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Before the Butterfly, the Dark

This is the first year I can remember, ever, when I did not feel angst about the short days, the early darkness. This was the first winter solstice when I wished for more night, when I didn’t want to hurry up the lengthening of the daylight.

I felt deeply calm before the turning point, and now I feel how much is coming and will potentially move through me– career and curiosity, love and friendship– I feel all the waiting, all the expanding energy here in the underground seed of myself, and there’s an itchy longing to jump ahead to when I have cracked open, to skip the scary splitting open part and go to when I know exactly what kind of plant I am, what blossoms I have, what color, what medicinal properties, what qualities, what timing.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve felt this kind of swelling, this fear of transformative internal pressure: maybe not since I gave birth almost twelve years ago– and before that it might have been another ten years back when I was graduating from high school and stepping out into the world, trying to make the Right Choices about who I was and wanted to be.

I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half dismantling, extricating, sifting, asking myself what is wheat and what is chaff (even if– especially if– I used to call them by the opposite names), first with the pandemic’s invitation to drop my artistic and entrepreneurial identities, and then my habits of partnership, marriage, and home.

For months, I skated, as on new ice, flying fast and trusting instinct and the laws of physics, not dwelling on the idea of how slim the line was between myself and a cold plunge, always moving forward, in spite of or spurred by the crack and boom of the lake under me– and feeling a lot of joy as I did so, as well as wonder and grief and relief and awe.

In the last year I have felt myself holding old and new habits in my palms and weighing each one, often a little stunned that there’s a choice to be made, that I can and must set some down without knowing what will form their places, or what to do with my empty hands in the meantime.

And now it’s a new year, a new winter! And my sweet little butterfly heart is worrying about emerging– of course she is! Because, yes, this is a tipping point, an axis, a landmark. Yes, the days will grow lighter for longer and we will lean into the sun…

And it is still December.

Just as I didn’t tesseract through the last twelve months or take some Candy Land shortcut on the way here, I won’t be transported to a future I don’t feel ready for yet.

This tension feels so reminiscent of how I feared all the coming changes when my son was a baby– crawling, walking, baby proofing, solid foods– and then learned, over and over, that nothing happened instantly. There was always time, it was always subtle before it was sudden. It was a constant transformation, not an instantaneous one.

I’m still underground held in the frost, still contained in the chrysalis, nearly all of myself dissolved to goop, returned to pure energy and potential. It is not time to bloom. It is not time to fly. No one but me is asking me to come out now, shiny and sure of what I am, ASAP.

Maybe the last– or at least the next– thing to dissolve into this primordial ooze of (un)becoming is the fear that It Might Hurt, that I Should Know How to Fix Every Future Problem, Now.

As that anxiety is swallowed up by the magic of Not Knowing, I can turn my awareness back to noticing the gradual, almost imperceptible expansion of light over the landscape, like sun against closed eyelids. I can feel the subtle changes and stop fearing the sudden, because I am present for each shifting moment.

I can be curious, and I can trust that when the time comes to emerge, to reveal myself to myself and others, it will be the easiest thing in the world, the obvious next step that requires no “knowing” beyond feeling. And just as the dawn reaches to knock at my door, at the too-small husk, the now-paper-thin skin that barely contains me, whoever I am — whoever I have always been– will open everything and step forward, slip out with a sigh of contentment, with a homecoming, into the light.

Seal Skin

What have you locked away? What have you stolen from yourself and hidden so that you wouldn’t long for anything wild, anything unknowable from the safety of the shore?

What do you know and what have you always wanted without explanation? It’s there– very close. Waiting for you to breathe air into its lungs. Waiting for you to run into the water and swim down, down, down without worrying about how you’ll get back to the surface.

You know what you know.

You don’t have to “show your work.” Plants don’t show their roots, and the ocean keeps her creatures below the horizon line.

You don’t have to explain anything to anybody– not even yourself.

Explanation and Story are not Proof. They are vehicles for Knowing– viewfinders that create a frame, a beginning, middle, and end. But they aren’t the Knowing.


What do you Know? What do you already know? What have you always known?

Open the locked box, lift that Truth out, and slip it on.

See how it fits, perfectly.

Invitation

All the old fears gather around the table. Some of them are defiant, daring me to say something. Some only look down, trying the old trick of being invisible by not seeing themselves.

There are so many here that I look around– we look around– who is the hostess? Who is the Grown Up, anyway?

Silence. Eyes meet across the table.

But surely someone… someone must know what’s actually going on here? The right way to do it? The way to be Good, or at least Better?

More silence, and then– the scraping of a chair. One by one– all at once– we sit down to eat.

Granola + Goddesses

My little house smells like cardamom and almonds and coconut oil and maple syrup and oats because I just baked a pan of granola. It’s the first time I’ve baked granola since I moved out of my other house, which was also a bed and breakfast– which is to say since I left my marriage and set out into a hopeful and nearly blank new world less than eleven months ago.

Making granola feels important, because it is. I still know the recipe by heart. A recipe I came across or came up with ten years ago when my much younger family lived in India, and I had the biggest opportunity of my then-twenty-nine-year-old life to say, “This is not working for me; it’s time; I’m done.” For all I know, I might have used the very same Pyrex measuring cup today as I did then– we brought one with us to Mussoorie and back, and I moved one out with me when we divided up the kitchen things last year.

Baking and cooking feel important, because they are. Because, as the brilliant tent maker and kindred spirit Kurt Buetow said to me once, “food and shelter are our most basic instincts,” when I expressed some sheepish confusion at my love of forts and cozy spaces.

I spent seven years making granola and muffins and coffee cake and popovers for guests who stayed at the business I ran with my then-husband. I brought extras around town and dropped them off at the library, the folk school, the art colony, and I learned how to give from excess, not from my essential stores.

I think I learned, and am learning, the same thing with attention and love: giving from the excess, the overflow, the magically multiplying and abundant loaves and fishes, rather than in a way that drains the water table dry or leaves an afteraste of resentment when what’s left for me is not enough..

Earlier this fall, when I baked my first pie in a year, my first pie in my house that I bought with my aunt, I felt sad at first: this rolling pin, this pie plate– they were part of another life. But then I thought about how I have been making pies since I was very, very young. How I stood at my mother’s mother’s kitchen table dozens of times and she talked me through each step. It makes me miss her fiercely now, but as I rolled the crust out it was a comfort: this act reached much farther back than my marriage, farther back than my own lifetime, even. And I felt peace and the sureness of my knowing and my skill, and my love for the women in my family line in spite of all their wounds and human failings.

I didn’t feel sad at all to make granola. I felt peaceful. I’d just had a beautiful, normal, present, easy time with my son and his dad– and I felt so mixed already: to feel rightness and loss at the same time. But the baking was easy. The knowing and sureness and ease carried over into this life, this world.

“Is this the easiest path…? Of course not. But it’s the truest one.”

-Glennon Doyle, Untamed

So I drank my tea and I felt my feelings. I read about Ereshkigal, the unbeautiful Goddess of the underworld, killing the innocent and beautiful Inanna. I think Glennon Doyle is writing the same thing, that we do know the things that need to be killed, not as punishment but as transformation:

“I will not stay, not ever again… When my body tells me the truth, I’ll believe it.”

I made a second cup of tea, and when the timer rang I turned off the oven, stirred and stirred, and served myself a bowl of still-hot granola for lunch.

Closing the Summer Market

I’m being cozy with myself. Curious, and gentle. Quiet, on this day without work or much for obligations.

I dropped my son off at school. (He was wearing a double-breasted coat, gray wool with a brilliant fuscia lining. It was a lost-and-found offering from a friend. I love that he loves it, and that I am able, in spite of all my acculturation, to let it be irrelevant that the coat was designed, tailored, and sold with a female market in mind, not a nearly 12-year-old boy).

I’m wearing a mismatch of clothes myself– only half-changed out of pajamas for the two mile drive into town and back. Clothes are a funny thing– so expressive and particular and important, and so absolutely not at the same time.

I made some tea– a pastel rainbow palette grown in Wisconsin that I’d forgotten I had. I drew, but digitally, and yet it still felt present and connected. I answered an email– and thought about the ways to say “no” that are both true and likely not to be interpreted as unkind by the recipient. I was asked to sing for a local event, and didn’t want to in the least! Not because it’s not a good cause, but just because I don’t want to.

I don’t want to do the work– and I don’t want it to be work. I made my income out of creative pursuits for almost twenty years, and I’m glad I did, and, when I’m not afraid I’ll be punished by some petulant diety for it, I don’t want to anymore– or, rather, I don’t want to right now.

I want to prod, as with a stick in dirt, not push as with a plow through a field.
I want to scatter seeds just by walking through the tall grass and the trees, not plan and plant straight rows of things to harvest, preserve, hawk.

That’s not to say being a “working artist” is only that: selling your wares. But it looks like that right now, and I don’t want to set up a stall in the village square and wait to see who wants what I’m selling.

I’m not actually resentful of the market. The resentment is wanting, despite how right I feel living my life a different way right now, to want to go to market. Because I haven’t reconciled that I wanted something before, and now I want something else.

Neither wanting is more right (or less right) than the other. Summer’s not more right than Winter– and I like both… and I’d choose Summer every time.

Isn’t it good that I don’t have a choice? That I don’t get to decide everything? That the way I want to live my life means I get to practice loving something as it is, something that I would not pick?

The next thing to learn is this: I’m not “making it through” Winter so that I can be better at Summer when Summer returns. I’m not “making it through” what Shopkeeper Rose might label as a dry spell, a period of contrariness, a time out, in order to have more exciting wares to bring to market when I re-emerge.

Because there is no such thing as “re-emerging.” There is no disappearing. There’s just a common way of noticing we’ve been told is the only way, and it is about crops and yeilds and profit margins and hours of daylight and wordcount and bank balances.

But if I don’t push, if I don’t resist, if I am Here… There’s the truth, and telling it or not. It’s the law that extends through everything, Summer and Winter alike.

The Day’s Delight: Apple Tree

A friend offered to dig a hole for the apple tree I haven’t yet acquired but want to plant on this new-to-me property, and it was the nicest thing I’ve felt in a long while.

By “nicest,” I mean it moved me. It shook my heart in the best way, rattling loose some rusted parts I haven’t paid attention to.

I mean that it was a moment of complete trust and kindness and connection– a full body intimacy that didn’t fall into any Instagram-worthy category. It was all within. It was in the heartwood, in the rootball, in the soil and the interlacing roots of the trees that might have to be exposed and altered to put this sapling into her new home.

I mean that it meant something to me to hear that offer as this other person equally present to the beauty of an apple tree: the sweetness and the faith in a good future, a life worthy of waiting years to bear fruit. And it meant something that I felt no resistance, no fear that what I desired would disappear into someone else’s energy or be changed and bent and reshaped to someone else’s vision.

I think we envision the tree in different places, but it’s my tree and my land and his help, and there’s an intersection at the center of all of that, one with enough space, one with room to grow.

The Day’s Delight: Lessons

I took my Parents Forever course today. It’s not a thing I would have signed up for if it hadn’t been mandatory. (Live in MN? Have a kid? Getting a divorce? You’ll be putting in eight hours to make sure you have a basic level of skills.)

It was a good program. I picked it because it was virtual and created by the University of Minnesota, and they seem like smart folks. I think I could have passed the quizzes without the course, but it only took a fraction of the eight hour allotment, and I learned a few things I hadn’t had names for.

I’m thankful that, as much as I hated that my parents divorced, they set a good example for how to be neutral, and if not warm to each other, never unkind. There was no yelling, no using me or my sisters as pawns or sources of information, no bitching about the other (though there’s no way they didn’t have those thoughts). So it doesn’t seem hard to do that-or-better in my own divorce. It didn’t feel hard to know what answers were obviously the right (healthy) ones.

And it still took something to do this easy, short, virtual course while sitting on my deck in my pajamas. Maybe loosening that grief, not imparting the parenting tips, was the whole point.

The Day’s Delight: Sacred Snacks

I don’t know why, if someone’s having a hard time, I give them food.

It’s not unique to me by any means, but it isn’t something that I remember as a part of my family culture as I grew up, though maybe I’m wrong: our mom always wondered if we were borderline hypoglycemic, and there was a time I told one sister’s (very new) husband that he had about thirty seconds to get her a granola bar before everything melted down.

But food wasn’t how I thought of solving problems or flattening feelings– and yet I have an immediate urge to give chocolate or granola bars or packets of tea to people when they are In It.

I did today: two Lära Bars to a mom and daughter. Not because they couldn’t solve things themselves or make good choices or any number of reasons, but because it feels important– essential– to give something. And to give something of substance, something that nourishes.

And it feels like it matters that it’s food: Here, take this. You’re important to me and I see you humaning your very best, and I want you to survive and thrive.

Not a bad return for my stash of snacks.

The Day’s Delight: Evolution by Ear

I brought my guitar to band practice and played it.

This matters because: it wasn’t hard, it wasn’t to be a Real Musician. It was because I had a song to share and this was the most obvious and efficient means.

And it’s extra fun because this is the guitar my very gifted fiddler-luthier boyfriend fixed up and gave me so many years ago, and which I learned to play after we broke up (mostly) so I would stop falling for musicians. (Hey, I love that talent, but it doesn’t have any correlation to most of what matters in a relationship).

So, I played and sang (“If I Wanted Someone” by Dawes, which is so moody in the very best way), and Jon and Ben played along. And that’s the most fun part: to share music by doing, by listening and trying rather than by reading set notes on a page and following instructions.

Neither of them had heard the song before– it exists for them only as I sang it, with my cheater B minor chord and the capo in the spot that best suits my voice.

And since I’ve only played it a handful of times and just do the chords to give the words something to stand on, it’s going to shift and evolve and grow in my inner library to the shape we make it together.