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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Finally, A Yes!

Last night, just as I was shutting things down to call it a day, I checked in at my email account to see if anything new came in. The only new item was from a poetry journal I had sent a couple of poems to. As is wont to happen these days, I felt that familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I asked myself: do you really want to open that now? Self replied: well, no, but now or tomorrow, it's all the same. I really didn't want to go to bed disappointed, but my curiosity got the best of me and I opened the email.

The first thing I noticed was how long the email was compared to the previous rejection emails. So I started from the beginning, kept reading, and learned one of the poems had been selected for publication in this poetry journal. Then, I started crying. Yep. I cry over the Thanks but no thanks emails, and I cry over the Congratulations emails. I am that person.

Funny Delightful Son came in as I was sitting at my desk, still basking in the feeling of having finally received a yes. I told him about the poem being accepted, and he said, "So now you're done with your sabbatical. Mission completed. You can play all you want until you have to go back to work in January." Tempting. Very tempting.

But I'm going to keep working. I have more words that are pestering me to play with them. I can see my chapbook coming together, which I'm finding more and more exciting with each poem I add to it. With each piece I write, I feel the desire to really push myself to explore, experiment, play, and I have several poets sitting next to me so I can examine what they did in their poetry, how what they did might work with what I'm doing. And I have a quote from Dylan Thomas' "Poetic Manifesto" propped up next to the computer, a quote I absolutely love, love, love: "The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in." Yes. This.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Seeing Holy in Melancholy

As I was writing this morning, I used the word melancholy. I've always loved this word. Not only does it get at a deeper sense of sadness, but the sound of the word lends itself to the sensuous nature, the depth of which this kind of sadness can be felt. All the sudden, I realized the word holy is part of melancholy. Not in the etymological sense. Just in letters spelling the word inside another word sense. And now I'm all excited, finding myself working up a piece that hopefully will hint at the connection between being holy and feeling a profound sadness.

Along with being really excited about seeing a word inside another word, I'm also totally in love with the idea of duende, a concept Federico Garcia Lorca explored in depth. I've been reading whatever I can find that addresses duende and Lorca's thoughts about it. His lecture "Theory and Play of the Duende" offers many examples to help shed light on what duende is and how it plays a role in writing, especially poetry. This part reached out and captured me, I think because I've been feeling the wound that never heals:

"When the angel sees death appear he flies in slow circles, and with tears of ice and narcissi weaves the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats, Villasandino, Herrera, Bécquer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But how it horrifies the angel if he feels a spider, however tiny, on his tender rosy foot!

The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.

With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work."

All my life I've felt these wounds. I've tried to move beyond them, and at times I've thought they've scabbed over then gave way to new flesh covering the spot where the wound occurred, but more often than not, the scab just got torn off over and over again. The wounds are still there. Maybe that's why Lorca's ideas have my head spinning. I feel like Tracy K. Smith, who wrote:

"[T]his concept of duende . . . supposes that our poems are not things we create in order that a reader might be pleased or impressed (or, if you will, delighted or instructed); we write poems in order to engage in the perilous yet necessary struggle to inhabit ourselves—our real selves, the ones we barely recognize—more completely."

This is what I'm finding out about myself. It started with the yoga practice and became more pronounced in my meditation practice, and I now see it happening with my writing practice. All of my writing, be it journaling, sketching out a poem, or posting here on the blog. I'm engaging, finally, purposefully and openly in the struggle to inhabit my real self, the one I barely recognize. Somewhere along the way I stopped expressing the amazement I feel about life. I'm not sure where or when this happened. I do harbor, though, a very faint, very foggy memory or memories that my thoughts, ideas, zest weren't received well, were poked fun at, and that's why I stopped inhabiting my real self. 

This sabbatical has allowed me time and space to immerse myself in the struggle, and what I have found myself thinking at odd times throughout my days is I feel so free.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Slowly Figuring Things Out

A couple of days ago, Funny Delightful Son came in from work and sat in the overstuffed chair in front of the windows overlooking the backyard. I had been lounging on the couch most of the afternoon, binging a program I didn't have to give much attention to keep up with what was going on. Mostly I was simmering in self-pity over receiving yet another rejection.

"What're you doing?" Funny Delightful Son asked.

"Soothing my sobbing soul," I said.

"Hmmm. Is that right? Why is it sobbing?" I could see Funny Delightful Son trying really hard not to laugh at me.

"Another editor telling me my writing sucks."

"So Mom . . .." This is what Funny Delightful Son always says just before he launches into his practical, matter-of-fact take on a situation. " . . .why is it so important to you to have someone else tell you your writing is good, or at least good enough for whatever publication they are putting out?"

All I could do was look at him with what I'm sure was a classic blank face. I had no answer. I still have no answer to his question.

Why, indeed, is receiving validation from the editor of a literary magazine that practically no one reads so important to me?

We sat and talked further, me saying publishing is just something I've always wanted to happen. Funny Delightful Son then said, "But why? How is publishing going to make your life any better than what it is right now?" Again, I had no answer, and I still don't.

During the course of our conversation, in addition to the questions I have no answers for, Funny Delightful Son asked, "Why not self-publish? Why give away your artistic freedom? Why not keep all the control and call all the shots yourself?"

In all honesty, I know the main reason I am hoping an editor says yes at some point is to be able to say, "See, someone who doesn't know me, who isn't related to me, thinks my writing is worth putting out there for others to read." It's vanity.

That being said, if I'm truly wanting to walk the path of non-attachment, of non-competitiveness, I need to move away from the vanity. I need to focus on bringing to fruition the beauty I see in all that surrounds me and find a way to share those expressions in a way that isn't about what others think. Perhaps Funny Delightful Son is onto something with the self-publishing suggestion. I mean, just recently I sent a couple of poems to a literary mag and the editor emailed me to let me know he'd received the poems. Then he wrote, "Please note that we do NOT accept simultaneous submissions." At the time my reaction was fine, no problem. Now, the more I think about it, the more my reaction is along the lines of eff u! (yeah, I have some work to do in walking a more peaceful path). It's my work and I'll send the same poems to as many literary magazines at the same time as I deem necessary. Most publications even say now that they won't accept work that a person has posted to his/her personal blog. As Funny Delightful Son pointed out, why am I willing to let others control the decisions related to my artistic work?

I think today is a good day to take full control of my work. In that spirit, here is a recent piece. Totally in draft form. Still tinkering, still rearranging, still wondering where it might be headed.

Breathing Lessons (yes, I know there's a Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same title, so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated; any and all suggestions for the poem itself would be greatly appreciated, as well)

When the breath falters, a tiny bit
of doubt finds the crack to seep past,
like winter cold
curling around loose window casing,
trickling inside to dilute warmth
from the fire.

When the breath falters, attention shifts
from soft caress of air
spidering in, through, down,
casting gossamer threads
to couple mind with fleshy matter
and is left untethered.

When the breath falters, the posture
begins to decompose, those tomatoes
left untended in last summer’s garden
where tiny black bugs snip
past skin to eat juicy pulp

until first frost.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Aye Yi Yi!

At this point, I'm not sure what to think about the pieces I'm writing. I remind myself all the time, I mean All. The. Time., not to be emotionally attached. I keep in mind how writing, especially fiction and poetry it seems to me, is incredibly subjective. Both of these notes-to-self notwithstanding, I still wonder if I'll ever produce anything that will be deemed publish-worthy. If the feedback I'm getting from the readers at the site I joined is any indication, I won't ever make the cut.

A more recent piece is one in which I'm exploring the juxtaposition between enjoying a life of exploration, being able to experience the feelings brought about through travel and being able to make the calls versus not having this kind of freedom. The title of the poem is "Rift," which I was hoping would help the reader see there is a line/break/hole/chasm/difference of opinion that separates the two. The way the poem is set up, I thought, also gets at this idea of line/break/hole/chasm/difference. The word choices, if thought through carefully, point to this same idea. One person who offered a response to this particular piece said, "After reading the complete piece, I could not connect the opening to the closing stanza. I mean, you started off really well and closed well too - but both the stanzas seem a little disconnected." Ummm, cue title? The disconnection is the point. Perhaps I'm trying to do too much in the poem and it's just too muddled. While it makes perfect sense to me, this doesn't matter. What matters is how the reader sees it. 

Another piece I posted for feedback, one reader took it upon herself to strike out words, add in words, and take what I had intended to be unadorned to being rather sappy. She also wrote, "I prefer you break your lines into stanzas." Well, she can prefer that all she wants, but I intentionally decided not to do that to create less interruption while reading. I realize I'm putting myself out there for others to critique, but I think there is a fine line between offering thoughtful feedback and taking ownership of another's piece. I know my role as a writing instructor for upwards of 25 years, with lots of hours invested in how to respond to the writing of others in a respectful, thoughtful, and helpful way, not by taking ownership of it, is influencing my response to this person's critique, so now I'm finding myself wondering if I should let her know I'm not too keen on her method or just let it go. Knowing myself, I'll end up letting it go. At least this time.

So the trials and tribulations of writing and publishing continue. I'll keep plugging away as I'm not the type to give up. If nothing else, my kids being witnesses to my ups and downs might be what this part of my life is truly about. My resolve to keep writing, to continue learning, to be gracious to those offering their thoughts might be useful to them one day. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Stranger Gives Me Hope

I wrote a poem the other day from an idea that I've been batting around for about two months. Whenever an idea occurs to me, I jot it down in one of my far too many journals scattered around the desk, or I open a Word doc and write down the basic idea. I returned to the idea a few days ago, set to work, and after several hours of what felt like slogging through ankle-deep mud, I had a draft in place. I tinkered with it, got up to take Ado for a walk, came back to tinker a bit more, then closed out the file. I felt like the poem was taking shape, but could feel something more needed to be done.

Today I returned to the poem and the something more appeared to me as if it had been right in front of me all along. I slashed about six lines. I changed a word that made me stop every single time I read the poem. It's amazing to me how one little word can have such a huge impact on reading. At that point, I decided to post the work to the online site for feedback. After typing in the title, I realized I unconsciously changed two words from what I had on the Word doc version. I sat back, wondering if I should leave the new title and decided that yes, this title does something subtle to the overall reading that the previous title didn't.

Just a few minutes ago, I received a comment on my poem. The person who responded started out by saying he doesn't usually read or critique poetry as it isn't where his interest lies. He went on to say he decided to check out this poem because of the title, and after finishing the poem, he went back to read the other poems I have posted to the site. This person continued, offering such kind words about this poem that I found myself wiping away tears.

Many days I wonder if what I'm writing is any good. So far, the editors of all the literary magazines I've submitted to haven't thought my work is good enough to publish. This person's comment gives me hope, and I will continue trying. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

This Beautiful Rainy Day Monday

Today I moved between writing, reading, vet, landlord, more writing, and sitting in front of the fire just watching the flame while listening to the rain patter against the roof, accompanied by a favorite jazz album playing softly. It was truly the kind of day to stay inside, snuggle into comfy clothes, and sip on hot chocolate. Although, to be honest, my choice of beverage this evening was a very delicious warm and fuzzy apple cider. Just lovely to sip on.

The toughest part of the day definitely had to be the writing. I have three new pieces going at the same time while trying to revise two pieces that are closer to being "finished." I had one of the pieces workshopped by members of the online site I recently joined, and the critiques have been mixed. Several readers weren't able to make the connection to the time element working, which I thought might be problematic. That being said, the last person to critique did pick up on the lapse in time. A couple of other issues pointed to gave me several things to consider. One especially. In this piece I refer to two young Black men, capitalizing the B in Black. I capitalize to show respect and that I'm not just referring to the color black, but rather to a culture, a group. One reader actually struck through the B and lowercased it. Another reader asked if the B should be a lowercase b. To better decide what I wanted to do with this part of my poem, I did some reading and found the B to be the best way to go for the intentions within the poem.

A couple of other comments regarded line breaks and word choice. Both of these I give serious consideration, maybe too much. I typically make a break at the end of a line when I want the reader to settle on a word for a reason. I'm constantly thinking about how the word will impact the meaning of the line, what comes before, what comes after. I'm constantly thinking about rhythm, how it affects the overall reading of the poem. Perhaps I'm thinking too much while writing. I do believe there's something to be said for letting go of the thinking and just writing, let come out what wants to come out.

Which is kind of what I did with one of the new pieces I have going. I've been staring at the jumbled mess I vomited onto the page and tried to get something sensical happening. Nothing. Then I just said screw it and went with whatever popped into my head. All the sudden, 142 words spilled out, just like that. I know 142 words don't sound like much, but when I read those142 words, I know they're going to take me somewhere. Where that somewhere is I don't really know yet, but I think the beginning has at least started. And now I'm all excited about what might happen here.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Putting Myself in the Hot Seat

So I signed up to be a member of a writer's group online. One where I can read others' works and offer feedback. I can also put myself in the hot seat by uploading my work for feedback.

I've become totally consumed by reading others' poems and offering critiques. Seriously, I could spend my entire day just sitting here reading not only the poems but also the critiques others are offering. Even though the critiques are not in response to anything I've submitted, I still find them extremely helpful when looking at my own writing.

With this site, I have had to gain karma points before I can submit anything for a critique (since I'm tight with a nickel as Angel Baby is fond of saying, and went with the free version of this site). The karma points come from reading and critiquing poems submitted by other members. They also come from the writers of those poems responding to the feedback in a positive way. I earned enough karma points today to submit one of my more recent poems. This poem was mostly an exercise in going out of my comfort zone and writing whatever popped into my head, not forcing an idea or theme. To be honest, I have no idea what the poem is even about. What I do know is this: it is the poem I've had the most fun with.

I posted it for critique earlier today, and so far, three people have responded. One person just said he thought it was wonderful. I'm glad he liked it and it was nice to get a positive response. The second person was more thorough and pointed to some specific places in the poem that could be worked on. The third response was the most helpful. The person who responded showed several words that aren't necessary, marked a sentence that has too much going on, and discussed the theme she sees at work. When I went in and made the changes she suggested, I could see the poem pull together a bit.

What I find most interesting is it took this person reading my poem and her thoughts about the theme working for me to see it. I guess I kind of knew it was there, but after reading what she wrote, I can see it much more clearly.

Another interesting takeaway: I feel energized to write and share. For years it's mostly been me responding to others' works. It's exciting to have the opportunity to share my work and receive feedback to help me make my writing even stronger.

 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Beautiful Face of Andrea, Part II

Last week, I shared a write-up about Andrea Wilches, one of the cyclists on the Northern Tier ride, summer 2016. I had the pleasure of riding with Andrea again this summer, both of us completing the Pacific coast, and I was able to sit with Andrea to catch up, get some insight into how the rides have impacted her life.

The Beautiful Face of Andrea, Part II

“I think the ride last year almost changed me completely.” The ride Wilches refers to is being a cyclist for Bike the US for MS, an organization based in Blacksburg, VA. For Andrea Wilches, the change she experienced affected her view of having MS, of what it means to be strong, and about life in general.

Though Wilches was four years beyond the diagnosis of MS the summer of 2016, she was still grappling with how it fit into her life. Right up to the point when her application to be a cyclist with the organization was accepted, she’d not told many friends and co-workers she has MS. The acceptance forced her hand. If she was to raise the required $1 per mile, she had to reach out.

She wrote the email explaining her situation and her desire to do the ride, but she didn’t send it right away. Fear kept her from clicking the Send button for several days. When she finally found the strength to send the email, the near-immediate responses blew her away.

“So many people called me back immediately, asking if I was okay.” For Wilches, this was the first step of changing her narrative. Until that moment of sending out that email, Wilches was afraid of what people were going to say, of what people thought was going to happen to her, because what she imagined they would say were the very things she thought as well. But they only showed they cared and wanted to help. She goes on to say, “I felt relieved.”

That first step to changing her narrative of living with MS led to Wilches joining the rest of the Bike the US for MS cyclists when they reached Minneapolis, MN., and while the first step was difficult, the second step proved even more so.

While in Minneapolis, the group spent time at the Fairview MS Achievement Center located in St. Paul. There, they met individuals living with MS. There, Wilches was confronted with having to face more fears: what the MS could possibly do to her mobility, what the MS could possibly do to her vision, what the MS could possibly do to her language abilities.

“It hit me,” Wilches says of walking into the center, the hallway lined with individuals at various stages of debilitation, some using a walker for support, others confined to wheelchairs but able to propel the chair on their own, and still others who required constant assistance with every facet of daily life. She remembers thinking, “Wow, this is real. This is serious. Tomorrow it (the MS) could do this, that, or this.”

After having spent four years circling around the MS diagnosis, Wilches found herself thrown right into the middle of the ring. The fragility she’d been hiding from everyone surfaced that day at the Fairview MS Achievement Center and at various other points from the moment the group left out of Minneapolis to make their way to Seattle, WA. To keep herself going when she thought she couldn’t, Wilches remembered what one individual at the center, a woman confined to a wheelchair, said to her when Wilches confided in her that she, too, has MS. “She told me I needed to have a positive attitude.” That woman’s words became Wilches’ mantra for the rest of the trip.

Not long after that day in Minneapolis, Wilches found herself again amongst individuals living with MS. This time, instead of breaking down in tears, she stood in front of the group and said aloud, “I have MS.” She looks at this moment as the first time since the diagnosis that she truly began to own the fact that she has MS, and as the moment she began facing all the fears within. Other moments of meeting individuals with MS occurred during the ride. With each interaction Wilches found herself becoming stronger, feeling a sense of community with those who understand what she is going through.

By the time Wilches reached Seattle, she knew she was well on her way to creating the narrative she wants for her life. “Last year (at the end of the Northern Tier 2016 ride), I knew everything will be okay. I still believe that. If it’s not, it’s the mindset and I have two options: change the narrative or not.”  

After Seattle, Wilches set about changing her narrative. Since finishing the Northern Tier ride, she began practicing Buddhism, which she believes is key to helping her take care of her mental health. Wilches smiles as she says, “I look at the ride from last summer as my one-month meditation. I was able to focus on just this one thing of cycling the mileage for each day. Just one road for hours and hours, miles and miles. I took the time to take care of my thoughts and self.”

Another takeaway from the ride Wilches returns to often is feeling empowered. When she signed up to do this year’s Pacific Coast ride with Bike the US for MS, and people asked her, “Can you do it?”, Wilches confidently replied, “Of course I can.” While last summer was her “crash course” into the world of cycling long distance, this year, cycling “doesn’t feel new any longer after completing the Northern Tier.” Wilches admits she still has more to learn about cycling, and laughs over still being confused about “which is my big ring, which is my little ring?”, but she can confidently clip into her pedals and complete the mileage for each day.

This empowerment led Wilches to fulfill a childhood dream. “As a kid, I always wanted to be part of a band but doubted myself,” Wilches says. After returning home to New York City last summer, Wilches thought, I just biked 2000 miles. Why can’t I be part of a band? She checked around and found a spot singing and playing auxiliary percussion with a folk band. “I feel like a superhero,” Wilches laughs.

Wilches is quick to point out, however, there are days she doesn’t feel so much like a superhero, like the day her cycling partner had to offer some tough love to keep Wilches from spinning into misery. “It was one of those hot days. The route leader told us we only had about five miles to the turn-off. I thought okay, five miles is manageable. Then the route leader called and said it was actually more like eight miles. I went into a negative spin and started crying.” At that point, Wilches was ready to give up.

Her cycling partner had other ideas, though. “She looked at me and said, ‘Get on that fucking bike and pedal!’” And that’s exactly what Wilches did. She completed that day, thankful to have someone who wouldn’t allow her to sink into negativity by her side, and she completed each day after until arriving in San Diego, CA, for a total of 1852 miles along the Pacific coast.

Now, with two long-distance cycling trips to reflect back on, Wilches sees the positive changes in herself. Before the rides, anything about MS triggered a meltdown. To an extent, she felt like her life was over after receiving the diagnosis. These days, she feels more whole and takes things on a day to day basis. Wilches says of the rides, “I learned how to jump in and put myself out there every day. Why not? Even with the folk band, I still get stage fright, but what’s the worst that can happen? No one’s going to throw tomatoes at me.”

“I’m owning my passions,” Wilches says. “That is empowering.”

Wilches trying her hand at clamming during the Pacific coast ride, August 2017.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Beautiful Face of Andrea, Part I

Last year, during one of the final days of the Northern Tier ride, I sat down with Andrea Wilches, one of the cyclists with the Northern Tier group, and talked at length with her about how the ride impacted her life. Andrea joined the group when we reached Minneapolis, which is where we also enjoyed a rest day. During our stay there, we went to the Minneapolis MS Center to meet those who participated in the programs made possible in part because of the donation given by Bike the US for MS. My memories from that day I’ll always treasure; the people I met, both those with MS as well as those who care for them, the beautiful garden, and witnessing Andrea begin her journey to finding a way to accept that she, too, has MS.

Each day until the end of the ride last summer, I was constantly amazed by Andrea’s perseverance. She went into the ride with very little experience cycling long distance, and on the first day of cycling, not being completely comfortable with clipping into her pedals, she found herself with a nasty gash on her calf after getting tangled up. This mishap and others didn’t deter Andrea from continuing on the journey she signed up for.

More recently, in August, Andrea and I met out in Seattle, both of us having signed up for the Pacific coast ride. At the end of this ride, the night we camped at Carlsbad under a full moon, Andrea sat down with me again, humoring me with my questions about how her life has been impacted by the rides with Bike the US for MS.

This is the piece about Andrea from last summer, for those who may have missed it when it was posted in my Beautiful Faces of MS project. Within the next few days, check back to read the follow-up profile from this summer.

***

The Beautiful Face of Andrea, Summer 2016

“We see lesions, and we think you have MS.”

To then 28-year-old Andrea Wilches, this statement translated to, “I’m going to be in a wheelchair tomorrow.”

Now, three years later, Wilches, of New York City, knows differently. Now, after cycling the Northern Tier route from Minneapolis, MN to Seattle, WA, over 2000 miles, Wilches feels hope and see possibilities for her future.

An active individual, Wilches enjoys participating in running events. During a 10k three years ago, she experienced intense pins and needles down her legs to her toes. She also felt the pins and needles through her torso, as well as a sharp spark down her spine when she lowered her head. Wanting answers, she searched online for what might be causing her symptoms. What she found pointed to Multiple Sclerosis, so she made an appointment with a neurologist who ordered an MRI.

“The image (of the lesions on her brain and spine) is still hard to get out of my head,” Wilches confides as she sits on the floor of the trailer where the cyclists for Bike the US for MS store all of their belongings in what are referred to as “cubbies,” boxes big enough to hold a tent, a sleeping bag, a few changes of clothes, and other must-have’s needed for the two-month long cycling trip across the United States. “My immediate thought was life was going to change within the month. Things were just going to start happening.”

Like many diagnosed with a disease, Wilches began reading about MS, which she admits was probably the worst thing to do. She also talked with her neurologist, who confirmed what Wilches was learning from her readings: MS affects vision, MS affects mobility, MS affects language, and other functions we don’t think about until confronted with their loss. For Wilches, a lower school Spanish teacher who also knows Portuguese, the thought of losing her language abilities hit hard. “I love language,” she says. “It scares me to think about losing something I love.”

For the past three years, since being diagnosed, Wilches admits the MS has consumed her life. If her eyes get blurry, it’s the MS. If she stumbles, it’s the MS. Even the MS used to identify the middle schools throughout the city turn her thoughts to having Multiple Sclerosis. Much of this she kept to herself, with only her family and a few close friends knowing she was even dealing with an autoimmune disease. She was scared to talk about the MS out loud because that makes it real.

Deep down, though, Wilches knew she needed to come to terms with and own her MS. “I see it as a general theme of changing your narrative,” she says. “I thought my life was going to be one way. Then there’s a ripple. What am I going to do now? I could do the crying thing, which I definitely did. And I was kind of like ‘why me’? But I changed my mindset.”

That change in mindset began the day Wilches signed up to ride with Bike the US for MS. As a teacher with her summers free, Wilches likes to involve herself in opportunities to travel, share her teaching abilities with other cultures. For this summer, she had applied for and had been accepted to travel to Ghana where she was to help with a reconstruction project. However, she wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about going. “You know, I was like I really don’t want to do it.” So she stepped back and thought about what she does like to do.

Riding her bike came to mind, which led her to wonder, “What if I just biked across the United States?” This prompted her to begin researching cycling cross-country, and what she found fascinated her. “I didn’t know there were already so many people doing it. Whole communities,” Wilches says. Eventually, her online searching took her to Bike the US for MS. As soon as she began reading about the organization, Wilches felt a connection and knew she’d found what she wanted to do during her summer. She also knew in signing up for the ride she was going to have to confront having MS. She applied and was accepted.

The fundraising part of being a cyclist for Bike the US for MS forced Wilches to talk about her MS. She wrote her fundraising email, asking for donations to support her ride, but she didn’t send it right away. A few days passed before she found the courage to hit the send button. The response and support from friends was overwhelming. “So many people called me almost immediately, asking if I was okay. It felt great.” Wilches also felt relieved being able to tell her story.

On this balmy July evening in Withrop, WA, after cycling 71 miles for the day, with only a handful of days remaining until she arrives in Seattle, WA, Wilches smiles brightly and says, “I don’t think I would be where I am without this trip.” From meeting others also living with MS, like Rita who assured Wilches that 95% of the time everything’s good, and Marie whose smile and attitude more than made up for her loss of mobility, and the woman at the Minneapolis MS Center who asked that we all be her legs because she would have loved to bike across the US, Wilches has learned she has been given the gift of time and space to process through her spectrum of thoughts.

“This trip is teaching me to focus on the present,” Wilches says. “If it (the MS) beats me at one point, I’ll deal with it then. Right now, it’s too much to think about the what if’s.”

What she’d rather think about is how incredible it has been riding her bike across the United States. From seeing the open fields that make up the Great Plains to the climbs that have taken her up mountain passes, from meeting her fellow cyclists who are focused on helping raise awareness of what MS is, as well as those newly diagnosed with MS, Wilches fairly beams about how amazing it all has been. “It’s so hard to describe what’s happening to me. I feel a strength. I’m getting used to hearing about MS, saying the words out loud.”

After a short pause, while looking around the campsite where her fellow Bike the US for MS cyclists are sitting and chatting, Wilches says, “Yeah, it’s amazing. Like connecting the dots. Here’s a group of strangers who don’t have that much in common, but we all sat down and opened up the Bike the US for MS website. This one thing connected us all.”

For several seconds Wilches sits silently. Then, in almost a whisper, she says, “It’s gonna be okay. Yeah.”





Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wandering Amongst Possibilities

I've read many books about writing. How to get started and write until a full-length novel can be spit out from the printer. How to mine memories to find ideas that could be turned into either a poem, a short story, or even a novel. How to get past writer's block. How to craft beautiful sentences. How to. How to. How to. In the end, most of the books come to the same conclusion: write a lot, read a lot, and write even more. 

Today, I found a bit of advice I'd never heard before, and I had to sit back to let the words digest. I then went to my desk, pulled out a neon-green index card and wrote the advice on it, propping the card next to my monitor so I can see it all the time.

Write Into, Not About

I'm so guilty of saying, "I'm writing about . . .." when someone asks me what my project or anything I may be working on at the moment is. Today, keeping in mind the idea of writing into rather than about the idea I have been chewing on the past few days, I allowed myself to drift, to let the idea lead me rather than me lead it. I wandered amongst the possibilities. 

In the end, what shaped itself is far removed from what I initially had in mind. It is lighter than what I've been creating. It hints at hope, and it is this more than anything I want the reader to take away.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dorky Me

I am such a dork at times. I just sent three poems to a literary magazine, and almost as soon as I hit the submit button of the program I use, I realized I'd not put my last name as part of the closing. I just put my first. I guess I could plead my case, saying I only now go by my first name. Or I could tell the truth--I was mulling over the idea of typing my maiden name, and in the process of considering this, I went ahead and attached the file I wanted to submit. Once the file was attached, the very natural next step is to click on Submit. So that's exactly what I did. Hopefully, the editors won't hold my lack of a last name against me.

I've been thinking a lot about returning to my maiden name. In a way, doing so will take me all the way back to the day I went to the DMV and the Social Security office to change my name after marrying my husband. I was angry that day. I didn't want to change my name. I resented having to go to these agencies and having to show documents that proved I'd married. I resented my husband for pressing me to change my name. Later, I would resent having to change my passport to reflect my married name.

Now, with what's happening and my moving forward with separating from my husband, I've been considering going back to my maiden name. Another thought that occurred to me is to go with my mom's maiden name. Definitely some thinking to do.

Another dork moment: I've been posting here regularly, well, semi-regularly since earlier this year. With each post, I wondered why no one was leaving a comment. I can see people are reading. I sometimes get an email here or there from a reader. Just no comments. I finally figured it out yesterday. I have the comment moderation selected. I had several comments from back in the spring awaiting moderation. Yep, dork moment for sure! Now that I know, I'll be sure to check the comments awaiting moderation each day. To those of you who commented and never saw your comments posted, they're now up.

On another note, the bird from the feeder that I thought might be a Black-headed Grosbeak is in fact a juvenile male Red-breasted Grosbeak. So the people from a FB birding page tell me. As I was working today, I looked up to see this beauty in the neighbor's yard:


I thought it looks like a Peregrine falcon, but again, the people at the FB birding page tell me it's actually a Cooper's hawk. Either way, it is gorgeous.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friendship Makes the Rejection Sting Go Away

Yet another rejection. At least this one only took just over two months to show up in my inbox. I have two other pieces out, one that's been hanging for over five months, the other almost at the year point now. To be honest, I'd forgotten about the one that's been out for a year, so I sent an inquiry email today, asking about its status. I'm figuring since I've not heard anything, the answer will be a no. When Funny Delightful Son came in and asked what I'd been doing all morning, I answered, "Crying in my coffee over being rejected again." He thought my comment funny. I was being serious. Well, just a little bit, anyway.

But I just marked the submission off the list I've been keeping, made note of the pieces that are open to being sent somewhere else, and researched more possible publications. I read some more poetry, hoping to soak up what it is about them that got them published, but more often than not I found myself sitting back in my chair, not having the faintest clue as to what the editors saw in the poems. Three of them I had no idea what was even being talked about. I felt incredibly stupid. 

Maybe my poetry is just too shallow. Maybe it's not cryptic enough. I really don't know. I've had people whose judgment I trust read my work, and they tell me I have some solid pieces going. These are people who read, who write, who have Ph.D.'s and MFA's. I am totally lost as to what to do.

In the midst of me crying in my coffee, a friend texted me. In the course of the conversation, she said she is looking forward to reading my work when it's published. I did the LOL thing, saying at the rate I'm going the publishing thing isn't going to happen. Her reply was: It will happen. That little bit of encouragement made me smile. I know I have friends cheering for me, and the moment I smiled at her adamant "It will happen," all the sting of the rejection went away.

I set to work revising a newer poem, started in on another which is just pieces and parts that I basically just dumped onto the page, and sketched a few ideas in my sketchbook. At one point I looked up from my work and noticed a bird at the feeder, a bird I've never seen before. I tried to get a picture of it, but what I managed to capture isn't all that great. While I'm not certain, the only picture I've found that comes close to looking like this bird is that of a female Black-headed Grosbeak. It might be a juvenile male. Hopefully it'll return and I can get a better picture of it. The interesting thing about it being a Black-headed Grosbeak, if that's what it is, is according to the info I found, they usually are much farther west. 

  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Time

My desk is right under two large windows, affording me a view of our neighbor's large backyard. There are several pine trees on the property line, so I put up a shepherd's hook and hung the bird feeder between two of the trees. Now, as I sit and work at my desk, I can watch the Cardinals at the feeder and the squirrels chasing each other in the neighbor's yard. Today, a mama Cardinal busied herself by helping two of her young manage the feeder. She'd fly in, and the two young ones would try to follow. They didn't quite get the gist of how to perch on the feeder, so she would take seeds to them as they waited in the honeysuckle bush. The squirrels are like kids playing tag. I watched one just the other day lay on its back and play with a stick, much like a cat would do. This while a hawk swooped in to try and grab up the squirrel. The squirrel pretty much just batted at the hawk and went on with what it was doing. The hawk landed in the grass about ten feet away and watched. It finally decided it wasn't going to be able to get a meal out of this prey and flew off.

This week I've been busy revising some pieces to get them ready for sending off. I even returned to my short story collection to tinker with it. I found a contest to send it to, specifically for a collection of short stories, so I figured why not? I have absolutely nothing to lose. So far, I've added nearly 1000 words to the first three stories of the collection, and I changed the order of the last two stories. I still have nine stories to tinker with before the deadline Saturday. I ran out of coffee this morning, so I definitely need to get to the store for more to help me keep going. Even though I only drink decaf, I like having something to drink on my desk all the time. Maybe I should take a page out of Hemingway's book and go with something a little stiffer. I wonder what words would come out of me with some help from Jack Daniels or Jose Quervo.

One thing I've been thinking about a lot this week is I've apparently offended a family member. I don't know what I did or said, but I haven't talked to this person since last Christmas. I've sent a couple of emails to the family group, and nada from this person. I had a hunch a few months ago something was up, but I'm pretty certain now this person is upset with me. I thought about sending an email just to this person, but then I thought no, I'm not going to. If this person has a beef with me, this person needs to tell me so. When or if this happens, I'll go from there. For now, I'm going to focus on my writing and moving forward with my life. If there's one thing I've come to embrace is time is the most precious thing/element/aspect/part (I don't even know what the best word is for the role time plays in our lives) of life. It's the one thing that we can never get back, so to spend time wondering about a family member who may be upset with me but won't say so is time wasted. I have better things to do with that time.

Like read a poem that brings me to tears, read a book that I'm so totally engrossed in I don't hear Funny Delightful Son walk up behind me, teach Ado how to open the refrigerator, sketch some ideas for my own poems, take a walk and enjoy the coming of fall, listen to the crickets through the open windows, ride my bike to the store for groceries, watch a funny movie, fix dinner with my kids then eat that dinner while talking and laughing, sit on my bed with Lovely Beautiful Daughter and talk about anything and everything, and, and, and. So much to that is worthy of my time. Worry that a family member is upset with me for whatever reason is not worthy of my time.

Now, I think I'll go get that drink I alluded to. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

When Failures Bring Positives

As I was sitting at my desk last night, Lovely Beautiful Daughter came in and wrapped her arms around me.

"I love you, Mama," she said. "I want you to know, too, how proud I am of you."

I leaned my head against her shoulder, unsure of what to say. When she sat on the end of my bed, I looked at her. I could see the little girl that had always made me laugh. I could see the young woman who is so kind. A free spirit who sees the bright side of life.

I smiled and told her thank you.

"Really. The last few weeks have been rough, but you've stood your ground. You're not giving in. You're moving in the direction you want to go."

I've been trying to keep the things happening with my husband quiet. I try not to say much around the kids. This past week, with seeing the lawyer and going over to get a few more things from my husband's place, I've not been able to keep things as low-key as I like. I've been tense.

And I know more than ever that I cannot and will not ever go back to him.

I told this to Lovely Beautiful Daughter.

"I know. I figured that some time ago," she said. "And it's okay."

I sometimes comment to my kids about how my failed relationships are not to be used as examples of how two people should be with one another. My kids, though, see my difficulties as examples of what not to do, and instead of telling me how awful I've done they turn it around and say I actually showed them how they should be with that other important person in their lives. I love them for seeing the positive when all I'm seeing is negative.

This weekend, I sat and watched my kids with their plus one's (as they refer to their significant others). I noticed they speak gently, smile at each other often, and simply enjoy being with each other. All six were sitting at the table at one point, eating pizza and breadsticks, laughing with one another, talking about movies, culture, and life in general.

I looked at Lovely Beautiful Daughter as she sat on the end of my bed and told her how much I love her.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Difficult, Painful Steps But Necessary

Though I didn't get any good news from the lawyer concerning the financial situation, I walked out feeling as if I'm moving forward. I now understand the numbers, where they're coming from, and how it all came to where it is now. My hands are still tied in beginning to pay the amount owed since my husband will not agree and is still appealing, so I can't really do anything yet. But I feel like no matter what happens, I am taking the steps needed to start down the path I want for my life.

The one thing the lawyer did take interest in was the fact that one person in the relationship wants to sign the agreement while the other person in the relationship does not. He had never encountered this kind of situation before and is looking into how to proceed with the matter given this. From my perspective, I think my husband is being extremely selfish. He's not the one they'll come after. He's unemployed. He has no income. They'll come after me, the one who has a good, stable job. The one who has the means to pay. While I don't want to pay it, I will own the responsibility. I stuck my head in the sand rather than stand my ground. I should have let him have all his little tantrums. I should not have given in. I should have protected myself like I vowed when I married him.

I've truly learned my lesson the hard way.

Next week I see the lawyer to get started on a legal separation. Six months ago when I made the decision to leave what had been my home for thirteen years, I thought maybe a reconciliation could be reached given time and effort. I don't believe this any longer. Each day that passes with me having quiet, space, and distance from my husband, the more I know I cannot go back. In his presence, I am a bundle of anger. As soon as I leave, I am in a better place.

Through all of this, I've found myself finding my way back to the strong me I was before I married him. I lost sight of that me through the years, only starting to see the faint outline again several years ago, after a particularly awful fight with my husband. I saw a side of him I knew I'd never be able to come to terms with. I know that moment is where the beginning of our end started, but I wasn't ready to admit it then. If I had, well, let's just say I now can look at it as one of those If - Dog - Rabbit scenarios.

One step I did take after talking to the lawyer was to inform my husband's family of the situation. My husband has repeatedly refused to tell his family of our separation. He has refused to reach out and ask for help. I understand the embarrassment he is feeling, yet his refusal has impacted me and how I want to proceed. I'm so done with that. Like I've said before, I'm done running and hiding. I'm done allowing him to dictate how this matter is handled. I love his brothers and their wives, his sister and her husband, and everyone else who is his family. I will no longer keep this from them.

I am getting my ducks in a row. I took the step to leave. I talked with a lawyer who helped me make sense of the situation. I have an appointment to make the separation legal. I have told family what is happening.

It feels so good to be taking back control.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I've Slept Long Enough

Lovely Beautiful Daughter looked at me the other day and said, "You've always been independent, but the last few years, that independence has grown. You've changed over these past few years, too. It's a good change." And from the little conversations I've had with Funny Delightful Son, I know he's happy I've finally asserted myself, taking the steps to get this mess under control. He even called me last evening, specifically asking if I had called the guys in suits.

Yes, I told him. I have. I could see his smile through the phone connection.

I called a lawyer and have an appointment set to discuss the financial issue as well as a legal separation. I told my husband of my intentions. I didn't back down when he argued what I am doing is going to make matters worse rather than better. I didn't back down when he suggested my decision will put him in a difficult position. I didn't back down when he pressed me to wait. I didn't back down.

I walked away feeling strong.

I walked away knowing I am the one who will pave a happy, stable path for myself. That path will definitely take time to create, but I did it before with three very young children in tow. I will do it again, this time with three wonderful, smart, supportive young adults cheering me on.

On another note, I've been reading a lot of poetry, mostly newer pieces to get a sense for what's being published right now. Then I ran across some Rumi and immediately felt myself drawn in. This one, especially, spoke to me and is still with me as I move through my evening.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

--Rumi

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

My Feet Belong in the Sand, Not My Head

When I think back to the moment I decided I just couldn't continue in the marriage to the kids' dad, I remember the day so clearly. How could I not? It was the day I gave birth to Angel Baby. Right up to the going into the hospital, of finding myself experiencing incredible pain, I thought my marriage could work. The moment the man who is the father of the three most beautiful beings I've ever been around walked out of the room, didn't stay to support me, didn't see the birth of his son, didn't see me go through a very scary moment of hemorrhaging, I knew my marriage was over. A month later, I set the wheels in motion to extricate myself from the bad that I was living in.

Today, as I was walking home from my husband's place, the thought it's time flitted through my mind. Instead of sweeping that thought away, I embraced it. It's time I stop running the other way, hoping the bad can't catch me. It's time to stop and face whatever might come for me.

In that same spirit, I've decided to stop placating my husband and his desire that I not share what is happening for fear his family will find out. I'm willing to own the fact that I didn't stand my ground, didn't take the necessary steps to protect myself financially under the guise that I was trusting my husband and his financial decisions. I'm willing to admit I am just as responsible for this mess through my burying my head in the sand.

Facing whatever might come is scary, but I began the process this morning. I called a lawyer, and I am getting my ducks in a row, as my mom always advised. Not exactly how I wanted to spend my sabbatical, but life has a funny way of putting a curve on a road that seemed to be pretty straight.


Monday, September 18, 2017

This Publishing Thing

Yesterday I finished the last poem of the trio I began last week. It's actually the first poem of the trio, but it was the one I started after having the second and third drafted. That's kind of how my fiction turns out, as well. I always have to know the ending before I can back up and start from the beginning. I need to know where I'm going to end up, I guess.

With the three poems drafted, I turned my attention to getting a few sent out to literary magazines today. I selected three I believe are strong and demonstrate the theme I'm working with for my project, then went to work researching a possible market. I found a literary magazine out of Texas, read several issues of it, and figured why not? I can see my work being a fit with this magazine, but then again, I think that with every literary magazine I send my writing to, only to be told in the rejection that my work isn't a good fit. This whole publishing thing is so completely frustrating.

I ran into a colleague at yoga Saturday morning. After class we chatted for quite some time, and almost immediately she expressed her dismay over the rejections she receives from literary magazines. I felt as if I'd found a kindred spirit. I certainly don't know what it takes to get published. I've had a handful of essays and short stories published, but I've had many more handfuls of pieces turned down. The form letters that accompany the rejections are all the same: "The fact that we didn’t choose to publish any of the poems you submitted should not be considered a ruling on their or your merit. Poetry is always subjective, and our decision reflects nothing more than our honest fair opinion of which poems we liked most" and "This isn't a reflection on your writing. The selection process is highly subjective, something of a mystery even to us. There's no telling what we'll fall in love with, what we'll let get away." After I read these, I think about some of the crappy poems I've read in their magazines. There truly is no accounting for taste.

So what are people like my colleague and I to do? Keep trying? In my case I have to. My whole sabbatical is centered upon writing and publishing. I read yesterday that on average, it takes 20 attempts before a short story will be accepted. For a poem? On average, 100 different publications! If it takes that long for a poem, given the wait time for hearing yes/no from the publication (especially if simultaneous submissions aren't allowed), I will be old, gray, and frail (okay, let's be real--I'll be dead) before I get my first yes, we'd be delighted to publish your poem. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I Am a Yogi

I realized something about my yoga practice today as I moved through the postures with the group of people who had gathered for class at the park.

I no longer have to see the instructor to know what she 
is asking of the students. I just listen now. Much of the time with my eyes closed. 

After this recognition of growth registered with me, I paused to revel in the feeling. I know I smiled. How could I not? I remember the first few months of regular practice had me constantly looking at the teacher to be sure I was moving into the correct asana. Now, with a year of consistent practice and completion of two levels of yoga teacher training under my belt, I am beginning to truly think of myself as a yogi.

A few other yoga-related accomplishments from the first year of my yoga journey:
  • being able to do a solid headstand;
  • being able to hold crow pose;
  • being able to move into bound side angle pose on both sides;
  • being able to hold downward facing dog for seven minutes.
I feel stronger, more flexible, and toned, and I am grateful for all that the teachings of yoga have given me during this past year.


Facing the Truth

The day I've been dreading, trying not to think about, arrived. Yesterday. And the situation is even worse now than it was six months ago. The hole just keeps getting deeper.

I promised myself when I married my husband that I wasn't going to allow myself to be pressured into giving into what he wanted. I'd given in with the kids' dad on things I knew with my entire being were harmful, and in the end, that marriage ended badly. I thought I'd learned my lesson from that experience. Not so. My promise to myself lasted all of about a week. I wanted to keep my maiden name, but my husband kept pressing me to change it to his last name. Per my usual self, rather than stand my ground and say no, rather than let the boat rock, I went through the process of changing my name.

That was the first incident of many throughout the last 12 years where I didn't keep my promise to myself.

Now I'm in this situation that I know will end up being me finding myself financially strapped for the next seven or eight years. That raise I just got for working hard the last 18 years and being promoted to Distinguished Professor? I won't get to enjoy it. Not having to take an overload like I've been doing for the last 18 years because that raise makes it possible to just do a regular teaching load? Not going to happen. If anything, I'll most likely ask for a double overload.

I went into the separation thinking I needed to keep trying to make my marriage work. I think I'm done trying.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Balancing Act

Yesterday, a new idea for a piece to be part of my sabbatical project occurred to me while Ado and I were out walking. When little sparks like this happen while I'm away from my desk, I take out my phone and jot down a note so I have the idea in writing rather than just in my head where the tendency for the idea to get pushed to the back and forgotten about happens. Only I didn't have my phone with me. I kept repeating the idea over and over, even thinking about the direction it could go, right up until we walked through the door. At that point, I ran to my desk, pulled up a new Word doc and typed out the idea.

Today, I've been fleshing out the idea. What started as one poem has now become three, all getting at the idea of a finish line. The first in the series will lead to the second, and the second in the series will lead to the third. My hope is it will be clear all three are intertwined on several levels.

Interestingly enough, at least to me, the third poem was the first one I wrote. Then the second. Now I'm poking around the first. After writing the second, I felt drained. I needed a break.

I put lights on the cruiser so Lovely Beautiful Daughter can ride it after dark if she wishes to. I also put a cup holder on the handlebars. She will be able to take her travel coffee mug with her if she decides to take the bike to work rather than drive.

I put cages on my hybrid bicycle's pedals. While I'm not a real fan of cages, I don't want to clip in on this bike, yet I want to have some extra pedal power if I want it.

I've been searching online for a particular type of cycling shorts that I used to have and loved so much. So far, no luck. I will not give up, though. I will find them. I will. I know another cyclist who wears the same shorts and swears by them like I do, so I messaged her to see if she knows the brand and style. Fingers crossed she does.

After dinner, I'll return to the poems, having given myself time to come up from the depths into which I dove earlier today.

Sunset at Humbug State Park.

 I'm finding myself returning over and over to the sunset photos I have from the ride. Remembering the feeling of being on the beach, hearing the water as the sun set for the day, is comforting.




Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Getting Things Done

Today was the first day I've been able to really sit at my desk and write. And research. And upload the photos from my camera. And transfer the video clips from my GoPro. And even submit two poems to a literary magazine. Being this productive feels really good.

To start my day, I made lemon blueberry scones with lemon glaze. While I'm mostly a gluten and grain-free eater, I do like scones. Scratch that. I LOVE scones. Those I will allow myself to eat. Being able to move around a kitchen and bake or cook has been one of the delightful things about being home. Eating refried beans smeared on a tortilla, topped with goat cheese and salsa verde, got pretty old after a month of it. Presently, I'm waiting for the pizza dough I made just a bit ago to rise. While I won't eat the crust, I thought it'd be fun to make homemade pizza for dinner. I've not done that in a very long time.

As I wait, I decided to look through the nearly 2000 photos from my camera. These include all the photos from last summer's Northern Tier ride, and actually, they make up the bulk of the photos. I never transferred them to my computer. I figured today was as good a time to do so as any. So many memories emerge when I look at the photos.

Birds bathing in a pool left by high tide.

Cactus to be harvested and sent to Mexican restaurants.

One of the many vineyards I passed.

Lettuce!

The trail I walked at Costanoa to get to the beach. This is where I found a beautiful tiny sand dollar.


Sunset at Carlsbad.

Strawberries. I'm conflicted about buying strawberries now, after watching the workers pick.

Sunset at Costanoa.



Sunday, September 10, 2017

Back Home

Just over a week ago, I decided to forego the Southern Tier ride in favor of returning home. I absolutely loved cycling the Pacific coast with the waves crashing against the rocky shoreline, but I wasn't getting as much writing done as I had hoped. I knew going on to the Southern Tier, especially in the role of route leader, would mean even less time to put into the writing, so after long, careful thought, I bowed out.

When I made the final decision, I knew without a doubt it was the right decision.

Now I am back home. And I've not stopped smiling since seeing Funny Delightful Son sitting in the waiting area of the airport, looking up at me with a smile on his own face as I descended the stairs after getting off the plane.

I thought Ado might be mad at me for leaving him for a month, but when I walked up the sidewalk and spoke to him, he put his ears back, wagged his tail, then came to me. He jumped up, putting his paws on my shoulders and nuzzled my face. He returned to all four's, pressing against my legs while wagging his tail and looking up at me, clearly very happy to see me. He ran to the deck, up the steps, then turned as I stood at the bottom of the steps and stretched out to lick my face. He hasn't been far from my side since I returned.

Long, tight hugs from Lovely Beautiful Daughter and Angel Baby told me they, too, are happy I'm home.

While Washington, Oregon, and California are beautiful, home is where the love that sustains me resides.

Moon over the ocean the last morning of cycling the Pacific coast.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Another Week Down

After another day of excruciating heat for nearly 20 miles of a 93 mile ride, I will be comfortably cool in a Motel 6 for the next two nights.

Today the team rolled into Goleta, CA, which is next door to Santa Barbara. Our accommodations for the night and tomorrow's rest day is a church, which is fine, but the idea of staying two nights in a place with no air conditioning and no shower didn't go over too well with some of us. The church is also situated away from restaurants and stores, meaning we'd have to ride or walk several miles to get food, do laundry, buy groceries for our cubby, pretty much do anything. When one of the other cyclists said she was getting a hotel and asked me to join her, I didn't hesitate. I was a sweaty mess, covered in black road grime, and grumpy. A shower, bed, and air conditioning added up to a no brainer for me. I quickly tapped into my phone and found our hotel within seconds.

On the way to the hotel, we were waiting at a red light. A man in an SUV honked at me, wanting me to move out of his way, and after I did, he slowly went by, turning right, and said, "It's called a roadway, not a bikeway." I so wanted to say something nasty back to him, but instead I just smiled and nodded. Why people have to be jerks is beyond me.

The shower restored some of my happiness. The Chinese dinner more. And the frozen yogurt with mango, strawberries, and kiwi even more. Tomorrow, I might not do anything. Or, I might check out the pier, see if I can find a bike shop, and organize my cubby to finish out the ride. I'll decide tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

Sunday we'll roll out, heading to Santa Monica. Another 90+ miles day. After that, we only have three days of cycling left for the Pacific Coast.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I've Never Known This Kind of Hot

111 degrees. Not kidding. And hills with 9% grade. The combination acted like a one-two punch.

The heat came from above then hit me again after bouncing up from the pavement. I felt like I was in an oven, slow roasting for nearly six hours. Not exactly what I call fun.

Because of the landslide at Big Sur, we were rerouted inland, to the valley running between the ranges. Yesterday was quite wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride through the valley, seeing the farmland. I never quite grasped just how much food is grown in California. Now I know. Tons. And so many migrant workers in the fields before dawn, bending over to pick, hoe, and take care of the fields. Grueling work, no doubt. I have a much higher appreciation for all that they do to make sure we in other parts of the country have fresh veggies and fruits. I have vowed to think much more of those who work in the fields each and every time I buy veggies and fruits.

Today, the morning started out at 60 degrees. Foggy, misty. I was hoping it would warm up like yesterday. It warmed up all right. Way up. Scary hot. I found myself trudging up a hill, wondering why I felt like my legs were mired in mud. I pulled over to rest under a shady tree. I'm glad I did as my heart was racing and I felt a bit off. I stayed there for about fifteen minutes, drinking and letting the breeze cool me off.

The next rest stop was about a mile up the road, so when I got there, I ducked into Naci Cafe and ate lunch. I hung out there for about an hour then went to the store to get some chocolate milk and bananas. I stowed those items in the rest stop van then set off on the last 15 miles of the ride.

Those last 15 miles took a long time. I caught up to several of the other riders and we decided to take rest breaks about every six miles. I figured if it took me to sundown to get to camp so be it. The heat was simply exhausting. We finally made it, and the first thing we all did was jump in the pool. I stayed in that pool for a long time, letting the water cool off my overheated body.

Now, the sun is down and a breeze is cooling the air. I have a couch to sleep on tonight and tomorrow we head back to the coast. 25 miles to the shoreline. I think we're all looking forward to seeing the ocean again though we've only been away from it for two days.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Rest Day in San Francisco

For the better part of the last ten days, we've not been in areas with cell phone coverage or wifi. I've been on roaming and haven't been able to do much online writing. I was fascinated with how the little towns have phone booths. They have to. No cell phone coverage. On one hand, I love the idea of not being so plugged in. Life is a bit simpler in those places. On the other hand, having had a cell phone for years and always being able to contact people in a matter of seconds via texting or calling, I've become accustomed to the ease the cell phone offers.

Now we've reached San Francisco. 1070 miles into the ride. Just under 800 miles to go. Two weeks to San Diego.

The ride has been everything I thought it would be. Beautiful landscape. Breathtaking coastline. Incredibly difficult hills. Each day, I marvel at the wonder that is our country, and I truly wish everyone, every single person who lives here, could take the time to explore and experience what is the United States. I find it sad that there are people who can't or won't ever be able to see all that makes up this country. I know I'm so fortunate to have had the opportunities to get out, see, do. I just wish everyone had those opportunities.

Today we're in San Francisco. We arrived yesterday afternoon after leaving out of Olema Campground where the night spent there was filled with raccoons pillaging the bike bag one of the riders had unfortunately forgotten to put into the trailer, locked away from the little critters; raccoons climbing up onto the van then sliding down the windshield--you could see the footprints on the van and the muddy slide marks left on the windshield; raccoons finding another rider's backpack with her jersey in it and taking the jersey a good hundred yards away, down by the river; raccoons fighting over the little treasures they were finding all over the campground. I had to shoo one away when it stuck its head underneath my tent fly. I was awake most of the night because of those crazy raccoons, but because I was awake, I also heard the pack of coyotes howling. Their chorus was truly beautiful.

The ride from the Golden Gate Bridge to the hotel ended up me going off on my own, away from the group I'd been with. A few were indecisive about directions, and after the third time stopping to consult the map, argue which way to go, I pulled out my cell phone, plugged in the hotel address, and asked Google to take me there. Google said turn left at the street we'd just passed, so I said, "See ya!" At that point, I was on my own in a city I'd never spent any amount of time in before. I had absolutely no clue where I was or what I might encounter along the way. But I listened to Google say, "In 800 feet, turn left onto Carmen Street" and so on. I just did what I was told to do. The only scary moment came with my phone said, "Battery low." I was still about 8 miles from the hotel, and with traffic, stopping, waiting, I worried my battery would give out, leaving me with no idea where I was or how much farther I had to go. I didn't get too worked up, though. I've learned how to be resourceful from doing these rides, and the one option I always had was to simply pull into a fast food joint, get something to eat and charge my phone while eating. I decided to push the envelope, and I'm pretty sure I was getting a little help from someone because as soon as I reached the van and trailer at the hotel, my phone died.

The group I'd been with? They arrived at the hotel over an hour after I did. I'm really glad I went off on my own.

Since there are so many of us on this ride, the organization put four to a room, meaning either we sleep together in the beds or someone takes the floor. I really wanted a good night's sleep since I've not slept well for the last four nights. Raccoons, traffic, other people, or tent flaps unzipping or zipping kept me awake a lot. So I wanted a bed to myself. This meant one of the other riders had to sleep on the floor. This rider has had a rough time--a couple of falls, one yesterday on the way to the hotel, and one about ten days ago that fractured a rib. I felt bad about not giving her the bed, but I was the only one in the room at 9 pm, I was tired, and I wanted to sleep. I took one of the beds and was asleep within minutes. I didn't even hear the others come in.

Earlier this morning, when I saw the rider who slept on the floor, she looked miserable. I went to the front desk and asked if there was an open room for tonight. A king, bay view room was clean and had my name written all over it. I decided to splurge and get the room. The injured rider can now have the bed I had last night and at least have one solid night of rest while here at the hotel. I'm now in my own room. Quiet. Cool. Just me. Heaven.

A few of us went to Fisherman's Grotto and walked, browsed the stores, then had lunch. It was fun, but like with most touristy destinations, I had enough after a couple of hours. I did get some fun photos to remember everything by, though, and this is enough for me.