Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Rock Climbing / Heart Healing

I started rock climbing with my dad in 1990. Right from the start, rock climbing was a salve.

My dad catapulted back into my life when I was 12, just as abruptly has he catapulted out 6 years prior. My parents were young and unmarried when I was born. I mean super young: I was born 6 days after my mom’s 17th birthday; my dad was 18. They got married a couple months after I was born and we all lived together on and off until my dad totally peaced-out when I was 6. They partied hard and had violent fights. It was clear to me, in my very first memories, I had as much of a handle on our lives as they did.

My mom died shortly after my dad left, at age 24. Her family never much liked my dad, and some of them blamed his influence for her death. My grandmother would say, “She was out chasing him around, trying to keep him out of trouble when she should have been taking care of herself.” But that’s a story for another time. The point here is my dad was gone, my mom was dead, and half of the family I was left with didn’t celebrate my dad or the past.

So, when he came back, the summer before I started 7th grade, I was torn in half. My dad’s family was psyched. We had family dinners and parties and talks of future plans. My mom’s family was quiet. They didn’t try to keep me from my dad and they didn’t give me any actual warnings. But I had the sense they were concerned, concerned about my feelings, and about his accountability and judgment. So half of me thought “Great! I have a dad!” while half of me thought “Is my dad a bad dude?”

The following spring, my dad took a rock climbing lesson and immediately became a climber. We had it set up that I spent every other weekend with him, and I quickly decided he wasn’t a bad dude, but he was a bad ass. I spent those weekends following him on adventures with no questions asked, building my own bad ass aspirations.

In my memories of my dad before he left home, he spent a lot of time outside: exploring, camping, hiking, skiing, biking. When we started hanging out again, the new memories we were making all involved the outdoors and adventure.

Despite having not spent much time together up to that point, my young dad and I quickly became friends. He’d drive two hours to pick me up on Friday nights after work, and we’d drive the two hours back to the town he lived in. I always brought cassettes to blast. He didn’t love the industrial or punk music I was into, but we agreed on the Talking Heads, Violent Femmes, and Dead Milkmen. I didn’t have to fast forward over the swears like I did when I was in the car with other adults.

Sometimes we’d climb with my dad’s other climbing partners, and I’d be hangin’ with a crew of 30-something climber dudes. They’d sneak away to smoke pot and mumble apologies when they said something inappropriate.

Most of the time it was just me and my dad.

Climbing was a salve on the wounds of abandonment and guilt. It was medicine that made it easy for two near strangers—a 13 year old girl and her 31-year-old free-spirited once-absentee dad—to become close. Climbing partnerships are gold. The level of trust and communication established between partners is deep, a matter of life or death.

The bond we developed as climbing partners dissolved the need to drag up the past, to ask the difficult questions. (Why did you ditch my mom? What was it like being gone from home for so long?)

Climbing became a salve for more than just my relationship with my dad. During or right after climbing, I found myself thinking about my mom.

Once I came home from a weekend with my dad and my friend asked how the climbing was. In answer, I stood and took a photo album from the shelf in my bedroom. I opened to a picture of my mom and squeaked out, “This is my mom,” before sobbing. My friend put her arm around me and we talked about my mom. I’m sure that was the first conversation I'd ever started about my dead mother. And I’m sure climbing was breaking something open in me that allowed my grief to come to the surface.

Once, when I was 15 or 16, I trailed along behind my dad and his friends. It was dusk as we walked through the woods away from the rock we’d been climbing that day. I walked along feeling in-my-body, touching trees and branches as I passed. I felt tired and sore but totally satisfied from climbing.

Then, suddenly, I felt something else. The air felt warm and heavy as it sunk around me. I had the sense of being hugged. I stopped and wrapped my arms around myself, holding the hugging presence. It was my mom. She hugged me in the woods, through the woods, by way of the rock.

This was the start of a lifelong approach to health and healing. It was the start of my faith. But I never thought of rock climbing as my healing tool until recently.

I’m taking stock of the messages in my memoir that I think are valuable to share. One of the big ones is that nature and adventure—rock climbing especially—have healed me many times in many ways.

Writing the book helped me read my own mind. I discovered things about myself that I hadn’t noticed before. Shortly before publication, my editor remarked to me, “I love how, throughout the book, you go to nature when you’re hurting.”

She pointed out the scene where I run away from Dave at the DMV. We’re estranged, about to be divorced. Dave drives us downtown to the DMV to transfer the ownership of our car. He’s as aloof as ever and I’m burning with heartache. I collapse in the parking lot, screaming and crying, begging for Dave’s sanity. Then I get up and run away, fleeing my mentally unstable soon-to-be ex-husband and the devastating present. I don’t stop until I reach a city park. There, as soon as my feet touch the grass, I lay down and plunge my fingers into the grass and dirt and stare at the sky.

My editor said, “Even in the city, you find the green space and you seek healing by touching the Earth.”

Sure enough!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Van Dream

Seems to me there will be a book tour in my future. And it seems to me there will be a van for touring!

My van dream is official.

Dear Universe, please deliver me the coolest van in all the world.

Yup. This one would do. It was born in 1977, just like me.

The only thing keeping us apart is 1711 miles and the other eBay bidders. Wish me luck! And, Dear Universe, please deliver me the coolest van in all the world! Thank you.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Death Fantasies

In the book, I wrote about fantasizing my own death when I was seven, after my mom died in her sleep from heart failure. In my waking dream, my heart, like hers, would stop. After Aunt Barb crashed her car and died when I was eighteen, the fantasy turned to dying by bleeding. Breaking through glass and tearing skin to blood.

I don’t know, but I’m guessing this is sorta normal, a part of the grief process, a way to feel connected to a dead love.

I have a newish death fantasy, one that I dream since Dave died. Like after my mom died and I imagined a death that mirrored hers and I felt my heart stop, after Dave died I started to lose my breath and imagined myself dying as Dave did by running out of air.

The first time I noticed it happening and identified it as a new death fantasy was a couple summers ago. I lay on a rock next to a steam, soaking in sun and humid air, feeling peaceful and grounded when my breath became shallow and I didn’t feel like I was getting enough air. All I could see was Dave taking his last breaths, all I could feel was his slipping away.

For the first time, on the rock in the sun, I saw that memory as traumatic. In the first few years after Dave died, I thought of the moment of his last breaths, and the months leading up to it, as magical. I saw golden light that luminated truth.

But on the rock, in that sun soaked moment, I saw the past as traumatic. As I basked in earthy pleasure, I was vividly aware of the pain and suffering that had so far been drowned out by cosmic light. In the light of the Earth sun, I saw a new human truth, felt a new human pain.

So now, my death fantasy is: I can’t breathe. I can’t catch my breath. My breath gets shallower and shallower, so if it was any shallower, I will die.

I guess it’s something like a panic attack. Only I’m not panicking. I’m usually completely chill. I just can’t breathe. And I think, ah, so this is how it feels. To slip away.

Breathing, like meditation, is best when you do it consciously, but if you don’t it still happens. All practices are correct; all doors lead to *heaven*. The enlightenment switch can flip anytime. Even Catholics agree: you only need to ask the Lord’s forgiveness to receive it. Whammy. Just like that.

Yesterday, in the shower, with the sunlight blasting in through the translucent window glass, I felt my breath weaken. Knowing it would pass, and celebrating the sensation because it has become sort of a momentary tribute to Dave, I observed my breath, my shallow barely functional breath. I fantasized it stopping all together and then saw my body break apart and dissolve. I thought of one of my favorite analogies of the body as a vase that when it breaks the inside-the-vase air becomes one with the outside-the-vase air.

I thought about how breath work and meditation help dissolve the illusion of the body vase, but how—no matter how conscious your breathing or deep your meditation—the vase still breaks and the airs become one. I remembered spontaneous healing and spontaneous enlightenment are real. All the prayers and good behavior may make for a certain quality life, but all qualities of life are valid and valuable.

There’s millions of possible outcomes, none right or wrong. In one, I’m wrecked . In one, I’m a wise old sage, knowing the light of faith and love. In all of these possibilities, we all die.