As per the annual birthday post, here we go…
The first 2020 entry in my journal reads, “There is slippage at the edge of sleep,” a notion I wanted to explore for a science fiction book I’m trying to write. I have yet to visit the manuscript this year actually, because, well…2020 happened.
In the beginning, Patrick and I were in California with family and friends to end an incredible four month climbing trip. On our drive home to Colorado, I carried new inspiration for writing, taking notes along the way:
“HWY 6 EAST: In turn, three cowboys lasso a moving, metal bull.
Monochrome north slopes of rolling hills brighten the brown upswells.”
[related – In Brief, 2019: The Jackrabbit Will Run]
I wanted so much for an action-packed year of writing and creativity. In a small way, it was. I finished a draft of the essay I had been working on since August 2019, “Sounds of Me, Sounds of Light.” Based on my Wind River adventure with Emma Mure, I wanted to explore time in the context of seeing; I wanted to write an ode to the history of movement in those mountains, and not just in the light of the Shoshone people but of the mountain-building itself. Anyway, I first submitted the essay to Orion Magazine but they declined. I made some edits and submitted it next to Creative Nonfiction Magazine in May. As I’m writing this blog post, I have yet to hear anything about it from them (as in, they haven’t declined). So, the fact that it is still out there, hopefully being pondered upon, is a celebration all the same.
In the early years, a human would be sitting, say, upon a forest floor. There is noise and there are braids of moss, winter leaves, twiggy sky. The noise is song sung by the worldly doings — the birds burying seeds, the squirrels gathering, the trees bending, the worms digging, the beetles marching slowly and onward. But here, there is a sudden burst of geese, like sharp metal hinges, raspy and moving. I barely hear them through the sliding glass door. I sit on the couch that does not sing. The walls are straight and the shelf plants are root-bound and tepid. There isn’t much to learn from this artifice. The earth builds caves and nurtures forests. Humans build cages and nurture silence.
The creativity dried up for a while. COVID quickly required us to change. Living full time in a van was no longer feasible in a place like Boulder, CO. As public venues and parks began to shut down, suddenly Patrick and I had no idea where to go to safely use a bathroom (or how to prevent ourselves from becoming vectors). Happenstance had it, however, that a friend recently bought a house, one that needed watching while she flew back to the east coast to be with family. She’d wait out the initial months of the pandemic there and Patrick and I would have a house to quarantine ourselves for free.
And time flew by. Suddenly it was summer and our friend was back, so we took to the hills to camp. Patrick had to commute 30 minutes to town at a minimum for work and I committed myself to my running. We lived in this way until early Fall, when we were gifted another opportunity to house-sit for friends in Nederland. This is when we learned that Boulder had passed a new city ordinance in July, dictating that livable vehicles and the like can only be parked in front of a residence it is registered to. Basically, they banned all car-dwellers, which is quite saddening when a large portion of them work and lead normal lives in Boulder beyond sleeping in their mini-homes on wheels (like Patrick and me). We’d begun to notice that cops were around a lot more, eyeing vans and built-out school buses. There was one instance while staying at a friend’s place for the weekend, for example, where a neighbor called the cops about our van. Thankfully we were inside the apartment when they came to knock on it, proving to them our legitimacy for being there (eye roll) when we came down to ask what was going on.
Thus, we began to accept that it might be time to transition out of the van. With Patrick’s new career as an electrician, we were quickly running out of space for his tools. Too, he’d need reliable internet to begin his online schooling in 2021. The van was our first home together, but I felt it in me, too — a desire to nest a little, to have a home base that didn’t freeze every winter. So we went for it; we managed to buy a small condo in town. It was a horrifying experience, really. I cried with the reality that is Boulder, that the money we’d been saving for years only affords us 631 square feet. Rather, my grief was not about the space (because I don’t need a ridiculous amount), it was strictly about the price of housing. And I get so upset when I call around town in search of a doctor or specialist who accepts Medicaid, and I’ve finally realized why my searching is always met with obstacle. People who rent or own in Boulder are usually far above the “poverty line”, so “why serve the poor?” Sometimes Boulder makes me want to scream, and I doubt we’ll live here long-term, but one might as well instigate change while here.
Little girl in the back bench seat of her dad’s pickup truck. I remember being embarrassed by the sound of my dad’s diesel engine when he’d pick me up from Elementary school.
Little girl folded.
The hard wind knocks pine cones off limbs and sends them down gullies, across sloping granite, and they bounce like maracas in the frost-combed grass. Just as the trees require, simply. Just as the wind has agreed, surely. The intention, the rattling nature and the spread of its needs.
My running helped stabilize a sense of who I am, as it does for the most part, but I had to conceptualize my identity in this new COVID world, one that is still plagued with racism in all forms. At times, I felt like the ghost I fear myself to be. At times, I pinned a BLM sign to my running vest or showed up to a march. At times, I said and did nothing in order to listen — and the cycles would repeat. Ghost state, action, listening.
Ghosts have never appeared to me in the way people say, but sometimes I startle myself, forget what living is even like — you don’t need to be dead to feel forgotten. So maybe being a ghost has always been a state of mind. One you hold on to for the sake of those who do believe in such phantoms as you.
My dreams were full of poetry and strange wisdom this year. Lines would appear from the landscape, like “the water that baskets me full,” or “chasing questions in a manner of patience is the same as chasing the journey.” My dreams also foretold death.
I had a dream within a dream. Grandpa shook me, staring me, death, in the face. All I could say was no, no, no, don’t go, come back. I weeped and woke knowing mother was somewhere. It was dark but I wandered the house halls calling her name, each one a deepening, each one a further knowing I wouldn’t, couldn’t, conjure her from the dark.
My grandpa passed away three days ago. A week prior, he was in the hospital with a mild brain bleed and he kept calling Grandma, “Cheryl,” the name of my mother. Was she there in your head? Comforting you, had she come to lead you by the fingers, child again and you, a lost man, child again, too.
I’ve also been having dreams of my dad. I’ve been trying to write about him more, to understand his influence on my life, to learn of my roots. But he’s had his own bath of ills this year, such as severe prostate cancer.
I appeared to that back sliding door — the one we were to never use or leave unlocked. The old webs were thick and dusty, a small spider hung by the handle. I went for it, it opened. The glass slider, the screen that often got stuck in its track. I entered the house and closed the doors behind me. The house was beautiful — he had finally cleaned it out. It was exactly how he had once envisioned it being. And he wasn’t angry that I’d come home through the back. He stood in the living room near the stairs and we embraced. I asked him how he was doing and he mumbled. We started spilling our hearts in jumbled words but we held our embrace. He was my father and I was his daughter once again. He wasn’t afraid to cry and be seen.
The dream changed in a way that I was then thinking in retrospect, “He must be really close to death to have finally cleaned the house.” I remember him lamenting how long it took him to get his life together, to build the home, to let us come to it.
I wrote a lot about my dad this year, but there’s so much I don’t know, can’t remember. I had finished reading “Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer early in the year, which helped guide me so much. I wrote down a quote: “Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world” (page 384).
The cat’s paw prints divide the snow into sky and pearl buds sprouting at the ends of trees, they track the yearning place, like father going home, like father cupping the world, for the kids, for the sky, for the trees.
I think all I’ve ever wanted is to be someone’s child again. The earth gives me that.
I set four FKTs this year, which brought me both physical empowerment but also the mental freedom to continue my art. The writing, after a dry summer, began to come back. And I didn’t realize the metaphor at first, that most of these runs took place in the desert, which came to represent the masculine lineage I’ve been learning to love this past year. Thus, I’ve begun writing my next creative essay about this exploration into the desertscapes of my ancestors, particularly the patriarchs of my family and their inherited culture of toxic masculinity. Me coming to terms with these relationships is reflected in my desert running experiences. I’d left the desert after all, for the mountains, which have come to represent the divine femininity and mothering in my writing. Not writing about my dad would deny the truth of my connections to nature and sport; they came from him and his father.
In summary, this year has been a rather lonely one. There is much to celebrate and there is much to mourn. I did have a short piece of creative nonfiction find a home with The Closed Eye Open, coming spring 2021 in Issue III. I also helped raise money and awareness during Breast Cancer month (October) in partnership with GoMacro (I’m an ambassador now!) and the Keep A Breast Foundation. Surely enough, I am becoming the woman I want to be, a creative athlete whose gift is in the relationship between her words, her body, the land. A woman who is no longer a daughter searching but a daughter found by the earth. A woman who is a mother to her art. And I still think about the line I wrote in January, “There is slippage at the edge of sleep.” It reminds me that there are things beyond our control, but we are nonetheless set free from ourselves in order to dream.