WHERE I’VE BEEN, WHY BETH KEPHART ROCKS, AND HEY, I’M PUBLISHING ANOTHER BOOK!!!

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A preliminary drawing of the cover for So Speak the Stars, created by my Desiree Wade.

So if you didn’t notice I ran away from home, I’m a-ok with it.  You have a beautiful, messy life of your own to live, and no doubt, it is throwing you curve balls, because that’s what life does best, I mean, besides giving us love and flowers and carrot cake and the occasional flu.  But I did indeed go into hiding for a bit, sometime around July.

I’m not gonna lie.  I did it because life had been super hard, and I was on the verge of breaking.  My momma got stage three breast cancer.  I lived with her during the treatment, and I will tell you, watching her suffer like that was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  I will never, ever get over watching her cry as the nurses wheeled her into surgery.  We all think our parents are gods, or at least many of us do, but my mother’s cancer showed me the vulnerable child in her, a child I desperately wanted to protect and couldn’t.  It was a great gift, but it was also very, very painful.  As if that weren’t enough, in the middle of my mother’s cancer treatment, my brother, who is one of my best friends, had a massive heart attack, which killed him twice.  He was dead for four minutes.  They were able to revive him, thank God, but all of this, and other more personal suffering, left me feeling like a husk.

Truth be told, I was also having a hard time adjusting to being in the public eye much of the time.  Not that I’m anywhere near famous, but when I started selling books, I went from invisible to fairly visible overnight, and the constant output of emotional energy was hard for me.  As laughy and dancy as I can be in public, I’m truly a loner at heart.  I wasn’t taking the time I needed to recharge, and I was about to wither up and blow away.  So I told my dear friend, Beth Kephart, how I was feeling, and she gave me the courage to go off the grid and hide in a cabin in Colorado for as long as it took to get back on my feet. I spent tons of time praying in that cabin.  Lots of time meditating.  And most of all, I wrote.

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Me at the cabin.  Ok, maybe I drank a little wine too…

 

The truth is, in addition to feeling overwhelmed, I’d also lost touch with the passion that brought me to writing in the first place.  It was starting to feel like a job with no point, a full on mid-career crisis I talk about at length in an essay that will be coming out in Hippocampus Magazine in February.

At the beginning of my hideaway time, I read Beth’s novel, Wild Blues.  It utterly changed my life.  As my eyes danced over her exquisite prose, I remembered why I started writing—the passion, the joy, the love affair with words. Beth is one of the few people I know who hasn’t lost an ounce of that after becoming a writer who publishes regularly.  Even after publishing 23 books and being a finalist for the National Book Award, she has managed to keep her eyes on the prize. And no, the prize isn’t the National Book Award, or any other accolade.  The prize is the words themselves, the glorious, heartbreaking, mysterious process of bringing art into the world.  Her words are always wild and blue, which to me is a sacred color, the color of Krishna, the color I see in my dreams when I visit heavenly realms.  Reading Beth’s work brought me back to my own words.

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Me with Beth’s masterpiece, right after she gave it to me when I was teaching at the Rosemont College Writer’s Retreat this summer.

I started working on two books—a poetry collection called So Speak the Stars and a memoir with the working title of Butterfly Fucking, though I think my publisher will likely change it when the time comes to bring it into the world, what with the big bad F word being fairly unacceptable in most circles.  After my time in Colorado, my mother and I took a month long trip to Europe to celebrate my birthday and the end of her cancer treatment.  Our time together, in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, was revolutionary and beautiful.

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Momma and I in Amsterdam, one of the many cities we visited during our European adventure. 
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Stunning Stonehenge.  Palpable magic.  

When the time came to leave, I didn’t want to, so I didn’t.  I stayed in Prague, the city that had most captured my heart as I traveled with my mother, to finish writing that memoir.

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Our street in Prague, just before sunset. 

I have been waking up every day this week feeling true joy and contentment, emotions I hadn’t fully experienced in for a long time.  I know the magic time away has worked.  I am me again, only better.

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Me in Prague, wearing a Prague-ish hat. 

And this week, I got some wonderful news.  My poetry book, So Speak the Stars, was accepted for publication by Texture Press in Philadelphia.  We will be launching in March.  My gorgeous daughter, Desiree Wade, who happens to be a brilliant artist, will be creating the cover image and internal graphic content.

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My beautiful daughter, Desiree Wade, and me at the launch party for my last book, The Long Ride Home.  

In this book, I reconnected with my heart.  I didn’t write this book to sell it.  I wrote it to dance with words again, to paint my heart in big sloppy colors all over the page.  I wanted to break rules.  I wasn’t even sure what genre I was writing in. Half the poems think they are prose, so there’s that.  In other news, I was told by a poetry teacher early on that I shouldn’t use the word “love” in poems, that I shouldn’t, in fact, write about love, because it was cliché.  Fuck that noise.  At least half of these poems are unabashed love poems.  It’s what I want to write.  I’m sick of writing for an imaginary panel of old white male intellectuals, or for a mysterious, mythical beast called the publishing industry.  If I can’t write my heart, I don’t want to write.  I’d rather be a barista.

Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would want my wild, from-the-heart book.  But someone did.  The editors at Texture Press fell in love with it, and now, I feel as if I have fully returned to the passion I felt for writing before I started publishing.  Writing isn’t about money, or big audiences at readings, or prestige.  It’s about art and passion and love.  That’s all I ever want it to be about again.  I want my words to forever be wild and blue.  I don’t care how big my book advances are.  I don’t care how many people show up at my readings.  I don’t care if the publishing industry thinks my words are “unmarketable.” I’m not here to be marketable.  I’m here to fill the air around me with magic blue.

So thank you, Beth, for giving my words back to me.  Thank you Valerie Fox at Texture Press for championing my manuscript.  Thank you to my baby Desi for collaborating with your momma on this piece of her heart.

It’s a good day.  I’m back.

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Reconnecting to the kid in me at our house outside of Munich.  I’m gonna stay this girl until the day I die.  
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GROUPIE TAWNI + WRITER TAWNI = ME

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Groupie me dancing (rather enthusiastically)

Almost four years ago, around the time my kids moved out and my first two books were released, my life upended itself.  I won’t go into detail about everything that happened (well, maybe I will in the memoir I’m writing), but so much of who I thought I was fell away.  Some of it fell away whether I liked it or not.  Some of it went because I chose to let it go.

One of the things that went the way of the dinosaur was my house.  “Who the hell am I really?” I asked myself.  “I mean without all the trappings and labels that come with a normal home and existence?” More rapidly than I would have liked, the universe set about answering my earnest question. A series of brutally serendipitous events pushed me to give up my permanent residence, and filled with terror, I started to travel full time, thinking I’d embrace the itinerant lifestyle for about a year.

I have since lived in the South of France for a bit, taught creative writing in Sicily, performed in Mexico, and done all of those things just about everywhere in the U.S.  I’ve just accepted an offer to do a stint teaching for the Rosemont College MFA program in Morocco.  (Yayyyy!!!)  I’ve lost relationships that needed losing, repaired loves that needed repairing, and found a slew of new friends who are wise, generous, brilliant, and all kinds of bad ass.  I’ve yet to give up traveling completely, but the trek I’ve been on has been beautiful, horrifying, and utterly guided.  It has served to peel away my layers of bullshit and unearth a version of me that feels more authentic, powerful, and honest than anything I’ve ever allowed myself to be.

Before I gave up my house, I’d been following a rock band for almost 20 years, and I had all kinds of clothes I dubbed my “groupie clothes.” The time I spent following that band changed me forever.  In fact, it ignited the genesis that made me into a woman who would dare sell books, throw away houses, wander the world alone.

But suddenly, I was a groupie-no-more. I was teaching writing at universities and conferences and reading my work in front of audiences.  Believing, as most of us do, that the real me was completely inadequate, I decided the best thing to do was stuff my real self in a box and pretend to be “professional.”  (I know.  This behavior was diametrically opposed to the question that made me set out on my quest in the first place.  I never claimed to be a logical being.) I put all my groupie clothes in storage, bought a bunch of grown up stuff, and set about trying to be Margaret Atwood.  (I’m just gonna go ahead and say I look really weird in khaki pants.)

And then, as the travel started working its magic of revealing my truest soul, and I simultaneously became more and more comfortable in front of audiences, I realized my classes and events were way better when I was just me—good ol’ earnest, probably gonna trip and fall, definitely gonna cry at least once and drop the f-bomb twice, more likely to reference Springsteen than Bukowski, can we talk about how love will save the world Tawni.  When I let that girl out of the box, I was shocked to find how enthusiastically people embraced her.  Who knew?

A few weeks before I came to Philadelphia to teach at the Rosemont College MFA retreat, I took my groupie clothes out of storage.  As I packed for the trip, I threw some of the clothes in my suitcase, thinking I might where them to social events–say maybe to drink at pubs with other writers. Today, as I was dressing to conduct a series of manuscript consultations, a favorite shirt fell out of my bag.  (I first wore this shirt to a CD release party in 2004, after which I followed the band everywhere they went on tour.  It was a huge part of my artistic/spiritual genesis.  I wrote much of Beauty of the Broken on that tour.)  As I stared at that ball of flimsy blue fabric lying on the floor, memories of my groupie years–some of the headiest years of my life–washed over me.  In an admittedly characteristic act of impetuousness, I decided to bring groupie Tawni out to play with writer Tawni.  I paired my rock-n-roll shirt with a semi-grown-up black skirt (as opposed to the thigh high boots I paired it with way back when).  I was kinda worried it would make people think I was trashy, but I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten more compliments on an outfit.  And for the first time since I sold my books—maybe for the first time ever–I felt like I was wholly me.

Today, rock-n-roll Tawni and writer Tawni merged.  I kinda think this outfit is a metaphorical answer to the question I asked four years ago.

This is who the hell I really am (for now).

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Groupie Tawni and Writer Tawni, all in one crazy-weird package

 

IN PRAISE OF INNOCENCE

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In dawn’s blossoming light

I see.

I can tell you this single truth:

Kittens are worth more than dollars.

I measure wealth in the intricacy of eyelashes,

not pennies.

I must ask:

Why was I so afraid of this world he tried to show me?

And why did I run so far from the breaking of my clay vessel?

Let the light in me leak out.

Around me now, flowers bloom

bursting into sunrise

replicated on the hillside

again and again and again

colors not seen in the gray world I used to know

a loveless web of shoulds and musts and death.

In your story, the grave is the end,

but I have died, and I am still alive.

What do you make of that,

undertaker?

What do you do with the miracle of me?

You must ask yourself this question now:

How do we subdue a star that has already risen

far out of reach?

How do we silence the wind?

How do we unshow the queen the diamonds that grew in her bones

now that she has been boiled down to glittery marrow?

I perch on the tip of the crescent moon

singing hymns to divinities

who had nothing to do with your petty churches.

My gods do not bow

to idols.

Yes, there is forever.

I sit at its center

and bloom.

I am a lotus

a blue egg a wandering Christ found one night

and cracked.

My sunrise yolk bled out.

Yesterday, you crucified him

because he didn’t look the way your book imagined he should.

My king wore jeans and dusty boots instead of sanitized white robes.

The story is always the same,

but no matter, beloved fools.

 

It always ends with resurrection.

MAGDALENE’S MAP

Shri-Krishna

I have ascended
come to the place
where every molecule is infused with light
I can see the future and the past and the present
as one.
Krishna’s blue shines here.
There is no fear.
on the mountain of perfect love.

I scaled the gates of hell to find
my soul’s true home
tangled with screaming demons
wrestled with death itself
while ahead of me
the Christ walked
whispering,

Follow me home.
Follow me home.

As I climbed
I lost everyone and everything
I thought I knew and owned
because everyone and everything
I thought I knew and owned
were links in the chains
binding me to hell’s gates

I cannot show the way.
I can only point to the door.

Look into your heart.
Open it.
Walk inside.
Meet your Christ
and your demons.
Your pride
Your envy
Your horror
Your pain
Dispatch them one at a time.

Climb
Climb
Climb

The road to heaven is not just narrow.
It is steep
and strewn about with terror and grief.
The road to heaven passes through hell
because to get to paradise
you must conquer
the hell within your bones.
To find your true self
you must kill the false self.
To live
you must die.

I do not fear death.
I have died.
I do not fear this life.
It is an illusion.
Perfect peace is true reality.
Forever
Unending
Miracles
Unmitigated light

Pure
Love

Today, my hatred melted in the blaze of breaking dawn.
I pity those who stole from me along the way
strapped links from my chains
around their necks
strutted in their newborn diamond studded collars
while around them
the specter of death closed in
for them reality
because they believed
as I once had.

Your mind is your prison.
To escape it
you must break it.
I cannot show you the path
only the door.

Look into your heart.
Find the Christ
whose voice is a whispered

There must be something more.

Follow him
one agonizing beautiful step at a time
Your soul knows the way home.
It is harder than anything you have ever imagined
and worth it.

Lose everything
to find your
heaven.

The Christ said,

Many are called
But few are chosen

I say,

Many are called
But few choose

Because the way is horror.
It is not a formula for manifesting
a trip to Tahiti
a mansion
a romance.

It is not a religion.
a free ticket to the sweet by and by.
It is a wretched road to salvation
in the here and now
that will cost you everything.
It is a path through your own insanity
into divinity.
It is a lifetimes long trip to heaven
via the hell the that lives in your head.

Most see the door and say,
The price is too high.
Better to decorate my hellscape
and call it home.
A house here.
A new car there.
Another bout with bondage masquerading as love.
How about a fancy job?
How about a soothing church?
How about a seat in the cool kid’s club?
Hell drives a hard bargain.
If you can be bought at any price
you will be.

Those I have lost along the way,
I want you to come with me.
Hear my voice now.
Open the door.

Climb
Climb
Climb

Beloved brothers and sisters
I cannot fuck you
or give you the fleeting solace
you think you want from me.
To do so would be to
descend again into hell.
I can never go back,
but I can give you this
My map to the door.

Christ in you. The hope of glory.

I love you.
Come home.

DREAMING SIRENS

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A photo of a strange, gelatinous creature, by David Dinner. 
Last night, I had writer’s block, so I decided that I would write a poem about the first post that appeared in my newsfeed on Facebook.  The lucky winner was an odd, lovely post by my friend, David Dinner, puzzling over strange, gelatinous creatures he’d seen on the beach that day (see above).  I kept my promise to me.  I think the poem ended up being about mermaids and promises and love.  Among other things. Who knew gelatinous creatures could be so inspiring? Unicorns, you’ve met your match.
DREAMING SIRENS
I speak to you from the mount
of strange gelatinous creatures
where walking on water ain’t shit
but legs on land?
Now that’s a thing.
I will make miracles for you.
I will read your past in salted tea leaves
and serve you up a cup of stars.
I will deliver to you the meaning of Christmas
and translate the oracle of Captain Ahab
into the mysterious language of bats.
I’m talking sonar, mother fuckers.
Slip into my coral bed.
Sleep beside me.
My eyes burn with longing.
My fins quiver.
If only if only
I could surf the sand with you.
Listen, long legged lover
sink into sunset with me.
Let maw-mouthed tangerine sky
swallow you whole.
Take the hand of
one of the animals that didn’t quite
make it onto the ark, two by two.
We are the forgotten ones
who drowned by the thousands.
But the gods of seaweed had mercy
raised us up mermaids
and men who are lovers of myrrh.
I am an underwater Hildegard von Bingen
I have learned to astral project.
I land on land each time the sun plummets
never mind my tail.
My insides are made of oysters and pearls.
I have more in common with snails
than people.
I am Anne Boleyn’s ghost.
On the evening my marriage was annulled
I picked up my head and slipped mist-like
into the bed of my soul’s true love.
I taught him to sing in the tongues of angels.
I licked his scales til they glowed.

HOMECOMING

 

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I wandered the world searching

only to find my heart

was always buried in this desert

where I was born.

 

I didn’t need champagne. I needed dirt.

I didn’t need mansions. I needed trees.

I didn’t need money. I needed the moon.

I didn’t need parties. I needed prickly pear fruit

purple, tart, infesting my tongue with barbs,

and even the impaling feels like heaven.

 

I didn’t need a million lovers. I needed one perfect soul.

Yours. It comes to me now, gliding over stones

like the tongue of the wind. It licks me

from top to toenails. I bask in the glory

of your spirit saliva, laughing at how crazy

it sounds when I write it down like that.

 

How did I imagine space and time could ever steal our love?

What was I thinking anyway, pretending to be like them?

Why would a wild woman like me ever want this world’s safe version of sane?

What did I mean when I said I was poor?

Didn’t I know my bones were encrusted with pearls of truth?

Didn’t I see every jewel in the sky was mine?

 

My fingers dig in, marrying the soil.

I baptize me in desert stones.

 

Dear world, a confession: I have always been my father’s daughter.

I have always seen visions.

I have always dreamed dreams.

I have always heard the voices of angels in the breeze.

 

Dear world, a revelation: It is always Christmas if you take the time to notice.

The pines dangle with cones full of pinon nuts, red birds, moonlight tinsel.

The wind sings of the birth of redemption.

The mountains glitter with strings of stars.

LEARNING TO BE HUMAN AGAIN

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The deer that was waiting by my rock when I went to meditate last night.

About a week ago, I stopped eating sugar, flour, and processed foods.  The day after I started the cleanse, I was a wreck.  I felt like I had a really shitty flu.  That lasted for a couple of days, and then, I started to feel stronger, clearer, more centered and energetic and whole.  Shockingly, I started sleeping.  (I have been an insomniac my whole life.)

I woke up this morning and had a cantaloupe and berries for breakfast. I was stunned at how amazing those things tasted.  It was as if someone had woken up my taste buds, after a decades long sleep. It was as if I were borrowing someone else’s mouth.  Now that I am not constantly saturating my body with fake food full of quantities of sugar and fat and salt that never occur naturally in the physical world, my taste buds are returning to their natural state. It had been so long since I’d tasted food like that.  Really tasted it.

It got me thinking about the ways in which we live in our modern world.  Greedy corporations have studied the human body and mind, with the intent of saturating us with all the things that we are hardwired to want.  We are hardwired to want fat and carbs and sugar because they occur so rarely in nature. For most of human history, stumbling upon any of these things would be like winning the nutritional lottery.  Our bodies could use the jolt of energy they got from these rare finds to keep themselves running for a long time.

So corporate America used our biology against us, pumped us full of manufactured shit designed to trigger those centers in our brains that said, “Yes, you just won the nutritional lottery! Eat more!” We won the nutritional lottery every second of every day, only these manufactured things we were driven to eat had none of the positive qualities of fatty, sugary, carb-y foods that occur in nature.  Corporations didn’t care about actual nutrition.  They cared about stimulating ancient centers in our brains so that we would buy more, more, more.  If we died as a result of their tinkering, so be it.  And we got sick, and fat, and half-dead, walking around our mazes like lab rats, pushing buttons to get more, more, more.

We are hardwired to get a dopamine jolt from connecting from other human beings, so now, we can get constant likes on social media.  Another like.  Please.  Another like.  We can’t connect to real human beings when they are in front of us because we are watching our phones, waiting for that dopamine hit.

We are hardwired to want sex, because our souls need to connect, and our bodies need to reproduce.  So we have all the increasingly bizarre porn we could ever want at our fingertips, 24/7.  More, more, more.  Give us more.  No true intimacy, mind you.  No human connection.  Just a dopamine hit.  Just a drug.  Never mind that this 24/7 sexual smorgasborg never could have occurred in nature, and it is probably doing terrible, destructive things to your natural human brain.  No matter that your erotic senses shut down, the way my taste buds did.  No matter that when you have an actual living being in front of you, it does little for your overstimulated brain, who never in all of history could have seen so many naked people doing so many intimate things and now isn’t particularly impressed with one naked person who wants to love.

We are hardwired to love stories, the connection we felt sitting around the campfire, sharing our insights, our myths, our lives.  So now, we can Netflix binge on stories 24/7 if we want.  Increasingly brutal and hyper-sexualized stories, because like my taste buds lost their ability to discern the taste of cantaloupe, our brains need increasingly intense and bizarre stimulation to produce the rushes we used to get from hearing simple stories.

We are constantly stimulated and placated and saturated.  But something is missing from all of this.  Humanity.  I don’t know if I am just a hypersensitive person, but I came to a place where I felt like if I didn’t find actual meaning, actual love, actual connection, actual self, I was going to die.  That was when I started living on the road, letting go of possessions, socially constructed ways of being that had nothing to do with who I really was, lies I had told myself about myself.

It took me so long to sift through the lies to find truth.  As I was traveling, I came to realize that so much of what I was doing had nothing to do with me, my humanity, what I was really created to be.  The way I was eating, the way I was drinking, the way I was handling my sexuality, the way I was handling my social life, the entire way I was living had more to do with me being some kind of a lab rat pressing a button again and again, wanting another rush, another fix, than it did with being authentically human, authentically connecting to my world, my life, my heart, other human beings, other non-human beings.

People always ask me where I’ve been, why I don’t go out anymore, why I’m not as much fun as I used to be.  The answer is, I’m learning to be human again.  I’m learning to exist in the reality around me instead of my head, or worse, in the constant stimulation provided by the modern media machine.  I’m treating my body like the temple it is.  Not as some act of repression, but as an act of pure self-love.

I rarely drink anymore.  When I do, I do it mindfully.  How about one glass of wine you really taste instead of ten you throw up the next day?

I work out daily, and the whole time I do it, I tell myself, “I’m giving you this time as an act of love.  I love you enough to honor you.”

I’ve stopped taking all medications, not because I “should,” but because I don’t need it anymore.  I don’t need anti-anxiety meds.  I don’t need anti-depressants.  I don’t need pain medications.  My body and mind (they are irreversibly and gloriously intertwined—don’t let anyone tell you differently) are really and truly healing.

I’ve stopped having sex because the way I was handling sex and relationships was incredibly destructive.  I stopped taking unhealthy, empty sex into my being the same way I stopped taking bad food.  I want the real thing.  I want love, and the miraculous, delicious, life-altering sexual connection that grows from that.  Someday, I want to experience sex with the person I love with all my taste buds woken up, because I’ve stopped saturating them in mass produced, meaningless shit.  And until then, I am experiencing the connection I was looking for (and never found) in sex everywhere.  I feel truly connected to myself, to my life, to nature, to my loved ones.

More and more, I make quiet time for myself, despite the fact that technology is always, always clutching at us. At first, when I went to sit alone in the woods with no media devices, no music, no ability to connect to anything but the world around me, I felt panicky, like I should do something else.  Wasn’t there a to-do list that needed checking off?  Wasn’t there a message I needed to reply to?  Weren’t my friends posting interesting things on Facebook?  Wasn’t I hungry?  Didn’t I need a drink?  But as I sat with myself night after night, that passed.

Now I love the hours I spend each night sitting alone in the woods, looking up at the stars. I can sit there all night and never get bored, listening to the voice of the wind, watching the intricate branches wave overhead, feeling the connectedness of all things.  It is more of a rush than any manufactured stimulation I ever experienced.

And even though they aren’t physically with me, or hitting me up on Facebook, or texting me, I connect, truly connect, to the hearts of those I love, and they feel more present with me than they do when we are messaging each other, or texting, or liking each other’s Facebook updates.  I am learning that love is a force that doesn’t need constant physical reinforcement.  That love exists even in the moments we are separate from our beloveds.  That we were all connected 24/7 long before social media came along.  The more time I take to just be present in what is, the more whole, human, and truly centered/peaceful I feel.

Yesterday, an entire herd of deer came to visit us here on our mountain. My mom called for me, and when I came running, she pointed to the cluster of deer outside the window, snacking on trees. We stood in awe, staring, not believing the miracle of them.  Afterward, I walked over to my brother’s, and impossibly, a buck was standing outside his door.  When I went to sit on the rock I have claimed as “mine,” (where I meditate as often as I can), there was a deer standing near it, watching for me, seemingly waiting for and welcoming me.

These deer.  These beautiful, miraculous deer.  Where did they come from?  How did I get so lucky?  Watching them be, and then watching the sun set over the mountain that was my first home, and then looking up at the bowl of stars overhead, I said, out loud, “I am the richest woman in the world.” They mean more to me than any party, any sex, any number of likes on Facebook, even any publishing contract, ever did.  I wonder if they would have five years ago.  I wonder if I would have been too busy looking for my next social fix, my next “romance” (I use that term loosely), my next dopamine hit, to be awestruck by a bunch of deer.  I wonder if all of me is waking up, the way my taste buds seemed to have woken up this morning.  I wonder if the whole world is a pile of cantaloupe and berries, and I was too busy drowning myself in Cheese Puffs to even notice it existed at all.

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Tasting, really tasting, one glass of wine.

OF CLICHES AND COLLAPSING HOUSES: A WRITING TEACHER’S LOVELORN LAMENT

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I teach my students to choose their details carefully.  Don’t write everything, I instruct them.  Give readers a few telling details, which they can use to construct the whole in their imaginations.  But I cannot verbally reproduce the parts of you that would make it possible for anyone to construct the whole in all its glory.  Three parts lightning, three parts blue jeans, four parts God.  Is that what I should write?  Should I say something about the fire in your eyes, or is that cliché? That is really the telling detail, if ever there was one.  But to paint it, I’d need actual matches, maybe some lighter fluid.  And even when you were there in person, no one seemed to notice the flames but me.

Are they blind?

Should I mention the dent in your throat?

I teach too about load bearing scenes.  Make the moments that matter matter, I tell them.  Give them space on the page.  If they aren’t strong enough, the whole house will collapse.  But how do I write that my entire life hangs on one split second, when I first saw you standing under a night reeling with stars, and my molecules reconfigured themselves?  In an instant, every cell in my body flew to you, the way metal filings fling themselves at a magnet.  How do I tell them that you are gone, and I have been collapsing ever since?  How do I say that I am a walking black hole?

And here I am, defying the laws of physics while mixing architecture and science metaphors.

Should I even be allowed to teach?

And then I go all Clint Eastwood on them.  I tell them to loosen the reigns, let their imaginations ride like palominos through the deserts of their psyches, but when I let my horses run free, they always gallop straight to you, and what does that say about me and my artistry?  I am a one note piano, a lone trick circus monkey, a yellow bird that sings the same song

again

and again

and again.

You told me my cage was in my head, so I bent the bars until they broke.

You untethered me from this world, if I might draw upon a playground metaphor now.  You know that white ball on the string the mean kids bounce around and around?  I was that until you found me and cut my rope.  Before I broke through to the other side of the atmosphere, my journey was a mother fucker.  Now it’s just me and the stars.

It is quiet here.

I am not happy, but I am at peace.

I am not alive, but I am not tortured.

Some days, I wish I would fly straight into the face of the sun.

 

 

A BLOG IN WHICH I TALK FAR TOO MUCH ABOUT MY VAGINA AND WONKY CERVIX: AKA, AN ODE TO PAP SMEARS AND THE KICK ASS WOMEN WHO EXECUTE THEM

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Yesterday, I went to the doctor. I love my doctor. She is beautiful and brilliant and kind, and she remembers my entire life story even when she hasn’t seen me in a year. I also love her new assistant, or whatever you call the nurse who stands there smiling, wielding giant Q-tips in both fists, while the doctor digs around in your lady parts, searching for abnormalities and suspicious behavior.

How does your doctor know when your hoochie is behaving suspiciously? Does it get shifty eyes? Granted, my viewing angle isn’t ideal, but from what I’ve seen, that area is pretty much a train wreck 24/7. I know vaginas are supposed to be beautiful, and enlightened feminists like me are supposed to stare at their own genitalia lovingly in the mirror and be impressed because it can make babies, but I’ll tell you what, no matter how much I squint, it looks like a not-necessarily-benevolent creature from a particularly upsetting episode of Lost in Space. It could sprout a third set of labia, and I’d just think it was a premenstrual side effect. Hell, it could sprout a head, and I wouldn’t be 100% sure it was abnormal. This shit happens. The hoochie works in mysterious ways.

So anyway, I wasn’t really going to talk about my vagina very much in this blog. It was going to be a tasteful post that alluded to the fact that I’d had a pap smear, without necessarily going into graphic detail. At the outset, I envisioned a sort of educational PSA, so that men could get a feel for what a pap smear looks like, and young women just entering pap smear territory could understand that getting a piece of your goddamned cervix chopped off after a gloved woman pries you open with the jaws of life and inserts her entire arm into your hoo hoo isn’t nearly as bad as it looks on paper. It can be FUN, kids!! Trust me on this! (Apparently, I am as good at adhering to the “keep the blog tasteful” resolution as I am at following the “only one glass of wine at the party” rule.)

But the part about my pap smear being fun was true. Before I removed my clothes, the assistant told me how beautiful I was. She acted shocked when she saw my age on my chart, and when I mentioned I taught writing classes, she told me if I were her teacher, she’d hit on me. Whaaaaa????? I’m sure she says that to all the girls, but no matter. Compliment me, and I love you. So it became quickly official. I loved this woman. We then moved on to talking about working out and men (or lack thereof) and makeup. Suffice it to say, by the time I plopped my feet into the stirrups, we were sistas. (A sista is different than a sister. Sista has a cool edge to it. You’d help your sister pay her car payment, but you’d do shots of whiskey with your sista until you both blacked out.)

So then, my doctor came in, and while she lubed up and inserted the proverbial jaws of life, I told her about my recent trip to France. “Oh, my God. I’m jealous! Did you see the Eiffel Tower?” she asked, cranking the jaws open to their maximum capacity, which is roughly the width of a football stadium. I won’t say it didn’t hurt, but I was too hopped up on bonding endorphins to care. I was making friends! Me! The girl who has spent the past months sequestered on a deserted New Mexico mountain, lying on rocks and staring at stars, was making FRIENDS! (Human friends, not tree friends.)

As my doctor continued to wrestle with my apparently unwieldy genitalia (who knew?), the assistant commented on the beauty of my pedicure. (Not to brag, but the sparkly purple polish did look particularly fetching, contrasted with the light blue stirrups in the glaring fluorescent light.) We all went wild with excitement, discussing pedicure habits, toenail polish tips, particularly effective callus busting ointments. I barely noticed that I was being viciously violated by a plastic instrument (which is a kinder gentler version of the metal jaws that were common in my youth).

I learned so much as we three sistas bonded. One of the things I learned is that my cervix is abnormally tilted. What a fascinating tidbit! How did I make it through 40+ years of life without knowing this about myself? I filed it away for future reference, an interesting topic to bring up at my next cocktail party. (Something tells me all this alone time in the mountains is taking the sheen off my social finesse.)

The fact that my cervix is “wonky” (doctor’s word) makes it really difficult to find, which means the jaws of life had to dig around extra long, doing all sorts of contortions, to gain access to the coveted bit of cervical tissue. By the time we finally chopped off a piece of my cervix, we were ecstatic. We cheered like our team had just scored a touchdown. I kid you not, the assistant fist bumped me. I blushed and giggled, feeling like I’d accomplished something huge, won a contest or sold a book or made it through a party with only one glass of wine. I left the office with blood dripping from my battered cervix, wondering if my hoochie would ever be the same, but also elated. I had friends!

It was only in retrospect that it dawned on me–I mean really hit me–that the focal point of my latest feminine bonding session had not been glasses of wine or culinary delights or an Oscar nominated movie. No, it had been my hoo hoo. And maybe it hadn’t been as fun for the sistas who were staring up the business end of my hoochie as it was for me. Because come on, if the thing looks like an alien from the outside, WTF does it look like inside, being presided over, as it is, by a reticent, bleeding cervix?

Anyway, I was starting to deflate, thinking that maybe I need to get out more because when having a pap smear is the most fun you’ve had in months, you’re probably verging on pathetic. But then the phone rang, and it was my doctor (sista).

Kids, I’m scheduled for a mammogram in a few days. Can you imagine the fun I’ll have?  I’m thinking of wearing my sparkly pink bra. And maybe a little glitter in my cleavage, to provide a conversation piece/ really make it pop.

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To offset the impropriety of this post, I’m adding a picture of a lovely gate, which I passed while hiking through the countryside in the South of France. If you find a vagina metaphor here, that’s entirely on you. I take absolutely no responsibility for your dirty mind.

CAVE PAINTING (MAGDALENE’S MANIA)

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I question our definitions of sainthood.  I question our qualifications for goodness. I suppose these doubts factor into my Magdalene poems (and probably all of my writing).  According to legend, Mary Magdalene’s life was in danger after the death of the Christ, so she fled to a cave in France, where she hid and communed with God, exiting the cave a master.

Two years ago, by a series of coincidences, I ended up living in France for three months within an hour of the cave of legend.  I had always written poems from Mary Magdalene’s point of view, but I blame the intensified obsession on France, where I spent my hours drowning in the Mer des Rochers (Sea of Rocks),  an ocean of natural stone sculptures, castle ruins, and hiking trails behind the village where I stayed.  I wrote for hours in those rocks, imagining Magdalene’s time in the cave.

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CAVE PAINTING (MAGDALENE’S MANIA)

Today, I wrote your name on the walls again and again and again.  Your syllables roared beneath ancient elk, carved into the stone by hands long since dust.  In a flurry of drums, I conjured you.

If only the people could see me with these moths in my hair, my face dripping with dew.  They wouldn’t be able to handle it.  They have sanitized sainthood.  Always, they leave out the horror story parts, though the holy books have the good sense to keep them in.

What is truth?

My halo is made of moss.

The wind is ravenous, licking at the mouth of the cave.  I wonder if it wants to eat me, swallow me down, slurp me up into the net of eternity strung from star to star, the moon lassoed and rearing, the frenzied sun surging, ready to erupt.

I sing until I see God, until I see you, which is the same thing for me.  I have learned more about forever, about me, from your eyes than I have learned from all the holy books in the world.

I lie still on the stone floor for hours, staring at my hands, not believing what I am.

So what about us, my love?  What about the light we are made of?  What about our Big Secret?

You may not recognize me next time we meet. While I was sleeping, lilacs grew between my toes. A lone, heartsick sparrow built a nest in the nook of my shoulder blade.  I feed him berries at low tide.

When I am high, you walk to me on every wave of blue that rolls in.  I drown in you.  It is like stepping into an ocean.

One day, while lying on a hilltop, stone cold sober, I heard a voice say, “Don’t worry.  You can breathe under water.”  I never talk about it.  They lock people up for shit like that.

I believe in Divine Madness, because I have lived it.