60 days

Today I have 60 days without alcohol. I think this is the second time in 20 years that I could say that. I am walking the walk slowly, carefully, because I know how very close to the edge I am most of the time – if I picked up a drink right now, it could be another year before I come up for air.  If I do.  

I look in the mirror and the face looking back at me so closely resembles someone I once knew, when I was a little girl. Mom was in her 30’s then. She had the same chestnut hair and eyes, the babyish cheeks layered with blush (on her presentable days) in a desperate attempt to fake cheekbones. We have the same chewed up cuticles. She left me a long, long time ago, and yet she looks back at me forever.

I finally walked into the right 12 step room when it became finally clear that I had looked myself in the eye and failed too many times. How many times had I asked myself to stop, made a plan, set a goal, then dropped it all? Dozens and dozens of times.  I didn’t keep track, but surely my journal has. And then there’s that women’s guide to sobriety book with the receipt from 2007, which tells me something.  There is still so much about recovery that I don’t understand yet, but I am quite certain about one simple fact, that I am not capable of doing this on my own.

So I go to meetings. I sit in the metal folding chairs. I smile briefly into a few faces when I should, but keep my eyes down most of the time. I grip the mug of peppermint tea that I never  forget to bring. I read the literature, repeating passages with a pen in my hand. I do what I’m told to do. At my favorite meeting, I find myself laughing and clapping a lot. 

I want to be one of those folks who stopped in time.  I hear the stories about hospitals and jails and wonder – am I in the right place?  But then I look in the mirror and remember who didn’t stop in time, who never found help, who took her last breathe as a young woman with young children.  The disease is in my bones and in my psyche. The craving for an increasingly blurrier edge to everything lurks ever nearby, waiting to pull me in and pull me down. So I go to meetings.  And when I go, she goes with me.  We go together so that one of us can finally find freedom.

Forest Bathing

I took a short hike in the redwoods this morning, which is one of the most glorious luxuries of my life.  I am able-bodied and live just a few minutes away from these ancient beauties.  Initially I was looking for some exercise – which I’m delighted to report is once again becoming routine – and brought a podcast but also a head full of woe.  Work is really stressful right now.  I must have been a half mile up the hill before I caught myself in an incessant loop of negative thoughts, a shitty blend of frustration with the behavior of others and self-doubt about my own response.  This is the classic kind of stewing that both replays snippets from tough conversations and invents retorts far more polished than anything I have actually said, or intend to say.  Do other people experience this?  My mind was so erratic that I finally stopped one of my favorite podcasts, realizing I wasn’t listening to it at all. In a (fleeting) mindful moment I caught this cycle in action, paused, looked around, and remembered where I was and how bloody grateful I am to be here.  Then it occurred to me that this forest bath might be therapeutic for me, if I let it be.

Redwood Forest
Image credit: USA-Reiseblogger – CC0

Recently I picked up the beloved Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, a series of essays exploring both profound and mundane experiences that have led to the author’s fierce Christianity and devotion to God, especially through prayer.  I did this on purpose, you know, seeking out a book on prayer. As a life-long agnostic (and in recent years feeling a little bit on the hopeless side of that) I find the word prayer difficult to mouth in any seriousness.  But in all of the inner work I’ve done over the years – readings, meetings, sessions, etc – I have come to appreciate the ideas of stillness and surrender that are sometimes associated with prayer.  I can wholeheartedly say that my own thoughts are usually as frustrating as any personally challenging situation I’ve been in.  And I could use a little help breaking free from this monkey mind, which makes prayer so appealing; after all, people who do it on any kind of regular basis swear it works!  But I can’t shake this doubt about who or what I’m praying to.  Yes, I consider myself spiritual.  I often say that nature is my church and Stevie Wonder is my gospel, and I can say both of those things with a straight face.  So why do I feel so silly when I attempt to pray or even talk about it?

I decided to bite the bullet and start talking as I huffed and puffed up that hill, talking like people who talk to a God talk, except I felt pretty sure no one and nothing heard those words but me.  Truthfully, those moments of focused thought on both my worries and my gratitude gave a pretty nice break from the monkey mind.  Maybe that is enough for me to give it another try.? I walked a little slower, took some deeper breaths, and said hello to handsome little fox who crossed my path.  I can’t say I didn’t swing back into my worries for the rest of my walk – oh, I was deep in it for most of those steps.  But I did come home a little more peaceful, and inspired to write a few words about it.  It feels like a Songs in the Key of Life day.

Twitter Fan-Crushing

 

I finally gave in to the grad school peer pressure last year and started a Twitter account… apparently it is where all the movers and shakers in the school library world do their thing. I thought I’d keep my feed limited to education fodder, but eventually found myself looking up a few celebrities and some of the Internet folk who fascinate me. While there is a mind-numbing amount of minutiae in the Twitterverse,  there are also a few interesting people saying interesting things. In between Education Week and School Library Journal, McSweeney’s and Conan O’Brien give me some giggles throughout the day, Roxane Gay and Tavis Smiley are always adding to my reading list, and the Obamas and His Holiness the Dalai Lama give me nuggets of hope.  And then there is Paul Crik.

If the Kids in the Hall, Tony Robbins and that philosophical DJ character on Northern Exposure had a love child, it would be this guy. He floated across my feed one day and I promptly dropped everything I was doing to binge on the hilarious and eerily insightful Internet series called Killin’ it with Paul Crik. Here is a taste:

Sadly, Paul hasn’t made a video for a while, and I was missing him.  So you know what I did?  I Tweeted him!  I dropped a digital note into his pocket!  Just like that!  And you know what else?  He Tweeted me back!  I’m fan-crushing really hard about this.  I think I can die now.

twitterpated

Have fun my friends.  Fingers crossed we’ll see him pontificating in god’s country some time again soon.

Love, Rybee

Hanky and the Girlfriends

That’s a pretty killer band name, right?  Actually, it’s how we lovingly refer to our little animal step-family.  I recently moved in with my sweetheart and his big yellow (white) lab Hank, otherwise known as Hanky or, when he’s really excited, the Bull in the China Shop.  And with me came StarBooty and Bootsy Collins, my two kitty-partners-in-crime.  They are my girlfriends, in the spirit of Suze Orman’s gushingly friendly term for lady clients.  When I call them in at night, I shout across the farm: “GIIIIIIIIRLFRIENDS!”

Cat with big eyes
This is Bootsy’s worried face when she sees me packing an overnight bag.

Yellow lab panting
The amount of fun Hanky is having at the river is directly proportional to how much tongue is hanging out of his mouth.

Cat perched on sewing machine
StarBooty mastering the art of the perch.
It’s been heartwarming to watch the Brady Bunch play out with them as they gradually form a pack.  The girlfriends have always been friendly and curious towards Hanky, but it wasn’t at all mutual until recently.  He’s a good boy, but a little on the aloof side when it comes to other animals.  Even though he had been coming to my apartment with his dad for months before, he always gave them the cold shoulder.  But now that we’ve been co-habitating for some time, it seems Hanky is thawing out a little.  StarBooty in particular, the world’s friendliest cat, is working her magic and seeing real results.

Cat and dog laying in grass together
Enjoying a romp in the dead grass together.

Cat and dog lying on bed together
Hanky doesn’t say no to a little foot snuggle.
One of these days I’m going to find her giving him a bath, a special gesture she saves for family members only.  Hanky won’t admit it, but I think he likes having little sisters around to pretend he’s ignoring.

Summer Things

Salmon River swimming hole
Happy summer, y’all!
Hello my dear friends!  I finally made it to the blog.  I’ve been threatening to do this for a while now, but I had to get my head straight about why I’m here and who I’m talking to.  One of my goals this summer has been to honestly examine where fear and lack of confidence are holding me back, especially in my professional life… but, of course, that journey goes straight to the heart, and knows no distinction between personal and professional.  A myriad of creative impulses have been stifled over the years because of weird shame stuff that has haunted me all my life, but I’m doing my best to clean house now.  Someday I’ll say more about Impostor Syndrome and its many tentacles in my professional psyche.  For now, though, I want to make just this one confession:

I have wanted to start a blog for years.

Not a bombshell, I know, but it’s a truth that for some reason I’ve struggled to bring into the light.  I want to blog because I love to write.  Did you know that becoming a writer was my biggest, wildest dream as a kid?

I will never forget the excitement I felt every time my dad brought home a fresh stack of recycled paper smelling of copier ink from his office, on which I composed stories and illustrations.  When I was eight years old, visiting my with my grandma, I showed them to her and announced my wish to be a big famous writer someday.

She smiled and offered, “Why don’t you send something off to a publisher right now?  You’re never too young to get started.”

So I grabbed the first book I could reach from her shelf, flipped to the copyright page and copied out the address to whatever random 80’s crime and mystery publisher was listed there.  I sent along a story and a short letter of introduction.  A few weeks later I received a response – a typed note on letterhead with some very sweet words of encouragement.  Keep at it, it said.

Fast forward nearly thirty years later.  I’ve indeed done a lot of writing over the years – essays, emails, social media posts, lesson plans, reviews, research papers, journal entries, greeting cards, text messages, procedures, annotated bibliographies, etc. etc.  Tragically, as I sharpened my academic and professional writing, the stories and the poems began to drift away.  The homemade zine exchanges, creative writing classes and literary magazines have become a distant memory.

But do you know what I miss the most, even more than the literary stuff?  The letters!  Once upon a time, I was the world’s greatest pen pal!  As a youngster moving from state to state, committed to maintaining every sincere friendship I had ever made, I was truly masterful in the art of care packages, mixtapes and long, whimsical letter-writing.  Some of you are smiling right now – you might even have one of those sweet, silly items from me tucked away somewhere.  Of all I have ever penned, I am proudest of the letters, where love, randomness and imperfection poured out of me for the uncritical eyes of my beloved friends.  I could misspell words, abuse the ellipsis, enjoy the cadence of commas where semi-colons rightfully belong, start sentences with “but”… and I know you’ll love me anyway.

Now here I am, a stone’s throw from middle age and finally settling into some permanency in my lovely little life on the north coast.  I’m facing down the fear that It’s Been Done by focusing the blog on the ones who matter most: you wonderful friends who’ve stayed close to my heart from Texas, Alaska, Idaho, SoCal, the Sierras and beyond.  You know who you are.  This blog is my love letter to you all, simple vignettes and snapshots of what I’m up to: reading, gardening, sewing, cooking, teaching, healing, pontificating, nerding out.  And hopefully squeezing in a road trip here and there.

Thanks for checking in. I love you!

Love, Rybee