Posted by: scintillatingspeck | September 28, 2014

The right tree.

Sometimes epiphanies present themselves in the form of your sassy friend Wendy telling you, in her Australian accent, look, love, that tree you’re barking up?  It’s the wrong one.  

Wendy had invited me and our mutual friend Nancy to her homestead in central New York for the weekend.  “Please help me by taking apples home with you,” she said.  And who were we to refuse?   We harvested a hefty amount of gorgeous Liberty and Cortland apples.  We drank red wine.  We talked about our lives, entanglements, dilemmas, progeny, and about how we choose to conduct ourselves as mortal beings whose days are numbered.

I talked about feeling anxious about how to earn income while homeschooling and writing.  I described my scrambling to somehow discern what I need to do in the next 8 to 11 months (which I had framed as my only window of opportunity to figure everything out).  I explained my idea to launch a small business offering research services to individuals.

“Is there even a market for that?”

“That’s what I need to assess.  I think there could be.  But it will be a huge amount of work, another more-than-full-time task.  I don’t know how I’m going to do all this.”

Wendy gave me a stern and loving look.  “You know, you are a brilliant writer.”

Nancy added, “Yes, a brilliant writer, Jen.  Better than some published authors we know!”

Wendy said,  “You should be writing.  You should be making money from your book and from writing, and going around, talking about your book, inspiring people.  That’s what you’re here to do.  You’re here to show people how you’ve changed your life, and inspire them to change theirs.  You know how you were talking earlier about the necessity of art and writing as activism, to create systemic change at the level of culture?  That’s your work.”

It hit me all in a rush.


I had been using my declarations of pragmatism as an excuse.  I had erected it as a rampart against my own fear: the fear of not being good enough, successful enough, marketable enough.  I had said to myself, “Best to return to ye olde MLS (master of library science), your Marketable Credential, except figure out how to use it to work from home and on your own timetable.”

Call myself a writer?   Consider that anyone would ever pay money for my writing?  It had seemed inconceivable.  Other messages had prevailed, somehow, about what it meant to be a good mother, a solid provider, a reasonable woman.   There was no way, no way in hell, I told myself, that I could ever earn money or otherwise get my and Lily’s needs met from writing.  It was stupid to even consider it.  I had no publications, no connections, no agent, no MFA, no workshops, nothing but a driving desire to write.  I needed to think about Real Work.  And in that grim self-talk, I suddenly recognized what I was doing.  This was not pragmatism.  This was cowering in the face of voices sneering.  Little woman.  Just a mother.  Who do you think you are?  You think you’re important?  You think you have something to say?  You think anyone would value you?  with the coin of the realm, no less?  Stay home.  Keep your head down.  Be humble.  Don’t get out of line.  If you do that, perhaps you can be safe.  I had resigned myself to hunkering down, shouldering my burden, glumly slogging my way through to some Answer, even if it meant tabling my writing until I could return to it.

And when would that be?  In some mythical tomorrow when I’d finally discovered exactly how to homeschool full-time, achieve financial independence (almost certainly full-time), AND suddenly have all this time to write?

Had I learned nothing from my journeys?  Had I not clarified my priorities?  Had I not examined the almighty economy, as it is presented to us, monolithic, unavoidable, demanding obedience, and found it to be lacking?  Had I not avowed my allegiance to an entirely different economy, the Economy of Love?  Had I not proclaimed my unmitigated fidelity to my own heart, to my child, to all my loves?

My loves, waiting.  Excitedly.

There sat Wendy and Nancy, leaning forward, their eyes shining at me.  They had no doubt.  They were waiting for me to do my work.  There they sat, a pair of love representatives, their eyes multiplying two by two, until I could sense all my loves gathered, glimmering faintly and with deep-rooted affection.  A whole devoted throng stepped forward in spirit and spoke.

You have gifts that you must give to be whole.

Nobody is served by your self-abnegation.

You have been called.  You have a mission.

Seize your confidence.

We know you will put your blood and soul into it.

We will not let you fall.

… See, love?  The right tree is right here.  Best to gather your apples from this one.

Wendy's apple orchard

Interested in supporting my work?  I invite you to contribute to the economy of love with

  • brainstorming creative ideas for bringing in income
  • knowledge of the writing world
  • offering your gifts, tangible and intangible
  • caring for Lily while I write
  • hiring me for odd jobs
  • donating if you are able  (if you don’t wish for Paypal to take 3%, please feel free to contact me for alternate methods).
Posted by: scintillatingspeck | September 7, 2014

Why I call you Loves.

Loves, I had promised months ago, on Facebook, to explain why I address you as “loves.”  Then I took a whirlwind, three-month journey across the United States, and my opportunities to write were drastically constrained for a while.  (Simultaneously, my opportunities to show up for individual loves was vastly amplified, so it still worked out entirely well.)  Here in my house, in this beautiful river valley in western New England, with the late summer sun slanting across my propped-up feet with their funny sandal-tan, I’m finally starting to catch my breath, reflect, get organized, and reorient to my priorities.

Why do I call you loves?  Who do I think I am, addressing you in this recklessly intimate way?  Do I expect you to reciprocate?  Am I just sort of weird and flaky?  (It’s okay, you don’t need to answer that last one.)

I call you loves because there was a time it was too frightening to imagine issuing that as a blanket term of affection, and I won’t allow such fears to govern my life.  But what if I don’t love everything about everybody?  What if people don’t love me back?  What if people don’t understand and think I’m trying to impose a sort of constructed intimacy out of nothing?  It doesn’t matter.  You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to love me.  You don’t have to understand.

I call you loves because there are too many among us, all our relations, who are never called “love.”  I want us all to be addressed as “love,” whether we have someone in our close circle doing it, or not.  Let it be me, if no one else.  Let me remind you that you are loveable and loved.  Let me use my little speckish powers of writing on the interwebs to call out “You’re a love!  Don’t forget!  Forza, coraggio!”  I don’t need to meet you to know this.  I know all too well how it feels to consider oneself unloveable.  It isn’t true, loves.  It isn’t true.  When you believe this, your demons are playing tricks on you, and they think they are insulating you or making sense out of pain, but they are wrong.

I call you loves because every time you take the risk to reveal yourselves to me, I am honored and delighted.  You transcend the forces that drive us apart.  You commit acts of everyday courage and beauty, and I’m transfixed that you, we, can do this together, under any circumstance.  You say the words you think you cannot say.  You take one step, and then another.  Do you understand how magnificent you are?  Every time I call you love, I want to invoke that magnificence.

I call you loves because sometimes I think I hate you all and I want to break things and wail and have a complete meltdown, and when I call you loves it calls me back to center.  I remember gentleness.  I remember our imperfectness.  I call you love and my heart breaks a little wider and lets in the infinite.  It isn’t fluffy, loves; it isn’t all gamboling in meadows.  Sometimes it’s just holding your hand in the midst of anguished jaggedness.  Sometimes it’s not holding your hand and screaming across thousands of miles but I love you, you stupid fuck-up.  Sometimes it’s gazing upon humanity with profound dismay and every last crumb of compassion I can find, resolving to the end to love if it kills me, because I don’t want to live any other way.

I call you loves because the more I extend tendrils of care and openness into the world, the more you reach back, holding me, feeding me, caressing my hair, treating me like the human animal I am with my needs for tenderness and affection.  And even if you’re not a touchy-feely sort, you can benignly accept the flow of love that I need to emit.  And if you can’t take even that, then you give me the chance to let you go without rancor or expectation.

I call you loves because I object to a culture that views intimacy as weak or peripheral.  I object to a way of life that does not see love as a priority, everyday love, not just some exceedingly narrow view of supposed “romantic” love which is endlessly scripted and constrained.  Love is not a commodity.  Love has nothing to do with making or spending money.  Love is free, and we get to spread it around, if we are not so afraid of how we are perceived and all the real and imagined punishments that may come raining down.

I call you loves because my ultimate home is in your hearts, and it’s a beautiful place to live.

I call you loves because love is the name I call you.

me loving you


Posted by: scintillatingspeck | September 2, 2014

Time, Facebook, connection, and the System.

There’s much to do.  It will be important for me to put some limits on the time I spend on Facebook, I’m realizing.  I’m not sure how to approach this… how much time would be the right amount?  How often?  Will I go through withdrawal?  Will I feel isolated and deprived?  Such dilemmas never existed, not so long ago, before the interwebs.  Or maybe they did, and they were just some other variety of addiction.  I need to remind myself that if using social media is addiction, it seems a lot like food addiction.  With food, you can’t give it up entirely.  Of course, Facebook as a medium could be given up entirely, but not the element it most strongly represents to me: the need for human connection.

It pains me that much of the work I need to do in the coming weeks and months will be done alone.  This degree of aloneness is not what I want.  I feel like the System, if it could speak, would say, “Just capitulate.  Just fall in line and you’ll get your needs met.  You’ll get to see people.  You’ll get to plug into the pre-fab mechanisms and not think so hard.  You’ll get instant, pop-up ‘communities.’  You’ll get to jump through hoops that you’ve studied and mostly mastered.  Why try to do things so differently?  Why do you do this to yourself?”

It’s all paternalistic, destructive lies, that’s why.  Because I want Lily and I to be free and happy to the largest degree possible.  Because I want to concentrate on what matters most.  Because I want to unlearn everything I was told about “how the world works” and my place in it, and listen instead to natural rhythms and my own heart.  Because I believe the System is killing us every single day, and I want us to live.  Because in every act of sanity and supposed “defiance” there are seeds of example sown, for my child and anyone else to reap.

Lily does not go to school.  I do not work for an employer.   If we did have such “authorities” to respond to, they would be the defining elements of our daily lives.  They would dictate our movements and our time.  They would dictate our understanding of safety/risk and what is normal/acceptable/real.  They would insist, in ways both crude and subtle, that the only way to be fed, physically, emotionally, intellectually, would be to submit.  Instead, we are independent, self-employed learners, charting our own course.  Add on top of this the fact that we do not have a conventional nuclear-family arrangement.

Why is this what comes up when I think more deliberately about limiting Facebook time?  Not submitting to the entrenched System makes things harder, in very real ways.  Not just figuring out all our activities on a curtailed budget; not just the huge time management issues that loom large in my awareness, figuring out how to simultaneously homeschool and write a book and develop my own independent, individualized “life research” business, let alone doing all the cooking and laundry.  I still need to connect with people, and I have found that Facebook can play a role in that, sometimes circumventing certain limitations of time, geography, and presence.  It’s not a replacement, by any stretch, for in-person connection, but it can ease the spaces in between.  It seems especially important in the wake of our epic, cross-country pilgrimage, when opportunities for in-person connection were the norm rather than the exception.

Insights?  Suggestions?  I’m listening, loves.

Lily and Jen

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | August 27, 2014

Some disassembly required.

Yes, I do realize this is the first time I’ve posted to my blog in many weeks.  Appalling as that fact may be, the reality of a cross-country pilgrimage, complete with solo parenting a young child along the way, is such that I haven’t had the opportunity to delve into writing here.  Add to that the fact that I switched from uploading photos here to uploading photos on Facebook, where it was a) technologically unchallenging and b) offering more gratification in terms of people responding, and the blog, it’s true, moldered a bit on its little digital shelf in the corner.

Lily and I are not yet back home.  We will return in six days.  Right now we’re in Sherman, New York, staying with my dear friend Liag and her cat Merlyn.  At this very moment, Liag is out, Lily is secluding herself in a different room, and I’m thinking, I had best seize the chance to scratch the blog itch.

The phrase “some disassembly required” floated up through the aqueous strata of my thoughts yesterday.  Much of the time that we’ve been on the road, my attention has been relentlessly occupied, split, sliced, and diced.  The amount of incoming stimuli, information, new experiences, and the concurrent internal scramble to arrange it all into making sense has been overwhelming.  “Overwhelming” doesn’t entirely capture it.  My life, perceptions, being, doing: rearranged, daily.  Upended.  I chose this, of course.  I signed up for this mad mission.

What drove me?  I can rattle off half a dozen reasons that make logical sense, but here’s the one that’s most compelling to me: I followed my heart, or call it intuition, call it whatever words you attach to that which is wordless.  And being foolish enough to attempt to use words, I will attempt to give voice to this heart:

I needed to come apart.  I needed to dismantle the veneers of normality and custom that insinuate themselves.  I needed to disassemble what I thought was home, family, intimacy, community—to let externally-imposed definitions dissolve in the rain until I could see these sacred elements with my own eyes, touch them with my own hands.  I needed to breathe.  I needed great, literal distances in order to feel the pressure ease between my cells.  I needed extraordinary closeness, too.  I needed to break.  I needed to knit together.  I needed to refine my discernment of bullshit vs. priorities.  I needed to show up.  I needed to drink and pour from the ewer of tenderness.

How miraculous to get what I sought.

among the redwoods

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | July 14, 2014

Mount Shasta, California. Doing the right thing.

As we drove up I-5 we caught our first glimpse of Mt. Shasta and it left us a bit breathless.  We continued to gasp at all the delights of the day: the sweetness and generous hearts of Todd and Pam, their home and land all bedecked with fairy lights and sun-catchers and special rocks and the Earth flag, the cozy cabin/sauna where Lily and I are sleeping tonight (in the pictures, it’s the one with the Tibetan prayer flags hanging on the front of the porch; at this moment I’m sitting in one of the chairs, in the semi-dark, with only the light of the laptop and the fairy lights shining, having greeted a curious deer that wandered by in the night).  The wonders never cease: the LAKE.  Swimming with bubbling joy, the mountains all around, the tiredness leaching from my bones.  The delight of once again observing Lily interacting with new people, sharing playfulness.  Visiting the headwaters of the Sacramento River and filling up the water bottles and water jug with spring water.  Walking around Todd and Pam’s glorious garden, deeply admiring the bean trellises, the carefully-tended nine compost heaps, the clearly blissful plants, the greenhouse, the fruiting trees, the exuberant kohlrabi, the stunning veined cabbage leaves, the knock-your-socks-off aromatherapy of basil, the bursting lusciousness of raspberries… oh, it was rapture, I tell you!

I revisited a previous blog post I wrote, From fearful to airborne, written three days before Lily and I departed on our journey.  It was satisfying to read it from the perspective of being midway through this pilgrimage.  I still have to pinch myself that we’re HERE, NOW, all the time.  Here I am, in Mount Shasta, California, the night air soft and warm, looking out at little blue, green, and red lights, listening to the insects singing and the wind in the trees.  Here I am, my beloved Lily sleeping right nearby, resting from all the exploring and vibrancy she generates in her own little powerhouse of a spirit.  Here I am, a skunk suddenly skittering next to the porch as I hastily retreat into the cabin.

I’m thinking of myself at the beginning of June, a bit terrified at making such a series of leaps across the continent, and wanting to hold my own hands and say:  You couldn’t know that you would float in such life-giving water.  You had no idea.  You trusted.  Brave girl.

Pam said to me, when taking leave of us this evening: “You’re doing the right thing.”

Every whistle of wind in the trees, every bird calling, every word spoken by every person I meet, seems to echo these words.

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For some reason I’m having a doozy of a time trying to upload the remainder of my photos from today, which is paining me, because I want to show you these photos so badly.  Gaaaaaah… okay, here’s my temporary fix—I’ll post them on Facebook, on my page.  Stay tuned.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | July 13, 2014

near Hayfork, California.

We drove north, listening to Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem’s album “Ranky Tanky” and Suzanne Vega’s “99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees.”  We’ve landed at Tumbleweed’s place, which I was a little concerned we wouldn’t find, down the little twisty dirt roads, but find it we did, his piece of land in the woods where he lives in a converted bus.  When we arrived he said, “Welcome home!”  Oh, he gets it.

We were entranced by the roller-coasteriness of Route 36 and the dramatic changes in landscape.  When we started climbing into the mountains, Lily said, “Look at that view!  It’s even more beautiful than the Blue Ridge Parkway!”  We can’t get over the madrone trees and their bark—that color!  And to cap everything off, there were black raspberries for the picking and joyous eating.

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Posted by: scintillatingspeck | July 12, 2014

Stinson Beach, Marin County, California.

Stunned by the beauty of the mountains and the ocean.  I wish my photos could reflect how beautiful it was.  They are terribly deficient, I realize.  Lily danced in the waves and declared, “Everywhere is paradise.  Everywhere is home.” Upon returning to Marlowe’s apartment complex, Lily joyfully played with the children she met yesterday, especially her soul-sister Gaia (check out the last photo).

The Pacific surf soothed my sore heart like a rhythmic, attentive, aural masseuse.  I’ll try to summon the sound of waves and the smell of salt as I seek to melt my thoughts down into liquid silver.

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Posted by: scintillatingspeck | July 11, 2014

Tilden Park, Berkeley, California.

What I loved about this day:

  • We foraged blackberries and thimbleberries, their sweetness detonating softly in our mouths.
  • The Botanic Garden of native plants of California, in Tilden Park, filled us all with rapture.  It made me think of Lily’s comment while we were participating in various ranger-led programs at the Grand Canyon: “They should have a program on desert plants.  I want to know about the plants.  Especially the edible ones.”  And then at the beach in Monterey, she was so keen on collecting seaweed and laying it out in her “kelp museum” on the sand.  I love, love, love that my girl loves plants.
  • Lily’s face while riding the merry-go-round was priceless.  (At that point my camera battery had conked out; Marlowe got some hilarious, blurry shots of Lily going by, though.)
  • Marlowe’s kindness and generosity is so vast.  I was particularly vulnerable yesterday and today, and she was so good to me and Lily.  She was exceptionally patient when we were in the car and Lily kept hollering, “I’m thinking!  I don’t want any talking!”
  • The free samples of peaches, strawberries, blueberries, and dates at the Berkeley Farmers Market were delicious.
  • I received unexpected illumination, bright and true, and I feel immeasurably more peaceful than yesterday.

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Posted by: scintillatingspeck | July 9, 2014

Monterey, California.

The familiarity and ease with which Becky and I relate to each other is a profound haven.  Although we hadn’t seen each other in 11 or 12 years, reconnecting was utterly simple.  This I know viscerally: kindred spirits scoff at space-time.  It pleases me that my pilgrimage brings me both to my oldest and newest friends, all of whom are threaded into my ever-more-iridescent soul-cloth, as I am threaded into theirs.

Today Becky introduced me and Lily to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which delighted us immensely.  Oh, the SEA OTTERS!  I tried to take decent photos of them, but they were so sleek and quick and playful… eventually I gave into the blissful mesmerization of witnessing their unabashed, aqueous joy.  It was also hard to turn away from the pulsations of the jellyfish.

We spent some time relaxing and playing on the beach.  Lily was busily involved in beach-combing for a brilliant variety of seaweeds.  She said, “Today we’re in Paradise.”  She was quite right.

(You can click on images to make them larger.)

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Posted by: scintillatingspeck | July 7, 2014

Mojave National Preserve, California.

July 5-6.

So peaceful at Mojave, with the long-eared jackrabbits, bluebirds, ravens, and insects.  Pinyon pine, juniper, sage, loveliness.

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