Golden Handcuffs, Part Two

Part One of this two-part blog post can be found HERE)

I’m not gonna quit.

At least any time soon.

I am choosing to keep the golden handcuffs on.

Well.

Sort of.

Allow me to explain.

Just an hour from my home is Amboy, Washington,  a beautiful small town in the Lewis River Valley. Teeming with lush old growth forest of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, it is an area that has captured my imagination of what could be should we ever decide to own a property outside of the city. I used to fantasize about selling our house and moving away from Portland and was always prowling real estate listings in that particular county. But then I realized I am a lifelong bonafide city girl. I like to visit the countryside; I do not want  to live away from all the city life conveniences I have come to enjoy and rely upon.forest

So I have kept this little dream about owning some kind of property in the forest, a getaway property. A small cabin maybe? But small, affordable cabins in pristine forested land is actually hard to come by. At least for what we can afford. Besides, how could we possibly manage owning two properties?

And then there’s the spooky wilderness. I love the wilderness by day. I get nervous in it at night if no one else is around. That’s why I like camping so much. We are surrounded by other campers which helps me feel safe. And we always leave too early … I am almost never ready to leave the forest and head back to our urban-dense homestead. How many times have I said to Jerry as we drive out, “I wish we had a place all our own in the forest, a getaway place.” Yep, me too, he always says. I love how compatible he and I have remained 27 years into this marriage. I think it’s working out.

Stay with me… there is a point to all this. A great big, golden handcuff point…

On my hardest shifts at work I try to escape the drudgery of it all by imagining myself in the forest. I daydream about the smell, the earthy, mossy scent of a massive grove of cedars. I  picture the slender limbs of vine maples clustered upon  beds of verdant green ferns. As I push and shove and haul 2,000 pound doughs around the proof room, I secretly long for a real-life place to escape, a place to recover from the chaos of city life and demanding work schedules, a place to heal and rejuvenate. The forest is good medicine for me.

Enter my friend and coworker Nancy. She had been telling me about her recreation site at a private campground called Lake Merwin Campers Hideaway. It’s in the Lewis River valley, the very area I have eyed for the last couple of years. Camper’s Hideaway is a 36 acre campground with 1500 sites. Members own their site and develop it with a camper trailer. Many add decks and sun porches making their camper site appear almost like a cabin. As she showed me around her site and her neighbors, my imagination began to soar.

Campers Hideaway

Our Hideaway site includes a spacious deck and sunroom with a woodstove. Look at all that luscious forest greenery!

It’s affordable. It’s accessible. It’s a community of campers in the woods.

The next week Jerry and I were out there. We found a site ideal for us, right on the perimeter of the camp meaning it is very private and is surrounded on two sides by gorgeous state forest land. I wondered and wondered…. is it worth it to choose to stay on at a job that has sucked the vitality out of me to have my dream of a place in the forest?

campershideaway2

Here you can see how the enclosure is built around the camper trailer creating an almost cabin-like atmosphere.

Jerry left it up to me. He did not pressure me either way knowing that I am the one who will carry the brunt of whether I stay on at Nabisco so we can afford the site or if I leave for a lesser paying job with an easier schedule and forego owning a little place in the woods.

It was actually not a hard decision at all.

And that is why  I have resolved to continue working at Nabisco to help pay for our place at Camper’s Hideaway. We should have the keys in about two weeks.

There is more to this decision than just a getaway place. Conditions have eased up considerably at work. I have been at the plant nearly three years. It was a season of about eight months that nearly did me in.  But now the schedule has returned to normal. I am rested. I am sane. And when I am rested and sane I am able to think more clearly and see with greater clarity. I am able to actually enjoy the people I work with and the great humor that often breaks out out on the floor.

One coworker often pranks me to the point that we are in helpless hysterics with me doing the Don’t-Make-Me-Pee-In-My-Pants dance.  (You know who you are!!)  I have slowly been developing genuine connections with some of my coworkers. I am finding my tribe within the Nabisco camaraderie. Like one coworker who is an amazing artist. She invites a few people to her art studio every month for a wine and painting party. She has an art studio and is a prolific artist as well as a full-time factory worker. She inspires me. Dont-look-back

With a saner work schedule I have been able to recall how my coworkers  rose to the occasion to support my family when Jeremy had cancer. Several coworkers, whom I barely knew at the time, organized a raffle and sold tickets for a whole month. Many people donated prizes for the raffle and many more bought tickets. When my son was presented with the raffle money, he and Jerry and I were speechless. The generosity was in the thousands… the thousands! I remain deeply grateful for the outpouring of care my coworkers demonstrated to my family during that difficult time.  In the midst of what can be a brutal workplace are many workers of Light.

As soon as our offer for the site at Camper’s Hideaway was accepted, serenity filled my inner being. Peace – and her sister Joy – came inside. I have been missing the two of them for quite some time. I’m so glad they are back.

It was cool talking to the owner of the site. She is an artist and a writer. She said the previous owner was also an artist. “I don’t want to sound weird,” she said, “but this place has tremendous creative energy. You just feel it the minute you get here.”

There is even a small out building that I could convert into a creative studio. Imagine!

So is this what it means to wear golden handcuffs? To remain entrapped to a miserable job because you can’t free yourself from the lucrative paycheck and benefits?

Yes. And no.

Yes, because it is true. I need to stay on a job that’s not my favorite in order to afford this little place in the woods. And no, because I am not a prisoner to this job nor any job. I can quit. I can stay. I can look for another job. I can return to the hospital. I can make it work and stay on a few more years. I Have Options. I get to decide what to do with the resources that are in my life. I choose to work in a healthy partnership with Jerry so that together we are making wise decisions we can sustain for the long run. Owning a getaway out of overcrowded Portland is an option we get to exercise together. It is something we can share with not only one another, but with our children, our future grandchildren (future!) as well as our friends.  We can barely afford it if I make less money. We can easily afford it with me working at Nabisco. At this stage of our lives, we want to avoid the barely-afford-it category.

When I wrote about the harsh schedule and the toll it has taken on me nearly every commentor  advised me to Run. I’d tell me to run too, based on that blog post. But that was only part of the story, granted it was the hardest, darkest part of my work story, and yes, I can in no way sustain that kind of chronic stress again. And I won’t. I have now had ample time to rebuild my inner resilience. I have strategies in place to protect my vitality should our company ever work us to the bone that way again. I have turned a corner in my workplace.

Plus,  I now  have a hideaway in the woods, a place to retreat to where the forest can work it’s healing magic upon my body, soul and mind. Because it is in a camping community, or Glamping,  as some like to call it (Glamorized Camping = Glamping), I feel secure enough that I can even go by myself. My tree-hugging hippie 22-year old daughter can also enjoy the space and I won’t fret knowing that there is year-round onsite management.

So there you have it. The saga of my  workplace struggles and how I’ve decided to stay. It doesn’t mean I’m staying for a lifetime. It is just for  a few short years to help pay for our Hideaway place. I’m still young enough that there could always be a job change in the future if I decide to leave.

I realize that many must make vocational decisions in order to pay the rent and keep food on the table. I am mindful of the privilege I possess where I am making a decision to afford a getaway while also helping pay monthly bills. I am so done with feeling guilty for my privilege. I work hard, and so does my husband. We have worked hard to stay together for 27 years. Our partnership is the foundation of what gives me such privilege. A stable marriage is a treasure, hard won and hard kept. I am incredibly grateful for mine for all kinds of reasons. That’s another blog post for another time, how my  marriage really works and makes it in the real world, stormy times and all.

FindwhatmattersI made some new art last night. The message on it, Find What Matters to You, sums up
what drove me to this decision. It matters to me to retreat to the forest as often as I can whenever I can. Having our own Hogeweide Hideaway means I can do that. I look forward to new inspiration for art, writing and Life as we spend time at our getaway in the forest.

What do you think? Am I crazy? Have you ever had a new plot twist show up in your life that affected a major decision? 

 

 

Part One : Golden Handcuffs

I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.

I stifled a small sob as I used the power equipment to move an oversized trough full of dough into it’s place. It was another 13-hour shift, my fourth one that week. I had not had a day off in two weeks.  My body was exhausted, my arms ached from being overworked. Sometimes I would wake up at night in pain, my forearms throbbing with an intensity that matched my emotional bleakness.cocoapam

I felt weak. My coworkers, many working as hard or even harder than I, seemed to cope much better with the excessive overtime. My husband, who has worked at this factory for fifteen years, kept telling me it would get better, that just as soon as our union contract, which was about to expire, was renewed that things would simmer down. “The company always pushes more production when it’s contract time,” he said. His attempt to reassure me fell flat. I had never felt more demoralized in a working environment in my entire life. I’ve held twelve different jobs over a thirty year span. This job has been  the worst and best of my life. The best because of the pay and benefits. It is a solid, union job with wages that are the most I have ever earned. I make as much my husband, something new in our 27-years of marriage. And though Jerry never lorded it over me, I always felt the gap of our earning power as I navigated motherhood and working at entry-level jobs with entry-level pay.

When Nabisco (yes, Nabisco!) was hiring again Jerry urged me to apply.  Yes, there would be some overtime and some weekends, but new hires often did not rack up the hours as senior employees scooped up the premium overtime pay. “It’ll be years before you work a Sunday,” predicted Jerry.

Before my second year anniversary I was working 60+ hours a week, including a lot of Sundays. The company, now owned by a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate, made it clear that they were intent on increasing their profit margins.That translated to workers like me being forced to work the equivalent of two full-time jobs. My entire being was collapsing from the pressure.

“I’m not going to work tonight,” I cried as time inched closer to the start of my graveyard shift. “I am wiped out. I can’t even get out of bed.” I laid there like a little girl with the covers pulled over my head. I wanted to hide from my new world of long shifts and production quotas. My eyes were swollen from crying. Why did this job undo me so much?

I stayed home for the next three days. Where I work we can miss up to three shifts. It’s a ding on our attendance and too many dings will result in discipline and even termination. I have never worked in a place where I had to call in just to get time off to rest. I felt guilty. I knew that someone else would be forced to cover my shift, and yet that is the game. I covered plenty of overtime for other people when they called out, too, I rationalized. It’s not my fault the company chooses to run a thread-bare crew resulting in high absenteeism.

“I can’t sustain this, Jerry,” I lamented over and over again. “I have to quit. I cannot live my life this way. It is crushing me.”

Jerry and I had many conversations about my exit plan. We were enjoying the two incomes from the job, yet not beholden to it. We avoided the Golden Handcuff syndrome that enslaves so many workers to stay in jobs they hate.

It was decided. I would leave the company by summertime. We would build up our savings and then I would resign.  I contacted my former boss and coworkers who all encouraged me to return. I used to work as a patient food server at a large hospital. I loved that job, my most favorite job of my working life. The only reason I left was for the Big Money … and to work at the same place as my husband. Besides, how COOL IS IT  to have bragging rights that we make America’s favorite cookie, the iconic Oreo, as well as other beloved Nabisco snacks?

Despite having an exit strategy, the weight of long work hours that isolated me from my community of friends, continued to take it’s toll on me. I would spontaneously start crying over the smallest of things, even at work, which freaked me out. I often worked alone and would just start quietly crying and feeling terribly sorry for myself and the fuckedupness of it all.   Many times I came home sobbing as I dragged my tired body through the front door. My emotions swung wildly from immense self-pity to deep shame for the pity parties I kept throwing myself. Dammit, Pam, get your shit together. At least you have a good paying job! There was no end to the floggings.

I went to four funerals in one month the summer of 2007; I have been through cancer with my teenage son… but it is this job that has me undone. What the hell is that all about? What is wrong with me?

I finally made an appointment with a therapist. I had been reading up on chronic stress and began to connect the dots of why my job was pushing me to the brink. I laughed when I read the remedy for chronic stress : Rest. Personal Time. Exercise. Um, yeah, right, I’ll get on that just as soon as I maybe get one or two days off this month.

It’s somewhat miraculous that I managed to keep my appointments with the therapist, but somehow I did. Talking with her helped me understand the root cause of why a job… A JOB… had brought me to such a low point. It was like my entire being, body-soul-spirit, had been assailed. The therapist boiled it down to a simple metaphor about Resilience.

we_can_do_it-resized-small

“Resilience is like a water tank,” explained the therapist. “The tank has to be constantly filled because it is constantly draining.  Life with  all of it’s stresses keep the tank draining.”

Resilience is the ability to harness inner strength to weather through life’s challenges. Not to be confused with stoicism or toughing it out, resilience is the ability to roll with it and adapt.

We talked about the stressors I had endured in the preceding two years : the stress of changing jobs,  the tremendous year-long stress of our son having cancer, and as soon as I got through that with barely time to catch my breath, the overtime at work kicked in so hard that even the old-timers   were shaking their heads.

“Your resilience tank has been tapped out. Chronic stress strips you of your ability to cope. You have no reservoir to draw from,” she explained.

This  helped me feel less crazy and ashamed for not being Super Woman. I even began to confide to some of coworkers what was going on. “This job makes me feel weak,” I said to one woman.  “Me, too,” she said. And then she began crying. I was not the only one. THAT knowledge, that I was not the only one falling apart from workplace-related stress, somehow comforted me. It empowered me. I began to Own My Story of how the journey of my life had brought me to this low-point. Through journaling and making art I resolved to give myself permission to be weak. Self-acceptance is an effective remedy against self-pity.

As I made my peace with my exit plan a small splinter of fretting started irritating my conscience. Quiet whispers   in the back, the way back, where thoughts I don’t like to acknowledge hang out. You’ll never make this kind of money again. Are you sure you should walk away? The hospital will never pay you as well. 

Life is more than money. What is my vitality worth? You only live once. 

These were my mantras, my prayers as it were, as I leaned into the Spirit for guidance and wisdom.

“This place is a dream killer,” said someone on the management team to me in casual conversation. “The golden handcuffs keep people shackled here for more years than they want.”golden-handcuffs

Not me,  not me, I told him. I am gonna leave. No golden handcuffs on these wrists.

Last month the excessive overtime came to a sudden halt just as our union contract expired. Just as Jerry predicted. Many people have recently retired and  the company is hiring many new people right now.  My seniority, once rock bottom in my department, is now climbing the list. Where I work, your place in rank makes all the difference to the shift you have, the job your assigned and the amount of OT you are forced to work. I have been off the last four weekends, in part because the schedule has calmed down and also because my name has climbed higher on the list. My resilience tank is full. I don’t burst into tears over the slightest pressures anymore. I have not missed a shift for a while. Could a future here be possible?

That is the big question. Do I stay or do I go?  Do I have to sacrifice life/work balance to work here? Do I have to let my vitality take a hit for financial security? (which really, there is no true financial security in the world of manufacturing as jobs are outsourced to low-paying unregulated nations, including Nabisco jobs).   Where I work determines so many choices in life, family and the future. It’s not just about a job. It’s about my livelihood. It’s about my life. And me, being me who tends to fret over little  things and big things as well as over analyze every possible scenario to the nth degree, has been storm-tossed in the waters of indecision.

Welcome to my world.

It is a huge decision in my life. I am mindful of the privilege I possess to have choices and options. But this is my story, my privilege and I get to figure out the next part with all the angst of a post-modern Gen X-er.

I will blog about that in Part Two next week and tell you what I decided, how I settled it within  and what it means. The answer might not be as saintly as some might suppose.

Work is an integral part of my life, of all our lives. The jobs we do are not just about paychecks and paying bills. Our jobs shape us. They reveal parts of ourselves no other sphere in our lives reveal, including  our weaknesses and strengths. Where we work is where we trade our vitality for sustenance. What will I trade mine for? Can I maintain this resilience in this environment? Should  I return to the  job at the hospital?

I will tell All in Part Two.

***What about you? Have you ever felt the bindings of golden handcuffs? What did you do?

 

A Forest at Home

I went to the woods several months ago with my husband. We rented a small cabin with big windows near a gorgeous Oregon mountain  river.  I reveled in the old growth forest that surrounded our little mountain getaway. Like sentries they stood, towering cedars and firs watching  over us as we rested from the chaos of city life and demanding work schedules. We went on a hike to nearby Mirror Lake.  Each breath I drew in was like a big drink of sweet well water. There is something about being in a grove of mossy  old-growth that is oh-so-good for … Read More …

The Red A of Artistic Grace

It was art day in my sixth grade class.  We were to take half a raw potato and cut a design in it, then dip it in paint and stamp our design all over a large piece of paper. I struggled cutting my design and ending up massacring several potatoes in the process.

I looked up from my table space to survey how other students were doing. Ugh. They were nailing it. I was the class lagger, the only one who did not yet  have a potato stamp to work with.potato-stamp

“Ten minutes, everyone,” called out the teacher. “Ten minutes and then we need to clean up and move on. Please finish up quickly.”

The pressure mounted. I was trying as carefully as I could to carve a diamond shape in my potato, but once again I cut too deep and once again I had a broken potato, only now I was out of time. So I made the best of it. I took the biggest broken chunk and pressed it down in  blue paint. I stamped once, twice, three times … the  more I stamped, the globbier it got.

I wanted so badly to make a cool potato stamp design like the other students. One girl at my table had carved a  heart in her potato. Her art paper  came out looking like a cheery valentine. Mine was an  indecipherable collection of blue blobs.

Forced to finish and call it good, I  hung up my mess of a  blue failure on the drying  line hoping no one would notice.

The next day the teacher handed back our potato stamped art papers graded with a bright red letter in the upper corner. I felt the anxiety of yesterday’s failure come slithering out of it’s dark cave. I braced myself for what surely was going to be a low grade.

She laid  the paper in front of me. Time to face the music of my art catastrophe, but instead of facing down a humiliating D or F, I saw A Big Red A.

I stared  at it. Was it mocking me? Was this some kind of mistake? I looked around at the other kid’s papers. Did she give everyone an A? Nope, she had not. I saw a few red B’s and even a C. How could she give me an A ?

It must be a mistake.vonnegut quote

“Excuse me, Teacher?” I stammered as I approached her desk in the back of the room.

“Why did you give me an A? I did a terrible job. I shouldn’t get an A. I don’t deserve it.”

What earnestness I possessed standing there, such seriousness to right the wrong of a misplaced passing grade for potato art.

“I gave you an A, Pam, because you worked so hard on it. You kept having trouble, but you did not give up. You deserve the A. And besides, your project is not as bad as you think.  Look at the wonderful pattern of blue you managed to create. I like it.”

I locked into her brown eyes as she spoke.  That A she gave me was a gift of artistic grace. I looked at my blue blobby painting with a different perspective. No, it didn’t look like diamond shapes, but it was a lovely color of blue and I had managed to create an interesting design.  The Red A and her kind words were a demonstration of artistic grace, a gift that has been growing steadily inside of me ever since.

Here I am still making messy, grace-driven art projects some four decades later. I make a lot of art, I mean A LOT… and I love posting on social media pictures of mixed-media collages that  I am especially pleased with. Like this one: collageautumnquote

 I used some new art supplies (new fab finds from artist Dina Wakley !) to make this latest collage a few days ago. Looks pretty cool, right? What you don’t see is that underneath this art is an entirely different piece.  I didn’t like how it turned out so I gesso’ed it and started over. (Gesso : a painting primer) Last week, though, there was another canvas I had been working on. I made three different art collages on it and still, I was unhappy with it. Finally, I decided I needed to move on to the next canvas and forget about it.   Artistic grace sometimes means knowing when to just Let It Go instead of fighting with it.

The process of making bad art is sooooo important to making art that I like. Take this one, for instance :

badart

I made this in an online class from Kelly Rae Roberts. We have a class Facebook page where students may post questions and comments, and especially photos of their art assignments from the class. I am so impressed with how well so many people are doing while I once again find myself a lagger. In this class we are learning  how to create faces using Kelly’s techniques. While so many of the students are producing beautiful, angelic faces, mine keep coming out with weird, blotchy skin tone and distorted shapes.

by Kelly Rae Roberts. Click image to buy.

by Kelly Rae Roberts. I have this image in my creative space. Click image to visit Kelly’s site.

I love Kelly’s style. I have learned many collage techniques from her, but my facemaking is not quite what I had hoped it would be. The more I have tried, the worse they seem to get. I decided to focus my art-making on what makes my heart sing, and making faces does not make my heart sing. This required me to apply some  artistic grace as well as wisdom to know whether or not I was being a quitter  or wisely surrendering. 

Even though I don’t like painting faces and I don’t think my Face Lady is very good, I decided to keep her anyway. I even hung her up on my wall in my creative space. She serves as a fun reminder that Number One : I am fucking beauty-full;  and Number Two:  it is a souvenir of artistic grace, of Me being kind to myself even when I floundered in my online face-making class. Even though I failed at making lovely faces, I did pick up other useful techniques for art making. I did not allow this failure to squash my creative spirit.

Artistic grace starts with an A, a big Red A that allows me to fail and try again and surrender and push on. Artistic grace is  healing oil that helps the soul to keep creating. It is the balm that soothes my frustrations and renews my spirit. The most wonderful thing about artistic grace is that it is passed on from artist to artist. My art teacher passed it on to me. I like to think that I have passed it on to others whenever I have encountered someone struggling with their creativity.   We all  need to give one another Red A’s whenever we can, especially to our own selves.

*** So what about you? Have you ever been given a Red A  you didn’t think you deserved? I love the definition of Mercy : grace undeserved. I’d love to hear your stories of where you gave or received artistic grace and experienced mercy in the midst of a creative crisis.

 

Why I’m Sorta Kinda Still a Christian, but Maybe Really Not

church

Photo collage by architect Michael Jantzen who says, “I want to reinvent the built environment in order to extend the reach of consciousness.”

I used to carry a creed in my pocket, a bullet set of beliefs that I lived by. I knew my Bible (the sign of a well worn bible is the sign of a well fed soul…), I could pray anybody under the table as if public prayer was a drinking game. I taught Sunday school, served in missions in a foreign country, stopped cussing, drinking and smoking AND wore oversized shirts to hide my curves so as not to stumble my brothers into lustful thoughts.

Oh yeah, I was a rockstar good Christian woman. Seriously.

It is a long story, not the fairy tale or Guidepost magazine kind of story, of how I began slipping down the slippery slope into a place that the media likes to dub, The Dones.

The Dones are formerly religious people (like me) who are Done with organized, institutional faith. We are done with Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I once had a job where I became a source of workplace gossip when I managed to get Sundays off as a new hire, that’s how important the Sunday morning gig was to me. (When I decided I was done with church, my boss was actually a little concerned when I informed  her I was now available to work Sunday mornings. “Everything ok?” she asked.  I’m good, I reassured her. “I used to have something I was a part of on Sunday mornings, but now I am not a part of it anymore.”)

It felt kinda like a break-up.

That break-up story is another  blog post, how church  broke my heart over and over again until I finally wised up and got out of the dysfunctional relationship it had become.

I have not been to church in almost six years.

Leaving church did not mean I left the Faith.

However, once I was out of the cage and my faith was free to roam the wildlands of uncertainty, my faith started to shapeshift. For starters, I lost my creed out there in the elements. A gust of wind blew up on me and shredded my list of beliefs right out of my hands. I became mapless. And once mapless, I was forced to explore other vistas that were off the map. I became free from what author Jim Henderson aptly calls, beliefism. 

Fun fact: Merriam-Webster dictionary declared -ism to be the word of the year last year.

I have been living off the faith grid ever since.

Christianity for me became stifling. It was like being a settler in a small valley and insisting that there is nothing to be gained by exploring other settlements out there beyond the yonder. In the movie, The Village, the villagers are taught to stay within the confines of their village or else the lurking monsters nearby will attack them. If they are obedient, the monsters will leave them alone. (spoiler alert : there are no monsters)

You can imagine how much that film resonated with me as I lost my Christian creed.

And yet, despite being a heretic who has betrayed her Christian heritage, there remains in me a firm residue of faith and respect for the Christian tradition and those who adhere to her creeds. Just because me and Jesus would not be matched up on E-Harmony as soul mates doesn’t mean I am not interested. Jesus still loves me this I know, and I love him back. 

No matter what dogmas and doctrines have collapsed in my beliefs structure,  I have a rich heritage from my years as a bible-thumping-demon-stomping-spirit-filled-believer. I still speak the language fluently. I was getting a tattoo last year and during our conversation the tattoo artist began complaining how his born-again sister was driving him and the rest of the family crazy. “She will leave if we as much open up a beer,” he lamented of his devout Christian sibling.

I helped him understand that she was compelled by her Christian conscience and that once upon a time I would have done the exact same thing. “Respect her conscience,” I offered, “She is living by the conviction of her faith. Respect it.” I felt like a cross-cultural guide helping him interpret the weird customs his sister engaged with. Evangelicalism was a mystery to him. It is not to me, and never will be. I was a rockstar evangelical woman for years upon years. I know the lingo, the dress code and the rules of conduct. I sometimes feel haunted by my former evangelical self, like when I order a cocktail in a pub. The ghost of church-past  floats in accusing me of being a backslider.

I’ll drink to that.

Today, if my former Christian self were to meet my current self, she would be concernedxtianbeliefs for my soul. She would see that my current state of living does not match the checklist. I have completely abandoned some beliefs (like the doctrine of hell…. ugh…. never did like that one at all. Was a RELIEF to be done with it!)  while other beliefs remain in a state of flux in the gray. Was  Jesus the Unique and Only Son of God incarnate?

I used to say Yes without hesitation.

Now I’m not so sure what to think about Jesus and divinity, though I remain a fan of his parables and messages (forgive others, love one another, turn the other cheek, be a Good Samaritan). It doesn’t come up so much anymore when I meet people, an examination of faith…. but when it does, when I am asked point blank if I am a Christian, I reply, “I live my life the best I can according to the teachings of Jesus.”

Yes, that’s good, but Are you a Christian? What do you believe about Jesus?

Devout Christians would charge that  I am not a Christian. My former devout evangelical self would agree. But in the world of spirituality (I’m not religious, I’m spiritual)  I am considered pretty Jesus-y. I’m the woman who can drop F bombs all day long, but still will not use Christ’s name in vain or damn someone in the name of God. I do not flinch as some do when Jesus is spoken of and his words quoted.  I myself can still repeat Jesus’ words rather eloquently.

When I am faced with major life decisions, sheesh, even daily life decisions, I still pray for guidance and wisdom. I may have lost my map, but I still have my compass.

About three years ago I was invited to a Faith writer’s conference, even though I am clearly not a Christian writer .

I went anyway since I would know a few people there, people I enjoy and people who enjoy writing like I do. I looked forward to fresh inspiration about being a writer, and I was not disappointed. I still remember fragments from the talk one writer gave about tell The Story, not just the facts….  but when the worship band of young, shiny faced collegiates kicked into gear, something in me tensed up to the point that I quietly left the room and lingered for the next 20 minutes in the lobby. I like music, I really like LIVE music, so I was caught off guard why the onset of Christian praise music got such a rile out of me.

Was it the devil ?  :/

I didn’t psychoanalyze it too closely, but my best guess as to why the music affected me that way is because music is about emotion.  The dysfunctional relationship I ended with institutional Christianity came flooding back when the praise band fired up their first chords. It was like having an old boyfriend try to make out with me. Not gonna happen.

So… I am not a Christian, and yet I try my best to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus as I understand them. I do not read the Bible anymore. I do not go to church. I no longer believe you are going to hell if you don’t incite the right words to save your heathen soul. I am firmly comfortable living off the grid without a map in the wilderness of I-Don’t-Know-Anything-Anymore.

I like Oprah and sometimes tune into her Super Soul broadcasts online. I read spiritual books written by people who do not mention Jesus or the bible one single time in their pages. I use a personal tarot deck for inspiration and to tap into inner wisdom … oh yeah, I am now  a HUGE BELIEVER that we each possess the wisdom we need for our lives if we just pay attention and Listen.

And that is so very unchristian because as a church-abiding Christian I was taught that the heart is especially wicked and cannot be trusted, so therefore my wisdom and intuition are not to be trusted. I cannot begin to tell you the journey it has been to establish trust in my own divinely inspired inner guidance system. Trusting my higher self is rebellion against the Christendom that used to own my heart, mind, soul and body.

But I am not a Christian anymore. Well sort of. Kind of. But maybe really not.

 

***There is soooo much more to say about this. It is clear to me that I still have things I’d love to talk about in regard to being Done with institutionalized faith. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this one. Are you a Done, too, or do you want to save my soul when you read this? Back in the day I would have judged this blogpost as something written by a bitter, deceived woman. It is true I am scarred up from my years of church devotion, but bitter, no. Deceived? Maybe.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

The Fierce Trust of Free Falling

makemoreart

art by Pam Hogeweide

 

I tried to build a writing life for just about ten years. Along the way I blogged my heart out, made friends with many writers and authors, wrote a book that had very modest sales (it broke the thousandth mark!!), and I have endorsed several books for others and have even been mentioned or cited in several books, including my friend Deborah’s book that just came out in October.

I figured the writing path, un-lucrative as it might have proved for me, was still, after all, my path. 

Then, my curiosity got the best of me. I began messing around with making collage art pieces. I made them for friends. I made them and threw  them away. I made more and bigger pieces and displayed them around my home. My friends began displaying them around their homes. Collage art had become my new form of self-expression.

I felt, for awhile, like I was cheating on my writing muse. I’d slink into my  tiny office avoiding eye contact with the  bone pile of writing notes   for my next book. Instead I tiptoed into a creative tryst with collage art. The colors, the images, the possibilities of every blank canvas became my new lover. Writing would have to wait.

When my teen boy was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, my world fell apart. I wondered about capturing all the pain of the journey through a dedicated blog about entering CancerLand. I threw a journal in my purse thinking I might want to scribble my thoughts and experiences during the many hours of waiting rooms, hospital stays and treatments. But my journal sank to the bottom of my bag. Writing about the most excruciating moments of my life, my family’s life, felt like too much effort, that by putting energy into capturing the words would somehow diminish the much needed strength I needed for my son.

I blogged two or three times about cancer, like how it failed to make me Super Mom (click here to read that story), but that was it. I could not bring myself to keep a written record about the wild terrain of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

That’s when art became  a torrid, sensuous  love affair for me. As my son Jeremy rested, I would sneak away to my creative space, my little office in the basement right by the washing machine and dryer, and I would pour my grief and fear onto the canvas. Colors, images, I smashed them together into new possibilities as I at times heaved with deep emotion. Like this one, Fear Not, I made it on the eve of our family learning how Jeremy was responding to treatment. Would he need more chemo? Was he done? Anxiety churned in my entire being.

Fear Not

Print available in my Etsy shop (click image)

I was restless. I could not sleep. Once Jeremy was comfortably settled I turned to art for comfort. That was the night I used some of his medical papers to make the art. Buried under the colors and images is a layer of his lab report, his blood count. Using it in the art seemed like an act of resistance, as if I was giving cancer the middle finger to it’s face.

The next day we learned that Jeremy did indeed need more treatment, another three months. That was hard, really hard, but he got through it, we got through it with him and today he is a thriving college freshman living life to the fullest!

It was during that hard season that art became my saving grace. And it is when a wonderful thing happened that I did not expect to happen : during all that art making the gift of what Elizabeth Gilbert calls fierce trust showed up. Maybe gift is not the right word … fierce trust is more like a state of free fall. I learned to free fall into the creative process and not fret about how all this investment of time and energy into art making was going to pay off. Would I sell more prints on Etsy? Would I have another successful art show? Would my art be noticed and appreciated for all the vulnerability I put into it? But I learned to surrender, to not worry about whether people would like my art or respond to it, no matter how many times I posted it on Instagram and Facebook.  Fierce trust in the creative process means the outcome cannot matter. 

I love this quote from Andy Warhol :

Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, Make more art. 

I think this can apply to all kinds of endeavors we choose in our life, not just creative endeavors. Fierce trust in the process rather than the outcome frees us to Be rather than Do.

Writing is still a good friend of mine, a long-time friend. We still hang out (this blog proves that.) I have learned to merge my writing and art together. Words insist on being included in the collage pieces I make. I listen. I trust.  I make more art.

What about you? How are you making more art and free falling into fierce trust these days? What does it look like for you? I’d love to know!

YourVocationalCredo

Available on Amazon

***UPDATE*** I mentioned my friend’s new book in the beginning of this  blog post. Your Vocational Credo by Deborah Loyd is available on Amazon.  It’s a great, practical guide about determining your unique vocation (not career path) that makes up who you are wherever you go. Great read, and look for me on pages 99/100 !!!!

 

Irrational Life Decisions

Let yourself be silently
Drawn
By the strange pull of
What you
Really Love.

You will not be led astray.

   –Rumi

Rumi

Collage art by Pam Hogeweide

Sometimes I fantasize about heading out on the open highway instead of heading to the store for yet another food run. I heard a story on the podcast, This American Life, about a bus driver who in 1947 drove his New York City bus all the way to Florida. He disappeared for two weeks. His family did not know where he was. His boss certainly didn’t know where he was, but William Cimillo was done. He was done with the monotony and the routine and the drudgery of the life he found himself in.

When he was found and forced to return to New York City, he received a hero’s welcome. The Everyday Men and Women heralded him a working class hero for taking his life into his own hands and breaking the script. His family suffered not knowing where he was for those two weeks, and yet despite that inconsideration I, like those New Yorkers of 1947,  admire  his chutzpah for breaking away from the tried and true trail of the safe and tame.

I am at a place in my life as a middle-aged woman that playing  it safe makes good, rational sense. Taking risks is for the young, right? They have all the time in the world to right whatever mess-ups that might happen if they take the plunge over a risk-laden  cliff, like driving your bus off the job to a sunny Florida beach.

There is an itch in me that I can’t scratch these days, a restlessness that has me feeling caged up and suffocating in my daily existence like the bus driver. I’m not thinking about driving to Florida, but there is a big life decision on my horizon and I am biting at the bit to get to it and take the risk and change lanes of where my life is at. I am churning with anticipation while fear grips my guts.  

What is it about major life decisions – like job changes, hint hint – that brings to the surface every scalawag of an excuse for why I ought to remain as is,  to stand down as it were, from the center of my own existence. I drive myself and everyone around me ca-razzy with my over-analysis-obsessive-over-thinking when I am  determining a life-altering decision.

I have been summoning Wisdom to come to me in a variety of ways.

I pray. A lot.

I talk with friends. A lot.

I talk about every possible angle of The Decision with husband, who seriously should receive some kind of Husband of the Year award for enduring my neurosis.

I also search for wisdom while I make art. Many of the messages that I paint on my collage art pieces are words that I need to hear, messages that I tune in from the cosmic playlist I listen for when I am arting it up. I often hear encouragement this way.

A new way I am searching out guidance and affirmation about my Big Decision is using tarot. I used to think tarot cards were the work of the devil, an occult tool of witchery that must be avoided. But I now see tarot as a medium of  metaphors and  mini-stories that help seekers like me sort out what I need to sort out. There is a magical aspect to using tarot in that I have almost always drawn just the right cards with what was helpful to hear in the moment for whatever question I brought to the reading.

tarot

www.theportlandtarot.com

Today I drew this card in my 3-card reading >> Judgment<<.

This was intriguing to me because ever since my friend gave me this deck I have drawn this card several times. (Hello Universe, I am listening!) 

The meaning of this card is to realize I am the Key of what I have been seeking. I can trust in my own judgment to make decisions that are right for me, no matter how irrational they may appear to others. If I decide, for example,  to leave a well-paying job for a lesser paying job it may seem foolish on the outside, yet it may be the wisest decision for me and my life. I get to be the judge of that.

I follow author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) on Facebook. She posts the most wonderful Zen-like Facebook statuses that lift the spirit. Like this one, a story about her cousin who decided to up and move to New Zealand :

My cousin didn’t know anyone in this entire hemisphere. She had never before traveled. She feared she was “too old” to change her life. She had always been risk-averse, and the thought of moving across the world was terrifying. But she had been stuck for too long. She was suffocating in her day-to-day existence. She couldn’t take it anymore. She was tired of faking happiness.

Then she realized: “If I don’t face my fears, I will never grow.”

So she did it. She followed some deep, irrational, inner instinct that led her right to this place. She planned to stay in New Zealand for only four months…but she has now stayed for four years. And holy shit, has she grown.

I just love that. It inspires me. I’m not planning to move to another country (not yet at least 🙂  ), but I am planning on a major life shift soon. I need to trust myself that I am on the right track, even though it seems irrational. Sometimes Wisdom is found in the irrational places, like a little bird hovering on the edge of a teacup.

That’s where I am hovering, in between worlds of where I am today and where I might be tomorrow.

What about you? Where are you hovering? Have you ever made the leap of faith for an irrational decision? A job change? A relocation? A new hair style? (hey, why not ?!!)

Tell me all about it in the comments!

I am Back (and I’m giving away ART to Celebrate!)

i'm backYES, I am still alive and kicking and am re-entering cyberspace with a spruced-up website and new direction for my blog. Curious? Read on!

It is has been exactly one day shy of a year since my last blogpost. I had wondered if it was time to put my vintage (ahem, outdated) website out to pasture. It has been a good run. I started blogging around 2006.Seriously, ten years ago! And while I’m no problogger or blogging-writer-rockstar, I do enjoy the self-expression blogging allows everyday women like me.

SO I AM BACK AT IT!

And I am back with a broadened perspective and new experiences that will take my blog to new places. Expect to see posts about art and the creative process, identity and how everything shapes us. You will see candid writings about my struggles with relationships and how I am an expert at social insecurity.

You can also expect to see shout-outs for other blogs and creative sites I have been discovering, as well as occasional book reviews. And yes, I will also write a smattering here and there about how my Christian spirituality has devolved to being barely recognizable starting with a post about How I’m Sorta Kinda Still a Christian But Really Not in the next couple weeks.

I realize that some readers may rather unsubscribe and move on despite the tempting blog parties and UNSUBgiveaways I’m planning. Click the Unsubscribe image to make your graceful exit from my subscriber list… and if you do leave, Thanks so much for letting me come around for as long as you did !!! Come back and visit some time!

If you are a new reader who wants to join the party, just click HERE to add your email to my subscriber list and you won’t miss a thing!

To celebrate my relaunch I will send three readers a free 8×10 high-quality  digital print of one of my original pieces of art. (take a look-see at my Art Page for a glimpse of what kind of art I’m talking about!) Just leave a comment to to let me know you’re here and on SUNDAY, Feb 21, I will draw three names.

I have spent weeks gussying up my digital space. Come take a look, poke around, make suggestions if you like and by all means, take off your shoes and stay awhile. We have a lot to catch up on!

So good to be back! Remember to leave a comment at my blog for a chance to win some cool free art.

Let’s do this!

-blueborder

 

 

 

The Queen of Sheba and I

shebaThe Bible is known for many things, but portraying strong women of resolution is not one of them. Yet when one pushes through the throng of Old Testament manly prophets and New Testament male-centric gospel tales, there is actually a bevy of kick-ass women to meet. The Queen of Sheba is one of them.

In my nearly three decades of church attendance, I don’t recall a single sermon devoted to unearthing the mystery of Sheba. Who is she? Why is she mentioned in the book of Kings in the Old Testament? What was the point of that? Is she the same woman Solomon wrote about in Song of Solomon? Was he in love with her? Her with him? And what does it matter? Why do I need to know anything about a has-been queen who had her five minutes of fame several millennium ago?

This is where novelist Tosca Lee comes in.

I first heard of Tosca through Jim Henderson, a writer friend of mine who has authored several books. Tosca and I both had the privilege of endorsing a book Jim wrote in regards to women and equality in the church, a topic that I am wholeheartedly devoted to. (That book  can be found HERE)

Tosca and I hit it off and stayed loosely in touch through social media and email. We sent each other copies of our books. I read her novel, Havah, a fascinating story written as a memoir by Eve. Yes, Eve, as in Adam and Eve. Tosca has written other novels and is a damn good story teller. I don’t read many novels and I have not read any Christian novels since The Shack. It’s just not a genre that resonates with me. (I am being wayyy diplomatic … )

But I like Tosca, and I like her storytelling voice. So when she contacted me about helping out with her new book,The Legend of Sheba,  I was all in, even though it’s a Christian novel, and well, you know how I feel about Christian novels.

Tosca-Lee-Sheba-Feature-492x376

Learn more about Tosca at www.toscalee.com

I hoped I would like her book because I like Tosca. God knows I am not very good at faking liking a book when I really don’t. And that can get awkward when you like the person, but not what they wrote.  Years ago my friend Bill Dahl, who has reviewed a ton of books, told me he only posts reviews of books he likes, I thought yeah, I like that. I’ll adopt that as my guideline, too. This doesn’t mean if I haven’t posted a review that I didn’t like your book (if you are a writer who sent me a copy). It just means that every review I post, I stand by.

That’s what I thought Tosca was asking of me : to write a blog review about her book.

But what she was really asking was if I would endorse her book.  I was like, Whoa! In the world of writing, asking someone to endorse your book means you are asking them to loan you their name and reputation and write something positive  that can go somewhere on their book for all the reading world to see. I am a person who pays attention to endorsements. When I browse a book, I look at who has endorsed it and what they have to say about it. Endorsements matter to me as a reader … and as a writer. I contacted a number of people to lend me their reputations when my own book was needing endorsements to boost it’s credibility. Some people readily said yes. Some said no, and quite a few never even responded. That’s the gig, that’s the way it goes in the publishing world.

I’ve endorsed a number of books over the years. Just about every author has been someone I know or had strong social connections to. I am always honored to be invited to lend my I’m-Not-Famous name to their endorsement list. One of these days I will blog a complete list of the handful of books I have endorsed and why.

So I read Tosca’s Sheba hoping, hoping, HOPING I would really and truly like it (cuz’ I like her, remember?) and damn, not only did I like it, I savored it like a French chocolate pastry. She created a compelling portrait of this ancient queen, bringing her to life as more riot grrrl than princess in peril. I was more than happy to endorse her book as her interpretation made me want to hang out and get drunk with Sheba and then get tattoos. (and also with Tosca… ya hear me Tosca?! Come out to Portland and let’s hang!)

The Queen of Sheba is a strong read, steady-paced read. Tosca is herself the QUEEN of historical details and is like a time-machine engineer. She takes you there in the story, and God knows I adore travelling.

blurb

My endorsement

I have two copies of Sheba on my shelf. One is my personal copy, and the other is an advanced copy meant for reviewers. I am going to give away my advanced copy to a lucky reader who leaves a comment.

If you like novels, especially historical ones, get Tosca Lee on your radar.  She is a strong, sensual writer who hooks and holds you with her mesmerizing-badass-storytelling voice.

So leave a comment up and maybe you’ll win the review copy. Winner announced in the comments early next week.

Teaser :::::  ART SERIES coming at ya!