Missing bones

I found an antler
a tool while I walked
warming to my hand.

I found a shin bone
brown with clay
and cracked with age
and I nestled it with the antler.

I found three bones
joints perhaps
along one edge.
How’s that? I thought.

I did not peel the moss
but left it clinging and added those bones
to my growing collection.

It was then that I
the gift of bones I left
a small greenish white pile of
and vertebrae
near the turkey tails
on a gentle rise.

I set off to collect them
and instead found

Murder Ballads, Nevermore.

In my late twenties, I was in need of help to flee an abusive relationship. I was far from home, but found help in an ex-boyfriend on my home coast; we talked often and eventually came up with a plan to get me home in three months’ time.

As my departure date approached, the urgency of my situation increased. I was being harassed and harried; I was frightened and stressed. The police in the conservative southern state where I lived were of little help, and my home and workplace felt unsafe. My roommates felt uncomfortable and distressed as well. Things continued to worsen, so I left ahead of schedule, leaving behind everything that did not fit in my car.

That very evening, a tropical storm swept through the town I had just left; violent winds knocked down trees and torrential rains created floods and giant sinkholes that gaped in roads and swallowed cars. My roommates relayed the destruction through static-laden calls: You left just in time, they said, and I knew it was true.

Because I had left ahead of schedule, I had some time before the next chapter of my life was scheduled to begin. As I didn’t have anywhere else to be, my rescuer parked me with an aunt and uncle, in his hometown and close to his siblings and extended family. Then he got on with his own life – coming and going to check on me – but knowing I was safe with his family and that I’d be moving on in due course. I was left to orient myself to the dynamics of his small hometown and family, kith and kin who dutifully outstretched their arms and kept me safe, if without sentimentality.

Auntie schooled me in the weeks while I transitioned and recovered. Do this, she said. You don’t this. I do. I was in charge of dishes, bringing in wood for the fire. I stopped asking questions, learning to wait for information and invitations. I was a child in their collective eyes, youthfully ignorant. Their judgments came without blame. Be quiet. Go there. Do this. Get in the truck. Let’s go.

And so, I walked beside Auntie, or half a step behind, listening to her instruction as we approached house after house. Family relations. Things she wanted me to see, to learn. We visited Grandma; Wait here. She disappeared into the house to allow Grandma to hide her basketry from my eyes. Other women, sisters and cousins, shared the most exquisite beadwork I’ve ever seen, seed beads sewn by hand, pouches piled everywhere.

One day Auntie looked over my shoulder as I leafed through my CDs. Her finger came down like a gavel on a copied CD, the album title hastily scrawled in black sharpie: Murder Ballads.

Why would you have that? Why would you want that?

I knew I’d done something wrong. It’s just music…

That music, it’s love songs about women who are murdered by men. That’s what a murder ballad is.

Her eyes searched my face, questioning me; seeming to rethink her idea of me. Another lesson to give. Impatiently explaining. That’s real. That happens. It’s not just a story in a song. You know that, don’t you? There’s men that kill their women. Beat them to death. Children witness it. Have you ever known a woman who has been beat to death by her husband? I have. More than one. Sometimes they live, but their souls are murdered just the same.

Why? Why would you have this? 

I didn’t have an answer for Auntie. Why, indeed? The strength in her dark eyes was unavoidable, but there was a flicker of something else. An acknowledgment of my denial, encased in her knowledge of how I came to be in her world. The realization that I didn’t see. That look sat like a cocoon in the belly of my soul for years. I carried it with me, still not understanding, but holding the space nonetheless.

In the decade and more that passed, I eventually found my own singing voice buried in the composted matter of my twenties and the failed marriage of my thirties, and I finally understood.

I know that Auntie likely never heard a murder ballad that wasn’t about man murdering his lover, but I found one. It’s the only one I will ever sing, where the woman murders her rapist with a broken shard of his own broken whiskey bottle.



Almost a Wildfire

We stood in the kitchen while she made her daughter a sandwich. I felt the sorrow begin to swell, deep in my belly, a sob that rises into excuses and apologies. Its bedmate, shame, overpowers my thinking brain and my face becomes hot.

I don’t know her well. I don’t know how she’s receiving me, at all. Not today, not any day. But her hands slice the tomatoes, I pass her the bread, she digs in the fridge, water from the well splashes along a blade. Sunlight glints on glass, laughter from children playing and cackling ducks reaches my ears. A dog barks.

The middle finger on my dominant hand throbs, leaking my life’s blood. Not an emergency, just a slow seepage that stains my nail bed, enough to pull my attention. It could be worse. I’m fine. No, it’s all right. I’m wiping tears now. Injured. Fatigued. The lie of my words betrayed by my grief.

I’m sorry.

I start talking. A general comment. I hesitate. She looks up from the turkey she is slicing, questioning. Not prodding, just… available.

The words begin to tumble forth. I’d received a message from a man who had sexually assaulted me a couple of years ago, his assumption one of friendship. I had spent the morning writing him a letter. Not a well formed, edited piece. One section at a time.

This happened.

You groped my breasts, my ass, your dry fingers pressing through my clothes between my legs. People all around, I felt ashamed. I told you to stop, pushed you away. I didn’t call out for help, we were friends. Weren’t we? Your mouth on my neck, the flask in your jacket pressing into my breast in opposition to your fingers at the nape of my neck.

Eventually, you lost interest. I breathed a sigh of relief. My friend, having a lapse in judgment. We would talk later.

At closing time, I offered you a ride home, believing myself safe from further molestation. Because you’re my friend. You were so drunk, I was worried for you. In the car, you began again, renewed in the semi-privacy of a late-night car ride. Grabbing the steering wheel, shifting gears. A game to you, you began biting me. Up and down my arm. All traffic lights and stop signs and parked cars, I didn’t stop, but I should have put you out in the middle of the road.

I wrote to you of how the days and months and now years after what you did have added to an already unbelievable number of similar incidents. The weight of them all, I decided in writing you, was more that I would bear any longer. Hope springs eternal, I offered to correspond with you. I want you to have the opportunity to accept responsibility.

She rinsed her hands, dried them on a towel, mouth held in a stern line. In the telling, my rising sorrow had begun to change to something hard. A resistance. Anger. Rage. You think it’s worth making an attempt at educating him. A statement, but she asked the question with her clear eyes.

I shrugged. Maybe.

At that moment, her gaze drifted from my face, and her eyes became wide. I turned to take in the scene: the pasture was on fire. Spreading, so fast, past the furthest reach of the spray from the irrigation. Halted with hands dumping bucket after bucket. Steam, and ash, and then over. Safe.

No one said anything. We all returned to our tasks, and quit that fire. Inside of me, the rage too was quenched, and I was left with a curious feeling of char and the sensation of walking away, a door swinging in the wind behind me.

Not a process; a practice

I recently moved myself and my family into a new space – both literally and figuratively. One of the myriad reasons for moving was my desire to free up some time-space for things I want to do. One of those things is art.

After the relative ease of placing bookshelves and beds and couches, I am now getting to the stragglers of unpacking, much of which are art supplies. Materials: I have them. Baskets and boxes full. Paper, canvas pad, fixative, tape… tins and brushes. Giant, thick  paper with unfinished edges, ready for me to swipe chalk or charcoal across with my whole arm, oil paints enticing me with their names: vermillion, cerulean, burnt umber.

Today, a Saturday, I have suddenly decided it’s time to put them away; no, to organize them. For use. I completed round three of student-work purging; sketch books half full of assignments from classes five years old, filled with information I have long since internalized. I no longer need to reference the definitions for pointillism or hue or value. In five short years the printouts that my instructor required have faded, and I’m helpless before the information to find meaning beyond sentimentality. Goodbye.

I kept some work – student work that I like, a portrait of my son that he loves, some paintings I began and never intend to finish. It’s stashed safely under my bed, awaiting the next purge.

And then, taking inventory of my supplies and materials. What do I have? Everything I need. Too much, even! What shall I do?

I’ve been hoarding materials for the day I be able to make some art worthy of something more than the sentimental space beneath my bed. I’ve thought about my process. I’ve studied and learned and asked questions. I’ve examined pieces I like, and analyzed artwork for otherwise unrelated classes, and spent my free time around artists.

Today, I realized that creating art isn’t just a process, it’s a practice. There is no arrival; for me, art is not a means to an end of artistic worth. It’s a practice. So what shall I do?

I’m going to use up those materials.

The Weight of Blame

It is heartbreaking for me to be judged on a standard of privilege to which I don’t have access.

When I graduated high school, I was told I would not receive financial aid and my parents didn’t help. I didn’t have a lot of guidance at the time, so it seemed student loans were the only option. I didn’t want to bury myself in debt, so I worked instead. I deliberately developed a skill set that I believed would serve me well, wherever I went.

I never imagined that my intelligence, positive attitude, skill set and strong work ethic would not be enough to make a good life for me and mine. These days, I am transitioning to something better, and applying the work ethic I learned as a child to attaining my goals. I am making strong, long term plans for the financial future of myself and my children. But transitioning during mid-life as a single parent is harder than I ever imagined. It’s a long road ahead of me. Maintaining an attitude of hope and positivity takes every ounce of willpower that I have. And you know what? I’m lucky! I have privilege too: I have access to quality housing, I live in a relatively safe neighborhood, I don’t suffer from medical or mental health issues. I have the support of my community and friends. And still, it’s hard. It’s the hardest and most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I’ll be grinding away at this for many years to come.

To be judged for my perceived financial failure, outside of the context of my life, is a blow to my soul. It makes me want to lie down and give up. I feel your blame. I know you believe that my circumstances are a result of my poor choices and inadequacy. That I’m doing it wrong. I can hear it in your voice, I can see it in your eyes. You’re judging me as a failure as if it were some kind of choice I made. I feel hurt, and sad.

But mostly, I feel compassion for you, for that tiny little box that you live in. I hope the bottom doesn’t ever fall out for you the way it did for me. And if it ever does: I’ll be there with open arms, to catch you, to support you, and to help out as much as I am able.

Because that’s how I roll. I always have, and always will. And in the meantime, I’ll put on my happy face for you, because deep down, I think you need it more than I do.

The Carrot of Happiness

This morning as I enjoyed my coffee and breathed in the fresh air (oh, it was so very fresh this morning, I could taste it with each breath), I thought, I am happy.

Immediately following that thought, I thought – I am?

And then I had to wonder. Am I? What does that even mean?

My brain was off and running at the pace of galloping horses. What about the stress I felt over my papers due tomorrow, and the cavity that seems to be growing in my uninsured molar, and the worry over my weight gain, how I’m going to fix the exhaust on my car, are my kids getting enough love and attention from me… Surely if I have thoughts like those, I can’t be happy.

And then I breathed in that fresh air again, and this time I wondered, How DO I feel?

I wasn’t feeling any negative emotions. I felt pretty good, in fact. But I thought it was strange that I couldn’t really decide if I was happy or not.

I was feeling gratitude for the beautiful weather, the fresh air, the sunshine, the gentle breeze that blows my perfectly tuned chimes and makes its own song. Grateful. I felt grateful.

What a lovely emotion to experience: gratitude! Which led me to satisfaction and contentment. Also wonderful, and specific emotions. The beauty of these positive emotions is that they are emotions that happen all by themselves. All I have to do is notice them when they happen, and I think, This is nice. I like this.

All too often we are faced with this vague feeling of desire around being “happy.” I don’t know about you, but it’s a concept I’ve been chasing after for a while. My search and desire for “happiness” has led me to all kinds of places… some of them that, in hindsight, were never going to get me to that happy place.

For now, I think I’ll just be a little more specific in my thinking, and forget about that silly carrot called happiness. Gratitude is a good place to start, I think.

Hello world!

The idea behind this blog started a couple of years ago in a neighborhood bar with a good friend.

Jake and Tamara, at Meiji.

Jake and Tamara, at Meiji.

Once a week or thereabouts, my good friend Jake and I would meet at Izakaya Meiji, to share beer, tapas, and some big ideas. Sitting at the honey-colored bar under the filament-burning bulbs, we talked in low voices and laughed out loud about the ridiculousness of… well, everything.

Jake did me a solid by being there for me and never judging me as I sloppily navigated getting divorced, becoming a single parent, moving to a new town, and building a new life.

Part of building that new life included returning to school and moving into an intentional community. A natural side effect to making such momentous lifestyle changes is a perspective shift; a spiritual awakening, so to speak. One evening our conversation turned to the idea of “sheeple,” which of course neither of us claimed. After some discussion, however, we did come to the conclusion that maybe, just a little bit, we are part of the flock… hanging out along the fence instead of right in the thick of it.

The conversation ended in a burst of laughter with one (or both) of us exclaiming, “I’m on the bleating edge!”

This blog is dedicated to Jake.