Thursday, November 16, 2017

The *sParKle sOuls* are going to Bisbee!

This December 16th, I’m taking sParkle souLs on the road and driving a big van to Bisbee. I’ll be reading from Everything You’ve Ever Done and talking about the positive death movement and magic and community at Bisbee Books and Music from 1-4.


I’d like to welcome the sParkle sOuls (*YOU!*) to take a ride on the van and hang out in Bisbee for the day. It’d be great if you swing by Bisbee Books and Music. It’d also be great for you to explore the other wonders of Bisbee.

We’ll have 90 minutes in the van each way to party sParkLe souL style. So, bring your art to share and open hearts to take it all in.

This is a free ride and a free event. All ya gotta do is shine your sParkle sOul.

Check out @AmeliaMarieWhalen or @EverythingYouveEverDone on the facebooks for more info.

In March 2015, I started hosting an open mic style art share in my backyard. We sParKle sOuls were born from unicorn magic.



We meet to share art. All art forms are welcome, from a visceral description of consuming a *unique* beverage at the Vietnamese restaurant to displaying drawings to reading from a middle school diary to singing to screening short films.

Some sParkLe soULs don’t share at all. They just watch. That’s cool, too.

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, one of my editors 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.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Breathe

Now that Everything You've Ever Done is being sold in six different totally rad independent stores across three states, I'm breathing again. It happened while I was walking southeast down Sunset Boulevard in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. As we passed on the sidewalk, just before I got to Stories Books and Cafe, a handsome late-thirty-something once-punk, now sedately-hip dude locked eyes with me and smiled big. His eyes said, "We've been waiting for you." His smile said, "Welcome home." And I breathed.

I had just come from West Hollywood, where I met Kieran, a kind and impassioned bookseller at Book Soup, where I left five copies of Everything You've Ever Done. The first store I asked in LA was stocking my book. And here, this handsome stranger on the sidewalk, this angel-from-outerspace gave me a cosmic nod. And I remembered I was on the path. I was in the exact right place at the exact right time.

The not breathing began weeks before I went to LA, after I took a sharp inhale when I heard ringing after dialing Antigone Books, a 30+-year-old book selling institution a mile and a half from my apartment. And from then on, no breathing. I held my breath. The woman who answered was kind and open to hearing about my book. She read the synopsis online and said, "Yup, this is something we're interested in." Just like that. But I still held my breath.





For a loudmouth, only-child Aries, I sure can be shy. Especially when it comes to trying to sell my art, my heart, me. That's what I'm doing here: selling my book.

My intentions are good. In selling my book, I'm telling my truths, which I believe are important and meaningful. But, at this point, my desire to share my story is also a desire to sell the book. After 3 years of writing and 2 years of seeking an agent and/or publisher, it'd be nice to feel like I created something worthy of $17. If it weren't for selling as a measure of my art's worth, how would I gauge it's value? As I understand it, there's a balance and a flow and a universal slippery slide taking us where we're meant to go. I'm learning to balance the selling with the art. The sharing with the receiving. Figuring out the balance is figuring out how to make magic.

A few days after Antigone took my book, Andrew and I escaped the late summer heat in Tucson by heading to Bisbee. I brought a box of books with the intention of visiting Bisbee Books and Music. First, we ate the best lunch at Ana's Seasonal Kitchen while the artist Wonder graced us with her sugary voice and guitar. Then we met Ken at the Bisbee Bicycle Brothel, and he showed us his vintage bikes and when he ran out of bikes we talked about music. He played the Wil Ryder song about Amelia Earhart. "Happy landings to you, Amelia..."

We found Bisbee Books and Music. The owner, Carol, said she'd take two and Everything You've Ever Done went on the shelf. Still not breathing.





This book selling thing kept me holding my breath. I'm walking into these stores feeling like I have something good to share with them. Then, community is materializing around me. And that's how we're gonna save the world. We're going to build powerful cosmic communities and blast our light out. We're going to light-blast the shit out of the bad guys and send them to the sparkly vast bottomless truth-love-remember light!

But I'm still selling the book. And, for me, that makes it hard to breath.

But I'm connecting with The People! They want the thing I made for them. They smile and say encouraging things. They tell me they feel wowed when they read it.

In the effort to shine the light, the light's blasting back on me. Oh yeah! That's how it works. So, I'm learning to share and I'm learning to sell. I'm learning to be an instrument of the thing I created out of a cosmic love blast. That blast moves through me and into the book and out of the book and into the community and back from the community. It comes through the smile of a dude walking down Sunset Boulevard. And that makes it so I can breath.

Huge gratitude to my kick ass local book store community. Big love to Anitgone Books and Bisbee Books and Music!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

*mAgiC*

Hang on tight! The adventure is just beginning!

I thought finishing writing a book was an ending. I thought 3 years of soul searching and writing and rewriting and finally completing my memoir was getting it done. I was wrong. Writing it surely was getting something done, but certainly not getting something out there. After 2 years of searching and trying to get support to release this book, I found a publisher. And, again, I thought finding a publisher was an ending. I finished my work! Nope. Not even close.

Writing a book is good. Finding a publisher is great. Actually getting people to notice and want the book, that requires magic!

So, here goes...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Cool deals!

BTW you get the Kindle for free if you buy the paperback -- it's a special thing Amazon does called "MatchBook." It's pretty sweet because you can read the Kindle yourself, then give the paperback as a gift. Not that I've done that, or anything ;)

You can also read the Kindle for free if you have the Amazon "Kindle Unlimited" subscription.

(Please note, you don't need a Kindle device to read it on Kindle. You can get the Kindle app for your phone / computer / tablet, wherever you like to read.)

Click here to buy on Amazon!

Check out a free preview here:

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The book is OUT!

Front cover of the book Everything You've Ever Done
Front cover of Everything You've Ever Done

Here's the first few pages:

“His wings are generating light,” Dave said, his eyes wide and staring at the bug as it crawled down his arm. “You’re a light generator. Do you see that?”

He didn’t look up from his arm and I couldn’t tell if he was talking to the bug or to me. I stepped in and looked closer at the dragonfly. It stopped moving when it reached the spot on Dave’s arm where the clock face would be if he were wearing a wristwatch. He slowly turned to face me and raised his arm so the bug sat between us at eye level. We stood barefoot, only inches apart, and I noticed we were almost exactly the same height. I raised my arm so my fingertips touched Dave’s and my stance matched his.

For some reason, in that moment, I thought of my mom. She’d been dead thirteen years, and I’d mostly stopped thinking about her. When she did come to mind, it felt more like a visitation than a memory. When she entered my mind, it wasn’t a choice I was making, more an act of her will.

So, there she was, suddenly present. I felt her standing in the party crowd Dave and I were on the edge of. My mom had been a gorgeous, outgoing, and popular girl. She was twenty-four when she died, so eternally a hipster, still just the right age to be hanging out at the house party with all the other artists and hippies and punks.

“Let’s go swimming,” Dave said. My thoughts interrupted, I followed him to the pool, forgetting my mom and the dragonfly. He pushed his cut-offs down his body without unbuttoning them. In the not-quite-total darkness, backlit from a yellow floodlight aimed at the water, he stood naked and facing me.

I strained to see his eyes in the shadowy darkness as I pulled off my clothes. Dave took my hand, and we stepped to the pool and jumped. As my feet left the ground, time slowed and energy swirled. With a momentary flash of concern, I pictured the dragonfly resting on Dave’s skin, and then with a wash of relief I imagined it flying away. I visualized my mom, too, flying—no, swimming—through the air like it was water.

My mom and I loved to swim together. When I was small, in the summers after she died, I believed she was alive under the water in my grandparents’ swimming pool. In my mind, the pool connected to the ocean that connected to the Earth’s core that connected to an infinite universe. I’d dream of diving into the pool, deeper and deeper, until I found her. Together, we would swim to a radiant light above the water’s surface.

In my first memories, it’s clear everything is connected and beyond human understanding, like the pool to the ocean to the universe.

Dave and I smacked the cool water and our hands released. With my eyes open in the underwater darkness, I sank until my bare ass bounced on the floor of the pool and then floated back up toward the yellow light glimmering above the water’s surface.

I’ve always had an airplane-about-to-take-a-nosedive understanding of my life and the world around me. Part of that understanding, though, is the airplane doesn’t explode in a fiery crash. Instead, it rights itself just before impact and glides into the swimming pool.

Dreams and visions matter. Relationships and experiences are cosmically intertwined in a flux of time and space. Dave’s dragonfly was generating light. And so was I. He was talking to us both.

That night was important, but there was never an official start to our relationship.

We met when I was twenty and Dave was twenty-four. We knew each other through a handful of mutual friends who met up to see live music or party. That night Dave’s band, Giant Ray Soda, headlined a four-band lineup at a house party in the suburbs. He’d been chomping on psychedelic mushrooms and palling around with the dragonfly all day.

The next morning, after partying all night, he asked me, in an old-fashioned, gentlemanly way, “Would you like to rendezvous with me sometime?”

Of course I wanted to rendezvous with Dave. He was adorable and hilarious. He was charismatic and energetic, a contagious force to those around him. Dave was as cool as they come. And I sensed he was genuine and kind.

Click here to buy on Amazon!

Back cover of Everything You've Ever Done

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The book's table of contents.

Thank you for visiting!

Everything You’ve Ever Done is my true story about living close to death and connecting to the light.

I’m sharing excerpts here. To read, please scroll down to the book’s Table of Contents and click links (or click "Next" at the bottom of the page).

I really appreciate your support. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my writing with you.

Big love and gratitude,

Amelia


Table of Contents

part one

Dragonfly (Excerpt)

The Horses Are Going to Kiss Me (Excerpt)

Dragged out to Sea (Excerpt)

White Quartz (Excerpt)

This is the Place Our Love Built

Climber-Bum

Pterodactyl Screech

Thirty Seconds Away from Death

Spoon with Me (Excerpt)

I O U (Excerpt)

Boston

part two

Everything You’ve Ever Done

Deep Sea Dive

Storming the Buffet

He’s Probably Whacking Off

What’s this Guy On?

Not Bad

Energy Beings

The Mother of All Parties

Dissolving into Light

part three

Vortex of Emptiness

T-H-A-N-K-Y-O-U

The Other Side

Days to Darkness

Closest to God

Don’t Forget Dave

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dragonfly

Excerpt from the chapter "Dragonfly."

“He’s been hanging out with me all day,” Dave said with a nod to the dragonfly perched on his shoulder. He was bare-chested and his cut-off jeans hung so low on his skinny hips it was obvious he wasn’t wearing underwear. The sun had gone down an hour earlier. Illumination came from red and yellow party lights dangling from the trees.

We stood in timeless silence: Dave watching the dragonfly, me watching Dave. He was deeply, evenly tanned. It was mid-August, and I figured he must have spent a lot of time outside with his shirt off that summer.

“His wings are generating light,” Dave said, his eyes wide and staring at the bug as it crawled down his arm. “You’re a light generator. Do you see that?”

He didn’t look up from his arm and I couldn’t tell if he was talking to the bug or me. I stepped in and looked closer at the dragonfly. It stopped moving when it reached the spot on Dave’s arm where the clock face would be if he were wearing a wristwatch. He slowly turned to face me and raised his arm so the bug sat between us at eye level. We stood barefoot, only inches apart, and I noticed we were almost exactly the same height. I raised my arm so my fingertips touched Dave’s and my stance matched his.

For some reason, in that moment, I thought of my mom. She’d been dead thirteen years, and I’d mostly stopped thinking about her. When she did come to mind, it felt more like a visitation than a memory. When she entered my mind, it wasn’t a choice I was making, more an act of her will.

So, there she was, suddenly present. I felt her standing in the party crowd Dave and I were on the edge of. My mom had been a gorgeous, outgoing, and popular girl. She was twenty-four when she died, so eternally a hipster, still just the right age to be hanging out at the house party with all the other artists and hippies and punks.

“Let’s go swimming,” Dave said. My thoughts interrupted, I followed him to the pool, forgetting my mom and the dragonfly. He pushed his cut-offs down his body without unbuttoning them. In the not-quite-total darkness, backlit from a yellow floodlight aimed at the water, he stood naked and facing me.

I strained to see his eyes in the shadowy darkness as I pulled off my clothes. Dave took my hand, and we stepped to the pool and jumped. As my feet left the ground, time slowed and energy swirled. With a momentary flash of concern, I pictured the dragonfly resting on Dave’s skin, and then with a wash of relief I imagined it flying away. I visualized my mom, too, flying—no, swimming—through the air like it was water.

My mom and I loved to swim together. When I was small, in the summers after she died, I believed she was alive under the water in my grandparents’ swimming pool. In my mind, the pool connected to the ocean that connected to the Earth’s core that connected to an infinite universe. I’d dream of diving into the pool, deeper and deeper, until I found her. Together, we would swim to a radiant light above the water’s surface.

In my first memories, it’s clear everything is connected and beyond human understanding, like the pool to the ocean to the universe.

Dave and I smacked the cool water and our hands released. With my eyes open in the underwater darkness, I sank until my bare ass bounced on the floor of the pool and then floated back up toward the yellow light glimmering above the water’s surface.

I’ve always had an airplane-about-to-take-a-nosedive understanding of my life and the world around me. Part of that understanding, though, is the airplane doesn’t explode in a fiery crash. Instead, it rights itself just before impact and glides into the swimming pool.

Dreams and visions matter. Relationships and experiences are cosmically intertwined in a flux of time and space. Dave’s dragonfly was generating light. And so was I. He was talking to us both.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Horse kiss

Excerpt from the chapter "The Horses Are Going to Kiss Me."

We didn’t do much planning for our wedding. Dave and I had been throwing rockin’ parties together for six years; we knew how it should be done. And, although we were acting more like tame grownups, we’d always be DIY punks at the core.

Many of our friends suffered through stressful weddings. We decided not to plan out of obligation. Invitations would only go out to the people we absolutely wanted there, and we wouldn’t invite anyone who would cause stress or create drama.

Many of our friends acquired debt hosting their weddings. We’d do it cheap, keep it simple.

We were unceremonious about telling our friends and family. A few days after the bathroom chat, when Dave and I confessed our desire to get married, my dad and his girlfriend came to Quintessence. After I took their dinner order, I said something like: “Hey! Big news! Dave and I are gonna get married.”

Two days before the wedding, I went rock climbing. After finishing a difficult 200-foot climb, my partner and I sat on a ledge to admire the view. One strap of my loose fitting tank top slid from my shoulder.

“Dude! You have a serious tan! It looks like you’re wearing a white shirt where your strap should be,” my partner said.

“I guess you’re right. I’ve been out climbing a lot this summer. And I always wear this shirt,” I said as I looked down to examine my skin. “Oh, well.”

My mind flashed two days forward to my wedding. I pictured myself standing beside Dave dressed in the lacy, white gown I’d picked to wear.

“Oh shit!” I said. “My wedding dress is strapless!”

I pulled the other strap down so both shoulders were exposed.

“Maybe if I keep the straps off for the rest of the day, the tan lines will fade?” I asked hopefully.

“Oh, man,” my shocked partner replied, “you’re wearing a dress?!

The day before our wedding, I drove Dave and myself—adventure-girl tan lines and all—to the 18th century farm where we’d host the love fest. It was late September, and sunny. Only a few leaves on the trees had changed color.

Almost everyone we invited was coming to the big party at the farm in the woods. Most of our guests were staying for the whole weekend.

We unloaded Dave’s gear from my over-packed Honda. We set up a sound system under the huge tent erected in the field and filled with tables, chairs, and a dance floor. Together we hoisted two half-kegs of beer from the trunk and onto the lawn.

The rooms in the main house, barns, and farmhouse were ready to receive our guests. I ran around putting nametags on the doors, assigning bedrooms according to proximity to other guests and personal tastes. Our older, mellower friends were in the main house. The rock climbers were on airbeds in the huge wide-open loft in one of the barns. The hard partying, sure-to-be-up-all-night crew would crash, dormitory style, in a few bedrooms on one side of the farmhouse.

In the afternoon, our friends rolled in. Glenn, the farm’s proprietor, saddled his horses for our guests to ride the trails through the surrounding woods. Some friends took off on the bikes they brought to explore the backcountry roads. Others started day-drinking on the porch.

Dana, our chef friend, bought a bunch of fresh ingredients from the farm stands she passed driving up from New York City. Impromptu, she recruited a team to back her up as she prepared a meal for the fifty of us. We ate in the converted tack room just before midnight.

Saturday was more of the same. Glenn served breakfast. The late risers ate Dana’s leftovers. Our guests ran around the grounds partying or adventuring.

In the afternoon, Dave and I exchanged vows. A good friend officiated over a traditional civil ceremony. That fall day was warm and clear. Everything was perfect; everyone was happy.

I noticed Dave was missing within ten minutes after we were married.

“Have you seen Dave?” I asked as I wandered from guest to guest.

After a while, I saw Dave walking arm and arm with Susanne. They were heading back to the party from the horse barn. Susanne’s unwieldy fancy camera hung from her neck; she’d fallen into the unofficial role of wedding photographer.

Dave answered my curious gaze as soon as I was within earshot, “We had to go visit the horses!”

“Yup, they were waiting for Davey,” Susanne said. “They wanted to give him a kiss.”

With my groom back in grabbing distance, I wrapped my arms around Dave. He was always on a mission and often wandered away. I was determined to hang onto Dave in those moments: he was mine, my husband.

Dave pulled Susanne into our embrace.

“Show her!” he urged.

I rested my head on Dave’s shoulder to look at Susanne’s digital camera screen.

Inside the frame, Dave stood in front of the horses’ pen. Two enormous horses towered over Dave, looking in opposite directions away from him.

“When I shot this one Dave said, ‘No, wait, the horses are about to kiss me,’” Susanne said.

She let the camera rest around her neck and looked at me dramatically, with tears in her eyes.

I wrinkled my brow, confused.

Susanne held the camera up and advanced to the next frame. In it, the horses’ heads framed either side of Dave’s face. Their noses were resting on his cheeks. A window-shaped sunbeam shone on Dave’s face and the horses’ noses. All three were staring into the camera. Dave’s smile was huge, illuminated and glowing.

Susanne’s eyes watered as she showed me the pictures because sometimes just being around Dave was overwhelming. He connected with people and animals deeply and intensely.

Oh yeah: Dave wasn’t just mine. He belonged to Susanne, and to the horses. Dave belonged to us all; he was too good to keep to myself. And sometimes, he just had to go on a mission for a horse kiss.

Birdhouses

I’m a climber/adventure chick. I camp out and hike and road trip alone. I hang out with a crew of boys who are like brothers to me. I have a lot of male insight into how crazy women can appear to men, how irrational and demanding wives can seem. I didn’t want to be that kind of girl: worried, angry, controlling, needy.

In the months after our second wedding anniversary, when Dave started coming home late, short-tempered and aloof, I was careful not to take it personally.

We had a routine. We woke up early and ate waffles or eggs. I worked, writing at home or waiting tables at The Ginger Man restaurant, while Dave went off to his nine-to-five construction job. I cooked dinner each evening, so it was ready just after Dave got home.

We relished the normalcy of our life together. We got a kick out of acting out such a typical husband and wife routine. Our DIY punk rock approach to life was tempered by these mainstream habits.

In the two years since we married, Dave and I had mellowed out. We were acting the part of maturing adults instead of wild early twenty-somethings. Still, to me, it seemed that Dave took his maturity to the extreme. He was suddenly acting much older. He came home from work exhausted and would sometimes go straight to bed after our early dinner.

Dave had always been a late-night creator. He’d always worked hard at multiple jobs and still had time and energy to make art. So this was unusual.

He was grumpy, too. He complained about his job, about being worn-out, about being bored.

It was all out of character. Dave was engaged in the mainstream aspects of life he’d always avoided: a regular job, a regular sleep schedule, moneymaking, watching TV.

He was too tired or concerned about money to make plans on the weekend. His lack of energy seemed strange for someone who was only thirty-two.

***

Time and patience didn’t seem to help Dave as I’d hoped. As the months passed, scenes in our day-to-day life became surreal flashes I couldn’t understand or quite believe were actually happening. Was Dave really this weird? Were our lives truly abnormal? These flashes made my brain blurry. I doubted myself. As time went on, I sensed something other than typical marital unrest was going on.

When winter turned the corner into the new year, he went from being aloof and unconcerned about time to seeming to lose giant chunks of it.

He went from being a few minutes late every once in a while to having an unpredictable schedule.

Instead of coming straight home at the 5 p.m. quitting time to eat dinner with me, he’d wander in sometimes earlier than 5 p.m. and sometimes as late as 7 p.m. When he was late, he didn’t answer my calls to his cell phone.

When I asked Dave about it, his answers were vague.

“Dave! Why are you so late?” I’d ask. “What have you been doing?”

“Oh, just this, that, and the other thing,” he’d reply.

One morning late in a week when he hadn’t been coming home on time, I tried talking to Dave about his plans for the evening.

“Are you going to come home and have dinner with me tonight?” I asked.

“Of course. What are you gonna make?” he asked sweetly.

“If you’ll show up on time, I’ll make you whatever you want,” I answered, half sincere and half antagonistic.

“Will you make that seafood stuff? The recipe from your mom’s cookbook that’s not very healthy?” Dave requested.

In a time when Dave was withdrawn and hard to drag an answer out of, I was pleased he had an opinion.

“You got it,” I said. “So, I’ll see you 5:30ish?”

5:30 p.m. came and went. The seafood stuff from my mom’s cookbook sat on the table until it got cold. It was after 7 p.m. when Dave did come in.

I stood angrily beside the neatly set table.

“What?” Dave asked. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “Don’t you remember your dinner request? You told me you wouldn’t be late.”

“I’m not,” Dave said. “I’m not late. What’d you make?”

“Dave! What the fuck?” I shouted. “Where have you been? What’s going on with you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Amelia.”

I started working dinner shifts at The Ginger Man because I was tired of being stood up by my husband night after night. All of Albany seemed to dine at The Ginger Man, with its inspired menus and deep wine list. It looked like a little slice of Paris on Albany’s scruffy streets, with inviting windows and a bright, coppery wine bar. The atmosphere seemed to put people in high spirits. It became a bright spot for me, too, and I found friendship and support there.

One thing that made gauging Dave’s state of mind difficult was that he was a complete character. He prided himself on doing things the wrong way, on being a troublemaker and an instigator. He was a talented and moody artist, a Gemini. As long as I’d known Dave he’d had a short attention span and would interrupt. He didn’t put stock in social niceties or protocols. But these qualities were intensifying ever so slowly.

I trusted Dave. I didn’t believe he was lying or deceiving me. Dave was faithful and committed. Throughout our time together, he expressed his disgust for his father’s infidelity. Dave would confront his friends if he ever suspected they weren’t faithful or respectful to their girlfriends or wives.

I couldn’t figure out what was causing him to be so inconsiderate. I was growing more and more discontent and concerned. I started countless discussions and fights trying to get to the root of Dave’s strange behavior. He was either completely baffled, like when he missed the seafood dinner, or irritated by my constant complaints.

He continued obsessing over his screenplay and music, but he wasn’t producing any finished artwork.

Then came Dave’s birdhouse obsession. He was keeping notebooks with measurements and diagrams about building birdhouses. He explained his craft to almost everyone, and offered to build birdhouses for many friends and family members. Sometimes he wanted to start a birdhouse business; sometimes he wanted to do it just for fun.

As a carpenter, he always had wood around. He had a shop on our back porch, and he’d go out there to cut and measure scraps of wood. He left pieces of paper with scribbled measurements around the house and in the car. However, in three years of birdhouse talk, Dave only actually constructed three birdhouses.

Dave was always bringing up his birdhouses and it frustrated me. I wrote poetry about it, lines like “He’s measuring straight lines and angles because he’s broken and can’t fix himself,” and “Building a warm house for a bird while girl’s out in the cold.”

I felt the irony of Dave’s obsession. He was investing so much energy and thought into these little houses while our already-built life was breaking apart.

After Dave carried on about his birdhouses to some friends one night, they shared my frustration and concern. None of us knew what to make of his behavior or what could—or should—be done about it.

Our best guess was that stubborn Dave was having a meltdown because of repressed childhood traumas. He was pouring himself into his art to escape, or to work through, emotional distress.

Dave had always relished his outlaw, outsider background. Now, I realized it must have taken an enormous will to spin those dark years into a positive. I wondered if some of the negative was catching up to him. I asked Dave to consider seeing a therapist or counselor. He refused and insisted everything was fine.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Built to Spill

Excerpt from the chapter "White Quartz."

Along with outdoor adventures, music was soothing my aching, on-the-brink-of-broken heart. I drove around blasting music. In my sensitive state, certain songs were hitting me deep. The new Built to Spill album You in Reverse became my soundtrack. The songs fit what I was feeling—a combination of melancholy and resigned contentment.

In July, I planned a trip to Burlington, Vermont, to see Built to Spill play a live show. The High Peaks were halfway to Burlington, so I planned to meet my dad for a day of climbing before the show. Then I’d stay at Sugar Shack Mike’s place in Burlington and climb with him the next day.

On the night before my adventure, I left work at the Ginger Man as early as possible. I was in bed and asleep by midnight. Dave came home in the middle of the night, turning on lights and making noise. He was drunk.

I asked him to turn off the bedroom light.

“Nah,” he said. Shocked, I sat up.

“You know I’m getting up early tomorrow,” I said.

“I don’t really give a fuck,” he said.

“You’re totally screwing up my sleep,” I said.

“Fuck you.”

All the time I knew Dave, he could be mean or antagonistic—especially when drunk. But this night was different. He was never mean to me out of the blue. He was generally very considerate and would tiptoe around if I was sleeping. This off-the-wall angry behavior was part of New Dave, part of the Big Trouble.

The next morning, I took off for my rock ’n’ roll via Adirondack rock climbing adventure. I was exhausted from the dramatic middle-of-the-night encounter with Dave. I left for the weekend with his last words to me being “fuck you.” I felt as if I was escaping, leaving behind stress and discontentment.

I met up with my dad, and we had a good day of climbing in Keene Valley. Despite my lack of sleep, I was energized in the Adirondacks. From there, I pushed on to Burlington. I arrived at the club to find an almost-full parking lot. I found a spot in the back corner and noticed a bunch of indie rock boys drinking cans of PBR next to their Subaru. I headed over with a freshly rolled joint.

They passed me a beer, and I passed them a joint. They were playing with a child’s toy voice distorter, saying creepy lines from The Silence of the Lambs. I started my night right, left the boys with the joint, and headed into the show. Inside, I bought a Long Trail Ale and pushed into the crowd to see the opening act’s last song.

As Built to Spill set up, I moved up near the front of the stage. They started the set with “Liar”—one of my favorites from the new album. The sound was perfect. They were tight and rockin’. I was dizzy with a flood of emotion. I felt the paradox of living: complete peace simultaneous with agony.

“Liar” seemed to be speaking about Dave. It described someone lost in his plans and dreams while life relentlessly chews him up.

The song also described a girl, a girl like me, who sees what’s happening. In the end, she finds peace. It’s melancholy and real. It’s peace in sadness, peace in knowing pain. Peace in living in a clear reality.

The Built to Spill show was magic. The music was cosmic, mathematical. While listening, I felt waves and saw strings. Everything was connected by these songs. Time and space disappeared. I was seven, taping my deceased mother’s picture facing out the living room window. I was eighteen, driving across the salt flats of Utah and allowing the magic, foreign landscape to relieve the grief of losing Aunt Barb. I was thirty, rock climbing and feeling spiritually whole.

At the show, inspired by the perfect music, I knew: if you don’t love somebody right now, then you never did. I felt what it was like to be married and in a family. To be married and alone. I lost track of past and future.

While the band played, images projected on the wall behind the stage. The art was by Mike Scheer, who created the artwork for the You in Reverse album. I was captivated and inspired. The lead guitarist had a tattoo across his fingers: F.R.E.E. It took me a while to read it clearly. When I did, I felt awed. He is free. He wears permanent ink across his fingers for everyone to see. He’s free to be judged and not care.

I plotted my own new tattoo, one that would capture the perfection of that Built to Spill show. A tribute to my spirit and my discoveries. A tribute to my freedom. And love. And the connectedness of all things. And God.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Something bad

Excerpt from the chapter "Spoon with Me."

In late March, Jeremy came home looking very serious.

He’d been using the pay-by-the-minute cell phone Aunt Patti had bought me for Christmas. I’d used the phone when I was homeless in the spring and early summer, then stashed it in a drawer when I moved into my new house. When Jeremy moved in, broke and displaced, I passed the phone along to him.

Now, he waved the phone at me.

“Aim, I got a message on your phone today. It’s about Dave. I think you better listen,” he said.

“A message from Dave?” I was surprised. It had been almost two months since I’d heard from him.

“No, you better listen. It’s not from Dave; it’s about Dave. I think it’s his cousin,” Jeremy explained.

“His cousin? Kathy? Oh, she’s trouble. She parties hard, not a good influence on him.”

Why would she call me? How’d she get that number? I wondered.

Aim! Listen. I think something bad happened. Listen to the message,” Jeremy insisted.

“Something bad?” I said bitterly. My interest was piqued, but I also felt annoyed. “Why is she calling me?”

I was trying to be detached. I didn’t want to get dragged into Dave’s family drama. I divorced Dave for a reason. I knew something bad was happening with him, or a series of bad somethings. I’d tried and tried to stand by or help, but since the divorce, I was resolved to move forward.

Jeremy held out the phone. I stared at him, frustrated.

“She says Dave is in the hospital,” Jeremy sighed and pushed the phone closer.

Bam! The word “hospital” slapped me. The feelings I was trying to ignore—my concern, my love, my loss—came flooding back.

“What?! Hospital? Is he hurt? Is he OK?” I grabbed the phone from Jeremy.

The message was brief: “Amelia, this is Dave’s cousin, Kathy. I thought you should know Dave is in the hospital. He’s not doing good. Give me a call.”

I called the number Kathy had left. It wasn’t in service. I hung up and called Dave’s dad. No answer. I called Dave’s brother. No answer. I called his mother.

“I didn’t know if you would want to be bothered,” Beverly sighed. She sounded exhausted, defeated. “He’s been there for a while; they admitted him on the eleventh. You can go visit him. Or call him. He’s been asking about you: ‘his wife.’”

Dave had been taken to Samaritan Hospital Psychiatric Ward after being picked up by the police from the Walmart parking lot near his mother’s house. He’d been living out of his car for weeks. He’d run out of places to stay.

Like me, his other friends had become frustrated and exasperated by his crazy behavior. Like the boys in Portland, his local friends had given him ultimatums about getting help. When he refused, we all turned away from him.

Dave’s brother returned my call later that day. He explained how, over the previous months, he’d watched Dave’s sanity crumble.

“He was walking around here naked. He’d play guitar or babble while I was trying to work. When I was on business calls, he’d make crazy bird noises!” Rick explained. “He was driving me insane.”

Rick told me Dave had been drinking a lot. He’d drink liquor and act belligerent. The family had yelling matches, and after one such episode Dave left for good.

The state police had called Rick more than once after Dave had left his family’s house. Dave was driving around and loitering in the upper middle class suburb where he grew up. The police told Rick that Dave was a nuisance.

Finally, Rick got a call that Dave had been sleeping in his car in the Walmart parking lot down the road from the family’s house. The police told Rick they would take Dave to jail unless Rick had him admitted to a psych ward.

Hearing the police suggested Dave needed psychological treatment was both validating and terrifying. As with Lucie’s diagnosis, I felt relieved that I wasn’t just being a pushy, over-concerned wife. I still doubted my judgment. I again felt shock and disbelief over hearing something was really, certifiably wrong with Dave.

For years, I’d urged Dave to seek professional help and receive treatment if he needed it. Yet a big part of me wanted there to be nothing wrong. I wanted everything that was happening to be Dave’s choice. That way, he could choose his way back to sanity, and to me.

I O U

Excerpt from the chapter "I O U."

Dave was happy to see me, as he was every time I showed up at the hospital. He was unfazed by the doctors’ MRI findings.

For the first time, the nurse suggested we sit in Dave’s room. Normally, visitors were forbidden in patients’ rooms.

“Dave’s case has changed,” the nurse quietly explained. “We’re not sure he belongs here anymore. You two can have some privacy.”

Dave lay on his bed with his clothes and shoes on. I pulled a chair up to the side of his bed, and he reached out to hold my hands. We sat and stared at each other.

“Something’s wrong with your brain, ya know?” I said gently.

He nodded gravely and rolled his eyes with a shrug. Dave’s body language and facial expressions had always been so meaningful. He could communicate volumes with a raised eyebrow. Since he was speaking less, these supplemental gestures were substituting for words more and more. It was amazing how well I understood what he meant by these telling looks and movements.

“Now we know why you’ve been acting so weird. Once they figure out exactly what’s wrong, they can figure out a way to fix it,” I tried reassuring us both.

Dave nodded in agreement, also trying to reassure us both.

***

The small consolation to the news that Dave was a seriously ill man being held captive in a sad, dreary place was that he’d be allowed to go outside.

After the meeting, Dave went outside for the first time in a month. He squinted dramatically as we stepped from the dim building into the bright spring day. We crossed the parking lot and headed to a picnic table in the adjacent park.

Dave didn’t sit for long. He was anxious.

“Let’s go,” he said and nodded to my car.

“We can’t, Dave. You’re stuck here for a few more days,” I sighed. Our helplessness was discouraging; I wanted Dave to be free. Yet part of me was grateful to have time to myself before sick Dave would become my charge.

Dave wandered around the park, taking a kind of inventory of the objects there. He picked up sticks and rocks, examining each with careful curiosity. He ran his hands over the wooden seat and iron armrests of a park bench. He slapped trees, testing their strength. I followed him and touched each tree after he did. I was comforted by earth energy and the trees’ unflinching stability.

After some wandering, Dave beelined for a tree stump. There was fresh sawdust on the stump and a strong wood smell. The once-massive tree had been cut down very recently. Dave patted the smooth top of the stump and collected a handful of the sawdust. He smelled the dust before sprinkling it on the grassy ground.

I stepped onto the beckoning stump, feeling grounded and secure. Dave stared up at me with a half-smile. I held my hand out to him, and he climbed up with me. It felt rejuvenating to hold my love under the sun.

After Dave stepped back to the ground, I stayed on the tree platform with my eyes closed and chin raised. I felt raw: fearful, confused, and out-of-control, but very alive and present. That moment of awareness was prayerful.

I opened my eyes and looked down. There, amidst the sawdust, I saw an intricately patterned woodchip.

I bent to pick up the piece of wood. As I held it in my hand to look closer at the pattern, I saw the letters: I O U.

I looked closer. The grain of the wood indisputably spelled out “I O U.” My heart swelled and tears rose in my eyes. It was a clear message from the universe, from God. It was a cosmic nod. It was the reassurance I needed to know I was doing the right thing. No matter the fear and pain, I was doing the exact right thing at the exact right time.

I felt the universe saying, “You may be losing everything right now, but there will be a reward.”

I’d lived through darkness and loss. I’d seen light after what felt like total devastation. I knew everything I’d lived through to that point made me who I was: a strong survivor. I knew, just as shitty things happened, good things happened too. I knew the brightest light comes after the darkest dark.