The Month of September

Below is a post from September 2016. It is 11 years since our car accident, and this September also proves heavy. This entire month I have been dealing with the decline of my dear father. He has been hospitalized and now in a TCU (transitional care unit). It is why I have not been writing as much here, and why I thought I’d reshare this post. The lesson on love, death, change continues to deepen and unfold.

fall

Once, many years ago, while going through a particularly difficult time I got this idea in my head I would die on September 16 (0f that particular year). I was reminded of this today, September 16, on my walk. Suddenly, I smelled something foul. I looked to my right and there was a dead racoon in the grass. Several steps later, once I arrived in the woods near my house, a dead squirrel on the path. The bodies were still fresh. Was this a sign?

I thought: death is all around us. I remembered all the death that has surrounded my family and myself since December. On December 11, just as my kids and I were about to watch A Christmas Story, my dad called. He was not himself. He said, Mary Lou died. Mary Lou was my step-mother. Then, in January my husband’s last grandmother passed away. It snowed in April when Price died alone in his elevator. June took Uncle Mel and then, his wife, my beloved Aunt on September 6.

September 6 is now shared with September 24, my father’s birthday, when my best friend from Kindergarten died in a car accident when she was only 27 years old. Along with September 11 and September 29. On September 29th, 2011 I was driving my white Toyota Matrix on a Los Angeles freeway. My mother and 11-year old daughter were in the backseat, my 19-year old daughter in the front seat with me. We were listening to Enya and playing the alphabet game. Suddenly, a large truck with glaring headlights was in my rear view mirror. Before I could finish my sentence about what I saw, that large truck hit my car. The car flew and flipped through the air several times until it finally landed on its side. I remember wondering, am I going to die?

car

The Toyota Matrix

I have told and written this story many times, and this year, five years later, I notice the story no longer holds the emotions and trauma it once had.  Now, what seems to be unfolding are the lessons and awakenings from that day that changed everything. Death is all around us.

But, what does this mean exactly? And, is it death or just change? Here’s what is becoming clear for me— life. I think I have been so afraid of death and that impending shoe drop (in my case a tow truck that comes out of nowhere) that life has been cumbersome. I noticed this heaviness after I returned from my aunt’s funeral. Prior to her funeral, I sat with her for four days while she went through the process of death, of change. I had never been this close to the death of another human being or for so long.

flo

Me and Aunt Flo

Before I entered her home, I was afraid of what I might see. But, all my fear went away when she opened her eyes and smiled at me (and my dad and daughter). All I felt was love. I knew I loved her, but those four days I felt my love for her. I was able to tell her she mattered. This experience is invaluable to me now.  But there is a physical, mental and emotional price, at least for me, when going through something like this. That price felt heavy. It felt exhausted. It felt sad.

After the car accident, I carried heavy, exhausted and sad for nearly 5 years.

I feel lighter now. Life is becoming more clear, but not because I have figured anything out. But because I’m not taking it all so seriously and maybe because the desire to live life finally outweighs the fear of living life. I am moving, once again, toward curiosity, beauty, wonder and listening. Listening, as I did on my walk today, that I needed to get grounded. This looked like me stopping in the middle of the forest doing tree pose and volcano breath. This means committing to creating a life that will match my desire to stay in harmony with my higher self and nature, and not the day-to-day grind of this current culture.

I also intend to move more toward what my aunt taught me—love. And, believe me, I am a newbie to love. It’s always been inside of me, but it’s the emotion or state of being that I resist the most. At the least, it makes me feel awkward. At the most, it frightens me as if I might be swallowed by it. But, while my aunt was in  hospice I had a new experience with love. As I stroked her hair, held her hand and kissed her forehead as I said goodbye and I love you, love comforted me.

Love is a comfort, not a burden I need to protect myself from. So yes, death, the unexpected, change surrounds us—not to stop us or scare us or burden us, although it can, but to notice it, wonder about it, learn from it and let it guide us to more clarity of life, comfort of love and truth of being.

The Soul Reporter

Bench

I definitely think I should have a bench on a walking path.

If my family knew me at all they’d do this for me at my death…

Even in death I don’t feel known and loved.

Carolyn has a bench
She fought tirelessly to preserve the land and paths in which I walk today
Thank you Carolyn.

What did I fight tirelessly to do?

Today I walked to keep myself from drowning in loss, in abandonment

My work is internal
I fight tirelessly for something I still believe in.

If I don’t have a bench how will it be known it was because of my walks I kept fighting

~Nikki, The Soul Reporter

Cascade Trail

Life....
I’m not getting my life right 

Nature.... 
She will keep destroying you until you see what you’ve done 

The Way Back Trail.... 
The Way Back Trail is more
Relaxed and refined 
There’s a calmness to it 
A way of knowing 
The steps slow 
The air breathed 
A smile 
I’m not trying to get anywhere 
I’ve been

A broken tree....
There She is again 
Within Her a touchstone
Circles of life that tell Her Story 
Unburdened now by life, 
A relic of her life 
For me to wonder about 
To receive a lesson 

Back to the Way Back Trail....
The Way Back Trail is a gift I hope all receive 
It tells you more about those layers, those circles within 
So many circles 
They accumulate 
It’s important to sit and rest along this trail 
And listen, feel, understand 
And say thank you 
And ask:
What do I need for my soul?
What does my deepest nature want?


~Nikki, The Soul Reporter

Everything

It’s everything that I love 
Right here in the middle of these trees on a path full of mulch 

The sound of crows above me
A light mist falling upon me
The sound of day crickets in august at ear level 
A cool breeze through warm moist air 
A slate gray sky 

I stand still in it and ask for guidance as I sometimes due lately: what is here for me to know? 

I open my eyes and everything that I love is right here. 

~Nikki, The Soul Reporter

The Moon Turned to Snowflakes

The moon turned to snowflakes

The night a woman’s rights were taken. ~ a dream I had

That was the dream the night before RvW was overturned. The sun, to my left, and the moon, to my right shared the same panel of sky. I stood in a boat, on the ocean, near the shore. I was mesmerized by the moon, for the sun was just a faint, dull circle shrouded in gray haze. The moon, also shrouded but not in haze, but within a shiny half black and silver cavern. I could not take my eyes off it. And then the moon crystallized, transforming into giant, majestic snowflakes. A mist began to overtake land and sea, and the tide turned; chaos ensued and I had to get to shore. But the point was the snowflakes.

~

At the request of a therapist, I’m again, picking up the book, Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I reread the introduction. In it she lists symptoms of a woman who has lost her Wild. I have the majority of them, but this one captured me: “…or intertia because that is the safest place for one who has lost her instincts.” I opened my journal and wrote: I have lost my fucking instincts! Last time I truly had those was in my early 20’s. I was with a child, but without a man, and not tainted, domesticated or yet fully reactive to my childhood trauma.

Not only have I lost my instincts, I’ve lost my creativity. It reminds me of season 4 of Stranger Things. Eleven has lost her “superpowers” (of course given and rediscovered to her by “man.”) Like a miner I am digging, seeking in the dark where I lost my superpowers. Was it one event or the slices and cuts of many….? I am also asking, is it too late? In Stranger Things, they keep seeking, digging and fighting and face the darkest spaces and entities just to understand, restore balance and help the people.

The reading of “Wolves” is naming the longing, the awakening of my Wild and also the resistance and push back to what oppresses it. I’m seeing how deeply I have blamed myself for the inertia that caused the weight gain, the depression, the silence, the relationships I am still in and the books I’ve still not written. I’ve been domesticated, altered and suppressed by the patriarchal culture— maybe not specifically and overtly, but generally, collectively and covertly. Inertia, then, was and often still is my safe place.

But I am awakening, beginning little by little to open my eyes, seeing the oppressor for what it is and seeing the impact it has had on me, on everything and everyone. Yesterday on my walk, I took the “short cut”, over a wooded bridge across a marshy area. I stopped and noticed the red-winged blackbirds in the reeds, the cattails bowing like patrons at a queen’s parade and the water, murky with green algae film. On the surface it looks stagnant and toxic— inert. But, who or what but Life itself knows what is present below, what organisms are a vital part to all of Life.

I have become swamped. Heavy, murky, seemingly lost my way and can barely move. Within my own inertia a self has been formed, a self safe and hidden in the murky waters, afraid to move too far from the swamp. Stay too long, naturally toxins, disease and self-defeating behaviors flourish. But open my eyes and really see where I am and start to smell the stink of unmoving water and start wiggling my fingers and toes, and becoming mesmerized, not by something more in some other place beyond myself as I did in my youth, but mesmerized by what I know is already present, and becoming the snowflake inside the moon. 🌙

~Nikki, The Soul Reporter

*Heat.

Torn. Stolen from protection, the land, the forest tops. Seclusion, like winter but with A/C, not heat. Summer is here and it can feel like a burden, heavy to some, a comfort to others. A mismatch to balance, to life, to relief.

These are just words coming to me about the heat, and the imbalance maybe I, maybe others are encountering, putting us dangerously close to suffering.

Today’s word (Father’s Day) seemed to be suffering. I found myself using it a lot. I felt my usual suffering again, and I believe I can label it now. Before it was only a suffocating experience. I suffer when the (perceived or otherwise actual) burdens of my family fall upon me, brush up against me and cause me to burn and be swallowed. I lose myself in it— a pattern conditioned by the relationship I had with my mother.

I was conditioned to live and breathe, therefore be burdened by her drama, her life, her everything. Specifically, but not only, with her frequent hospitalizations. Each time, I feared and truly believed— this is it. She’s dying. I’m going to lose her. I was shredded by this each time it happened, along with the deep desire to fix her, console her, love her, train her to be more like me and give a goddam. None of this worked. Just the ripping occurred.

Recently, my mom, near 80 and in memory care, caught COVID. She had fallen and was rushed to the hospital with a 102 temp. The ER doc told me he was putting her on oxygen and would be admitted. This is it, I thought. She’s dying. I’m finally going to lose her.

Next day….

Nurse called, “We are discharging her. Oxygen levels are normal. She’s eating and looks great!” Of course, I thought. Of course she is okay. I was relieved, but I also remembered the days when I was angry by the nurse’s words. I was angry by what my mom put me through, and then she’d just be fine or it was just a drug run and meanwhile I was shredded into tiny bits.

My mom called me when she was out of the hospital. “Hi Mom! How are you?”

“I’m depressed.”

“Of course you are mom. You’ve been through a lot. You have COVID, you were hospitalized….”

“No,” she interrupted, “I’m depressed because they told me I can’t leave my fucking room. I have to quarantine.”

Of course….she’s fine.

The Rock

At the time of this call, I was at ‘The Rock.’ The rock is an actual large boulder that sits near the Mississippi backwaters. I go there and sit on it when I need some guidance, stability and security. When I hung up the phone with my mom, walking away from the rock, a flash of insight said: you are the rock. I took absolutely no pleasure in this. Being the rock was a past, sad story I no longer wanted or needed. I pushed back on the insight and said: I don’t want to be the rock. I want to be nurtured and cared for for once.

The next day, and for several days thereafter, I did not leave my bed. I was overcooked. Done. Depleted. Overburdened. Torn. Stolen from the protection of this need to be ripped to shreds by the experiences of my people, because of course it wasn’t just my mom’s experiences that ripped me apart. It was my family members, those I love most and also the humans on this overheated planet. I needed shade and the shade for me was the bedcovers. Under that shade, I shut down and released the heat through my salty tears that fell and fell and fell.

Once I cooled off and could move around again, I understood I no longer had it in me to keep putting my tiny burnt pieces back together again. I had to decide to stay together even when my people, and the world seemed to not. This kind of suffering was all that I knew to do. I did not learn another way. I was not shown another way or was my younger self told me these are not by burdens to bear.

My energy worker Ed, when I told him this story, said, “What if your mom had said to you, ‘I know you are scared, worried and concerned about me but I am not your responsibility. You don’t have to take care of me. I am going to take better care of me so I can take better care of you.’ “

I was so burnt out, so conditioned I didn’t even know those words could be said. But just hearing them from Ed felt like cool water, and calmed me down.

So when the heat of this life, of the people I love and this land I also love, brush up against me too close, I will know I am caring. I am attending. I am listening. And, I don’t have to be scorched to do so. I can find shade under the treetops. #savethetrees 🌳🧊☀️

~Nikki, The Soul Reporter

*This is an excerpt from one of the memoirs I am currently working on.

The Screened in Porch

I travel to this space— a retreat space about an hour from Duluth, MN. A place, I heard Cheryl Strayed wrote a part of her book, Wild. It used to be run by nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the founders of my alma mater. Then, they’d prepare simple meals and leave them in your kitchenette prior to your arrival. Now, with the new owners, it is BYOF. Now, it’s less “we are here to acknowledge and support your retreat” to more “you’re on your own, but here’s the same space.”

There are seven cabins to choose from. Over the years I’ve stayed in three— the smaller ones because I always visit alone. Traveling here began as an escape— to run away from kids, my marriage and suburban life. This is the first time I am not here to escape anything (well maybe the instability of our world right now). Since the world events, my fantasy of a cabin in the woods has increased.

I am in an empty nest now and my marriage is more neutralized and maybe not having anything to escape from is why this visit feels different. This time, I chose The Woodlands, a small cabin that is more secluded within the forest. Immediately out of my car, when I arrived, I was swarmed by insects, and after a short hike I picked off at least 10 ticks. This is disappointing because one reason I came here was to hike the several miles of wooded trails. So far they’ve all been short lived and cause more stress than rejuvenation.

This brings me to where I’ve spent the majority of time so far— the screened in porch. It is modest, rustic and cobwebby. It supplies one small round table and a camping chair. But I don’t seem to mind. I listen to the wind through the trees, watch the sunlight sparkle and fade on their leaves and feel relieved when I hear the loud buzzing bugs have no way in. While I sit, I wonder why I am here if I am not escaping something. I don’t quite know but I sense I need to be, even if I don’t venture far beyond the screened porch.

I brought a lot of notebooks, along with my project calendar and my computer with the intent to write and schedule my summer writing projects. But, so far I’ve only opened my computer to buy a book and to watch Netflix. I just finished J Lo’s documentary. Now there is a woman who knows what she wants and go gets it. I finished it feeling slightly depressed. I went back to the warm porch. I’ll journal, I thought. Maybe draw and certainly finish the book I am reading. Then, I got on Twitter….

I’m sure you did what you could, now do what you actually want.

@_moimichelle

Instead of bad news, I saw the quote above and it interrupted my amnesia (the whole who am I and why am I here thought pattern) and I burst into tears. This “tweet” is a two-sentence summary of where I find myself— a crossroad I have been on for quite some time, since the kids left the nest. I said: I still don’t know what I actually want. Seemed legit, but there’s more, another truth emerged both silently and loudly: yes you do. That is true. I do know what I want. But I’m playing like I don’t.

There is a comfort in the longing for what I actually want, but not actually doing it. But imagine if J Lo was only longing. I’ve longed long enough, haven’t I….?

If I actually want what I want, it is time to surrender the longing and relax into the doing, being and expressing. And I suppose, also risking and trusting.

It has been a long road of doing what I could, and it was exhausting. Hence, the retreats. But, now, like me in this one room cabin, there is just me now and the naked truth of what I actually want to do and the opportunity to do it.

The transition from what I could do, and did to what I actually want to do has left me wondering who am I? Where am I? There has been enough life, now that I’m 50, where scrambling to figure that out, making lots of missteps and mistakes along the way, is not necessary. Now I can be still enough to let it all settle— what was, what is and what I might actually still want.

This is why I am here at the Woodlands in June, in the heat with the insects— to settle.

I met a woman here, briefly, that was alone, staying in one of my earlier cabins. She stopped me on one of my short walks. I noticed her when I checked in. She told the owner there may be another person joining her, but when pressed she could give no details to when, or even if. Not long after her check in, she was packing up her car and that is when she stopped me.

“Have you been here before?” I gave her my stay history. She chocked up a little and said someone she knows is in the hospital and she might have to leave. “I’m a frontline worker and this is the first break I’ve had.” When asked if it was family, she said it was a co-worker and she’d have to leave to cover their shift. Seemed believable, but I sensed something more: fear.

It is not easy to go on retreat alone, in a cabin with no TV, where at night it is so dark you can’t see your hand in front of you. In my younger days I came with luggage full of anxiety, along with all of my OCD traits acting up, organizing my retreat and worrying about what was happening at home. Before I spoke with the woman, I watched her start down a walking path by my cabin. She stood there looking down the path, then turned around and walked away from it. I too have impulses to turn around and instead go where it is safe and known. But, more often than not, I listen to the part in me that understands in order to expand I have to keep walking the path, even when there are insects that might give me Lyme Disease. I understand I have to give myself space to stay in a place that is dark and unfamiliar. I need to be here, even if I am not writing or scheduling the writing. Even if I am not escaping anything.

I’m still not sure exactly why I am here, but what I do know is, this time I did not bring as much baggage. I’m unconcerned about what the husband is doing at home. I took a nap at 2 pm without writing one word. I have not OCD’d my retreat, and the anxiety that was once an intrusive roar is now a dull pant.

I’m okay and I am going to be okay. Also, if what I actually want is to create my fantasy cabin in the woods life, there MUST be a screened in porch. 🛖🌲🕷

~Nikki, The Soul Reporter

Her.

This is a sad place. We are heroes just for being here.

What does it mean to be heroic though? We have been taught, trained, propoganda’d that heroes are 1) most often men 2) must always white and 3) always somehow bold, dramatic, admired and somehow, unworldly.

I’d like to offer a hero badge for the vast majority of us just for showing up, and witnessing.

I woke up this morning and a watched a great-grandfather from Uvalde walking to the memorial site of his great granddaughter. He was crying and speaking to the cops that were following him. You did nothing to save her. Arrest me. Kill me, he cried.

This is where the stream of consciousness stopped. I’m not sure where it is going with heroes and a grieving great-grandfather. But I know I need to go on a hike and come back to this……

On my hike I saw a turtle and goats. The turtle made me coo and warmed my heart to see it walking ahead of me on the “people path,” then hiding its tiny head as it sensed my presence. The goats surprised me. At first I thought I was hearing small children laughing. Instead it was the baa of the goats. Now the electric fencing made sense- the goats were brought to help restore the forest. I watched them graze, run and bleat together.

For a moment I sat down on a bench in the middle of the forest, listening to the wind in the trees, asking for guidance about a vivid dream I had (which I did receive). I started to tear up about how in love I am with nature, and reminded how much She loves me, loves us all. She is my cathedral. She is is what I am in awe of, and She is what I keep returning to over and over again to make sense of a world full of sadness, where great-grandfathers bury their great-grandchildren. In a world where a young climate activist sits on a tennis court at a French Open, wearing a t-shirt that reads: We have 1028 days left. Nature is what regulates me.

Before the goats, I noticed an old tank and maybe a small utility type structure. It looked like something from another era, clearly no longer relevant, and what I noticed is Her, Nature overtaking this relic. She will always over take. Like the goats, she will always restore and take away. She gives life and takes it, always knowing exactly what is needed for balance. She brightens and darkens. She shimmers and dims.

I’m home now, back with Her, sitting in the sunset watching Her leaves glisten, the cottonwood seed fly, feeling like it might be a little late this year, but She knows best. She is the treasure. She is what makes sense when nothing else does and the world is sad. She is the hero that saves.

Are we with Her? 🐐 🌳 🐢

I am,

~Nikki, The Soul Reporter

Witness

What does it mean to be a witness to the atrocities that surround us, sometimes overtaking us?

In my small therapy office I am witness to the journey of those who go to the deeper wounds, and to the majority who only need to stay on the surface to feel the pin pricks and enormous jolts coming from their lives.

In my personal life I am witness to the wear and tear of a, mostly inactive, body that leans toward comfort and rest and eats what soothes the tender ache. It’s caught up to me now— the medications need a pill organizer.

I witness the decline of my mother and father, and my two daughters making a life outside of the family home.

And then I, along with the majority we, witness the daily, sometimes hourly, onslaught of news stories that haunt, disturb and tempt to take away any belief that life is secure, safe and hopeful.

We bear witness to a lot.

I don’t know that I have a remedy to process what we see, hear and experience, but I want to name it, even so.

We witness a lot.

And what do we do with it matters. A lot. Do we digest it? Internalize it? Ignore it? Deny it? Fight it? Become paralyzed by it? Mourn it? Disease, label and justify it? Politicize it? Analyze it? Mostly we just keep living our lives with it. Some of us wonder what more we can do. Others get out and do it.

A long time ago I went to the circus and witnessed the elephants parading around in a darkened arena while dressed up humans with whips led them. I never again went to a circus. The witnessing of the elephants “living” in an unnatural way was enough for me to make a clear choice not to participate. But I didn’t do anything more. I did not protest at circus doors or go to an elephant refuge. Then, not attending felt enough of a protest.

So why is it then I can continue engaging in a life where I am, along with countless others, parading around in unnatural ways, succumbing to a way of life that is not of us, not of me? Why aren’t I protesting in some way? Why am I not refusing to show up and participate in this unnatural way of living? What happened to me? What happened to us?

There’s words and phrases for it— capitalism, patriarchy, internalized misogyny, colonialism, white supremacy… you name it— we are not only swimming in it, we are drowning. We have lost our way.

I look back upon all that we’ve said yes to, at least since I was born in the 1970’s. Food coloring, additives and processed non-food. Bottled water. Coffee shops and fast food on ever street. Gas. 9-5’s. I could go on…..

As a child I said yes to Oreos and Ho Ho’s. When I got a little older, and was continuously bullied, I said yes—yes, I’ll hide. Yes, I’m too much. Yes, there’s something wrong with me. Yes, you’re better and I’m insiginficant. Then I said yes to alcohol, Newports, boys and sex. Then I said yes to kids, marriage and a mortgage. Some of the yes’s should have been no’s— but it was too late. I’d been programmed, traumatized and neglected.

Now, I’m 50. I got through the pandemic (for now) and I’m witnessing what I have done. I am witnessing our culture and what it has us do. I sense all of it is enough to not only leave the circus but get off the circus grounds altogether— but how, and to where? Which cause will I protest, show up for? Which cultural, repressive institution will I leave?

All I think about lately is a cottage in the woods— fuck it all, eat mushrooms and berries and sit among the trees and the ferns, touching moss— live like the hobbit or the fairy tale old lady I know that I am.

I wonder who I could have been had I not said yes to it all. Who we might have been. What if I had said no, that’s not for me. Or no, we could have cried, this is not for us! This is who I am. This is who we are.

What I want to be a witness to now is a new cultural uprising for us, for me, for we. 🌲🌿🍄

Note: This is the first blog I have written in over a year. I sat down with a pen and paper, planning on writing something else, but instead listened and what I wrote above is what came through. I hope it reaches someone, in some way and I hope to return to this space more frequently.

In gratitude,

~Nikki, The Soul Reporter

A Glimpse Ahead in the Days of COVID-19

In every home I’ve lived I have found a trail.

In my current home, it is a wooded trail— the Mississippi backwaters on one side and a junk yard on another. I’ve worked to ignore the latter. Although I appreciate the trees and the river, this trail is my least favorite of all the ones I’ve walked. And so I found another one that goes mostly through my neighborhood to a dirt road circling an abandoned lot edged with pine trees. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken to sitting under one of the pines, the one that now has a sign that reads: No Trespassing. Also ignored.

But today I needed the backwater trail. It is a short trail, made a bit longer if I take the narrow, tree root, moss filled one along the rivers edge. I took this route. On my way back to the neighborhood I noticed another trail with fresh black dirt and took steps. To my surprise it extended beyond the trail I have known and further, extended not only my walk but my time with the trees. As it ended in a familiar place, I felt grateful for the creation of a path I had wanted since I moved here.

During COVID-19, other than moving from panic to calm, panic to calm, I’ve observed people in my life and the ones I see on my essential runs, and notice how they are responding to this pandemic. My father, for instance, finds hope in the blades of green grass sprouting in a newly dug out hole in the ground. Another laughs loudly with the gas station attendant saying, “Well you know we are all going to get it.” My mother texts daily from her assisted living facility, “Is everyone at home now?” Or today, “Prince Charles has the virus.” Sadly, others have become more self-centered, ego-centric, individualistic and shut down.

As for me—today, on my walk I found a new path that shows me the life road I am currently on. The soil is fresh. It has not been traveled yet. It comes as a surprise, and yet offers what I have been seeking for a very long time. It tells me if I venture to take a new path, even while things are falling apart and feel unstable, I will arrive in a familiar place, feeling grateful and changed.

I wish for all us to be guided and changed for the better, while knowing there is loss and unimaginable grief, known and unknown to us.