Come a long way…

I’l confess that I was awake before my alarm went off this morning, but relaxing, listening to birdsong and squirrels gettin’ up to springtime business, basking in calm morning idleness. Then the radio kicked in.

The static was scratchy but the song sounded familiar. As I rolled the top half of my body toward the clock radio (my legs staying in place so as not to dislodge the cat from her resting-spot) and stretched to turn on the lamp, my spine cracked pleasingly in not less than three places, and I smiled then…BOOM. It kicked in what song was on the radio. It was Michelle Shocked’s “Come A Long Way.”

As the chorus kicked in I sang along in a creaky morning-voice, having said nothing yet today other than perhaps a soft “hello” to a cat or two. And then I was crying.

Not because the song is sad, exactly. It was just a moment of remembering who I was when the album came out. I went to see Michelle Shocked and Bruce Cockburn open for Bob Weir at Merriweather Post Pavilion sometime in the early ‘90s (we only went for the opening acts and left for Bob Weir). And that song, that song summed up a certain longing for me at that time in my life, my early 20s. Inside the longing I felt was the desire for change, the desire to move, to get beyond what my life was at the time. The young woman who played that song over and over never realized that one day, she’d drive across country by herself. She never realized what she was doing to herself in school, not taking advantage of opportunities given to her. She never realized how closed her eyes were at the time… I guess we never do.

I didn’t really miss that young woman this morning, but I mourned her. Her dreams weren’t even really hers, and she didn’t even know it until they collapsed around her. Around me. I didn’t see that those old dreams had to collapse so I could dream any new ones. So I could take up the joy inside mourning and go on to build new things. To go on to …come a long way.

April 12, 2014 · Jen · 2 Comments
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Faith in action

When I was a young girl, maybe seven or eight, my mother took me to the Right to Life march a couple of times. (This annual demonstration is held by self-proclaimed pro-life activists on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, January 22. It is a huge march that takes up much of the National Mall.) Reflecting back now, it doesn’t seem much like her style, but I believe at the time she was going with one of the women’s groups at our Catholic church. I also believe she made the decision to bring me along more as an educational outing than anything directly political. (My parents were never very politically active, and I of course was far too young to have any real grasp of the political or personal issues involved.)

It was definitely a good educational experience. Growing up in the DC area affords a unique opportunity to see many parts of the democratic process in action, and large (mostly) peaceable assembly is decidedly an important part of our American heritage. We only went a few times, as it frustrated my mother to see the news coverage only giving time to the “lunatic fringe” as she and my father called them. Still, it made a definite impression on me. So many people! It was usually very cold, and we would carry a Thermos of cocoa, and some sandwiches and granola bars. I learned that I hated Porta-Johns and that my fingers got very cold carrying around signs. I much preferred to hold a cup of warm cocoa. I liked stickers and pins, and the marches afforded ample opportunity to pick up plenty of both.

My understanding of what we were doing, of what the issues were, was simplistic and shaky at best. I saw all the big pictures of dead babies, and thought, “Well of course THAT’S no good!” My best understanding of “pro-choice” was probably “a choice between piles of dead babies or NO piles of dead babies,” which was to my 8-year-old self something of a no-brainer. I was solidly on the side of no piles of dead babies. Just like every time I went to the National Zoo, I would go look at the playful seals, and then I would look at the disturbing pictures of dead seals with their stomachs cut open to show the coins inside. The pictures were there as a visceral – and, one supposes, effective – reminder not to throw coins into the seal habitat. To me, at age eight, being against piles of dead babies was exactly the same as being against cut up dead seals with coins in their stomachs.

Eventually, of course, I grew up. I learned about the issues involved in the Roe v. Wade case. I learned there was a lot more going on than could actually be assessed in the oversimplified sign-carrying and shouting happening on either side at the Right to Life march. And in time I became pro-choice. I learned about how my body worked as a growing woman, and what being pregnant meant, and could mean, to the rest of my life.

Still, I did not (and do not) resent my mother for bringing me to those marches. It was educational, and interesting. It was important to her as a woman of faith. It was easy to see, both as a girl and as a growing woman, how faith came in on the Right-to-Life-marchers’ side.

Learning how faith came to bear on the other side took much more time and questioning on my part.

Of course as many young Catholics do, I spotted something that bothered me. Specifically, the church’s restrictions placed on birth control made very little sense to me. If abortion is a bad thing, I thought, shouldn’t we do all we can to avoid needing to have them? It was quite simple as a preadolescent to say, haughtily, “Well just don’t have so much sex!” (I will hasten to add that for most of my preadolescence I barely understood what that even meant.) It was even relatively simple to utter that same haughty statement as an overly-hormonal adolescent who was so hamstrung by the idea of talking to a boy she had a crush on that she never expected sex to be a thing she, personally, would have to deal with.

Many other questions and struggles compounded, and I continued to grow, and eventually left the Catholic faith. My various spiritual struggles, I have recounted at other times. I spent time with no sense of faith at all, a time I ultimately came to see as damaging.

When I joined the Unitarian Universalist church, my sense of faith and my relationship with God had changed a great deal since the days when I’d gone on those marches. I had been pro-choice for a long time. And I still had never thought of that particular political leaning from a faithful perspective. My sense of the idea of “liberal religion” was very new.

Last fall, my congregation had a service on Reproductive Justice. It was my first real exposure to that term, which arose out of a conscientious movement put forth by women of color, to raise awareness of the way inequalities regarding reproductive health and choice have deep and broad affect on many aspects of life. I wrote a post on reproductive privilege as my eyes were opened to that concept in a powerful, personal way. I learned that the Unitarian Universalist Association has a strong moral position on the importance of reproductive justice for the health and wellbeing of all women and men.

I was humbled, and shocked, to realize how long I had been pro-choice without necessarily thinking of it as a right and moral choice. How long I had left that part out, because of the way my ideas were still colored by experiences from my youth. To realize I could stand up, raise my own voice as a woman of faith on the side of conscientious family planning and reproductive health for all.

From the perspective of recognizing my own privilege it was not much of a leap to arrive at a sense of my own responsibility. That is why on Tuesday of this week, I took the day off work and went into DC accompanied by several amazing women from my church to exercise our own right to peaceably assemble. We attended a faith rally and demonstration at the steps of the Supreme Court to take a stand on the side of a full range of coverage for safe, legal contraception.

I had a number of conversations that day with people on both sides of the issue. All were civil, and all were thoughtful. I do not mean to impugn the faith of others and especially not their right to take peaceful action as their conscience dictates. I was pleased to be afforded the same respect interpersonally. But most important of all I was blessed (and, yes, privileged!) to be able to stand up as a woman of faith and be counted.

Then later I wound up on TV, but that is a whole other story.

Then later I wound up on TV, but that is a whole other story.

March 30, 2014 · Jen · 4 Comments
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Dear Readers…all several of you…

Well! It’s been nearly a month since my last blog post, which was certainly never my intention. In my defense, it’s been a busy month, hence this hasty note.

First off, March kicked off with my birthday. 42! Not actually a true milestone, but thanks to Douglas Adams, a number of fun significance. It IS nice to be the answer to the ultimate question…if only for a year. I was lucky enough to see many friends and have a few days off work and just generally have a fine time celebrating and relaxing.

Good thing I relaxed then, because the rest of the month, the heck with that noise! My Spanish class kept me busy, but I did get a 100% on the midterm. Not only has it been a long time since I was a student, it’s been an even longer time since I was anything approaching a good student, so it’s nice to see I still remember how. Or perhaps, that I’m really learning it for the first time. I have a greater sense of time management now. Not to mention a sense of the actual reason I’m in school in the first place.

I was also continuing to teach human sexuality, in the OWL class at UUCC. That just wrapped up this morning! We had a fun little final celebration, and all the cupcakes I made that didn’t get eaten, I donated to our 9th graders’ bake sale to raise funds for their class trip. And all of them got sold except one, so that was a definite plus. That, plus the not-bringing-home-extra-cupcakes aspect.

On Tuesday I’m heading into D.C. for a faith rally and demonstration at the Supreme Court during oral arguments for the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case. I’ve gotten a few interested folks together from church. It’s kind of amazing to step up and be part of this important day as a person of faith, on a very different “side” of things than the one I was raised on. Even though it’s supposed to…God, I don’t even want to say it…snow again on Tuesday. Yesterday I was out in short sleeves!

It was a long, rough winter. But spring is definitely on its way. I am looking forward to it, and to so many things. Including, dare I hope, managing to write more.

Until then!

For the record, here is a picture I snapped of myself on my birthday proper.

For the record, here is a picture I snapped of myself on my birthday proper.

March 23, 2014 · Jen · One Comment
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February is almost done. The cold still grips us, there is still snow on the ground. There’s been snow on the ground a long time, unusual for us except in the worst winters.

March marks so many things. The month we get the most daylight back. The vernal equinox. My birthday. And this year, significantly, six months since I took my cross-country trip.

I’ve struggled with what to say to cap off the experience. I wrote a lot on the trip and I’ve already written a lot here. I’m pleased with the way I captured the trip in words and pictures. But I need to wrap up, because there is a lot of other stuff going on in my life.

The last few days of the trip were spent with dear friends in Nashville, Tennessee. I got a few days off of driving, off of touristing. I got to be part of a family again, a joyous experience. My friends’ middle son is my godson, and godmother is a role I take pretty seriously, even though I have no models or experience. (I was christened in my grandmother’s home so that my wheelchair-bound grandfather – who died before I turned two – could be there. My parents weren’t Catholic at the time, so they simply asked my grandparents’ Lutheran minister to do the christening. I don’t have godparents, myself.) To me, it was an invitation to join the family in a formal, recognized way. Visiting with them, with their children, is always an amazing experience. At the end of a long trip away, it was another homecoming.

The last day, I drove from Nashville to home in one day. 13 hours, a speeding ticket in southwestern Virginia, an amazing moon and the emptiest trip down Rt. 66 I’ve ever taken. Leaving home, coming home. Rarely have I felt more grateful, or more blessed, than when I pulled safely into my parking lot and took a picture of my odometer. Over 5500 miles, over two weeks, a lifetime of memories.

I’m going to copy a part of what I wrote in my travel journal on September 17, the day before I made the big drive home. Here is what I wrote then:

“Sept. 17

One day more!

I kind of can’t believe it. It’s almost done. I look forward to being home, seeing my sweet kitties, all my lovely friends – in a way I even look forward to the resumption of routine. The comforts of home, but in the new light I can see myself surrounded by.

I am a person who needs and loves people. I am a person who needs and loves solitude. I am a person who looks in the mirror and likes who she sees. I am a person who over-plans but still takes joy from small things.

I am petty. I love attention. I am responsible. I am strong about some things and strangely weak about others. I can’t take criticism or compliments very well, but I’m getting better. I can speak. I can write. I can manage expectations.

I can forgive myself (difficult) and others (easier).

I have to touch the hot stove. Several times.

I love and I struggle and I fail and I grow.

I am going home. And I am at home, right now.”

So may it ever be.

Nashville moon

Nashville moon

There, and back again.

There, and back again.


February 27, 2014 · Jen · 2 Comments
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For a few years now I’ve tried to take different looks at love on Valentine’s Day. First I looked at how much I loved the holiday when I was a kid, when it was about friendship, philia. Then I wrote about agape. The next year I spent time talking about love of family (storge, to keep with the Greek), and the next year I even managed a sort of love letter to myself. In 2012 I wrote a little musing on the first time anyone told me he loved me, at least insofar as I can remember. Last year I skipped it.

Why did I skip it? I can’t honestly remember. Maybe I felt like I’d said all I could about non-romantic love.

Why, for all this time, did I avoid eros? Romantic or “intimate love” (thanks, Wikipedia!) seemed overdone at Valentine’s Day, it’s true. As much as I love the concept of love, it’s true that the continual crass commercialization of same, the way it is shoved down our throats every year at this time has often made me feel bitter or sad.

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. A lot more to why I’ve been bitter and sad. Things I’m only just learning to put into words.

The other week I wrote a little bit about some personal history. Part of the long-ongoing repercussions of that for me personally has been a real fear of intimacy. Combined with some other things that happened to me in my late 20s, I spent several years not merely single but nearly asexual, entirely ignoring that part of my life.

What a horrible, ridiculous disservice I did to myself.

There is not a thing wrong with asexuality as a natural sexual orientation or personal lifestyle choice. But that’s the thing, you see – I didn’t make a conscious choice. I shut down a whole important side of myself out of fear. Fear again! What I have let that take away from me. Let’s call it what it is: What I have taken away from myself. I am not an asexual person but I lived that way, unhappily, for years.

But this is not supposed to be a downer of a post! Because, please see above, I used the past tense. I’ve been bitter in the past, and sad. But I do love the concept of love. I love philia, agape, storge…and my goodness, how I do love eros.

It’s been a brilliant few years of change for me, probably since about 2008 or so – perhaps not so coincidentally, the year I started making a concerted effort to make positive Valentine’s Day posts. Some of the change has come from inside myself, some from outside. Some of it has hurt like hell, some of it has been amazing and wonderful, sometimes it’s even been both those at once.

Like love. Like eros. Like the part of me I hid away.

Now for me, eros still exists primarily as an intellectual exercise and, ah, personal expression shall we say. But owning that again, having that again, reminds me of all that I pushed away for too long. Reminds me of the things I want to change so badly for the kids in my human sexuality class: the way we can’t seem to talk about sex and our bodies without this over-arching sense of shame. The way sex still seems dirty or weird or somehow profane. In fact, I am reminded that I believe quite the opposite. Part of the power of sex is the way it allows us to approach something that is close to divine. Does that sound like an overstatement? I suppose it could. But keep in mind the fact that both the free, joyous, consensual sharing of sexuality and other times we approach the divine put us in touch with things outside the usual experience, outside rational thought, inside ecstatic joy, and beyond the realm of articulation.

So I say let’s raise a glass to romance, to eros, heck to every hearts-and-flowers cliche we’ve ever rolled our eyes at. Let’s embrace the speechless wonder of finding that kind of glory again.

February 14, 2014 · Jen · 4 Comments
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Words on this morning’s walk

I went for a walk this morning, even though it was six degrees outside and the snow-covered ground was hard frozen and unforgiving. Really unforgiving. With the scarf wrapped around my face to protect it, my glasses fogged up and froze over, and it was hard to see. I tripped over a raised edge on the sidewalk and went sprawling, taking it mostly on the left hip and elbow. My water bottle, mostly empty and the remaining water rapidly turning to slush, jostled out of my hands and lay on the sidewalk.

I sat there for a minute, stunned. “OW!” I said to the pre-dawn silence of the suburban street. “Seriously, that really hurt,” I said as I brushed myself off and got up. No one was around to hear me, of course. Which meant no one was around to see my spectacular fall. I was grateful.

Sure, I was grateful no one saw me fail so completely at walking down the sidewalk, a skill I really should have mastered in my 41 years. It was great there was no one around to hear me muttering to myself as I picked up my water bottle and gasped at how cold the drink I took was.

But my gratitude goes farther.

I’ve been scared to fall all my life. I never learned to ride a bicycle, I’ve never been confident at ice skating and only marginally so at roller skating, and the one time I tried skiing it was a disaster. As I walked away from my fall this morning I laughed to myself. “See?” I said. “That wasn’t so bad!”

There is a value in failing. There is a value in trying things that you are scared to do.

Another reason I was grateful was that I wasn’t scared to be on that walk at all. I could be. For a long time in my life I would have been. When I was ten years old, my mom went for a walk one morning in our calm, peaceful suburban neighborhood. But that day, on that walk, a man attacked her and raped her. At the time I could not imagine what this would be like. I can only remember waking to a house filled with the sound of strangers talking, strangers who were police, who were there for a reason that I did not understand. No one could or would explain to me what happened. I didn’t know what “rape” meant. I just knew it was bad. I knew it was a thing we couldn’t talk about or say and I knew, somehow, I just couldn’t ask a thing about it.

Of course soon enough I learned what rape meant, at least in terms of definition. It took me longer to learn about what it meant in terms of feeling. Lost feeling, broken feeling, the inability to speak or address anything surrounding that act – its meaning, its consequences, its impact on any of us, most especially my mother.

Her story is not mine to tell and she wouldn’t want me to, but my story is mine to tell. More than one person is harmed when one person is raped. Rape takes away more than health, more than dignity, more than a sense of self, more than you can imagine. Sometimes it takes away words. Sometimes when people start to talk about rape, they are shushed or they are disbelieved or they are not taken seriously, so they stop talking. And then everything shuts down. Every way we can possibly get back what was taken goes away as soon as the words are gone. And the words can take a long, long time to come back.

Every question unanswered. Every fight with my father weighted with unspoken words. Every emotion felt pushed back down. As if feeling the emotion in response was wrong. As if having questions or being scared was wrong. As if anyone, in any way, had done anything wrong at all except the man who raped my mother.

I walked around my freezing-cold hard-ground neighborhood this morning and I fell on my ass. And I laughed. And I didn’t cry, because I have done that. So many times. And it wasn’t even me. But the words were taken away for so long that crying was all I had.

I’ve written before about the opportunity I’ve been given, to teach human sexuality to K-1 children at my church. The class started last week. People have a lot of questions when they hear about starting sex ed so early. The biggest one is “Why?” And part of the answer, a big part of the answer, is: to give them the words. To give them the knowledge of who they are, of what they possess, of how to care for and respect and defend every single part of themselves. To allow them to know that no one should be permitted to take that away. And to give them the words to say “No.” And “mine.” And to ask for help, and to feel no shame.

January 30, 2014 · Jen · 4 Comments
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I went back to my travel journal, to see what I wrote about driving from the middle bit of Oklahoma over to Memphis, Tennessee. The answer is: not much.

On that drive, I got very caught up in the audiobook. I was on the fourth book of the Dark Tower series and it was all very exciting. And mainly, I was driving with a goal, not just to be enchanted with what was around me. And the landscape had basically changed back, too – back to something pretty similar to home. I have very few pictures from Oklahoma and none at all from Arkansas. The only stops I made were to eat and fuel up the car and use the bathroom. No sudden need to stop the car to take pictures, no looming other-worldly vistas to take my breath away.

And the more it looked like home, the more I thought of home. Of friends I missed, of my sweet kitties, of my familiar bed and shower and my own kitchen where I could cook whatever I liked, not subject to the whims of road food. Yeah, it was clear: almost time to be done with this particular adventure.

In Memphis, I stayed with my friend Val. I hadn’t seen her in person in years, so we got to spend a lot of time talking and catching up, and it was great! The internet is good for a lot of things, but it doesn’t really replace conversation. With the people we care about who aren’t close by, it does make it much easier to stay in touch, though!

We talked and talked and talked, and then Val and I went out to meet her friend for dinner at Corky’s. I had ribs, which were SO GOOD but holy crap, there was a LOT of food on that plate and I was in no way prepared to finish it. Then we made our way home and talked until something absurd like 1 a.m.

I had waffled on going to church the next morning, since it was Sunday and I had a short drive. But I realized as Val and I were talking that as important as church is to me, there are other things that I am called to do, and talking and tending the friendship felt like the right call. Finally sometime before noon I’d managed to get showered and get the car loaded up again. I said goodbye to Val and headed out.

I was only going as far as Nashville, about 200 miles. It’s a drive I’ve done before, and it was easy. Which was good, because I had cramps like nobody’s business, and as short as the drive was it was probably one of the more miserable driving days I had. I got to the Dugans’ in Nashville by mid afternoon, got the tour of the new place, and marveled at how at home I felt. Another home, in a string of welcoming homes, on my way to the home I’ve made. Not a bad way to end this odyssey at all.

Saying goodbye to Val in Memphis!

Saying goodbye to Val in Memphis!

January 12, 2014 · Jen · 3 Comments
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2013 By The Numbers

I have been keeping a journal more or less consistently since i was eleven years old. Sure, there are some gaps. Sure, the early years are generally laundry lists of crushes and daydreams and pop songs. But it was a constant thing in my life for a long time. For about a decade, though – most of the Aughts – I didn’t really keep a personal journal. I had my LiveJournal, which did function like my old journal a little bit, but then also functioned very differently. It was a social place, where things got planned. I might take time to reflect, but often I didn’t. I did occasionally write locked “private” posts visible only to myself, when I was trying to work through things.

At the end of 2009 I started keeping an offline journal again. (I had made sporadic attempts to do that in the past but it had never stuck.) This arose primarily out of dealing with the grief of having lost my father that September. I was in therapy at the time, and I know that writing at home helped me to sort out thoughts to share with my therapist, and let me get a handle on working on my problems/issues/grief by myself. This time, for whatever reason, it stuck. I’ve been fairly consistently writing in my at-home offline journal ever since.

As 2013 was drawing to a close, I took a look at my journal document folders. (I do still like to write longhand journals sometimes – I take them on retreats, and trips, like my road trip this year. But the primary way I do it is electronic.) In 2009, I wrote four journal entries: two in November and two in December. The holidays that first year without Dad were a rocky time, and it was good to be able to write it down. In 2010, I wrote 74 journal entries! In 2010, I also stopped going to therapy, because it had been about a year since Dad died and I was doing pretty well overall. I am sure that resuming my writing habits had something to do with that too. My therapist agreed with my decision. In 2011, I wrote 86 journal entries. Busy year! A lot of things were changing. Looking back now, I can see where some things were interesting precursors of other things to come. I was recovering from a massive, I mean truly gargantuan crush I’d sustained more or less since late 2009. (Woe betide the young man who captures my fancy around a time of loss. My emotions will turn into something resembling a sticky glue-trap.) (As if they’re very far from that usually, I mean, have you met me?!) (Wait, maybe you haven’t. Despite my rational exterior, I am chock full of simply rampaging emotions, most of the time.) (The rest of the time I am napping, or doing yoga, or once again abusing parentheses.)

After all that trending upward, in 2012 I only wrote 56 journal entries. Without taking the time to re-read all of them, I’m going to chalk that up to becoming a more actively engaged person and citizen. That was the year I volunteered with Marylanders for Marriage Equality, starting in February and lasting through the election in November. That was also the year I joined the Unitarian Universalist church, and we are very invested in the idea of action upholding faith. It was a busy, exciting year and I’m glad I took the time to write as much as I did, even if it wasn’t as much as in years past. Of course across all these years I had this blog also, which wasn’t always a great repository of reflection…but sometimes, it was.

Then, my friends, we come to 2013. What a year, hunh? Let me tell you what a year it was: in 2013 I wrote the heretofore unheard-of number of 104 journal entries. Yes. One hundred and four. From January 3 through December 31, I’d write a journal entry on average about every 3.5 days. In November, even when I was writing a blog post every single day, I still wrote ten journal entries. They weren’t always so evenly spaced, no. I wrote one journal entry each in February and in April. And in July? Dear readers, in July I wrote 23 journal entries. Twenty-three!

What was going ON this year? Well, you know a lot of it. I am thinking and reflecting on pursuing a vocation. I lost my sweet kitty Katie to cancer before she turned four. I planned and went on a 17-day road trip that spanned more than 5500 miles. I wore a bikini for the first time in my life. I trained to teach human sexuality to elementary school aged children. I got very active in my church. I met new friends. I reconnected with old friends. I decided to go back to school. I read Infinite Jest even though it took me like six months.

All that, and more. So much more. There’s plenty in the offline at-home journal that I won’t share, because that is the point. If it were all stuff I’d be happy to share, why then I might have just written 104 blog posts! Which I certainly did not do.

Instead of summing up exactly what I did in 2013, then, I can direct you back to the posts I did write. I will finish writing about the trip very soon too. And I will say that I look on increased reflection and time/energy for writing as both a positive and a negative thing. I do sometimes face the very real danger of spending too much time locked up inside my own head. That’s why it is important to me to stay active and engaged in things other than my own interior life. They are both very important, and I think in 2013 all that writing I did helped me start doing the real work of keeping them in balance. I know it’s going to be work that continues for a long time.

What does 2014 hold? I have a few ideas, but I know there will be many surprises. I had some amazing surprises in 2013. I know this year I’ll go back to school, continuing on this journey I’ve started. I know I’ll continue to work on balance, on being the friend/daughter/sister/aunt/loved one that I know I can be. I know I’ll fail some, and succeed some. And most of all, I hope I can be all those things without fear. A big part of what I learned in 2013 is that fear is a dangerous tool when over-used. I will continue to work for a healthy relationship with fear, courage, success, and failure. And each and every one of you. (And you too, parentheses.) (I may love you best of all!) (Okay. That’s just not true.) (What?! Don’t act shocked! You know the semicolon has been my true love, lo these many years!) (Guys, I’m sorry. This is getting kind of private.) (Boom.)

At first I fretted over finding a single photo to sum up 2013. Then I saw this and thought, "Yeah. This'll do."

At first I fretted over finding a single photo to sum up 2013. Then I saw this and thought, “Yeah. This’ll do.”

January 2, 2014 · Jen · No Comments
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The kindness of internet strangers (read: friends)

Something I neglected to mention about the National 9 Inn in Roswell, New Mexico is that it marked my final motel-stay of the trip. I had started out the trip by visiting with friends, then I’d hit the big solo swing. That swing ended with my stay in New Mexico, and as I drove off through the easternmost bit of that state and on into the panhandle of Texas, I drove back into visiting mode.

I’ve written before about my worries about hitting “beauty fatigue,” and on the road from New Mexico to Oklahoma, that was starting to happen. For one thing, if you go to Google Maps and ask it to take you from Roswell, NM to Duke, OK, you will note that the route doesn’t go on many highways. Nope, it was all state roads and farm roads marching tidily across vast expanses of Texas ranch land. There weren’t many stops. There wasn’t much to see unless you are really, really into ranches and large industrial farms. Which, I’m gonna confess, I’m not.

There was also the whole not-driving-through-towns thing, that meant very few rest stops. It wasn’t a terribly long drive from New Mexico to the bit of Oklahoma I was aiming for, but there really wasn’t a place to stop for lunch. Or a bathroom break. Finally I told myself the next sign I saw for a town with a population of over 1000, I would take that turn. There weren’t big highway signs advertising gas stations, etc. – because I wasn’t on a highway. But I took the chance that Hart, TX would have a gas station with a bathroom – and it did! There was even a tiny convenience store, so I picked up a snack to go with my trail-mix lunch. Then I pushed on. As I got close to my destination, I texted my friend who was letting me stay with her. She recommended the restaurant in Duke (Yes: there is one. Singular.) and I decided to eat dinner there. Perhaps because I’d subsisted on my own road rations all day, perhaps because I was so close to where the beef was raised, but the fajitas I ate in that restaurant are some of the best I ever had!

Lots of the folks I stayed with on this trip are people I originally met via the internet. I started meeting people from the internet in, oh, about 1993, so this isn’t very unusual by my standards. And it’s come to be far less unusual by everyone else’s, so when I tell you that this trip was the first time I met the friend I was staying with in Oklahoma in person, you might not be surprised. She was generous beyond belief, because after she had offered me crash space, some other family plans had come up (kids’ football, a family trip to Dallas the next day for a Rangers game), and she had still given me leave to stay with her. She wasn’t even home when I got there, the key was in a prearranged secret location. I let myself in, wrote in my journal, took a little walk around the neighborhood, and went to bed because she and her family were going to be in pretty late. The next morning, I woke up at 6 a.m. to meet the people I was staying with, for approximately 30 minutes before they headed off for their day trip to Dallas. “Help yourself to breakfast,” they said, “and lock the door behind you!”

What amazing, lovely, generous people. Yes, I was slipping out of the big dramatic scenery, the most awe-inspiring near-alien landscapes, the sweeping mountains and dramatic rock formations. But there are plenty of other things to be awed by in this world, and across this enormous. Friendship, generosity, connection, and a spirit of hospitality. I was still a few days away from being in my home, but I ended my trip staying in a series of warm, welcoming homes, and I’m so grateful.

Next stop: Memphis, Tennessee!

Pulled over in eastern NM to take pictures of a wind farm, but I like this Car Picture better.

Pulled over in eastern NM to take pictures of a wind farm, but I like this Car Picture better.

All right, here is the wind farm. I think I'm in violation of Chekov's law if I mention it but don't show it. Or kill you later with it.

All right, here is the wind farm. I think I’m in violation of Chekov’s law if I mention it but don’t show it. Or kill you later with it.



December 29, 2013 · Jen · One Comment
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Day…Something. Roswell

It was Friday, September 13. I woke up at 3 a.m. in the National 9 Inn in Roswell, New Mexico, suddenly overcome by a hunger so profound it would under no circumstances allow me to go back to sleep until I had a handful of trail mix. Fortunately, after that I did manage to fall asleep again, until 7:30 when the alarm went off.

I’d come into Roswell in the dark and rain, and all the aliens on the shop signs and billboards seemed vaguely menacing. When I let myself into the room, the key-card was hinky, and it took a few tries. Then I spent the first half hour re-closing the various end-table drawers until I realized that the whole floor must have been on a slight tilt, or something, and the drawers would slowly, silently re-open after having been shut. The TV remote was quite literally made out of cardboard, a note on same stating it was for “hygiene purposes.” How hygienic, I wondered, could a remote be? Then it occurred to me to wonder how Unhygienic a remote could be. Then I felt like taking a shower.

When it came to showers, the National 9 Inn in Roswell, New Mexico wins the coveted “Best Water Pressure” award. The shower also had a nice window, all that pebbled glass you can’t actually see through of course, but it meant I got a sunlight-filled shower. If you haven’t had one of those, they are awesome, and you should try to have one as soon as you can.

However, when it came to continental breakfasts, the National 9 Inn in Roswell, New Mexico took the decidedly un-coveted “Most Abysmal ‘Breakfast’ Spread” award. With a baseball hat jammed over my unruly locks and some pants thrown on over my jammies (read: underwear) and flip-flops on my feet, I’d stumbled over to the lobby. I spent approximately 45 seconds surveying two ancient, scratched-up Rubbermaid containers with cereal in them and the lonely half-loaf of white bread, then I turned heel and went back to my room. I had breakfast biscuits and a banana in there, then I had my sunshiny shower and packed the car.

It was time to go see this UFO museum.

Roswell, of course, has quite a reputation. Since The X-Files is my favorite TV show of all time, of course I couldn’t be in town and not go to the UFO museum. I thought about walking, but it was over two miles, and I didn’t think the motel would like me leaving my car there after I checked out. So I drove, and I went and paid my $5 admission. It was worth every penny. There was a lot of very thorough documentation, in the form of newspaper articles and 40-years-after-the-fact interviews with people who were pre-adolescent at the time of the “crash.” Around July 4, 1947, something or other crashed into a field near Roswell. Some odd finagling occurred with the remnants of the crash, and the rumors of a “flying saucer” that had been seen paired up with news of the crash and a conspiracy was born.

Alongside the evidence, however, was plenty of pop culture. “Artists’ interpretations” of the crash site and the crashed vehicle’s inhabitants. Paintings, photos, loving collages all with that familiar big-eyed alien head. There were statues. There were mobiles. There was a penny-squishing machine, so of course I got one of those.

Then, the gift shop. Magnificent! So many postcards! I picked up a dozen or so, and a few other gifts besides, then I finally bid farewell to the museum. I was feeling peckish, and wanted to mail my postcards from Roswell, so I found a nearby cafe. With my coffee and a snack, I sat down to write postcards. Then I asked the GPS where the post office was, so that the postcards would be postmarked Roswell, and I dropped them off.

Onward! Next up, my trip through New Mexico (almost as empty as Western Nebraska), the panhandle of Texas (on no highways through no towns of any real size) and into Oklahoma.

Parked at the UFO Museum

Parked at the UFO Museum

Thank you, helpful fellow tourist, for capturing me with this fine installation.

Thank you, helpful fellow tourist, for capturing me with this fine installation. (I used my sexy fanny pack because the museum had restrictions against backpacks, meaning my regular purse had to sit this one out.)


December 27, 2013 · Jen · One Comment
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