Morning Rescues

I named my dog after an explosion – for the flash of light, a sudden brightness, that occurs when one of the stars in a binary system syphons matter off of the other. The rapid fusion of hydrogen causes the brightening of the star, visible light years away. This is called a nova.

I named my dog for a star, but Nova has given me the sunrise.

She and I went for a run. We went for a little over two miles before she started to lag and I turned us toward home.

Once we got in the door, I refilled her water bowl. I set out her kibble. Then I stepped through my morning. Small talk with a roommate. A hot shower, finger combing my hair. Through it all, I felt light, bright.

I never used to feel this way so early in the mornings. But I feel this way now.

Not every day, of course. Some mornings the sound of her tags jingling at 6 am elicits a groan as I drag myself, dizzy from sleep. This usually happens when an upset stomach or too much water has her waking me up at midnight, 3 am, 4 am.

But it’s anything, anytime for her.

Mornings aren’t so bad when I spend the first hour with no one but her. Her and me and the sunrise to the east and the alpenglow to the west and the neighborhood foxes glaring from the scrub line.

And the rabbits, of course. They are Nova’s favorite part.

Thank you, Nova Pop. You rescue me every morning.

Advertisements

A Better Way to Be Afraid (Or Mars in Retrograde II)

Above is the video. Below is the final version of my script. I did a pretty good job of remaining faithful to it. Enjoy.


In Utah, there is a place called Goblin Valley. It is a forest of hoodoos – pillars of sandstone and silt that tower above you.

My friend and I slipped into the valley as the park was closing and the stars were rising. We were looking for the entrance to Goblin’s Lair – a slot canyon, a crack hidden among the hoodoos. We didn’t find it. Instead, we got lost. For hours. In the dark.

This is important: When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. But lost in Goblin Valley that night, I took my friend’s arm and said – Look at the stars. That one’s mars. It’s in retrograde. Do you know what that means?

We found Goblin’s Lair the next morning, under the desert sun. It is a gaping hole in the ground that marks a drop of 90 feet from ceiling to floor.

And there I was, standing at the top. My back pressed against a hoodoo. Shaking.

My friend sets the anchor. He hands me the belay device – but it’s one I’ve never seen before yet alone used and I am shaking too hard. I can’t even focus my eyes. So, he sets it up for me.

He starts toward the edge and I am standing there, watching him back up and I can’t hold it in and I said – wait. I’m afraid of heights. You might have to talk me through this.

He looks up and without hesitation says: I will not be able to talk you through this.

I have learned something about being afraid, because I am always afraid. Fear stands at my shoulder, just beyond my vision. Or it stands before me, an ominous hole in the floor.

Here’s something else I know. I hate the phrase “face your fears.” It’s an old cliché and it’s a dick thing to say to someone whose fight or flight response has gone so out of whack that they are frozen in place. It’s not for anyone to say when you are frozen in place.

Besides. How do you face something you can’t see?

Remember. I’m afraid of heights, and I am standing at the mouth of a precipice.

I hear my friend’s voice shout off rappel, I’m looking at the pillars. I’m thinking – I could walk out of here. But I decide that the only way out is down.

I attach the belay device and I lock and unlock and lock and unlock and lock the carabiner just the way I locked and unlocked and locked the doors of my house when I was a child.

And I move toward it – I move toward the hole that is a metaphor for a thousand other fears.

But I do not face it. Oh hell – no I do not face it. I get on my hands and knees. And I crawl. Backwards.

I refused to look down. I refused to look away from the sandstone under my hands. Until I was no longer pressed against the wall. Until the rope took all of my weight. Until I was suspended in the middle of the cavern.

Hanging there, I looked up. I looked down. I looked around.

And it was beautiful. The light illuminated the cavern from above and made the walls glow as red as Mars.

There are things that you do not have to be afraid of, but you are afraid of them anyway.

Someone asked me recently if I had finally learned to avoid the things that make my heart pound and my head spin.

I had to laugh because the short answer is no. The long answer is of course not.

Because I can’t imagine what my life would be without dropping cliffs on skis, descending too fast on bicycles, asking him out on a date, or standing in front of a crowd, speaking my own words for the very first time.

Fear, I find, is as alluring as it is repelling.

Move toward it.

Not all of the time. Not every time.

I could make that rappel for the same reason that I can stand here tonight – because I appear to  retreat. I go home and I sit in my safe house and read my safe books and whisper safe words into the leaves of my plants for days. Weeks. Once I did this for months.

Then, when I’m ready. I go out. I do this as often as I can. Even if I have to get on my hands and knees. Especially if I have to move backwards.

Do this.

Because, as e.e.cummings wrote, even stars walk backwards. Even Mars, god of war, appears to move backwards. That’s the definition of retrograde.

∆∆


To read the original blog post that inspired the talk, go here.

To read my initial post-Ignite reflections, go here.

(Photo by Ignite Boulder.)

That Time I Stood on Stage Talking About Being Afraid

I have done something remarkable – in the sense that it should be remarked upon. In the sense that I must remark upon it.

Do you remember the story I wrote this summer, What I Know About Being Afraid (Or Mars in Retrograde)?

Well. Now there’s a sequel. And it’s on video.

I was invited to speak at Ignite Boulder and share that story with the crowd. Because it was a crowd. 880-some odd people. A sold-out venue. Plus who knows how many tuning in over the live stream.

I am excited to share this with you. For now, I want to share with you some thoughts – both my experience and a small part of what this experience means to me.

(The complete YouTube video is up! Watch it – and read the script – here.)


Four days ago I stood on stage. It was my first time speaking on a stage. It was my first time speaking into a microphone.

I stood before a crowd and I began to speak, my voice quivering.

“In Utah, there is a place called Goblin Valley…”


Of course, it was scary to stand up there. As with most things, the anticipation is worse than the actual event.

Past speakers told me that I would ‘black out’ once I stepped on stage. That I would go into a kind of strange trance. That didn’t happen, and I’m glad for it. I was gloriously awake. Eyes wide open as I looking at the dark, featureless shapes that made up the crowd.

Thank goodness for the blinding glare of the spotlight. Thank goodness I’m no longer afraid of the dark.


When Justin volunteered me to be a speaker, my immediate reaction was to feel deeply flattered and a bit embarrassed.

Since when have my words held any merit?

Since when have my stories been anything more than a deflecting joke to tell at parties?

I thought about saying, no thanks. I thought about saying, no way.

Since when have my words held any merit?

Since when has a story of mine been anything more than background noise?

Then I remembered Mary Malone.


In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Mary Malone speaks what is, perhaps, the trilogy’s most important line:

Tell them stories.

This sentence inspires Mary to tell a story. And that story sets into motion the events that would save the world. You’ll just have to read the books. They’re really quite good.


When I was young and small and painfully shy, Pullman’s words told me that the most important thing you can ever do is tell them stories.

I am older now. Bigger. More confident, but still not the kind to try to grab the spotlight.

On that stage, I had five minutes to tell a story. Maybe, just maybe, someone in the crowd needed to hear it. Or if not in the crowd, then someone will stumble into it online. They will hit play and they will hear the quiver in my voice and it will echo something inside of them. Then we will shake together even though we have never and will never meet.

A career coach asked me how I wanted to be remembered. I said, “That I tried. That I tried really, really hard to make things a little better.”

So I stood on stage and told the story of Goblin Valley. I told a story of a small fear in the hopes that it will remind you (and me) that the same rules apply for the big ones. The micro in the macro.

And maybe… for someone… it helped.

∆∆

The Personal is Political

The personal is political.

Each step you take, each breath you breathe.

Your actions will speak louder than you will ever be able to scream.

I’ll remember this, too. I promise this to you. I’ll scream, yeah. But I’ll do more, too.

For a long time, the Bukowski quote in my About page read thus:

We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.

Let’s do this.

Together.

Going Away from Company, Coming to Your Senses

I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and  not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I am not fond of Thoreau.

I think he’s a bit of a prick, really.

Have you read Walden? Full of contradictions and coming from a place of such unacknowledged privilege. To aspire to a kind of poverty tourism… while looking down on the poor…

Let’s not get into my dislike of Thoreau.

I took Friday off of work and spent the morning cleaning house while Nova rolled in the patch of dirt in our back yard. I cleaned the kitchen counters and packed our bags.

I was away last weekend for work, and I’ll be away again this week. But I wasn’t packing for that trip yet.

No, I was going into the woods.

A friend picked me up and even as the blur of a migraine aura crossed my eyes, we headed south. My eyes closed. Letting the migraine wash over me. Letting the Excedrin wash over me.

I went into the woods because I needed it.


My favorite poem by Robert Frost is Build Soil: A Political Pastoral.

While I may not agree with Frost’s politics, I do agree with his metaphor. To build soil is to feed the earth. To turn the earth and mix it with compost, with air. To give it the breath and food of life that will make the soil rich and bountiful.

I went into the woods so that I could build soil.

There is a perception of selfishness around the act of withdrawal. Of discovering your campsite has no cell service and then letting your phone drain to dead on the dash while you wander in the woods. Of taking your dog and your friend and side stepping the world and going and for a night living a reality in which there is no one but you and the dog and the people you meet for fleeting moments.

How could waking up and opening your eyes and looking up to the stars be a selfish act?

How could walking the dog and eating breakfast in down parkas be a selfish act?

My favorite stanza in Build Soil is the last one, presented here. (The entire poem is here.)

Probably but you’re far too fast and strong

For my mind to keep working in your presence.

I can tell better after I get home,

Better a month from now when cutting posts

Or mending fence it all comes back to me

What I was thinking when you interrupted

My life-train logic. I agree with you

We’re too unseparate. And going home

From company means coming to our senses.

I do not go into the woods to live deliberately, although that may happen. I do not go into the woods to look at any one true life. Because there is no one true life and the best way to live deliberately is to live.

But I do go to build soil. To cultivate a space in me that is separate from you, separate from even the people I am with when I go into the woods.

And while I may reinforce the boundary line between me and you, I erase the line between me and this.

This?

This landscape. This earth. This path beneath my feet and this air that flows in gusts into my lungs. This rain as it fell and these clouds as they hovered and the rock flakes we traced with our palms. Glacial till.


In the soil metaphor, this is the organic matter. The compost, the half-chewed stalks of whatever was growing before.

(You are the rocks pulled by hand from the loam.)


This week, I leave my dog for five nights. I go back to the city a stone’s throw from where I grew up. I go back to an accent I know is under my skin and will never fully leave my throat.

So, I needed this. I needed the time away to come to my senses. To mark out the boundaries between me and you.

I went into the woods, in short, because I wished to come to my senses.

∆∆

Nova: A Blog in Which I, Predictably, Talk About My Dog

This is Nova.

She’s sleeping, curled in a crescent, on my bed. Half in a sun beam. Every once in a while, her toes twitch as if she is running, chasing rabbits in her dreams.

Are you real? I ask her.

She moves awake, turns to look at me.

Of course I am. Why would you ask such a thing?img_2124


I ask such a thing because I have been waiting for her for so long. Ten years, approximately. More than a quarter of my life has been spent waiting.

And now I get to say it: this is my dog.

I get to speak these words over and over again. This is my dog.

The day I picked her up from her foster home, she greeted me as she greets everyone: silently, at the door, pressing her face and shoulders into my hands to be pet. She leaned into me. And I took her home.

In the car, she looked politely out of the window as I talked to her, nervously, as one does when there is too much silence to fill.

You’re coming home, Nova. And I won’t let you leave.


I don’t remember exactly where the name Nova came from. It’s been on my list of dog names for ages, but it was close enough to the name her fosters had given her that it wouldn’t be difficult to switch to. And, it is also the name of one of my current Shadowrun characters. And, more importantly, the week before I picked her up, I dreamed of her every night. In my dreams, her name was Nova.

I gave her a middle name. It’s Popcorn.

She’s named after my parents’ first dog together, a mutt they found in their barn in upstate New York.

Popcorn found her way into my parents’ life.

I went looking for Nova.


I am a dog person.

An introvert. The kind of person who thinks maybe the anchorites have the right idea.

But I am also a dog person.

Maybe it’s because I was a lonely child. Don’t misunderstand me – I was happy. I was always happy. But I was lonely. I created a rich and wonderful world in my mind, but I had no real way of sharing it.

I didn’t have a dog when I was young. Popcorn died when I was a toddler. We didn’t get Sophie until I was 11.

Instead, I wrapped myself up in books. Books of horses in the desert. Of hawks in the Catskills. But best of all were the books that took place someplace cold. I read them at midnight under the covers with a flashlight. They were books of sled dogs and wolves and the northern lights.

And I dreamed of a dog that would be my friend.


It must be a family trait.

Once, I found my brother’s journal. In it were Robert Frost poems and one entry about Popcorn the First. In it, he wrote that she was his best friend and companion.

I wanted a best friend and constant companion.


I remember the first moment I saw Sophie. She was a puppy, her ears still folded over. A little strawberry blonde and white ball of puppy barreling down the hallway to greet me when I opened the door.

I was sweaty from soccer practice.

My father walked in after. He had no idea that we would be coming home to a puppy.

We’re really good at communicating in my family.

When I turned 16, I’d help Sophie into the passenger seat of my Geo Tracker and we would drive. Usually just to the drug store, where usually I would park for a few minutes just to turn around and drive home. Just for something to do with her when I was bored and lonely.

I would take her hiking, a girl and her corgi, when no one else would go.

My mother sometimes calls me Sister.

I called Sophie my little sister.


img_2106

For some reason, the dogs in my daydreams were always male and either pitch black or blue merles. Sheepdogs, the lot.

Instead, I have a white female husky mutt. She is strikingly beautiful, her coat pointed with red like a Siamese cat. Her features foxlike.

Another strawberry blonde. It must be a family trait.

Her eyes are brown. But in one, a smudge of white like an iceberg adrift in a murky sea. Or, maybe, in her eye is the reflection of a mountain peak only she can see.


I mentioned it briefly in an earlier post, but I had foot surgery in September. 18 days later I had a dog.

I’m two weeks away from the day when the bone they broke will be fully healed. Two weeks away from the day when I can run and jump.

I can’t wait to run and jump with her.

I can’t wait to disappear again into the high alpine, this time with her by my side.

I can’t wait to see how far we’ll go.

You should see her smile when she’s on trails. Like me, she isn’t made for concrete. She’s made for dirt and snow and the high alpine.


On Saturday, the two of us drove up to Breckenridge to visit with family friends. We ended the trip with three circuits of a tiny .7 mile loop. I stubbed my bad toe three times. I was limping long before we stopped back at the car.

On the way home, she slept in the back seat and I played Blind Pilot as I drove on mountain roads.

And I wanted to cry from happiness.

Because I was a lonely child.

Now that Nova is here, that little girl never has to be lonely again.

img_2116


Nova takes up almost the entire bottom half of the bed. She’s sprawled out with a squeaky Kong ball that her godfather, my roommate Kenny, bought her this afternoon.

She’s not a cuddler, but she must be warming up, because she’s using my shin as a pillow. Every once in a while, her toes twitch.

I don’t know if she’s ever seen snow before.

This thought struck me the other day. Prior to coming to Summit Dog Rescue, she was a stray in Arkansas. There is a chance that she has never seen snow.

I drove by snow on Loveland’s slopes. Low enough down that even I, gimpy, could reach it without a problem.

We’re going to find snow this weekend.


 

A friend asked how I felt just a few days after I found out I was getting Nova.

I told him, it’s scary. But not for the reasons people think. I’m not worried about the responsibility or the cost or any of that.

Rather, I have been dreaming about this dog for years. Thinking about her, wondering about her, planning for her for a decade.

And now she’s here.

I don’t like life goals. I don’t like bucket lists. Even my birthday lists are sort of haphazard and half-assed. I barely have dreams.

But Nova has been on my list. On every list. For a decade.

And now that I have her.

Now that this dream has come true… I can’t help but be afraid.

What else can I do?


We are going to go find snow.

And in two weeks, we are going to go to the high alpine.

A human and her husky. And we’ll never be alone.

 

 

10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me While I Was Crying

Here is a short, incomplete, non-sequential  list of things that, once upon a time, I wish someone had said to me when I was crying.

May it, perhaps, help you.

1. Right now, in this moment, who you are is bright and brilliant. You don’t think you are, but you are. You are amazing right now. I know you don’t believe it. But you are a miracle. And you don’t know it right now, but you will be amazing. You are going to be so brave and strong and courageous and vivid and passionate that you will marvel at where you stand.

2. You will belong. You will be loved and you will love so fiercely that it will make everything else, everything else. I promise. It will happen. Not when you think. Not in the way you think. But you will open your eyes and realize that there are people who you have chosen who you belong to and with… and who you will belong to and with forever, even when you live half a world away.

3. The people who love us will do very cruel things without knowing that what they are doing is cruel. They will probably never apologize. Because they will have no idea. These things they do do not negate the fact that they love us. These things do not negate the good. But all of the good doesn’t mean the bad doesn’t exist.

4. You still get to love the person they were to you when it was good. You have that right. But, you also have the right to stop loving them because of who they are when it is bad.

5. What you did just now was so brave. I am sorry no one noticed. I am so sorry they did not understand. I am so sorry that you held out your hand and asked in such a small voice to be helped. You ask for help so rarely. I am so sorry they smacked your hand away. I am sorry they yelled when what you needed was for them to sit beside you and watch the sun set over the lake. I am so sorry. Be brave.

Someday, you will be in tears and someone will help you. These people will welcome you and they will let you sleep on their couch for a week and they will wonder, truly wonder, why you didn’t ask them sooner. And they will not understand when you try to tell them. But they will accept you anyway. And they will help you. And then, you will find more people who will hold your hand. And one day, completely by surprise, you won’t need their help anymore. Not like you did. So, finally, it will be your turn to hold their hands.

You will hold so many hands. Strangers. Friends. You will be there when people you barely know and people you love sit down to cry. When they rage. When they hurt. And you will make them cry harder and you will make them laugh and you’ll make them punch their pillows and it will be enough. You will hold their hands because the pain you’ve carried has made you kind and brave.

6. You don’t have to put your head down and take it. Not anymore. Not ever again. It’s easy to fall back into that. But please don’t. Try really hard not to. You do not under any circumstances deserve it. You did nothing to deserve it.

7. You are bright and brilliant. think you need these people who, whether they know it or not, are trying to make you less bright and brilliant. You don’t need people who tell you to close your mouth. To get in line.

Do you remember when you were little and you were drawing on the floor of your grandmother’s house?

A woman stood at the door watching you. She asked your mother: “Does she color in the lines?”

“Color in the lines? Oh no,” your mother said, sounding insulted. “She makes the lines.”

You are that. You are the one who makes the lines. If you can, as often as you can, remember that.

8. It is okay to be afraid. But you don’t have to be if you don’t want to be. You are braver than you know. Move toward it.

9. I know. I know. You don’t believe in yourself right now. You think that this moment is proof – final, irrefutable proof that you deserved it. That you are weak. That you are small. That you are an unworthy. A coward. You’re not any of those things.

You make the lines.

You get to choose.

You can stay here with me for a little while. You can cry here as long as you need. But before you know it, you’ll be standing up and you’ll be going out there to face the wolves as you have a hundred times and as you will a hundred more.

You don’t believe. But I believe in you.

10. I have your back. Go on; I believe in you.

∆∆