Category Archives: The Fire Swamp

how I stare death in the eye and laugh at him; from the pits of despair, the dark side, hanging out the bloomers

Cape for Sale

“I would like to crawl into bed and watch Nip/Tuck. Then you tell me how long it will take for me to stay there until I can wake up and have it all fixed. In fact, that would be a great iPad app!” She laughs again, My Paid for Friend (may she live forever!).

“If I were to talk to my fellow clinicians, I would describe you like this: a 44 year old woman, with three school-aged children. Then I would start in on all of the clinical stressors. Divorce, loss of status, loss of identity, loss of financial stability, radically shifting community, dramatic change in spiritual structure (not relationship, but certainly the structure), health issues that have been unpredictable and rendered you for weeks at a time unable to even move. The only fixed piece you have right now is your staying connected with your kids emotionally. My peers would ask how much medication you are on.”

I felt great because in her professional opinion, I am doing well with my kids and that I’m not on medication (other than Nip/Tuck). She was trying to make the point that it is reasonable for me to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, cornered and scared right now. All I got was that she recognized I was maintaining pretty well with my kids. Gawd, I love my delusional survival skills and emotional shunting expertise!

I don’t think I know who I am. I don’t know what I want.

Bottom line: I am trying to figure out what I have to do to do the least amount of work to get back to the place where I can coast. I think coasting looks like going to the gym and watching Nip/Tuck, maybe add in sitting in bookstores sipping lattes and blogging.

I miss being able to say, “I’m the owner of ________,” and having that statement buy me purchase in the social structure, replete with the perks of awe and favor-currying. If I ever gave you the impression I actually have moral character, I apologize for defrauding you. The narrator who lives in my head and manages most of my internal dialogue appreciates the experience I had there as the owner of a business, as an employer, as a bright shiny person in a land of plenty. It desperately hopes we can be back there someday, it and I.

There is a strange tension. My soul is full, generous, welcoming and unfamiliar with judgment, largely because of the choices I have made to wake back up and the toll that transition is taking. But in the physical, all the things that allowed me to feel full and generous, welcoming (money, resource, property) no longer exist. Guess we’ll see if the soul of the woman is what she thinks it is, hopes it is, really wants it to be. Though the moral landscape feels murky, the lessening of judgment is a relief. There’s something!

So today’s assignment is to become aware of Black & White thinking which, apparently, is not grounded in reality. I have skills but they are not honed. I have intelligence but so do other people. I am the youngest and I am used to being taken care of and now I have to grow up, and that pisses me off. I am mourning my dying dream of being able to live the superhero fantasy life without commiserate work. Such sad disappointment that we (ex and I) were so close to having it all. That our combined character and lack of skill, baggage and communication got us to this place. And how to rebuild from here.

She points out that there is a possibility that I might at some point meet some rich guy who is charmed by my stunning personality and can take the financial piece of this away. “Certainly that is a possibility,” I say, “but if I do that now and don’t do this hard work to push through this self-doubt, then I will be right back where I started, and I have gone too far now to let all this upset be for nothing. The power dynamic there is too unbalanced until I know I can do life well by myself.”

I say structure and known’s are for pansy asses, weak people. She applauds my ability to cope with tremendous uncertainty (spectacular, she said) but insists that that belief needs to crawl into a hole and die (my words, not hers). I burst into tears thinking about giving up freedom. She says giving up freedom in small doses for a larger good can be a healthy thing to do–that I won’t feel trapped forever and that I won’t have to give up the essence of who I am if I incorporate elements of normal, of good enough into my life. I hear her words through a dense fog and discern only tendrils of light that feel vaguely trustable. I want to vomit. She is encouraged that I am feeling. Youngest child is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I don’t know if I will ever get to a place of peace with my life. I feel more clarity than ever but because of that clarity, I feel more unsettled than ever. I feel like I have taken on the mantle of test case for people that are unhappy and want to do something different in their lives but don’t know if they have the courage to make the changes. My life as an object lesson.

An acquaintance who has been watching my process unbeknownst to me for the last two years asked me yesterday if I was happier, what led me to finally take the bold step to blow up my life, was it worth it. It’s made him ask himself tough questions about his own life. That validates my quest in a small part. Not that there’s another family about to implode, but that those of us out there aren’t alone as we are looking for breath and life and hope. It just doesn’t come without cost. Without pain.

So it’s back to the cocoon with me. I’ll take forays out, fling some interaction around, come back inside and chat with my narrator. Black = I live in a vortex of doom and will have seriously compromised freedom systemically for the rest of my existence. White = I must have everything I want at the same time with no pain or struggle. I am to be on the lookout for how our conversations (narrator and I) frame things in these blacks and whites. I am encouraged to introduce quiet little suggestions of a life that’s okay in the very mundane and normal, without real need of superhero, though it makes me vomit in my mouth to entertain the notion. These are delusions I have known and called comfort.



Writing from the cocoon today which I find to be quite challenging with these little stubs for wings. Yet I quest.

Yet I attempt to quest.

Helluva week. A wonderful woman who was becoming a dear friend was killed tragically in an accident this last week. I am angry at her for dying because I wasn’t done with her yet–I didn’t get enough time to know her. One of my roommates was among her best friends; as a result of the surreal experience of being with my roommate as she has been working through the loss of the friend she knew very deeply, I have become to know them both better. What an honor to watch my roommate be present and protect and honor and question her friend–her life, her struggles and her victories… It has been an exercise in seeing what being–BEING–looks like. Watching someone mourn and guard a life that will be greatly missed and is now finished.

Took my kids over to Central Oregon for the memorial. We ended up staying a couple extra days, playing hooky, burying horseshoes in piles of volcanic dirt, eating Cheetos and swimming. Despite the fact that I had no where I needed to be, I found it nearly impossible to just BE with them. Granted part of this is that the little critters wake up at Dawn’s Crack ready to rumble while I stroll into cognition somewhere around 11 AM, long after I’ve somehow stumbled through the requisite production of a morning meal and clothing ritual. But even after 11, I find that I have to fight to stay in my skin. What is that about? Why do I have to fight to show up in my own life? I don’t get this, and it may sound simplified, but it seems like maybe this is a critical piece of this answer I seem to be seeking: voluntarily, I must remind myself. Since I still have the gift of this life, how do I actually show up to participate in it? Almost a pressure to live more fully and connectedly knowing that there is one fewer live-ers left.

But not my kids. They are right there. Beautiful sunny day–afternoon, so I’m starting to habitate. We’ve eaten again (geez: I fed y’all yesterday!). I’m sitting on a picnic bench watching them become dust monkeys in the horseshoe pit, barking motherly reprimands like, “Quit aiming that at your brother’s head” and what not. Matt mosies over and lies down on the bench next to me, his head in my lap. I start stroking his hair and am just looking at him. Here’s what he says, “This is perfect, Mom. You are my pillow. The sun is my blanket. And this bench is my bed.”

Not gonna lie: I burst into tears.

How proud am I that he is comfortable in his skin?! That he can get out of the dust and recognize a moment of life and pull me back into it on a picnic bench? I am partially responsible for that–the X chromosome and all–and that is incredible! Redemptive. I want to be comfortable in my skin like that. I want to live in such a way that I recognize comfortable pillows, can make blankets out of sunshine, and find flat places that make great beds. I want to do this for him. For all my kids. For Lorri Sipe. For me.

You are my pillow, the sun is my blanket, and this bench is my bed.


The Many Faces of Eve

Weird dream last night. Integration of this week’s internal rumblings?

Crumbling building. Old educational facility, research, campus building. I’m one of the last there, and I have been its caretaker. There is a threat to this building, and we need to vacate. I’ve assigned other characters to get out, get others out, get stuff we’ll need out. I am trying to make sure everyone is cared for. Progressively more risky inside the building; there are three of us left. One character, Master Processor, Thinker is in a research room toward the back. There is a ladder leaned against the front door, so I’ll have to slide out under it when the time to leave comes. I know Master Processor needs to stay with the building—can’t come with the rest of us. I’m pulling off a stealth move, timing-wise. Need to keep him in that building but I need to get out too.

There is a third person with me, not sure who it is. Mixed feelings about this person. (Intimacy?) I’m trying to maneuver it so he stays behind too. Not connected with this person’s thoughts, but he has been helping a little bit with logistics. More concerned with Master Processor—feel really close to him and grieving that he has to stay behind. It’s keeping me in the building. I feel sad / guilty to leave him.

I’m ready to leave though—need to leave, getting ready to step under the ladder to get out the door. I look back one last time through a small hallway to see the Master Processor in the back room. A small room with heaps of specimen drawers and gobs of light provided by the exterior ceiling high windows. He’s been struck by something in the head and I see under the wound that he is an artificial intelligence.  A feeling-less robot. I know in an instant that he is both about to face ‘death’ and that he is beginning to process death. I have been worried about him and what will happen to him, but he feels enlivened to have such a worthy challenge. Like the coolest opportunity to process ever: what gets bigger than analyzing death? I feel deep peace that he is completely in his element with no regrets. He’s served me well, and I appreciate him, but I have to go now. Deep respect for this emotionless part of me that cannot come forward.

I get into a car to drive away. The third person has walked out onto the steps of the building. I am trying to get away in a way that he can’t see me. I feel ambiguous about him. There is a girl in the passenger seat. She is happy to see that (feels like) a kid – someone she is fond of–made it in with us. This kid jumped into a trailer being towed behind the car in front of us. It just feels risky to me. Awareness that I am wanting to run this operation really lean and other pieces feel like more responsibility while I am trying to escape a pending threat. Seems that by stopping to let the kid in, by following the passenger’s desires, that the third person from the building might see us. He does and begins heading our way–I know he’ll catch up with us. I feel really conflicted about bringing him along. Secretly pleased, which surprises me, because I realize I didn’t think he’d want to come along. It doesn’t feel quite right–not entirely at peace with this new turn. Lots of moving parts right now.

I realize I don’t respect my passenger very much: she feels weak, but she’s part of my convoy.






Take a Seat–We’re Going In

Today, I am going to save you thousands of dollars in counseling fees. If you can bear to dwell here for a moment, you may benefit greatly. And be disquieted greatly. My hope is that you ARE disquieted and that that challenges you to think hard thoughts and that those bring you great catharsis and, thereby, benefit. Sit down and take off your shoes. We are about to enter set apart ground…

The anatomy of our real Achilles-heal problems stem from stories we tell ourselves. These stories are  stealth mysteries. Their formation is unconscious; it goes undiagnosed, unrecorded, uncelebrated, and generally unchallenged. Their existence is neither good, nor bad: it simply provides the structure from which we make sense out of our worlds. The stories themselves, though, have almost magical power for all of us. They are the paradigms which provide the architecture for our thoughts.We form them really young–before we could possibly be aware of them, and our beliefs, decisions, integration of our experiences, and thus destinies can be traced back to them. A logical conclusion for someone willing to live intentionally and authentically, then, would be to examine one’s story/ies.

Imagine how a kid would grow up whose story went something like this: “My needs are met. When I suffer pain, someone helps me put it in perspective and is there to comfort me. The people who love me enjoy being around me. Sometimes I go sideways and my people love me enough to help me get back in line. I have something to offer. I matter. And belong.” Or imagine that kid’s neighbor, “My people are so involved in their stuff that they scarcely know I exist. I don’t know where my next meal is coming from. I don’t have the skills to cope with life yet, and I might die if I can’t figure this out. If I ask for help, I may be ignored or ridiculed. I am in the way.”

One story makes us feel solid and healthy, proud of that kid’s people. The other story makes us feel like vomiting and calling child services. Both of those kids will grow up. The kids will develop beliefs, make decisions, integrate their experiences, and create destinies. They will choose mates and be parents and citizens. I imagine the shapes of those purely hypothetical stories will have an impact on each kids’ entire sphere of influence. What kinds of mates will they choose? What will be the plot-worthy conflicts in their grandkids’ stories?

Two points on a big bell curve to be sure. We are all on the bell curve.

My story is closer to the second kid. There was an undeniable sense of belonging, but it was overshadowed by two emotionally vacuous parents. I love my mom and we get along really well now. She is available like she wasn’t when I was little. We have had tremendous healing. My dad and I made peace a long time ago. Did they do the best they could have? No. Did they do what they did? Yes. Did they love us? Yes. Were they effective parents adept at raising healthy, emotionally mature kids? God, no. But this is not a pity party: this is a hard and honest look at my story, and I hope that by me examining my uncomfortable bits in the public square, you will feel encouraged to take a peek at your own in a way that provides an opportunity to maybe rewrite those stories whose plots aren’t working so well anymore. If you haven’t noticed, that’s what I am doing. I am not going to be a hapless circumstance of my own story. The buck stops here because I am not going to pass unexamined toxicity on to my kids. I will do my level best to let them know their worth.

Stick with me. Changing gears to get to the destination–that was the backstory…

I made a deal with YHVH when I was very young. I just figured this out in the last couple weeks, but here is the deal I made. “I know that I have a message to share. I recognize that I have been gifted with the ability to cipher this painful soul stuff. I suspect that this gift of awareness and creativity comes at a high cost. I believe that it will require me to be alone, without a soul mate. I accept the circumstance that I am in because I essentially have no choice, but here is the deal. You will give me long life because I have suffered enough already, I will not have to die.”


How about that?!! What a sophisticated little kid I must have been. Probably before I could write the alphabet (HATED not being able to write yet–should have been an indication!) I was negotiating my immortality and my measurement of suffering with the Creator. I internalized the belief that I would be required to do ‘it’ ‘right’. And in exchange for doing ‘it’ ‘right’, He would grant me freedom from further suffering and death. Just haven’t been able to figure out what ‘right’ looks like or what ‘it’ actually is…

Gotta admit it takes balls!

But there has been a growing disquiet in my soul. It is the gut-wrenching truth that we all face. It is the stuff that makes grown men buy sports cars and take mistresses. It is the stuff that makes married women leave unfulfilled marriages and return to their creative source. It is why addicts use. It is made up of more than one thing. It is the fact that we are all going to die, no matter what deals we have made. It is the fact that no amount of perfection in the future can make up for stains on the past. It is the heavy realization that in both eternity past and earthly future we are mixed bags. It is the recognition that we cannot strive our way into perfection and if we could, that perfection would not ensure immortality. It is knowing that no amount of understanding can lessen the impact of life’s sufferings.

It is being told that the normal progression of emotional maturity is being able to experience and integrate growing numbers and severities of blows and still maintain until we eventually die. And the devastation THAT leaves: you mean I am just finally willing to admit my escape-from-suffering-deal was a ruse and the numb I have used to prop up the delusion will give way to growing numbers and severities of blows until I eventually die? All the while my little-kid belief still thinks suffering, all by itself, will bring immediate death? That is a lot of death to take on in one day!

These lessons hurt me. I am grieving deeply. My spiritual rubric certainly helps intellectually but at the deep soul kind-of-emotionally-retarded part of me, it hasn’t ameliorated that fear. Nevertheless, I have not given up on making deals. And here is the deal I am making–or at least the determinations I am making. I am going to be a Samurai–maybe a ninja. If death is really the biggest fear that we can face, then I am going to stare him square in the eye. And I will neither show fear nor blink. Not being afraid of death requires living fully. Participating in our days. Loving our people and letting them know they matter to us and that we are richer for knowing them. Reaching out to new friends. Taking risks. Dreaming. Creating. Daring to hope–skepticism takes no courage. Either / Or doesn’t flip death the bird–it just takes the joy and discovery out of life, so down with either / or and up with both / and.

These are the thoughts of a spirit wrapped in a human as it grapples with the tension between the two.

I really appreciate you reading this one, whomsoever you may be. I hope you feel gutted and yet encouraged. Well, at least NOT alone 😉






Celibacy = Improved Dental Health, A Professional Opinion

I wore my camo jacket symbolically today.

  1. I am hiding and you can’t see me.
  2. I do not particularly feel like presenting in the feminine.
  3. While I may not be ready for battle, I am certainly on stealth recon.

I also have no cavities which is great news because as of 10 days ago, I also have no dental insurance.

So like chicks are wont to do, I made best friends with my hygienist. What else ya gonna do when a skilled person with sharp tools approaches your mouth? Before the festivities began, I may have uttered something snotty and remotely cynical about a particular non-female gender. Not that I am a man hater, but I am cynical today. Cynical to the point that I am wearing camo and being snotty about the non-female gender.

I have a dear friend who is a retired policeman. He introduced me to glocks. This is not going postal, and there is a chance it could sum up tidily, but for the moment, allow me some James Joyce. I contacted him and asked him if there were any gun shows that I could help him with this weekend. You see, he is kind and gentle and very very grandfatherly. Protective, supportive, entirely safe, and he has taught me how to clean and dissemble and reassemble a glock. There is an undeniably awesome feeling about being at a gun show as a woman and being able to do this. Also, there are reasons that I am turning to my conservative roots this week.

So Earl is a rockstar, but the show is in southern Oregon, so this weekend is a no go. Wow, totally didn’t mean to go off on Earl. Think the connection was the camo… Where was I? Oh, yes, my new hygienist friend. I explained briefly, the symbolism of the camo. Deconstructing the pieces of midlife to its rock core and rebuilding. Since her pokey tools were in my mouth and it didn’t appear possible I would be doing much of the talking, I asked her to explain how it came to be that she had found herself married three times and now dating her third ex-husband. She explained that he was kind of controlling and she was kind of independent and they worked better when they were NOT living together. This made sense to me in a far off way–not like dating my ex but like the concept of being kind of intimate with someone but not exactly living with them. Down the road. Far, far away.

And where was I going with that? Oh, yes, so the dentist comes in as we are giggling conspiratorially about what not–a young woman in her maybe mid-thirties. Small children. First husband. She suggested (since I am a certified member of the lifetime achievement society in ardent somnolent teeth grinding) that perhaps I jump back on the night-time tooth guard wearing wagon. I mentioned that mine was a bit tight. Hadn’t been wearing it lately. We all then brought her over to the camo and not-quite-man-bashing cynical mid-age women topics which had previously ensued.

“That is terrific. Goodness even. With men out of your life, you may now avoid root canals and embrace excessive drooling because you will be wearing your bite guard.” It was kinda bossy, but that is a power-reframer right there, that lady. Learned a lot today…. She suggested I nearly boil my bite guard and put it in my mouth really gooey so that it will reform to my current bite. Sometimes things need to get boiled to the point of really gooey before they fit and function well in new circumstances.

If that didn’t work, I had an appointment on Thursday to get a new bite guard made–I was going to ask if they came in camo. It did work, as it turns out, and I wear it now. I am not drooling. Neither do I feel fetching. I have no cavities; but you still can’t see me.

Red Pill: Really?

Good Lord, what was I thinking?

Remember that moment when I was lying in bed, exhausted, having woken up to my ex checking my homework to see if I had completed some task of minutia which he knew I hadn’t and having just been told to Fuck Off after midnight that same day after watching a documentary about our bastardized food supply? He had kindly suggested that it was my unilateral responsibility to change our family’s diet. If memory serves he was looking for a raw, alkalarian version of our at the time standard American fare. I may have spoken up and  suggested perhaps he take some responsibility for our lives and quit blaming me for everything and that the allegation that our very healthy children were always sick was a bit of hyperbole. Not met with agreement. That was the night I rolled over, knowing I had quit my marriage. It doesn’t sound so intense in the retelling but it was a big day.

My decision has been recontextualized into a new age desire to find myself, a story in which my ex gets to play the part of hapless, heartbroken victim. The faithful of the fold think they encourage when they mention that it is not theirs to judge, YHVH hates divorce, afterall… I suspect He doesn’t feel too fondly about a whole lot of things that go on in marriages either though. The power plays, the coldness of heart. Hopefully He’ll forgive me if the devoted groom metaphors don’t pack a real punch for me in this chapter.

Have I been bitter? I don’t think I have, and yet today I am feeling a little pissed off. I am the primary target of my angst as I got myself into the situation that I did, and I’ve always been pretty effective at taking the load: if I take the load, then somehow I serve humanity in a greater sense? Dear Society, you are welcome. Mortality figures prominently, and the grand family arranger in the sky who decided that I belonged with this particular set of neglectful dysfunction can’t help but make an appearance.

Mortality: let’s pretend that I make it to the place of peace and healing where I am able or willing to consider the possibility of letting someone else in–someone emotionally available, someone say, not married… I will be, well, saggy with nipples. My good bits will be even droopier. Kevin Bacon made a sage observance about the grace we have as humans where our looks give out about the time our eyesight begins to decline. Makes me chuckle, but doesn’t help a lick! We’ll circle back to this little gem of insight eventually.

My family of origin. The upside is that we laugh–there is bonding in surviving hell together. I have gone kayaking with my sisters and we marvel that two run of the mill people (parents) could, without evil intention, spread so much crap down the behavioral gene pool. Mom says she is proud because all of us kids turned out so well–clear sign of her hands-off brilliance. What Mom can’t put together is that we were all so busy raising ourselves and trying to figure out life with no adult supervision or emotional context that we were terrified to do anything wrong. Survival started early for us; numb was our tool.

So I’m mad at YHVH for putting me in a family where I didn’t learn how to be and make healthy choices; I’m mad at myself for not having been able to rise above that, and I’m mad at mortality that by the time I figure it out, my youth will be gone and I’ll have bowel obstructions to wrap my concerns around. Where do I go from here?

And guess what? I don’t know. I am cornered, trapped, and plundered. I have nothing to offer and no strength to give it from. I am done. I am alone. I am weak. I. Am. Exhausted. The contents of my life consist of four jigsaw puzzles spilled on the ground and jumbled into a mess. My job is to sort them out. My deep and intense desire–every fiber in my BEING SCREAMS to sweep them all up into a pile and throw them into the trash and go buy a new puzzle. But for the first time in my life, I am not going to do that.

Guess what else? This is not from my marriage. This is from the bullshit I brought to MY side of the street of my marriage. Leaving my marriage was a healthy choice for me, but it did not solve this mess that came with me when I joined it and when I left it. It got rid of auxiliary mess that I was able to cloak my mess with for quite some time, and I do have great kids as a result… I have reached that point in the Matrix where I kinda wish I’d chosen the blue pill though I’ve already swallowed the red pill. It is the brave choice, this red pill; it was the right choice. But the thought of organizing a rebellion, ferreting out the traitors, and sourcing goods for the mission from a place of plundered and cornered, at times, does not appeal.

Today is one of those times.