I said Yes and Every Single Person Said Yes Back to Me

The deep secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world, and why not finally carry that secret out with our bodies into the living rooms and porches, backyards and grocery stores? Let the whole thing flower: the poem and the person writing the poem. And let us always be kind in this world.

-Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

My friend Sarah lovingly nudged me to read something I’d written in front of the group at LIAV Camp last week. I didn’t plan on it.  I was actually originally adamantly against it. I was there to just absorb and observe and meet the world halfway.  But she picked up the post-it note that I needed to add my name to the list, and then she delivered it for me.  I decided to pick something from the Cancer Chronicles, to make it a tangible ending.  I’d never read any of it aloud before…it would be the first time I’d verbalized it.  And if it wasn’t for her encouragement I never would have gotten up there to read. I said yes. Thank you Sarah.

Ashley Hackshaw / The Cancer Chronicles / Lil Blue Boo / Life is a Verb

 photo by Lynn Walsh

Writing is not therapy, though it many have a therapeutic effect. You don’t discover that you write because of lack of love and then quit, as you might in therapy discover that you eat chocolate as a love substitute and, seeing the reason, stop (if you’re lucky) eating Hershey’s chocolate bars and hot fudge. Writing is deeper than therapy. You write through your pain, and even your suffering must be written out and let go of.

In writing class painful things come up – the death of a husband, throwing the ashes of a dead baby into a river, a woman going blind. The students read the pieces they just wrote and I tell them they can cry if they need to but to remember to continue to read. We pause when they are finished and then go on to the next person, not because we ignore their suffering – we acknowledge it – because writing is the aim. It is an opportunity to take the emotions we have felt many times and give them light, color, and a story. We can transform anger into steaming red tulips and sorrow into an old alley full of squirrels in the half light of November.

-Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

The first thing I was handed when I got to camp was a sticker that said “this is a safe place”…and it was.  I barely got through the first paragraph before being unable to talk. And the crowd was clapping and shouting encouragement. And I finished. And it gave my illness light, color and a story.  And then I tore up my paper and let the pieces float gently one by one into the trashcan.

Patti Digh opened camp by saying, “I realize what I do is to create open space for people to show up.” I love that.  I want to create spaces where people can show up too.

That will be my new and forever mission in life.

This is what I read:

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So Many You Can’t Name Them

I don’t know how to write about Life is a Verb camp last week except in pieces, so here’s a tiny piece:

One of the workshops I signed up for was Naomi Shihab Nye’s Wind in a Bucket/Words in a Brain.  In our workshop she read letters from children who had written to her and there were so many nuggets of wisdom. I was so inspired by her interactions with children and their poetry.   I can never go back to where I was before that workshop.

Two days ago I went out with Boo to walk in the fallen leaves…we each had 3×5 cards and wrote down what we were seeing, hearing, thinking.  Small index cards are much more manageable than a large piece of paper. We talked as we went and shared our ideas before writing:

This leaf is more lavender than brown.
These look like alligator backs and crocodile tails.
They pile up so quickly they remind me of dirty laundry.
They are perfect camouflage for the dog!

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That night, when I read from an old book of poetry at bedtime, I hid her 3×5 cards behind the book and read her words back to her….only halfway through did she recognize the familiarity and with pure delight said:

Hey! That is MY poem!

Her words:

Leaves.
Can’t see the wind.
Red ones remind me of apples.
Thin like paper.
So many you can’t name them.
When they fall off it’s like leaving the family.
Sounds like cereal.
Go everywhere.
Near and far.
Yellow ones remind me of lemons.
Evergreens.
Maples look like dinosaur footprints.
Calling for you to jump in them.
Copperhead.
One person.
Piled on roofs.
Orange like an orange.
Dogwoods are the first to lose them.
Red oaks are the last.

And then I showed her this reading below…and she had tears in her eyes. I can see my child inspired…and that inspires me.

“Just think! No one has ever seen inside this peanut before!”

Naomi said: you don’t have to dream, just collect.

I love to collect, stretching myself to see things differently and not necessarily using it all up at once.

My words from the leaves:

Crumpily, lumpily, curly, twirly
In my hair, in my ears, everywhere, near and far
Chocolate shavings, orange peels, ashes from a fire
Lavender, ochre, burgundy wine
Elephant ears, spotted leopards, animal hides
Alligator backs, crocodile tails
Boats, hands, ear lobes, saw blades
Joan Miró
What does this look like? It looks like a leaf.

 

P.S. I purchased a book at camp (A Maze Me: Poems for Girls) and had Naomi Shihab Nye inscribe it for Boo.  I found it on Boo’s night table this morning after she’d left for school. With a flashlight nearby. Marked at page 106. Whenever I find her secretly reading at night, I quietly backpedal through the door so I won’t disturb her.

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I Am My Own Mechanic

We’ve all driven places and then wondered how we even got there. Snapped back to the present frame.  How did I get here? What happened to the last 30 miles?  Was I even between the lines?  Did I pass anyone? Driving back from Hendersonville the other day I missed a crucial turn, but only realized it when:

uh oh, there isn’t a tunnel on the way home….

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Things like this usually don’t phase me…a detour is good for the soul.  But Ruby (my truck) had been dead only hours earlier. No charge in the battery.   I should have known something was wrong 3 days ago when I was driving into camp.  It was dark, and I began thinking: my iPhone screen would be brighter than my pathetic headlights! And my blinkers had stopped working, and the seatbelt light would come on periodically. Ruby wasn’t quite herself. She was leaking energy everywhere.

And so, when I entered the tunnel, I realized that I was on my way to Tennessee, over the mountains.  There are no cities, no towns, no gas stations.  The road was already in that blue, dusky shade that signals the oncoming of dusk.  It just starts to look cold.  Very cold. And desolate.  My heart picked up its pace a little and I looked down at my gas gauge. Only 1/8th of a tank left.

About 7 miles after the 2nd tunnel I eventually found an exit to turn around.  There wasn’t a soul at the exit, except for a lone motorcycle rider who barreled past at twice my speed. I got back on the highway and drove south, knowing that every mile that passed meant that I was one mile closer to home. The fuel light came on, and I began to pray to just get close enough to a gas station that there wouldn’t be coyotes or wolves.

I coasted into a gas station on fumes.

 *****

I always feel like asking people if they have jumper cables is a reverse lottery.  No one wants to win. But, the first guy I asked said yes. He was with three other men and they’d just gotten off work from the quarry, tired and covered in dust. Opening the hood of their truck I was initially embarrassed at how clean Ruby’s engine was compared to the state of the other truck’s engine. But you could see their eyes light up when they opened Ruby up. Their eyes took in the Edelbrock carburetor and the 350 crate engine. The younger of the three lifted the hood into place and he looked into Ruby’s insides as if he’d known her forever. She was an old girlfriend. He tightened things here and there and touched the belts to test their tautness.  Places I’d never dared stick my hands before fearing I’d burn them or lose them.

“This is toast,” he said flicking the rubber length of one of the belts with his finger, “see how loose it is? It isn’t turning this other wheel.” 

“What does that mean?”

“The battery isn’t being charged.”

All of the sudden the whole world of gears and trucks and belts began to connect.  The painfully slow blinkers, the dim headlights, the flashing of the seatbelt sign while I was driving…they were all working off the battery.

He pointed and explained how I could tighten the belt myself. One of the parts was on a track that could be moved in either direction. Moving it to the left would pull the belt taut enough that it would turn the wheel. All I needed was a wrench.  It looked so easy. I could fix this.

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Eventually they got Ruby restarted after sending invisible energy to her through a simple set of cables.  I teared up at her familiar initial deep growl and then idle puttering. And I knew I had enough gas to get her home now.  I threw my arms around all three of them and they each said with a slight grin: Your welcome ma’am.  

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And yesterday morning….

I fixed Ruby. With a wrench, and a little elbow grease from hubby.

I am Rosie the Riveter.

I am my own mechanic.

 

Who Can See the Wind

On my way to Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp last week, outside of Hendersonville, I stopped by the Biltmore House to walk around. At 4pm it felt like I was the only one there, not a person in sight on the South Terrace:

Who can see the wind? Neither you nor I.  -Christina Rossetti

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The wind was fierce and cleared the sky of everything below cloud level, making the landscape seem unreal:

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Did I just step through the wardrobe? Or maybe into Wuthering Heights? Jane Eyre! That red maple looked to me like a cross between Medusa and Merida. While walking back to my truck I paused and then made my way back to find out its name:

 Red Cutleaf Japanese Maple (dissectum atropurpureum).  aka Medusam Meridaum.

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I just got really tired. I think this will be the end of this post. Hopefully I spelled everything right.  If not just consider it a new word.

P.S. I think I need a Jane Eyre quote just to wrap this up…and this one stands out because someone recently asked me if I knew what an automaton was.

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

P.P.S. automaton: a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being (i.e. C3PO I guess)

Stretching

A journal page from the past, 11 years ago.  These words:

“stretch to others even though it hurts and strains and would be more comfortable to snuggle back in the comforting cotton wool of blissful ignorance”  -Sylvia Plath

I read in front of people today, something I’d written a year ago. That was stretching for me. Go-go-gadget arms. Now I’m crawling back into my comfortable cotton wool for the night.  Remember the movie Cocoon? They say if we go with them, we’ll live forever. That was a great movie.

sylvia-1

The Warrior Motel

This is the old Warrior motel in Cherokee:

The Warrior Motel near Cherokee and Bryson City - 1950 1960 era motel

The Cherokee Warrior’s tomahawk used to move back and forth back long ago:

Abandoned Warrior Motel near Cherokee and Bryson City

The pool has long since been filled in with dirt and the room doors are wide open letting nature run wild.

Warrior Motel near Cherokee, NC

Gideons were here:

if these walls could talk

I can hear the old life in it: laughing, splashing, 1960’s music. There are definitely ghosts in old abandoned places.  The others as I like to call them…when I want to freak myself out at an abandoned hotel at dusk.

1950's era Motor Court or Motel Cherokee and Bryson City

Dusk is my deadline of course.  No one in their right mind would stay at an abandoned motel past dusk. I’ve seen I am Legend. The sun even does a little fancy camera flare to remind me: leave now.  

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Below is what it looked like back in the 1960’s. The dining room and other buildings are gone. At some point the pool was filled in and the parking lot went back to grass:

warriormotel

The back of the postcard would have read:

WARRIOR MOTEL AND DINING ROOM
4 1/2 Miles West of Cherokee, North Carolina
31 New and modern units – Tastefully furnished – TV and Electric heat
Great Smoky Mountains Largest Guests Pool – Large wading Pool for Tots – Lifeguard
Large and Beautiful Dining Room – Also fountain service
For reservations write, wire or phone 3966

Can you imagine writing for reservations?  Now days people get mad if a motel doesn’t have Internet reservations.

If these walls could talk….I’d listen.

 

A Scandinavian Christmas Tree

Today is the reveal day for this year’s Michaels’ Dream Trees.  And it’s snowing at my house…for real.

This year I went with a Scandinavian theme:

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Dala horses, DIY ribbon ornaments, rustic Santa and reindeer ornaments and much more:

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I love how it turned out.  The whole family helped with this year’s theme: cutting, staining, stamping, etc.

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On November 14th I’ll have tutorials for each of the ornaments and the supplies I used to make them! But for now you can get a head start by following this tutorial below and using the free template download for the Dala horse image!

(click here to view the tutorial if image doesn’t work)

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Click here to view the past two years of Christmas Trees!

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The World Is Run By People Who Show Up

It’s our first Halloween in Bryson City. I’m not really a Halloween person…I don’t think I’ve dressed up since like 8th grade?  I don’t care for Freddie Kruger, ever since he chased me home one night at dusk (I swear he was behind me, but I couldn’t confirm it because I was in crazy-panic-run). Growing up my mom would never let us wear scary costumes. My dad was always dressed up as Moses with the Ten Commandments to greet the neighborhood kids.  Our church banned witches, zombies and skeletons.

Since moving to Bryson City we’ve been going to the Grove Church. Our pastor, Jeff, asked if we’d help out with the Halloween event that they hold each year for the community.  My first thought was: ugh, Halloween, no way.  But instead my fingers texted back: Would love to help! That’s right up my alley.

I had no idea what I was in for.  I was thinking a few pumpkins, hotdogs, churchy people….instead I found myself in the middle of an event on the scale of Broadway. And this year’s theme? Wizard of Oz.

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Nothing wrong with Wizard of Oz right?  Except that it’s on the bottom of my list of movies I would choose to watch. I had nightmares for years when I was little about the Wicked Witch. Once she stole my baby sister out of her crib as I watched…one night she stabbed my dad with a sword while he tried to fix the TV.  That Wicked Witch was sealed in my mind. I’m not exaggerating…here’s a page from my journal years ago. Obviously she still haunts me:

journalpage
And then yesterday, when I asked what I could do to help, the first thing I was assigned:

Could you set up the melted witch with the caution tape?

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Really? This event was planned to torture me right?

And as people started to show up I felt myself getting increasingly anxious:

Who would let their kid wear that scary costume? How is dressing up as Freddy Kruger fun? Wait, is it legal to carry a toy gun?

These were many of the reasons I’d been given growing up as to why I shouldn’t be a fan of Halloween. But as I looked around I realized that I should be a fan of Halloween. Why? Because Halloween is community.  It’s the one holiday where people actually come out of their homes. The one holiday where people open their doors to people they don’t know in large numbers and hand them gifts.  I saw my daughter and her new friends walking down the street thanking shop owners for candy. I saw business owners, politicians, and law enforcement mingling among the community and at one point Boo was yelling hello to a deputy she knew across the street. I told a man dressed up as a Cherokee Indian that he would win the costume contest and he told me he had just come from work: the Cherokee Indian Reservation. But he was really nice and thanked me for noticing how well dressed he was.

And Jeff posted this article this morning by one of my favorite authors Shauna Niequist and it summed up exactly how I was feeling after last night:

Sometimes love asks you to change.

It’s so easy to love people who like all the same things you do—who never listen to music that makes you cringe, or who believe all the same things you believe. But love sometimes asks you to lay down your preferences, and dive into someone else’s world for a little while.

Sometimes that world is full of fake spiders.

Sometimes it’s the ballet or country music or Russian novels. Sometimes it’s staying quiet when you want to talk, sometimes it’s giving space when you want to rush in. Love asks what’s best for the person you love, not what’s best or most convenient to you.

Yes, sometimes the world is full of fake spiders. And fake pooling witches.  And big green gates with green glitter as a welcome mat. Here was our church opening up (green) doors to anyone who wished to come in…no strings attached. No rules. No judgement. Just community:

brysoncityhalloween

We jumped right in wearing our LoveBryson shirts.  Boo even decided to dress up as a “church volunteer” instead of her butterfly costume. LoveBryson was started by The Grove Church as a way to give back to Bryson City and the surrounding community. It’s a community service-based group that works with established organizations in the area when specific needs come up.  LoveBryson also pioneers its own efforts to make a difference in the community, everything from supplying firewood in the winter, school backpack drives and even installing much needed wheelchair ramps.

lovebryson

And yesterday The Grove Church served close to 1,800 hotdogs to the community:

brysoncityhalloween39

Sometimes all you have to do is show up.

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And make room for others to show up too.  They threw us newbies right in:

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I think more people showed up downtown than actually live in all of Bryson City:

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Barry from The Filling Station handing out candy:

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Debbie (green vest) from Fern Studios and Gallery handing out candy:

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Donno from Higher Ground Tattoo:

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A few kiddos from The Grove:

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The real deal:

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I was asked to be one of the judges in the costume contest and this little bag lady won in the 2-11 years old category. She was awesome:

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And at Riverfront Park where “Oz” was located people had a chance to play games and recharge.

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The director of Boo’s school sent out a newsletter today and it ended with: The world is run by people who SHOW UP! 

I’m not quite ready to show up as the Good Witch of the North yet, and I don’t have to…because there are people like Beth:

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And Mary (as Dorothy):

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And Rachel:

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And Erin and Jeff (lion). Jeff drew and painted the huge “Oz” backdrop for the stage:

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I love when leaders think big, like this guy, pastor, Jeff:

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A sneak peak behind the scenes of all the prep work that went into the event:

Behindthescenes

Behindthescenes2
And the result…community:

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When I heard Brene Brown speak 2 years ago at The Summit I wrote this down word for word:

The #1 barrier to belonging? Fitting in. 

Make a space for people to show up and be seen, not for who they should be….but for who they are. 

We can’t set it up so that there are check boxes for showing up. 

 

 

Living has a Deadline

I took this photo exactly three years ago.  My husband brushing my hair.

Living has a Deadline

He was brushing my hair because I couldn’t brush my own hair. I couldn’t even get out of bed by myself.  But I think there was so much beauty in that moment because it was one of the first times that I was willing to admit I was weak.  And that was me at my best, at that moment, because the mornings were the worst, so as the day went along and I was able to slowly get out of bed, walk around the yard a little, maybe take a shower, I was ready to go to bed again and start the process over again. And at my best I still was unable to complete a simple task like brushing my own hair. But my husband brushing my hair was so raw and tender and loving and I couldn’t find an ounce of fear in myself at that moment.  We were both just fully there, grateful.

Anne Lamott says that “the search for meaning will fill you with a sense of meaning.”

I searched high and low, and I found meaning everywhere.

I still do.

And sometimes the meaning is probably all in my own head but does it really matter? Recently when I was in that car wreck, I told a woman how I’d seen feathers flying around in slow motion as the car spun around. Her response was: you didn’t see feathers. And I was like: yes I did. And she snapped back: no you didn’t. I can assure you that you did not see feathers. And for a short moment I thought to myself maybe she’s right, maybe I didn’t really see feathers. Maybe I’m delusional? Maybe I hit a chicken?  But then as they were towing the car away there were no feathers to be found. But I saw the freaking feathers people. A burst of feathers, at the moment the car was hit. And they were suspended in the air, frozen in a millisecond of time, catching my attention from the horror of what was happening. And I was able to find some meaning in that.

“When you learn that your life is threatened, you can turn toward this knowledge or away from it. I turned toward it. It was not a choice but an automatic shifting of gears, a tacit agreement between my body and my brain. I though that time had tapped me on the shoulder, that I had been given a real deadline at last. It wasn’t that I believed the cancer was going to kill me […] No. What struck me was the startled awareness that one day something, whatever it might be, was going to interrupt my leisurely progress. It sounds trite, yet I can only say that I realized for the first time that I don’t have forever.” -Anatole Broyard, Intoxicated by My Illness

I think this post will end the series I labeled The Cancer Chronicles three years ago.  I don’t really want to write about cancer anymore.  There’s probably some meaning in that too.

Holiday Prep

This past week I’ve been working on the annual Christmas Tree I do for Michaels each year.  Most everything was handmade in some form.  I love how it turned out. Will share all the photos in just a few days. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

supplies

Rustic Scandinavian Christmas Decor - Dala Horse Print

Rustic Handmade Christmas Decor

It’s way too early to put up a Christmas tree though. I put the tree up last night, photographed it, and then took it back down.  It will be donated to a good cause.  We don’t really have room for a full sized tree anyways so we’ll have a miniature tree this year.  The Hemlock Inn puts up their own huge tree after Thanksgiving. Boo is so excited to help decorate that. She’s told every guest that asks about Christmas that “Mr. Mort (the innkeeper) has to take down the dining room’s ceiling fan for the big Christmas tree!”

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