We’ve been very restless here at the Hon-Dah RV Park. There’s not a lot to do in this small town, and, even though it’s cooler than Phoenix, the 90° afternoons make it tough to be outside during the majority of the day. We haven’t connected with any of the other 400 campers here, and the forest is very quiet.
I worked a shift at the Love Kitchen, but didn’t feel welcomed or needed there, and I wasn’t finding any other interesting volunteer opportunities. I tried to tell myself that all of this free time and space was ideal for writing my next book, but I kept hitting so much resistance.
I talked with Marika about getting back on the road, but it’s still pretty darn hot in most of the country. And then I wondered if traveling was just a distraction from something bigger I am supposed to be transforming right here in this quiet uncomfortableness.
And we really do have it pretty good here. It’s very affordable, the dogs can run free in the forest, there are no ticks and very few mosquitoes, we’re seeing Rufus and Broad-Tailed hummingbirds at Marika’s feeders, and we’ve seen wild horses and even a bear not far from our campsite.
But we were both ready for something to shift, to have some responsibility in the world, to wake up and feel like we have a purpose.
Yesterday morning, we drove to Fool Hollow Lake so I could FINALLY go paddling. We mentioned to our Ranger friend in the office that we were again available, in case they needed a last-minute camp host. They had called us a few weeks before to be tent hosts, but Marika was down in Phoenix taking care of our friend, and the tent hosts share a site with the other tent hosts, and I wasn’t interested in that.
On the drive to the boat ramp, we stopped to chat with another one of the permanent Rangers, and she told us that one of the host couples had just that morning been asked to leave, and they were actually now looking for another host couple.
Ten minutes later the Head Ranger pulled up to where we were inflating the kayak and offered us the position.
So yes, we’ll be going back to Fool Hollow Lake State Park this Sunday to be camp hosts for the rest of the season. This time, instead of being Rover Hosts, we’ll have our own loop of campsites and bathrooms to clean. And we’ll be available to campers for questions. We’ll also sell firewood and ice 2 days a week when the other host is off duty.
Marika and I are thrilled, excited, and in awe of the synchronicity and simplicity of it all. And I am excited that we will be back near water, and in big sky territory for the monsoon season.
And no, I didn’t get on the water because, after I pumped up the kayak, I realized I had forgotten the seats. But I guess I wasn’t there to paddle!
For the last two weeks, Marika has been down in the valley helping a friend navigate a new phase of her cancer journey. I stayed up here in the mountains with the dogs, offering long-distance support and compassion during this very difficult situation.
I’ve enjoyed the time alone. I’m used to living by myself and I’m capable of all things with the RV. But it’s also been eye-opening to notice how often I’d complain about Marika, when really, they were things about myself that I was not liking. Living so close with another person, you become big mirrors for each other. Without Marika here 24/7, I was forced to look at my own self and claim some of the things that I had been blaming on her. Like my boredom. My weight. My lack of lust for life.
I journaled a little and cried a bit, but mostly I distracted myself with the first seven seasons of Top Chef, even though I’d already seen them. I took many walks with the dogs and found a new way to play with Cody and his ball while Mabel could enjoy sniffing.
And I had a breakthrough with the book. I finally found the voice with which to tell the story. I worked on it for a day or two, and then I put it aside again, telling myself that thinking about it is still working on it.
I’m pretty sure I know why I’m stuck, and yet, I’m not quite ready to work through it. I could beat myself up and focus on why I am not doing this one big thing that my future self wants so much. Or I could try kindness and compassion and think about all of the things I have been doing that are different than before.
I got together with the ladies for lunch and Mexican Train, and I went back to the dentist for my permanent crown. I put the awning up and down and up again, by myself. I cooked a few meals, and found the best pizza place in town. I checked out the Butterfly Thrift Store for a possible volunteering, and finally called the Love Kitchen and did my first volunteer shift there last week. I met my contact person at the library for my Heart Sparks workshops and put up the flyers in the RV Park office and laundry room.
After several failed attempts to hang my Prayer Flags outside (too much wind), I brought them inside and hung them over the office and in the bedroom. I made a card for a friend’s new business opening and a fun camping kit for another friend and her 9 year old camping companion. I’ve been helping the students in my online Mac class, and I even worked with an in-person Mac client with Photos on her iPhone. I washed the RV floors, cleaned the stove, washed the car. And I got my bike out of the car, put air in the tires, and rode to the end of the forest road that extends beyond the campsites.
Yes, I smoked every day and watched a lot of TV, but I made sure I left the house and connected with another human being at least once every day. Even if it was just to go to the office to check about the mail, or do the laundry. And I finally went to a yoga class. It wasn’t the mind-body-spirit practice I was hoping for, but my body felt open and alive afterwards and I was glad I went. And I promised myself I’d go again.
And when I didn’t go to class the following week and I started to berate myself, I said, maybe next week, and let it go. And every time I heard myself calling me lazy or complacent, I’d take the dogs for a walk, or text Marika, or offer up some big love into the world, for all of the people who don’t have this kind of time and space in their lives to do absolutely nothing.
Maybe this is a time of fallow fields. Maybe I need to get really uncomfortable before I’m willing to make some big changes. Maybe those changes are already happening, and I just can’t see them. Right now, all I can do is stay aware and present, and be kind to myself and whatever I am resisting. And to not make this be about Marika, when she comes home this week.
Meanwhile, I’m keeping the hummingbird feeders full, and scattering the sunflower seeds around the tree trunk, just like she asked, so that the birds will be here, along with me and the dogs, to welcome her home.
It’s been a long, hard, emotional couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I broke a tooth. Instead of driving down to Phoenix to see my regular dentist, I opted to call a recommended dentist up here in the mountains. The price was comparable to my dentist and I wouldn’t have to drive 3 hours down into the hot as hell valley of the summer sun, I could sleep in my own bed, and focus on the actual dental work.
And then, two days before the appointment, I cracked a different tooth, one that my dentist and I had been watching. The broken tooth was a no brainer – I needed a crown. But the cracked tooth was another story.
After much discussion, instead of doing root canal and a crown, with the understanding that it might eventually need to be pulled anyway, I opted to have the cracked tooth extracted. And get a crown on the broken one.
I don’t hate dental work. But lying in that chair, thinking about losing a permanent part of me, brought up all kinds of tears. The dentist was uncomfortable with my crying, but I told her it was just an emotional time for me.
I was numbed on one side of my lower jaw, and again on the other. The back tooth came out, whole, but it was cracked in many places. I was fitted with a temporary crown on the other tooth and told to come back in two weeks.
After the procedures I drove home, numb across the entire bottom of my mouth. I drank some water, had some of Marika’s matzoh ball soup, and got in bed for the rest of the day. I slept most of the next day too, waking only to rinse my mouth, eat a bit of soup and take my ibuprofen.
When you have a tooth extraction, you are told not to spit, drink from a straw, or smoke for two weeks, so that the blood can clot can seal the open hole in your jaw and heal. Suddenly I was on a forced no pot smoking regime. Mind you, I’d been asking the universe for some support so that I could quit, but this threw me.
But I had no choice. I was cranky and crying all day for no nameable reason, and just feeling all kinds of sorry for myself. Every time Marika offered up some help I pushed her away, until she finally retreated to binge-watching a new TV show on Hula all of her waking hours.
On the third day I woke up, still with a toothache and a tweaked back. Not sciatica, but enough of a torquing that I couldn’t stand quite straight or walk very far. The only pain-free position was flat on my back in bed. So now we were both TV binging, but with different shows. And we were hardly talking.
I ate very little, and cried a lot. And I felt myself spiraling down a dark, depressing hole, wondering why were we still together, and what options did I have for leaving if I have no car, no home, and no savings.
On Friday, we were still only talking about the dogs and the weather, but my back was better so I asked her if she wanted to join me at the art gallery. She said no, that she needed some alone time. “After the last 4 days of silence?”
I cried as I drove to the gallery, reminding myself that only I can bring light and vitality to my life, and that I’d have to find some joy for my own self if I was going to move through these feelings. The gallery was a fine distraction, but not very inspiring. I stopped at a thrift store and picked up our mail at the office and then went home. Marika asked how the gallery was, but I wasn’t in the mood to share. So the silence continued.
On Saturday I knew I had to take myself out again, and this time she said she wanted to join me. She was even willing to leave on my schedule. In the first half hour of the ride to Springerville, we drove in silence, with the radio on.
“Is that Adele?”
“I don’t know,” I said. Quickly. Abruptly.
Then I listened a little longer.
Yes, it’s Adele.”
And we drove some more, gaining 1000 feet in elevation, until we were out of the thick forest of pine trees and driving across the open plateau lined with fences to hold back blowing snow in winter. And then we lost the radio signal and there was nothing.
Finally, without crying, I was able to ask her, “So can you tell me what’s been going on?”
She shared that it’s hard for her to be around me when I’m in that place. And I shared how hopeless I felt. That I wondered what the point of anything was. And she offered that maybe in time, I’d start to feel alive again. I cried some more and then finally, I was ready to reach over for her hand that I had so missed touching.
We agreed to have lunch first, at a five-star YELP Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. I chose the softest thing on the menu – tofu with mixed veggies, and it was delicious. We explored the Heritage Museum together, learning about the native ancestors and their nearby pueblo.
And then Marika got a text from our friend in Phoenix who has been going through treatments for cervical/uterine/liver cancer this past year. She and Marika had talked about Marika coming down to help her out at some point, and now was that time.
Suddenly my tooth issues and our rough patch were so insignificant.
Marika was a hospice nurse the last 12 years of her working life. She is an amazing caretaker and medical advocate. On the drive home from the museum we talked about our friend’s condition, and options for Marika to get to the valley. We decided she could rent a car one way, then use our friend’s car while there. We talked about what things she might need to bring with her, not knowing how long she’d be gone.
And then, suddenly I was complaining about my tooth again. I’m sure Marika thought I was being petty, losing perspective about the gravity of our friend’s situation vs. my silly toothache.
But I needed to step back from the sadness of my friend’s incurable disease and refocus on something small and fixable. I held Marika’s hand the rest of the way home.
On Sunday we worked as a team to get Marika ready, making lists, gathering her things, reminding each other that she was the perfect person for this. She drove down to the valley on Monday and has settled in on our friend’s sofa bed. She went to Walmart to get some bird feeders and seed so she can entertain herself during the long, quiet, hot days while our friend does a lot of sleeping.
The dogs and I are adjusting to being up here in the mountains without her. Mabel continues to look for Marika at the door and the car. Cody is happy that we all get to sleep in bed. And I got together with “the girls” up here for lunch and a fun afternoon of Mexican Train.
There are moments when I totally freak out, because my six year old self is terrified that Marika isn’t coming back. That, because last week when we had our big silence and I was wishing that she wasn’t there for a while, that it would come true. That if I really wanted something different than this, I’d have to lose her for it to happen.And so she was going to die.
Because that’s what happened when I was six and my brother was sick, and I wished him dead, and he went to the hospital and didn’t come back.
And then I get so caught up in the story I’ve created in my head, and I feel all of the grief and loss of losing Marika, as if it is real, and happening right now.
Until I realize I am hardly breathing.
When I remember to breathe, I come back to my body. I’ll go for a walk or, if it’s too warm, I’ll take some steps inside, kiss the dogs, and sit and stare out the window at the trees and the forest until I am right here, right now, present moment, where I am able to trust that Marika will be back, and that all is as it should be.
Yes, our friend is going to die. But hopefully, Marika being there will help make the journey easier. And maybe this will remind us to cherish the time we have together, instead of sulking and retreating in hurt silence. I know that every time I roll my tongue over the empty space where my tooth used to be, I’ll remember all of this.
I am typically not one to procrastinate.
If I need to do something, I schedule it into my daily or weekly to-do list and take care of it. Done.
So it’s been very curious to me that I’ve been finding all kinds of things to do instead of working on new Mac training videos.
My desk is cleared. My monthly receipts are filed. I have the entire morning blocked out for doing the first video and, instead, I am writing this blog post.
I looked up the definition of Procrastination:
Procrastination refers to the counterproductive deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.
There are three criteria for a behavior to be classified as procrastination: it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying.
When I think of my behavior in terms of these criteria, I’m NOT procrastinating. I am avoiding.
And I know it’s because doing these videos is a HUGE project. It involves changes to my website and my mailing list program. It means learning how to record and save and upload the videos. It means standing in front of the camera and being authentic and friendly and knowledgeable.
And I’ve never done these things before.
But I know my material. I know that the series will be very successful. And yet, I’m having trouble beginning.
Doing all of those other productive things has helped me step back from the project. And from this perspective I can see how the hugeness of it is simply overwhelming me.
No wonder I’ve been avoiding it.
So I took out a piece of paper and started to dissect the project into smaller, more do-able steps. And, following one of SARK’s fabulous suggestions, I used language that will make the tasks more inviting.
So, instead of: Learn the video recording software, I’m going to PLAY with the video software.
Instead of: Change the website and get a new mailing list program, I’m going to EXPLORE new ways to connect with my clients.
And, instead of expecting to get it all done in this one morning, I’m just going to begin.
So what are you putting off because it seems too daunting?
How can you break the BIG THING into smaller, more manageable tasks?
How can you turn your To-Do’s into fun and exciting activities that you might actually WANT to accomplish?
How can you begin?
We’re coming up on our last week of camp hosting here at Fool Hollow Lake. We’ve decided to stay in the mountains for the summer at an RV Park in Pinetop, 20 miles southeast of here, and about 1000 feet higher in elevation. This way, we’re still in the cooler pines, out of the summering campground crowds, and close enough to Phoenix if my dad needs us.
Since we won’t be hosting, we’ll have a lot of free time, which can be good if we get out and explore and connect with people. Or it will make us crazy. I’m hoping we’ll do some day trips around the area, maybe even scout out some campsites for some dry forest camping.
Marika is thinking about doing some hospice volunteering and I’m excited that I’ll be free to take a morning yoga class. I’ve also been looking at possible art classes, and volunteer opportunities. And I’ve been nudging myself to set up some Heart Sparks workshops. But I wasn’t sure if I still had the passion, or if it was just something familiar and easy that I thought I SHOULD do.
Yesterday, I walked down the long flights of steps to the lake shore for a solo outing, to unwind after a full and fun and heartwarming visit with friends from Phoenix. I found a spot on a wide rock and watched the water lapping against the thin grasses, and I asked the Universe for a sign to know if I do still want to share Heart Sparks workshops.
I watched the breeze drawing lines farther out on water where a pair of kayaks floated by, and I wished that I had the energy to inflate my kayak and get it down to the boat ramp and into the water. But since I wasn’t willing to do all that, I reminded myself to just enjoy watching the people who were out there. I overheard spots of conversations from the people in a fishing boat, hoping for a rainbow trout, and waved to a couple as they paddled by.
When the sun got too warm, I walked back up the slope and along the pseudo-path under the shade of the pine trees until the rocks got too big to step over easily. I watched the water from this higher vantage point as a mallard skimmed across the water going to the right and the resident great blue heron flew higher up, to the left. I could hear the flapping of its enormous silvery wings.
A family with two dogs had set up chairs and coolers near the water and another group was coming down the stairs, so I started to head back to the stairs. A woman about my age walked past and we said hello, and what a beautiful place this was. She continued on the path and I headed back up the stairs.
About three-quarters of the way up, I sat on the steps to catch my breath and enjoy the view. The woman I had seen walking stopped to talk. She said she was visiting the lake for the day, and staying at a B&B up in Snowflake. A bit later she shared that her son was getting married that day, but she wasn’t invited to the wedding. Instead of staying home and feeling sorry for herself, she had taken herself to the mountains for the weekend.
I applauded her for such beautiful self-care, and she thanked me.
We talked about camp hosting and she said that she’ll be coming up on retirement next year and has no idea what she wants to do, but she recited a long list of what she didn’t want to do.
I shared my belief that the Universe needs to hear what you DO want. And that, if you don’t know, then focus on how you want to FEEL. And she had never considered that before.
I told her that I was a life coach, and that I had written a book, and she googled it right there, and I told her that we were staying in the area for the summer, and how I had been doubting if I wanted to do Heart Sparks workshops again. She said, “You’d be good at it.” And I said, “I AM good at it!” And I smiled, hearing myself say it out loud. “And it’s pretty obvious from this,” I moved my left hand back and forth in the space between us, “that I do still love it!”
And I thanked her. And I invited her to write about her ideal day with no restrictions. To include smells and touch and people. “Or no people,” she said. And I smiled big and said, “Exactly!” And she said she was excited and nervous to go back to her B&B and try it.
She asked if she could take my picture and I said, “Only if you’re in it too.” She said, “I don’t do selfies.” “Then no picture,” I said.
I stood up and she came over and stood next to me with the lake behind us and took our picture. I asked her to email it to me, and then she would have my email if she wanted to stay in touch.
We both thanked each other again, and, of course, we hugged before we parted.
Today she sent me a copy of the photo and said that she was struggling with the assignment, but that the struggle was a good thing. And I was thrilled. And again, reassured that there are people out there ready to connect with me. I just needed to say yes.
And so, I’m making a list of places to propose my Heart Sparks workshops and I am beginning to envision myself engaging with women in deeper questions and conversations, and re-sparking my own heart.
On May 18, last year, Marika and I pulled out of the driveway of her just-sold house driving our new-to-us 32 foot motor home and towing her RAV4. Our first stop was Show Low, AZ, 180 miles north and east of Phoenix, in the White Mountains.
Almost a year later, we are here again, having driven, literally, full circle.
I haven’t yet tallied our total miles, or printed our spending reports for the year. But we’ve been reminiscing about our favorite campsites, the best and worst meals, the small towns we’d like to revisit, and the interesting people we’ve met along the way. And how so much has happened and changed, and still, there is so much that is the same.
If you’d like to reminisce with us, and catch up on the stories from this past year of living full-time on the road, here are the links:
We are finally settling into our new home base for the next two months. We’re volunteering as camp hosts at Fool Hollow Lake State Park in Show Low, Arizona, a cool, summer getaway in the White Mountains. We’re at 6300 feet elevation, 180 miles north of Phoenix and 60 miles west of the Arizona/New Mexico state line. According to the signage along a nearby hiking trail, this area has the largest contiguous stand of Ponderosa Pines in the world.
Our campsite is actually in one of the camping loops, a first for us. In all of our previous hosting jobs, our site has been in a separate area, or with the other hosts. Here, there are campsites on both sides of us, and, even though they are at least 100 yards away, and on the other side of pine trees and junipers, we can hear people’s conversations and smell their evening fires.
We’re in the Cinnamon Teal loop, on a bluff about a hundred feet above the east side of Fool Hollow Lake. We are surrounded by pines and junipers, with a peek of the rock wall on the opposite side of the lake, but we’re too high up and set back to see the water. Our site is about a hundred yards away from the very tasteful bathroom building, and across the road from the only dumpster in the loop, so there is a lot of passing traffic.
But it’s a lovely site. It’s a double space, intended for two sets of campers, so we have two fire pits, a really large area of dirt and gravel that’s ringed with the natural grasses, rocks and random poppings of wildflowers, and enough trees to provide afternoon shade on the cement patio area. The dogs can use the full length of their twelve-foot cables to sniff, and explore, and lie down, without reaching any passing dogs. And there is plenty of room for our motorhome and car, a visitor’s vehicle, and our golf cart. And even on a full-house weekend, it’s still pretty quiet.
In exchange for our full hookup site, we are the Rover Hosts, filling in where the other hosts need extra help, and on their days off. Because we are not the official hosts for any particular loop, we don’t have an official Camp Host sign at our spot, and I am glad, because campers don’t knock on our door with questions.
We work four hours a day, five days a week, with Fridays and Saturdays off, cleaning bathrooms and campsites, and driving around in our cart to be a presence in the campground. The work is simple, but physical: spraying and wiping all of the bathroom surfaces, sweeping and mopping the floors, shoveling ash and coals from the fire pits, carrying buckets of burned firewood, raking the gravel around the sites, picking up litter, and leaf-blowing the tiniest bits of debris off the driveways.
The first few days were very hard for my body. I haven’t been this physical in months, and the altitude challenged my asthma. I’m now using a daily Advair Diskus inhaler, so I’m not coughing at the slightest exertion. And I am building up my endurance, and stamina, and awareness.
When we were in Phoenix, I started using the Health app on my iPhone to count my steps. I tracked less than 900 most days, because of all the driving and sitting I did with clients, and because of the sun and the heat, and not wanting to walk around the campground neighborhood.
But here, in the mountains, I am actively watching the numbers increase. I take many short walks with the dogs, following the dirt paths to the sidewalks, around the camp loop, and back to our site. We’ve explored the fishing piers and boat ramps to find the best place to put the kayak in. And during our working hours I walk many times around the bathroom buildings, up and down the campsites, and on and off the trails. Most days I’m averaging 5000 steps. And, as I acclimate more to the altitude, I’m sure those numbers will rise.
Especially now that I have finally embraced being here. For the first week, I was so aware of the dry air and the struggle to breathe, that I kept wishing we were at the ocean. But now that I’m breathing better, I’m happy to accept that, if I can’t be at the ocean, this is a pretty darn nice alternative.
Yes, the air is very dry, but it is clean, and clear, and cool. And there are so many trees, and a big blue sky, and there is almost always a breeze or big winds. And the lake is a beautiful body of water. There are all kinds of tree birds, and birds of prey, herons, cormorants, and waterfowl. And the hummingbirds have found Marika’s feeders.
So far, the highs have been in the 70’s, so I can sit outside in my chair with a book, or at the picnic table with my laptop, or inside, with the windows open, with good wifi reception and Apple TV. And at night the temperature dips into the 30’s and 40’s so I can sleep under a blanket with the windows open. And there so many places to walk.
When I walk with Mabel and Cody, we stop often, because Mabel has found something good to smell. Cody is more interested in tracking the squirrels and the rabbits that we call jackalopes because they are as big as dogs. For much of our walk I am standing midway between them with both arms and leashes extended in a tee, Mabel sniffing something good at one end and Cody waiting at the ready on the other.
One afternoon last week I took Cody for a solo walk, so that we could walk longer and further. We started in our usual direction around the camp loop, then turned onto the dirt path that led to the next camp loop where I found a shortcut through a campsite over to the boat ramp and down to the lake trail. The trail was shaded by so many tall green pines, and the slight wind caused the lake water to lap on the shore like mini waves. It smelled sweet and piney, and we were the only ones on the trail. A pair of osprey circled over the water, looking for fish, and I could see the families of Canada Geese eating along the far shoreline. I sat on every bench we passed to take in the different views.
And again I embraced a little deeper, the gifts of being here. To be able to do good work, connect with people we might not otherwise meet, and share the beauty of this special place. And I realized that, after an intense month of working with clients and big city things, this is a time for me to focus on me, in my body, moving, and breathing, and building my strength and stamina. And reconnecting with what sparks my heart.
Yesterday I took myself over to the stairs that lead down to the lake so that I could get better cell reception to call a friend. It was breezy and late in the afternoon, so everything was in the shade, and cool. Even though I had a sweatshirt on, I chose to stay in the sun to make my phone call. So I sat on the stairs, remembering the Winnie the Pooh-ism: “Halfway down the stairs is a stair where I sit.” And the light on the trees and the water made every leaf and branch pop, and the blue in the sky matched the blue in the water, and I held my iPhone in landscape mode, snapping the shutter as I moved the trees and the water within the frame.
And then I called my friend, and shared how I was finally appreciating this new place, that we are so glad that we are here for two months, and not just one. That we saw a pair of female elk on our drive out of the campground the day before. And, that, for the first time, we’ve programmed the GPS Home button to take us back to camp.
When I got back to the RV it was close to dark, so we took the dogs for a quick walk around, then we all sat outside, the dogs cabled and lying down, Marika and I in our camp chairs, watching the sky fill with stars. The almost-half moon had a bright white rim around it, like the sugary rind on a piece of fruit slice candy. Marika pointed to the very top of a nearby pine tree where a Great Horned Owl stood, then flew off. Later, in bed, we opened the window to listen for his call.
A belated thank you for all of the support and compassion after my last letter about quitting smoking.
Many of you wrote and shared your own stories of quitting, offering compassion and tenderness. Some of you didn’t see what the big deal was about pot. A few have asked how it’s going.
The first three days were easy. I had full days of clients, get togethers with friends, and no cravings or urges. On the fourth day I was looking forward to returning to my beloved yoga studio, but I woke up with a twinge in my lower back. I freaked, remembering my 5 month bout with sciatica three years ago. My body was so tight that the only thing I knew to do was smoke to relax. I was able to breathe, and cry and notice what I was bracing against.
And instead of beating myself up for smoking, I was kind and compassionate, allowing myself to try a different way.
I have always been an all or nothing person. A few months ago I announced I was closing my Mac business after 30 years. No more weekly tips, no more working with clients, no more videos. Nothing. When I stepped back from the decision, I realized that there are some aspects of the work that I do still enjoy. That I can still do work that brings me and my clients joy, but I don’t have to do everything. And what I do still want to do, I can enjoy in moderation.
And so I gave myself permission to try this idea of moderation with smoking. And it’s working. I’m still smoking, but not all day every day. And again, I’ve been using the high time to go deep into all the emotions that are stirring, and realizing some new truths that I’d been too afraid to face before.
And then last week my dad ended up in the hospital, due to a very low heart rate. He’s 86 with stage 4 kidney disease. After not seeing him for 9 months, he seemed the same when I saw him at the beginning of the month. But last week he was short of breath, very tired, and wobbly when he walked.
Seeing him in that weakened state was very emotional, especially since I am not a very good caregiver. But Marika is. She has graciously taken over the role of talking with doctors, explaining things to my dad, and helping me cope with the changes. My dad finally agreed to get a pacemaker, and that has given him more energy and stability. Yes, he still has serious kidney issues, but for now, we are grateful that he has returned to his previous state of independence.
We were supposed to head north this past weekend, but we’ve postponed our departure, and will stay in Phoenix for a few days to settle him into life at home again, and make sure he’s able to take care of himself. If all goes well, we’ll drive him over to his lady friend’s house in Sun City West, where he plans to spend the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, we found someone to take over the yard irrigation, had a company smog a huge bee colony in the dead fig tree in the back yard, and a tree removal company will come next week to finish the job. And the gardener is back on a regular schedule.
There are a hundred other things we need to do, and start thinking about, and it can quickly feel overwhelming. But so far I’ve been able to reel us both back to right here, right now, and focus on the tasks that are right in front of us.
I continue to be so grateful for the ease and grace with which all of this is unfolding: My dad is being taken care of, Marika is leading the caretaking team, doing her best kind of work, and I am feeling grounded and comfortable in my role as scheduler, list-maker and project manager.
We can stay at this campground for however long we need, and there was no problem with delaying our camp hosting commitment. And the weather has cooled into the seventies and eighties, so I can be outside, walking and breathing my way through all of this.
If all goes well, we’ll head up to Northern Arizona for our two-month camp hosting gig at Fool Hollow Lake in Show Low on Friday. I am so ready to be in the trees, by the lake, with a simple working life, cool temperatures and lots of time to just breathe and be.
Thanks for being there, reading this. I feel the connection, and the support, and the love.
There comes a moment when you know that they way you’ve been doing something no longer works. Sometimes, you can change the behavior right then and there. Sometimes it takes a good long time from that moment of realization to actually taking action to do it differently. The biggest factor is, how do you treat yourself during the transition.
I don’t remember the first time I smoked pot, but it was some time during my sophomore year in college with friends. I liked the silliness, the laughing, and how ideas just exploded, especially when we were brainstorming together.
I started smoking regularly in the late 90’s, after many years of discovering and writing about my deepest secrets of loss and sexual abuse. I just needed a break from the trauma and depression. I remember going to an art store where I’d heard the owner sold marijuana, and asking, “So do you have anything to inspire my creativity?” He had no idea what I was talking about until I asked straight out, ” Can I get some pot?” He took me into the back room and sold me my first ounce.
Every time I went to pick up a two month supply, I’d tell Marika, “So if you get a call that I’ve been arrested, please come down and bail me out.”
The pot was cheap and harsh on my throat, so I put ice cubes in my plastic water bong to cool the smoke. I’d spend great hours in my studio in the garage writing fiction, and making art. And spending less and less quality time with Marika. I moved out in 2004, telling people that we still loved each other, but we were no longer bringing out the best in each other.
I moved into a friend’s guest house, with a living area and a huge room for my office and studio space. I was now lighting up as soon as I was done with my working day. I’d change into my comfort clothes – sweat pants and a t-shirt, and fill the bowl of the bong and take a few long hits. I’d turn on some music and dance barefoot on the Saltillo tile. Just one five-minute song to ground me and loosen me, and move everything out of my head and into my body. Then I’d dive into the art piece waiting on my work table.
Life was sweet and simple and enough.
And then in 2007, I had emergency open heart surgery to remove a benign tumor that was encapsulating my left atrium. Smoking had nothing to do with the tumor, so after the surgery, I continued to smoke regularly that first year of recovery.
A year later, I quit cold turkey. Because I wanted to connect with the bigger world, and smoking kept me isolated and insulated in my own little utopia.
Over the next four years, everything in my life ramped up to amazingness. I worked with a high level coach to grow my Mac training business, I became a life coach, I started writing the Heart Sparks blog, and in August, 2012, I realized my biggest dream of living at the beach. I sold most of my stuff, left the rest in storage at my dad’s, and, for the next 3 years, I lived in the 24-foot motorhome that Marika and I owned together, spending part of the year in Marika’s driveway and the rest in Central California in a sweet mobile home park across the street from the beach.
But it was so lonely. I had no community, no in-person clients, no dinners with friends. Just me and my dog Laddy. I checked out some local groups: Kirtan, yoga, 50+ meetups… but found no connections. I missed Marika and wished she would join me. But she still said no.
And then at the end of December in 2012 I went to dinner with a new artist friend and, being in her company reminded me how much I missed my creative self. She sent me back to the beach with a joint, and I smoked a little the next afternoon. I felt like I was saved. I had new creative ideas. I loved the ocean even more. Everything seemed enhanced. Even the sadness and missing Marika. But at least I could face it, work with it, not feel stuck in the grief. I hooked up with a friend from yoga who also smoked, and have been smoking ever since.
For a while it was just in the evenings. And then it was all the time, because pot made my dream life even happier. I was writing, creating prayer flags, making friends with my neighbors, feeling very happy in my little beach world.
I’d go back to Phoenix every few months and reconnect with friends there, but the gap was long enough to lose touch, but not so long that we really missed each other. And so every time I returned to the beach, I was even lonelier, and glad for my best friend, Mary Juana.
I have never denied that I am, again, smoking. But I also haven’t proclaimed it. Partly because, in many states that I’ve traveled, it is illegal. And partly, because of some shame.
For a long time I felt that, because I was smoking again, it meant that my book, Heart Sparks, was a lie. Because in the book I share that quitting smoking marijuana changed my life. But then I realized that it was true when I wrote it, and that smoking again is just another chapter of my continuing story.
In an interview last summer, a woman who wrote a book about her gambling addiction asked me to talk about how quitting smoking helped me feel my feelings more.
And I told her that, in fact, I was smoking again, and that I was also staying with all of the feelings as they arose, that pot actually helped me feel my real feelings. We discussed the differences between substance use and abuse. And we talked about the stigma of marijuana, how it was unregulated until the 1930’s, and then was hastily grouped with heroin and cocaine in the 70’s as a controlled substance.
New studies are coming out every day proving the medical benefits of marijuana. Even Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon and media reporter, publicly announced his support for the use of medical marijuana.
Some people take anti-depressants and tranquilizers for anxiety and depression. Others enjoy a daily glass or two of wine. Some people shop, or do yoga or hike their troubles away. I smoke marijuana.
And it has helped me in profound ways. Three years ago, I suffered a five-month bout of severe sciatica, followed by full-on menopause. The depression that came with it was paralyzing. Some days I felt weighted in my chair. My breath was short, stuck in my throat, my ribs felt like they were caving into my belly. I had no desire, no inspiration, no motivation. I wasn’t sad or angry. I was nothing. Even if I took a walk. Even if I laid down and practiced deep breathing. Even if I wrote and cried.
But with just a few puffs on my pipe, my mind loosened, my belly relaxed, and I could breathe. I felt hope, sometimes even excitement for the day. And if uncomfortable feelings arose, the marijuana helped me move into the emotions and work with them, without them paralyzing me.
I wasn’t smoking to escape my life. I was smoking so I could show up for my life. And with the variety of marijuana strains now legally available with my medical marijuana card, I was able to choose a blend that wasn’t about being high and wired, or so mellow that I just wanted to veg out in front of the TV or sleep.
But even though I knew it helped me, there were days when I chastised myself for smoking, because, in the future life that I see for myself, I am definitely not smoking. Because smoking makes me tired. And gives me the munchies. And sometimes, after the rush of getting stuff done, I am lazy to the point that it is easier to stay home, than to get out and explore my world.
And so I tell myself it’s time to quit.
When we were in Montana in August at the Merry Widow Mine, I stopped smoking for 7 days. I figured, we were already in a kind of rehab, breathing in small doses of radon gas to relieve inflammation 3 times a day for 11 days, and the rest of the time just watching Hulu, walking the dogs and laying low. It seemed like the perfect time to stop smoking too.
The radon treatments made me tired, and, without the pot to lift me, I let myself be very lazy. The first few days, when I felt the desire to smoke, I talked about it or read my book, or took a nap or watched TV. Over the next few days the cravings lessened, but I was irritable and cranky, and when I’d lie down, I couldn’t sleep.
Marika made me chicken soup, and we played dominoes, and watched a new detective series together. We even found a new trail that led to the reclamation ponds where the dogs played stick and Marika watched the ducks in the water.
But by the 8th day, I was so edgy I thought I was going to explode. My skin was tight. My breath felt like dragon fire. And I just wanted a break from myself.
I walked. I cried. I wrote about it. And then I asked Marika where she had stored my pipe. As soon as I took a puff, I felt a sweet and instant relief. I cried some more, wrote some more, shared some of the anxiety with Marika, and then she said, “OK, so quit bawling and at least enjoy it.” We took a walk with the dogs, and I could finally breathe.
And then I was smoking every day again. Just like that. Saying, I’d stop when I ran out. And then we were in Colorado, and Oregon, where it is legal and readily available, and I gave myself until Labor Day. Then to the end of the year. And then I finally realized that this was about more than just the role of pot in my life.
Smoking or not smoking was only one of many things that needed to shift between this life and my future visions of my life. So if I wasn’t willing to quit right then, fine. I needed to let it go and quit beating myself up about it. I needed to embrace my choice to smoke, give myself a tender hug and shift my attention to something that I WAS ready to change.
By letting go of the self-abuse, I could lean into what else is in my next dream, where else I wanted to focus my attention. And by shifting the energy, I knew the habit would change, the anxiety would dissipate, the need to smoke would lessen. And life would open up again, bigger and deeper and richer than I could imagine.
I knew. Because that is what happened the last time.
Back in 2008, when I started to think about quitting, I remember NOT trying a yoga class, NOT going to fun events because I wouldn’t give myself permission to go if I had smoked. And then I realized I was living an all or nothing existence, depriving myself of anything that might finally give me an alternative to smoking.
Once I gave myself permission to go out into the world even if I was slightly stoned, I began a weekly yoga practice, exhibited my art, and curated art shows. And eventually, all of those things and all that came from them, brought me to a place where I was ready to quit. Cold turkey.
And so, these past few months, as I have been wrestling with quitting again, I’ve been less hard on myself. I’ve been smoking without guilt, knowing that I have been shifting toward the Big Quit.
And now, finally, after being around good friends this past weekend, in person, feeling their life force, compared to my own, dulled, disconnected self, I’m ready to quit. Cold turkey, just like last time. Because I’m no longer depressed, and I’m not in pain. Because being stoned keeps me insulated, encapsulated, like the tumor in my heart ten years ago, and I just don’t want to keep doing it like this.
As I talked to myself about quitting, I heard myself say, “I’m quitting and I’m terrified.” And I thought, terrified of what? Or is that just a knee-jerk cliché response. AM I terrified? No, not really. More, I’m just not looking forward to being uncomfortable and not having a quick fix to feeling happy and energetic.
And my first response to that was, yes, but look at all of the support I have to provide other kinds of happy and energetic: good friends, in-person hugs, favorite restaurants, a yoga practice, and places in town that I’m looking forward to visiting.
So this past weekend I cancelled my next pot order, finished the stuff I had, and packed my smoking accoutrements in one of the RV storage cabinets.
I am looking forward to waking up clear headed, staying present for longer than two hours at a time, and not eating everything in sight. I am ready to move from the safety and security of my quiet inner world and reconnect again with life outside of myself.
Yes, it may be physically and emotionally uncomfortable for a while as my body deals with the cravings and the letting go of the habit, but I am focusing on all of the reasons that this is such a big YES for me now. And I cannot wait to see what unfolds.
Are you struggling with quitting a behavior that no longer serves you? Please share in the comments! We can all benefit from hearing each other’s stories!
We left the rainy, cold Oregon coast at the beginning of January, expecting to do a quick, four day drive down to Morro Bay, enjoy a week of fresh fish, friends and birding, then head to the Salton Sea, south of Palm Springs for the month of February. But the west coast experienced some of the biggest wettest storms in history, which changed our travel plans.
Instead of staying one night at a casino at our first stop over the California border, we stayed for six, to avoid the icy roads, the big winds and all of the rain. We had no hookups, and there was no sun to charge our solar panels, so we ran the generator as needed and did fine. They had a dump station and fresh water, so we still had everything we needed.
After the first storm passed, we drove 100 miles to another small casino in the town of Laytonville. A new Mac client lives there so I asked her for dinner recommendations, and did she want to join us. Instead, she invited us over for farm fresh eggs the next morning.
And this is one of the things we love most about this life – meeting so many interesting and open-hearted people.
After a delicious visit with our new friend, we drove another 100 miles to the very small town of Williams, CA where we found a cute RV and trailer park. It was about twenty miles south of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuse where Marika could finally go birding. On her first outing she saw 45 species.
Fog and rain and another wet storm was expected for the next few days, so we stayed in Williams and did laundry, ate very authentic Mexican food, took Mabel to the vet for her 4 days of diarrhea, and had dinner with a friend who lives in Sacramento. We cancelled our plans for Morro Bay, changed our route to avoid the Bay area bridges, and took Highway 99 south.
We marveled at how green the hills were as we made our way through the almond tree groves and the Tehachapi mountains. We spent a few nights at the fairgrounds in Antelope Valley, exploring the local museums and watching the snow levels get lower on the San Bernardino Mountains around us.
We dry camped for two nights at the Morongo Casino to avoid 45 mile an hour wind gusts and finally, on January 24, we arrived at our destination, the Salton Sea.
This strange place south of Palm Springs is a landlocked body of water with a higher salinity than the Pacific Ocean. The shoreline looks like pristine white sand, but when you get closer, you see that it is actually salt-crusted barnacles and bleached carcasses of dead tilapia from a die-out ten years ago.
Created hundreds of years ago by the flooded Colorado River, the Salton Sea is surrounded by miles of barren desert, the Coyote Mountains to the west and the Chocolate Mountains to the east. It is fed by the runoff from the surrounding geothermal plants and agricultural fields, but has no outflow to the ocean.
The Salton Sea is a major flyway for migrating birds, and that is why we’ve been coming here for the last 20 years. Marika can be out for hours, delighted to see her birds, and I’m happy to stay at home, writing, working, doing my thing.
We were both looking forward to our time here, to dry out and warm up after all of that cold winter rain. But after months of being in the moist, green climate of the Oregon Coast, neither one of us was prepared for the dryness and brightness of this place. And there were hardly any birds.
We both got hit with sinus infections the day after we got here. We neti pot-ted and drank lots of water. We found a Chinese restaurant 30 miles away and brought home hot and sour soup. And we rested as we tried to acclimate.
But I could only focus on all of the reasons why my body doesn’t like the desert. How my eyes burned in the blinding daylight, that I was suddenly coughing more, and the insides of my nostrils were on fire.
Without the daily distractions of working or travel planning, and no restaurants or grocery stores for miles, I was forced to really be here and sit with myself and my uncomfortableness.
I looked at pictures that I had taken at the beach and made a postcard of the Oregon coast. I imagined that cool, moist ocean air in my nose, drenching my itchy skin. And I wished that we were going back there, instead of heading to Phoenix, which is even more desert.
And then, after four days of complaining, my head cold lifted, and I was able to accept that, like every place we’ve been before, this is only temporary.
And that I had to shift my attention from how miserable I was, to what I could embrace about being here.
I love the barren landscape, the muted color palette of browns and grays and blues, and the miles of silence and space. As long as I can enjoy them from inside the RV, out of the sharp sun and the hazy air.
I love to sit at my desk, or on the sofa, or at the dinette, and watch the white pelicans float, like boats, on the water. I make up stories about the neighbors in the older RV behind us, and spy on the visitors who park near the entrance and walk down to the shoreline, and hear their surprise when they see their first dead fish.
And I love watching the trains go by. The Union-Pacific has a north and south bound line that runs parallel to Highway 111, about a football field away. A train passes at least thirty times during the day, and then through the night. With my earplugs, I sleep right through. And when I do hear it, it makes me smile.
They are long trains, I guessed about 50 cars each. Yesterday I finally counted. There were 3 yellow engines pulling 102 flat cars, most of them stacked with blue, green and maroon shipping-containers with white lettering to identify the company. There was some faded graffiti on the cars, but not much. They go pretty fast, but it’s never really loud, as if the noise gets absorbed by all of the open space.
And the sunsets here are spectacular. Sometimes there are clouds to soak up the golds and pinks over the mountains. Sometimes the sky is so clear that hundreds of shades of blue and gray mirror themselves on the water. I love the silhouettes of the birds, floating solo near the shoreline, and flying south in pairs to roost for the night.
And I realized that the more I noticed about this place, the more grounded I felt, and the more willing I was to pack my waterproof winter hiking boots into storage and put on my mesh trail walkers to explore this strange landscape.
I took the dogs across the chunky graveled camp area into the dried mud and sand desert, in the opposite direction of the water. The ground was packed in most places, but sometimes my shoe pushed in far enough to leave an impression. There were deep, wide chasms in the ground from the recent rains. When Cody jumped across one, the edge crumbled, so I guided both dogs back to the firmer ground, closer to camp.
And I asked myself, “What’s the most important thing right now? What do I want more than anything? What might I regret if I don’t do it?”
The answer came fast: make this the best time of our lives. To really hone in on the parts that we enjoy so much. To explore how I want to engage and share, and how I want to support us financially. And to dream the next part of this journey together.
And so every day, I am finally able to say thank you for this time here with my beloveds. For the spaciousness of this eerie and magical place, where I can look out the windows at this landscape, with no hookups and so few people around, and know that we truly have everything we need.
We’ll be here on the shoreline for one more sunset, then we’re moving 40 miles south to a private RV park to be closer to the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge, a prime birding area. We’ll be 15 minutes from Brawley, where there’s a real supermarket and an amazing wood-fired pizza place. We’ll have laundry, cable TV, free wifi and full hookups at our site. After 10 days of rationing water, I’m looking forward to a long, hot shower, and being able to run the air conditioner when the temperatures hit the 80’s later this week.
And, as always, I’m hoping there will some fun places where I can walk with the dogs, that will be soft on their pads and safe for some free-running. We’ll see. And if we don’t like it, it’s not forever. Nothing is.