Thursday, July 28, 2016

David Foster Wallace once told the Kenyon College graduating class of 2005 that capital-T Truth is about life before death.

Yesterday, a friend asked me to tell him what I believe.

For fifteen months, my husband has consistently won the lottery of health misfortune. He experienced the devastation of a massive MCA stroke, paralysis of half of his body, loss of 1/3 of his brain, function and mobility, and with that prospects for the future. He's had to rewrite his five year plan with edits that no one ever wants to make. He's lost independence, the relationship he had with his daughter, dreams of academic greatness, and hopes of a long life exploring the world with me once our children are raised.We took the eraser to the chalkboard, began again, started creating a new normal, and then I got the call that his thyroid biopsy came back malignant.

Let me write that again. I got the call that Mr. PNU's thyroid biopsy came back malignant. Our endocrinologist, a Muslim, was out of the office for the last two weeks of Ramadan, but he thought we should know. Because I have medical power of attorney, the nurse called me while I was out running errand. Paying the rent, I think. And so the task of Sweetheart, I have something I need to tell you, fell to me.

For "healthy" thyroid cancer patients, thyroidectomy, or removal of the gland, takes two to three hours, and an overnight hospital stay. Within ten days, patients can anticipate some pain and drainage at the incision cite before returning to normal activity. Afterward, survivors receive a single dose of radioactive iodine, assume Synthroid therapy, and life goes on.

Now we consider the risks associated with the surgery required to excise the malignant gland at the base of Mr. PNU's neck. 
I believe that a life of choices based on the teachings of Jesus Christ makes room for the greatest growth, the greatest good, and the greatest peace while we are alive. Those qualities highlighted in the sermon on the mount are requisite to becoming a fully developed human being. Charity and forgiveness are soul expanding.

If God is real, he/she had better not be an asshole. I don't do metaphysical mind games with my deity.

That life is really fucking hard even for people who try their best to do what's right and to do good in the world.

I think justice is a myth.

I think heaven isn't anything that you hear about in church. Eternal happiness doesn't make sense in the scheme of the God in the scriptures, so why would it be for us?

I think my life has felt strangely scripted for the last three years, and I can't make much sense of that. But lately I'm leaning toward determinism over free will. I just think I'm choosing.

I believe that if God is real they're working with me very patiently because it wouldn't be Godly of them to do otherwise.

I believe that everyone is precious and deserving of what little time and energy I have to give.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The latest life lessons written on my stones

I don't know how to encapsulate what I've experienced in the last week and a half—it's been radical—but without going into the detail of events here's some thoughts:

1) Vulnerability is power. Open hearts create a vacuum for healing.

2) Taking responsibility and acknowledging the pain we cause others through radical apology is both terrifying and liberating. Such an act requires complete relinquishment of control in regard to outcome, but it is the right thing to do. The only thing you have to lose is pride; not dignity. It is an act of sheer bravery because it demands no reward and strips us bare of pretense and defensiveness.

3) Radical forgiveness doesn't mean we accept that wrongs done to us are right. It doesn't rob us of power. It does not demand that we open doors that are closed for safety's sake. It simply refuses to assume resentment and bitterness, over and over and over again. It's not a one time thing. Like the refocusing work of repentance, it takes constant immersion and repeat effort.

4) Peace and pain can coincide. Don't assume that because you've done the right thing you will rid yourself of sadness or hurt. But doing the right thing does relieve the conscience, and that peace is soothing while the pain of healing takes place.

5) There is a reason that some formulation of the Golden Rule appears in the canons of every major religion. Give and take is the law of the universe. In the words of Stan Lee: With power comes responsibility. In the words of D&C 82:3: Unto whom much is given much is required. If we have anything, we can't just sit around waiting to get what's "ours." Do unto others. Love thy neighbor. So on. So forth.

6) It's okay to sit with pain without letting it turn to bitterness or resentment. Take your stones into the mountain. There's relief to be had in letting go.

7) Retribution is the responsibility of the universe, not humans. Acts of revenge mean we are complicit in the original offense. It's a needlessly vicious cycle.

8) People can come around. If you're willing to give the benefit of the doubt to confessed sinners, you have to be prepared to give it to proclaimed saints. In the end, we're all on equal ground anyway. Dust to dust.

9) This pacifism thing I subscribe to—one human at a time—it works.

10) Validation is the second kindest gift any of us have to offer one another. Forgiveness is the first. Above all, LOVE THY FREAKIN' SELF AND BE KIND TO YOUR OWN HEART! If you know you're doing your best, there's nothing else to be done, is there?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Girl on a Peak

I offered L— a Spanish Fork Peak sunrise
and she jumped at the chance.
This is her second mountain
of the Utah Valley seven peaks challenge.

We started three hours before dawn—
donned headlamps, 
piped the Beattles, Be Good Tanyas, and Beck
through the JBL to let wildlife know we were on our way
—gave ourselves enough time to reach the saddle
under cover of moonlight,
and waited for the day to begin.

The 10,192 ft summit took another hour to reach.

We took our time on the way down,
discovering everything obscured by night.

Blossoms, wings, hope.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

On a plain between two rivers, my father built a house with a faulty foundation. Thomas Wolfe knows where I'm going with this. Maybe Heraclitus too.

I could tell you stories of how I got here, but the arriving is far more important.

My daughter came out to me at our kitchen table; the same table built for me from a discarded closet door that once hung in an historic house in an Idaho city I lived in for something close to a decade but never called home.

She likes girls too, she said.

I'd been in her situation before with my own mother, in her campus office where she practiced counseling university students prior to becoming certified. And she confronted me about my considerable affiliation with the campus gay and lesbian association with something like:

What do you need with those people?
And I replied, I'm one of those people, mom. I'm bisexual.

Later she said, As long as you don't act on it.

As if somehow knowing I'm a queer kid doesn't act on me. As if it doesn't still, even several heteronormative marriages later, even though I've finally found a man with whom I'm happy, even though I still identify as devout Mormon, even though I haven't dated a woman in over twenty years.

In the house my father built I sometimes dressed as a boy, cut my hair short, tried peeing through an empty toilet paper roll to know what it must feel like to hold my gender in my hand, squatted over some sort of discarded plastic container in order to catch my first menstrual blood. I needed to examine this defining thing that inescapably meant I was a woman. I cringed behind my secret fascination with my body's draining itself until my mother found the stash in my nightstand drawer, dried blood flaked in the circular pattern at the container's base. I can't remember what words she used exactly, but maybe sick, maybe weird. And how are those things not so different from how she's always said the word queer?

Around the time I started coming out I remember thinking that somehow I was making a big announcement. But then I told a gay kid at a summer ballet camp, Let's get one thing straight: I'm not. And he responded, Oh honey, that's not news. We all know.

Was it how I watched the other female dancers? Did I give myself away in demeanor? I mean, I had confusedly confessed to my best friend in seventh grade that I loved her. But I thought I'd talked my way back out of that a week later after the other kids stopped snickering the word lesbian behind my back. Lesbian was what the kids in my neighborhood called Mrs. Wick, my fourth grade teacher, who abandoned her infant son to the care of her husband in the summer after the school year ended and ran off to Seattle with her best friend, Miss Lean. I adored Miss Lean's feisty tomboyishness, loved when she'd visited our classroom, went on field trips with us, helped out in PE. That part of lesbian I could handle, but who could walk away from their own child?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Monday, July 18, 2016

Wings: a day of sightings

This morning, fat little lizards criss-crossed the boulders rimming the canyon drainage basin. I scrambled them too. Swallowtails and dragonflies darted overhead. The Wasatch teem with life this summer. Big cat prints everywhere; scat too. Rabbits and squirrels abound. Bumblebees ride heavy currents up and down the canyon corridor. I've hiked these trails for four years and never have I seen such an abundance of deer. As I rounded a quiet bend, not thirty feet ahead a mountain goat paused, sized me up, and then backed into the drainage ravine.

Over the last three months I've created a ritual for myself, where, in moments of grief or triumph, I load my pack with stones, hike to a quiet, hidden place, and add my stones to this "altar." At first, every time I built I'd come back to find it torn down in what seemed acts of malevolence. But I persisted, found a private place to lay my stones, and in the two months since I laid its foundation this destination has become a reservoir of peace and clarity for me. 

Every stone is a prayer. Here I build my own mountain of joy and woe. Our surgery date to extract the cancerous butterfly from my husband's neck is set for the first week in August. Not that they've ever waned or ceased, our joint heavenly petitions flow wild and pure as my darling philosopher holds my hand on the commute to therapy.

After dropping Mr. PNU off with our therapists at Neuroworx, I spent some time with "Alex" on the island just before the I-15 on-ramp at 10600 South.

Rain, snow, or like today, sweltering shine, I've seen him standing there on and off the past year that my husband has done therapy in Sandy. Today was our third encounter. He's usually in the same shirt, which from a distance I thought was gray, but as I gave him a hug today I noticed it was originally light blue before time, wear, and dirt altered the fabric, and I noted that the cut is baggy enough to give his body the appearance of having more substance than what I wrapped my arms around. His long brown hair is graying at the hairline in a striking manner, not unlike my own, and he pulls it back in a ratted ponytail that flows below his collar. His beard is unkempt and I could see how the dirt had accumulated next to his scalp and beneath his ears. His fingernails are longer than most men keep them, but his calloused handshake is firm and warm.

We chatted about how he's holding up. He's a Cincinnati transplant; wound up one day in Utah. Just has to figure some things out, but wants to stay here—loves it. Has no idea how to make money work to live like the rest of us. We chatted about the canyons, the nature, the mountains. It's my guess he lives there most of the time. Maybe in Little Cottonwood. I pointed out Lone Peak, told him I was itching to get up there, how climbing is soul-cleansing for me.

"I need some of that," he said. "I just don't know how to get there."

I asked him how he's holding up. Day to day is his answer. He swears he's not using or even drinking, and his eyes and conversation are clear enough, I want to believe him. It's hard to say. But he's a beautiful person. Just beautiful. If you see him, if all you can do is roll down your window, smile, and tell him Bonnie said he's a good kid, I'm sure it would make his day.

B— spotted a monarch from the front window of our duplex this afternoon. L— texted me from Bear Lake where she's spending time with her cousins to say she'd had a sighting, herself. Orange and black seems to be making a migratory comeback this year.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Becoming radicalized

I want to write about the last week and a half of life from the perspective of this tiny cul de sac without falling into the lure of passive-aggression. It's hard to approach subjective experience with pure intent when you know you are being watched. But that is what I'd like to attempt.

Each time I wander into the mountains east of my home I take the weariness of years along.

The loud voices would have us believe there is only one way, but there are two; the fleshy eye of the needle that leads into this world, and the narrowing pinpoint of light that leads out.

Someone grabs us by the heal on entry, loops the red cord, and in between the two gates our ball of yarn unravels and re-spools in however many years we wander our path.

There is no justification in this world. We are not justified. We deserve nothing. Privilege is doled out by chance; misfortune by the same hand. And our red cords, how they tangle like causal relationships, as if one good tug might have the power to alter the course of the universe and the webbing that holds it together. Systems rise and fall, not out of correctness or wickedness, but on the strength of the underlying social contract. Agreement. We are complicit in our own pain, just as we are indebted for every pleasure. In the first year of his life, the Son of Man learned to stand on the rough places and the plain. In thirty years he wandered valley and hill. The red cords braided about his ankle, wove themselves into his bloodstream, plied themselves into his flesh. The particles that made up his material form converged and fell away, like water into wine, every seven years without losing their individual significance—they are all his.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Radical apology: an open letter to my step and maternal family

I'm writing to take responsibility for hurting the family and individuals within the family. In terms of motive and anticipated outcomes, I hope what I'm about to do is right. Mark is supporting me in this decision. I have little, if anything, to lose in accepting to participate in this act of vulnerability. But if, over the course of my forty-one years on this planet, my choices and actions have caused the amount of pain that can be the only explanation for your choice to completely withdraw from me in the last fifteen months, I must accept responsibility and speak my acknowledgement of wrongdoing, whether intentional or not. As far as what might be gained from this act: peace, healing, and a safe place of closure for all of us.

I am sorry for my social awkwardness. I realize how ill-socialized I can sometimes be—loud, obnoxious, outspoken, crass, ill-mannered, confrontational, giddy, light-minded, contrary. It must be very hard to know how to respond when I have said or done things in your presence that go against what must seem like common sensibility. It must seem as though I don't respect or care about you. I have hurt you in these ways, and I am sorry.

I am sorry for the quirks in my personality that seem like attention-seeking character flaws: my choice of odd/eccentric clothing, my political opinions, my risk-taking behaviors. I must seem volatile and out of control, and that must be quite unsettling or even a little frightening. It must have seemed like I thought I should be the center of attention. I must have appeared very selfish and like I disregarded the importance of everyone else. I am sorry my behavior caused these feelings in you. I am sorry.

I am sorry for my personal behavior that embarrassed the family. My poor grades in high school, my promiscuity, my drug and alcohol use in my late teens and early 20s, my divorces, my out-of-wedlock pregnancy with Emma, my years of reliance on public assistance, my delayed college graduation, my excommunication, my single-motherhood, and the content of some of my publications. The choices I made must have been cause for shame, and I realize that shame is very uncomfortable. It makes us feel out of control and small and insignificant. You must have felt like your lack of control over my poor choices left you vulnerable to criticism from those who knew both you and me. You didn't deserve criticism or to feel shame. I am sorry.

I am sorry for my unpredictable nature. I have experienced difficulty controlling my moods, and I know it must have been difficult to maintain patience with my resulting behaviors. It must have seemed like I didn't want to behave or be controlled, or that I was blatantly rebellious. This must have been so frustrating, when I'm certain if I hadn't had this difficulty you had open arms and love to offer me. I am sorry that my mood disorder and resulting behaviors made knowing how to love me so hard. You must have wanted to just give up.

I am sorry that in addressing and writing about my childhood/adolescence I've hurt you. My narrative of these events must be hurtful because my rendition isn't what you saw in your contact with me and my parents. Perhaps you feel that I should not write about personal things at all, in which case I apologize for the pain this letter causes you as well. I am sorry for hurting you by trying to deal with my problems in this way. I am sorry for how awkwardly I have handled healing from the trauma I've experienced. I am sorry for hurting you because I don't know a better or more personally effective way to go about it. I am sorry for expressing my need for validation. I am sorry for pressing for validation in ways that must seem as though I was trying to cause a rift in existing relationships. I am sorry for the pain I cause my mother in being unresolved about these issues and for not knowing how to live quietly, or how to heal quickly.

I am sorry that my personality is so different from the rest of the family. I've tried in unsuccessful ways to try and find a niche of belonging here, and I'm sorry that it would take a great deal of acting to keep from hurting other family members or ruffling feelings. I'm sorry that I can't do that and also feel healthy, because I do love you—all of you. I am so sorry for my failures in this regard that must have taken patience, tolerance, long-suffering, and endless reserves of kindness just to put up with for the limited interactions we've all had over the years.

I am sorry for my own impatience, for my lack of tolerance, and for the perceived unkindnesses on my part. I am sorry for the hurt I have felt that translated to behavior that hurt you in turn. I am sorry for the discomfort I've caused when I've been present and for what must have seemed like lack of desire to participate when I was not present.

I am sorry that what I wrote in my last contribution to the Bingham Blab was hurtful. I have hurt you. You have a right to be angry, because I could have said, "I want to thank Melissa and Desiree for reaching out. It meant the world to me. I feel very alone and scared, and it's so good to know that you care." But I didn't, and I am sorry. I hope you can forgive me. If you are able I don't expect forgiveness to happen anywhere except in your heart. I don't know how to make amends or how to stitch myself back into the family web. In caring for Mark I am restricted in where I can go and what I can do. But I'm sorry for that too, and I love you. I do. I love you all. I have wanted to belong and to have close relationships with you all. I just don't know how. I am terribly flawed, painfully human. I am deeply sorry for hurting you. I'm sorry.

Be well. Best wishes,

Sunday, July 10, 2016

How many sets of wings?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland
located at the base of the neck.

We're twelve days post-nodule biopsy, 
three days into my husband's malignant thyroid results.
Papillary carcinoma,

Our little family is reeling, laughing, and crying 
at the meaningless absurdity of this next lottery winning.
And we stick to the act of being a family,
which is something I think we do best.

This girl, how she cheers me. 
How we love simply being.
Even when we're both a little panicked and definitely scared.

During Saturday's breakfast at 2 p.m., 
I read to her from David Foster Wallace's
This is Water,
and then we drove up Mapleton Canyon listening to film scores 
all the way to Whiting campground 
and the trailhead to Spanish Fork Peak;
the first peak of seven that I climbed
three summers back.

She was with me when I first scouted the trail,
I'm thinking about a repeat of this mountain before I tackle
Lone Peak,
the last.

On our way back home we spotted a Monarch butterfly.
We've frequented ditch banks and milkweed patches
a number of times earlier this summer
hunting for larva.
And here, out of the blue,
when we weren't searching,
those brilliant orange wings
amongst the birch trees.

I wonder how many times 
a person can sprout buds
and metamorphose
before the gift of flight is no longer dependent on wings. 

Let me tell you about my toxic parent who will not respect boundaries

Each time in the last year that I've had to tell Anick that my mother has emailed, or messaged my kids, or texted one of us again, my therapist shakes her head and says, "And she's a therapist... You're not dealing with a rational woman, you know. You probably never will."

My mother's stalked my blog for the last couple of months. A while ago I directed a post at her to stop, and for about a week she did. Then I shut the blog down for a while thinking that would get the message across, it worked for another week or so. But she's back again. Every hit I get from Rexburg—that's her—every weekday around her lunch hour at work. I've checked with my friends who still live in the North Country; it's not them. And since I can track which posts are read, and this URL is all over anything that has to do with mother/daughter relationships the source of that URL is pretty easy to guess.

My request last year was pretty simple: Go get some help. Stay away while I heal. Give me space to get to where I can forgive. 

It's funny how someone can scream at you for years about not respecting boundaries or not thinking rules apply over small infractions, and then they turn around and trample any limitation you apply to try and heal from the damage they continue to wreak. Fact is, she's never respected me as a human being, autonomous or not. Her scrupulosity doesn't allow for that, and it's not as though she's suddenly going to wake up and change. The pattern is pathological at least, and that canyon she'd cutting keeps getting deeper and deeper, I think, probably, because if she actually did as I've requested it might appear that she acknowledged wrongdoing.

I get to a point where I think I'm making progress and then there's the URL again, disregarding a simple request. How I'm supposed to trust her enough to ever get to the point where we can have a relationship is beyond me. Consequences. They go both ways. 

So this is not some passive-aggressing attempt to get her to stop, because I'm with Anick in realizing my mother isn't the changing type. I am openly expressing the experience of this relationship: once stated that her abuse permeated my childhood and that it had to stop, I've being harassed, stalked, and my decisions about parenting/adulting continually infringed. It's more frustrating than I can express. But hey, this is the toxicity that raised me, and sadly, I'm familiar with the disrespect and invalidation. It can't stand to witness independent healthiness and not try to dig in and gaslight my narrative. How very Freudian.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Risk vs. recklessness

He's teaching me the difference as he learns the value of the one over the other. We run up mountains, but I've grown too old and cautious to surf down the shale behind him. We drive some nights, talking and just being mother and son until we're so tired that our restlessness can only be quenched by sleep. He's so much like his father, so much like me; the best of both.

He takes off back into the Pacific Northwest in five days to jam with the western parkour clan. I hope this time he comes home without injury. He tells me he's learned how not to angle his foot, so that the loose bone isn't aggravated. Soft tissue still gives him discomfort from time to time. The Greyhound leaves at 11:30 p.m. Monday for Boise. That's perfect, he says. He can sleep through the desert. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Belief and desire—a recap of Timpanogos for my grandpa

A friend of mine recently shared a video on social media. It claimed that in a study, one hundred elderly people facing death were asked what they most regret. And what they reported was not the things they had done, but the things they had not. If you haven't given much thought to how you got where you are today, let me explain the course of your life.

We may experience limitation and uncontrollable circumstance—all of us do in some way, some more than others—but what we accomplish in the midst of that comes about because of formed beliefs and desires. We live the lives we choose to live. These choices are based on desires we hold which are influenced by our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. And so, the course of our lives is ruled by the stronger of our competing beliefs and desires.

In making this claim I'm not referencing opportunities set aside for the privileged. I'm not suggesting you can have whatever you want if you set your mind on getting it, or that if you dream big you can be anything you want to be. That's fairytale fodder for graduation ceremonies and political conventions. Socio-economic status, race, sexual orientation, age, physical/mental ability, gender all play a role in what doors are more readily opened than others. But there are doors of belief within ourselves to which only we have access. 

Happiness doors. Hope doors. Humility doors. Faith in human goodness doors. Love doors. Satisfaction-in-a-hard-day's-work doors. Contentment doors. Gratitude doors. Peace doors. These doors rule our desires, rule our actions, rule our feelings about outcomes.

A couple of weeks ago, my grandpa admitted to me that he'd always wanted to hike Timpanogos, but life seemed to get in the way of ever making that desire a reality. If I could have my strongest desire I would have hiked the mountain with him.

Let me tell you about four of my defining doors of belief: flexibility, creativity, willingness to take risk, and tenacity.

I woke at 2 a.m., Saturday morning, dressed, slung my 25 lb. pack over my shoulder, and drove to the Aspen Grove Timpanogos trailhead by 3 a.m. I felt well prepared—headlamp, micro-spikes, camera, chapstick, a gallon of water, clothing layers, trail snacks, bear spray, map and GPS—and hoped to reach Emerald Lake at the base of Timp by sunrise. While I've hiked this mountain solo before (and by solo, I mean I had no designated hiking partner even though Timp's popularity makes being alone on the trail for long nearly impossible) Timpooneke trailhead has served as my approach. The Aspen Grove route was completely new to me, and a little daunting in the dark, but I quickly grew accustomed to the light from my headlamp and the relative silence of the night forest. The trailhead begins above Sundance, zigzags in fairly unchallenging switchbacks near a series of waterfalls for 5.5 miles up the south face of the valley below Timp. It then skirts Emerald Lake and the base of Robert's Horn before linking up with the Timpooneke trail at the base of Mount Timpanogos. From there the trail follows a rocky ascent to the saddle, and then meanders along the ridge for the last mile and a half of semi-technical exposure to the summit. Roundtrip it is 14 miles—15 if you count the half mile I took a wrong turn down a connector trail and had to backtrack to reach the snowfield below the saddle. Just shy of 5,000 ft elevation gain, Timp is nothing too strenuous and all of it gorgeous.

I took my time on descent to gather photos for my grandpa, so he could experience hiking Timp for himself, and this evening I emailed him nearly three dozen images. 

My grandpa always wanted to hike Timpanogos, but his other desires ruled that he stay on the valley floor. He is now ninety-one. He lived all but a handful of BYU college years not more than 100 yards from the home where he was born, raised seven children with his wife of sixty-five years, and farmed most of his life on the land his father and mother homesteaded in southern Idaho. In his twilight years I hope he can see that his beliefs and desires were worthy ones. I hope that he lives without regret for foregoing a mountain in exchange for all he has achieved. I hope he can see the doors he has opened were good enough. I believe that they were. I believe that he does.