Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Monster Spray

Platypup has a longtime fear of the dark that waxes and wanes circumstantially. Since we returned home from our evacuation, it’s been steadily increasing — compounded by being stuck inside an unusual amount and by acquiring a new fear of zombies.

(I am unfortunately partially responsible for inducing fear of zombies; after conversing with friends, Platypup decided he would like to be one for Halloween without an inkling of what a zombie is. I talked it over with him on and off for several days and finally pulled up a page of fairly tame zombie costumes on Amazon so he could get some sense of what he was expressing interest in being. Scarred. For. Life. Thanks, Mom.)

So lately he’s been reluctant to go anywhere in the house alone or fall asleep without a parent, and all attempts that involve reason, cajoling, or exasperation have failed.

Enter monster spray.

It’s not a novel concept — Pinterest is a black hole of monster spray recipes, printable labels, even a pharmacy prescription. But it’s new to us, and I had no idea whether it would work on Platypup.

I announced our plan to the kids shortly before bedtime, and they watched with eager anticipation as I produced a spritely little yellow and purple glass spray bottle, added five drops each of Lavender, Juniper Berry, and Wild Orange essential oils, and filled the rest with water.

I screwed the top on firmly and then held it out, asking everyone to touch the bottle together, close our eyes, and infuse every bit of the contents with monster repellent, love, and happiness.

When we opened our eyes, Platypup examined his new tool for a moment and then walked off into the shadowy hallway, spraying periodically, fears firmly in cross hairs. Bedtime went as smoothly as it used to, before the fires.

Platypup is not the only one in our community who is afraid of shadows. Evacuees, roused from bed, report waking, hearts racing, at that same time each night since — assuming they managed to get to sleep in the first place. Everyone knows someone whose home vanished in the dark. No one knows if the air they are breathing, the ground they are touching is safe or poison. Voices are threaded with gratitude and grief, stripped down to the core of what truly matters, with an undercurrent of panic. Most of our city packed a bag and braced to lose everything that didn’t fit in it. Uneasiness crackles in the air.

We inevitably turn to our spirituality, our loved ones, our hobbies, and our vices for a talisman against the dark, a banishing spell for monstrous fears.

My monster spray would usually be to go out into the garden at night and feel the earth, the cool air, the pull of moon and stars. Right now that seems advised against; no one knows for how long. Making music, yoga, dancing, celebrating Samhain with my local Reclaiming cell, writing, hygge-ing with my family, swapping stories with my friends, teaching and lesson planning… these things are bringing me solace and rhythm. But without my bare feet sinking into soil, awakening the scents of lemon balm, thyme, and peppermint, I remain ever so slightly off-kilter.

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Unfathomable

It began with the queasiness of being late for something important.

We’d slept in. All of us. With three kids, that’s ridiculously unlikely. I tipped my phone to check the time: 7:01am, not that it registered under all of the urgent messages from friends and family.

Fire.

I got up, got the rest of the family up. We dressed, ate breakfast, threw important documents, underwear, toys, wedding jewelry, and diapers into backpacks, wrestled cats into carriers and children into shoes, and got in the car as though this were a normal activity: hurriedly, haphazardly, more or less the way we leave for school or dance class.

Not knowing for sure where we were heading. Knowing it might all burn.

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I held my violin, uncased, in my lap. Soothed children, listened to music. Squeezed Thor whenever I would otherwise have spoken words not fit for little ears.

I didn’t know terrifying and peaceful could coexist in one moment, let alone one car ride, one day, the better part of one week.

We stopped at the nearest evacuation center to get our bearings. I got out and asked the first uniformed person I saw that wasn’t looking incredibly busy whether we should stay there or go to west county, where our friends had offered to take us in.

We established that she couldn’t officially make that decision for me, and then she essentially made that decision for me. I got back in and we drove out of town, past beloved mundane sights — knowing each might become smoke — and into the golden-hilled, oak-strewn countryside.

It was both an incredible gift and deeply, fundamentally wrong to be somewhere so beautiful and safe while our home was in jeopardy.

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Facebook let me know my friend’s whole neighborhood had disintegrated. I saw her brave eyes, her unflinching acceptance of loss, her steady heart.

Imperfect maps let me track the erratic progress the closest fires made toward our house and those of friends and family. Homeschooling always, I explained these maps over and over again to curious children.

I texted love, photos, news. Marveled constantly at modern technology’s approach to disaster.

The fires engulfed home after home, but had a sizeable ridge to consume before they could get to ours.

So we came back. Just us grownups, the next day. To evacuate more thoroughly. We got the things my heart ached for (rabbits, chickens, cello and other musical instruments, my mother’s ashes, my children’s small treasures). And clothes, way too many, stuffed into trash bags utterly unsorted except in terms of clean vs. dirty.

At the last moment I grabbed the kids’ roller skates and Thor’s soccer gear… Unfortunately, minus one cleat. My dear friend Pythia’s chortling response to this state of affairs: “you know when evacuating it’s key to be able to play soccer whenever you want.”

The second drive away from home felt more final than the first, more premeditated, but still surreally calm. While there were many things we had to leave behind, including Thor’s beautiful custom builds, that had to be ok, so somehow it was. We had our lives, every two and four footed member of the family, and then we got a chance to take two carloads of belongings. That still feels about as lucky as it is possible to be. So lucky I’m hesitant to admit it in the face of so much loss.

While others faced the destruction of every material possession, we spent the better part of the past five days in what one might consider utopia under more intentional circumstances: three families (one host, two evacuees) with eight children between them ranging in age from 20 months to 11 years, all homeschooling through the same charter school, sharing food and chores while the kids ran around like a pack of wolf pups, in and out of pond and trampoline and apple trees.

I found my brain would abruptly stagger under the cumulative weight of uncertainty when faced with unimportant decisions about meals and so forth, and having other adults around to share those smaller burdens is probably what kept the larger one manageable after the initial adrenaline faded.

Firefighters lit a backfire that quelled the inferno closest to us. It’s not over yet for far too many of our neighbors to the north and east, but in our little corner of the world, danger is ebbing.

And now we’re home, a place I honestly expected never to see again. We’re plying the kids inside with screens until the air quality improves. We wear masks during errands. Tomorrow we will attempt to unpack all of our prized possessions before Cria trashes them.

My town is devastated. New normal is a work in progress slow to take form. Each day appears as if from nowhere, and plans for more than a few hours at a time seem unfathomable.

While we wait for daily life to find us, we find solace in sharing our experiences. Exquisite beauty and pain co-mingle in every tale of loss and triumph, and it is by telling these stories that we journey back to the frame of mind that makes routine possible.

October

The year feels aged yet spry in October. An unapologetically sharp cheese, it’s been around awhile and packs a punch.

My mind always dives eagerly into leaf-piles as Halloween approaches. Childhood costumes, lovingly handmade, worn crunching through maple discards. High school shenanigans on playgrounds after dark. My first autumn of college, watching absurdly awful horror flicks far past midnight, the man who would become my husband tugging my leg as it dangled off the top bunk in an attempt to maximize the movie’s affect. Scuffing through Harvard Square with my head pounding out a complex rhythmic counterpoint to my footsteps. Counting cats with my wee little firstborn Owlet as we took our routine twilight walks.

It is strange and lovely to summon those ghosts in their exuberant youth and stretch the ribbons of their lives from there to here, where I sit, gratuitously treasuring my choice of life partner in haiku:

Love, I would know you
In a crowd of a million
From your steady heart

Your capable hands
In music and in woodcraft
Equally well versed

Your mischievous laugh
Igniting the brightest blue
Starlight of your eyes.

Thor just finished building me these surpassingly amazing benches for my teaching studio. Aren’t they lovely?

Three ships passing

We are in historically epic transitional times, of that I am certain. Adolescence is the most apt (non-profane) one-word description of society today. We’ve picked at our blemishes and now they are rallying, marching from cheek to chin. Red and raging now, they will fade, in time, and leave scars.

Three spheres are going to slide past one another in space tomorrow. This celestial shuffleboard is unremarkable when viewed from anywhere but here.

Here it will induce unsettled fascination with mild to moderate traces of apocalyptica. Knee-deep in cultural voice cracking, now feeble, now gravelly, we struggle to plot humanity’s adulthood from the confines of our short lifespans and unstable hormones.

What is one dust mote of a human being in all of time and space?

Tomorrow I bear witness to the fleetingly profound impact one dust mote of a moon has on all life in the known universe.

It is absolutely true that any object can banish light. And it is equally true that light will return.

Through our growing pains we develop tremendous power to wield on behalf of one another and this planet. May our skin soften and crease into wrinkles of love and laughter. May our voices find resonance. May we realize that our actions have consequences; may we draw from our diverse strengths to make wise and thoughtful choices. May our species find our way back home, newly minted adults, to say “thanks, mom, for everything. Sorry I took you for granted for so long.”

I sometimes feel despair and loss when looking at the night sky from the city or suburbs. I crave the complexity of stars that my bones know is my birthright, that I have yet to see in unadulterated glory. Lately, however, I find sustenance in this aching discrepancy.

You see, the stars are always there. Pollution and city lights and clouds and simple daylight can’t do a damned thing to stop the rest of our universe from gleaming at me… The only effect they can have is on my ability to See. What. Is.

It’s time to stop squandering potential and grow the fuck up. May this momentary alignment of sun, moon, and planet serve as a compass, to help steer humanity through the darkness, toward the stars.

Guts and Pastels

​In honor of Mother’s Day, a message to me from the version of my mom that lives in my intuition:

Beyond the pain and mess
After the harsh words and forget-me-nots
There lingers the warmth
From which we all came.

That warmth is more important than getting it right.

Share your soul-fire with them
Let its imperfect authenticity
Envelop them
As you once did.

Nothing is more raw than motherhood.
The blood and mucus at birth are no anomaly:
Resist the urge to pull crisp linens over them.

Your time will come to fade like cut flowers.
Until then, use your roots.

————-

Something about Mother’s Day has always slightly unsettled me. Too many pastels, not enough guts. This poem, siphoned from the incredible woman who warms my memories, steadies that wobble for me. I’m a little more ready for the onslaught of sweet chaos that will be my tomorrow.

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Bridges

The challenge I am keen to master is the art of blending compassion with unwavering pursuit of truth.

Today, that looks like feeling genuinely sorry not just for the cabinet nominees but even for the president himself, all caught like deer in headlights without any idea how to competently do their jobs, with all the world watching and so many ridiculing. What a horrible sinking sensation I would have in the pit of my stomach. There was a moment when each one had the choice to decline or accept this role. I, too, might easily have become ensnared in “fake it till you make it” and not now know how to step down. I might even be unable to admit to my nearest and dearest, or even to myself, just how out of my depth I had suddenly found myself.

Obviously that compassion cannot sway me into accepting for one moment their incompetence at the helm. But seeing their humanity has the power to shape all I say and do. Instead of being sucked into the bottomless pit that is ridiculing their lack of knowledge, today I choose to say about each one: “it is clear this individual does not possess the requisite experience. What other options do we have?”

The marches yesterday were our rallying cry, and now the work begins in each of us, in our homes, in our families and circles of friends, at our workplaces, and rippling outward into our towns, cities, states and country and world. We have an enormous opportunity to transcend party lines in the current political climate. I commit myself to building bridges.

Starlit Grief

​The moon is not visible from my window
And this is good.
Starlight is more illuminating of grief.

I hold my ceaseless craving for your warmth
Gently these days.
I take comfort now in its omnipresence.

The way the stars of this time and of this place
Are merely hints.
Would that I could see nebulas in their stead.

You and the unpolluted sky are both here
Safe in my heart.
Your absence, like your presence, lights my way home.

Holding Space

It’s not either-or.

We can extend ourselves to understand rather than demonize those who voted another way. We can search for connection to, for common ground with, for a way forward that is more than us vs. them.

We can do that while we circle around those most affected by this shift in politics: The undocumented. The refugees. The non-Christians. The non-cis. The non-hetero. The water protectors. The victims of abuse and rape. The people of color. The poor. The earth herself, and the plants and animals struggling to survive in our man-altered climate.

I am finding my balance in this image. Those of us with strength and privilege in a ring. Behind us, sheltered by our bodies, concentric rings with the most vulnerable at the center. We are resolute in our stance, and yet also reaching out. Holding space for a shared path.

If you’re looking for guidance, I cannot recommend highly enough the work of two brilliant lights: Starhawk and Veronica Torres.

Starhawk’s world-class novel The Fifth Sacred Thing has become increasingly, alarmingly relevant over the years since its publication. There is also a prequel and a sequel, and many many other offerings by her as well, including an amazing children’s book, The Last Wild Witch. Her thoughts on the election are an antidote to fear and hatred. Visit Starhawk’s website here.

I have the immense pleasure of being Veronica Torres’ friend. Her work as channel for Eloheim and the Council directly influences my ability to stay sane, grounded, and engaged in this crazy world. She has a zillion recordings of channeling sessions, a number of books (my favorite is A Warrior’s Tale), and various other offerings (the Levels of Creating is a revolutionary tool for self-discovery). Her Core Emotion Session is what I would give each and every one of you if I could. Visit Veronica’s website here.

Countries

Countries are at once
Too large
And too small–
Too powerful
And too impotent–
Too simple
And too complex.

I long for the village.
The ancient, archetypal
Village in the wilderness.
Answerable only to itself.
Part of no larger plans.

I long for the universe.
The glacial, eternal
Universe expanding.
Answerable only to itself.
Beyond plans.

I am the country
Writhing within my skin.
Arrogant
Insecure
Devastated
Jubilant
Conflicted.

I am the village
Deep at my core.
Self-contained
Cooperative
Minute
Complete
Imperfect.

I am the universe
At the outer edges of my awareness.
Unknowable
Infinite
Inescapable
Intricate
True.

The village and the universe
(In addition to their many other tasks)
Must cradle the country
As a child who has, every day
Knowingly and unknowingly
Done terrible and wonderful things.

Cradle, without condemning.
Cradle, without condoning.

Cradle while seeing clearly
The universe
Far beyond this moment
The village
Deep within this moment.

In the Spirit of Mabon

Autumn is… shall we say “subtle?” (Just to be kind?) in California. Once one has lived here a few years, a small step in the crispness direction can be perceived at daybreak and twilight. The occasional tree bursts into flames of color to indicate the season of trees bursting into actual wildfire flames is nearly at an end. The apples ripen. Zucchini and tomatoes runneth over. Stores following nationwide trends have amusing sales on items that are year-round in Cali, like patio furniture and sunglasses.

Cria tried her darnedest to thwart my attempts at a small circle this evening in honor of the Equinox, but I plied her with milk and song and eventually won my witching hour.


 I rarely plan my circles in advance and this one was no exception. The theme that evolved was this:

As the year turns toward its close, may I savor the sweetness it has brought me and accept its challenges as the invitations they always turn out to be.

Happy Mabon, my friends, near and far, and blessed be.

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