people i like dancing at a wedding

I felt morally obligated to share these.

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deep deep deep/up up up

What I didn’t expect was the isolation, this strange and increasing sense of detachment; though I see it as a cost worth paying, a million times over, to live a life free and true.

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There are people who used to like me, who don’t anymore. Of course, it’s difficult to describe how I could know such a thing. No one has come out and explicitly said anything of the sort to me. But I think we all can tell this kind of thing, energetically, through interactions. Though, perhaps “like” isn’t the correct word. What I really mean is, there are people I used to feel I could connect easily to, who no longer feel available to me in that way. I see them, and we know. Something has shifted. Something has changed.

I don’t blame them. I do my best not to take it personally. I know everyone changes. I am no exception. I’ve changed, shifted over the past few years, and not insignificantly. I’ve changed a lot. And it sometimes bums me out, this disconnect. Of course it does. I want to be liked, approved of. I want the people I admire to admire me back, even if I struggle to meet the generally agreed-upon standards for conventional relationships at every turn.

I think I’ve figured out I’m not really capable of holding a relationship with someone who can’t gladly meet me where our paths might cross on our separate journeys, then freely continue on in their current, and free me to continue on in mine.

And you know what? It’s strange. Because the more I embrace what feels innate, natural, true for me, the less I feel able to relate to most of the people around me. The more I come to accept myself, the more alone I feel. But not in a negative way. It feels natural, somehow, like a necessary process on this road I feel bound to follow.

I’ve finally found the nerve, the trust and faith I always needed to throw myself into what I have always felt beckoned to. Taking my ideas seriously, trusting the energetic taps on my shoulder that say, “Write that story. Add this character, this dialogue, this scene. Play this melody, pound out this rhythm, really give yourself to it. Show up honestly. Do what comes naturally. That’s it. Just trust me. You’ll see.”

The more that I trust it, the more it gives to me. The more I listen, the louder it speaks. I never knew before, just how powerful trusting myself, my ideas, thoughts, feelings, instincts could be, where it could lead me. I had no idea what inner peace could be gained. I’ve been sorting through my doubt, slowly drawing it out of me, letting it go, making room for more trusting, more expanding, more creating.

It has taken so much of my energy and awareness. It has taken all of me. To such an extent, I scarcely have time to look around and see that the room I operate life from isn’t so full anymore. I didn’t expect it. It’s different than I thought, but as someone I admire recently wrote, “Nothing in life feels how you think it will feel.” (@nicolajsousa)

I don’t mean it as loneliness, per se. It isn’t that. It’s more a feeling of limbo, floating between two worlds. Like an odd disconnect from things that used to feel familiar, that I used to hold as part of my identity, including the need for other’s approval; and a sense of waiting to discover what’s next. And that would make sense, because I’ve been working hard for a long time now to discover and be my own power source, rather than seeking permission and power from others.

The thing is, I had a breakthrough recently, whilst listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. I mean, obviously. Of course. What more could we ever need than Oprah?

In a particular episode, she’s talking to Lynne Twist, who says, “When you actually pay attention to, nourish, love, and share what you already have, it expands. It’s the opposite of what we think… When people know that, it frees them from this chase of, ‘more, more, more,’ because there’s so much energy tied up in that in everybody’s life. The shorter way to say all that is, what you appreciate, appreciates.

And I thought to myself, “That is it.” I forget so often that our attention is our power, that what we choose to give our attention to grows, what we focus on expands.

I had felt for most of my life that what I needed was out THERE, somewhere ELSE, in some other place, in some other life I had failed to find or create for myself. I’d wake up every day feeling like I had missed the boat to my destiny. It would frustrate and discourage me to the point of exhaustion, depression, anxiety, all of those old saboteurs. But I know now, it is not so. I know now that is a lie, yet another illusion of the ego, well-meaning but misguided in its efforts.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in all of my work in therapy, reading, creating, in all of my work of the soul is this: I am exactly where I’m meant to be, and everything I need is already within me.

“Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” -Shaw

All of the answers, all of the love, capability, imagination, forgiveness, the potential for greatness – it’s already there. It was expertly built right into me. The key to accessing it is to take my focus away from the external, the “out there,” and plug it into the internal, to what I already have, which is a whole lot, which is more than I ever expected to have. The key is not to chase after the ever-elusive and insistent voice of, “More!” But to send my roots deep, deep, deep into the ground from whence I now stand, reach up, up, up to the nourishment of the sky, and expand. To start where I am, rather than remaining in the cycle, the comfort zone of stunted growth with thoughts of, “I would, if only….

I’ve finally decided to start where I am, to grow where I’m planted, as they say. It may seem like I’ve changed a lot, but I find the deeper truths of it is, I’ve only decided to unfold, show up, bloom as what I’ve always truly been. I’ve come to see that is, in reality, the only way forward. There is nothing to be gained from hiding ourselves. The trouble is, I spent so long thinking I was, or needed to be, something else.

The other day, Drew and I sat on a log under which ran a river. We dangled our feet over the water, enjoying some rare moments of peace in our always-absurd calendar. Rivers are great for moving energy, and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for each of us to release to the river something we wanted to let go of. I was somewhat surprised, but knew immediately mine was shame.

When you spend your entire life trying to be one thing, and suddenly realize you’re another, it is thrilling and liberating and affirming. It’s like coming home. But it is also complicated, and painful. For me, at least, it has been a big, messy adjustment, and not only for myself. It feels as if I was a flower bulb destined to grow into a lily, but thought all my life I was just an extremely dysfunctional and disfigured tulip. (And maybe that’s my worst metaphor ever. Anything is possible.) And as I emerge, grow, unfold, or, you might say, bloom, it becomes increasingly clear that I am not what I previously categorized myself as. And this shame was coming from how this process has affected my gardeners, the people who have helped to nourish and guide me. The people I love.

In that moment at the river, I visualized pulling out all of that energy of guilt I had been projecting onto the people around me. The guilt I felt for the disappointment I may have caused them, for the adjustments they’ve had to make in their lives due to the adjustments I’ve made in mine. It came out as soot – deep, dark, blackest of black, the color of fear, the color of intense feelings, repressed old emotions. The color of not understanding life’s lessons.

I sat with it a moment, looked at it from every angle I could. Because I know now that anything which has power over us, we have endowed with said power, I asked myself, “Why have I been carrying this? What does it give me?”

The answer was as the answer always is. If I’m busy projecting my insecurities onto other people, if I’m busy feeling guilty, playing the victim, the martyr, the part of the poor, dysfunctional sad girl, I get to stay comfortable. I don’t have to take responsibility. I can blame my malcontent and disappointments on others. I can stay in a state of convenient self-deception.

And as soon as I looked at it that way, I knew it was time. That holding shame wasn’t worth what it robs me of. And so I thanked it for its service, and, at last, let the river take it away.

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let go.

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It has always been unclear, has it not? Which of us is the parent, which is the child. Her with the criminal record, showing up plastered to movie dates. Me with the compensating Virgin Mary complex, always telling her to “Shhhhh!” and “Behave!

But I see now. It’s simple, really. Neither of us is one or the other. We’re both. Sometimes she’s the mom, sometimes I am. Sometimes she needs taken care of, sometimes I do. And that’s the way it seems we were destined to be, for us both to learn. I would go so far as to argue that’s what all of us are meant to be for each other – mirrors, teachers, rather than preconceived, limiting roles like “mother” or “daughter”. We all come from the same source. We’re all made of the same stuff.

I couldn’t see this before, couldn’t accept it, because it didn’t fit the mold of what a mother and child are “supposed” to be, of convention. But then, when have we ever? She and I. Our whole family. God knows we’ve tried.

Though I must say, now that I know just what convention truly is — a dagger through the heart of everything true and pure and worthwhile in this life — this is something I’ve grown proud of. The way we’ve never quite been able to make–ourselves–fit. The way she never really expected me to, even when our shame, that old liar, told us otherwise.

Where there is light, there is shadow. However deeply our joy delves, so follows pain. No one thing can exist without its polar opposite. And that’s why I think I understand now, what she’s always been teaching me– what it means to be everything to someone.

The part of my heart where she resides is positively fraught, practically made up of nerve endings. My parent, my child. My closest confidante, my worst enemy. My greatest muse, my biggest heartache. My hero, my villain. My teacher, my torturer. My laughter, my tears.

….My mother.

The trouble with loving an addict is you want to be their cure. You want to be a good enough reason for them to choose health and life. And that is where it gets dangerous, when you take it personally, when you make it about you. But it isn’t about you. It never has been. It’s just, when you’re in the state of childhood, you think everything is. You can’t help it.

But when you can remove yourself from the disease, when you can cease from attempting to be what no human ever can, that is, God, you begin to see. This grasping at the rope tying your life to theirs, it is useless. More so, it is damaging. It does neither of you any service. It keeps you from your journey, and robs them of theirs. It is not your battle to fight. And only then does it become clear: The only way forward is letting go.

There is a phrase in a Brand New song that I used to think described this perfectly:

“If I could, I would shrink myself,
Sink through your skin to your blood cells,
Remove whatever makes you hurt,
But I am too weak to be your cure.”

However, knowing what I know now, I would replace, “too weak” with “not meant or able.”

She moved to Montana recently, just before Christmas. It was painful, of course, saying goodbye. Christmas was somewhat hard, it being our family’s first ever without her there. But, at the same time, holidays have never really been our strong-suit, all those years of trying and failing to get through them without some kind of outburst or meltdown. That time of year has always felt less like something to be celebrated and more like an aggressive reminder of another ideal my family could never live up to, yet another mold we would never fit. More proof of our brokenness, as if we needed any.

We’ve always had our own ways of celebrating, like random dance parties in the living room. Back tickles. Dad’s extra-buttery popcorn and A Knight’s Tale. The ska band my brothers played in together. Mat started it with his cool high school friends, and he still wanted Clay to drum for them even though he was just 12 at the time. Making forts. Trips to Lagoon because we could never afford Disneyland. Cracking up together about how terrible the ward choir sounded that Sunday.

I always loved those so much more than any stuffy ideal force-fed to us through holiday advertisements. But I didn’t yet know I had permission not to care about the ideal, about fitting the mold. I didn’t know that breaking molds would become somewhat of my life’s passion.

But under that pain of missing my mom, of the gaping void her absence left, I knew it was right, somehow, for her to go. There was certainty I couldn’t explain, a deep knowing, the kind in your bones.

Thirty years of her breathing the same air in the same valley, driving the same roads, haunted by the same ghosts, of relapses and rehabs, of trying to be what we all expected, running back and forth from one extreme to the other. Thirty years of us holding our breath, wondering if she’s okay, if she’s sober, if she’s alive….suddenly, it was clear. It was time for her to breathe new air, get in touch with herself without all of us worrying, scrutinizing her every move, force-feeding all of our own ideals upon her.

It was time for her to go. More so, it was time for us to let her.

I knew I would miss her. And I do, every day. But I find the missing to be a thing of beauty, in the sense that it is merely evidence of love. And it is far better than wondering the second I wake up if she’s still alive. I don’t do that anymore. I know I was never meant to. She sends tales and photos of her long walks, of the new landscape, the animals she’s making friends with, of trees covered in snow. All of the things she taught me to love, just as I love her — endlessly, impossibly, entirely, maddeningly.

I’ve started catching glimpses of her in my reflection. Not all of the time. Only in odd moments, especially since I had my hair dyed dark and cut short, like hers has always been. I wonder now if I subconsciously chose such a hair style to feel closer to her. Who knows. Who can really say why anyone does anything.

I let myself laugh now. Big, ridiculous, strange sounds that boom and echo out. I laugh now the way she always has, the way that used to embarrass me. Because of the voice in my head saying, “Shhhh!” and “Behave!” Because of the part of me that spent what feels like my entire life going to extremes to avoid becoming her.

But I understand it now, how good it feels to let yourself out. I know that’s all she’s ever wanted me to do. Sometimes it startles me, when I open my mouth and hear her. But it’s become an unexpected comfort, almost like her way of being with me when she physically can’t. The more I let go of being her rescuer, her parent, her higher power, and embrace being just what I am, accepting her as she is, the more I learn to value and appreciate these parts of me that have always, inevitably, been her.

I took this photo of her last summer. It was the day I finally dared to ask her about what she had done all those months earlier. When she had wandered out into the snowy foothills with nothing but a bottle and pills and one plan: to fall through ice and finally give into that voice telling her to disappear.

There is a common misconception, I think, concerning people taking their own lives. Of course, as a friend or loved one, you see it as selfish. Their life is something you value, therefore, you see their choice to leave this world as them taking something valuable from you. But you must remember, from their perspective, it is a different matter entirely.

In my opinion, when a person is at this point, their opinion of themselves has become so low, so warped from shame, so filled with loathing that they truly see their disappearing as doing you a favor. If you’ve been anywhere near that state of mind, you understand just how powerful, how influential self-loathing can be. If you haven’t, stop judging and criticizing others for something you have absolutely no experience with. Not everyone has such an easy time with being alive. Some of us feel life more heavily than others. Nothing is without cause. Have compassion. Understand.

“Your life is not your own; keep your hands off it.” 

She never made it to the water. She thought instead she’d use the glass from the bottle, but after she broke it, it seemed to disappear. If that isn’t proof of guardian angels, I don’t know what is. I could hardly bear to imagine my mother, my heart, in such a horrific scene. I thought to myself, this is where co-dependency, the drive to put yourself between another person’s actions and the consequences of those actions, comes from. When you love someone more than they know how to. This is why loving yourself is the most essential gift you can give anyone you love.

After she told me, we held each other, we cried, covered in sweat and sunburns from a day of weeding. The goat-heads we attempted to tackle still plague my yard to this day, but it doesn’t matter. In that moment, I said what I meant, that I loved her so much, more than I knew how to express, that all I ever wanted was for her to be here with me, that my life is so much better with her in it.

And, you know what, saying those things, the things that we mean, but perhaps find it difficult to articulate, those are always more important than weeds. They’re more important than most anything.

I think that’s why it feels so oddly right, this letting go. Because I see now, this is what she needs in order to find the love for herself we’ve had for her all along. It feels more right than I ever thought it could, when I thought desperately holding on was the only way to love.

“Just go, out into the falling snow.
Just go, towards the white in the skyline.
Just go, past the trucks on the service road.
Just go, until you feel different.”
-Better Oblivion Community Center 

my old friend

There comes a point, in Winters as persistent and harsh as this, when I feel myself succumb. To the dark, the cold, the melancholy monochrome of grey. To being in a state of constant discomfort, tense, chilled to the bone.

I hold my hands up. I beg for mercy. I mentally check-out. Everything fades, becomes hazy. I never feel quite “here.” Nothing feels quite real. Every interaction with other people, no matter how dear to my heart, feel so draining it is as if my soul is being torn away. The days slither along at a senseless, cruel pace. A fog rolls in, drapes itself heavy over my shoulders like a mantel of gloom, wrapping its frozen fingers around my neck, hanging on far too tightly, too tightly, too tight.

But sometimes, there are days when the storm or layer of haze breaks up, and the sun bursts forth from the west in a heavenly display of Biblical proportions. The valley is lit up, the mountains covered in fresh snow are glowing as if under a heavenly spotlight. The remaining storm to the east is a brilliant display of color. Everything sings.

In these moments, I make every effort to be present, to be here. I take it in. I think to myself, “You can’t say Winter doesn’t compensate, in her way.”

The delicate, silvery sun radiates, leaving paintings of light and shadow all around, even making its way onto the walls of my home. It feels as if she’s leaving me gifts, when she can, to help bring me cheer. To remind me that even though she can’t give me warmth and long days the way Summer can, that she loves me, and hopes to see me smiling anyway.

And I think to myself, “Yes, Winter, you are fair. Yes, Winter, you are fine. But your dark has blinded me such that I can no longer see your beauty. Your cold has numbed me such that I can no longer feel your fleeting kisses of light.”

“And so, Winter,
I beg of you,
Winter,
I plead with you.
Winter,
my old friend,
I desperately need you
to end.”

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“go gather bones”

You are born whole. Perfect. Complete. And soon thereafter, I would argue much sooner than most realize, begins the tragic process of dissection. What I mean by that is the act of severing away any part of yourself you perceive others to find distasteful, inappropriate, unlovable, unacceptable, ad nauseam.

I do not speak of simple discretion. I commend discretion, so long as it does not abuse heart. I speak of a heinous, unnatural act of self-mutilation that you commit upon yourself again, again, and again, from early childhood and beyond. You do so willingly, oftentimes without realizing, so second-nature it becomes. All because the prospect of being alone, of not being accepted, is far too painful. Being left out, ignored, scrutinized, judged, unloved, rejected is a State of Being so universally unbearable, you’ll go to almost any lengths to avoid it.

Much of the time, it feels primal, like a matter of life and death. And that is because in many ways, it is. Or perhaps, it has been. When you’re a child, helpless, innocent, wholly dependent upon the attention and nurturing care of your parents or caretakers, it certainly is. In that state, you either get what you need from them, or you perish. And it is this very same mindset, burden, you unconsciously carry upon your tired shoulders, no matter how cumbersome or heavy, into each stage of life.

Accept me, or else I die.”

But for many, and I would hope, for most, there comes an awakening, a new awareness. You become increasingly independent, leave the nest of your first home, and set off to create your own. You discover your autonomy. And you come to a realization of epic proportion:

This life, though given to me, it is none but my own.”

You find that it will no longer do, to blame any undesirable aspects of your State of Being on what your caretakers did or didn’t do for you; that they did their best, or perhaps that they didn’t. Regardless, you find that to stay in such blame is to stay victimized, it is to choose a state of powerlessness. And you’re realizing you don’t want to remain powerless. You want to be empowered, unencumbered, free. You find, gradually, as if pulling a loose thread from a tapestry of illusion, that it just. does. not. do — to live a life of pleasing others, fitting into what you think they think you should be.

No, child. You know, because it is written into your very bones by that mysterious author of all creation, you know — in your core, your center, your nucleus, that part of you which can never be destroyed, the part of you that is everything else — that you are as and what you are, that you can’t possibly be anything else, that you were never meant to. And therein lies your power.

That is when your work begins. The work that Estes calls “gathering the bones,” the lost, scattered, severed pieces of your psyche. The parts that reconnect you to nature, power, intuition, instinct, creativity, a willingness to see truth, nourishment, nurturing, clarity, progress, growth — all things honest, natural, true.

You begin the work of reclaiming those parts of you, whatever the cost. And you don’t mind that it is sometimes difficult, that it puts sweat on your brow, that it leaves you spent at the end of the day. It may hurt, at times, especially when you find others might be let down due to the changes you’re making. But alas, you continue.

You continue onward on your work of the soul, because you find you must; because your life becomes hollow without it. You continue, because you know this work is worthy of such sacrifice, such effort. More so, you know you are worthy of such effort. You’ve gained this essential knowledge: that the cost of living a life severed from your truths is far greater than the compensation any position of counterfeit acceptance could provide.

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omen

I ventured outside last night, for just a moment, to take some boxes to the shed. This is a rare occurrence in the winter months, in which I do my best to avoid the out of doors as much as humanly possible. It was then that I saw her, the waxing crescent moon hanging low in the western sky.

A delicate sliver of her full self, she hung against a backdrop of midnight ink so deep and exquisite it looked as if the very sky was made of silk. Transfixed, I walked across the yard, not once tearing my eyes from her gaze. As I stood beneath the great tree which hangs over our fence, I felt the breeze of December, slight but acute, flitting through the skeletons of leaves which still clung to the branches. I listened to their chanting, let the cool air fill my lungs, and waited.

There are moments, from time to time, that I sense the surrounding environment has a message for me. The moon, trees, wind, light dancing on water, the very ground beneath me from whence all life is sprung, they have messages, each of them. They reflect to me my inner state, they whisper to me precious truths, they offer insight, infuse me with their energy, offer hands of support along the way. This was one of those moments.

And so, I asked the moon, the breeze, the chattering branches, what is it on this dark winter’s eve they wished to convey?

They called out, “It is coming, child. You are on your way.”

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I Feel Free

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I am writing because I will otherwise forget, because I have so much in my mind lately — ideas and concepts and breakthroughs boiling in my subconscious that I sincerely can hardly remember where I was yesterday.

Questions, normal questions, such as, “What have you been up to lately?” or, “How was your weekend?” have become…difficult. I stand there, frozen, attempting to fetch memories from my mind. They’re in there, somewhere, they must be, surely. It’s just that I’ve thought a million thoughts since the weekend, and “lately” is more like an eternity of experience than a summary of recent events.

It is an increasing challenge to retrieve yesterday or the day before. I am writing because my life is slipping by so quickly, and I’m having increasing trouble recalling it, to an extent that causes mental distress.

I want to remember. I want it to matter that I was here, though it probably doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things. Two generations from now, I’ll be forgotten. But, truly, what does that grand scheme have to do with me, or I it? What can matter more to me than my own experience? Is it not worth documenting, even if the attempt of grasping is futile?

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I wake up on a Thursday in September in my own bed. Drew kisses me goodbye as he leaves for work, and I know now with a certainty I have come down with a cold at the most inconvenient of times. I should have expected this. It is September, after all. But why must it revisit me now – only a day before I was bound for Colorado, to shoot a magical mountainous wedding I had been looking forward to for months?

In the course I took last year, they taught me that every physical ailment means something, that illness is a message from your body, telling you to slow down, give yourself rest. I think to myself, I’m doing my best. I think I’m taking care of myself pretty well, all things considered. If my body’s trying to tell me something, maybe it could try morse code. A dream or vision, perhaps. But, then, inevitably, I think, maybe this doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it just means I hung out with a friend who had a cold a few days ago, and so now I have a cold.

Once again, I arrive back at the awareness that I’ve come to embrace lately – like a new door opening in my subconscious – that I seem believe in everything and nothing at the same time. That nothing means anything and everything means everything, even if that can’t logically be.

Because I commend logic, yes; I also see an entire realm beyond it.

I turn into a needy child, as I do with illness. I have a million things to do before I leave, including packing, clearing my SD cards, making sure what was previously on them is backed up before adding more, but it is as if my body is on strike. It protests my every move. I fall asleep before I ever get to packing.

I wake up on a Friday, and hurriedly, dazedly, half-mindedly throw some clothes in a suitcase. They make no sense. They never do. How many trips, how many weekends away will it take for me to master the art of packing? Yet another riddle of existence I haven’t the time or energy to solve. The house is a mess, but I have no time to clean it. I blow my nose a million times, create a mountain of used tissues.

Drew comes home from work, helps me put my bags in the car. He gives me one of his hugs and I start to cry. In full melodrama, I tell him I don’t think I can do this. I feel terrible. Why do I have to be sick now, of all times? Where is the justice in life? What is the point of it all anyway?

He handles my meltdown perfectly, gently, reassuringly, understandingly. He doesn’t embarrass me for being emotional or chide me for being sad. We are, after all, kindred, sensitive souls. He knows just what to say. He always does.

I sit waiting in his passenger seat, sniffling and sneezing and whining to myself while he gets his teeth cleaned at the dentist. When he returns to the car around 12:40, we are off like lightning to the very same airport I left from the weekend previous for a wedding in Atlanta. He drops me off at Departures. Goodbye again, for what seems like the 5th time this month. I rush inside to make my 1:45 flight. Life is increasingly strange and exciting and exhausting and constantly moving forward.

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Security, shoes off, no, I don’t have a laptop. Hurry up and wait. I board a tiny plane. I love picking a song to properly accompany the sensation of leaving the ground. And I know no one will ever ask, but Cream’s “I Feel Free” is about as perfect a Takeoff Song as could be.

And while we’re on that note, let it be known that I consider “Astronaut” by Gregory Alan Isakov to be one of the most romantic songs a person could write. But nobody ever really asks each other questions like that, in life, in social situations, though I wish they would. I wish it were considered normal, to delve into the soul on a regular basis. I need that, to feel healthy and whole, that kind of connection, to spend time with people who crave and indulge intellectual exploration. When I go too long without it, spend my days in surface-level interactions, I begin to unravel, lose my sense of self and purpose.

(And I’m just now realizing, that’s what my writing is – the answers to questions no one will ever ask which I nevertheless feel compelled to answer. And that’s why, to stay sane and functional and whole, I must write.)

I get a window seat, which is the only way being in such close proximity to other humans is bearable for me. It means instead of suffocating in my own Agoraphobia, I spend the entire flight marveling at reality. I think about how I am sitting in a seat in the sky, floating through towering puffy white clouds bigger than the aircraft I inhabit! What beauty and brilliance! I wish I could jump out the window into the clouds. They look so friendly. I gaze downward, enchanted with the scenery below.

From here, everything looks perfect, quaint, idyllic, like a miniature model. Tiny toy houses, tiny broccoli trees. Only it’s real. A million roads I’ve never driven, dry riverbeds cut their way deep into the ground, sprawling out in different directions. It’s the kind of sight that makes me wonder if we’re all just living in someone’s painting. I would like that. And perhaps, in a way, we are.

These are my thoughts on airplanes. I do well up there, in the clouds, because my mind spends most of its time there anyway. But the inevitable landing grounds me, back to the harsh reality. The landing is always my least-favorite part.

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I arrive in Grand Junction, which I realize is a place I’ve never been before. There are too many places I’ve never been before. The airport is small. I love small airports. Everyone who works there seems excited to see me, wants to chat with me about what snacks I chose. Nobody at the car rental car counter tries to get me to buy insurance.

I drive two and a half hours through lovely Colorado scenes, gradually climbing from bright desert to pines to aspen. I blast Shakey Graves, Conor Oberst, Laura Marling, Fleet Foxes, Rayland Baxter, The Nude Party. The latter sing to me, “I don’t need your love/ I just need my records.” And I think to myself, that’s almost true. And then, as twilight settles in, I arrive: Telluride. The place that most resembles Rivendell I’ve ever been. (Yes, a Lord of the Rings reference; my very soul is practically woven with them.) A tiny ski town at the top of a magical canyon, a river running through. Pleased to meet you, indeed.

I rush through a quaint little village into a restaurant to meet the bride whose wedding I’m there to capture. She is glowing. She is flawless. She is tall, slender, timeless, elegant human perfection. The sort of person you feel like a bridge troll next to, even when you’ve been in therapy for years. The next day is the wedding. It is divine, literally taking place on top of a mountain. The stuff of my career dreams. My cold persists, and the elevation makes it embarrassingly difficult to catch my breath. By the end of the day, I am spent. But I’ve come to love that feeling.

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I think of something I read in a book a friend recently gifted me called “Women Who Run With the Wolves.” Estes writes of a woman’s wild self, “Once women have lost her and then found her again, they will contend to keep her for good. Once they have regained her, they will fight and fight hard to keep her, for with her their creative lives blossom; their relationships gain meaning and depth and health; their cycles of sexuality, creativity, work, and play are re-established; they are no longer marks for the predations of others; they are entitled equally under the laws of nature to grow and to thrive. Now their end-of-day fatigue comes from satisfying work endeavors, not from being shut up in too small a mindset, job, or relationship.

I remember those words, feel my heart echo their message. I think to myself, this life I now live is much better, ending my days in the delicious satisfaction that I’m doing the work, rather than in that old suffocated, stifled, muzzled, comfortable boredom.

Yes, the past several months to a year to maybe even two years have been full to the brim – sometimes to the point of what feels like insanity. This past summer, we scarcely had time to stay home and breathe. We scarcely had a free night to ourselves for months. But that’s only because we are finally spending our time on doing the things we’ve always wanted to. And, it’s like Oberst sings, “Slipping steadily into madness – now that’s the only place to be free.”

I went on a trip with my childhood friend to play in Harry Potter World, to pretend for just a few days that we’re still kids. I realized, as we laid next to each other devouring garlic fries on Venice Beach, just how strange it is being a grown-up, because you can’t help but to see the many ways you and everyone around you are still children. And yet, that you can never truly be children again, and how that hurts, how that never stops hurting. Not really.

I went to Washington to shoot my first wedding in the Pacific Northwest. It was an enchanting ceremony nestled in a forest of pine trees. I stood a few quiet moments in those trees alone, and they reminded me that they are alive, just like I am alive, and isn’t that a lovely thing? I have increasingly come to love listening to trees.

Next, a photography retreat in Big Sur where I couldn’t comprehend the beauty of the coast, of water and sunshine and fog. I learned there more about who I am, and who I’m not, as a person and photographer and creator. I was asked the question, “What is your main goal?” At first I wasn’t sure, but then, the answer was there. It flew at me with the speed and force and certainty of an asteroid.

I wrote: “To be FREE, financially, emotionally, creatively  — of guilt, and shame, and preconceived notions, and the ‘suppposed-to’ mindset, and living life out of obligation —  to show others that they already have permission to be free themselves.”

The speaker had us share ours with the group, and when I read mine, they applauded. That felt really good, to share my honest truth and find it could be supported, even applauded.

I came home for a day to see Jack White, that Modern Warlock of Rock N’ Roll, Prophet of Sacral Sound, Deliverer of Holy Rhythms. We had the perfect spot on the second floor of Saltair, where I swung my head over the banister to the music, over the sea of human energy below as I stood next to some of my most kindred spirits. Our phones locked inside of cases that couldn’t be opened until the end of the show, everyone there was so present – you could feel it, all electric and dynamic and alive.

It fed me, that experience, fed my heart and my soul. Yet again, that delicious feeling of earned exhaustion.

And then, just as quickly, we were off for our yearly trip to California with Drew’s family. We basked in the sunshine, swam in the sea. We sped as a group of seven – that is me, Drew, Lauren, Megan, Cody, Lisa & Kevin – on electric bikes down the historic Pacific Highway 101. As I rode, pushing my pedals with the joy of a child, I looked out to the waves below and let the sweet ocean air kiss my face, run its fingers through my salty hair, almost like it knew I would soon be gone once again.

After that came the wedding in Atlanta with a fellow friend and photographer. I was transfixed by the tree-lined streets, charmed by the neighborhoods without sidewalks. I sweat through my clothes in the humid southern heat, and collapsed on the floor of the bride’s room after several hours of straight shooting. We were, from what I could tell, the only white people there. It was incredible.

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And, somehow, there I found myself, falling asleep in Colorado after a day of photo-taking, moment-capturing, coming to the close of yet another season of major soul excavation and growth. Now, here we stand, on the edge of another November, inching closer December with each second: the end of yet another year. And how?

I’ve finally begun the process of surrender — to the insanity of it all, and I’m beginning to think that is the key.