Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

And Then I Blogged Through Belgium


Thus far, my sixties have been the most exciting and fun part of my life. I never believed I would say that a few years ago. Sixty is, after all, a daunting age that marks the threshold of what we know as “old age,” or at least “older” age. And I certainly went through a time in my late fifties when I could feel my significance in the world, along with my smooth, tight skin, slipping and sagging away. But then I turned 60. I stopped working full-time, and started becoming the things I used to dream of when I was 20. Jerry Garcia was right, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

This preamble marks the lead in to a trip I never thought I would be taking. I am not a world traveler. During my work years, the weekends meant the grocery store, a hike with the dog and a nap in front of one of my favorite HGTV shows. When the sweet, young woman at the checkout counter asked me enthusiastically what I was “doing” this weekend, I was sure to give her a disappointing answers that did not involve Jell-O shots or Kama Sutra oils, let alone a trip anywhere . . .but I digress.

Next week, I leave for Belgium. This is a trip that has been a year and a half in the making. My friend Susan and I cooked it up one afternoon when we were sitting at the tea house talking about our favorite group of women, The Beguines–a group of feminist mystics that took root in the area around France and Belgium in the 12th century. “Let’s go trace their footsteps,” she said. “Let’s go sense their history,” I replied.

Now Susan is a world traveler and when she actually began putting the pieces of this trip together I totally freaked out. “You mean get on a plane and fly over the ocean to a foreign country,” I would scream over the phone. Week by week, we constructed a trip, a plan and a group of people who would join us. My gig once we get over there is to help people deepen their spiritual story through writing. Writing is my grounding wire. It’s what I do. It’s what I understand. Everything is a story and I am a student of story. I’ve taught creative writing in my spare time for over twenty years–but my students up until now have been troubled teens and incarcerated women. This will be a class of clergy, former clergy and really nice people. My girls in prison were nice people too, albeit addicted to meth and a few other bad habits. Somehow I am making this trip for them too, wanting to light a candle in a place where the Beguines once met, in hopes that the light, the warmth of the flame and the prayer it symbolizes will find its way to them, comforting them in the night.

So, I’m going. A week from Friday, I get on a plane for way too many hours and I travel to Europe, where I have only ever been one time, thirty years ago. And I get to sit with all these amazing theological students and seekers, spiritual directors and one retired judge who have given their lives to the constant exploration of faith and spirit that informs their lives. In a way I feel like the kid who got on the wrong bus. Then I remember that I have something to offer in terms of writing and story and I trust that if I can coax open the doors of story in a group of incarcerated meth addicts, this group might be a little easier.

This blog has never had a theme. When I am not practicing being a novelist, I write here, and it’s really nothing more than just little slices of my life, laid bare to the world. In the next couple of weeks though, my blog will have an actual theme, the theme of “The Grand, So Big, Once In a Lifetime, Wow, Trip.”

Meanwhile, back at the preamble, I love being in my 60’s. I write and study story every day. I write novels. I take naps (still in front of HGTV) and evidently I can travel. The significance in the world that I once felt slipping away has been replaced by an unfolding into a fullness of being that I could not have imagined ten years ago.

I have a phone call with my friend and retreat partner, Susan today. This might just be the first day we’ve talked where I don’t scream into the phone “get on a plane and fly over an ocean to a strange land–are you friggen’ kidding me?!”

Stay tuned for more stories about this travel rookie’s once in a lifetime journey to Belgium and my encounters with spiritual sisters from the 11th and 12th century! And I’ll let you know how my writing classes go. How joyous to be older and able to unabashedly nerd out!

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Meet the Neighbors

We are meeting our new neighbors. We share a driveway with a young couple that have small children. I like having kids next door. They are loud and chaotic and their laughter can be infectious. I like to hear their conversations, which at times seem a lot more real than adult conversations I hear.  Kids will tell you what they think!  The couple welcomed my husband and I and suggested a bar-b-que later in the summer.

IMG_20140602_105030_resizedJust up the road on the corner is an old cemetery from the 1800’s. It was the first cemetery in Ashland. I have a fondness for cemeteries, especially older ones that tell the history of its place in names and dates etched into stone. This one has a bench toward the back of the property where one can sit and contemplate the ephemerality of life. We are here and gone in the blink of an eye and there is both fear and perfection in that. Sometimes I like to walk the rows of graves and plots and read the names, saying them aloud in a kind of honoring of those who have passed. The winds slowly erode the older stones and the names begin to fade…another reminder of how we receded from life until even our name has been taken by the wind. The cemetery is the perfect neighbor; quiet and peaceful and welcoming to times of sitting quietly meditating upon the circle of life.

Then there is Sandra. She and her husband Richard live across from me. I met her yesterday morning. She was standing in the middle of the most amazing garden I have ever seen. Her body is lean and tan from the labor that it takes to keep this parcel of land thriving in blossoms. I like her hardiness and her obvious dedication. She feels like someone I would like to get to know…and maybe she will share some gardening wisdom with me.IMG_20140602_105147_resized

I haven’t met the neighbor on the other side of me yet. I saw that he was doing Tai Chi in his yard yesterday morning and I watched from a respectful distance, appreciating how graceful he looked. He plays the saxophone. My husband and I heard him practicing. Fortunately, he is not new to the instrument!

Right now we drive up and down the hill between hotel and house, watching the final touches being put on our new abode. Jeter, ever-faithful Lab, has christened the yard and claimed it as his. Dean and I assembled some patio chairs from the Home Depot yesterday. We were grateful for the place to sit that they provided in the afternoon as we waited for the phone guy to finish his job.  Waiting on phones is like waiting for Godot. The two-hour block of time we were told to allot, turned into seven.  Oh well, I had a place to sit.

I love the moisture in the morning air here and the green that surrounds us. I like our neighbors.  I am eager for our stuff to get here from Colorado so that we can move in and settle. In the meantime, I am enjoying the anticipation and the endless conversations with Dean about where to place furniture and whether to plant lilacs. Life seems friendly.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

More From The Oregon or Bust Chronicles

Car and luggage

Some drives are just not all that thought-provoking.  This was one such day where I swam in the useless and the mundane to occupy my time for 8 hours. Whereas Denver to Salt Lake was filled with memory and fondness, even some beautiful scenery– today’s drive from Salt Lake to Reno was fraught with things like:  did I really just see a sign that said “Beverly Hills, ½ mile?” How many kinds of burritos are there in the world? Does Nevada have anything in it besides desert and scrub? (Apologies to anyone from Nevada reading this). In short, today’s drive seemed longer and less kind than yesterdays.

I tried putting on the radio for a while, something I rarely do in my car. I found NPR. Honestly, NPR has never been the same for me since I saw Alex Baldwin on Saturday Night Live, playing “Peter Schwetty” in a spoof of an NPR Christmas show in which he shares about his special baked goods that he calls “schwetty balls.” And the jokes about little sacks of nuts and schwetty balls pretty much goes into gut splitting laughter from there–that is if you have a sophomoric sense of humor, which I do, and fortunately for me my husband does also.

So today’s NPR kept bringing back images of schwetty balls and even though the real NPR was interviewing a musician from Iceland, it was hard for me not to hear the SNL sketch in my head. That took up at least 10 minutes.

Eight hours of desert and truck stops between Salt Lake and Reno did little to inspire. Highlight: the town just across the Nevada border on Interstate 80 had a gorgeous baseball field upon which we had a little lunch and threw a tennis ball for the dog. Low light: everything else until Reno.

It was good to get into Reno, which felt like a little slice of civilization after 8 hours of desert. A salad and a hot bath soothes the weary traveler’s soul and I am looking forward to getting on the road again tomorrow for half the amount of time and rolling into Oregon, our final destination and new home.