The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place


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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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“Two or three things I know for sure, and one is that I’d rather go naked than wear the coat the world has made for me.”
― Dorothy Allison, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure

Over the course of my life, I have written extensively about my background. Candidly, unapologetically. Most of my readers know I am in recovery, grew up poor, and overcame a lot of trauma as a child…

I think the word we insist on using now is survivor.

And it is true; I am a survivor.

But here’s the thing, in an email conversation I was having recently with a wise woman, I discovered that this survivor label no longer serves me. In a way, it has limited me to always being the abused kid, the writer-alcoholic, the poor adult hopping from one near-miss tragedy to the next.

It seems that while survivor might be a badge of courage, it also assumes some basic things about a person, allocating him or her to a moment in time when surviving was the only goal.

And this isn’t even a post about thriving, although thriving is something most people aspire to, survivor or no. This is about the stories we tell ourselves, and in turn, the world.
Inadvertently, in all of my surviving, I forgot the other aspects of who I am and landed precisely in the middle of the narrative I created these last few years.

For example, how I ended up in Phoenix was not so surprising given the narrative of the life I was creating – preferring the wild fantasy to the facts. A survivor just goes with the pull of the tides, right? No. There was a deliberation of story, of belief.

But what would have happened had I done something else? Hmm.

What would have happened if the life I thought I loathed was just mirroring the story I kept creating rather than actual reality or what could have come to fruition?

I’d say any one of us is capable of re-writing a story in the moment – scrapping the old narrative when we find it going in a prescribed direction. Almost every decision we make is based on these stories, from work to romance; family to identity.

All of this has prompted me to JUST STOP TELLING THOSE DAMNED STORIES. Stop already.

Stop telling stories about being poor as shit, drunk as hell, and even…as much as it hurts me to leave her behind…lost and alone at age 10.

Because these stories aren’t where I live anymore, or what I live.

So expect something new from me in the coming months. Wildly, fervently, freeing-ly new… as I set pen to paper, and begin.

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Free Range Dreaming: A Necessary Plan of Action

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Reverie is not a mind vacuum.  It is rather the gift of an hour which knows the plenitude of the soul.  ~Gaston Bachelard

I approach dreaming as an action. I take the time to deliberately daydream and in this act, I see my future self engaging in what my present self cannot yet imagine.

In a frenetic life, we believe ourselves to lack the ability to be in the moment. I generally agree. However, I would also add to this that we lack the imagination to be in transit with our thoughts. Our thoughts, rather, simply mirror our reality – a random and sometimes exhausting plague of worries and nightmares about the swirling madness around us.

Fear is indistinct and amorphous. Fear occupies our mind and makes us believe we have logic to our thoughts, when oftentimes we are simply on a bullet train of the unimaginable.

Our creative mind, however, can transcend our reality. This interpretation of present day also informs our future. Daydreaming is future-forming.

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Dreaming Our Secrecy

“There are parts of me he’ll never know,
My wild horses and my river beds…”
~ Island, Heather Nova

Every day we are bombarded by people, places, things that demand to know what we are doing, thinking and feeling. This invasion of our private thoughts leaves little room for imagination, for daydreaming. There are times we even covet our thoughts (and sometimes twist truths in an effort to protect our mental terrain). The exposure of information of the personal nature, leads us to forget how we need and rely upon solitude and privacy for sanity. This exposure stymies creativity, intimacy, connection. It is only that we think we know others and ourselves. But do we?

In an uninterrupted space, ask yourself one question: Why do you have the life you have?

Have we been deluded? Are we bitter? Have we lost our way in an assault of shoulds?

Quietude helps us find truth: the ugliness of emotional and physical damage, the spine-real needs, and the unwieldy expectations. It is easier to cultivate than it seems, this awareness. It is animal, our blood-filled world of pulse and hunger, thirst and creation.

Just once, can you imagine yourself in a life you’ve actively dreamed and created?

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Memory: It’s Over-rated

“The party has begun… It’s not like I can feel you still…”
Strange, Tori Amos

In reflection, I never expected to find a grandiose meaning of life. I accept that being alive is enough, and I follow the basic path of survival as my ancestors, fellow species of plants, trees, mammals, birds, etc.. I am more comfortable with this notion: that life is simply about living, than I am about some esoteric or judgmental heaven or karmic wheels. I find peace in the life/death cycle that frees me to be in an unresolved yet beautiful vision of never-ending cycles.

When I think upon past significant moments, the manifestations of fantasy, rarely do I still believe them to be as monumental as they were in the preconceived state. In fact, as a protective measure of survival and thus, chance and risk, our brains are wonderful romantics. We are neurochemically predisposed to forget pain and exaggerate pleasure. This is a great asset when we need to advance our species or avoid being eradicated, but it can work against us when seeking to learn from emotional highs and lows, from addictive and compulsive behaviors. It is tough to resist nostalgia.

Not only is it imperative to dream but also it is equally important to deconstruct our dreams. An exchange of present wish-keeping must replace memories of the past, if we are to avoid getting entirely lost in reverie.

Remember: the ART of dreaming is an ACT. And, actions require time and dedication.

So where do we find the time?

  1. Walking: Match the movement of your pace and breath with the movement of your thoughts.
  2. Sweating: I frequently visit sweat lodges and saunas for total, uninterrupted mind-strolls.
  3. Riding in trains, buses, cars: Use your time as a passenger to let your mind wander.
  4. Moot meetings: I have done almost all of my creative brainstorming while in meetings that did not require any real presence.
  5. Waiting: How much of our lives are spent waiting for others? Instead of fuming, use the time to your free-range dreaming advantage.

I am sure you can think of countless other opportunities. The point is, dreaming is cathartic. Dreaming helps turn the tides. It is creative. It is our best life coach and planner.

Believe in the power of your dreams because they create your reality. They are the first manifestation of what most certainly is to come.


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Solitude: Not a Love Story

Over the past year, I have developed a keen interest in literature that speaks to the topic of solitude. Being married to an archaeologist and also being an introvert has given me ample space for quiet contemplation. Summer 2011 was spent exploring much of the northern half of Arizona, often in an attempt to escape the 115 degree summer days Phoenix so nefariously offers. Since my schedule was spent managing various contracts, I found myself with odd patches of mid-week travel time when companions couldn’t join me in my travels. Suffice all of this to say, I was alone often.

If you have read any of the trendy solitude books and themed blogs, you will find that they – for the most part – present solitude in two phases. The first is the comedic realization of solitude ( ie the city to country transition, the odd encounters with new places and people, the wilderness snafus or wildlife bandits, etc.) and the second, and perhaps conclusion to the former, is the phase that I am going to focus on which presently has me stumped, the grand, sweeping, Muir moments of divine connection to self and place. And, to dredge up show tunes, how they present themselves “in the most delightful way”.

I would like to think, in my own bumbling, flawed manner,  I, too, shall one day be singing show tunes and having Muir visit me in epiphanies in cabins on mountaintops. But my foray with solitude has been anything but pretty. Powerful? Yes. Challenging? Yes. But not necessarily peaceful in its starts and stops. And not ideal in process or results.

Each excursion into the forests and canyons has been met with mental la brugas: the mean medicine, fairy tales, nightmares, and – perhaps an adult’s biggest enemy – memories. Never the quiet easement into aloneness, my journeys have felt like  immediate emotional landslides, long tumbles into the crevice of habit and heartbreak where skeletons bang around the edges of experience, demanding, always demanding…

The fact is: solitude includes time with me, myself, the awful “I”. No people are needed. These aspects of self crowd in and gaze, point, cry, scream and sometimes sit silently, waiting for me to get comfortable with some space or sense, then emerge strong, demanding… They are, in fact, the crowds I thought I was escaping by leaving known territory and venturing into solitude.

Where was the beautiful transition into peace?

Where were the epiphanies with Muir and Thoreau singing in my ear, those buddies in isolation and nature?

Rather than finding a voice or having a creative experience, I simply witnessed the beauty around me, moved a lot, and avoided the internal dialogue and chaos as much as possible. The more chaotic, the more demanding the internal became, in fact, the more determined I was to drown it out. “I am here to be HERE, dammit! Go away!” But the internal crowding continued, despite intense hiking, a six-pack, or thunderstorm, the demands kept coming until I was so exhausted from my own company, I had to get away from myself.

To the city. Ah, the city… where so many distractions simply overwhelmed that damn internal group of hangers-on. To the city, where I pretended my solitude experiences were meaningful in some way. Until now.

What occurs to me most about solitude and experiencing solitude is that there is a vast difference between selective solitude – often taken in timely chunks – and imposed or accidental solitude, often not intentional or purposeful but more sustained and sincere. Creating solitude is theatre. Imposed solitude is truly where the proverbial rubber meets the road. In its extreme form, we might imagine jail time or a POW camp. Thankfully, I have not experienced either of those forms of solitude where solitude is but one of many concerns. Solitude might include months of work abroad, or moving to a new place without a companion. This was how my less-than-intentional isolation came into being.

Recently I relocated to a small town in the far southwest corner of Colorado, near Mesa Verde (a beautiful area of canyons, high desert, green pastures and mountains). I was offered a stellar job with a wonderful small business. I accepted. I knew, given the fact that both my husband John and I have careers and a home in Phoenix, there would be an extended period of separation until he found a job and a tenant or buyer (whichever came first, and neither particularly easy). I arrived in Colorado as a baby bird out of the nest, meeting the ground with a hard thud… a little gnarly and featherless, but ready to move on. Somehow I held hope that – magic thinking, mind you – John would arrive soon after. Both John and I have been wanting out of Phoenix for a while now, so the move was what we envisioned for the future, but certainly not seemless in its execution.

As a wanderer, I have had experiences with solo travel and even moving to new lands. However, I don’t think I had emotionally prepared for being a stranger in a strange land again, and no longer in my fearless twenties.  I have one of those personalities that make me shy with those I should feel most comfortable, and comfortable with total strangers, ramblers like me. It didn’t take me long to make conversation with the eccentric locals, but at day’s end I was quick to crawl back into my den and ponder the fact that my husband would be away for weeks and no friends were near enough to fill my time. Every little household problem became monstrous (funny, how one gets used to having another to share household trouble-shooting with) and the nights loomed long and quiet.

So here I sat in a new house. In a new town. With no identity other than the one I claim and believe exists.

Enter in the host of goblins, the mischief makers of memory and habit… My idea of solitude always included the space and creative energy for writing, painting… you know, all of the things we try to make room for but cannot because we work like crazy Americans. So when I am gifted temporary solitude (not of my choosing entirely), what happens? I clean. I worry. I make lists of tedious tedium only the most compulsive among us would appreciate, let alone enjoy. Out come the jerks of my own creation: anxiety, what if scenarios, paranoid ideas about the things that could happen. An awful word: could.

Yes, I longed for those romantic evening writing fests, the wind softly blowing and the moon glowing through the cracked curtains, or philosophizing at a clear lake with a journal and the sound of owls in the distance. Yes, I longed for creativity to sieve itself out of my heart, brain or soul, depending on one’s definition, and work its magic.

But what I got was paralyzing self-examination and litanies of fear statements. When my brain got tired of these, I was left with an exhaustion so enormous I could have slept for days. Sometimes I did. And, then, the remarkable part: something transpired that makes me feel OK… safe, even. And then, a little more… until – yes, yes – there it is! I am a bit happy. I find my feet. I find others. I leave solitude behind in its eternal cancer ward. I return to the previous state of movement and occupied mental state – the interruptions, the calls, the family responsibilities – but a little more appreciative, self-aware, and … determined to forgo the need to push out the world to know what lies within.

I have always known I have tremendous strength. I have felt and used my tenacity many times in horrible places, where isolation was no option of my choosing. I don’t need Muir to point out the strength of spirit that is possible. What I did lack, however, was the awareness that happiness cannot be found chasing solitary confinement in some literary fantasy of such. No. Happiness is a product of familiarity, something I never would have wanted to believe, but continue to find its truth. Solitude is simply a byproduct of being alive. We endure it, we may even harness its energy at times, but to be happy is to leave the goblins of what ifs of our own internal drama and to remove our gaze from navel – to gaze deeply into the world.