Tag Archives: love

on love, loss, and living: scenes from a hopeful past



“He comes to you and you are a white door full of bright light to be stepped through, open to him always, and illuminated. With him, you glow, shimmer and shine before your eyes through the dark and the breathing.” 11/25/08


“First snowfall yesterday morning- Sunday sleet stuck around, and became an overnight blizzard. Not so bad… and bright! And all the better for snuggling. My mind is already planning next year’s gardens… Garfield Park fire escapes, rooftops, whisky barrels, and squatted lots… and already you’re mentally sorting your possessions, what will stay, what will go… with you and him and into the future- a bright beautiful hopeful soothing promise of a string of tomorrows, like bright beads on a strand of days spent waking with your beloved.” 12/02/08

Years pass. Rising.

“Winter has nosed past the long fall, now oddly warm days have gone and the cold outside has descended, a numbing chill that stabs at bare flesh. And so you burrow into blankets and new books, and blot out the freezing outer world, and retreat into the comfort of words and stories, mostly agricultural. There is soap to be made, and balms, and endless baskets of sewing, things to be photographed, cataloged, posted, and sold, chickens to feed and ice to break from buckets and waterers, apples withering, waiting in the chill to be turned into pies and sauce, preserved in jars for future hungers, fish to be fed, greens to sow and snip, manuals to be written and a story to be told. You’re writing it as you go along, but yearn for a quiet and spare orderly place to work on them in. I’d daydreamed yesterday, while reading farmer stories, of taking the laptop to the cabin, lighting a fire, making tea, and working there, free from the ever-present internet temptation, there where I could plug in but safely unplugged.


And then I walked into the house. It was bitterly cold outside, and there was still a solid core of ice in the chicken waterer that had sat in the sink in the unheated house all day, though a space heater hummed under the cabinet below to thaw the pipes. Every surface was covered, with tools or screws and parts and dirt. Broken drywall strips leaned on the wall by the stove, and would all have to be moved, as would the too-close bins of scrap wood and kindling on the other side, as well as the things on top of the stove itself before I could even think of lighting a fire. It all seemed so overwhelming and oppressive. And as I looked at the chaos, the clutter and the sheer volume and weight of the project before us, first slow, then fast tears slid down my cheeks, hot, then quickly cold as they met the chill of the air inside. I wiped them away and looked for an empty chair, and not finding one pushed back a box so that I could at least perch on the front of one and let myself sob for a second, then was quickly calm. It would get done. Besides, I had to go home soon, back to the studio, and I had to knock it off or my face would freeze on the two block ride back from the house. The fella would be home and wrap me up in a big bear hug and we’d try to make a plan. We spent the evening cleaning and sorting piles at the studio, and made a tiny dent in the disarray. Bit by bit…”


Reassuring images come back- it is late summer, and we are sitting at night on the back porch, our back porch, ringed with potted peppers and petunias and the green trees are dancing as a storm blows in. We sit in silence, watching the rain begin slowly and then blot out everything in thick blowing sheets. I thank him, for this moment, this place… making it possible.  I feel a sense of deep calm, so blessed to be watching the trees sway, the heart-leaved cottonwood rustle, the air electric, and all of it ours.


I’m not quite sure where home is sometimes, or where I belong. A part of me yearns for the patch of land where I grew up, where the ghosts of my greats and grandparents wander the empty fields, like lost cattle out on the red clay and fescue, rambling but rooted there for over a century… and for my father, brothers, family… but outside of that small comforting refuge of an idea is a larger community that bears little resemblance to the place I’d like to imagine going home to- sprawling, suburban, stripmallish and tacky. Shiny trucks and suv’s doing no real work, four-lane highways between everything and everyone in a hurry. Walmart and Tyson own every damn town, every store, job, working farm… and so I return to the city from each visit, and feel some semblance of relief of having arrived “home” again, here where my bike waits to convey me through the somewhat-familiar grid, and where friends and like-minded folks get together at late-night gatherings in backyards and around bonfires over good food and homemade beer… and yet… here still life churns at breakneck pace, days and weekends scheduled weeks in advance, always things to do and never any time to sit and listen, for being still, and above all, not enough space.

As much as I love parties and company, I also have a contrary side which just wants room, and quiet, and to be able to go for a damn walk without seeing anyone, or especially without getting hollered at and constantly feeling in your pocket for the knife or can of mace reassuringly placed there… I know I would not be happy in isolation, but sometimes I crave it, especially now in this crowded loft that is mostly his, for the proverbial room of one’s own, and a dog, which he really doesn’t understand and you’re not sure he ever will. On some level, you’re closer now than ever before in this city to having the home you crave, a patch of dirt and a quiet spot where you can feel safe, and secure, and to think and plan ahead without starting over and over and over constantly on a new patch of rented or squatted ground. But for all its comforting sureness, it’s still so small, and the lot to the west of the house still such a sliver of uncertainty… and though you have his word and know his heart on many levels, still you are not married, to him or thus to the land, the house… and when he jokes that you could move out any time, really, if you’re not happy with the way things are it cuts deep into that core of dread and uncertainty, that he will leave you like the others, that you will prove unreliable and unloveable ultimately. And your rational mind recognizes these fears as unfounded, absurd, untrue, but they remain there, ready to spring upon you without warning, quickening your breath, heart racing irrationally with fear of losing everything you’ve grown and grown to love.


Ever the anachronism, I’m not sure I’ll ever really fit here the way things are. As I struggled with the bucket full of water yesterday, carrying it out the front door, around the yard and house, over the temporary barrier in the gangway set up to keep the chickens in the back yard, and then to the coop in the farthest corner of the yard, I wished I could have just gone out the back door, so simple… but not, barricaded with a heavy steel pry-bar propped against an unhung solid wood door, which was propped against the locked proper door, and behind all that, a scissor-gate was padlocked securely across. I thought of the home I’d grown up in, doors unlocked, indeed, unlockable even… of how “locking” the front door meant hooking the screen door eyelet, the back door almost always left open. We were latch-key kids without need of keys, at a place where my granny could watch from her kitchen window and just see when we got off the schoolbus at the crest of the next hill, where the biggest dangers were the bull in the field, the muddy pond, or crossing the street for the mail- our rural route now a two-lane highway that dead-ended into the lake a few miles from our house.
And now I live in a place where I also can hear gunshots at night, but they’re not coonhunters out with their dogs, treeing some critter, or practicing with their new deer rifle, but possibly people dying on either end of the bang over something small. I yell at people in the street who cavalierly toss their litter over their shoulders as they walk, without hesitating or missing a step… and I pick up bags of it that blow into our unkempt garden on a squatted city lot- chip bags, paper wrappers, styrofoam, shopping bags, cans, condom wrappers, mcdonalds bags, hypodermic needles, and with each piece my resentment grows. I try to stay light and cheerful but it weighs on me. No place is perfect or immune- when I was a child, we’d clean our chosen lake spot and each time (though we were often there every day in the heat of the summer, even the tepid water a welcome relief from the torpor of an Arkansas August without AC) we would find fresh beer bottles, soda cans, hotdog wrappers, tangled fishing line and soiled diapers. I still can’t comprehend the elan with which some folks fling their spent filth and detritus, but here on the west side in a rundown neighborhood wracked with poverty, the sheer volume of it overwhelms me. It’s depressing and I can’t possibly stop it all. I’m a minority here, an outsider who will never really belong. I dream of raising pigs with my chickens, and dairy goats and whole orchards full of fruit trees… and yet I don’t want to be forced to rely on a car to get around, don’t want to be isolated from the community of folks I’ve grown to love. I don’t want to leave this life and my comfortable things behind, but also dream of an utterly different life- but who doesn’t?” 5/6/2012



And now here we are, exactly where in some ways I’d feared I might end up.  And you know what?  So what.  I had hoped to not have to start again, but what is life if it is not always beginning?  When you stop creating your world anew each day, you’re dead.  I fought and struggled against this outcome for so long… trying to keep those dreams alive and at what cost?  No place, no person, is worth giving up your self, your spirit, and your sense of worth, to always acquiesce, to accept without comment or question.  I admire confidence, and being capable, but hubris and too much machismo,  not sexy.  And so I’d stopped feeling, gone numb, tiptoed on hollow eggshells…  No more.  Girl, life is for living.  And look at you go!  Shhh… stay. It’s alright. I may not know where I’m going or how I’ll get there- but I know how I’ll start- one step at a time.  Each day.  It starts with work, for others but also for yourself.  It starts with striving, with action and a plan, and the grace to adapt when life has other plans than you’d considered.



the vortex and cosmic ordering


Today, when all the world is deep frozen and drifting, but bright, I sit, the fire at my back, and try to heal. Outside is arctic, a polar vortex of frostbiting winds colder than Siberia, than the south pole, colder even than the dread in your heart.  Cosmic ordering, like The Secret, is simply writing down what you want.  Hell, I’ll try anything these days.  I’ll start with where I am, then get to where I hope to be going.  It’s good advice.

You’re taking a break.

A break from drinking a pot of coffee a day. Too-long to-do lists left yet undone. Unrealistic expectations. Trying to justify my day before I have even entered it. Saying yes always, and I’m sorry too often when I fail, or am slow to succeed, or just have different ideas. Feeling guilty, or burdensome, or afraid. Scratch that- I’m terrified… but also relieved. Relieved to only have my own problems to solve, but grief-stricken and angry and still trying to be productive… in my own way. If that means reading and writing and cooking all day, so be it… no one is going to come home at 5:30 and ask accusingly, “yes, but what did you DO all day?”.  I wrote a few good paragraphs. The ricotta and serviceberry pancakes were delicious. I am glad I spent the time in July, while working two jobs and helping him at night, to go pick and freeze those berries- their nutty blueberry-almond notes, a hint of bitterness to go with the sweet. I tended the fire, and the animals. I did not freeze.  I drank bitter healing tea, and dandelion wine I made in and from the sunshine of several years ago. Dinner will be spaghetti with sausage and homegrown tomato sauce, baked acorn squash with brown sugar and butter for dessert. He can drink his… mine will be better. I’ve missed having dinner… he always wanted a big lunch (leftovers) to eat at his desk, and usually beer only after work. It’s not like you had a table to sit down at together anyway… or you did, but it was always heaped up with his clutter, in spite of your many requests to please please keep it clear.  Now you have three tables.  Sometimes you still eat standing over the stove.

I hated that, but I dealt with it, like everything else, until I was just a shadow in his world, hanging on to the dream that it would all get better with time. Just finish this project, or that one, and those, and then we can just relax and enjoy being together again. It wasn’t always bad. Sometimes it was god-damn amazing, or I wouldn’t have stayed. And we really were so aligned in so many ways, so close to getting it right that it’s heartbreaking to be where you are now… “You’re so close to perfect,” he’d say, deadpan… “why can you just BE perfect?”. Well… because. I’m not. No one is. The fact that you unreasonably expect that of anyone, and can’t let past mistakes go and truly forgive means you’re right; you’re not ready for a partner. Call me when you are, and realize what a mistake you made… maybe I’ll still be around. In the meantime, clear the clutter out of your own head and heart and house, and stop living in the past and for some idea of a perfect future. Stop living for and through things, and learn to let things go. You let me go. I can’t believe that could be easier than paring down physical objects and crap that made it so difficult for you to truly share your space and your life with anyone else. I know you have hurt, deep hurt. The stuff is a crutch. It’s not who you are, and it’s bogging you down. It drove me crazy, and I only lived with it for five and a half years. That’s my only advice. That, and of course, to take care of yourself, and the pup. Rest. Drink water. Eat real food. Cry.  Know that you are loved by many. It won’t make it better but it will keep you strong enough to deal with it.  Hey, it’s working for me… I’m not giving you any advice that I’m not first testing out on myself.

I hold a glimmer of hope that both your ways could still work, dreams still converge, but there would have to be real change in both of you and more forgiveness than many could measure. What you had started out comfortable, like the favourite pair of pants that you want to wear every day. You feel great in these pants, and everyone tells you how perfect they are for you. Put them on, and you can conquer the world. Go anywhere. Try everything. Those pants were with you in some of your best and worst moments. You didn’t always treat them with care, but thought they’d be there for you regardless. But by the end, all that was left was a broken thing that just got more tattered the more you tried to mend it until the threads couldn’t hold the patches together and it all came apart. Now that you’re naked, it’s cold, but you wouldn’t even think of going back there (there is no “there” there), but sometimes dream of making a new thing together better than what we had- take the good pattern and inspiration you started with (altered to fit the shapes you are now), and more durable fabric, and take them to an exceptional tailor. Forget about the holes, the duct tape patches, the worn places and heartache and stains on the last pair you two made… but it takes a lot of time to make something exceptional by hand, and not many folks are left who remember how to do the work. You are willing to make changes, but not if you are the only one.  It’s not a perfect metaphor.  It’s your whole world we’re talking about here, not a stupid pair of pants.  But you get the idea.

I will not settle for conditional love, for one that wants me in health but not in sickness. I’m holding out for one that puts a proper value on care and nurture, for putting the “home” into homesteading, and that values all the traditionally devalued “women’s work”. You may have brought home the bacon, but I cured it, smoked it, sliced it, tended it in the pan and then did the washing up.  I deserve kindness, and patience, and most of all, respect. For someone to believe that the work that I do, that I can do, has value and equal merit… for my partner to want what I have to offer and not what they think that I should. The difference is everything.

You hope, and you still love, but you’re not holding your breath. You are holding on to your dreams, at least the ones you can do for yourself… putting your heart back in your work (and you’re back at work, which feels so good). Trying to figure out where you’re going to land after this freefall, and how best to steer to get there. Outside, the polar vortex blasts half the country with frigid gusts. Inside, you try not to drift into that dark spiral of heartache and loss, the void and nausea. See it, yes. Touch it, carefully. Try to know it, without falling in. Feet firmly planted on the floor, hands at work, hope, always. Remember all the other kinds of love… your dog is ever faithful, and you are his world. Family, friends, neighbors, all there for you… and of course, the love for yourself. This glorious world we all walk around it, with all its imperfections and many flaws, like each of us, beautiful. You can’t change the whole thing. Just the important parts… and we each get to decide what the important parts are. Isn’t that grand? Now get started!

new year, reality check


So, sometimes I’m rosy and reductive and carefully edit the mood of my posts to try to keep the blog positive and upbeat.  No sense dwelling on the ugly bits, right?  But those not-so-pretty-parts are real, and just as big a part (these days, sometimes more) of life as celebratory optimism.  A perfect online world is all photo-ops, hot chocolate, playing in the snow with puppies, chickens that do tricks for treats, and cozy moments.  The real world has those moments, true, but it also has days where you walk to the unfinished upstairs (contemplating putting your bedroom there, where there’s bright light, if a mess of construction) and find that not only is it 40 degrees (compared to the cozy 46 downstairs…), but that the dog you thought was just running upstairs to bark out the window at people on the street below was also using it as his indoor bathroom all week (too cold to go outside, wretched beast?).  You throw sawdust on the wet spots and barricade the stairs so he can’t get back up there and steel yourself for the clean-up later.  Upstairs, where you and the fella spent a couple nights a week all last winter working together, caulking, cutting insulation, caulking, cutting insulation… hours upon hours of work.  Sometimes you fought but mostly you listened to music and enjoyed working together, in your recollection, though he says now he was always frustrated that you hadn’t done more on your days off (I worked part-time then).   At any rate, you were making progress, together.  Then life got even more complicated, and he bought another building, and another.  He says it was for you, but all I ever wanted was to have all my stuff in one place.  He was convinced that we had to do the whole building at once- I just wanted to finish the second floor, move up there, and then do the first.  If he had less stuff, that might have worked.  And all the while, the studio rent was a constant drain.

It’s snowing, still, and the roads are a mess, but you still have to trudge 3 miles each way to go unfreeze the water of the chickens you’re tending until next week because the solar-powered water heater in the fancy-pants architect-designed chicken coop can’t keep water unfrozen and there are no outdoor outlets to plug in a heater that actually works.  Two of those chickens are in your basement, cooing and pooping and kicking straw and newspaper everywhere, and the roads are too terrible to try to transport them back to join their friends, even though they are healed from the injuries their flockmates gave them.  You’re late to get there, not because you’re nursing an awesome party hangover, but because you’re recovering from both a broken heart and a stress-induced sinus infection that has migrated to being a nasty chest cold, so you’ve been hacking your lungs out all morning.  Your house is dark and cold and in disarray, and the wood you put in the stove to try to get a cozy fire going with is hissing angrily instead of burning- still wet.  You’ll wait till it’s totally cold and pull the big log out and dig in the shed for some cured wood when you get back from the snow-slog to chicken tending.  There’s some sort of probably rodent-creature scrabbling around in the bathroom ceiling.  The sink is half full of dishes, and as you stand over them turning them into clean ones, and thawing your icy hands in the hot water, you spontaneously sob for all of your lost hopes and lost love.

The fella apologized last night after dinner for being such a jerk for the past few years, and said he hoped you didn’t feel like you had wasted your time.  Of course not, though this is not what I thought I was waiting and putting up with it all for… I was holding out for the amazing home we’d have when this was all over with, for a folky backyard wedding, surrounded by all our friends and family, and then a family of our own.  For a home that we would share, for security and promises and a garden you could tend for years and years and years.  You planted fruit trees and planned and hauled mountains of wood chips and compost… putting down roots.  You buried your dog there.  You put all of your savings (enough to pay off your last student loans) into trying to buy land nearby to make your urban farm dreams come true- a place that would feed you, that could grow with you and your life.  It’s not a portable dream.  You never thought you’d be living on borrowed time here.  You started out both sharing that vision, or parts of it… but he gave up on it working long before you, while he was busy working on everything else.

But frankly, the two of you have been a mess for awhile- him frustrated and critical, controlling and mean.  You depressed, also frustrated, feeling micromanaged and like nothing you did was ever good enough, and totally inadequate to help in the giant projects you were trying to do together… he always saying he felt he was on his own, and you being afraid to try and fail, and meet criticism once again.  Him not understanding why things take you longer than him, or why you’re afraid to do things like teach yourself to tile a bathroom- because you are angry at him for not taking the time to teach you, rather than expecting you to figure it out on your own, but feeling that he didn’t actually believe in your ability to do it… I’ve never been particularly good at mechanical or construction projects, much as I’d like to be.  And I have a hard time with being told what to do, rather than asked, or with working with someone who is convinced that they are almost always right.  I know I’m no dream to work with at times also- stubborn and sensitive, sometimes selfish, and by the end, the two of you were almost unable to work together at all without fighting.  I finally shut down and mostly stopped trying. He started drinking more, and assumed if I didn’t immediately pick up the phone during the day that I must still be in bed not doing anything… which sometimes was true, but often as not was not.  I wasn’t always working on his to-do list, which I suppose is about the same thing.    Our friends suggested therapy, which he said he’s try, but that it wasn’t going to work and it would be a waste of money and since I didn’t have any, he’d end up paying for it like everything else.  Ouch.  In short, we were a disaster.  But still… years of love kept us together, or made us try again, even when we were being anything but loving towards each other.

And I resented all the stuff in the way, the piles of clutter and collections and just plain junk.  And he always said he was trying to bring home less stuff, to clear out the stuff that was there, but the net movement was always always more and more and more stuff to try to move around and clean.  I wanted to throw half of it away, and eventually mostly gave up on cleaning.  I spent hours reading minimalist and tiny house blogs, daydreaming about a yurt or little cob studio out back that would be all mine and almost empty- a space where I could think, and breathe.  I requested one room of my own at the apartment- the smallest one- originally for an office, but then when he acquired a bunch of woven grass tatami mats, you planned to make it a yoga room.  Just a few plants and white walls.  And even that room filled up with things- your books, sure, but became a collecting point for more things while you worked on the rest of the place so quickly that you couldn’t even get in the door without climbing over things.  Temporary… or would it be?

And the snow keeps coming down, possibly a foot by the end of tonight.  I shovelled the walk this afternoon and will have to do it again soon.  I’ll be taking the train tomorrow, I’m pretty sure.  I just want to burrow down and lick my wounds for awhile, drink some potent hot chocolate and get this fire going, but alas, the world has other ideas.

PS, creepy dude who was stalking me a while back, none of this is an invitation to reappear if you’re still reading.  I will still mace your face and then call the cops if I see you lurking around my house or if you try to email me again.

Urgh, here’s hoping 2014 sucks less than this one.  It can only get better, right?