Impressionist Stories


If poems are to story what Impressionism is to landscape, here I’ll dabble in the mixtures.

What if I just wrote a little scene with glimpses of light and feeling, brush strokes of an ordinary day?  It probably won’t count as a story.

It may not peer deeply into a psychological truth, or reveal a flash of insight. But perhaps today I have a craving for something simple to mellow out the stressfull thoughts, like a balm applied to the scattering of randomness that seems to dominate my mental state since putting certain apps on my phone.

And so being this distracted, there’s no story here.

Just a few little moments.

I walked outside on a familiar bustling street, the wind in my face, in my hair.  Jeans on my legs, cotton flannel on my chest, back and arms. To walk was liberation.  I was alone. Strides long, energy high, I felt everything, the muscles in my body working as if I were a little horse. Forward, fast and free.  I came upon the bookstore before I was ready to stop walking in this air so charged with alive-ness, feeling bliss, feeling high on low temps. A northerner can be once again at home when the breeze whips up into something like gusty blows.  But there was the doorway.  Overhead, the tree planted in the sidewalk commanded me to enter, slaping her branches together and smacking the air with her leaves.

Inside, I was captured in the house of words, a home warmly lit and scented with spices and coffee, the schhhuuup of the frother matching my inhale. The volume of everything living had been turned down, as if the golden light shushes us low talkers into meditative listening.  We are here to read.

And I become a bee.  The pollen seeking begins.  Odd contrasts bring me to myopic inspection and I land on something unexpected.  A case for negative thinking appears among the positive psychology books.  This wry kind of humor is the edge that delights.  It reminds me of my love for Richard, who would have written such a book, given more free time.

Can negative thinking bring us to joy?

Example from the book: A bear pops out of the woods on the trail you are hiking. Be happy or get mad?

Get a little mad, be firm, and talk to the bear as if you are the boss of this universe.

Your joyful reward?  Passage.  Freedom to keep hiking.  An intact, uninjured body and the sudden miracle of that.

Joy was in this new awareness…hey! I have this fleshy body with skin holding everything in, and isn’t this the most amazing and wonderous miracle?

I didn’t get that joy from thinking happy. I got it from being pissed off to be interupted so rudely. Get off my trail, bear. You didn’t cut down this section of brush.

After that, the titles didn’t seem to interest me much. It was time to go back out into the fresh gray afternoon, where the wind found my face, rushing in to kiss it. A little hungry, I looked for a place to eat.  A man inside the sandwich shop told me his favorite uncle just died and he was heartbroken. I wanted to tell him that I related to grief, about how going back into the world of people and work was such a surreal detatched experience, and that my body felt as if I were walking underwater.  I may have said a few comforting words, then took my sandwich back outside, a little less bouncy, a little heavier with feeling. But the wind pushed, and I heeded her swift call.









Peace Metaphors and Worry about Losing the Lonely

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Something inside is missing.  I recognized it this evening, when for a brief time I embraced some precious solitude to feel the warm air  under the stars. Looking out into the darkened yard, I felt around for it like an old man searching his pockets for a squashed pack of smokes, who realizes that there’s none to be found.  Instead of cigarettes, I searched for evidence of my lonely ache.

But it had vanished, leaving only a trace memory of existence.  Like remembering a time when you were really hurt, but no longer feel the pain as you recall the experience.

Maybe since adolescence that ache has been with me like the steady, ever present beating of my heart.  It keeps a rhythm that marks the passing of months and years, a chronic condition of living.  We all share this loneliness to a certain degree,

being individuals.

At times the presence of this loneliness has enlarged and risen to a chest squeezing, hollow stomach, homesick yearning for something nameless and formless, perpetually out of reach.  If only I knew what was missing, I would go in search of it to end the ache.  Who could I call?  What would I say? I am missing someone or something, some ideal?  Have I missed some calling that would fill in the hole, if only I would be brave enough to simply do what inspires me most?

So instead of running and dancing around in the dark, barefoot in the grass under stars– celebrating the absence of loss, infused with giddiness to be unexpectedly liberated from the lonely shadow,

I worried.

What would it do to my writing?

Isn’t lonely the reason I write? Isn’t it the absence of companion and that quiet solitary feeling that propels me into this alternate form of expression?  These days it seems I’m talking so much to people that there might not be any need to reach for the pen and give a thoughtful response to the day’s events.

But as I felt around the pockets for my packet of lonely, I hit upon the shape of another memory: an occasion to reflect, a moment I wanted to capture as if I were taking a photograph.  It was a mental still shot from the day’s earlier walk, an image that brought calm and peace and quiet to my head; significant enough to make me want to mark it down for later; a scrap of afternoon to use in a poem.

If anyone were to ever ask me to name one metaphor for peace, I can now say that peace is the wake line behind geese swimming in acute angles; the strands of traveling light on the surface that follow their random curiosity.

Migration is happening here now, and the lake is full of these back and forth streams of light behind the graceful swimmers.  If you can find your way to a shore near sunset when the lake gets luminous, your day has magic. Your day has awe. Your afternoon has brought you to the awareness that your life in this moment is completely effortless.  You can just stand there and breathe and observe. There you’ll find the space to release the effort and striving of the day’s need-meeting and want-satisfying.

Everyone should have a pond.

And a sunset and geese.

And friends like mine.

Biodegradable Anger, Compostable Pain


I once wrote a short poem:

“my heart is a trampoline.

you can jump up and down on it

and I will bounce right back.”

Perhaps that’s not always true.

In fact, it’s just a thing I say to carry on.  The real truth is that my heart also contains a little landfill,

where the buried anger has not quite broken down all the way.  The polymer residue of events and conversations that challenge my tolerance and patience, that cover up the kindness, are like the plastic in the real landfil;

here to stay, it seems.

And somehow I think it’s my job to clean things up. You know, to be healthy and happy.  Just for the sake of relief and enjoyment.  Maybe this is the job of every person, not just mothers tending home and babies. We’re used to cleaning up messes.  Especially the kinds of messes that return every day, like dirty socks to wash and crusty pots to scour, and cat pee— (give that one up!  Only fire works.  And maybe rainwater, but I’m still testing that experiment.  Perhaps acid rain is the main ingredient in Nature’s Miracle.)

Like plastic and animal urine, or war and violence, pain and anger are going to be with me, likely until near the time of my death, when the only thing I can do is give up the exercise of living.  Wouldn’t it have been better for me to give those things up long before that moment?  Maybe it could happen.  That I could achieve a state of enlightenment so brilliant that all of my suffering was disintegrated by luminescent love and gratitude.

I secretly wish for that, but let’s be real for a second: has anyone like that ever existed?  Even Jesus was throwing around tables in the synagogue.  If only I had a table to throw.  That  would be such a relief.

I used to be a ruminating smoker. Here are two of the most unhealthy means of processing anger:  to ruminate brings severe depression, as thoughts circle until there is no way out of the labyrinth, bringing an acute sense of hopelessness, desperation and dependency. To smoke brings loss of life.

Somewhere along the way I was able to put down the cigarettes.   I remember how I did it.  First I started taking a pill that masked the nicotine receptors in my brain, and second, I took up sewing.  Hopeless, empty hands needed a new set of motions.

Over time, I began to feel significant relief from the hopelessness.  What I learned and what I can say with confidence is that anger is biodegradable, even when it regenerates afresh.  But first, it needs to go through processing.  It belongs in the compost bin, not the landfil.  Once processed in this way, the packaging is much more convenient to life.  The processing and composting of my pain involves five specific themes:

The first is a focus on something totally unrelated to the current pain.  Distraction works on toddlers, and apparently also on me.

The second involves a physical activity that accompanies the focus.

The third is a challenging and tedious mental activity that is enmeshed in the focused task.  It’s going to need to be something that takes time—stress chemicals will remain and operate under the surface of everything I do, and leak into conversations and relationships.  An activity that allows for some healthy solitude can be incredibly healing.

The fourth is a clearly defined purpose (example: I’m starting with this pile of scraps to make x.)  Working on creative, artistic activities provides a way to temporarily transform the stain, the black spot in my heart.  It also helps to fill the hollow emptiness of loss.  The results of my efforts are kind of like compost: useful for growth.  Fertile elements from darkness.  Incubators for seeds of future projects.

The fifth involves attention to spirit.  Prayer.  Meditation.  Surrender.  If this attention is also accompanied by time in nature, the result is more lasting and uplifting.  I love to be refreshed in nature.

If you want to skip all five steps and get immediate relief in a short amount of time, hard running also has a similar affect.

If only I were at the point in my skill of composting pain to be able to let all things pass straight through.  To let the anger and the pain burn with their toxic chemicals, to be set free of the negative downward pull on my psyche without the physical, material component.

Perhaps that state of being involves the recognition of something I fail to see in the blurry smear of being upset.  Have I, like a stubborn mule, been led to some refreshing peaceful clean water to drink, but refuse to touch my lips to the surface? How have I missed the message? To simply accept a gift of peace; a thing perhaps undeserved but given, the renewable resource like water for the fire.  The message floats up to me now: release.  Do not attempt escape.


I Run to Trosper Pond


I Run to Trosper Pond

Fallen yellow leaves damp and fragrant

make their way by scented droplets

to my inhale.

Down, down, then up the hill on Oak Tree road,

where patches of woods hold space

for squirrels and a canopy

for warblers, hawks and owls.

A blue ream of after the rain sky opens

as I turn the corner,

cumulus and stratus stretch out

in a diagonal, north and


I run to Trosper Pond and there is


Grass tall around a painted mailbox

with a black and white hunting hound,

suspended, mid-leap,

bounding for the pheasant.

I stretch my stride and seek the grass

as a silver compact car

accelerates without concern

that I’m inches from his door.

But why be angry; there is joy

in the near miss…

I live and run on to Trosper Pond,

where a gaggle of new white geese are raising a ruckus

on the gravel path

that leads to the weeping willow

and the rippling surface of the water

so gentle it will embrace the cloud

that has somehow found a way to float there

while also hanging in the sky.

A little A-frame boathouse sits by the empty dock,

inviting me back to those years I wore two braids, and

dad called me injun.

He a descendant of the Cree Nation, a fact hidden

from school and workplace,

passing for white because being a native

in the time of his parent’s short life

was as degrading as being black or worse,

you were dirt–

a drunken vulgar savage

with no rights to live free,

being so poor his mother hid her children

in pickle barrels

from social service tyrants,

who believed poverty was a reason to separate

a family.

I run to Trosper Pond

700 miles and six years after his death

to find him here enjoying this late afternoon light

and these obnoxious geese,

and the dogs who bark at us

all the way home.


The Personal Day

100_7450Yesterday I woke up and decided to take a personal day off.  I claimed the day as “my day” to do whatever I wanted to do, within my means.  Having spent the last two weeks preparing for big day of entertaining, I awoke to an awareness of self in the silent void that fills our home after a party.  Still full of the previous day’s cake and the warmth of old and new friendships, there was suddenly an emptiness; a pause where nothing urgent was anticipated.   It had been a busy two weeks, where simple things like cleaning the house and mowing the lawn were complicated by a sprained ankle, a massive three day sinus headache incurred at the pool, and an irritable monthly cycle.

So I wasn’t feeling physically strong.  But instead of cancelling our party plans and staying in bed with ice packs on my ankle and head and a heating pad on my middle, I worked every day with this thought:  each task is my opportunity for creativity.  Instead of rushing through decorating and seating arrangements, I savored the process.  Then, I repeatedly challenged my inner critic who told me that my work was amateur, imperfect and cheap.  I told the critic that I’m not perfect and that no one expects me to be perfect.  Perfection makes guests uncomfortable.

Real is comforting.

The party was a great success.  We were all enriched and loved and entertained.  A new life is on the way for a very loving young couple and being a part of that hopeful expectation was a privilege and a gift.

And just like it happens with visits from family who eventually leave to go back home, the space that our friends filled was once again, space.

How often have I said the words “today is mine to do as I wish?”  So rarely that I am unable to recall the last personal day.  Even my husband who works at a large company is allowed several PTO’s.  I suppose it’s a very tricky thing for me to take a day off when I live in the same place I work.  Taking time off is something that only seems to happen if I leave the house for a day or a weekend trip.  But what happened yesterday was a shift and a challenge to that perception.  There is a way to detach and reframe.  Isn’t it true that since I’ve been given a life to live, every day is my personal day?

Because it’s the only life I have to live?

Today is mine to live as I wish, as is tomorrow, and the next, and the next after that.  And if what I’m doing no longer serves my basic needs for survival or my spiritual longings, I can make changes.

This leads to the question of how much I “own” my life.  How much of each day  is mine to choose, and how much is dictated by my responsibilities? What portion of my time is spent in the service of others, and what slice is left for solitude or creativity?

Perhaps this is a first world problem.  People in slavery and bondage don’t have these choices.  Prisoners and people in debt don’t have these considerations. Parents with young children might not be thinking that this is a realistic goal.  My husband looked directly into my eyes and said “this is impossible for me.”

But is it?

I wonder.


Circus Animals


As a child I would imagine that I was as small as this gnome, able to escape from the trouble and stress of home. This urge still lives within me now.

For nearly all my life, I’ve been confused about my true calling.  The higher purpose that would bring me to a career.  Mid life is here with it’s graying and thinning hair, wrinkles, and weight gain.  What am I?  What do I?

Perhaps, a composite rock.

A teeming river of aquatic life.

A mystery.

A ring leader.

A side show freak.

All in one.

Some say the obstacles are our teachers.

So this week, I went to my teachers and faced them all.  Drawing away from compulsive habits, seeking the still small voice.  The space of quiet like a pool of clear water beyond thought.  A silent confidence that everything is always currently okay, even if a storm of

cat pee is raining

a husband is raging

a child is crying.

So a pattern emerges in the way the waves are breaking on my shore.  A chronic illness I’ve been treating with diet alone now requires a befuddling management of stress.

It must be all in the means.  The way I’ve wanted more, and needed less.  The way I’ve cared about things I cannot afford to care about.

What do I?


The Beautiful Now

When I wrote a sensitive and painful experience for my first chapter, I dared to press “send” and share it with the complete strangers of a critique group.  I thought it was brave and worth doing because of the challenge.  And in my frustration with a suggestion that some of my piece suggests I’m an “unintentional unreliable narrator” I sort of came unglued.  Anger and defensiveness ruled my days, wasting more of my energy that I need for taking care of our home education, my business and my relationship with a grieving spouse.

It was pointless and wasteful to be so upset.

I felt caught in a trap, tangled in a power play, the victim of a senseless intimidation game.

And all of a sudden, the story that came marching out of my heart crept back inside the tortoise shell where I lost the threads of the narrative.  I gave away my powerful writing momentum because I was hopeful about the experience of social connection during the writing process.

Nothing is worth letting the writing die, no matter how educated, insightful, harsh or off base the critique may be.  I don’t even know yet what specific words, phrases, lines or paragraphs are causing this response.  So all of it is senseless to me.  I was hopeful for a supportive community, but I’m just now thinking that I may need more time to develop the actual narrative without concern for how it’s written.  Maybe the critique part only needs to happen after the entire story is complete.

But is that just the perfect out for me, an excuse to avoid the discomfort?  I’m not sure.

What I do know is that when you’re struggling with a difficult, uncomfortable situation, salvation lies in the beautiful now –where the story of the past is put away and the expectation of the future is silent.

Here in the present moment, we are given sunlight sparkling on a lake in spring with the sound of insistent crows overhead, a sound that feels like the drumbeat of ‘warning! warning! warning!’ to all who travel in the trees.


In this moment, my beautiful son.


And the moment when we notice brilliant moss at the base of a towering pine that makes us think of the Emerald City of Oz, in miniature.

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The beautiful now when spring is just beginning, when you can still see everything in the woods.  When it’s not too heavy with humidity, when walking feels like lightness and freedom and active presence in your life.

Nature cures my insane need to express my worry.  It is so quiet and accepting of the animal that is me.


There’s another language to be found in the clinging fungus, a language that has no words but speaks to me with patient, delicate growth.  These mushrooms are not as temporary as spring blooms, bursting in color and dropping in a week.  They don’t attract the bees and butterflies.  They grow on dead logs, finding valuable nutrients on decay.

In the beautiful now, I find comfort in their existence.  And that is enough to go on.