Bones and Flesh

I stopped hating myself. I don’t know how it happened but one day I called truce over it all. My body is a sloping and curving majesty. Yep, I get that now. I have bulbous toes and a chicken pox scar on the bridge of my nose but I don’t care. I’m reading more and shopping less. Here I sit and write because a friend encouraged me to when all the courage had left me. I am more than bones and flesh. I am a soul and a complicated mess.

I used to eat popcorn for dinner and wine for dessert. My not having a life couldn’t go on so I crashed. Now I deliberately pick up the pieces. Life has an order and peacefulness it never has had before. Yes, I am more than bones and flesh. I have more soul than I am a complicated mess.

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The Clearing

I have these ten fingers. My fingers like to type at night.

My soul is solid, un and mis guided at times but not transparent. It can see into your soul if you stand still.

I have books upon books upon books, upon shelves and shelves. I see I’m never alone.

I have three kids. I see my genes at work every day.

I’ll never be stepped on or left for dead. I always get up and put my feet on the ground.

My lover leers at me. Off in the distance, now near. He offers delicious sex and a place to plant my heart.

I have a nose ring. This proves I’m young and hip even though I’m not.

I see Technicolor dreams weaving before me. Living them out is new to me.

I see with big grey eyes. I can see so far there is nothing that takes me by surprise.

I see I have so much. I’m lucky I’m me.

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Up North

With this post I’m speaking directly to Wisconsin folks, although no matter where you live I’m sure you have your own version of “Up North”. I hope you enjoy this piece I wrote a few years back when I worked for a little local newspaper and still drank. Mostly, I hope it takes you “Up North” no matter where you live!

Up North”. I bet many of you traveled there over the Fourth of July weekend. If not, you’re probably headed there now. Whether you tent it in the rough or stay in a cabin on a lake, I’m willing to bet Up North is where nine out of 10 Wisconsinites spend their summer holidays.

Going Up North is more than traveling to a different physical location, though. If you take a poll asking folks where Up North begins and Down Here ends, their answers would be as varied as Wisconsin’s landscape.

Writer Susan K. Wendorf is one person who agrees with my little assumption. She starts off a refection aptly titled “Up North” with the following observation:

Like a winter chickadee flitting from branch to feeder to fir, Up North refuses to settle down in one place. Up North may be Minocqua or Metonga, Crivitz or Couderay, Shawno or Shell Lake. Up North defies delineation but welcomes discovery, as long as you know what you’re looking for.

Ah, therein lies the question: what are we looking to discover when we head Up North? I think we’re looking for a place that’s not Down Here with all Down Here’s worries and responsibilities. Up North is a place we’re allowed to wander away from it all so when we come back Down Here life’s stresses don’t lead us to wander away from them all for good.

But how do you know you’ve arrived Up North? After all, what’s your Up North is probably not mine. In fact, this past weekend my family and I camped near Mauston and considered “Out West” Up North. If its location is not geographic, how do we know we’re there?

After giving that very question a lot of thought as I sat mesmerized by a Saturday night campfire, I came up with a list of things that may tip you off that you’ve arrived:

1) You get up in the morning and you walk outside missing at least one piece of clothing you find wearing essential at home.

Have you ever found yourself wandering out to the outhouse in the morning without pants? You were Up North. Have you ever worn a bikini top to run to the gas station? Only Up North.

Along these same lines, if “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem” becomes your anthem, you know you’re Up North. (Really, if you find yourself humming any country song you know you’ve arrived.)

2) Sunscreen and bug repellent application become the whole of your daily beauty routine. Bathing between treatments is optional when you’re Up North.

3) Any other activity besides fishing becomes optional Up North. These optional activities include eating and sleeping. However, if you do fall asleep (preferable by a campfire)…

4) Waking up if it’s raining becomes optional. That is, of course, unless you really did manage to nod off in front of the campfire. If you find yourself in this predicament, then you must wake up long enough to grab the nearest beach towel or tarp so you’ll be comfy hunkered down in your lawn chair for the storm’s duration. Getting up just long enough to grab a beer or two isn’t such a bad idea if you find yourself stuck in this spot either.

5) If you become thirsty enough to get off the chair at any point during your vacation, drinking anything but beer is definitely optional Up North. However, a side order of deer jerky is required.

6) The only music you listen to is the melody of the birds singing and the cicadas chirping.

7) Your main source of entertainment comes after the sun goes down while you’re snuggling in the dark with your sweetie–shining for deer of course!

8) The phrase “taking it easy” takes on a new meaning as splitting wood, building a campfire, and pitching a tent are looked upon as relaxing activities and not work Up North.

9) You find yourself questioning your kids when they don’t return from outside full of mud and grime.

10) And finally, you know you’re Up North when you find yourself smiling more over silly things such as your son doing a cannonball off the pier and stressing less about silly things such as getting up “on time”.

At the end of her essay, Wendorf sums up Up North best when she writes, “Down Here is home for now, and I accept that as it must be. But my spirit, my inmost being, pulls me back Up North time and time again, even if the loons call a million songs between my visits. Up North is always worth the wait.”

Thankfully, it’s summer in Wisconsin and nine out of 10 of us don’t have to wait long.

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3 Easy Steps To Raise Your Self-Esteem Now

I don’t care who you are. We all can use a boost to our self-esteem every now and again. The following are three ways I’ve found to be super helpful when I need to feel like I could use some help taking on the world:

1)  Before you roll your eyes, really try repeating affirmations. Affirmations. What can I say? Some people love them. Some people hate them. But the fact is they work. Author Jen Sincero , who penned You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting You Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, says our thoughts create our realities. (Kind of “duh” but not really. Are you minding your thoughts? I didn’t think so.)

Sincero says affirmations are a powerful tool to use when we want to create new lives. Saying things like, “I am the embodiment of joy,” “I now trust myself with every decision I make,”  and a simple “man, do I look fine today!” really can put us in different head space. Try writing three to five affirmations that resonate with you on a note card and carry them with you wherever you go for a week. At the end of this magical week, see how you feel about yourself. I bet it will be at least 100 percent better. (This comes from a woman who was definitely in the eye rolling camp before I tried them for myself.)

2) Rewrite your story. I learned this nifty little trick from life coach extraordinaire Brenda Florida. Florida proclaims she lives life lavishly–a fact that tells you she knows a thing or two about self-esteem. She makes you question, “Why do we let our past ‘mistakes’ determine how we feel about ourselves in the present moment?” She suggests thinking about your past mistakes and then writing about them as you would if you were offering a loved one advice.

Say you made the choice to get divorced and five years have gone by and you are still blaming yourself for making such a crumby decision. (Some people really do regret their divorces. Really, just like night turns into day, it’s true.) Now say this blame is infecting how you see yourself; you see yourself as a poor decision maker loser. Stop right there! Consider your best friend or your child. Would you be so critical over their choice? Probably not. So get a pen and a piece of paper out and start writing your old story down followed by the new. It could go something like this: sure you made a decision you regret. Who doesn’t? You made the right choice for yourself with the information you had at the time. I release myself from feelings of guilt and carry with me feelings of love and joy that only an intimate relationship can provide. In doing this exercise, it takes you out of victim-hood and places you squarely in your power where self-esteem lives.

3) See love and goodness all around you. Tell me this: how can you feel bad about yourself when you feel so damn good about the world around you? This is not to say there are not huge problems in the world that deserve our attention, but holy moly, we can get so wrapped up in these problems that we forget to see all the good surrounding us, too. Seeing the good, be it the smile on a baby’s face, the first ripe tomato of the season, or a young person holding the door open for an elderly one, definitely can lead to a smile on the outside. And when you’re smiling on the outside, you can’t help but to feel good on the inside.

So there you have it, three easy ways to have more self-esteem now. Do you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share? Please comment below!

 

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The Whisper

I have a favorite photo of myself. I’m eight-years-old and it’s Halloween 1983. In the photograph I’m standing on the concrete patio behind my family’s tiny ranch home. To my right is my first soul friend, Nicki, who lived in a duplex across the street. Our costumes are an outgrowth of who we were. She’s a princess, proper and absolutely beautiful in the most delicate way. And there I am next to her as a gypsy—wild, free and fierce.

I’m wearing a black peasant-style shirt with red roses embroidered around its neckline. The shirt was my mother’s, although I don’t ever remember her wearing it. The same goes for the gold hoops dangling from my ears and the crocheted shawl draped around my shoulders. My mother has always possessed tremendous fashion sense, so I can’t imagine her wearing anything so tasteless.

But there I am, her daughter, smiling a radiant smile as I wear my borrowed menagerie of gypsy clothes. I look as luminous as the late day sun.

That day ranks as one of the best of my childhood. On that day I knew who I was. I stood proud, unapologetically unique and beautiful.

In the years that followed my identity would shift and get swallowed up by societal expectations and peer pressure. Like most kids I spent the majority of my middle and high school years trying to figure who I was and where I could fit in. The thing was I couldn’t find a home for my free-spirit. The drama kids seemed too tame and the sports kids seemed too superficial. Not able to find a place to land I dropped out of high school during my senior year. In short order I became pregnant and got married.

The great responsibility of being a new mom and wife further stifled my gypsy spirit. By the time I was 22 I had 3 kids. Looking back I know that was when my gypsy went into complete hibernation. No piece of her could survive the overflow of responsibility and duty one takes on when one becomes a parent.

Years tumbled by. I divorced, raised my children to adulthood and shifted my career from holding odd jobs outside of the home to being a freelance writer. It’s not surprising that as my life became more of my own making the gypsy started calling again.

At first hearing her whisper was as shocking as it was muffled. I tried to pick up her instructions. She would give me simple and explicit tasks to do such as “breathe” and “relax” when I felt stressed out. In the early stages I found her voice annoying because I had “important” things to do. After all even though my days were slower than the once were, I still lived in a world where so many things called for my attention. Texting, responding to emails, researching, shopping and working seem to swallow up all of my time. It wasn’t easy to heed the whisper.

However, over time the whisper of authenticity became louder and more persistent and complex. During difficult times the voice reminded me of holy moments spent hiking in the northern woods and of the peace I found lying on a blanket, cloud-watching in my backyard.  It made me recall the love I put into my garden; long summer hours spent with seeds, flowers and the fruits of my labor. Even memories of the weeds and mosquitoes couldn’t take away the joy I felt. I knew I had been authentically me in these moments.

Living authentically has taught me many things. It required me to be still long enough to catch the gypsy’s whisper as she quietly proclaimed, “Yes, this is me!” Eventually the whisper grew into a voice and the voice became something I couldn’t ignore. And once I got to the place where the voice was heard loud and clear, I started making choices in line with who I was and the values I held. Every choice I made that didn’t honor the voice was the wrong choice to make. Suddenly and inexplicitly I knew this.

Living a life that moves beyond responsibility and duty is really as simple as refusing to spend another day on Earth deaf to the whisper of our inner longings. It’s that simple and is something we inherently knew as children. It’s the people we grew into who forgot.

 

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Bookends

Pinky-purple morning

Dreamy indigo twilight

Days’ silent bookends.

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3 Free Things You Must Do This Summer

Summer is here and before you know it it will be over–especially up here in the Midwest. So what do you have to do to make this summer one you’ll remember forever that won’t put a dent in your bank account? Here are the top three things I thought up:

1) Do one epic thing ( or three or 10!). When I speak about doing epic things I’m not necessarily talking about taking a month long hike along the Appalachin Trail or swimming with the dolphins off the coast of California. (Plus, doing so would put a dent in your bank account–something we’re trying avoid.) However, I do think you should step out of your comfort zone, whatever that means to you. Have you ever wanted to create a sidewalk chalk masterpiece? Go for it! How about taking a day long road trip to an unfamilar place? Some of the best times I’ve had have been intentionaly getting lost and seeing what I see along the way. Come up with your own list and I guarantee you’ll feel like a new person when you return to your armchair.

2) Relax, don’t do it. Speaking of armchairs, summertime is the perfect time to do absolutely nothing. I mean nadda. I don’t know about you but sitting outside wherever you can sit sipping on a cold glass of lemonade, or a margarita if that’s your thing, is one of the greatest small pleasures in life. Also, have you ever tried stargazing? Even in an urban area you can locate the nighttime sky’s big deals, like the Big and Little Dippers and the North Star. Sometimes doing less is really doing more for your soul than you realize.

3) Spend more time outside than you think you need. If you live in a cold climate like I do, you’re going to want to soak up as much sunshine as possible before fall rolls around. Even if you’re not an outdoorsy person, taking a simple walk around the block or sitting on a front stoop constitutes being outside and getting some vitamin D. If you are an outdoorsy person posssibilities abound. Camping, hiking, swimming, paddle boarding are just some of the fun things you can do while the living’s easy.

Do you have your own list of free summer activities you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

 

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Summer Song

His summer song

A tendril-like sound

In the forgotten garden at the edge of town

I stager among the Technicolor flowers that grow uninhibited

Even though nobody watches

Looping through the fuchsia bougainvillea

Weaving crazy cat’s cradle shapes

I stumble in the shadows

His summer song calls

I move forward

Listen

Pause

And Release as the wild man’s hands catch me

Thunder shudders

Time stands still

His summer song plays on.

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Have Yourself A Sentimental Summer

A few years ago I caught a program on National Public Radio dealing with the age old dilemma a lot of Americans face as summer draws near: what are we going to read when we hit the beach?

Now I don’t take any discussion about what we should be reading when we hit the beach too seriously because I know: a) many of my friends who hit the beach do so with small children making any type of reading besides the back of the sunscreen bottle an impossibility; b) when hitting the beach without small children, all many of us feel up to doing is settling in for a nap; c) the number of people who actually read books, especially at the beach, are becoming few and far between as our phones provide endless entertainment. I dare say the value of good old-fashioned books may be losing ground in hi-tech, rush-rush America.

But as little stock as I place on talk about what we should be reading, I became upset as I listened to the program. Between the woman in publishing toting Americans’ love of the good ol’ summer novel, an angry man, who I’ll call Mr. Angry Eyes to pay homage to a part played by Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story, called in.

In part what Mr. Angry Eyes had to say is the days of the sentimental fluff we Americans call summer reading is dead. His hope for beach going America is they will finally wake up and get serious about their reading in these serious times our country faces.

And just so you get the full jest of what Mr. Angry Eyes had to say, each word came out in the annunciated, arrogant, dooms-day tone only a college professor who should have left the library 20 years ago is capable of developing.

I must say his heavy comment said in its heavy way took me aback. Here I was half-heartedly listening to the recommended reading list of books that will only find their way onto my bookshelf via the library or a good rummage sale and then BAM!–a whole philosophy of life is brought up for question: should we put a lot of stock in “sentimental fluff” or shouldn’t we?

Those who have read my past blog posts may know where I stand, but to be somewhat fair to Mr. Angry Eyes, let me ask the leading question anyway: what else is there to live for if you’re not living for the sentimental fluff?

Can you relate to the following scenario: you get up, you pour yourself a cup of tea or joe into the terribly adorable mug your son made in his first art class, and read the sentimental blog called Homebody Press. You wake the kids, you brush your daughter’s nappy hair, you settle a fight or two before you even start your work day in the office or in the home.

You work, you catch a quick conversation or song that melts your heart, you work some more, and then you settle in for the night after attending yet another choir concert or baseball game.

You go to bed exhausted but are pretty sure you handled your life, for that day, to the best of your ability. You pray to do better tomorrow. Definitely not the serious stuff of high literature but it’s life. And in my book, real life, is made up of these teeny sentimental moments.

So if the very nature of real life is sentimental, the question then becomes: what other way is there to live? Well, if you wish, you can live a life in serious pursuit of serious things. As Mr. Angry Eyes, you can live each day with the thought in your head that your life is bookmarked by your birth and your death. You can take your birth and death quite seriously.

You can wake up with the Times and shake your head in disgust over the terrible state of the world and pour yourself a cup of fine breakfast tea or coffee (spiked with cognac) into a fine cup. The nanny can wake the kids–the kids with the perfect hair who never fight–and you can head off to academia, to solve part of the world’s problems before your time on earth is done.

In fact, you can work so hard at solving the world’s problems that you miss the conversation, song, choir concert, and baseball game.

Before settling in for the night you can pour yourself a martini and consider listening to NPR in the morning. You know if they’ll be taking up a serious topic like a summer reading list, you’ll be calling in. After all, you have an opinion.

The great thing about living in America is we can chose the way we want to live, about the way we can live. If we want to be a stuffed shirt and tell those about to set off on a well-deserved vacation they should be reading about abortion and immigration and terror–the serious topics in these serious times Angry Eyes could have referred to–we can be a stuffed shirt.

We can also choose to be revolutionaries who take our pursuit of liberty and happiness seriously. We can start by applauding all the small moments in life that lead us to having a civil society in light of all the ugliness found much to readily in the world.

Now I’m not suggesting we should all become oblivious to what’s happening in the world in order to delude ourselves into being happy people. I am suggesting in between worrying about universal health care, climate change, and human rights we are entitled to read “sentimental fluff” that reminds us of all there is to cherish between our birth and our death.

Even though I may not be hitting the beach with a book recommended by NPR this summer, I cherish the idea that there are still some of us sentimental Americans out there who will be.

May the Universe bless us all.

 

 

 

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