Oroville, CA: The City of Gold

Nearly 4 years ago, I moved away from the town of Oroville and said my farewell to it in a blog post. Now, as Oroville makes national headlines with a recent massive evacuation and fear of flooding from an overflowing lake and dam problems, I've decided to repost the writing here, on this blog. 

It's always interesting posting old writing: much has changed—but I won't really get into that now. Another time. I would like to add that although Oroville was not the place for me, it is home to many people who love it. And that the nature of Dams is that they eventually fall apart. Somehow, someday. Nature always wins in the long run. 


An abandoned storefront (salon?) in old-town Oroville

An abandoned storefront (salon?) in old-town Oroville

March, 2013:

So, you probably did not know that I lived, for the past year, in Oroville, CA. Have you heard of it? Not likely. It is even less likely that you have been there - it is not near any main veins of interstate roads, though it sits on the side of Highway 70 - for those of you familiar with the area, or who might have found yourself passing it, and then passing rows and rows of peach trees, almond trees, apricot trees. It is the land of orchards and bees, Highway 70. 

Recently, I've left Oroville. Though I lived up the hill away from town (about 20 minutes) and was able to live on a beautiful slice of oaky land, I never stopped hating Oroville.

There. I said it. I hated it. So much. Oroville is a sad, sad place - a perfect picture of American destruction and grief. The shadow of a bustling, mid-century community remains: the beautiful houses, the abundant fruit trees, the old downtown buildings made from brick and stone. It is as though its physical self stopped there, in the late 1960s, and then "modern" America came in, slicing the town in half with a major thruway on which was placed the essentials: McDonald's, Wal-Mart, KFC, and more. More fast food than you could imagine in so few miles. 

The old parts of town stand as skeletons. Beautiful old signs and buildings, gorgeous houses sinking into themselves. Perhaps I am being too harsh here; there are still homes and places that are sweet and quiet, still hosting the tenants from long ago. But many streets of Oroville are filled with people who are slowly dying from The American Way, addicted to food that kills (at best) and meth (at worst). Recently I drove to a part of town I hadn't been to before, and an old house had been converted, by miracle of some California Proposition, to an outpatient treatment center. The parking lot was so full - it was the busiest place I'd seen. Trucks filled the lot, and I saw mostly women going from car to building: women clutching babies, the one thing that could maybe give them the strength to seek freedom from the claws of methamphetamine. 

Suffice it to say, Oroville is a vibe-killer. 

Like I said, it seems frozen in the late 1960s. Like it was so happy then and then suddenly the life force disappeared, leaving only a shell. And do you know why? I figured out why:

Because in 1968 they finished building The Dam. 

I don't even know much actual history, but I can feel it. They blocked the river. The scientists and economists would say the equation is simple - that the dam was finished and so the work was finished. The economy was gone, and demise set in. But I know the other part, too: They blocked the river. The holy vein of this land, the river that carried the (also holy) salmon run, the river that was the life force for this place, the graceful and flowing counterpart to this hot, dry land. So of course, the energy is blocked—on a massive scale, one that we can hardly even conceive. Of course the people are sick and the town cannot breathe. It all makes sense when I realize what undercurrents are at play. 

Anyway, I couldn't stay there anymore. It felt terrible a lot of the time. This post isn't a rant on environmentalism - we all know the sad stories of water and salmon, of rivers and dams, of indigenous people who came before us. This is just my own story. The things I felt from living in a certain place;  how it was for to me to live somewhere with so much trauma and grief in its bones.

Oroville has a rich history that contains stories both sad and beautiful, so I want to acknowledge, also, the light that glows (though faintly) through its cracks. I loved the land on which I lived, the amazing sunsets, the symphony of frogs, and the crystals veining the ground. I like to think about the moments in history that were filled with all this hope. I like to think about times when things were made so carefully that even after 50 years of neglect, they stand regal in their craftsmanship and aesthetic. In many ways, I like the stories here. There is so much hope in its history.

When I stopped caring about my thighs.

What I’ve found is my life experience, and my life on that extra five to ten pounds of juiciness, has given me the direct experience of more happiness, more energy, bigger thoughts, more stamina, better sex, happier giggles, I have more energy for my child, I have more for my friends - I actually am just happier with myself. I have a stronger connection to the universe, I’m having more vivid conversations with God, it’s kind of rad.
— Amanda Chantal Bacon
hi, thighs

It’s something about my 30s, I think. Something about my 30s made me really take that deep breath and relax. My 30s are when I've realized that life is not—in fact—long and meandering, it is actually short and moves according to my own choices and decisions. I’ve realized a lot of things in my 30’s that I hadn’t considered before:

  • There isn’t actually a new shiny man and life around each corner. Around each corner there is just that same ole life. Still there! In that corner, too!
     
  • Beauty is fleeting, and it’s not as important as I thought. In our culture, youth is beauty. I know you’ve heard it before, but I really started understanding this in my 30s. Hello grey hairs. Hello wrinkles. Hello mortality. I thought beauty was so important. It’s actually not. It’s best summed up by the (paraphrased) words of a dear friend: “I don’t want some hot bod to snuggle forever, I want a spirit to snuggle forever.” Amen.
     
  • So if life is actually short, will I live it differently? Yes. I sure will. No more “one day I will…” because actually, really, that day might not come. How is today looking? Do I like it? Because here it is. This. Is. My. Life.

But about my thighs.

For many years, I cared a lot about my body being a very specific weight and shape. Sometimes I would go over that weight, sometimes under. I felt that it was a very average in-between, my weight of choice. And lately I’ve gone back over it. Only by a few (literally, a few) pounds. And usually, this is my call to action. Eat less!? Maybe. Eat more lettuce? Sure. Weigh myself a lot? Yes. Bemoan the tiny jeans that are too tight? For sure.

This time around, I feel pretty darn healthy. I’m active and I eat well. I drink lots of water. I do yoga, I go for walks every day, and I hike, swim, etc. I could do more, of course. But the weirdest thing is happening…

I like my body. When I look at myself in the mirror, I love it. I do. And then sometimes I feel bad for loving it! I think—wait … should I try to lose weight? But then I think about how when I see other women that look like this, I think about how beautiful they are. I think about how I can wear certain clothes now because I fill them out that tiny bit more and it makes all the difference. And you know what else? The bottom line is that it takes up a lot of time and energy to obsess over our bodies and weights. It's really draining. And the tiny jeans that don't fit? I'm certainly not going to waste my time wishing they did. I have other jeans. I'm stripping the tiny jeans of their power.

I remember being younger and my bff saying to me in her irritated voice, “you are SO obsessed with thighs not touching.” I hadn’t even known I was obsessed with that (keep in mind this was long before the dawn of social media and about a decade before the #thighgap craze). She called me out on it. And in doing so, she also made me realize that she was NOT obsessed with that. Huh. Food for thought.

Just now, I just walked by the mirror in my underwear and bra. (I did yoga in my living room this morning because my hips are tight from traveling a lot last week—I spent a lot of time in airplanes and cars). When I walked by the mirror, I saw the silver, slender stretch marks on my thighs—the ones I’ve had since puberty, when I grew hips and thighs and played lots of soccer (soccer thighs are a thing). So, I just saw those in the mirror, and I love them. I love them the way I love the soft golden baby hairs on my son’s hairline. That kind of home-is-my-body kind of love.

It’s kind of scary, you know? I mean, if I choose to love myself as I am right now, am I “letting go?” Am I healthy enough? Fit enough? I’m only getting older. This human trajectory only goes in one direction, and I’m well on my way to those later years: the ever-softer, looser skin. The shifting body. The moon moves through the sky, she waxes and then she wanes.

Mostly this makes me think about how radical it is to really love myself. I’ve heard that a lot before, but like many sweeping truths, it takes a while to understand it. If I choose to love myself now, a few pounds “off” from my perfect state, I’m being rebellious. I’m rebelling against my own beauty dogmas that I adopted as a teenager based on the world around me, and I’m rebelling against a common norm that sweeps our nation. It’s taking a giant leap of faith that I Am Not My Beauty. That my power doesn’t come from there. That, in fact, I’m actually still beautiful even though I’m not using a perfectly flat stomach and non-touching thighs as a gauge for value or success. (How un-feminist of me that I ever did that). However, any woman who has ever been thin or beautiful or lost weight knows what it’s like—the external feedback is intense. Positive reinforcement for thinness is out of control.

But guess what? My stomach never wrote a blog post, and my thighs never got a scholarship or got a poem published. I did that. My body did birth my baby and that was really cool. Thanks, body. Other than that, my body has been a totally blessed and healthy container for me in this life. I love my body.

And I love my thighs right now. So I’m going to roll with it.

Love,
Sadie Rose

The New Feminism

Last week, an article of mine was published at Annapurna Living. I'm posting it here as well in case any of you didn't get a chance to read it.

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The New Feminism

I went to college once. I loved it there. I learned so much: I blew my mind open and learned about oppression and white privilege (shocker!); I studied slavery and empire and colonialism. I learned the about Globalization and Revolution and the CIA. 

In my last term of college, I got pregnant—a state of being celebrated in many parts of society, but not when you are a young woman in College. I immediately became “other” and was devalued and ignored by many. I found it odd that my immense state of womanhood was viewed as a total failure from the context of UNIVERSITY. Nonetheless, I graduated with honors and soon became a mother. I absorbed all my studies into my body and shifted into a very different life and a very different school system. I spent years as a single mother. I supported myself. I leaned on the state for help with food sometimes. I leaned on friends and family a lot. If anyone was down to help me, I accepted it.

This is what I’ve learned from a pregnant semester in college and from life after college:

Feminism is not about women’s studies classes. It is not just about women’s image in the media, or the glass ceiling, or equal pay. It includes these things, but this is not at the heart of it. Feminism is about letting mothers be celebrated as students and young people, not only as wives or 30-somethings.

Feminism is about deep feminine power being unchained and unrestrained. It is about bringing that power into this system of patriarchy, from the ground up. It is about women in the workforce, being able to be womanly, not necessarily “equal” to men. It is about protecting mothers at home. Or young mothers, mothers of color, poor mothers, older mothers, all mothers. It is about allowing that softness, that intuitive certainty to be a thing valid and recognized. It is about saying to the mother who witnessed her child react to a vaccine, “I hear you, your story is real,” regardless of what science reports. It is allowing those both to be true.

It is about the coexistence of science and intuition, that delicate dance between magic and math that Einstein so brilliantly played with. It is not about women climbing the ranks of men, but women bringing with them the new ways of thought as they climb that ladder. Allowing intuition to be recognized as reasonable is one of the greatest radical shifts I can imagine.

Once we define feminism, we begin to lose it. It is constantly moving and growing, like we are, and like our children are. When we filter it into a classroom, (especially a classroom that is increasingly becoming unavailable to women of color and underprivileged women), it begins to lose its validity. Feminism is not a school of thought. It is a way of being, it is activism of the heart. It is the right for women to be protected and to protect. It is the right for women to be beautiful and know that they are so. It is the right for them to be mothers and workers, or just mothers, or just workers. It is the right for women to be wives or unmarried and to be in healthy marriages and relationships. It is the right for women to be feminine and still be viewed as strong. Feminism is about subverting the current system of power because the current system of power is inherently masculine.

In my heart, I rebel against the privileged, white, academia-protected definition of feminism. Because it forgets its own whiteness and its own privilege. It forgets the hungry masses, the women of the eras before us who have carried this world on their backs. It forgets the women who will never“study” feminism because we have developed a system where multitudes of women cannot access our education system. Therefore, true feminism is not found in the textbooks or classrooms or buried deep in the institutions of our nation.

Feminism is not a simply a woman in the White House, or a female CEO. It is a woman who climbs up there and says “this system is broken, this system has lost the yin from its yang, this system is starving our children and shaming my sisters.” It is a woman who says, “this system is perpetuating war on our brothers and sisters of other nations. This system is asking my brothers and sisters to trade their souls for consumerism.”

Women challenge the patriarchy simply by existing. The new feminism defines success not by the paths of our male counterparts, but on our own terms. Where love and softness rule alongside strength and determination; where strength rises like water, not just like rock; where justice is measured also by the heart, not simply by the books and ledgers. The new feminism is where courage is never confused with bravado, where love is never confused with money, and where femininity is given its proper seat at the table. 

Sex and Self-Respect (or, The Art of Being a Woman)

This letter was originally posted at the Bohemian Collective for my advice column, The Cabin Diaries. However, I feel that the message is so important for women of all ages, I chose to share it here as well.

sex and self respect

Q:

I am a 16 year old girl and sexually active, and have had sex with a couple of guys. But recently I’ve been feeling really down and bad about myself for not controlling myself more. I feel like I’m losing respect for myself and so are others. I just want to know how to maintain my self respect and confidence and how to control my body more. I almost want to recreate myself, have a fresh start.

Love,


Learning to Love


A:

Dear Learning to Love,

Good for you for writing this letter, and I applaud you for your vision of knowing that you want to be both confident and self-respecting. This is not always an easy task, not ever, and especially not when you are 16. But it does get easier over time, especially if you start now.

In your letter you say, “I feel like I’m losing respect for myself and so are others.” I hear two things here: first, that you feel bad about some decisions you made, and second, that someone else is making you feel bad about decisions you’ve made. I encourage you to examine your relationship with whoever is “losing respect” for you. Women and girls are often shamed over their sexuality and sexual choices in our society, and it is an exhausting race to the finish line where the imagined “respect” award awaits. It is important to surround yourself with friends who understand your process and can be supportive of you while not judging or shaming you. Brené Brown talks about this extensively in her work. (If you have not yet discovered her, go explore her now! Here is a list of quotes that I encourage you to read through, and also, this clip will be beneficial to watch. Please watch it. I was very glad when I did.)

Brené’s work will help you cope with the world of shame, which unfortunately is a big part of the world of female sexuality. When women become sexually active, they begin navigating not only the world of safe sex and good choices, but also the world of oppressive shame that surrounds them. Please know that you are not alone, and that many, many other girls your age are in the exact same boat. As you continue to grow, you will learn to form allies in this area. Something that  changed my life very much when I was 18 was that I met another girl who could relate to and empathize with my own sexual path. She and I both found tremendous relief (and safety) in each other because we could share our stories and understand them without judgement. It was freeing and exhilarating to us both, and very essential as teenagers. To this day, she remains one of my very best friends.

Now, moving on. You also say, “I just want to know how to maintain my self respect and confidence and how to control my body more.” And what I hear in this is that by controlling your body more (and being 100% in control of your choices), you feel like you will be able to maintain your self respect and confidence. Perhaps by sleeping with multiple partners, you’ve ended up feeling badly about yourself. (Remember: you are not alone in this feeling.)

The answer to this is simple, but it is not easy: You must learn to Say No.

Saying No to sex does not start, actually, with the sex itself. It starts much earlier than that. And this is the important part. You must decide for yourself and commit to yourself. If you are going to hang out with a boy, you decide before you even leave your house. Say it out loud to yourself: I am not going to have sex tonight. And then, be ready for the steps that this will involve. Saying No and avoiding sex is a series of actions, not just saying a few words. Based on my own experiences and what I’ve learned in the past two decades, here are some tips to make this all easier.

  1. Don’t take your clothes off. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will “Say No” after you are completely naked with a naked, horny young man next to you. The pressure is too great for you both. It is much easier to Say No in the beginning, when your clothes are still on. It’s simpler. “I don’t want to take off my shirt.” “I don’t want to take off my pants.” And so on. The rest is implied. If you don’t want to have sex, do not take your pants off under any circumstances. This alone will completely change your interactions. And again, you commit to yourself. You will likely be pressured to take off your clothes. Even your own body and desires will want you to do it. So you have to be totally committed and own your choices. No one else will do it for you.

  2. Create a “guideline” for how many dates you want to go on before you sleep with someone. Be old fashioned about it. 3 dates, 5 dates, 10 dates. And what is a date? Maybe have a guideline where you won’t sleep with anyone who hasn’t bought you dinner and/or flowers. Maybe you want to make sure these guys give you something before you sleep with them. What exactly is it that makes you feel respected around sex? Aside from these material things, there are other factors that make women feel valued: does he listen to you? Does has ask you questions? Is he interested in what you love to do and how you feel about things? Likewise, you can ask yourself things about him: do you like how he treats people? How does he act around his friends? Do you share any common ground with him? And so on. In valuing ourselves, we must also surround ourselves with people we value. Write any rules and desires you come up within your journal so you can remember and read over them when you need a reminder.

  3. The decision to be sexually intimate with another person is a decision to be extremely vulnerable with them. Supporting yourself in your vulnerability will give you more clarity and power in the decisions you make. If you have a girlfriend who you can trust, and who doesn’t shame you for your sexual choices (even for your bad choices), use her as a resource. Tell her where your weaknesses are and ask for advice and help. If you don’t have a friend like this, I encourage you to consider finding a safe adult to talk to about these things. You will have to be discerning, as many people, adults and peers alike, will probably be slightly shameful (again, society has encouraged this). But keep looking for that person who is not. They are out there. A great option is to go to Planned Parenthood and talk to one of the staff members there. They will provide excellent support for your physical and emotional health, as well as offer you additional resources. Saying No is a long, hard process of education, self-esteem building, and confidence. You can begin to gather all of these things from your community, and away from the bedroom.

Finally, in your letter, you also say that “I almost want to recreate myself, have a fresh start.” I cannot tell you how much I know this feeling. I understand it so well. Let me tell you what: you are not your bad decisions. You are not who you sleep with. You are not how many people you sleep with, or have slept with. You are none of these things. You are you and your sweet heart. Your fresh start is offered to you each morning you wake up. We all get an opportunity to begin again each day. I used to have a boyfriend who would always say to me “don’t be sorry, just don’t do it,” when I’d apologize for doing something lame. That really struck me the first time he said it. Because essentially he was saying that what was in the past really didn’t matter. Only what I chose to do next. And there’s a lot of freedom and forgiveness in that.

I hope that in this letter i have provided at least some small glimmer of something that helps you. This topic is very close to my heart. I was also a sexually active teenager who struggled with major guilt over some of my choices. I was shamed by lots of people, but mostly by young men and boys who drew power from shaming women. You will encounter these kinds of men over and over again. Kick them to the curb as soon as you can. Eventually you will start to recognize and choose men who don’t do this. However, you must guard yourself. This is one of the hardest tasks given to girls your age. The only person who can protect your inner self, your sexuality, and your heart, is you. There are no knights and princes anymore, and even if there were, I’m still not sure they could protect us. You are on your own, and that’s a big burden to bear. But you are valuable.

Another thing to remember is that you are the gift. You choose who you give yourself to. It is not a compliment when someone wants to have sex with you. I wish someone had told me that when I was younger. Now that you are sexually active, you will spend a lot of time and energy learning how to maneuver attention and pressure from men. Let them flatter you, but don’t put too much meaning on it. You are the pot of gold and the rainbow. By learning to Say No, you lose nothing and gain everything.

To wrap this all up: Learn to Say No by supporting yourself with loving peers or adults, being honest with yourself, and staying committed to your agreements that you’ve made with yourself. Saying No also has a snowball effect. The more you do it, the easier it gets. So once you get through that first time, the road will just get easier.

Learning to Say No will make you feel much more empowered about the times you decide to Say Yes.


Good luck.

 

With love,
Sadie Rose

Reclaiming Gossip: Some Thoughts on Woman-Power

If you are a woman, chances are good that “gossip” holds a negative connotation for you. Perhaps you have been negatively affected by gossip in some way, and possibly you have harmed others, as well. I understand both sides. And I’m here to challenge our modern definition of gossip and propose that we, as women, reclaim it as one of our feminine strengths and powers.

The etymology of gossip is interesting. Merriam-Webster claims that it originates from words having to do with relatives and God. Both of these are things rooted deeply in love, right? If this history is correct, then “gossip” originated as a type of conversation you would have with someone you trust completely: a baring of soul and truth to someone you love. And why would you share these things with someone you love? Because you need to. Because this is how we process and heal. By sharing. By sharing the story. By seeking reflection, comfort, understanding, advice. (In today’s world, you see this type of thing showing up as: “checking in,” “soul speak,” “connecting,” and lots more terms that embody this practice).

I’ve not dug in much deeper to learn exactly how the word evolved so negatively. The dictionary indicates that it later began to mean “idle talk.” Idle talk was associated, of course, with women. As women struggled to survive in Old England (oh boy), their traditions did, too. And their honor. Honor was hard to come by for women, and ritual that was based in sisterhood was generally punished, both in a familial sense as well as on a broader societal level (those bitches be witches!). From what I’ve learned about women in history (especially in Old England), it’s easy to see how god-speak (gossip) was seen as threatening to the patriarchal establishment and so it was villainized. Because oppression.

Women speaking to each other in private is powerful. It can move mountains. It can heal rifts, it can bring people back together, it can tear people apart. Gossip is not just a sharing of information, it is a sharing of feeling, of intuitive ideas.

In its highest form, gossip is a healing balm among the sisterhood of women.

As soon as we get around our girlfriends, the desire hits: We might call it “catching up,” often times sharing what has been going on in our lives. All of us know the feeling of “I can’t wait to talk to [my best friend] to tell her this.” Again, we tell it because we have to. Because to keep it inside would be like keeping a plant in a closet. Stories are meant to move and be shared. They are the wild colors of a sunset, always shifting, always moving, meaning something different to each of us.

Being caught in negative storytelling doesn’t feel good to anyone. But “gossip” is not always negative, despite the negative feel that it’s adopted. Of course I must to surrender to modern definitions in order to be understood, but I want to also let women know that it’s okay to “gossip”, as long as you are standing in the light and speaking in love. And when there are dark things to process, by all means, do it. Be respectful. God-speak/gossip was not designed to tear other people down, or to make you feel better about your shortcomings. It was developed to heal and to lighten loads. To connect and to rest easier. To open our hearts to each other. To mend broken bonds. To share information that gets lodged and stuck in the non-communicative mouths of men.

Throughout history, it is God-speak/gossip that has helped to win wars, to warn heroes of betrayal and trickery, to find medicine in times of need, to build community where it lacked, to provide comfort for those who had none. It has aided many men and women in missions that would not have succeeded without the invisible power of it, and it has soothed many, many sad or exhausted souls.

Whatever we choose now to call it, let us give a nod to the gossip of yore and the women to whom it belonged.

 


Parenting with the Serenity Prayer

Parenting is the constant serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Lately most things for me, in parenting, fall in the first category—the things I cannot change. So I have been calling a lot on wisdom and serenity:

I accept the dirty car and endless crumbs. I accept the teeth-turned-blue from candy I would never, ever want to eat. I accept the not-me-ness of my child, the deep and profound differences that make it more and more clear each day that I have (as they told me I would) produced a person who is completely his own.

Now, more than ever before, I have to continually let go of my control in parenting. He's 11, nearing 12. He is on a Little League team, and he seems so much younger than many of the boys. He seems not as good as lots of them. Yesterday at his game he began running from 2nd to 3rd base on a hit, and then for some reason decided to turn back, and return to 2nd base. As his mother, I saw the confusion in his body from the people yelling about the hit, the fielder who caught and dropped it, and how it was hard for him to see. He was trying to process it all, and that was how he did it. I know why it happened, but on the outside it just seemed painfully awkward. I felt a physical pull to protect him from the embarrassment, I felt a physical desire that I had preemptively taught him whatever it was I should have taught him so that he felt more confident right there. I felt so attached to the whole thing.

Again: Serenity. Grace. The only way he can learn is by doing. His process is not my process. Likewise, I can't experience things for him. The days of absorbing emotional elements for the sake of my child are gone.

When I was in labor, the nurses wanted to put antibiotics in my IV because my strep test had not been completed and my water broke early, putting the baby at higher risk of infection. I resisted. They told me the antibiotics could go in my IV, or in the baby when he came out. I scowled and told them to put them in my IV. That was the last time I was able to absorb a physical substance for him and still transmute it for him. I was able to "lessen the blow," in a sense. My body would process the antibiotics before his did.

Breastfeeding, of course, continues this in a similar form: we pass on nutrients to our babies through our own bodies (though we also pass on toxins—ah, the irony). And then there's the time where we carry them—we shield them from light, from mean people, from bad situations. We pick them up and pluck them right out of any interaction we want. We take responsibility for their actions, for years and years, because they are our trainees. Our representatives.

 Now I don't think I really need to take responsibility for his actions anymore. In fact, I know I don't. I am not responsible for his learning now; he's on to other teachers and ways of learning. I am, of course, still the support team and home base. I'm just not the main steez anymore. Now it's all about my grace, wisdom and courage so that he can have a sturdy place to keep growing up up up and away.

With small children, I think it's easy to get caught up in this idea of prevention. I know I did. Like if we prevent the thing from happening, we have done something good, a service. If we prevent them from falling, prevent them from hitting the other child, prevent them from melting down, and so on, then we have taught them a lesson (we haven't: we actually interrupted the lesson and delayed it from being learned). There are plenty of situations where this prevention is entirely appropriate and beneficial, but there are also lots of situations where it's not. And I'm learning that now in a really hands-on kind of way. Now it's not about preventing the fall. Now it's about letting him fall so that he can stop being afraid of falling. It's such a tired metaphor, but it couldn't be more true: Nothing eradicates the fear of falling better than the fall itself.

Today on the way to school he almost fell off his bike. I saw the terror flash in his eyes. He caught himself. But tomorrow he's riding to school without me. If he falls, he's on his own.

Single Mom Spectrum

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I heard on the internet that the other day was National Single Parent Day. I celebrated by continuing my job as a single parent.

I've been a single parent since my child was about 2 years old. When I say "single parent," I become glaringly aware of the broad spectrum of this. There are many varying degrees of single parenthood, from the true, go-it-alone parent, to the split-custody-divorced parent and so on. Single parenting comes in many different flavors, and it is constantly exposed to environmental adjustments.

I'm going to focus on single mothering since I'm a mom. No offense dads, but I'm sure there are other great blogs for you to read. Or heck, you can read this one too and just decide if it translates into dad vibes or not.

For most of my life as a mama, I've applauded myself for being a hardcore single mother. My child's third year, the year filled with DAILY 45-minute tantrums (I cannot convey the brutality of this year) was spent entirely on my own ... Or was it? I had no man around, but I had an angelic roommate who not only put up with us, she loved us. She let me go away sometimes for a whole weekend while she stayed with my tantrum toddler. She snuggled, we cooked, we holidayed together. It appears I was not as alone as I could have been. When my child was 4-8 years old, I had a boyfriend who wholeheartedly co-parented with me. It was astonishing and wonderful. It was the greatest act of love I had seen in many years. Again, I was sort of a single mother, but sort of not.

My marriage to my babydaddy was brief and forgettable; I was 21 and pregnant when I got married, and though I knew it wouldn't last, I'm glad for certain things that the marriage bestowed upon my child. (Mostly legal things and a quiet, bizarre societal acceptance. But hey, those things actually are kind of nice, it turns out). My point here, though, is that I did have a marriage. My pregnancy was filled with lots of starry-eyed bliss and plans for off-grid living and many more children to come. We received expensive gifts and lots of family support. It was FUN. I remember lots of excitement, and that feeling of "we are doing this project together!" We went through the birth together. I have since talked to mothers who didn't have this part. They went through their pregnancies entirely unpartnered. No starry-eyed companions, no visions of fairy tales. For these women, the single mom-ness started at conception. I bow to these mothers, the true queens of graceful solitude.

We can only view single mothering as a spectrum. There is no black and white here. Only lots and lots of gray area and love. Lots of doing-the-best-we-can; lots of hoping-they'll-be-okay. We also have a lot of freedom, a special kind of freedom that is only found in single mothering. We are free to choose, to be ourselves, to decide.

Currently, my son's father lives 3 hours away from us. Visits are regular, but spread out. Often I feel exhausted with the never-ending parenting role I've been given, and I've often stared longingly at my friends who "single parent" with a 50/50 custody split. "What I would give for 50% of my time to be free!" I've thought to myself. Or, "Is it really single parenting when the other parent does just as much?" Perhaps these are selfish thoughts. And every divorced parent I know calls it "single parenting," and so single parenting it must be. If it feels like single parenting, let's call it single parenting.

Sometimes I catch myself in a grass-is-greener conundrum. Oh how I need "more time!" I think to myself. And then I get an email from my son's stepmother: "We can take him for 9 days instead of just 4!" She says. And my heart lifts, then sinks. It's what I wanted, I thought. It's good for him to go be with them, he has fun with them, and his step-family loves him. There are pies and big dinners in the country and lots of dogs. But I will miss him. When he is with his "other" family, I am a non-player. I do not have a say in anything; it is a world unknown to me. It's bittersweet, to say the least. 

Time is slipping through my fingers, as everyone promised me it would. My baby who threw wild tantrums and built the thick walls of my patience has grown into this in-between person: Not so small yet not so big. He thinks for himself, and challenges me intelligently on my opinions. He takes out the garbage and does his laundry. He is still excited to see me every morning.

There is no easy way. Single mothering is hard, but I also have been lucky to spend so much time with my child. I am his home and his true North: A privilege I do not want to squander. This essay is my practice of gratitude, my reminder that nothing is easy, but many things are good.

To the single mamas out there—the whole spectrum of us—I say, good work. This time is only a chapter. A very important chapter, of course, but it is not the whole book, so let's soak it up. Be grateful to every helper who shows up, because they come in many different forms. The grass isn't greener anywhere else. In fact, the grass is really green here right now, because it rained all winter. I hiked in it just a few days ago, with my kid. We got soaking wet and muddy, cold in our bones, and then we came home and put on our pajamas and ate pizza.

And it was the best day.

 

 

 

Closure: A Myth of Modern Romance

There is something that I hear a lot of us ladies talk about a lot. I myself have talked about it a lot at times, fixated on it, hoped for it, pinned plenty of emotional irresponsibility on it. And that, my friends, is "closure."

For the purposes of this blog post, I'm going to define closure in my own words. Closure is a fictional and fantastical thing at the end of a relationship. It is an imagined event that will make the breaking of this relationship seem final and complete. 

I am going to speak from my own experience, since that's what I know. I have, in the past, longed for closure after certain break ups. The longing-for-closure always, always came, however, from relationships that I did not choose to end. If a guy disappeared or dumped me, then I needed CLOSURE! I have even been known to embarrass myself and demand closure, as though these men would have been like "oh yes! let's get together and have closure." I mean what the hell kind of guy would be into that? And what does it even mean, anyway? I'll tell you right now that guys who bow out by avoiding phone calls (or exhibit other lame practices) are also not going to show up for closure. And every time I dumped someone? I certainly didn't need any closure. Good riddance, dumped guy.

I never hear about men discussing closure. It's mostly a female thing (in my experience). However, some men might agree to meet for this elusive "closure" thing if they feel like it could provide one last opportunity for them to get in your pants. So beware the man who agrees to meet for closure's sake.

Here's the thing, ladies, and I say this with love: Closure is a myth. It is a terrible, terrible myth that sends us back to emotionally abusive men and shitty relationships that we were too good for, anyway. Closure is a euphemism for "I am not ready to let go; you hurt me; please be accountable for my feelings; let me have a little bit more control over you before you disappear entirely."

Real closure, or that sense of completion, comes from only one place: yourself. And it is a tough and lonely process. There are no shortcuts. You gotta let that shit go. Now THAT is closure. Here are some signs that closure has already happened, regardless of mutual conversations or meetings:

He stopped calling
He is dating someone else
You are dating someone else

One of the big lessons of growing up, for me, was realizing that closure is a myth in many ways, not just in romantic situations like I've discussed. A lot of things in life just end, whether we are ready for it or not. Not everything waits for us to be ready; not everything is served to us in perfect portions that are easy to digest. Sometimes things end suddenly or disappear without warning, and we have to accept it. Sometimes these things (or events or people) leave an air of mystery behind, or in worse times, they leave an air of abandonment and violation. Again, there is no remedy for these kinds of things. Closure is not a conversation, ritual or ceremony. Closure is a decision you make.

I'm writing this post because I've been there. And I have lots of friends who have been there. I have friends that are there right now.

In situations like this, I often think about stories. The best stories that we read or watch are not tidy and neat. In fact, it is a lack of closure and a plethora of heartbreak that fuels some of the best, most riveting stories. The tragedy of truth. Sometimes it's helpful to step back and look at the events in our lives as stories; it all makes more sense that way.

Isabel Allende, one of my favorite authors, lost her 29 year-old daughter due to medical negligence in a hospital in Madrid. Her daughter had been in a coma, but it was not the coma that killed her. It was a brief power failure that caused a lapse in her daughter's oxygen, leaving her brain-dead. However, the hospital did not inform Isabel of this, and it was only after she wrote a memoir about her daughter (no doubt, to provide some kind of closure for herself), that she received a letter from a guilt-ridden nurse in Madrid (who read the memoir) informing her of the error and the power outage.

This illustrates, to me, the brutal nature of love and life. I think about the almost lethal ache for "closure" or "one last chance" that Isabel must feel in this circumstance. In contrast, it illustrates to me how silly it is to call for "closure" when we have been wronged by some jerk that we unfortunately dated. We think it will make us feel better, but it never will. It only prolongs the inevitable. Closure is a fabrication. It is what we cling to when we don't want to face the pain of real loss.

To all the women out there seeking closure where you were rejected, I say this: Stop. You are loved in many other ways and places. Closure will only bring you down over and over again for as long as you seek it. To soothe your itch for resolution, consider writing it all down (your story). This will provide more closure than any conversation ever will.

 


 

Make Your Own Website: Why You Just Should

In the world of creative women in this day and age, a common conversation topic that comes up is websites. Websites are awesome because they are a nearly free way for us to display our work and to represent ourselves to the world, without having to rely on other people or platforms to do so for us. It's a huge opportunity, one that millions of women worldwide have jumped on.

It's not always simple. There are many different ways to "have a website," depending on who you are and what you want to display. There are blogs, shops, landing pages, etc. And there is also the monstrous social media vortex: so powerful yet so distracting. Often we can feel that we are representing ourselves fully on social media, but I would argue that you don't own that projection as much as you would own one that you create at your own URL. My general rule is to remember less is more in all things digital. It can get overwhelming real quick.

I have personally spoken to dozens of women who want a website because it feels like the final step in becoming "legit." Many of us creatives have tons of work or product or ideas, but no where to store them and show them to the world. Websites act as streamlined portfolios with a profound and valuable simplicity. They also make it easy for you to be contacted. It can really be frustrating when you meet a talented creative who has desirable services, yet they are nearly impossible to track down on the internet. Or they write down an ancient 1990s email for you on the back of your own business card; one with kitschy words in it and an odd series of numbers, like cerealchick22875@hotmail.com. I'll tell you right now this is not good for business. It's fine, it just isn't that good.

And honestly, it's not all about business. I get it. Business is overwhelming, and as much as I love the hustle, I also burn out on it a lot and I just want quiet and space and time to be me through my work without worrying about dollar signs and clients. But when I do want to bring in the dollar signs and the clients, I like to be professional about it.

And here's the big secret: you can have a website right now. You are already legit. You don't have to have a huge body of work, or a brick and mortar shop or studio, or even a professional head shot. You don't have to be published, you don't have to have a gallery show repertoire, or any published interviews. You don't have to have a portfolio or a blog. You can just have a website. Just do it right now. Your legit-ness just got a hundred times more legit. Am I right?

As a consultant, I sit down and talk with tons of women who want to build a website for themselves but feel that they "aren't quite ready." This is often for a few reasons: it feels like an unjustifiable expense, or they feel like they don't have their shit together quite enough yet to have a "real" website. And it just isn't true. The glory of the internet is that you can be legit whenever you want. Age and experience are irrelevant. You should build your website. It will make you feel important and official. Which will make you feel more professional. Which will make you work more and get more jobs and clients and gigs. Your website can be simple or grand, it's almost limitless, all the possibilities.

Pay someone to do it for you if you keep putting it off or if you freeze up when it's time to do it. If there is one valuable lesson I've learned over the years (besides from having a simple URL and email address), it's this: delegate, delegate, delegate. This is one of the crucial keys to joyful success.

X

Working Single Mother (or, Tonight w/Nutella)

Here’s what I’m doing: I’m eating Dave’s Killer Bread smeared with butter and then Nutella. Yes, both. I’ve never done it before. It’s as good as it sounds, and better than you think. Now I’ve eaten two pieces. It’s not even 9:00 yet, and I’m tired. Sore-shoulders, headache tired. It could be because I’m about to get my period. I think it’s also because I’ve been staying up a little bit too late this whole week. See, I love staying up late. Late at night is where my creativity lies. It rises up in the night time, like an owl, swooping from the rafter’s roost and rocketing into the moonlight. I feel creative (art) at night and I feel productive (work) in the morning. The afternoon compels me mostly to daydream and rest and have fun, but as we know, that’s not always possible. There are things to be done.

My child has a fever. I gave him ibuprofen before bed, because I secretly cannot bear the terror of letting him burn it off, even though that’s what the grandmothers say I should do. But once it hits a certain point and it’s bedtime, I have to dose him. It makes me feel protected from other possibilities.

I’ve been working all evening on various projects for various clients. It makes me feel tired and happy; it makes me wish I didn’t have a headache, or that I was 23 and could stay up as late as I wanted working. But alas, I am in my 30s now—and a mother on top of it all. There is no staying up as late as I want without brutal repercussions the next day: namely, my own suffering. Sleep is of the highest order. It is essential to my well being and therefore to the well being of my child.

There are exactly two loads of clean, unfolded laundry on my bed. I know for certain that I won’t fold them tonight, just as I didn’t fold them last night. The question is whether I will relocate them, or simply sleep beneath them, like a layer of extra insulation. I can’t decide because I’m so tired. Today I’ve been thinking of the phrase “working single mother” a lot. Because I have a job now, so that’s what I am. (I’ve always worked, so I’ve always been a working single mother. But this is the first time in a decade that I’ve worked outside of my house). There are different things I have to consider now, like, how will I go to work tomorrow? Perhaps I won’t be able to. Perhaps I can go for part of the time. How high will the fever be in the morning?

I’d like to write poetry tonight, and read my horrifying Murakami book that I am enjoying, even though it’s horrifying. I’d also like to work on my wall-hanging that I’m making ouf of driftwood and wool. But I don’t think I will do those things, except for maybe read a little bit of my book once I’m in bed. Because tonight it is essential that I go to bed as soon as possible. The ibuprofen wears off in 8 hours at the most. It is always a crapshoot as to what happens after that. It is best if I am rested by then, no matter what. When our children are sick, we have to be ready.

Tomorrow will unfold just fine, I’m sure of it. I may be a Working Single Mother, but I love working and I love being a mother.

I’ve decided: I’m going to take the laundry off my bed. It will make me feel more grown up.

 

 

 

 

 

36 Things

Last week marked the 1-year anniversary of my first date with my man. Our first date was on a cold winter morning, and he drove up the hill to my little ridge town on a Tuesday I think it was. He'd invited me thrift shopping on the ridge. At the time I still owned my little shop, and he met me there. We hardly knew each other at all, but we'd met through the urgings of a mutual friend. We started with coffee and then went to as many thrift stores and antique stores as we could before we both had to head down the hill to pick up our various children from school. That day I bought an electric pencil sharpener that reminded me of my childhood, and it is now one of Asher's favorite things. 

Right before our anniversary, Alec turned 36. So on our anniversary, I gave him a list of 36 things that I love about him. A girlfriend of mine did this for me once, years ago, when I turned 25 or 26, and I remember it making me so ridiculously happy. 

Here's the list I made for Alec:

36 things i love about you

you make the best tempeh reubens and you like to drink tea with me even though you're such a coffee pro. I love that you are such a coffee pro and I love watching you steam milk and hold the pitcher while you look at me. I love all the books you have and how you don't care about things like messes or too much laundry or the dirty cups on the porch. I love that you notice people and how they feel and what they need. I love your poems and your scratchy handwriting, your scruffy face and your plaid shirts. I love your karate kid heart and how you always do what you say you will do. I love your filthy boy truck and your amazing kitchen skills and how when you cook you don't care how much time we have or we don't have, you just cook. I love how you chop vegetables. I love how you love people. I love your epic dad skills, your wilderness skills, the way you can talk to anyone with extreme patience and kindness. I love how you let people be who they are. I love how you let yourself be who you are. I especially love how silly you are and your perfect acting skills; you are one of the best storytellers I've ever met because you channel story and art through your physical body with impeccable grace. You are hilarious. You are so loving. You are very very handsome. You read poems to me in the car and you read poems in front of audiences of people you don't know. I love when you read me anything, your own writing or from other people's books. I love your voice. I love how you ask what I need and take care of me when I'm sick, and I love how good you are at being human.

 

Remember to always tell people how much you love them. The little things can bring a lot of joy. 

 

Letter to The Young Pregnant Woman, Age 21, Possibly Me

Dear Me,

How are you feeling? Quite possibly you feel wonderful, so young and on the brink of so much. Probably you are receiving an epic download of intuitive information, as well as a thorough map of how your intuition works and how it feels. This map will change your life, and you will use it every day from here on out. It is summer, and your skin is glowing, pulled tight with the glory of your youth and the abundance of your baby growing inside of you. People marvel at you now, and your belly that grows like the flowers. People stop for you, offer to carry your bags, cars halt in the street so that you can cross anytime, and anywhere. You smile all the time.

I know that you just graduated college, bravely, as pregnancy is unwelcome there. The academics view pregnancy as a dead end to your “potential”, a tragic incident that ruins your trajectory—a surrender to mediocre gender roles of yore. You brought snacks to all your classes toward the end, because you were always hungry. In the poetry class you could be yourself. You spoke of pregnancy and ate apples. The poets laughed with you and named you their honorary fertility totem for the class. They hoped your life-bringing force would infiltrate their words and papers and bless their poems. In your anthropology class you told no one and cried quietly in the back row during the documentary about Chimpanzees as the tribe leader stole a mother’s infant and killed it in front of her by smashing it repeatedly on a tree.

Oh! I meant to say, don’t worry. Your life isn’t over. Academia has its benefits but there is life beyond the University Square. You will see. Not right away, but you will see. You are spending days at the river, floating in the water and laying in the sun. You eat only the best food now, because everything you eat is helping to grow your baby. You stopped watching movies because instinctively you feel that injecting synthetic emotions into your psyche (and therefore your baby’s budding brain) is the wrong thing to do. This frees you up and you spend even more time at the river. You read books, you write letters. You sleep a lot. You document your body with a disposable film camera. Your breasts are amazing.

Here are the things that no one will tell you:

It will be awful. Having a baby will be so hard and terrifying and lonely, you won’t know what hit you. This won’t last forever, but it will happen. 

Your husband, whom you married when you were three months pregnant, is not right for you. You already know this deep inside, but you’ve been silencing the inner voice because you don’t know what else to do about it. You will make wrong decisions because of what he wants. You will go against your intuition and against the advice of friends. You will do this because you are young, and because this is how you learn. After a decade, you will be much better at listening to The Voice. It is never wrong. It often tells you things that require you to call upon your deepest courage. 

Learning will be hard. Everything you learn now will be punctuated by the quest for survival, for you and your baby. You will be tired a lot. You will learn to value rest and sleep above all things, even above money and sex. 

You will become who you are. Motherhood will strip everything away except the bare essentials, and you will build from there. It is a glorious, rich, naked starting point. Anything is possible. You know so much now. Your choices belong to you and your baby. 

Breastfeeding will change the way you live. It will teach you unnamable and unspeakable things about love and communication. It will teach you about your heart. 

The way you view your body will entirely change. You will realize what your body is really for, (including the parts beneath that bikini you wore to the river all summer). Before, it was so much about sex. About being attractive and about attracting. About sensuality, being naked with a man. Pleasure for him, for you. Now you will see that all of that is simply a bridge to your body’s deeper purpose: to give birth and to feed. The enormity of this will impress you. You will be astonished at the brilliant design of your self. 

You will not care about sex anymore. This lasts for varying degrees of time. Because of your new understanding about what your body is actually designed for, and because you will be keeping your baby alive, you simply will not care. You will not feel like flirting. You will even sometimes feel somewhat repelled by your man, who absolutely will still feel like doing these things. It will be difficult to navigate this new way of being. It will change as your child grows, so don’t worry too much. Your sexuality will never be the same again. 

One of the best gifts you will receive is the ability to say No. When your baby is born, the world will be different, and the thought of doing something you don’t want to do will be preposterous. You will not be able to imagine spending time with people who only moderately interest you. You will certainly not be able to imagine spending time with people who make you uncomfortable. You will build a kingdom around and within yourself, and the only ones who can enter will be the ones who truly feed your soul. You will understand the true meaning of “priorities.”

Probably there are more things. But those are the main ones. The ones that will shock you, shift you, make you feel forever changed, so different than before. It is trite to say that you will never be the same again. Sacrifice is your daily bread. You will mourn, with tears, the loss of your 20s as your friends swirl through that decade childless, drunk, and free. In your 30s you will finally realize you lost nothing and gained everything. You will begin to realize that freedom is not in social availability, but rather that it is found in a system of awareness as to what you want in life, who you want to be, and how you will get there without sacrificing yourself.

You will be grateful that you birthed your baby so young, because deep down you wanted that, and you did it in the face of adversity and youthful ignorance. You will feel accomplished and strong. You will know that there is still such a long way to go. 

 

I'm bringing blogging back

I'm bringing blogging back for me, I mean. Because it's been a while. If you know me, you know I blogged for several years in a different venue. Then I took a break. But I'm coming back next week, after the new year. I have a lot of writing to share with you all. 

Here we go again. Always changing, always coming back to myself, over and over again.