About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

Motherhood is not a biological designation
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Thursday
Dec312015

Find your gurgle

 

“The best way out is always through”- Robert Frost

 

I didn’t intend to stop blogging.  It wasn’t a conscious determination.

This is the way of it, I suppose.  

I wanted a new banner image that better reflected my current life- the one where we sold our vanagon to get out of debt, where I’d birthed the 4th child I was pregnant with in the picture, where we’d moved from hopes of living in the Outer Banks of North Carolina to a real live life in the foothills of Northern Colorado.  

I wanted to uninvolve my family from my website- to tell my own story, and leave them to their own telling, especially my kids-they have rights to their own voices.  

I’m scared of them turning 13 or 15, some sort of coming of age moment, when they realize their whole lives up till now have been archived, that they’ve left a crumb trail of photos and captions all over the Internet, without any say in where the trail leads.  I know their stories are wrapped up in mine, as mine is in theirs, but as much as I could, I wanted to speak from behind my own eyes, and leave their view to their view.  

 

I booked a photo shoot with my photographer friend, the lovely Hannah Brooks.  

We went north of town, to a cluster of abandoned looking buildings, piles of rotting wood, rusted metal and charred beams, frozen fields.  

I had a broken baby toe, broken back in June, when my husband went to St. Benedict's monastery in Snowmass for ten days, to practice centering prayer and experience ten days of silence and solitude.  I was more than excited for him to go, to center, to dig deep, but nervous about being alone with the kids that whole time with the closest family a five hour plane ride away.  

Four days in, I turned around too fast from delivering lunches to the children at the dining room table, and rammed my foot into the wooden leg of an ottoman.  I managed to add injury to injury by jumping up and down four times in a strangely choreographed and agonized attempt to silence the FUCKS from tumbling out of my mouth. 

I carried my broken baby toe on my right foot for almost eight months, almost as long as I carried my first born child.  My body just refused to heal.

I rubbed Chinese healing salves into my toe, soaked it for hours in a bowl of special herbs and hot water that turned my foot a ruddy brown, got acupuncture, got prayer, took calcium.  I saw a masseuse, multiple chiropractors.  I tried physical therapy.  I went on the wild goose chase of my own health.  When it came down to it, the only remedy was rest. I had to stop moving so fast.  And the only way to get me to do that was to put me in a calf-high orthopedic boot for five months.  

Which meant that for Hannah to capture the new banner image on my blog, I had to take off my orthopedic boot and “run” like a slow-mo, slightly handicapped ballerina across frozen grass that felt like sharp twigs, trying to look graceful, trying to look like a Colorado field fairy.

No one would know this back story, looking at my banner image, but it matters. It’s the unasked for metaphor for my writing. 

Because along with searching out a new image for my blog, one that better represented the current state of my life, I wanted to figure out what, exactly, I’m writing about.  

 

I’ve been spending a lot of time this past year with Brene Brown, Thomas Keating, M. Basil Pennington, Richard Rohr, and Cheryl Strayed, and find them to be dear mentors and the best of company.  The first time I cracked open Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, I cried before finishing the second paragraph.  It was this sense of companionship, confirmation that I’m not crazy, that the things I’ve felt but couldn’t put into words are being said. 

That there is this great underground flow, this current of thought and intention that’s always been there, and I’m finally tapping in, drinking deep, finding my people.  

I felt simultaneously inspired and somewhat defeated, like it turns out everything about vulnerability and shedding the false self and shame resiliency and embracing the unknown has already been said, and there’s nothing left for me to add to the conversation.  

But that’s not true, I’m learning. 

If there is a great movement flowing right under our feet, then every trickle that feeds the flow matters.  I have my own little gurgle that only I can utter.  It’s up to me to find my gurgle.

Jean Rhys says, “All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles like Jean Rhys.  All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”

 

Most of my writing on this blog has been about shamelessly showing up for your own life, about being what Brene Brown dubs “a vulnerability warrior.”  But that’s her gurgle, and it informs mine, but it’s not mine.  

The only way I know how to find my gurgle is by looking backwards, tracing the flow and searching for patterns; I call it reading my life, and I’ve been doing it since I was little, although I didn’t know it. I’ve always loved metaphor. My first prophets were Ani Difranco and Tori Amos, wordsmiths of the highest order, women who taught me that nothing is what it seems; it is always more than and deeper than the thing in itself.  

When I read my life, I see experience after experience when what I was hoping for did not turn out the way I thought it was going to.  

The story of my broken toe is just one story in a year, in a life, about reckoning with the gap between my expectations, and the reality of what is unfolding in front of me. 

I broke that toe weeks after I’d ran my first ever race, a half marathon considered one of the hardest in the country because of the altitude and steeply graded landscape.  I ran it in cold and sleet, and I felt, for the first time since having kids, fully present in my own skin, strong and capable. I went from thirty-four years of not liking to run, to being a runner.  And I was expecting to keep running. 

I expected that if I finally did the hard work to get back in a rhythm of exercise, life would throw me a bone. 

Life would say, “Good job! You did a really hard thing, and now I will reward you with the best shape of your life, and you will get to keep running till you are a master runner!”  

Life would also mention that it was really proud of me for running since it was the cheapest and easiest thing on my family, something I could do by walking out the front door before the kids were awake, and returning before my husband went to work.  And since I was so self-sacrificing to not get a gym membership, and I was running even though I hated running, life would promise me extra bonus points in the form of sustained happiness and a pervasive sense of well-being.  

Instead, I got a boot and eight months of inactivity, punctuated by chronic back pain.

 

When I read my life, it gurgles like this: life is not an equation.  Making certain choices does not guarantee certain outcomes.  

My gurgle says, all the things we don’t intend, all the ways life happens against our best-laid plans, all the moments that contradict our expectations, all the times ourselves or our loved ones just don’t come through, all the unintended-these are the experiences that make up our real lives.

It’s in the mean in between- in between what we longed for and what’s actually unfolding, that our truest self is formed.  

The unintended dismantles our expectations, and reframes our perspective. 

It’s offering is expansion.  

Believe bigger, see farther, let a greater reality unfold than the one you could imagine, it urges.

 

But more often than not, the unintended feels like personal failure, or like victimization.  “I did everything the way I was supposed to, and this is what I get?”  

It feels like a cruel joke.  

Forget expansion, closing off in self-protection sounds smarter.

Live smaller, trust no one, don’t hope for a new thing; life will only disappointI’ve got proof, I respond.

 

It felt like a cruel joke that in June 2014 I broke my baby toe on my right foot while my husband was away, and it took till February 2015 to heal, and then six months later, in August 2015, I broke my baby toe on my left foot while my husband was away, this time at his grandfather’s funeral, and although it took a normalized two months to heal, I had started running again.  I had gotten hopeful again.  I believed the worst of it was over.

I felt victimized, by what, I didn’t know. But I surely wanted to place blame somewhere, starting with myself, making up reasons why if I had done such and such differently or better, this would not have happened.

The truth is, it happened

The moment the unintended happens, life extends the invitation to simultaneously accept things for what they are, and to reframe my world view. 

It’s like reality and rebirth in the same breath. 

It’s surrender and simultaneous empowerment.

 

Breaking my toe the first time led me to more awareness of how little awareness I had that morning I was serving my kids breakfast, hurtling back and forth between kitchen and table, meeting needs with blind reactivity.  

Taking eight months to heal opened a window onto how fast I move through the world; I simply could not walk slower, even with a boot. How dare the doctor tell me to rest? Didn’t he know I was a mom of four kids?  I wore the rubber two inch sole down to a paper thin line. 

Breaking my toe the second time offered me the empowerment of discovering some things about myself I hadn’t known before.  My wild goose chase towards healing did not take away the chronic pain, but it did lead me to some guides, one of them being an intuitive energy healer who asked me why both breaks happened while my husband was away.

 

“I can’t do the job when he’s away,” I said.  “I’m not as good at it. I don’t have what it takes.”  

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because I never chose this life. I didn’t intend for it to look this way.”

She challenged me, “Why do you say you didn’t choose it? It happened. It’s happening, right?”  

“Yes, but every day I go to sleep thinking about what I could have done better, how I could have loved my children better, been kinder, more patient, more attentive, more present,” I responded.  

“I’d like to suggest, that your belief that you don’t have what it takes is the only reason you don’t have what it takes.  Your children chose you to be their mother. You chose them.  This is your real life.  You have what it takes because you’re doing it everyday,” she gently admonished me.  

She went on, “Could it be you keep breaking your toes because you’re not standing in your reality?  Just because things don’t always happen the way you expect doesn’t mean that what does happen isn’t beautiful.”

She gurgled at me, and it hurt, and it opened me.  

 

The invitation of the unintended, if I choose to open unto it, is expansion into new understanding, dismantling of expectations, reframing the way I see myself, and thus, the world I live in.

My broken toes are tiny fleshy teachers helping me see the difference between expectation and belief. 

Expectation is life-limiting, perspective limiting. It’s constriction.  

It perpetuates the sense that nothing is ever enough. It tells me to live smaller, stay hyper-vigilant, and measure the success of my life by what goes according to plan.

Expectation is a judge, forcing me onto the witness stand and asking over and over, how could you have done that better?  And no matter what I say, I never win. I never measure up.

 

Belief is immeasurable.  It is expansion.  

Belief is a deep breath, a view of the horizon and the stars.  

It’s a yoga instructor with warm hands who gently adjusts you, and then spritzes citrus oil into the air so it falls down like rain on your upturned face.

Belief trusts that what is is what’s needed.  It is enough. I am enough. My life is enough.

 

I didn’t intend to stop writing, but I also didn’t intend to break my toes.  And yet, it is what it is.  

I can see these things as failures, or I can see them as offerings.  Offerings to lift my perspective, to release my expectations, to expand inwardly and outwardly into more self-knowing, more self-love, more humility, more open-eyed, whole-hearted embrace of what IS.  

The space between expectation and reality offers salvation- the chance to be born again, to surrender into the unintended and be empowered into new, and endless beginnings. 

It is in this space that we become, and unbecome, in a lifelong dance of turning into our truest selves.

 

And that, is my gurgle. 

Thursday
Oct022014

Grace is like a tie-dye t-shirt

“But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanation,

so everyone will understand the passage,

We have opened you.” 

-taken from The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks

 

When I was little, my favorite game was library. 

I cut strips of lined paper from the yellow tablets my mother kept in the kitchen near the phone, wrote DATE and NAME at the top of each strip, and taped them to the back inside covers of my books for check-out cards.  The first blank page in the front of the books received a “This Book Belongs to” Stamp illustrated by Tomie de Paolo of a little boy sitting in a rocking chair with a book open on his lap.

If the stamp did not ink well the first time, I stamped again; some of my books had three, even four “This Book Belongs To” stamps, all overlapping, creating many little boy faces and little boy bodies. Then I wrote my name on the clearest line I could find: This Book Belongs to Trina Baker. 

I organized each book by last name of author, lined them up like singers in a choir, and dreamed of the day I would work in a library.

If a neighbor came to play, I would take them by the hand and lead them to my bookshelf, so they could check out one of my beloveds.  

Even at a young age, I knew that stories were for the sharing.


 

In The Still Point of the Turning World, Emily Rapp’s memoir about losing her son at three years old to Tay-Sachs disease, she calls herself his myth-writer. 

She says “I began to understand that the story of my son’s life would end but that what he had to teach me was as epic and mythic as a creation story, and the only way grief would not take me down completely was to greet his diagnosis head-on and make my world big, make his story known.” 

 

We are creatures of the word, spoken into being, and our first job was to name things. To name things. 


I sit down to write.

“Unless we understand our lives as a kind of autobiography in the making, we’re likely to take refuge in other peoples’ stories, ready-made idealogies, and unexamined systems of belief” says Sam Keen.

There must be a reason I’ve lived this particular language of experiences.  Ones you do not have.  And you, you are the walking library of your own stories, filled with your own language.

We are mythical creatures. 

“I leaned my head back, closed my eyes, and gave voice to my life,” says Anita Diamant in The Red Tent.

 

In the creation myth, the word was spoken and the form appeared.

The word came first. 

It was in the beginning.

The word was with God.

The Word was God.

The word created the world. 

 

I wrestle to find the words that might create my life. I wrestle because I do not want someone else to write my story. I do not want to lose myself inside another. I do not want to live an unexamined life. I do not want to die without ever having lived.  The words matter. 

 

I sit down to write. 

The writer Anita Diamant described her life as a necklace, and the painful things as knots necessary for keeping the beads in place. Her suffering took shape as gift and teacher, as the essential guardian of beauty.

What is the form of my life?

I will see it as a clothesline. I begin in one place, and end in another, a straight line across space, and in between my moments hang, small and large, lacy and woolen.  Pinned in place with my clothespin words. 

In the creation of my myth, I begin as the good girl, a piece of white linen, wispy and free. I am hung by the clothespin word called pure. I hang another piece of white with the word saved. And another, with the word obedient. Still another, with holy.  

My clothespin words are fashioned out of the hard wood of my faith. They have no springs. They are ancient clothespins, the kind with only a small slit of an opening. They have to be wedged apart before they close back again with a vice-like grip.  

My moments hang stiff and taught, impervious to wind. My clothesline is full of little wooden soldiers, stiff-backed and alert, and certain of their part to play.  As goes the form, so goes the life, and I live for the certainty.

Then the day comes, a moment happens, and I hang a black veil with the clothespin sinner. Another clothespin, rebellious. Another, dirty. Another, bad. 

My line is strung so thick with white and black. It hangs low. It drags in the dirt. 

I turn my face away. I hate my story. 

I go to college. I cut the line.

 

I stop seeing my life as myth in the making.

 

Then one day, years later, I reach into my pocket and pull out a spool of twine. 

I tie it between two trees outside my window.

I sit down to write. 

 

I use the word grace, and a tie-dye t-shirt appears, just draped over the line. I watch the fabric twist and give of itself in response to the wind. I watch it hang loose and free.  

I write the word love, and then the word loss- the kinds of clothespins with springs in them. I keep going. Humility, joy, beauty-all manner of colors appear on my line.  My moments fly in the wind, like flags dancing to the beat of their own drum.

The words matter.

So go the words, so hangs the life.  

We are creatures of the word, we were spoken into being, and our first job was to name things. To name things.