Entries Tagged as 'Main'

The Year of Waiting

Sunday, September 16, 2018

For my husband Thomas and I, this has been “The Year of Waiting.” We are waiting to take action on our limited fertility options, and we are waiting to move into our new home that’s still under construction.

As I mentioned in my last post, this year of waiting hasn’t been fruitless. I’ve learned what matters most to me even when I lack control over my immediate environment. I’ve continued to paint and write and counsel and teach, all of which are tremendous sources of meaning. And, I’ve committed to taking care of myself in ways I never quite managed to figure out before, the biggest of which is that I finally quit drinking alcohol.

Yesterday I finished this painting of magnolia tree seed pods. I’ve always loved these strange little things, but I think it’s taken the year of waiting to prompt me to paint them as a subject in their own right. All that potential packed in such odd packages, waiting to ripen, waiting to bloom, helps remind me that nature takes its own kind of time, and perhaps I can, too.

Prickly Processes

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Life has been prickly lately, but not without joy.

Four months ago my husband Thomas and I locked the door to our little house in the Pleasant Street neighborhood and handed our keys to the new owners. Then, we drove our last load of stuff to a storage unit and began the work of settling into the spare bedroom at Thomas’s dad’s house, where we’ve been living while our new home, also in the Pleasant Street neighborhood, is under construction.

Thus we have entered a new phase of our relatively new marriage–not only cohabitation but cohabitation with parents. While the adjustment has been challenging in the predictable ways, we’ve grown closer as a couple, and we both appreciate this time with Thomas’s family, who have embraced me more generously than I’d dared hope for.

Perhaps no one knows how truly controlling we are until we’re unable to exercise our typical degree of control, but this has certainly been true for me, and surprise: it’s been good for me.  I’m painting in an exposed part of the house, where people can see what I’m working on. I hadn’t realized just how much I relied on closing my studio door until I didn’t have that luxury. Folks who attend art school learn to create in public and shared spaces, but I never did either one. Though I do find privacy helpful when I’m working on a painting, I’m getting less self-conscious, which is pretty much always a kind of liberation.

What’s also neat about this phase of my life, about this communal living experience, is that I’m discovering what is worth doing regardless of the particulars of my surroundings. I am extremely grateful that Thomas’s dad is letting me use his formal sitting room as a temporary studio, and that I am able to continue painting while living here. Has it impacted my process? Yes. I’m painting simpler work right now, work that delights me but doesn’t necessarily push against my limitations as much as some of my other work. Does that really matter? No, not as long as I keep painting. Art has to be flexible enough to adapt to life’s changes. Sometimes, it’s okay to make simple work. Sometimes, it’s okay to hang out in the kiddie pool, even without kiddies.

Speaking of kiddies, I’ll add that my main prickly challenge right now is not the change in living circumstances but infertility. Thomas and I have been trying to have children for awhile. After several early-term miscarriages, we went to the specialist, who diagnosed me with low ovarian reserve, something no one trying to have children wants to hear. The specialist says I’m running out of eggs and close to being in menopause (at 37, this is difficult news to stomach). Our most viable options are adoption or trying IVF with an egg donor.  We are exploring both possibilities, which involve considerable expense and uncertainty, but life is nothing if not costly and uncertain, and we intend to have children one way or another.

I suppose then that these cactus paintings, which appear simple, have grown out of the last few months of painful and disappointing fertility news. I’m hopeful that Thomas and I will be like cacti, able to grow our family despite challenging conditions. The good news is that, so far anyway, we’re doing okay with it all. I guess in the right relationship, hardships ultimately bring people closer. As a person who has historically struggled to stay in a long-term relationship, I am both pleased and relieved to find myself becoming more committed to our deepening connection and increasingly big (ad)ventures.

 

Aspen Grove

Monday, August 21, 2017

Aspen Grove

48″ x 60″

My husband and I were able to hike in an aspen forest in Colorado during our honeymoon this summer. The leaves were still green but I could easily imagine them turning yellow, shimmering or “quaking,” and falling. When we got back to Gainesville, I painted the aspens.

I’m not sure there’s ever been a more compelling time to consider aspen trees as a meditation on human connection. Aspen groves are actually all one organism, joined underground by elaborate root systems. What appear as distinct forms are in fact individual expressions of a single living creature.

 

The Nightmare

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Nightmare

I woke in the middle of the night sobbing and angry, with no memory of the dream that created my distress. This morning, I picked up my pen and watercolors while I sat drinking coffee and coming into the day.

Sometimes where there are no words, images illuminate.

When we overlook the personal, therapeutic, and spiritual opportunities of creative expression, we may also miss parts of ourselves that cannot otherwise be known.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Delayed Gifts

Friday, August 21, 2015

“There is a sympathy outside ourselves that knows, carries, and protects a message sometimes long enough for it to be delivered successfully.”

Annie Rogers, from one of my favorite books, A Shining Affliction

10 years ago, my friend Christy gave me a Koi travel watercolor set. I felt intimidated by watercolors, and I didn’t consider myself an artist.

I didn’t use the gift for a long time.

9 years, actually.

But good friends have a way of knowing what we need before we do, and recently I’ve fallen in love with her gift.

The paints dry quickly in my small square sketchbook. I draw the lines with a Pilot rolling ball pen.

The three items together–paints, pens, and a sketchbook–make a great gift for a friend.

Even if that friend is as dense I am.

Even if that friend is yourself.

Thank you, Christy.

Rock Cairns 1

All This Time

Friday, August 7, 2015

40 x 60"

All This Time (40 x 60″)

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”
Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.
-Hafiz

The Return

Saturday, July 25, 2015

 Overlook

I head up for a week in the Great Smoky Mountains with my nephew Mason, who is almost 10 years old. I’ve rented a cabin that we discover, after our 12-hour drive, is country kitsch: Chock-full of bears holding up hearts inscribed with saccharine sayings.  “What’s the deal with all these bears?” Mason asks.  “I don’t know, it’s beary weird, isn’t it?” I say. He puts his arm around me, looks in my eyes and says, “Don’t worry, Aunts make things bear-able.”

During our week together, we settle into a routine. Early mornings, I have coffee and do yoga while he sleeps. Mid-mornings, we hike. In the afternoons, we swim in a cold clear river, and at dusk, we lounge in our balcony’s hot tub and watch the sun set. As it gets dark, we each take a rocking chair and quietly sketch with pastels and pens. Later, we curl up and talk about life and death. “I don’t want you or anyone I love to die,” he confides. “When I think about death, I get sad.”  “Yes,” I say, “we all die. But this is also what makes our time together very precious and beautiful.”  Mason turns his back to me in the dark and cries softly. I feel my own face wet with tears. I put my hand on his back and say, “I’m sad, too. But you know, when people really love us, we can feel their love even after they die. We get to keep their love inside.”

We drive through a dense forest. I’m thinking about our conversation about death. “You know,” I say, “some cultures and religions believe that we live many lives. We aren’t just here one time, we are born into many different bodies, including animal bodies, until we’ve learned everything we’re supposed to learn about being here. It’s called reincarnation.”

“Hmmm, I think I’ve heard of that,” he says. “What do you think, Aunt Sara? Do you believe it?”

“I don’t know what to believe,” I say. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve been here before, but mostly I just enjoy the questions. I like wondering about it, more than anything. I like the mystery of it, you know?”

“Yeah,” he says.

Later on the hike, Mason requests that I ask him questions. He likes it when I ask him, “If you could…” questions, like, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”  His answer is, “To live forever.”

I try another question. “If you could come back as anyone, at any time in history, and live their life, who would you want to come back as?”

He gets quiet for a few minutes, thinking.  Then he says, “I bet you know who I’d pick. Take a guess.”

I don’t know. I think of the president, or wealthy people, or famous athletes, but none of these feel right. Then, it hits me. “Yourself?” I say, “you’d want to come back as you?”

“Yep!” he says cheerfully, and offers no further explanation.

I’m deeply touched.

“That’s cool,” I say, when I can find my words again. “You know what, Mason?  Me too.”

Mason is on the edge of pre-adolescence. His body is changing, and each day he speaks with more maturity, but he still retains much of his boyish innocence. Often during our hikes, he slips his smooth little hand in mine. We walk like this for awhile, sometimes miles. Teenage boys and their fathers who are definitely not holding hands cross our path, but Mason doesn’t let go. I wonder if it will ever be like this with him again, which makes our time together precious and beautiful indeed.

Mason sketching

I weave the car down a mountain road, my eyes alight with the scenery, big clouds atop bigger mountains. “Aunt Sara, you’re smiling again. You’re always smiling. Why do you smile so much?” Mason asks.

I am not aware of smiling.

“Because I’m happy,” I answer, realizing it’s true. “I know that life can be difficult, but I love being alive, Mason. I love that I get to be alive.”

We walk the same trails I walked when I was here alone last summer. As we walk, I catch glimpses of who I was last year, when I came to these woods falling deeply in love with the man I was sure I’d marry. Time passed; we parted. It was necessary to let go.

The hikers

“This is my favorite part of the path,” Mason says during one of our long hikes to a waterfall. He stops me and gestures to the trees that form a low, dark tunnel over us. “It looks like a wedding,” he says.

I smile. “That’s one wedding I’d want to attend,” I say.

“Walk along, kiddo.” He does, and I take his picture in the dark tunnel of trees.

The Wedding Path

Mason springs up the path ahead of me. I watch his deft feet and wonder who he will become. Highly creative and sensitive, deeply introverted yet a hilarious entertainer, it’s impossible to know from here. Most everything is, in fact. I wonder how he’ll record this summer vacation in memory. I wonder if he’ll return to these memories for comfort, to remember a time when he was really at home in himself and loved so completely. I wonder if he’ll have to lose himself and find himself again, like I did in my painful teenage and young adult years. I think about the people who have helped me get back to myself when I’ve been lost, and wonder if I might be such a person for Mason.

Trees have always done this for me, wrapped me in their green blankets of light until I remembered myself and could open back out to the world. I wonder if I can be a kind of forest for Mason as he grows up, an earthy place he can return to, even just in memories and dreams. In this forest, whoever he is, whoever he becomes, whether he finds himself on or off his path, he can know he is loved just as he is.

These woods, too, tall and verdant with their wide arms above us–we walk and we are held, by branches and leaves, by sticks and legs and careful steps over water, in an improbable world of connections and partings, a world that, just this morning, was declared to be on the edge of total climate collapse.

As we walk, Mason and I make plans to return to these woods each summer, to make it an annual tradition.

I hope we do.

But life is uncertain. Next year, will we both be alive? Will we have the resources and the time and the desire to vacation with each other? We plan to return to the woods, but perhaps what we most want to is to know we can return to a place where we are wholly ourselves, where we belong to and can participate in a sacred world, a world in which we don’t have to question if we are loved. Perhaps this is a place we can return to anytime, always, because we carry it inside.

Green sky

On the drive home to Florida, we don’t talk much. Last year, Mason called me out for making idle conversation just to feel connected to him. Since then, I’ve learned to trust the silences between us, to rest into the connection they hold.

Occasionally we listen to music–Eminem (his choice), Josh Ritter and Krishna Das (mine). We find some common ground with the band Phoenix, and jam out together. While he half-sleeps, I listen to Mickey Singer’s audio version of his new book, The Surrender Experiment. (Mason informs me he “already knows all that stuff,” and perhaps he does.) We also listen to Eleanor and Park, a tender adolescent story of love and loss that a client recommended for the drive.

Mostly though, we sit in silence. Time passes. We cover distances. We look at the road and we breathe.

“Ask me some spelling words,” Mason suggests to break the monotony of the drive.

“Fantastic,” I offer.

“Fantastic,” he says. “F-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c.”

“Yes,” I say. “Fantastic.”

Path

LOST
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner

Come

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Gardener

The Gardener, 30 x 48″

When I first started painting, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just showed up. I never knew what I was going to paint: I’d arrive at the easel, and let it come. I made about 60 paintings like this before my mind started interfering with the process, trying to steer me down well-worn paths.  Then paintings took longer and longer to finish, but I was comfortable, I thought. I refined my techniques and the work predictably sold.

But lately I’ve been experimenting with just showing up and not listening to my mental resistance about what and how I’m allowed to paint. I just paint what I have energy for. Inspiration comes mid-stroke, and the painting emerges. People call this the muse: It’s the grand surprise.

I painted “The Gardener” in two days. My mind was saying that I’ve never painted bicycles and I don’t know how.

So what? However imperfect my knowledge or the end result, the painting needed to be made.

This weekend my yoga instructor Betsy read this poem by the Australian poet Andrew Colliver.  Perhaps he says it best when he just says, “Come.”

Come  (by Andrew Colliver)

Every day I am astonished by

how little I know, and discouraged,

obedient as I am to the demand to

know more–always more.

But then there is the slow seep

of light from the day,

and I look to the west where

the hills are darkening,

setting their shoulders to the night,

and the sky peppered with pillows

of mist, their bellies burnt

by the furnace of the sun.

And it is then I notice

the invitation didn’t say, Come

armed with knowledge and a loud voice.

It only said, Come.

Me Too

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mee Too

Over the past week, I’ve given five guest talks on suicide prevention and intervention to university classes. I start out by saying that every year, approximately 10% of college students will consider suicide as a potential solution to life’s difficulties, and 1.4% will make a suicide attempt. I tell them that learning how to recognize and compassionately connect with someone who is thinking of suicide can save lives, and then I ask if they are surprised that so many college students consider suicide. To this, they shake their heads no.  I ask if they believe that the 10% of college students who consider suicide are necessarily “mentally ill,” and they emphatically shake their heads, “No, no–that’s not it; something else is going on.”

“So what do you think is going on with college students who consider suicide?” I ask. They respond astutely. “Well, it’s hard,” they say. “First there’s the adjustment to life away from family, and all the financial stressors, and the realization that we’re not as special or gifted as we’ve been led to believe. Then there’s the struggle to make friends, and the sense of isolation and failure if our social life doesn’t take off, or if classes are harder than anticipated. Maybe we bring in trauma, too, from the past, or experience trauma in college. Plus, there’s this overwhelming anxiety about the future–will there actually be jobs for us? What if we can’t get jobs, let alone meaningful work? And speaking of work, do we know what we want; are we really pursuing the right things? We can’t be certain of any of it. We’re all competing for seemingly limited resources, we’re still trying to figure out who we are, and on top of it, we’re told by the culture that we have to look and be perfect and have it all together, right now, or else there’s something really wrong with us. Nobody talks about what they’re feeling, either, so we’re alone with this stuff, which only makes it worse.”

As we talk, I tell them about a dear person my family and I lost to suicide. I tell them about people I’ve known who were in crisis, in seemingly inescapable pain, and we talk about the power of human-to-human connection to restore lost hope. As we speak frankly about the taboo topic of suicide, it’s clear that most people present have either known someone who died by suicide or who considered it. It’s a heavy discussion, but also meaningful, and there’s a shared acknowledgement that whether someone considers suicide or not, life is hard, and we need connection, especially around the hard parts.

As I leave these talks, I’m aware that I was once a college student on the same campus at which I now work as a professional. I once felt overwhelmingly lost, in pain, invisible, and at times, hopeless. In fact, I started drawing just after beginning college, because I didn’t know what else to do with my feelings. I carried unspoken, unaddressed traumas inside me, traumas that had created a profound estrangement from myself and a deep longing to return to wholeness. Only I didn’t know the path back to wholeness, and I felt a lot of shame. The unacknowledged traumas had led to a crippling cigarette addiction, which bloomed into a health crisis, which lowered my self-esteem and fed into other risky behaviors. Life wasn’t turning out as I’d planned, and for a semester, I too was among the estimated 10% of college students who may consider suicide.

Making art like the drawing above helped me express my despair. It was the first way I started to return, and the early art that came revealed that I was returning to a person wounded, like a house abandoned under duress and left in disarray.  Then came the loving attention of family, and one good friend, and a caring professor or two who took the time to sit down with me and just connect. Eventually I got up the courage to see a counselor at the college counseling center where I now work; this person, too, cared about me and supported me and encouraged me to keep drawing. That was 15 years ago, and thankfully, I long ago put out my last cigarette, and I’ve never returned to thoughts of suicide. But I will always carry a keen, personal, and often unspoken appreciation for how difficult the college years can be.

You see, when I give these talks, I don’t usually tell college students about my own period of suicidal ideation, even though it was long ago; nor do I tell them how I gradually healed. It’s not that I’m afraid to tell them; more often than not, they get it. In fact, talking about my own experience would probably improve the talks by making me more relatable, more credible, and thus moving the conversation from the abstract—from suicidal ideation as something that happens to other people over there–to something that can touch any of us, even mental health professionals, under overwhelming circumstances, and something that can often, with supportive connection, be overcome.

It is ironic that in a field that believes fiercely in the power of speaking about painful issues, mental health professionals are reluctant to talk about our own lived experiences of emotional and mental health challenges, and we tend to stigmatize one another for speaking up about our stories. Our training teaches us to focus on other people’s pain, and to avoid discussing our challenges, even with our colleagues as we go through school. The reasons for this are complex, but I believe we do this, in part, because somewhere along the line we got worried about revealing our vulnerability. We got scared that our vulnerability might make us appear less qualified, less credible, and we started policing each other. We bought into the myth of professionalism=perfectionism and now are facing an isolation similar to that which burdens so many college students.

I know about this isolation from both study and experience. Before I was a professional counselor, I was in graduate school to become a therapist for nearly a decade, and today, in addition to doing therapy, I teach a course The Counselor as a Person, where graduate counseling students open up and share more of who they are–as real people, with challenges and resiliencies, just like our clients. I will tell you that when they feel safe enough to do so, my students express their confusion; they say that they went into the helping professions because of their own difficulties and ongoing recoveries, and yet they feel discouraged from acknowledging these experiences for fear of being judged. Students who cry in classes or “over-disclose” are often seen as “breaking down” and told that if they can’t keep themselves together, they need to get their own personal counseling to work through their “issues.”

Boundaries are important in therapy work, and I endorse personal counseling for all counselors-in-training, and for licensed professionals as-needed throughout life—in my opinion, it’s just part of a good, long-term self-care regimen. But I believe that mental health professionals and students alike who don’t allow each other the space to be vulnerable and real do ourselves and possibly the field a disservice. When we ourselves struggle, we may not reach out to connect in ways that could be protective, healthy, strengthening. We may also unwittingly make it harder for prospective clients to reach out to us because they think it means something is wrong with them for needing to talk.  We can thus perpetuate the myth that we have it all together and our clients are “ill” because they alone struggle.

As counselors, we intuitively know that our real power is in our ability to connect, person to person, in genuine ways, yet many of us feel blocked and shamed from sharing our stories in productive ways with each other or with the people we serve. We’re taught that to be professional is to somehow be both relationally close and “appropriately distant,” and that we need to transcend basic human struggles but dare not let on what we’ve transcended from or how we managed to do so. Granted, there are ways to show empathy and create connection without over-sharing our personal stories, and one of the gifts of a good therapist is the conveyance of deep knowing without distracting insertions and projections.  But of course therapists have and do struggle with our own stuff. And while we can never know exactly what someone else feels or experiences, in times of great emotional pain, the most encouraging words aren’t necessarily “here, let me help you with that, I’m an expert” but some authentic version of “I connect with your pain because I also know deep pain.” In other words, “Me, too.”

There is a place where my art, my profession, my inner life, all the people who have loved and wounded me, and all the people I’ve loved and wounded, intersect. It is difficult to speak of this place, but it is real, the source of my energy, the seat of my heart. Staying in touch with this place allows me to keep showing up to work, to art-making, to myself, and to relationships. I share about this place with you as I strive to stay connected to it in a mental health culture that, however unintentionally, can shame its professionals for being human.

Personally, I appreciate when my therapist shares about her experiences, hints at her humanity, when she indicates her own personal work is ongoing, because she knows that to be alive is to leave and arrive and get lost and return a thousand times or more. I am glad she is a little wiser than me, for her years and her commitment to her own development. But I am even more encouraged that she and indeed everyone who has played a healing role in my life can look at me with eyes of compassion that say, “Me too, my dear, me too.”

The House

Monday, January 5, 2015

The House

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

David Whyte

I want to tell you about my house.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I dropped out of my PhD program. I was disillusioned with school and tired of studying. I needed space to think on my own terms, about my future, about my purpose, about whether I needed advanced education for my path. I kept a small caseload of pro bono counseling clients at the local crisis center, and in my spare time I painted, but mostly, I cleaned houses. It was honest work, and it’ll always be my Plan B.

Today I live in a house I used to clean. Back then, it was occupied by the owner’s family: An artist (Dahvi Fradkin Neelis) who painted from home, her professor husband who biked to the university, their young daughter, and Tiny Phyllis, the fat outdoor cat. I had just started painting, and I wasn’t sure if I was a “real” artist or not. Did real artists need degrees in art? Did real counselors get degrees in counseling? Did real house cleaners make art and do therapy? What was real, anyway? The dust on the baseboards, and the feeling of wiping them white again. Cleaning was great for reflection.

The odd thing was, I felt sheepish at the house. I wasn’t sheepish at my other jobs, but unlike the suburban monoliths I cleaned, this was a simple, even frugal house, a house of art, ideas, and love. I could faintly imagine living in the house, painting in it, working from it. I imagined these scenes like I imagined becoming a teacher or a “real” artist. These visions seemed beyond reach, and I tried to dismiss them.

Several months into house cleaning, I was at a monolith when I splashed a proportional amount of toilet water in my face. As I wiped it off, I wondered, is finishing my education really untenable? If I can do toilet water, maybe I can do statistics. Eventually, I returned to school. I kept cleaning houses until I didn’t have the time. I started teaching, which I loved. I bought an easel.

***

The artist called. Her husband had gotten a position in Germany and they were moving away. After that, they were relocating to Canada. She asked for my help repainting the house for the new tenants, and doing a last-time, move-out cleaning. I’d retired my mop but I said yes; I liked her energy, and I liked the house. Together we painted the walls and cleaned and laughed. When we finished, she gave me stacks of unused canvases, fifty or more. As I suffered through statistics, practiced therapy, and complained about quals, I filled them all up.

***

I was almost 32 when I graduated. In the end, I researched and wrote my dissertation on the same issues that led me to drop out. It was a triumph of sorts, but also humbling. Towards the conclusion of school, a friend called and invited me to apply for a crisis-related faculty position at the university. I was working full-time at a community college counseling center, struggling to make ends meet, living in a small apartment, painting as much as I could, and schlepping my laundry to my mom’s. I couldn’t believe I was graduating; it didn’t feel real. I took comfort in the words of a counseling mentor, who at 60 and very successful, told me he sometimes still felt like a big lost kid.

***

I got the position. My salary doubled. My apartment lease came up for renewal. I wanted a washing machine. On a whim, I emailed the artist to ask if the house was for rent. She said she’d just heard from the tenants; they were leaving. One week before I walked across a stadium stage as “doctor,” I moved into the house. The first thing I did was clean it.

***

The house’s owners live in Canada, and they are ready to sell it. I love the house, but I’m not ready to buy one. Like others who have sheltered here, it’s not my permanent place. While I don’t have to vacate for several months, I’m already grieving. In a life marked by change and uncertainty, this house has seen me through a kind of arrival, a kind of recognition. This house was on the other side of a wide and frightening frontier I finally crossed, of childhood, of college, of graduate school, of many mistakes and of risking myself again and again at art, at love, at life, at a path. It knew me before I knew myself, and it waited for me.

I can rent another house. But place, the unmistakable sense of belonging, is a far deeper thing. I am 34. Every morning and evening, I pet and feed Tiny Phyllis, the fat outdoor cat. I ride my bike to the university, where I teach and do counseling. On the weekends, I paint in my studio at the house. When the house gets dirty, I clean it. We know each other’s grit and grime; we are friends like that.

On most days, I like who I am and who I’m becoming. But sometimes, I feel like a big lost kid, and this house, well, it found me. For awhile, it was home.

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