Matters of Life and Death

In various ways and contexts over the years I’ve been asked the question, “Have you ever lost a friend?”

When asked I’ve thought back to my teen and early adult years – disease, infant loss, suicide, overdose, accident.
I’ve seen a lot of death – some family, some acquaintances, beloved animals but –
“No, I’ve never lost a ‘friend.'”

Yet I’d always felt a curious resonance with those who had.

Maybe because of that time when I was 9 and two people close to me never were again.
Not friends precisely.  Just a cousin and an uncle.  Not people I had stayed up late at night pouring out my life story to.
Except I totally had.  The way one does as a child.  They were my life story.
And then they were gone.
And I wasn’t even allowed to go to the funeral.

Uncle Tom –
The ‘unemployed maintenance man’ described in the article was someone I knew very differently -> a tortured poet, a broken Don Quixote reeling from a barrage of windmills – some imagined, but too many real.
He gave us turns on the back of his motorcycle.  He took me, along with the other kids, hiking around Bucks and Hunterdon Counties – he bought us Yoo-hoos and told us split walnut shells were pigs’ noses – a delicacy we should consider eating.  I remember looking around the woods near Ringing Rocks thinking pigs must be awfully good at hiding to leave so many noses behind and not a pig in sight.
He talked to my mom a lot.  Especially that last year.
But he didn’t do things with just me.
He was my mother’s brother, my aunts’ and uncle’s brother, my friend’s father, my grandparents’ son.
I was only his niece.

David –
I knew him as energetic, clever, creative, impish – good fun and a perfect pest.
I remember playing at his house – board games, birthday parties, general kiddery.  I remember him and Sam tormenting Jess and me.  I remember him ignoring Sam and my warnings not to go into the creek during the spring-melt because the current was too strong.  I remember Sam and me chasing him downstream with a branch until we finally pulled him out.  That may have been the last day I saw him.  It’s my last memory of him.
He was a frequent playmate.
But he wasn’t someone I’d’ve made solo plans with.
He was my brother’s best friend, my friend’s brother, my cousin’s brother, my aunt’s son.
I was only his cousin.

Amidst so much grief, I never realized I was supposed to be grieving too.

I knew I’d altered significantly around 8 or 9, but I’d never understood why.
I clung to ‘baby’ toys like dolls and dress up just as everyone else was giving them up but (… or perhaps because) in many ways I was suddenly an adult. I’ve long said that I felt like a grown up by 9 and spent my teens frustrated that I wasn’t treated like one.
I became driven.  I went from being a capable but disinterested student to being a model one.  I suddenly felt behind in life, aware of all the things I was now too old to be – a contortionist, an Olympic figure skater, a child star and so on as I ‘aged.’
I became hyper-responsible.  Sam and I had a new baby brother and mom was Elsewhere.  I dove into cooking and fell into babysitting.  By 12 I could make things like lemon meringue pie, angel food cake, macaroni n cheese and pizza from scratch; was doing my own laundry and mending; cutting my own hair (and my siblings’); and so on.

At 9 I also went from feeling like one of my classmates to feeling like an outsider.
I don’t know where I’d be if Chrissy hadn’t come in the middle of 3rd grade.
Two months gave us a good introduction, but my first clear memory of her is at my side when the other kids came.
“Was that your family on the news?” Kristen asked with a huddle of eyes a few feet behind her.
Chrissy was at my left shoulder, “You don’t have to answer,” she whispered.
But why wouldn’t I?
My social life didn’t recover until midway through high school.
I spent years staring at myself in the mirror wondering what was wrong with me that people I used to be friends with now ignored or tormented me.
It was only this week that I realized what it was – PTSD.  A-duh.

In not realizing that I was supposed to be grieving, I completely failed to notice that I was different.
People often commented on my smile and my happiness and so I believed that I was happy.  Until I realized I wasn’t and began unpacking why.
Yes, people commented on my happiness.  But they also commented on my maturity and wisdom – my gravity.
I was a vivacious child, but I was pensive too.

As I fell out of normalcy, I fell in to story.  At 10-12, my favorite books were ones that explored questions of loneliness, death, survival and meaning.  My tastes swung from wry to morbid – books, film, theatre, psychology, philosophy.
I poured myself in to story and out through art – seeking to understand a world I couldn’t seem to find my feet in.

In my wandering, I’ve predictably covered a good sampling of the sorts of stories that evaluate death – legions of characters trying to die a ‘good death.’
I’ve read and seen a lot of ‘good’ deaths (and bad deaths for that matter) but never found one that particularly resonated with me.
A peaceful death seems preferable – or at least an adventurous one – in nature, not a hospital room.  I prefer to have lived a long and full life before I succumb.
But what could possibly make death ‘good’?

I’ve known Death almost as long as I’ve known Life.
As I’ve made choices in life, I’ve often considered what I want to look back on from that final moment, who I want to be when I arrive there.
It provides clarity. And motivation.
But it never provided me any insight into the Death itself.

Until last week’s homily – in which a visiting priest shared a story about his grandfather whose dying breath was given in devotion to that which had been his guiding truth and vision in life.

O, may I have a death like that!
A final exhalation – ‘I have Been.’  To give my last breath to that which is most Mine in the satisfied knowledge that I already gave everything else I had – the last vapor of my Being expended – nothing held back.
The end.

And that’s what is most tragic about David – a 6yo boy drinking an orange soda with his whole life ahead of him; or so you’d think.

I can only guess at how much I was defined by that moment, but I see it rippling through my beliefs about how life is supposed to be.
It is wrong to sever the life of an innocent.
And the death of the perpetrator doesn’t fix anything.
I knew that for True at my grandfather’s funeral.
(These things don’t happen in a vacuum.)

I may have been a hippie-goth, pro-life, anti-death-penalty pacifist without this piece of life experience, but I doubt I would have the same depth of conviction about it.
I may have been wise, depressed, observant, anxious and compassionate regardless.  I may have felt compelled to squeeze the marrow out of life and study it as I do.  But, again, I suspect it would be with less intensity.

So what does tragedy teach?
Grief isn’t about no longer having what you used to have – that’s a gift to be treasured – it’s about the loss of Possibility.
So drink deep from the cup of life; you never know which sip will be your last.
Set your internal compass on what you find Good and cover as much ground as you can.
Grief is a lodestone – Violence comes from Pain, but Wisdom comes from Pain too.  It’s all in how you charge it – Attitude.
I, for one, try to keep my compass set to Love, Peace and Joy.

Self Care

I’ve had quite a lesson in Self Care this year.
It was a gradual process – neglecting Me to the point where I struggled to even eat and sleep – pushing myself so hard and so fast that I slipped into a diet of chips (potato and chocolate) – they were gluten and dairy free so they were good, right?
Mostly they were There.

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably read about the whole adrenal mess; and the tree fall – bruised spine and ribs, concussion.

It’s been a very strange trip.
I’ve never felt intellectually limited before.  I reach a point where I simply have to turn my brain off.  I can’t even read!
I’ve never had such keen awareness of the need to care for myself.
If I think too much, I can’t think.
If I don’t eat, I then forget to eat and before long I’m an emo vegetable and my stomach is wrapping itself around my spine.  I stand in the kitchen and shove random ingredients into my mouth.  It’s been fertile soil for all sorts of flavor discoveries (like tonight’s squash, onion, bacon and apple with salt, pepper and cinnamon sauteed in bacon grease – mmmmm).

The days after I forget to eat are often days when I can do little more than feed myself.
It feels so selfish, but I am worthless or worse to anyone if I don’t.
I lost 10lbs during the adrenal mess.  I’ve lost another 5 through neglect since.
I now weigh what I did in 8th grade.  I was the same height, so I’m not emaciated, but I’m skinny.
Which is mind-blowing since at 13 I knew I was fat.  And at 17 when I plummeted to 5lbs less than I weigh now.
I wore baggy shirts to hide my ‘enormous belly.’
SMH.
And to think – then I didn’t have stretch marks; I didn’t have enough excess skin from 82lbs of weight loss that my belly button is an up arrow.

But I’m enjoying my body now.
For the first time in my life I can wear literally anything and not feel self-conscious about some physical flaw.  I look plenty good.  I have no more f#@ks to give to that.  I’m giving them to bigger and better things.
Since quitting sugar I feel amazing – I have the sort of energy I used to say I-should-eat-right-to-have-but-didn’t-really-believe-was-possible.
I have a head full of ideas.
I can’t wait to have Time.

Spending the Time I do have well is another piece of Self Care.
For me right now that means nurturing my creative soul – music, dancing, singing, painting, writing – things I used to do, things I’ve been meaning to do – do them now.  What else is time for?  Video games?  Maybe during hibernation season.

I’m so over fear.  It ruled me for too long.
My Year of Adventure in 2014 set me up well.
I named 2015 the Year of Technique.
/snort
Yup.
I’m starting to get excited about what 2016 will hold.
Time and I are in an uneasy standoff – I haven’t signed off on this whole getting old thing yet.
But 50 years might be enough to do everything I mean to.
Healthily.

Balance

my throat is tight
my head is full
with many things
that tug and pull

I

center self
on peace and love
and through me flows
light from above

Resurrection – (not yet edited)

I have a friend named Jess.

I actually have two friends named Jess and they are two of my oldest and best friends.  Together, we’re Kat and the Jesses.  The Jess in question is not the one I have known the longest (hardly her fault – the other is my cousin), but I have connected to her in a deep and unique way.

This Jess and I are both Synesthetes.  Both Mirror-Touch Synesthetes too, unless I’m mistaken.
I assume this is the reason for my unusual connection to her.  What she can describe to me, I can feel.  And that description is not only verbal, but through the physical expressions of her body – posture, facial expression, breath, and [I propose] even electro-magnetic charge.

It is ironic really, because in many ways I have been more in tune to her body than my own.
This is the story of my life.  I cannot tell you how many hours (months) I spent as a child looking in the mirror and wondering what I looked like.  Why people reacted to me the way they did – like I was weird.  Was I not pretty enough?
Popular girls were always pretty in books and movies.  That must be it.  My heavy eyebrows, I looked aggressive, I began training them to lessen the severity (I was still a blonde 9yo at this point, but my brows had darkened toward my current natural).

Layer upon layer of self-doubt followed, not just regarding appearance.

I transitioned into high school, eager to be connecting from another side with the theatre group I had been working with for a couple years (except – surprise! – they swapped the beloved Mr Jolly for a mediocre (but free) nun and then even theatre sucked), but with no idea who I was other than what people told me (ie: their words+behavior=> my interpretation of self).  I had a lot of insight that I don’t think most have though.  By 17, I knew I didn’t have to worry about how I came across because no one was paying attention – they were all too busy worrying about how they were coming across.  There are exceptions, but go ahead, test it – open your eyes and look – see who else is actually looking.
When you are looking to others to define who you are, it is kind of crippling to realize they can’t even see you to define you.

High school was hard for me in a lot of ways – It was an all out assault against how my body wanted to live; but I was told it was good, that They knew better.
By 17, I fantasized regularly about passing out in the halls so they’d let me sleep in the nurse’s office.  I was sooo… tiiirred….  Empty.

I contemplated suicide just to escape the never-ending torture.  I wanted to drop out; do something *I* cared about with my time.
But I was “too smart” for that.  *eyeroll*
My health was horrible.  O, I looked great from the outside, but I ached like a football veteran; my skin crawled at sudden bumps (…the potholes of Bucks County in the early 90s… *shudder*), I had headaches so often I was more likely to notice when I didn’t have one than when I did.  Migraines, knee and back issues, allergies (did you know I used to break out in hives twice/day every day June through November?  For several years.).

I had no idea what was wrong with me, but I knew something must be.
The way I saw it -> if everyone felt the way I did, there wouldn’t be a human race.

During the summer before Senior year I was hit with several big blows in succession – learned about the family skeletons, lost my first serious boyfriend (of 1.5yrs), felt isolated from my friends, etc.
I crashed hard.
I cried for the first time in 8 years (I was a bit emotionally dysfunctional 😉 ).
I went nuts.  I was crawling with pain and, more than once, I remember writhing in my parents’ parking lot late at night, just raaaaaaaw.
I turned to a lot of bad habits (not eating, lots of sexual partners, drugs, cutting, Marilyn Manson) and a few good ones (sleeping in nature, exercise, meditation, counseling).

I hobbled into senior year also working 40hrs/week to pay my own tuition plus expenses.  It was hard.  I was exhausted. Tired of living the life other people thought I should, but didn’t know how to escape back to my Self.

My final semester of high school was spent -> School -> Work -> Home long enough to convince parents I was home -> Sneak out and drive to Tim (my now-husband)’s dorm.
Sometimes we stayed there; sometimes we drove all over creation or climbed on 4th story roofs or ran through the woods. We had a blast.
And, no matter what else we did, we always talked.  Talked and talked and talked and talked and talked.  And not just with words.  We would spend hours simply staring at each other and exploring the facets we saw in each other’s faces – we are both very feline.
For the first time in my life, I felt like someone saw me.
And I was starving for that.

So it’s really no surprise that 7 months and 4 days after first meeting (1), we were married and already expecting our first child.
I was 18.

By 21, we had 3 children, a condo and 2 cars.
On a McDonald’s salary.
It was a difficult time, but a miracle happened and Tim was offered a gig programming for a pharmaceutical market research company.  The guy even bought him $1200 worth of suit to impress at the interview(s).
Tim thrived and has become a sophisticated developer.  Our lifestyle has ‘improved’ accordingly.

When we got that new paycheck from the new job (+25% of his previous salary), I went to the grocery store, for the first time since high school, without a list and a calculator.  It was glorious.
I would mark that day as the beginning of my Food Journey.

In the intervening 15 years we have shifted from On-Cor and Hamburger Helper to a diet based primarily on local, organic, un- or minimally processed foods.
In January 2014, I did an elimination diet that a friend reported startling results from.
And experienced startling results myself.
I had been struggling to lose ‘those last 15lbs.’  For a decade.
When I completely removed gluten, dairy and (not quite completely) sugar from my diet those pounds melted away effortlessly.
And I felt amazing.

I had not realized it was possible to not feel as though my belly were a Chain Chomp – sitting in my lap, bossing me around and making me eat things I didn’t want to eat – to eat when I wasn’t hungry, etc.  My joints didn’t hurt anymore, my skin cleared up, my intestines began to work properly (a tragically recent thing for me).

And my body and I began to be able to communicate!!
Garbled -but I had learned how to use the chemistry lab and now could experiment with what was good or bad for the patient – Me.

I ate really well all last summer, but then….  Halloween came.
There were enough GF/DF candies about that I let sugar creep back in hardcore.  By the time the candies were drying up, the rest of the holidays were rolling in, then winter depression and we get to this Summer.

In May, we came upon an opportunity to make an exciting lifestyle change.
I decided not to do film work as I had originally intended, but rather devote my time to renovating, cleaning and decorating our house for sale so that I could pursue another lifelong dream – Living in Community.
I had hoped to have the house ready by mid-July and then audition for a play while we needed to be out for showings anyway.
*snort*

I auditioned for the play and was cast, but the work was nowhere near done -> 1 full and 2 partial bathroom renovations, painting, staging, and all the odds-and-ends work that had been let to slide for 6 years and needed to be done yesterday.

I kept on trucking – house by day, art by night.

Then my parents’ asked if I could cover the family business phone for a few days.  We needed the money too badly to say No.
So, I’m working on the house (sometimes with my brother), interrupted constantly by work phone calls, watching Tech Week get closer and the house – Still. Not. Done.
“I’ve got to backpedal.  I need to find good stopping points on all the open projects and get the house clean and sane before Tech or….. I just don’t even want to consider that possibility!”
Tech is hard.
Especially at the beginning of a school year.  When I have committed to teaching 2 classes at a new homeschool co-op. While moving. And doing a play.

My good eating habits collapsed.
I was living on potato chips, chocolate chips, Enjoy Life bars, coconut milk ice cream, pepperoni, GF crackers, and eggs.  All foods I *could* eat, but few that were actually nourishing me.  My intestines were a mess.
I hesitated to even buy veggies as there were already quite a few wilting in the Produce Bowl.  I did finally ask my brother’s partner, Wendi, if I could pay her to take my veggies and make them into something yummy, and she delivered wonderful nourishing food.
But I was already starting to have trouble eating.
She had made an even-more-nutrient-rich variation of something I would normally sit and plow half a batch of, but I could barely eat a single patty.

I was panicky, but confident I had caught the train before it ran off the rails.  I just had to get things stabilized before Tech.

.

And then my friend Jess called me last Monday night.  Remember Jess?  It’s a song about Jess.
Jess was in distress.
So I rushed to her side.  I took her to Urgent Care and then the ER.  I love my Jesses.
But I sat helplessly for 6hrs watching one-of-the-people-who-I-am-most-deeply-attuned-to writhe in pain. Even after they gave her morphine.
The diagnosis came – acute appendicitis – she was admitted. Cousin Jess and I saw her to her room (after hours of lovely morphine-skewed chatting anxiety), then headed home.

.

Frankly, I’m not clear on what happened after that.  Everything became chaos.
You see, Kat and the Jesses Featuring Nettie was supposed to spend 3 days at Cherry Springs -> kicking back and enjoying the Milky Way during the Perseids.  But one of the Jesses turned out not to be up for it.  The one whose birthday was the reason for the trip.  The one whose appendix had just demanded out of a mutually destructive relationship.

We were all reeeeally looking forward to the trip, so we waited until the last possible moment to decide whether or not to go.
And then I hung on a day longer thinking Tim and I would go Friday at least.
Which days would I work for my parents?  Which activities that we had expected to miss would be put back on the calendar?  What was I preparing for?  What was I supposed to be doing?  So many things needing to be done and so many balls in the air!!!!!!!!!!!!

Somewhere between Tuesday and Friday, I went into full-on adrenaline mode.  I had no sense of time.
My entire self – past, present and future – was united in a singular now, heavy with the wisdom of the universe.
I was nuts.
And I wrote.
And wrote and wrote and wrote.
I spent almost 3 hours texting myself stream of consciousness seeds. [pick a time stamp and unfold the seed; would love to hear what resonates]
Seeds that I may spend the rest of my life unfolding.
I am still unfolding at a rapid rate, but I am stabilizing and so, for a passing moment, I am both inspired with divine energy and coherent enough to articulate a piece of it.

That could sound sad and it is a little, but it is mostly amazing.

I don’t know what was wrong with my body for the past 27 years, but it is GONE.

I writhed for days.  My kidneys and adrenals on fire.
It was convenient timing.

I was trying to puzzle out my character for the play – Cassie Cooper – and feeling a bit discouraged.  I had a general sense of her themes, but I hadn’t found the right key.
Until I became her for a week -> Anxious.  Spiritually driven. On the bare edge of sanity.
I had Fire in My Belly.
And there was Cassie.

Now I just had to stylize her.
And figure out how to make her funny.

.

Sometime in the middle there, I imploded.
My endocrine system felt like it went offline.  A stabbing lump just behind the points of my ribs pulled me into a hollow ball of excruciation.  And shock.
The lump felt black and hard.  But it was moving! Painfully. Down the left side of my body.  Until, suddenly, I couldn’t feel it anymore.
There was a ton of residual pain, so no guarantee the lump wasn’t only lessened, but oh. My. WORD!  I felt like I was rewiring.  Reconnecting whatever had snapped 20+ years ago.

I connected suddenly and profoundly to Cassie because I had been her 20 years ago.  At 17.  And I writhed and screamed and cried at the slightest jolt or air of tension, but I also rejoiced.  Because -> Art is Beautiful Therapy.  Therapy in it’s truest and grittiest sense.

As I crawled out of the hole I had fallen into, I reached out to all sorts of people I hadn’t previously felt connected to.
And I have been completely overwhelmed at the response.
I had really no idea there was so much love available to me.
I am currently plotting how to keep you all in my life and bind together various clusters of common interest on a regular basis.  Like a French Salon, but where we might build a trebuchet if we feel like it.
Local people interested in connecting can raise their hands.  I have a few clusters in mind to test and see how it goes.
I guess I’m adding a new title -> Kat, Networking Agent.  Permit me a giddy hand-rub – Hee-he-heee!

So, back to my body!
As soon as it got really bad (last Wednesday?), my diet changed.
I simply couldn’t eat certain things.  My intuition was on such high alert that the mere mention of a food that would be bad for me made me over-double in agony.
I could call to mind anything I had previously consumed and know whether or not my body would accept or reject it, from steak on down to vitamins.
I have also been intuiting any manner of weird things regarding friends I talk with.  I have no idea if I’m right about any of it – that’s up to them to figure out.  Or not.  But I’ll suddenly need to tell someone they should eat sweet potatoes and suchlike.

.

I have a sense of smell again!!!  I haven’t had a sense of smell since I was 12 and took up smoking!!  And it is telling me so many amazing things!!!!

The first thing I was able to eat was almonds, so I got some hazelnuts.
Good.  I could manage 3-5 at a time and was ravenous-with-no-appetite every hour.
I needed more fuel but so many things made me wretch -> refined anything (including oils), sugar (including most fruit), vinegar, vitamin C supplements, etc.  It looked like acid was my problem.
(Guess I was paying for doing that at 17 too!  Ba-dum tsch!?)

Gradually I was able to eat lettuce.  I sat, like an empty sack on the brink of collapse and ate lettuce leaves because I needed greens.  And they were bitter and gross but oh-so-wonderful.  Minerals.  Minerals.  I’ve been mineral deficient since my teens and only recently realized it.  As my body has cried out with kidney stones, and cavities, and waning strength that it is not nourished I have said ‘But I don’t like those foods.  I don’t have time to learn to make them likeable.  I don’t have time to cook them.  And I feel so much better, surely this is enough, yes?’

But it wasn’t.

And my body finally grabbed me by the throat (literally – my thyroid was spazzing so hard I couldn’t even swallow water at some points, only trickle it down my tongue).
It was …..8 dimensions of awful.  And 12 dimensions of awe-full.
I feel healed.

The lump showed up again but further along.  It felt like a store of sugar and carb-gross that had been sitting over my pancreas.  And when it left (after I laid on the earth in the sun for half an hour), something else also left – everything I had always hated about my belly.  Seriously.
Well, except for the excess skin which comes from having been 75lbs heavier at one time.  At least my belly button makes an Up arrow, which is kind of cute, I guess.
I’ve been self conscious of my belly since I was 8 and discovered I was “fat” (ie: – tended to arch my back and thrust my belly forward).
And I’m just not anymore.

I never want to lose this.

And not just the aesthetic!
Though I did land at a pretty svelt size 2 that I would love to keep if I can be healthy here.

I lost 8lbs over the week; 3.3 in one day when my thyroid totally freaked out.
Finally hit my pre-pregnancy weight!
Was actually really scary.
I went through this at 17 and by the time I was healthy enough again to notice, I was ‘back up’ to 105lbs.

I did not have 10 more lbs of life in me.  I felt like my body was eating itself from the inside out – consumption (2).

The day after the lump-release I felt sooooo muuuuuuch better.
Until I did too much or otherwise got agitated.
Then I was right back to screaming and crying and having trouble breathing.
and running. and curling into a tiny ball.

I finally crawled my way outside in the middle of the night and lay on the ground.
And I stilled.
I placed my cheek to the bare grass and slept.  Peacefully for the first time in days.
That 2 hours did me so much good.

The following day, the aforementioned Wendi and my brother, Sam, gave me an IET session.
It was….. transcendant.
Afterwards, as I slowly stretched my way from a deep shavasana through some poses-approaching-Down-Dog and out of the Healing Room, I felt something amazing -> A straight line through my belly.
I have never felt like this before.  Ever.

.

As a synesthete, Touch can carry all sorts of other senses.  But especially motion and sight.
During the session, I perceived colors and shapes and felt a breathe-flow like a stream passing over varying terrain – pooling, burbling; sloshing.

….

… I just realized.
I’m going on again.
So the gist is ->

.

CBD Oil may have literally saved my life.
When triage at the ER took my blood pressure, it was up almost 40 points.  My bottom number was higher than my top number usually is.  And that was not one of my worst spikes.

The tiniest things were triggering me if I had expended too much energy (and I was weeeeeak.  I could feel my bones grinding against each other.
I shuffled.
I needed a walking stick to get from couch to fridge.

I ate my mommy’s amazing soup, and nuts, and lettuce leaves, and bananas and tried not to do too much.  Including talk.
Because once I got into it, I couldn’t stop – no brakes – crash.
It was awful and terrifying and I struggled to make sense of it – adrenals and thyroid, adrenals and thyroid were all over this – not just ‘fatigued’ – run down -> dying.

And the ER said? Bloodwork and ekg normal -> Anxiety -> Discharge.

So I took a nap and went to Holly Hill.
Where I got myself stocked up on minerals and vitamins and Rescue Remedy and the like.
Suddenly in the conversation, Ray – our guide – ran off and brought a Nice Lady (who I would recognize if I saw, but can’t name) who started spouting about CBD Oil.  So she offers us a sample.

She squirted some onto a spoon – ‘Hold it on your tongue for 30 secs.’
10 seconds in, I felt my body melt.  And my focus completely shift.
I hadn’t even realized how much data I was taking in – where people were in the store, background chatter, visual stimuli, etc etc – suddenly I could turn it off and just focus on Tim and Nice Lady.

That night my guttering inner fire roared back to life.  I ate foooood.  I wanted MEEEEAT!  And peppers and garlic and all sorts of things I hadn’t been able to eat for more than a week.

I feel aMAYzing.
I never want to feel the way I used to again.  I feel right.

I can’t wait to exercise!!  Yoga!  Capoeira!!
I feel like I could do things I’ve never been able to do before.
Limitless.
Vivacious.

Perhaps it’s related -> I have loved my hair for a few months now.  For the first time in my life (yes, really) I look in the mirror and see Me.  The Me I lost when I took everybody else’s word for it.

People.  Take care of yourselves.  Love yourselves.
And inevitably, you will come to love your Self.
Two thumbs up.  100% recommend

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Good morning, Sunshine.  Good night, Kat!

.

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(1) Actually Tim and I had met several times in the past, but only in passing – we knew a lot of the same people and had been introduced at least once before Friendly’s brought us together – the Cook and the Waitress, awww.

(2) Wait….. Consumption = Tuberculosis = mentioned in the Adrenal Insufficiency piece that felt like my symptoms

I *have* to note (in wonder) that I wrote this entire thing in a 99% straight line.  I haven’t written that way since a poem in 8th grade that carried my soul and that I have lost (maybe not, but I’m afraid to look and not find it).  But my mind does feel clearer.  Could this lead me to conquering Winter?!?!?!?!?!!!

Tastes Like Mango

We’re preparing our house to sell.
Yeah.

So, I’m in the kitchen cleaning out the brush from urethaning a future vanity in order to paint the posts in the basement.
My other brushes are sealed in plastic and full of -> primer, basement wall paint and Dear-God-When-Will-I-Ever-Be-Done-Painting-%$@#ing-Trim?! white semi-gloss.
But I can’t clean out the urethane-post brush because the sink (and counter and stove) has a dish problem.

Fortunately, The-15yo-whose-3am-ravioli-feast-caused-much-of-the-dish-problem – alias Timmy, is right there in the kitchen with me.

“Hey, Timmy?  Could you clean up your dishes?” I say while turning off the misleading ‘Clean’ light on the empty dishwasher.
Timmy’s an obliging kid if approached correctly, so he hops up and starts to set his pots to soak.  In the sink basin I just cleared to wash my brush.

“Sorry, bud, I need this side, can you work in the other side?”
He eyes the colanders in the other sink basin.
I’ve yet to observe why it dirties 2-3 colanders to make 1 bag of ravioli, but they’re a regular morning find.
“You need to clean the colanders anyway,” I add casually.

He skeptically picks up the over-the-sink strainer (my favorite) and proceeds to rearrange my world ->

“I don’t know how.”

I stood frozen at the crossroads of more paths than I could count, but am proud to report that while my heart and gut spun off in different directions, my head handled things beautifully – he washed both colanders, the ravioli pot and a couple plates; I offered guidance where needed while cleaning my brush and gathering other supplies – things stayed light, a shade playful, interested, observant, exploratory.
And I realized ->

This is why I unschool.  This is what I am trying to do – what I want my children’s life experience to be.

Somewhere in my own childhood I became afraid to say “I don’t know”  – to admit ignorance was dangerous if one wanted to succeed academically, socially and professionally.  Except admitting ignorance is the only way to succeed at any of those things.
Ironically, I associate the fear with school.  Of course, I didn’t recognize it as fear until relatively recently.  I didn’t see it at all, it was something that just was.
And I have been trying to not pass that fear on to my children.  Only… because I didn’t recognize it, I did pass it on.  For quite a bit of their childhood.

It’s been a gradual process, but somewhere along the way my paradigm shifted a little.  I began asking the questions I really wanted to ask.  The questions whose answers mattered.  The answers I wanted to have already known.
And, go figure, something magical happened!

I began to know more and more about things that really excited me!

Things that stoked my inner fire, that brought me joy.  I began to feel alive in places I hadn’t known still existed.  Alive enough to push through when I hit walls – to say ‘I don’t know!’ and go find someone who does know.  Can you imagine Miss Havisham’s wedding feast restored? Compeyson alive and turning out to have been true all along?
You might even find Mrs Compeyson happily painting basement posts to make the next move in cultivating her happily-ever-after lifestyle.

I have suspected example would be more powerful than any amount of lecturing (and back up any lecturing that happens to slip out of my mouth).
To see my fruit’s seed sprouting in my progeny is … like a double rainbow.  All the way across the sky.  Do recommend.

Today my son admitted ignorance.  I couldn’t be happier.

Dear Identity Thief

This morning started out quietly enough – FB messaging with some friends, dishes, taming an inbox that had gotten out of control and so on.

Chaos was injected when my daughter came down and handed me The House Phone – a cell phone that replaced our land line a few years ago.  She has been using it to text with friends and saw a strange message.
“This looks important,” was all she said.
And it was.  A notice from our cell phone carrier that our account address had been changed.  A few minutes later came another message – a notice that we had been switched to paperless billing.

I quickly logged in to our carrier website and saw that our address was now listed as one in Malibu; email address changed too.  Naturally, I went into character research mode – street view of the address listed, a flickr account with the same username – at the same time, I called our carrier.

I spent the next 45 minutes on the phone with a pleasant customer service rep who sorted everything out – someone had upgraded Tim’s phone for themselves.  She lauded my daughter’s savvy, saying that if we had waited even an hour this would have been a much bigger problem.  Since we responded so quickly, the order had not yet shipped and they were able to cancel it and undo all the account changes.
We were lucky in a few other ways as well – they had ordered an iPhone, Apple requires the shipping address to match the account billing address, if it had been an Android phone we would have had no notification.

My first instinct on seeing the foreign email address was to send them a message.  I had opened a draft even before calling our carrier.  After finishing the phone call and taking some time to think, I decided to go ahead and follow that instinct.
My daughter expected that I would be vindictive – “Haha, you didn’t get me.”  She obviously hasn’t fully absorbed my lessons yet – Violence comes from Pain.

Below is the email I sent:

Dear Identity Thief

Business, then Pleasure

A lot has changed since Deborah and I finally took the leap and started this blog almost 3 years ago.  For me the most notable change is that, 17 years after our breakup, I got back together with my first love – Acting.
And we’re even more in love than before.
Writing and I are still friends, and probably always will be, but we just don’t have the same chemistry Acting and I have.
With my change in relationship status, it seemed fitting to update my Purpose.  I’m not writing the same way I was three years ago.  Now, writing is primarily a way to process experiences and ideas.  I’m still Digging for Treasure in the Caves of the Spirit, but I’ve changed my tools.  As a result, I expect my writing here to be more directly about my own thoughts and experiences and less metaphorizing them through fictional thoughts and experiences.

It was two years ago that my fabulous friend invited me to audition for a musical with her.
What a step that was!
Baggins-style, I put a tentative toe out my front door and was completely swept away.
Dangerous Step

Today, I drove an hour into the city for a 15 minute audition.  NBD.  It’s what I do.
It works.
In the past 2 years, I’ve done 2.5 musicals (sang a song solo in the .5), 3.5 straight plays, 3 short films, 1 feature film and a commercial.  I also did the TalkStory performance that drove so much of last year’s writing.  I even got paid once.
I’ve traveled quite a distance.  And not just to auditions, or even from ensemble to leading lady.  The internal miles are immeasurable – the understanding, uncertainty, healing, struggle, joy, exhaustion, peace, achievement, fulfillment.
I just finished the run of my first principal role in a full length production – Stephanie Dickinson in Cactus Flower.
Yup. This is what I want to do with my life – dissect words into characters and plots and manifest them.  Nirvana.

The end of Cactus Flower was the first time I didn’t feel ready to let go of a role when the time came.  It felt like losing a friend, or a limb.  Too soon.
I wished I had actually written down all the history and personality I created for Stephanie.  I hope I’ll be more diligent about that in the future.  It would be nice to have as both a memento and a reference piece.

Monday, I was mopey and depressed.  Wednesday I grabbed my bootstraps and by Thursday I had flung myself into the next thing – an ongoing bathroom renovation.

Saturday night I got to see a best friend I haven’t seen since before Tech – weeks ago.
As we often do, we shared music, sang and talked.
Our musical wanderings led me to recall an old favorite – Jim Morrison’s A Feast of Friends – and that years ago my brother had discovered that the background song was a classical piece.  All I could remember though was that it was old and Italian.  We despaired of recalling it until I remembered – the internet!  This kind of odd little factoid is what the internet does best.
Nor did the internet let me down.  The song, it told me, is Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor …

…………………..

…….

I know – this means nothing to you yet – but I was reeling.    Albinoni!  The Adagio!
I youtubed it and, sure enough, it was the very video I had listened to repeatedly during character research.
You see, in Act 1 Scene 5, Stephanie visits a record shop (posing as her boss’s wife to tell his fiancee she wants a divorce).  In that scene she falls into a reverie and reveals far more than she meant to.  She blames her ‘gibberish’ on the ‘lovely’ song playing in the background.  ‘What is it?’
You guessed it – ‘Albinoni, the Adagio.’

I still feel a sense of loss as I bury Stephanie, but now I know for certain that I’ll never forget her.
A knot has been tied between her and other threads of my story.

When I shared this story with my brother, he recalled playing with the song on his guitar almost 15 years ago on the ride from his apartment in Queens back to Bucks County with our mom and me.
Another knot.  Life is such a complicated beautiful weave.

Precarious

I’ve always loved old things. I’ve always been intrigued by the way people live in different circumstances from mine. I’m fascinated by their tools and the events that caused them to invent them.
I’ve always thought of all of humanity as a brotherhood. Not just those humans who share my time and location, but all humans.
I’ve wondered who I would be if I had been born in a different time or place. What would be different? What would be the same?
What about that other person? Who would that spoiled princess be if she had been born in a hut in Mesopotamia? Who would that homeless guy be if he had been born to Cleopatra? Is there a frustrated Napoleon inside that internet troll? Or would a true Napoleon find a way to rise regardless of the circumstances he finds himself in at the opening of his story?
It’s similar to the century old question of nature versus nurture – how do our resources affect who we are?

Occasionally, something happens that gives me a practical, rather than theoretical, glimpse at what I would be like in different life circumstances. Today was one of those occasions.

It’s snowing here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Four inches already down and still coming. It’s beautiful.
Schools are closed, people are working from home or not at all. A great day to snuggle up in my heated house and spend some quality time with my kids and the internet, right?
Enter Murphy’s Law.

The girls were sleeping in and my son and I were bumming around together when suddenly we heard beeping. Our house has a ridiculous number of smoke detectors. Seriously, we’ve dismantled half of them for beeping without cause and still have plenty to warn us of any actual emergency. But was this an actual emergency? or just another random beeper?
It took us several minutes to check all the detectors that connect to the main floor – nothing smelled funny, but the beeping needed to be stopped.
Then I opened the basement door.
Smoke!
Wait……. Steam?
Long story short, it turns out the o-ring on our zone valve cracked and hot water had been spraying for some time. We were ultimately able to repair the leak at zero cost despite all the plumbing supply places being closed (due to the snow), but in the three hours between discovery and resolution, I had ample opportunity to contemplate my brothers and sisters in different circumstances.

When water is spraying out of somewhere it shouldn’t, step one is to turn off the water. All the water.
No matter how many times I go through it I’m always flabbergasted by how much life changes without indoor plumbing, something we largely take for granted here in Southeastern PA.

My husband had braved the snow-choked roads to go into the office this morning, so the first hour was spent waiting for him to get home.
While I waited, I decided to load the dishwasher…. Oh, right. No rinsing. Here, Sunshine, lick these plates!
Hmmm. Can’t wash the pots and pans. One was already soaking, but that mac n cheese pot is going to be a beast in a few hours…

What next? My other sink basin was full of some clothes my daughter was soaking. Would be nice to get those taken care of…. but we can’t do laundry. Shoot.
Can’t wipe the counters. Or mop the floors. Um….
I’m hungry, I’ll make eggs!

I cracked three eggs into my pan and turned to the sink…. Oh, right.
I licked my fingers clean.
You don’t worry about salmonella while you’re being thankful that you don’t normally have to haul all your water from outside in buckets.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying my eggs sunny side up with the yolk at that perfect balance of cooked, gelled and runny. This morning’s eggs hit that balance spot on and were delicious.
I picked up my plate with my yolk-drizzled fingers and walked to the sink… Oh, right.
I tipped my plate to at least reduce the egg goo I’d have to scrape off later and looked at my goopy fingers. And then at the soaking pot, full of water. And then at my fingers.
What the heck, I wasn’t going to be touching food again any time soon. I dipped my fingers in the pot water and quickly wiped them on a towel. I thought of my sisters in India. I thought of disease and infant mortality rates.

Somewhere along the way the girls got up. I guess they found a way to get through their morning routines without showers, sinks or flushing toilets. Thankfully they’re old enough that I don’t need to know the details.
I thought of bathing in cold streams. And diapers. And menses.

The house was starting to get chilly. Our house has a hot water radiator system (hence the zone valve that was spewing water), so naturally no water meant no heat. We have a pellet stove too, but are down to one bag. I decided we might need that more later.

After my husband got home and analyzed the leak, he headed to the garage to peruse plumbing manuals. On his way he asked, ‘Can you make coffee?’
‘Sure thing!’ I replied jumping up. …. Oh, right.
I’m a resourceful woman though, I could figure this out.
I eyed my water bottle, already half empty and no telling when I’d be able to refill it with cold, filtered water from the fridge the way I like it. Or any water for that matter.
I sacrificed half of my precious water and it was barely enough for a decent cup. What else….. Ice! We can get by on what’s in the ice maker!
I ripped open the freezer to discover that someone had turned off the icemaker. Sensible in the winter, but meant there was very little ice in there.
My daughter turned out to be way more resourceful than I, she made the obvious suggestion – snow! We’ve got tons of that right now.
I filled the coffee maker, the ice bin and several large tupperwares with snow to melt down for whatever water needs cropped up.

Fortunately, I only had to use the snow one other time. My husband had the o-ring replaced and everything running again before things got … third world.

But as I stood in my (disabled) modern kitchen using snow and a toothbrush to scrub the machine manufactured plate that the o-ring attached to, I thought about how little stands between civilization and primitivity. In this case it was a tiny piece of rubber and easily mended. But the fix isn’t always so simple.

Last spring, my husband lost his job. He managed to pick up contract work here and there, but he was without reliable full time work for 7 months. It was a trying time.
During that time I encountered this graphic –
Bird Trust Wings
It hit me hard.

Here I was wondering if our family was going to end up on the streets. Wondering what we were going to eat. How we were going to stay warm when winter came. Basic primal worries that we hadn’t faced in a long time.
At the same time, I knew that my brothers and sisters in other times and places knew how to handle these things. If I had been raised in a hunter-gatherer culture, I would too.
It made me think what a disservice modern conveniences can be. I looked out my double-hung tilt-in windows, knowing that I must be surrounded by food. Food I didn’t even recognize when I saw it.
I looked at my struggling vegetable garden that I had planted too late and let flea beetles take over. After all, I had thought I would be able to just run to the farm market. My life hadn’t depended on those tomato plants two months before.

Unlike the inspirational bird, we had no wings, because we had been trusting the branch. And the branch was breaking.
We had relied on corporations to provide jobs so that we could go to other corporations to buy food, heat, light. We didn’t know how to provide any of these things for ourselves.
Thank God for the internet! But what if we couldn’t pay our comcast bill? or keep a data plan on my husband’s smartphone?

Our modern conveniences are wonderful. Experiences such as today’s have taught me that I can live without them (as billions of my brothers and sisters have and do), but I would rather not.
At the same time, I wonder if our culture’s struggles with anxiety and depression don’t have a root in this inability to trust our own wings. Our cubicles and ready-made meals are so far from what our wings need to grow strong.
It’s easy to look at our airplanes and computers and disparage ‘primitives’ but those primitives have skills and knowledge we are in danger of forgetting ever existed.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find a way to have both?

Now that our employment situation and o-ring are fixed, I feel secure on the branch again, but I want to flex my wings a bit too. I’m pleased that we didn’t have to call a plumber today, but there’s so much more. I want to learn more about construction and mechanicals; I want to learn about edible and medicinal wild plants. Be more diligent about my vegetable garden. Maybe raise some chickens (in a coop I build myself).
I hope I’ll never need to use those skills, but I’d hate to see them lost.

$10 Job Application

Today I walked into 7-11 and purchased a job application.
Not the typical kind. I’m not applying to work at 7-11.
No, I purchased a Powerball ticket.

A couple years ago, when the Powerball was $500million+, I (and everyone else) started thinking about what it would be like to win that much money.
My first thoughts of course were of the fun – pay off the house and car, quit the day job, take that vacation, wheee! But then what?
I realized that to have hundreds of millions of dollars was a serious thing. I’m not the sort of person who could just blow that on a mansion, a helicopter and some really expensive parties. No, to hold that much of the world’s economic resources makes you a steward of your fellows. It’s not simple financial security, it’s an immediate obligation – a job.
I quickly decided that I didn’t want that job. I wanted to pursue acting, not finance. I didn’t have time for the burden of duty that would come with being a jackpot winner. Winning $10million would be nice, but much more than that? No thanks!

A few giant jackpots have come and gone since then. I continued to fantasize about what life would be like if I did win – I think it’s a good mental exercise – With unlimited resources, who would you be? how would you shape the world? what battlegrounds would you choose? – but I didn’t purchase a ticket because I still didn’t want that job.
The mental exercise though, has yielded some surprising fruit. You can’t think about what you would do with $500million dollars without thinking about what you could do with $500, or even $5. Nothing as drastic, certainly, but why let a little thing like money stop you from changing your life and the world? People who don’t have hundreds of millions do it every day.
My children are also getting older and I am looking at the empty nester years as their own sort of jackpot. Soon I will have all the time a person can possibly have. What will I do with it?

Through these questions I have learned a lot about myself, come to some conclusions (or at least things worth giving a go) and done some dabbling. I’ve been pursuing my childhood dream of acting and gotten enough positive feedback to do it with increasing seriousness.
My husband and I have talked about pursuing another of my childhood dreams – a commune-esque property with room for people who need a roof for awhile.
My husband and I share a passion for education reform and for people who are not ‘mainstream.’ We share a desire to help people in direct, simple, profound ways.
As we’ve gained clarity on these interests and begun to shift our lives toward taking action, we’ve met other people who also share these interests. People who could be indispensable in making our interests real projects. People who bring different skill sets to the table, who are strong in areas where we are weak.

I’m not sure yet what our empty nest and “retirement” years will hold, but I have some exciting ideas.
Ideas that would be much easier to implement with some funding.
Which is why I bought a Powerball ticket.

Today’s jackpot is (only) estimated at ~$300million. Not enough to solve poverty and bring about world peace, but it’s a good start. And if I don’t win the job? Well, I’ve already been building the company from the mail room. It’s no longer a question of what, only of how big.

Madame Spider’s Epic Adventure

It all started with a little spider who was climbing around the edge of my windshield this morning.

I don’t have anything against the spider mind but, like many people, I’m irrationally terrified of spider bodies and can get pretty anxious if I think one might be considering touching me. I wanted to see Madame Spider happy, comfortable and far away from me. Flinging her out the window at 70mph onto 4 lanes of concrete didn’t seem the best solution, so Sarah and I waited for a better opportunity.

I guess Madame Spider had me distracted because we had a tragedy.
I broke my perfect record.
For the first time in 19 years of driving, I hurt a mammal with my vehicle. An adorable but nut-addled squirrel ran right into my front driver’s side tire. The one consolation is that he was hit so thoroughly he can’t have suffered.

– A moment of silence for Monsieur Squirrel –

I was going to leave Madame Spider with Sarah at school, but … the angle of the windshield, the location of my thigh, the cars lining up behind me, the uncertainties surrounding a Hot Pocket wrapper … I just couldn’t make it happen. And Madame Spider had been so well-behaved (squirrels aside) I decided to let her ride with me a little longer.

Construction forced us to take a long way around and Madame Spider and I ended up behind a Frito-Lay truck. As the truck braked in front of us at an intersection the backdoor wobbled violently, very much as if something inside were trying to break out.
Frito, Madame Spider and I all made a right turn together and our next adventure unfolded. Whatever was trying to break out of Frito had succeeded in unlatching the back door which now began sliding up and down quite disconcertingly. I thought again of the violent wobbling and let Frito get farther ahead. Especially on the uphills.

About this time, I became very conscious of how isolated we are in our metal travel boxes. Frito seemed completely ignorant of the threat his backend had become. And I had no means of informing him.
I mentally noted his serial number in case I found myself filing an insurance claim.

Madame Spider had caught scent of my cracked window and was edging that way. I glanced at her and Frito, thought back to Monsieur Squirrel and let Frito pull ahead a little farther still. There was a BMW behind me who wasn’t happy with this move. That is until Frito climbed the next hill and his door slid up a few feet again. Bimmer took a noticeable step back himself at that point.

On a section of particularly dancy curves, Frito’s door came completely open and Bimmer, Madame Spider and I all watched in horror as 6′ tall metal racks full of broken down cardboard boxes began jockeying for the exit.
Despite the disappointing certainty that there would be no free bag of chips in this adventure, I still thought it would make a decent amusement park ride -> uphill = screams of terror, downhill = sighs of relief.

It’s not every day a red light is a happy thing, but one came to our rescue at the bottom of a particularly steep hill. Bimmer, Madame Spider and I breathed (for the first time in miles) as Frito continued on without us. For a few hundred feet ahead until the next light turned red – well up the next hill. One of the racks was making good on his escape plans. He had freed one wheel from Frito and was leaning out at a sickening angle, just waiting for his chance to jump.

Bimmer and my light turned green before Frito’s. We inched up the hill, but only a little.
Madame Spider and I had a brief conversation about how we might get Frito’s attention. Her best suggestion was to pull past him and honk our horn. A lot. But Rack was leaning precariously into our opening. She didn’t gainsay me when I suggested hanging back until we thought of something better.

Then it happened. The light turned green, Frito turned left and Rack jumped right.

Unfortunately for Rack (but fortunately for Madame Spider, Bimmer and me), Rack’s freedom was short-lived. He landed face first on the pavement and there he stayed.
I paused for a moment as I wondered whether I should help Rack to the grass, but Bimmer shook his head and nudged me onward. I gave Rack one guilty glance as Bimmer and I picked up our skirts and stepped around him. Madame Spider retreated into a crevice to look for her smelling salts.

Frito, Bimmer and I each left the crossroads in a different direction. Rack was left to lie there in the middle of Almshouse not dissimilarly from the way Monsieur Squirrel lies in the middle of Edison Furlong.

Madame Spider and I made the last leg of our journey in somber quiet.
She is recovering nicely in her new home – a shrubbery in the library parking lot.
I hope that Rack finds whatever he’s looking for. He earned it.
As for Monsieur Squirrel? Well, I can only hope he’s happily (and safely) foraging in the Great Nut Stash in the Sky.