Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fever Dreams and Other Things

(That is not a flesh-eating plant trying to devour my husband THAT IS ME)

This morning I did something I have never done before. I dropped my daughters off at school without first showering and combing my hair. (I should add that I'm required to sign my daughters in, which means entering the building and interacting with at least 300 well-groomed adults).

It's not that I'm a prissy-face, it's just that I don't want anyone to see what I actually look like.

Trust me, it startles people. They pretend it doesn't; they're not fooling anyone. "It's ok," said one guy in college. "Your skin just isn't used to not having makeup on it. It's just. . . freaking out. Once it gets used to it, it'll be fine."

You see?

Even the husband, who pretends to think I am lovely at all moments, once saw me fresh out of the shower and gingerly asked, "Um, so what is the process here? Why do you look so different now than when you go to bed?"

(Don't worry about my ego. It's enormous. Nothing can take this baby down. Seriously, my ego is like a balloon at Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Sky-scraper sized and full of hot air, propped up by lesser people dressed like elven slaves.)

I will forever remember the terrible movie Elizabethtown for one reason only: the scene where Kirsten Dunst stays up all night talking on the phone and come dawn, her fair skin doesn't show a thing. Here's a sorry truth for you: fair skin shows EVERYTHING. My fair skin betrays me if I have a drink. It betrays me if I consume dairy. The few times I smoked a cigarette, it was written all over my face. And you bet your bippy that if a fair maiden stays up into the wee hours of the night, her skin screams her distress. We get all blotchy around the nose and the eyes. Often the lips. We do not go to prom and after-prom and finish the night milk-skinned. We got to prom and get left there because our date mistook us for the Swamp Thing during a flare up of psoriasis. I don't blame the husband for delicately asking "what is the process?" because if you went to bed with Anne of Green Gables, albeit on a bloaty day, and woke up next to Feed Me Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, you'd be wondering what the hell, too.

I went to school drop-off without a shower because I overslept. I overslept because of a dream. I am going to sum up the dream now. Please, I promise to do it fast.

In the dream, Indy was a shape-shifter. She had been stolen away from me and, when I found her, had shifted-shape into a little Asian girl. Now no one was going to believe that freckles and the cutest little thing in black pigtails actually belonged together. I was growing quite panicked in the dream, not unlike people who wake up next to me, until dream-me remembered: I had seen every episode in six and a half seasons of Supernatural.

I knew how to handle this.

DREAM SEQUENCE OVER.

This is what I keep coming back to. I've been feeling unequipped. I've been telling myself I don't know what to do. When I calm down and listen, I remember: it isn't true.

I have seen six and a half seasons of Supernatural. Obviously there is a wisdom in me that surpasses all understanding.

And anyway, I know how to handle this.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day After

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Thanksgiving was almost ruined by:
-Everyone called my side dish "a dessert" and I pouted
-the talent. The talent was being difficult for a moment there (but who can blame her little turkey-stuffed heart?)

Thanksgiving was saved by:
-my sister's homemade pecan pie (Who knew I liked pecan pie?)
-my brother-in-law's prime rib or whatever. (He kept calling it that)
-my mom's corn casserole (Please don't tell anyone I enjoyed a casserole)
-my dad's Ikea song
-my husband's delicious roasty pumpkin beer
-everyone loving my side dish too much to care if it was a dessert (IT WASN'T)
-my daughters and my niece Eisley running a wild rumpus through. . .
-my sister's gorgeous and catalog-ready home (thrift stores and Ikea are her secrets)
-A Very Gaga Thanksgiving tv special

Happy Day after Thanksgiving. I'm not out shopping, but I kind of wish I was.

xoxo
-V

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hunted

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A lot of stuff went down today.

I guess that should be expected when you get up to have a pee in the dead of night and in mid-act hear your husband's alarm going off. Because it's 2:30 a.m. and time for him to head to work.

Some days, I don't know. Life hunts you down. "Oprah says you can't solve emotional problems geographically," I tell the husband, but sometimes the urge to flee is so strong. Sometimes you want to feel safe in your world, even though you know that doesn't exist. We rushed over to Oskar Blues Homemade Liquid and Solids because that's what the male V and I do when we're feeling hunted. We eat and drink, the girls blow up Death Stars and, as I would come to find out hours later while in emergency room triage, stuff sand down their pants.

Don't judge their sandy-bottomed joy.

After that we had no strength to venture out in the cold. We headed for Barnes and Noble in Boulder. Within five minutes I realized our mistake and we left. Ayla asks for everything. Her requests the white rabbit, I leap down my black hole. I'm getting better at what my Blood Sister A calls "thought-stopping". When my brain starts to launch me into my old "universe is out to get me" or "good things don't come my way" soliloquies, I can usually tell her just to knock it off. Depression is a wolf howling at the door, who says you have to open it? But when she knocks in the form of my children having desires, I spiral downhill fast. "I want to ask Santa to bring me Legos for Christmas," says Daughter A and seconds later I'm shivering in the corner, mind whirling with every sparkly gift I can't afford to buy them. Christmas is coming. Get the hell out of the retail stores.

Fortified now with hot beverage, we drove to the park. My husband tossed my daughters around in the leaves to their everlasting delight. The dog stalked squirrels.

Somewhere in all this I canceled our cable, found a rejection letter in my email, and decided to dye my hair brown. The day grows dark. We buy produce for a vegetarian dinner, healthy. Just what we need.

Everything happens when mom goes to the bathroom. From my moment's peace, I hear a yelp. A yowl. I open the door and my Indy is crying. I rush to her and grab her little face, which is smeared in blood. She had been resting her head on the dog. The dog has nipped her. One cut on her lip is very small but deep enough that I bundle her back into boots and drive her to the emergency room. Ayla is sobbing, she stays home with dad.

In the Emergency Room a couple checks in. She's twelve weeks pregnant. I assume she's had bleeding but later I hear whispered 'throwing up'. I don't know. I count my blessings. My baby is shaken, but she's here on my lap.

In the emergency room, we discover the sand in her britches.

No stitches required. They say she won't have a scar.

I email Blood Sister A. I tell her I wish a wise person would swoop into my life and tell me what to do.

Then I figure, maybe that wisdom's just waiting here.

Within me.


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(This picture is of Indy feeling better and playing with the syringe they gave her. I love the fierce concentration on her face. She was plotting about how she was going to come home and squirt Ayla. Like that.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hey Pumpkin

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Right now it's quiet in all my house, which you won't be surprised to hear is how I like it. I just put a loaf of pumpkin bread in the oven and it smells so good already. Sometimes I do domestic things without feeling the need to apologize for them.

I never did bake that apple pie. Pumpkin bread was far more achievable.

Today I gave up on my plans to make this delicious recipe for Thanksgiving. I really wanted to bring it to my sister's house, present it with an apron-at-the-waist flourish and impress everybody. It probably wouldn't have worked anyway. In general, I find people are far less impressed with me than I'd hoped. Turns out you can't buy pie pumpkins after Halloween, and I know from experience you can't but Emmentaler cheese in Longmont. Which isn't exactly true, you can probably find it at the imported cheese emporium in that office park under the bridge, but I never remember to go there.

Instead we're bringing cheesy apple bake. It's this god-awful unhealthy dish that my mother-in-law made every Thanksgiving. This is difficult to admit: you pour canned apple pie filling into your casserole dish and then you blend Velveeta with white sugar (I died a little, just typing that) and you pour it over the apples and bake. The top gets slightly burnt and crusty and then beneath it is cheesy apple goodness. You have to eat it early if you're dining with my husband's family because the kids eat all the cheese topping off and then you're just left with sad canned apples. To sell this dish to my sister, I called it "Apple Cheese Southern Souffle". If I told her I was bringing sugared-up Velveeta over canned apples she probably would have hung up the phone in order to drive straight to Longmont and slap me. Crisis averred. You gotta know how to work these things.

Today I met up with an old friend from high school. There is nothing like an old friend from high school or a drinking buddy from college. Some bonds are forever, this is why whenever I met a new person I try to get sloppily drunk as quickly as possible.Instant friend for life. (Contrary to what my husband says, crippling social anxiety has nothing to do with it. Who has the psychology degree, Mr. V? NEITHER OF US.) For instance, I hadn't talked to this particular friend in a few months when I sent her this email: "I'm moving to Taos to keep bees. Wanna come?"

"That sounds awesome," she replied. "I'm there."

This is a comfort to me. I can't tell most people when I want to move to Taos, or Paris, or the other day, oddly, Nashville. They start to do calculations and ask me about my life goals and say things like "You don't speak French" or "Do you know how hard it is to get a Visa in a socialist country?" or "It snows in Taos".

Our other plans include moving to Vietnam, wearing the funny hats, and planting flowers/ holding babies in orphanages, as well as spending our golden years traveling the world until we finally go down together in a plane crash.

Maybe because it's Monday, or maybe I'm drunk on the scents of warming nutmeg and cinnamon, or maybe because I'm bringing glucosey plastic cheese to Thanksgiving, but right now, those seem like worthy goals.

But no, I'm not actually moving to Taos.

Not yet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Deck Me

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Ayla and Mr. V, November 2006

It's true: I used to swear off Christmas music until December 1st.

My ghosts of Christmas past cringed at red Starbucks cups in November. I worked in retail and bemoaned the arrival of Christmas merchandise in August and September. The one year I sent out Christmas cards, I think I mailed them on December 21st. And felt good about that.

But come on: I also used to wear Old Navy logo tees and get Brazilian waxes. I used to listen to Nelly and buy thongs.

You see why I'm not given to nostalgia.

As I got older, time got shorter. Each day a smaller portion of the whole than it once was. This year I watched the Fourth of July fireworks and told myself Christmas was just around the corner. "Stop worrying about Christmas money," the husband said. "It's a long time a way."

But now you see: it wasn't.

It was easy for me to decry the Early Onset of Christmas when I wasn't actually responsible for making Christmas. Back in college, December 1st hit and I had four languorous weeks to sit around the house and wait for my mom to deliver Christmas to my doorstop. Gradually the house would plump, with cookies and sleigh bells, fat pine limbs and twinkling lights, and I, with my unadulterated hours and hours to sit by the tree reading The Mists of Avalon, wondered what the heck my mom's problem was and what everyone was so stressed about.

Our first Christmas, Mr. V and I didn't even get a tree. (We couldn't afford one). We hopped a plane and arrived in Palm Desert, where Christmas was waiting for us, balmy and palm-decked. Mele Kalikimaka. No stress in that.

Now, however, it's up to me to do Christmas. It is up to me to gather lights and food coloring, presents and sugar plums. It is up to my husband to hunt down the money, the recipes, the ligonberries and horseradish. I have a dream of Christmas, one that includes a feathery flocked tree and fat cermanic bulbs strung up on my rooftop, click click click. Now, I think: of course I am listening to Christmas music the day after Halloween. Of course my children have written their Christmas lists, and you bet your bottom stocking I'm sipping Gingerbread Lattes and delighting in my red cups. I have a magic show to produce. I have two children who still believe in Santa Claus. Great things take time, you know?

Let no one judge you. Especially none of my ghosts, 22 and self-assured, rolling my eyes and silently judging all merry making in the month of November. Listen to your music. Do your Black Friday strategizing. Drink your Peppermint Mocha's and string up your lights, because there is ancient wisdom in these traditions.

This time of year, we all need the light.

Welcome, Yule.

(And if you see any live Christmas trees, let me know. I AM READY.)

Because I would like to aid in your merriment, here are my favorite Christmas albums.

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Noels Celtiques: Celtic Christmas Music From Brittany. (Not that I'm partial). Gorgeous music. "Christmas at Sea" is so evocative. I can feel the old ship beneath me. The sea and the snow. The smell of pipe smoke. People dancing on the deck. Perhaps I've shared too much.

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The Christmas Revels: In Celebration of the Winter Solstice. The sound of this album is one of my earliest memories. It wouldn't be Christmas without it.

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Medieval Baebes: Mistletoe and Wine. Look, you're not going to find "Deck The Halls" or "Jingle Bells" here. It's old world solstice music, some of which was eventually changed into old world Christmas music. I love it deeply.

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The Victorian Christmas Revels. This is one of the Mister's favorites. Long into February, I catch him singing "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat" in a British accent. It's awesome. Every time I put this cd on, I feel like I'm standing on the streets of Victorian London. There's snow on the ground, nutmeg and cinnamon in the air. The street is bustling with fellows selling roasted almonds and hot honeyed buns. Across the way a group of pink-cheeked children are warming their hands over a fire and now, for some reason, everyone has begun to sing together. It's wonderful.




A Very She & Him Christmas. This is a new favorite. It's vintagey and, just around the edges, a little melancholy. I dig it.

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Wassail! Wassail! Early American Christmas Music. Another by the Revels. A woman reads a story recounting a long ago prairie Christmas, a Laura Ingalls type family, a hunt in the snow. It makes me cry. Every time. In a warm and grateful way.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Comfort Me With Apples

image from here

You get to a point where you find yourself thinking, "Maybe I should make a roast". It's not that you care about the roast, it's just that you'd like to do something, any one thing, that you can see through from start to finish and plus, making roasts comes with a shiny foil sticker on it, the sticker of a good homemaker, the dinner offerings of a Good Mom.

But then you begin to think, not a roast, perhaps. Maybe an apple pie. You're pretty sure no one born after 1981 actually knows what a roast is. Your husband might take a bite, say "Mmm, good steak, honey," and then where would you be? You'd be a stupid woman with curled hair in an overly cheery vintage apron, something with cherries on it or fawns, still on your feet pulling potatoes and onions out of the oven and there, at the table, sits your husband in his work socks, distracted by sports blogs and calling your roast a steak. You don't know what this means, exactly, or signifies--a suburban complacency, a homey resignation that you never even wished for--you just know it isn't good. Plus, chefs make good roasts, and you're not going for "good chef". What you're looking for is something homier, something coated in tinsel and more difficult to describe.

So an apple pie, you think. That. Surely if something can be accomplished, it is a symphony of cinnamon and apples. A love letter wrapped in dough and painted in egg wash. Because there was so much that should have been done, and wasn't. The house that should have been decorated by now. The furniture you should have been able to buy. The dance and piano lessons, all the meals you should have cooked over the stove, working for hours and finished by five, instead of darting back and forth between boiling pasta and your computer, between bits of dialogue and gummy canned sauce. The stories were never the thing to trust. They can be finished, but not achieved.

How do you measure the success of a story? You sell it. It is read and admired, or misunderstood and ignored. Either way, it sits on a shelf, tangible evidence that you have done something, that all these hours haven't been for naught, that something that once did not exist now does and you are responsible for that. But none of that is up to you. None of that a thing you can control. You measure the success of a story by waiting for others to nod, to sneeze, to bless their agreement: here is a thing, and it is done.

How do you measure the success an apple pie? You finish it. You might burn the top. You might over sweeten the apples. It doesn't matter because in the end, a timer goes off--a buzzer, alas, and not a decision in your head, murky and intangible. Something that is up to minutes, clocks, to the ticking of the sun and not, for once, up to your own instinct and intuition. You cannot trust yourself, but a kitchen timer is a thing you can live by. The end of the path is clear, it is fragrant with the fruits of the earth and the bounties of your labor. Unlike stories, unlike wishes, the end here is succulent, toothsome, complete. The timer buzzes, it declares for you: you have formed a thing with your own hands. Your work is good.

Your work is done.

*The title of this post was taken from the book by Ruth Reichel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Blame Fort Collins


On Friday the husband and I decided to go out and celebrate the anniversary of our first date, ten years ago that very day. Driving into town, I got the familair Ft. Collin's willies.

"Ugh," I told Mr. V. "I'm so glad we don't live here anymore. Ugh, I hate it here so much. Don't you hate it here?"

"That's enough with your theatrics," said Mr. V. Not really, but what he did say was "Yeeeaaaah," so you know I've interpreted right.

We wanted to go to Johnny Carino's (my college mecca, y'all) since that was the site of our first date but alas, the Carino's in Ft. Collins had not survived what some call "the economic downturn", but what I optimistically refer to as "life since moving out of my parent's". It was fine, I was in the mood for sushi anyway. I was raised not to love sushi, and what better way to celebrate your dating anniversary than with some latent rebellion?

I was in a mediocre mood. The food struck me as exactly that. The lighting was harsh and the place in general lacked ambiance. We made the mistake of telling the waiter we'd sample any four sakes. We forgot we were in a college town. We forgot anyone in their right mind would drink fruity sakes. (We forgot just to ask for the four most expensive sakes, without putting it that way). What we got was one decent pearl sake and three cups of fruit punch.

I was whelmed.

My husband does this thing where he eats lunch. So then at dinner, he's all like, "No, I'm full now". Unlike me. I always skip lunch and do annoying things like want to order a second Spider roll at dinner. But, remember? The sushi was mediocre so we passed. Mr. V suggested gelato. Then we walked out into the cold windy night and remembered gelato was a stupid idea. I started to get antsy. This is the problem with having date night only twice a year. It puts things on you, like expectations and pressure. If we went out to eat every night, would it matter if we didn't have a good time, I ask you? It would not. Because there would be tomorrow.

Knowing there was no tomorrow, we turned to Coopersmith's. They had a red ale and a cherry ale new on tap. They tasted overly sour and acidic, like Warhead juice. I don't know, maybe the problem was with my mouth. I ordered a Scrumpy Cider, expecting--what else?--scrumpy. What I got was a sour apple Jolly Rancher, which everyone knows is the worst friggin kind.

Remember when we used to come here all the time, and they gave us Pubside Regular free beers, said I?

You shouldn't have brought that up, said husband. Now I am morose.

Again, he did not actually say that, but that was the subtext. I know you feel me.

We did this thing on our first date where Mr. V had a cookie and I said I did not want a cookie and then I ate his. (Classic). Ten years in, Mr. V asks a billion times if I want the damn cookie and even if I say no twenty times he buys a second one anyway. This time around, we did this thing where I wanted a hot soft pretzel.

"Maybe we should get a pretzel," I said.

"Do you want a pretzel?" he said.

I shrugged. Any woman knows of course I wanted the damn pretzel, why would I say "Maybe we should get a pretzel" if I didn't want a pretzel? Have you ever heard me say "maybe we should get a sister wife" or "maybe we should get a Mariah Carey Christmas cd"? No, and you know why? Because I do not. Want one.

You know how this went. Later, much later, he asked why I didn't just tell him I wanted a pretzel.

I thought that's what I was doing.

Ten years in, some things never change.

Pretzel or no, I'd do it all again.


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**my ego needs you to know I was eight months pregnant in that photo**

Friday, November 11, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Whole Truth

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I am not immune to certain superstitions.

Today I have fortified myself for work like going to battle. This battle requires not weapons and war paint, but spiritual armor. I wear Frida Kahlo at my neck and the Virgin of Guadalupe on my finger. For reasons that aren't entirely clear even to me, these are my girls. These are my women. Fierce little Frida, painting her odd paintings of macabre femininity. As for the Virgin of Stars, what can I say: the lady abides. No, I'm not Catholic (or Mormon or Lutheran), it's difficult to qualify what I am, but I do believe in symbols and these women represent to me the things I need: fierceness. Soulfulness. Honesty.

I have also armed myself with some AC/DC. That is where my spiritual frequency is found, today. American thighs shook me all night long, best damn woman that I've ever seen, and all that.

I believe in doses of bravery, whatever the source.

*****

I have a story in my head. A story about myself. In this story I have written, I am the best. I am the specialist little snowflake. I know it's not pretty, but it's true.

Think of it like the mirror of Erised. My dreams aren't innocent, like Dumbledore's or Potter's. My dreams are like Ron Weasley's. They involve glory, preferably public glory. They involve my version of winning. Not sports trophies or Best Mom in the World mugs. My dreams are of publishing. I've been working toward them for seven long years.

Years full of setbacks. Challenges.

Rejection.

I didn't imagine it would go this way. I imagined it all would come easily, that I would accomplish publishing the way I accomplished good grades in school. Naturally. Doing, after all, the only thing I'm really good at. And my ego needed it to come easily. I don't know why, it sounds so ridiculous looking at it now, but I wanted to appear to the world as if I had succeeded without ever really trying.

I wanted to be good. Worthy. A little bit impressive.

I didn't want to be honest about my journey. I think because I didn't want to appear to fail.

I had imagined myself so isolated. Like if I were to fail, I would be the only one.

As time goes on, my life feels less and less honest. I wanted to show the world the glory without the struggle. The sweetness without the sorrow. The accomplishment without all the accompanying pain and bleeding and sweating uphill in the mud with my armor tied around my waist.

Now I need to say it: this is not coming easily.

This is a tremendous struggle.

*****

Being a writer depends to a great degree on outside approval. You can write all you want, you can even call yourself a writer, but the world will not consider you one until you have bewitched the correct combinations of people: first an agent, then an editor. I write in a bubble, pretending no one is ever going to see it (because that is the only way I can write honestly), and then I take it to a world of people, in New York and LA, people who don't know me, who are busily wrapped in their own lives, who have heard it all before. I have to offer up my flawed creation, this thing that I have sweated and bled over, that is a reflection of my very soul, of my most private and deep beliefs, and wait for them to approve it.

It's hard.

But what's harder is not being honest about it. What's harder is hiding away in the dark, hoping not to show my many imperfections. Hoping that one day I can bound out shining a light so bright, you too will be bewitched. You too will miss all my weaknesses. And then I rob us both of the truth. I rob us both of the thing it is most important to name: the honesty of the story.

How happy is an ending, after all, if you haven't witnessed all the long trials that led up to it?

I have a sneaking suspicion it was already clear I'm not the best. No so impressive, maybe. But last night, I sat in a hot bath talking myself down off another ledge of another rejection. Revelation came, as it so often does, with a combination of hot water and tears: I wasn't going to do this publishing thing effortlessly. And in my ego's need to appear to achieve without effort, I was hurting the people around me.

And I was hurting my soul.

*****

So here I am. Fresh off the press of another confounding rejection letter. These agents, they are mystifying. They are the modern world's version of the Oracle of Delphi, only they make even less sense. This publishing thing, it might take years. Seven or seventy. Publishing is a long game. Once a day I want to give it up.

I'm not giving it up.

Forgive me for the indulgence, but I need to say this:

I'm back in black.

***

Either blogger isbuggy as heck today, or the universe conspires to illumine all my flaws. Forgive my text size discrepancies. I've spent ten minutes trying to fix them and frankly, I've got other stories to write.

xoxo

-V





Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Soft Things

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image via Pinterest

Today I'm thinking about the Nutcracker. My parents took me when I was little, too little to remember any of the performance. The hush of the theater, my itchy black tights. All the adults in their woolen coats, the bright lights inside, the cold white outside. My dad carrying me to the car when it was over. I'm thinking about his winter coat, the velvety elbow patches. I always had to touch those elbow patches, brushing the grain of the suede back and forth, back and forth. Gramma had a mink coat, soft as silence, soft as heaven, and in its folds were sweet things. Butterscotches and Lifesavers. I spent a lot of my childhood sitting in church in itchy tights, being slipped hard candies to keep me silent.

I would tilt back my head and count the lights.

Today I'm thinking about the Christmas pageants. The brown paper bag that held an orange, a red apple, chewy peppermints.

Today I'm thinking about soft things, things that settle quietly on the soul. Things you might need to learn to live with, that melt away imperceptibility or maybe never. That take time to resolve. Today I want to know how to do it.

I want to know the way to be.


Last night another branch fell on our roof, and today we wake to more snow. When it snows you need to get up early, but you want to sleep late. You stumble around the house and envy hibernating, furry beasts. You think maybe your soul needs what you can't give your body. This quiet. This dark. This stillness.

The thing about snow is that your bed is always calling, but you can't go to it any more than usual.

I'm so grateful to the pagans for their festivals of lights.

I remember that it's always been the same. Our spirits, needing the stillness, but fearing the dark. Millions of souls, millions of years. Waking in darkness.

Searching for light.

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