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A girl who rose from the ashes...and now is trying to make sense of this complicated world through her writing.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Truth

The truth may set you free, as they say, but before that it might kick you around a bit and bitch slap you upside the head.

I've thought a lot about the truth in the last year.  As I set out on this adventure to write 52 blogs in a year (yeah, yeah...I'm  a couple behind....no worries) I promised myself to try two things:  1)  write a piece of fiction (done) and 2) reveal some truths about myself (done, and painfully so).   For years I've carried things deep inside myself, things that - truthfully - most people would probably hear and say, "That's all you've got? That's it?"  But to me, they were my things, the things I felt too proud or too scared or too whatever to share. It has actually occurred to me that I could make a list of every stupid little secret I have and unveil them all in one single blog.  I'm not there yet, but I do wonder how freeing that might feel.

In the last few months I've witnessed a couple of women I admire tremendously reveal themselves in ways that stunned me and gave me pause.  The first was my friend - a blogging hero of mine - who wrote about the back alley abortion she had when she was in college.  Her rawness of her emotion practically jumped out of the computer screen as I read her story.  She used her undoubtedly painful story as a means of advocacy, and did it perfectly so.  Her story was so meticulously descript, I wondered if she wept while she wrote it. It's possible that the events were remote enough that the sting of the truth had lost its sharp edge, but it is equally possible that the pain couldn't fully resolve until she told that story.  In the end, as I read her beautiful story in awe, I realized that her sharing of one of her painful truths only made me respect her more. And I didn't even really know that was possible.

A couple of weeks ago, our department held a training event in which we invited David Sheff, author of Clean and Beautiful Boy to talk about his son's addiction to and recovery from heroin.  In the afternoon, we asked a panel of individuals to talk about their own experience with addiction, each afflicted in a different way.  One by one, they revealed their stories. Stories that I won't share here, because I respect their privacy and the intimacy that the room of 300 people experienced that day.  But suffice it to say, everyone in that room walked out the door at the end of the day a different person.  Here were people we knew and deeply respected, who shed a bright, burning, unrelenting floodlight on the darkest corners of their lives.  More than two weeks have passed, and I'm not sure the lump in my throat has fully resolved.

As I checked in the next day with one of the most forthcoming panel members, the feelings of vulnerability were palpable.  I won't say there was regret, but there was a detectable shred of doubt.  I assured this person that sharing their story was an act of courage I'd not see the likes of before, and it had surely profoundly changed everyone in that room. Then, one by one, emails and phone calls and personal visits were paid to this panelist to express gratitude and awe and pure love.  In less than 24 hours, any lingering doubt -and substantial portions of the power fueled by the painful past - were permanently swept away.  The truth, some of it more than 20 years old, when shared in such a public and bold way, had actually set this person free.  I saw it with my own eyes, and it was beautiful.

I've had my own truths to face at times, truths I avoided facing sometimes for years on end.  Truths that, when finally acknowledged, hurt like hell and made me take a good, hard, painstaking, god awful look at myself and re-evaluate everything.  But always, every single time I tell you, the other side of that mess has been a better version of me.  A better version of me with more respect for myself and more authentic relationships with the people I love.

This blog is my therapy.  More truths are on the way.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What Dad Really Gave Me

Although I don't have children of my own, I've heard sage advice that when it comes to your children, you should spend half as much money and twice as much time.  My dad never had much in the way of money, but he always made sure I had plenty of his time.

This is the dad who took me fishing and we caught a catfish so big we had to call on other nearby fisherman to help us retrieve it out of the river. The dad who spent a weekend helping me craft a model of the planet Saturn out of plaster, house paint and a coat hanger for science class. The dad who spent countless hours teaching me how to perfect my free throw. The dad who made and decorated a homemade kite with me, named it "The Swearingen Special" and took me out on the perfect windy day to fly it.  The dad who challenged me to save my babysitting money and matched me dollar for dollar until I could afford the ten-speed bicycle of my dreams. The dad who helped me build a bird feeder and paint it orange.  The dad who gave me my first butterfly net and helped me collect butterflies for years to come. The dad who was sincerely impressed with me for spelling the word "yogurt" during an after-dinner Scrabble game.  The dad who took me camping, patiently setting up the tent and making me a foil dinner over a crackling fire in the park just across the street from our house.  The dad who helped me build a hutch for my pet bunny, Eddie Rabbit. The dad who convinced me that whatever I do in life, I should do it passionately and with joy. 

This is the dad who was willing to give me all of the time he had, until his time ran out.  This is the dad I still miss every day. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Jimmy Crack Corn

One of the more beautiful things about getting older is that you really stop worrying about what other people think. Maybe it comes from wisdom, or maybe it comes from fatigue.  Realistically, it probably comes from a little of both.  These days, I have to confess that I don't care much at all about what y'all think.  And that right there takes me right to the edge of bliss.  Truly, it does.  It's delightful to see others get there, too, to see them get that taste of freedom.  Because when you bask in the glow of not giving a rat's ass, your true self can really shine through.  And nothing is lovelier than you being authentically you.  Nothing, I tell you.

This weekend was an historic weekend in the State of Wisconsin.  After months of eager anticipation, the ban on gay marriage was lifted.  We weren't even the last state to do it, though there were days I wondered if we would be.  And it's about damn time. Because really, and I promise you will not convince me otherwise so don't even try, love is love.  This day was long overdue.

So on Friday when the judge's ruling was announced, two men I love very much - like so much I would lay down my life for them - made a mad, crazy dash to the courthouse and were the first same sex couple to get a Wisconsin marriage license.  They then stood right there at the courthouse, with their very good friend officiating, said their vows and made the whole dang thing official.  They became the first gay couple to be legally wed in Wisconsin, and since then the whole story has gone viral.  (Seroiusly, I feel like I am going to have to have my people call their people going forward if I want to get together for dinner.)  Their picture on the front page of our local newspaper on Saturday says it all.  The picture, which I think is stunning, captures the joy of the occasion and the sorrow of the long and twisted road it took to get there.  I saw the picture in my Facebook feed on Saturday morning, and I could not hold back my tears.  Even though I was on the other side of the state visiting with my lifelong friend Mindy, I could feel the arc of justice and love reverberating all the way to me.

On Saturday afternoon, Mindy and I decided to take a little jaunt down the road and we did a surprise "pop-in" visit to my friend Vance on his southwestern Wisconsin prairie estate.  He had no idea we were coming or that I was even on that side of the state.  So when we pulled up next to him on the long, windy road leading to his cabin "down in the holler," he was plenty surprised.  He was busy cutting invasive plants out of his carefully tended natural prairie, and yelled at us to give him another 20 minutes before the impending rain arrived.  We happily obliged, and sat on the front porch of his cabin drinking beers and listening to the thunder in the distance.

Vance didn't beat the rainstorm back to the cabin so by the time he got to us he was soaking wet.  This wasn't some gentle little drizzle, it was rain coming down in sideways sheets.  He went inside to get changed into some dry clothes, and by the time he did so Mindy and I weren't far behind.  It was a monsoon out there.

About 30 seconds into our indoor exchange, where I finally had a chance to formally introduce Mindy to Vance for the first time, Vance realized that the door to his shed was open and that this sideways rain was going to ruin all of his chicken feed.  He quickly announced a plan to take his clothes off and run outside to shut the shed door.  Now we thought he meant he was going to put his wet clothes back on to achieve this feat, but no, that is not what he meant.  In short order, we saw this beautiful friend of mine running toward his shed in only his underwear.  A couple minutes after that, we saw him running back in the other direction toward the cabin, now only in a pair of very wet underwear.  As you can imagine, disbelief and considerable laughter ensued.  That man is nuts, I thought, and I love every fiber of his being.  He doesn't care if a woman he just met 30 seconds ago sees him running through his yard in his blue cotton briefs.

And so, this was the theme of the weekend, a weekend for the record books, and perhaps one of my favorite weekends of all time.  It was a weekend I decided I would name Jimmy Crack Corn, because really and truly, I don't care.  From the big decisions, like being the first gay couple to marry in your state and having your love declared on the front page of the Saturday edition of the newspaper - to the small decisions, like doing whatever you need to do to save your chicken feed, you might as well just be you. Brilliant, passionate, loving, caution-to-the-wind throwing, life-embracing you.  It is the best and most beautiful thing that anyone could ever be.