrow is your joy in another reflection.”

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Second, the hummingbird is an enjoyer of life. Again, from the Medicine Card deck:

“If Hummingbird is your personal medicine, you love life and its joys. Your presence brings joy to others. You join people together in relationships which bring out the best in them. You know instinctively where beauty abides and, near or far, you journey to your ideal. You move comfortably within a beautiful environment and help others taste the succulent nectar of life.”

People who know me even the slightest bit will immediately recognize that this is an extremely accurate description. I endeavor to find happiness and laughter wherever I go. I am incredibly blessed to be able to make friends with just about anyone I encounter. Where my life may lack the loving responsibilities of parenthood and the wonderful challenge of a having a lifelong partner as of yet, this provides me the space and time to help those more bogged down to find joy in the most unexpected places. Want a zydeco dance partner? I’m your woman. Looking for someone to join you at a volunteer event? Call me! Want to go for a hike or a run? Heck yeah I do! I have a metaphorical backpack bursting with victories, small and large, of the journey I’m taking in my life, and I love to share them. I’m also the best damn auntie in the world. Children need an adult they can love and trust other than their parents; I adore being that person for many of my friends’ children.
So this is what I choose to know. My capacity to love grows stronger every single day. My heart knows no limits. I can love my neighbor as well as myself unconditionally. I can see the light and the dark as something to grow with, and I will continue to build myself up to be the best Becky I can be.
What do you do when you’re feeling like you’re in the middle of that emotional cyclone and you want to get out? I want you to know, here and now, that if you need to talk to a peer, use one of my decks of cards, or need someone to lighten your day with a laugh or earnest hug, I’m here for you. I love you.

Local & Loyal | My Happy (Portland) Places

This week I’m taking a break from my miniseries to bring you a more lighthearted post. Challenging Conversations, Conscious Choices will return next week. In the meantime, come take a stroll with me to visit five places I’ve come to love since moving to Portland thirteen years ago.
All Ways Well Acupuncture—I first needed Rebecca when I was involved in a moving vehicle accident and required treatment for soft tissue damage. I entered the treatment room. It was serene, quiet. I laid face down on her table and moved around until I got comfortable. I relaxed; then I got poked, over and over. In the early days it was not that relaxing of an endeavor, given the sore and pained nature of my injured back. I soon grew to love those sacred minutes, though, when all would be quiet and I could just meditate while qi buzzed through me like healing lightning. After my back was healed from the MVA trauma, I returned to her for many issues. Acupuncture is an amazing healer. I highly recommend Rebecca and her magic.
ZenJens’ Jen Keller—I have known Jen longer than I have used her waxing services and facials. She was one of the first people I met in Portland, as a matter of fact. A few months after we met, a mutual friend gave me a gift certificate for an eyebrow wax. I took the envelope in my hands and opened it. Inside was a playful certificate that read, Good for one eyebrow wax from Jen Keller. I looked over at Jude in surprise, thanked her, and exclaimed that I had no idea Jen was an aesthetician. I was so excited! I had never had an eyebrow wax. I was pretty unrefined when I moved to Portland at the age of 24. I find it shocking when I hear about mothers taking their pubescent daughters to get their upper lip waxed, but I suppose that is the millennial equivalent of getting your ears pierced when you turn thirteen. So, gleefully, I kissed my bushy eyebrows goodbye and have never looked back.
Shannon Troy—I was introduced to massage therapist Shannon Troy through a coworker. She had been using Shannon’s services for quite some time, and by the time she came into my radar, half of my department was also using her. She’s good. She’s really good. If you like (no, need) someone who uses her entire body strength to unknot your back, Shannon is your therapist. She is not someone who will rub your back lightly and send you on your way. No, she will work very hard to bestow peace on your sore muscles, and you will love her well-disposed torture.
Portland Community College—I come from Ohio, land of prolonged recession, 18 electoral votes, and some truly outstanding colleges.  Growing up I was told—not asked—to obtain a college education. In-state was the best option, since it was (relatively) cheaper and I would have a plethora of possibilities. I applied to several schools, mostly private, save Kent State University (where my sister eventually chose to get her undergrad and her Masters). I ended up at Wittenberg University, a tiny private liberal arts university in Springfield, Ohio. Witt, as we students called it, was an idyllic bubble surrounded by southwestern Ohio gems such as Yellow Springs (a tiny hippie town where we would go to drink elegant and sumptuous coffees and buy tapestries that we would hang in our dorm rooms beside framed devotions to our high school friends and family), and Dayton, the closest city where we could find fancy restaurants and entertainment outside of bars, bowling alleys, and shopping malls. I wouldn’t trade Witt for any other experience; it was four amazing years of giggles and tears, of learning the struggle and beauty of life.
As an adult, I discovered I wasn’t interested in the toils and troubles of getting my Masters degree. First of all, I honestly had no idea what I would do in a Masters program. I could go for creative writing, but what would that get me? A chapbook published by a university press and a teaching job somewhere? How about journalism? Newspapers were quickly becoming a thing of the past and I wasn’t confident enough in the bourgeoning internet news medium that I wanted to gain (another) huge school debt for a disappointing job in retail—or worse, as a barista—when I was unable to find a writing job. But I savor learning; I love a classroom setting. I’m one of those weirdos who avidly waves her hand in class and tries to catch the eye of the teacher to get their attention. So here and there, to get my classroom fix, I’ve taken courses at Portland Community College. Currently I’m taking a writing class, and I am loving it! PCC is a highly respected community college with a stellar reputation. We never age out of bettering our education. Take a look at their adult education classes here.
Multnomah County Library—Ah, the bookworm’s haven. Delicious, captivating stories. History. Adventure! Tragedy. I’ve always loved going to the library. As a child, my mother would have to limit us to checking out (only) one giant stack of books at a time, or as many as our little arms could carry. Any more than that would have to wait until the next trip. My sister and I devoured words for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We even held our own read-ins. The library was a second home for us, and still is for me today.
Multnomah County Library is known for its huge circulation of titles as well as its programs and events for the public, many of which are completely free. Utilize your local branch, or come to the marble-floored monstrosity of the Central Library downtown. If you’re working on your National Novel Writing Month project, there are plenty of happenings for writers—a Nano Survival Skills Workshop and following write in are both at the Central Library this Saturday. Hope to see you there!
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Photo courtesy of Buy Olympia.