Posted by: scintillatingspeck | July 9, 2018

Show the fuck up.

When I traveled around the USA, all the 10,000 miles of driving that I did, there was an insistent voice in the core of me repeating: Show up. Show up NOW. Show the fuck up! The voice has not abated. I want to translate every last ounce of meaning contained within show the fuck up.

“Show the fuck up” means “Be Here Now.”

“Show the fuck up” means “You have people and they need you. Show the fuck up for them. They have stories that need to be witnessed.” Also: “Your people need to be needed. They want to offer you a haven. They want to feed you. Let them.”

“Show the fuck up” means “Your days are numbered. Live now. Be aware now. Take action now. You’re going to die. Don’t die with horrible regret that you didn’t take necessary risks.”

“Show the fuck up” means “Stop disappearing into your recliner, into a laptop screen, into anything mind- and body-numbing. Step away from the Facebook.   Step away from smokescreens and pretending. Be fucking real.”

“Show the fuck up” means “Stop settling for relationships that have little depth, that don’t take risks of vulnerability, that are not mutually nourishing.”

“Show the fuck up” means “Show your daughter the kind of role model you want to be. Show her that you won’t leave her behind, and you won’t leave yourself behind, either. These things are not mutually exclusive. Show her that you will travel the breadth of a continent to seek the sort of community you both most need. Show her that she, and you, are worth pulling out all the stops.”

“Show the fuck up” means “You promised your lover you would see him again. Keep the fucking promise. Keep it even though you have no idea of the longevity of this relationship or what it means or whether the unbearable heartache is worth it. Show up. Look into his eyes and smell him and know the truth of your union or lack thereof. Commit to seeing this through, no matter the end result.”

“Show the fuck up” means “You don’t actually have a clue how this is going to turn out. You don’t know what you don’t know. Keep learning that lesson that control is an illusion. Stick a pin in your own hubris, the clinging to the belief that you know the outcomes here, that you know the landscapes, the hearts, the real story. No. You don’t know. Let yourself be surprised. Find new delights and new devastations. Make new friends. Lose friends you thought might stay in your life. Let love bloom and wither.”

“Show the fuck up” means “Pay attention, know when to shut up, and when to use your voice. Listen. Really listen. Also, stop fucking devaluing your own experience, your writing ability, your worth as a human being. Just stop it. Is that what you want Lily to see and absorb? Be courageous. Keep showing up no matter how hard you tremble and even if your mind goes blank in a desperate attempt to shut it all down. Be the person who is terrified and goes ahead and does scary shit anyway. You have been training for this, crossing threshold after threshold of risk and vulnerability. Keep doing it. Do it for yourself. Do it for Lily. Do it for all those who bear witness and want to be inspired and emboldened. Do it to show how it’s done—that in your ordinariness, you can cross over into doing extraordinary things. You think it’s not extraordinary for one woman to write her own, true story in her own tremulous voice? You are wrong.”

“Show the fuck up” means “Facebook is a piss poor replacement for tangible relating. It has served an important function in your life, allowing you to connect with people over great distances, allowing you to reveal yourself in ways that felt too risky before. However, it is cutting you off from hugs and eye contact and pheromones and laughter and smiling and all the millions of essential, embodied ways of communicating. You NEED this. You need community, and friends whose arms are ready to embrace you, and lovers who entwine their lips and hands and bodies with yours and not just offer beautiful words, and people who will garden and hike and sing and eat meals with you. People who will tuck you into bed when you are sick or sleepy, and vice versa.”

“Show the fuck up” means “Disembodiment can no longer be a way of life for you. Yes, this is terrifying. Still, you need to confront all the reasons you have fled your embodied experience and bring yourself back to the physical world. You need to feel the sun, the rain, the wind, the grass, the sand; you need to hear bird songs and crashing waves; you need to savor the dripping fruit. You are not a brain on a table. You are a human animal, with needs and desires. You need to live in your body in order to have those needs and desires met in any fashion. You must confront the things that have so scared you that it felt safer to flee within and be numb.” It is hard to write this. I have not resolved this. I don’t know if I have made any real progress on this. I think it’s only now that I’m barely beginning to crack through my fear.

“Show the fuck up” is also a plea. Please be there for me, people, landscape, Earth. Please be there for my Lily. Please hold us, love us, give us a home, welcome us in. There have been too many times I have felt alone, unloved, unwelcomed. I don’t want to live like that anymore. I want to be part of a mutual, loving web of connection. Please tell me you want to hear my voice, my stories. Please tell me you haven’t given up on me. Please tell me you cherish my presence, look forward to seeing me. Please do these things without my having to ask constantly, just because you want to reassure me. Please tell me I matter, that you miss me when I’m not with you. Please tell me I belong here, in this place, in this community, with you.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | May 4, 2018

How I long to be known. How I fear to be known.

I have been avoiding this blog.  I have even been avoiding making myself fully aware of how much I’ve been avoiding it.  That’s really the best vanishing act: to believe that no vanishing is happening, because—what blog?  what writing?  Really?  I have a blog?  Who wrote those things?  It could go further, you know.  You know.  Obfuscation rolls in like a comforting blanket of fog, smoothing the jagged edges of reality.  Don’t tell me your brain doesn’t play that same, soothing trick sometimes, in ways both tiny and sweeping.

I once made a commitment to myself never to delete anything from this blog.  I have been steadfast in that commitment.  Most of my commitments, really.  How steadfast I am in both my published truths and my unpublished promises.  I’m so steadfast that I’d sooner let anxiety and dissonance eat away at me like acid rain on a marble statue.

I live in a faraway land now.  I can call it that because I am still arriving and arriving and not quite here.  It will take a long time to fully inhabit this place, this community.  It might take a lifetime that I don’t have.  I have little pieces of familiarity, sweet jolts of discovery, tentative tendrils of connection, a few deeper connections.  I am not rooted in Wisconsin.  I’m not convinced I ever was fully rooted, anywhere.

Still, I carry all my baggage with its sleeping ghosts and mistakes, set it down in this new land, and feel terrified to open the latches.  There are things I haven’t been able to bring myself to do, like set up my new little office/writing space.  I can’t do it.  I can’t unpack in there, literally.  I’m not even writing in there, right now.

I do, still, long to be known.  It never goes away.  I’m not sure how we really know each other.  Funny that now what comes up is the idea of “knowing in the Biblical sense”— that can be a sort of knowing, sure, or it can be a bit of annihilation of awareness, too.  I thought I could be known through writing, I mean really seen, really understood.  It seems wildly improbable to me now, but it didn’t stop me from trying.  I thought I could draw people to me and know them, too.  I thought we could find some profound, resonant, universal beliefs?  feelings?  values? to stand on.  Um, yeah.  We get to stand on question marks, mostly.

I do, still, fear to be known.  I fear judgment, shunning, being “othered,” being stereotyped, being discriminated against, being misunderstood.  Is there such a thing as ever wiping the slate clean and starting anew in a new land?  Could I have believed that that might happen here?  The fact that this blog exists, that it records portions of the past 10 years of my life, that it is intensely personal, that it bears the imprint of tremendous change and anguish—part of me doesn’t want to be associated with it anymore.  I think of all the friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that were lost to me along the way, sometimes in ways that I could trace directly to this blog, or at least the spirit of transparency behind it.  I’m not sure anyone understood that that transparency was as fragile as gossamer, ready to petrify into stony opacity.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | July 14, 2017

How can I be a better relational creature?

This morning I wrote on Facebook:

I want to carve out some time today to write, i.e. think “out loud” but not really out loud, about confusing social things, and see if I can figure out what my baggage is and if I can unravel it, and what isn’t my baggage and can’t do much about. For example: I have habits of avoidance/withdrawal that I want to confront, complete with stories I tell myself of people’s lack of availability and disinterest that may or may not be true. Also, it’s clear to me that we live in a culture that works very assiduously to separate us and keep us from connecting, and I probably shouldn’t blame myself for that. But I’ve been conditioned by all that crap.

Here I am, writing out loud.

I suppose it would be helpful to remind myself that this is a lifelong project, this bettering of myself as a relational creature.  And that I seem to come with certain handicaps.  I don’t know what’s fixable or not.

The confusing social things.  What are they?  They are things like: how do I know when to follow up with someone?  How do I know when to leave people alone?  Who is interested in being connected to me?  Is there a way to know?  Is everyone just way too busy and overwhelmed?  What if I’m busy and overwhelmed?  How can I help other people to not feel overwhelmed by me, or vice versa?  Why do I so frequently assume that I must not be interesting enough, or skilled enough, or normal enough, or whatever enough, to build and maintain solid connections and community?  Why do I think most people are way more mainstream than I am and thus probably reluctant to be associated with me?

I could probably list many more questions than that, but it’s a start.

This effort to improve my relating feels crucial right now, as we are settling into a new place, and I so much want to get us launched in the right direction.  I confess I often feel terrified that I will mess everything up and that we will find ourselves in a situation like we were in before, where we were often isolated and depressed (at least I was depressed).  I want to change that.  I want to feel empowered to create significant changes in our lives.  I also don’t want to mercilessly blame myself if not all relating goes well, to only own what is mine to own.

So, this piece about avoidance/withdrawal is real, and old, and I’m not sure what to do with it other than keep picking away it, keep pushing myself to meet people and reach out to people and not stop, even if I’m afraid and paranoid and tired.  Is that all there is to it?  Just push, push, push?  Maybe I am supposed to be doing things differently.

I wish someone had been teaching me all along how to make friends, keep friends, build community, and keep community.  I don’t think I have a lot of role models to emulate, honestly.  My family of origin was never immersed in community.  My mother left her home country.  My sister left her home country.  I have no history of having a solid community or extended family around me to fall back on.  I don’t have a hometown to go back to.  I don’t have a religious community or workplace or school or any community-of-proximity like that.  What I have is what I’ve tried to create, from scratch.

I do have beloved friends whom I adore, and that is something, indeed.  Many of them are far from me.  Many of them will always be far from me.  I think my reflections about the confusing social things are more about people in my relatively close vicinity.

Do I know what it takes to relate well?  Does anybody?  How have I managed to alienate, or be alienated by, a bunch of people?  What is a reasonable amount of attention to expect or apportion?  Am I not being fair by sometimes failing to recognize all the times I and others have been attentive, compassionate, patient, and loving?

I seem to have more questions than answers.  That’s probably fitting, for now.

I know I have stories I’m running about Who I Am and How I Am Perceived. And mostly, I wish I could toss them.  The stories are generally on the theme of I Am Weird and Normal People Don’t Like Me.  But there are other, newer stories, too, like my overall convictions that there is no such thing as normal and everyone experiences some degree of social anxiety and we all want and need connection and maaaaaaybe I am not all that weird.  Oh, and let’s not forget people aren’t thinking so much about me because they are overwhelmed by life a lot.

I don’t want to comprehend, in totality, all the times I’ve dropped the ball.  It might kill me.  All the missed opportunities.  All the ways I could have been better.  All the fear-driven disappearances.  I want to declare: I’m nipping this in the bud.  I want to show up.  Even if my brain is screaming at me to crawl under a rock.  I don’t know how many people realize how hard it is for me to interact.  Part of me wants to introduce myself by saying, “Hi.  I’m Jen.  I can often do a good job of passing as normal but actually right now my brain is screaming.  I want to connect with people, more than anything, and I also frequently end up a million miles away from achieving that.  How are you?”  Yeah, that would go over well.

I will keep practicing.  I know I make myself sound like a terrible oaf, and I might have more social skills than I give myself credit for.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | June 14, 2017

Here. Wisconsin.

The Kinnickinnic River, a.k.a. “the Kinni,” in River Falls, WI.  (photo credit: Lily Hartley)


We’re here, here and now, right here, right now.  In the present moment, and it is good.  It is exactly how it is supposed to be, in all its joy, pain, challenge, rest, and whatever the moment MUST bring.

Two weeks ago Lily, Tom, and I said goodbye to beautiful Massachusetts, my lifelong home, Lily’s lifelong home, and drove westward for three days.  We arrived in River Falls, Wisconsin, our new home, in a state of exhaustion and bewilderment, but over days and weeks we are settling in steadily and well.

All along our route, through Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, the black locust trees were in bloom, their fragrant white (and edible) blossoms waving in the breeze, waving us down the road, their vernal froth announcing the continuity of new beginnings.  This arboreal friend greeted us on almost every highway, tenacious, familiar, rooted, connecting enormous continental swaths with a common botanical language, along with many other familiar plants and trees with whom we are so deeply intimate.

We left behind “our” rivers, or rather, the rivers that we belonged to: the Connecticut River, the Mill River, those aqueous forces of motion that launched our journey to Paddle to the Sea.  And the Sea, in its infinite wisdom, brought us full circle to the land of inland oceans and rivers, the land of Great Lakes, the land of rivers that we can begin to belong to, like the Mississippi, the St. Croix, and the Kinnickinnic.  And we brought our canoe, too!  My beloved green Old Town canoe, that my dad bought when I was 12, the same one that he and I launched into the Saco River in Maine that summer of what must have been 1984.  We paddled, we camped, we sang, we chased our hats that flew off our heads into the water, we paddled through a mighty downpour on that final day.  That time, that river, that profound connection with my dad—I brought all of that with me, as well.

It was hard to leave behind our loves, our friends, our peach trees laden with fruit, the house and land I had hoped would be our nest and tiny homestead for many years.  It was hard, I tell you.  I can’t write this without the tears springing up, the longing, especially, for my cherished ones.  But the call was strong and the signs were clear.  It was time to go from there, and arrive here.  It was time to attend to some deep needs of Lily’s and mine, in particular, that were not being met.  Needs, not wants.  We had the opportunity.  We seized it.  We made it happen.

That’s part of what I want to teach Lily by example.  Look, my love.  We are the sorts of people who make things happen.  We are not complacent.  We will do what we can, and what we can do is a LOT.  We can move to a whole new place.  We can find the chances, the niches, the entry-points into our fulfilled lives.  When things aren’t working, we can look for the ways to change our circumstances, whether those ways are subtle or sweeping.  We can know our ever-evolving purposes and enact them by coming alive, over and over.  We are not here to serve the purposes of the industrial machine.  We are living, relational creatures, meant to serve the living, relational planet.

There are loves/friends here, too, of course.  We cherish them.  And there will be more.  We are meeting them all the time.

“Wisconsin welcomes you,” the sign said on the border.  And so it has.  I feel its blossoms twining through my hair.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | March 2, 2017

What I learned.

When I started writing this blog post, I thought I would try to do a comprehensive overview of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in this western-Massachusetts-dwelling chapter of my life, from 2004 to 2017.  On the cusp of moving to the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, it felt important to me to contemplate and summarize what I’ve experienced, how I’ve changed, and what hard-won lessons I’ve incorporated under my skin.  I thought I’d tell the stories that brought me to where I am today.  And of course I would do all of this in a mere hour, yesterday.

Ha ha ha ha ha.


This is going to be the short version, the Moral of the Story without the story.  Because that’s what I can take on right now.  Maybe it won’t make any sense without context, or maybe it will spring forth especially vividly without it.  In any case, if you find that you really want me to elaborate on why/how I learned a particular lesson, please say so in the comments, and I’ll see what I can do.

I’m imagining these lessons spoken in the voice of my Inner Wise Woman.

What I Learned

Go ahead and jump into strange, new situations.  You’re not a born daredevil and it’s not as if you’re heedless of danger; the bigger danger in your life is playing it safe, playing it small, withdrawing, vanishing.  Don’t vanish.  Show up.

Nothing is more important than love.  Nothing.  We are our relationships to people, the land, the universe.  That driving, creative force of love is the spirit that enlivens us.  Love is worth all journeys, those chosen and those foisted upon us.

Sometimes you will be naïve and think that you have a situation figured out, a path planned, a cat in the bag.  Then you must gently remind yourself, with great compassion, that you are not in control.

Sometimes people will hurt you terribly.  You will remind them of some past trauma, or they will remind you of some past trauma, or both at the same time.  You will cry and ache and try to make sense of it for years and years, and with luck and time, the ache fades, the insights come, the larger picture of how we transmit pain to each other becomes clear.  Protecting yourself and maintaining compassion are not mutually exclusive.

Don’t trust institutions.  Trust the sweet, wild heart of living beings.  Trust that you and they can reveal truths, vulnerabilities, powers beyond the scaffolding of artificial systems.

Don’t trust the voices in your head that say you are unloveable, a failure, a fraud, an unmitigated embarrassment, profoundly unattractive, pathetic.  It’s a coping mechanism gone horribly awry.  Your belief in your own awfulness will not protect you.

The psychiatric establishment and the drugs they prescribe are not your friends.  You are healthier without them.  You know what you need to be healthy: good food, water, sleep, exercise, love, friends, touch, light, freedom, wandering in nature, meaningful work, meaningful play.  Sometimes getting basic needs met in this culture is brutal and despair-inducing; it’s true.  Keep trying to get them met.  Keep trying to help other people get them met.  Your sensitivity and emotional vacillations are not problems to be fixed.

When flattened by despair, perform a small act of service.

Sugar is a substance you need to avoid.

Open yourself more radically than you thought was possible, and love will rush to meet you.  Contract and withdraw, curl around yourself in pain, and love will still be there, tender and patient.

You may often find yourself alone, but you are remembered and cherished.

It’s possible to discern when to accept circumstances as they are, and when to go to enormous lengths to change them.  A lot of people will urge you to accept when your heart is telling you otherwise.  Listen to your heart.

Everything requires about 1,000 times more patience than you originally expect.

You are not obligated to say yes.

Acknowledging the omnipresent reality of death and honoring and supporting grief are sacred acts.

Accessing your deep reservoir of playfulness is a source of exquisite joy and a blessing to the world.

Don’t put off any apologies, expressions of gratitude, or declarations of love.

Stand in your truth no matter the truths of others.

Even when you are stricken with sadness and disappointment, know that not a single effort or moment was wasted.

You are already home, everywhere you go.



Posted by: scintillatingspeck | December 14, 2016

He calls me.

He calls me, on the phone.

It sounds unremarkable, that this love of mine should do such a thing.  Is this what lovers do, when they aren’t together for a few days, or months, or years?  Call each other on phones?  Not simply to ask a mundane question, or schedule something, but to talk, to listen, to utter caressing words, to bear witness, to give voice to gratitude, to thrill at the notes of excitement and laughter, to genuinely want to know how was your day?, to say I love you?

Maybe he thinks I’m strange, how jolted I am by this new phenomenon.  We talked about it.  I tried to tell him, I have a bit of a hard time with phones.  Oh, and I figured I shouldn’t call during the week, because you must be busy.  And I’m scared of how attached I already feel, right when I’m gearing up to move far away next season—my heart hurts already. 

All my paltry excuses.  He calls me anyway.  I made up my mind that I would call him today, but he beat me to it.  He might be getting a sense of how anxious I can get, how I flee even in the midst of this gorgeous, voluptuous experience of mutual enthrallment.  I hardly know what to do with the tenacity of his attention.

He doesn’t want me to hold back.  This bewilders me.  I’m the no-longer-wild creature who has been in the confines of the zoo too long, habituated to confinement, suddenly released, standing at the mouth of the open cage, trembling.  I gaze at him like a tame deer, he says.  He likes it, I think, the contrast between my vulnerability and surrender, and my rebelliousness.  What is it you are? he asks.  A radical relationship-ist?  He smiles and teases me nine ways to Sunday.

He tells me, I want you to ask for what you want.  I ask for an object that I can carry with me, from him, that will remind me of him when we’re not together.  He gives me a tritium vial that glows in the dark, just like the stars and planets on his bedroom ceiling.  It’s perfect.  I take it everywhere.  I am never without it.



Posted by: scintillatingspeck | November 15, 2016

Compulsory monogamy vs. Love.

I’ve been struggling with what to write about.  A lot of the topics that feel important to me somehow seem frivolous right now, when so many people are in a state of profound distress over the recent elections here in the United States.  I’m very emotionally spongy, people.  My inclination is to soothe, to fix (if possible), to listen, to gather up my loves, to gravitate to the most current source of wounding and attend to it.  Other than addressing a few individuals who are close to me, though, I’m not convinced that my inclination is wise to follow, in this instance.  What the hell can I actually soothe or fix, here?  What can I say that wouldn’t just add noise?

That said, I think I will focus on a topic that I’ve been mulling over, even if it doesn’t seem immediately relevant to a lot of people.

On Sunday night I went to the monthly discussion group for Western Mass. Poly People in Northampton (a Meetup group) and, as usual, we had a thought-provoking discussion that ranged hither and yon.  One thing that came up was whether polyamory was inherently superior to monogamy.  I tend to take the position of hell no, because I feel so strongly about respecting individual choice on relational matters, but had some useful push-back from another person who felt hell yes.  This kind of surprised me.  I asked, “So you think that all people who choose monogamy are just deluded?”  “Yup.”  This blanket statement still didn’t entirely fly with me, but I realized that what actually forged the common ground between us was a strong resistance to compulsory monogamy, that is, the cultural idea that monogamy is the only true path, along with its associated implications.

It seemed to make a difference, when I was clarifying my position, to draw a stark line between compulsory monogamy vs. deliberately-chosen monogamy by those who have considered a range of relational configurations.  Compulsory monogamy is a monolithic assumption that sits like a giant ogre in the middle of the room, any room.  It’s about control.  It’s about viewing relationships as ownership.  It’s about dominance and status.  It’s tightly bound up with archaic views of marriage, contracts, property, the subjugation of women—yes, all the beliefs and institutions that support patriarchy, and capitalism, and power-over rather than mutual support.  Compulsory monogamy says, “I will be the water that you swim in and can’t see, shaping what you think your ‘true’ nature is, defining the terms of what you consider ‘natural’ and ‘right.’ ”  How convenient, in a power-over dynamic, to convince the underlings that we want our current set of cultural arrangements.  How convenient, and even violent, to frame any variety of non-monogamy as an absolute breach of morality, rather than to closely examine the foundations of what constitutes practicing relationships with integrity:  honesty, consent, transparency, a commitment to communication, allowing each other autonomy, accepting responsibility.  When you don’t even know that there are ethical alternatives to monogamy, stepping off the prescribed path is dangerous or downright unthinkable.

Meanwhile, the construct of compulsory monogamy puts the onus of proving integrity on those who are outliers, and dissuades us from questioning whether compulsory monogamy itself is unethical.  I would argue that, yes, these mutually-reinforcing cultural assumptions (compulsory monogamy, ownership, hierarchy, dominance, playing out in every corner of our relational lives, at home, among friends, at work, in private, in public) are unethical.  Dictating the shape of our relational lives is not a loving act.  Setting limits on who we are “allowed” to love is fundamentally anti-love.  Love is not a force amenable to external control, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous at best.

This is not to say that I consider the deliberate choice of monogamy, for any given individual, is unethical—I will staunchly defend those who, after careful discernment, feel that this relational practice is what works for them and suits their heart.  Think of the alternative—compulsory polyamory.  It sounds ridiculous, no?  Why should compulsory monogamy be any less ridiculous, among consenting adults?

It’s still a political post, isn’t it.  So be it.  I will raise my voice against the powers of thuggish dominance until the bitter end.

May we be free to follow our own hearts.  May we relate to others in the ways that feel most supportive, uplifting, inspiring, and true.  May we keep dismantling the prevailing ‘wisdom’ that only dictates the size and shape of the walls we build.  May we smash citadels in favor of inhabiting our innate, untamed landscapes.

Posted by: scintillatingspeck | November 6, 2016

Tribe. Or, Why We’re Moving, Take Two.

It feels important to not totally lose momentum on writing about why we’re moving.

Obviously, we would not be moving if we were completely content and all our needs were met here, in western Massachusetts.  Truth be told, I think Tom’s needs are pretty well satisfied right now, but that doesn’t mean mine are or that Lily’s are.  Let it be known that as a family, despite the fact that Tom and I don’t have all the traits of a conventional “couple,” we are entirely united in sharing the value that the needs of each (mine, Tom’s, Lily’s) are important and that our decision-making is guided by looking out for our collective welfare.  We are devoted to one another.

What is the impetus for our relocation?  Am I hoping for a geographic cure of some sort?

I’ve been wary, in fact.  I have been thinking about moving for years.  I have questioned my motives, questioned whether I’m succumbing to escapism, questioned whether this will actually bring the benefits I hope it will.  The reality is that there are no guarantees that moving will address our issues, in whole or in part.

What it boils down to, what it has always boiled down to for at least the past 20 years of my life, is tribe.

Lily and I need to be among people who will be a regular part of our lives.  In person.  Doing the things that matter to us—learning, cooking and eating good food, hiking, foraging, gardening, making art, writing, breathing in the magic of the woods, playing, loving, speaking out and taking action against injustice, defining “success” and “a good life” on our own terms, resisting the imperialist narrative that would have us all shuffle off to hierarchical institutions (most schools, most workplaces, etc.) to have our feral dreams warped beyond recognition.

I know there are good people who are part of our tribe here in New England, too.   I have witnessed their hearts, their efforts.  But it doesn’t translate to our tribespeople being generally around.  And it turns out having people around, on a regular basis, in person, with whom we can connect in a substantial way, really matters.

There are barriers to this.  I would say a substantial barrier is that a large majority of people are enmeshed in conventional life, held hostage to economic necessity that convinces them that the only way to live is by children going to school and adults going to a conventional workplace.  It is inconceivable, for most people, to reject large parts of that way of living.  But reject it we have.  (With the exception of Tom, I would say.   But I don’t desire to speak for him, only to say that I respect his choices as well as his support.  I still very much love my convention-enmeshed people.)

Of the various communities to which we have a natural affinity, the most foundational, for me and Lily, is the homeschooling/unschooling community (if it can be called a “community”).  The reality is, since we are unschoolers, these are the folks we are most likely to connect with on a regular basis.

I feel encouraged by what I’ve witnessed thus far, having investigated some of the connection possibilities in a certain radius around Minneapolis/St. Paul.  There are a whole bunch of organized homeschool groups.  There are free and low-cost ways to connect with others.  There is a critical mass of other homeschoolers/unschoolers.  This is a HUGELY BIG DEAL for me and Lily.  One of my frustrations in this region is that it seems like a large number of homeschoolers that we know organize their activities around paid classes for homeschoolers and have really full schedules.  This has become a significant barrier for us, since our budget will only allow for so much participation in paid classes.  Also, we’re not seeking a packed-schedule kind of life, and it’s daunting to even try to wedge ourselves into someone else’s schedule, if they’re even interested in the same things we are (and homeschoolers have quite diverse interests and needs).  As Lily would say, we are really DIY. 

It feels like there are some significant differences in regional culture, as well, which could influence our chances to have more social interaction.  New Englanders are not exactly famous for friendliness.  Add to that the phenomenon of being oriented around achievement, competition, and conventional notions of “success”—which seems to be somewhat heightened in urban areas on the East Coast, and granted, western Mass. is already marginally more relaxed than, say, Boston, but it’s not, you know, relaxed.  And then there is the upper Midwest, which by comparison feels very friendly and neighborly.  Yes, I have already been warned about the phenomenon known as “Minnesota Nice,” but c’mon, people—I will take “nice”!  I don’t expect that everyone is going to be our closest friend.   It will take time to get to know folks, but we will have opportunities to find more people who have some room in their lives for us.  And being around people who are mostly friendly goes a long way towards easing my customary social anxiety.

Speaking of closest friends, it’s not coincidental that some of ours happen to live in northwest Wisconsin, and the prospect of being closer to them is also a draw.  We’re not expecting them to meet all our social needs, but the idea of being able to be in their presence more than once a year is heartening.

Being in the orbit of the Twin Cities is important also in terms of good job opportunities for Tom.  The Cities also seem to have quite a bit to offer in terms of performance arts and visual arts, things of great interest to Lily (and me), as well as affinity/support groups for social justice, environmental justice, polyamory, and bisexuality.  Granted, we are pretty clear that we don’t want to live right in the city (being country folk at heart), but it seems like a place where a balance can be struck between helping Tom have decent proximity to a job, having my dwelling and Tom’s not be too far apart (unless we opt for a duplex? we don’t know yet), and settling into a place away from too much noise, development, and urbanity.

As if the pragmatic considerations weren’t enough, there is also the fact that I simply feel called there.  I do.  It’s not explainable.  Before 2013, I had never even set foot anywhere in the Great Lakes region.  And once I started traveling there, I couldn’t stop.  I remember the day that Lily and I first laid eyes on Lake Superior in 2015 and experienced its undeniable, majestic lure.  Maybe it was the small stone from its shores that I put in my medicine pouch that wants to return home.

on the shore of Lake Superior

on the shore of Lake Superior

A while back, while soliciting ideas for things to write about on this blog, a friend wrote to me on Facebook: “Why don’t you write about why you decided to move?”

This stopped me in my tracks.  The main thing that was stopping me was the public nature of this blog, and the desire of my partner, Tom, to not have our plans to move be widely known.  He is not content with the decision to relocate, seeing as it will involve change and upheaval and the necessity for him to seek new employment, and he is quite content with his life as it is, here in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts.  He does recognize, however, how imperative this move is for me and Lily.  (I should note for the uninitiated that although Tom and I don’t share living quarters, we are nonetheless partners, we are married, we are devotedly parenting the same child, and we are in complete agreement that we will not live far away from each other.)  He has requested time to absorb the impact of this shift and time to break the news to his mom.

The problem with him needing time to share such news is that asking me to be silent has a big impact on me and my need to write transparently about my own life.  And I am realizing that every time people want me to keep secrets about my life, because it involves them in some way, it takes an enormous toll on my spirit.  I want to be able to celebrate certain things, even if other people don’t.  I want to be freely happy about moving, even if Tom isn’t.  I want to be able to voice my enthusiasms, fears, and ambivalence out loud, i.e., in writing, because this is so much a part of how I come to terms with my life.  (I hasten to add that I’m not forcing Tom to move.  Neither of us ever wants to be in the position of forcing the other.  We were in a very difficult space for a while, when it was clear that we were at a stalemate about moving; we did our best to account for the ultimate needs of the three of us as a whole.)

Everything I just wrote was a fierce challenge to write, because the truth is I don’t want my allegiance divided, and I want to live with integrity.  I love Tom.  I don’t want to wound him or make him feel threatened.  I’m not sure anyone outside of our relationship understands what we mean to each other.  I know it’s hard for him when I write about him and would probably prefer I left him out of my writings entirely.  How am I supposed to write about myself and my life when people who are vastly important to me don’t want to be mentioned?  Maybe for some people it would be easy enough to shrug and be silent and accommodate the needs of everyone else instead of their own.  All that comes up for me is “Silence = Death” (the slogan about AIDS).  That sounds dramatic, I suppose, but for me?  It’s true.  Silence equals death.  I’m not ready to die just yet, and certainly not by silence.  I don’t think my loved ones who request my silence are trying to kill me, mind you.  I think they are simply afraid.  I think they are not fully aware of the price I have to pay, and that I’m broke now—that energy in hiding things needs to go elsewhere.

I guess none of this explains why we’re moving to Minnesota/Wisconsin, but it must be what I needed to write about.

So why are we moving, and why do I keep referencing two states rather than just picking one?

The pragmatic answer has to do with getting needs met, particularly mine and Lily’s.  Simply put, I think we have a better chance at getting our needs for community/tribe and regular human interaction met by moving to the area around Minneapolis/St. Paul.  This was not an arbitrary choice; there are many other factors that came into consideration, and a bunch of other locations that were investigated.  I have been thinking about this and weighing factors for years.

The reason I say Minnesota/Wisconsin is that although we are centering our sights on proximity to the Twin Cities, I think it’s likely that we’ll choose to live just over the border in Wisconsin.  We are planning to move in the spring.

Loves, it appears I will have to return to this topic when I have more time to write.



Posted by: scintillatingspeck | September 30, 2016

Selfish Mama.

I asked yesterday on Facebook, “What can I write a blog post about?” and a few people responded. The consensus seemed to be: write about my daughter Lily and her art, and write about mothering.

This brought up a pang in me, or maybe several. Or, let’s face it, a whole tangle of emotions. Enough to write about, in fact.

First, there is the whole question of what is the blog for? Is it to respond to the desires of my readers? (I don’t fault my friends for genuinely responding to my question, mind you. I am questioning whether I should have asked in the first place, or whether I should have modified the question.) Is it to examine and tangle and untangle the thoughts and emotions that move through me, sometimes fluttering, sometimes blasting? Is it to serve me? Is it to serve others? Is it to become a better person or a better mother?

I think if I can answer what the blog is for, it might help me respond to the inquiries about Lily and mothering, and why it feels challenging to me. Because I do think the central purpose of this blog, for me, is about meeting my own emotional/creative needs and being witnessed. I don’t think it takes away the other needs that can be met, the needs of readers who want their curiosity satisfied, or want to see their own thoughts and emotions mirrored, or feel challenged by someone who might think/feel differently. But the primary purpose? Let’s call it selfish.

As anyone who’s spent time examining the current Stories about motherhood in this culture can attest (yes, Stories with a ponderous, capital S, with a punishing weight), a prevailing Story is that of the Selfish Mother and how evil she is. She can be selfish for just about any reason. It hardly matters what choices she makes, in fact—those choices can always be framed in the context of selfishness. She goes to work? She stays home? She thinks about her own needs or the needs of others besides her children? She dares to not fade into the background like a ghost? She requests to be heard and seen? Heresy, I tell you. Any mother who has needs and insists that those needs are important is a heretic.

I don’t believe that when my friends asked to hear more about Lily or my thoughts on mothering that they intended to provoke this particular line of thought, but it’s what comes up for me.   (Yes, friends, I see your good intentions, and I know your hearts—I know you don’t want to elicit a painful rush of feeling in me.) I think when I asked “What can I write a blog post about?” I was in part asking, “What do you want to see about me? How can I connect with you? I feel far away from you. I feel unseen. I feel like my voice has been muted and I’m trying to find it again.” I realize that if I had had the wherewithal to articulate it in that way from the get-go, it would have gone differently.

When the only suggestions I received were to write about my daughter, her art, or my relationship with her, I felt pushed aside. I felt like people didn’t understand why I maintain a blog. I felt like I was being told, “You should fade away. You should showcase your child. That’s what good mothers do.”

I do showcase my child rather frequently on Facebook, I should add. And I do feel like that’s a fairly appropriate medium in which to do so. I like to post items related to Lily (with her consent): pictures of her, interesting or funny things she says, art that she’s been making. These are, invariably, far more popular (as evidenced by “likes” or comments) than anything I post about myself. I don’t want to set this up as some sort of popularity contest between me and my child, mind you, but I think it’s important to point out. I love Lily, and I love that others love and appreciate her. But it’s not that much of a stretch sometimes to feel like I should be a Lily-vessel and a Lily-facilitator to the exclusion of being myself. That message, regardless of intent, comes through.

It’s complicated further by the fact that I deeply love being Lily’s mother, and engaging fully in this most demanding role, by far, than any other I’ve ever had. I don’t intend to demean mothering. It’s sacred to me.   I do, actually, want to write about mothering and what it means to me.

But in the context of this blog? I started this blog in 2008 (about a year after Lily was born) with only the vaguest of notions of its purpose. I wanted a creative outlet. I wanted to put my own ideas Out There; I wanted to revive my long-silent writing voice; I wanted to think out loud, and artfully, if possible; I wanted witnesses. I wanted to center my own mind and heart in a place that was mostly about me and the way I see the world. I wanted my own voice to be a revolutionary force, at least for myself, and possibly for others. I wanted to make experiments in vulnerability.

I still struggle with the prescribed boundaries of what is meant to be “public” or “private.” What do I need to keep private about myself? What about people who are close to me, like Lily? How much of that privacy is for meeting our own needs, and how much of it is about not rocking the collective boat? The more Lily grows, the more aware I feel of her preferences, her desire to influence how she is perceived, as she strides into her gradually-maturing selfhood. I don’t want to foist my own preferences and needs on her. Over time, I’ve felt more and more that I need to have a public voice about supposedly “private” matters, that it’s those matters that are the most relevant and important for me to write about. My blog is public. Most things I post on Facebook are public (a decision I made over a year ago). Lily is such a huge part of my life that it would be silly not to include her in my posts, but at the same time, I feel protective of her needs, some of which she hasn’t even grown into yet. Some might even argue that Lily isn’t capable of providing full consent to my posts that include her, that she can’t possibly understand all the implications. I tend to disagree (at least in her middle childhood)—I think we are in the midst of actively learning about consent by practicing it and talking about it, so it’s a good example of learning through real life. In the meanwhile, I do avoid posting anything about her that I think she might feel embarrassed by, now or in the future, although I can’t prevent whether she might eventually feel horribly embarrassed by me being me. (Cue the chorus of parents who are nodding vigorously, wondering how they ended up with teenagers who are so mortified to be seen or associated with them.)

Back to the issue of how mothers are supposed to be invisible. Mothers are, after all, women, and among women, mothers are supremely expected to take on the role of servant, at least in this thoroughly warped and insane culture. We don’t have a culture of mothers being accorded even remotely-adequate support, respect, and love. Show me the mother who is getting all her needs met—go ahead, show me. And I said needs, not wants. Who is getting enough sleep? Who is getting enough time to herself? Who is not besieged with some variety of judgment or anxiety? The cultural beliefs that mothers should be servants, that mothers are subordinate to the needs of their children (or just about anyone else), that mothers should be largely invisible as individuals—these deny mothers their full humanity. These beliefs are deeply damaging and oppressive, and they are put forth both consciously and unconsciously from all directions.

I believe that mothers absolutely must put themselves first, if they are to live fulfilled lives AND be decent mothers to their children. There’s a saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” There’s a reason for that. Why do you think so few people are happy? Mama ain’t happy. And that goes from the planetary scale of Mother Gaia to the very individual human scale. And if nobody is putting Mama first, then Mama should put herself first. Call me a defender for the Selfish Mama. But everything, everything flows from there. If Mama’s needs are met, she is the most generous being you ever saw, patient, kind, able to respond in spades to the needs of others, as well as able to clearly discern and communicate her boundaries. If Mama is silenced, put down, ignored, unloved, or otherwise abused in a variety of heinous ways, with her tribe scattered to the wind, her unique gifts devalued, AND expected to be an ever-giving fount of service to others? No, it doesn’t work that way.

Selfish Mama is a bit of a misnomer, if by being “selfish” we mean “more able to address the needs of others by attending to one’s own.” It’s long past time to dismantle the notion of maternal selfishness.  To quote Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar, I don’t want simply to be “the place the arrow shoots off from” but “to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

May we recognize mothers, first and foremost, as human beings with their own visions, gifts, needs, and voices. This is not an issue of obscuring the needs of children, but an issue of basic respect for all people, mothers included.

May we endeavor to create and strengthen the relational web of mutual support that uplifts all of us.

photo credit: Marlowe Rafelle

photo credit: Marlowe Rafelle

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