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In/Authentic

tomorrow life without a paddle

Sometimes the words come tumbling out. Other times they get stuck somewhere between my head and my heart and my brain. Sometimes I’m having five conversations with myself in my head all at once and it takes such effort to quiet and focus it that I have to reset and step back and slow down. I can’t always control it, and, like the chaos theory, even the most random of things that seemingly come out of nowhere are actually quite clearly interlinked in my brain even when the outside world can’t see or understand how.

Deterministic chaos. Everything out of order still in its own order. A paradox because it connects two notions that are familiar and commonly regarded as incompatible.

Sitting on the tarmac after a long week away feeling a bit lost and disjointed, a little displeased with myself in some ways, a whole lot proud of myself in others, working through some hard stuff, fighting through some heavy stuff, figuring out what weight to carry all on my own, who’s weight I can help carry, who’s stuff I can help physically move (in, in this case), and what I can put down, pick up later, or simply leave behind.

Wow. That was a tumble of words that I can hear my English Lit professor in my head telling me is too long and rambling and then I point out James Joyce and how he writes even though I hate his writing.

Sometimes my brain does that. It’s just how I process. It’s just how I deal. I know that I am not wired the same. I’ve spent countless hours over since my father died explaining my (and his) brain to my sister and brother to help them understand. It just works differently. I revisited some of Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s book to remind myself of some of it, and how far since she wrote that back in 1995 our understanding of the brain, and treatments and everything have come. Reading some of the excerpts and summary on Wikipedia (because I am on a plane and I don’t have the book with me) I was reminded of something I’d almost entirely forgotten she wrote. The section on “This Medicine, Love.”

It’s something I’ve never truly experienced before in many ways, and certainly never in the way I have at the present time. I think that’s part of what makes it so scary – because when I look inside my own unquiet mind, for all its years of healing and change and growth, and all the work I’ve done on me, there’s a part of me that will always question myself. I still argue with myself over things such as being confident – and not. Being afraid, and completely content. Being sure of what’s coming next, and totally unsure of anything beyond tomorrow. It’s exhausting, thinking in circles like that sometimes, but like the chaos theory, eventually it all sorts itself out.

That’s the beautiful thing. None of our brains are truly linear. Mine just happens to be even less so than most. But it all sorts itself out and makes sense if I remember to stop and breathe along the way.

Funny thing is, leaving wasn’t hard. It was the going home that got me. It made me realize the difference and why. How a home so full with life could feel so empty at the same time, realizing it also isn’t empty at all but just filled with my own insecurities and self-doubts that I need to clean out of my heart and my home and my head for good. Even if they never really fully leave, I know I can make peace with them and move forward again. I am good at that, and when I let things bounce around and rattle about and ping-pong all over up there, eventually what settles is the good stuff. That’s what stands out and that’s what my brain holds on to and carries forward with me into tomorrow.

Tomorrow.

I can deal with the inauthenticity tomorrow and in the days ahead. I despise it, but I know the difference between the gaslighting and lying and rumors locally vs the reality that exists, or even the reasons for some of the shifting and why some things absolutely must happen behind the scenes because shouting our truths from the rooftops doesn’t help anyone when those truths cause hurt and anger and pain to people we love.

My patience often fails me. My math brain prefers logic, but my heart believes in magic and when I try to reconcile that, sometimes I run myself in circles. Sometimes I run the people I love in circles. It’s amazing that any of them can keep up, but they do. Even when they don’t understand how my brain works, or it is working in completely opposite ways than theirs do, they are still there. How blessed am I to have that in my life on any level? How selfish of me to ask for more, even though I want it.

I’m learning that what we want isn’t what really matters. What matters is how we spend our time, who we surround ourselves with in our lives, and learning the balance between integrity and authenticity and understanding that they are not the same thing.

Sometimes we need integrity to work through inauthenticity. Sometimes we need to allow and understand why things may be or need to feel a little inauthentic at times for the consideration of others, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is when it becomes the accepted, the norm, or filled with lies and gaslighting. I’m learning there’s a difference between lying and inauthenticity, too although often times they overlap in life.

I am so tired of building something great, or something that I believe to be great, or will be great, or may grow to be something great, to be wrong. And it would seem I am just SO tired of that, that for some reason my mathematical brain decided that if one thing is going to blow up, they all should. Keep it neat and orderly. The order of chaos. It’s why I like a clean house, lack of clutter, organization. Sure my dresser drawers are messy and filled with unfolded clothes, but that’s okay as long as they stay neatly tucked away from view. Organized chaos.

But life IS messy. Life IS hard. Life IS challenging. And it’s all that stuff that we work through together that builds us up for the good times ahead. For the smiles and laughter to come. For the changes in the road aren’t all hills to climb. There’s a time in the future where the road rises to meet us, and encourages us on, not forcing us uphill or tumbling us down the other side. That’s the opposite of what I’ve been doing – understanding that, accepting that, and accepting myself.

If one thing burns down, may as well burn it all down, why not? Clean slate. Set it all on fire and start over. But what if there is only one thing that needs to burn to get to the better stuff ahead? Is it really worth setting the world on fire in spite of myself, or to spite myself or those around that are inauthentic? Are they ALL really inauthentic or are only some of them guilty of gaslighting and rumors and trying to control the narrative to the detriment of others, while some perhaps, are actually trying to do all that for the good of those around them. Sometimes I have a hard time sorting through the difference and making sure my reactions and emotions are directed in the right places, and the right people, and most importantly at the right times.

So what’s next? Where do we go from here? Perhaps I should start with not borrowing trouble and pain from tomorrow. Today already has enough of its own. Perhaps I should forgive myself for my shortcomings, and stop looking at myself in the mirror feeling like it doesn’t entirely look like me, and not understanding how others see me. Perhaps I should be a little bit kinder and more patient with those around me. Perhaps I should be a little bit kinder and more patient with myself. Perhaps I should start changing my mind about the love I think I deserve, and accept the love that’s right in front of me, and start feeling a little more at home in my house and my mind and, perhaps, even my body.

We’ll get there. I know I am ready for what’s next, I just need to be patient until those around me are ready, too. And I need to remember to love myself along the way. I already love you. I’m the hard one to love, at least through my own eyes it seems. But that’s okay. I’m changing. And so is everything around me in its own chaotic perfection.

Anna Todd dark meets light chaos lifewithoutapaddle

 

 

A letter to my best friend. Both of you.

Life without a paddle letter to my best friend

It’s so funny how I come out here to think and type and write, and I’m sitting here on my front porch curled up in my papasan chair covered in a blanket listening to Stevie Nicks thinking of you and suddenly I have nothing to say. That’s not true, of course. I have lots to say. I almost always do, except for those moments when you leave me speechless like no one else can. Just. Wow. Change is hard. So hard.

I should be used to it by now – change. I’ve been through so much, and even if I hadn’t, I know that change is always constant. Change and time are the two things we can always count on in life. But there’s more than that, too. There’s something to be said for finding the magic in the ordinary. In seeing the truth and passion and wonder in the everyday. Beyond just looking for extraordinary – and believe me I want that, too – there’s magic in every little minutia you never even bothered to pay attention to. But you see, that’s what you’re missing.

I remember sitting on the roof of my old ‘88 K Blazer with you, looking up at the stars and talking for hours on end. It didn’t matter if our friends were drunk or stoned, or what other shenanigans were going on around the campfire. It was us. It was just what we did. Sat there in wonder, two kids looking at stars, believing that there was always something more out there for us, for all of us, even if most people never stopped long enough to catch a fleeting glimpse, forget about truly feeling it or letting it into their souls. But we did. We were different. And then you were gone.

I miss that truck. I miss those times. I remember doing that even after you died, still thinking of you. On clear starry nights, I’d pull over on the side of any random backroad and climb up to the roof of that old truck and just sit there and talk to you as if you never left. And in my heart you always reminded me, you’re right here. You still are, aren’t you? I hope so. You were so much of my past but even more so, so much of my future. Without you and your mother, I don’t know that I’d ever have become the person I am today. I owe her an email, or perhaps not owe, but I have things I want to share with her. She was such an important part of my life, too. Thank you.

I’m going to sit here and listen to the rain for a while and wonder when you’ll tell me I’m too much. Or not enough. Or maybe not anything at all. Though I know it’s all in my head. I know that I’m waiting for you to tell me that my bad life decisions are too much, that I need to stop. That I need to change. But you haven’t. You just keep accepting me for me and I think I’ll stop now. I’m done making bad choices like smoking a cigarette on the front porch because I can’t sleep knowing I don’t even like cigarettes, telling myself it’s an old habit that I do when I am stressed, only I’m not stressed. I think it’s still just my way of trying to push you away and have you tell me it’s not good and it’s not smart and it’s not healthy and all those things I already know. I’m good at self-destructing, but you keep accepting me, and I keep realizing that I am only doing this to myself and perhaps it’s time I stop and go back to embracing all of this. All of us. Even the messy stuff. Because I know better, and I want to do better, and I can and am every day. Even when I take moments to backslide and let myself try to prove to myself that I wasn’t ever worth it in the first place. This is different. We’re different. And I’m done with the things that I do to keep making it easier for me to walk away because I don’t want that, not even for a moment. Even when my brain tells me I am stupid for believing in magic. I am an adult, after all, aren’t I?

I am. But I still believe in magic. I still move mountains. I still wish on stars and look up at the sky and wonder at the rain and remember that I breathe differently with you. Without you. And with you in my life. That’s pretty fucking amazing and it’s about time my brain stops trying to sabotage my heart and my soul and everything I truly feel. It’s time to let go of the past and remember who I really am and who I’ve been becoming all these years because of you, and now because of you. I believe in us.

I think I’m finally done comparing everyone I’ve ever met to you. It was unfair, but to be honest, you set the bar pretty high. Even for a completely platonic relationship – we always were like siblings – it didn’t matter. You were the first person to truly see me for me and help me believe that life was worth living. I wish you were here to meet him. There’s so much ahead, and while change is hard, so very hard, and I know that this won’t be easy, I do know that all of it is worth it because you taught me that ages ago and I still believe you today. The difference is that I believe me now, too. And I believe in me. And us.  This new us. Whatever it is and is becoming. I’ll tell you more under the stars but it’s raining now.  I think I’ll just sit here and listen to the sound of the rain and let it settle in and soothe my soul.

Roller Coaster & Magic Snow

I really look forward to when life isn’t as hard for all of us. But for now I’ll take the hours long phone calls and the magic of snow dusting my face under a clouded moonlit sky and take all the laughter in between ❤️.

Today was a good day. I feel like me again. It’s amazing how a dash of nostalgia and some trauma conditioning can throw you into a tailspin over nothing or close to nothing, but it can. And how with people who care about you, and good conversations and great laughter, you can move from that place where the pendulum swings with force over to a place of balance and comfort and confidence.

I know I don’t see myself the way many other people do, and I know I am likely worth more than I think I am. I also know I am learning. We are always learning. And I am ever so grateful for the people around me who are always there for me to make me smile and laugh, and lift me up to a better place and remind me that there’s so much more to life than just stress and worry.

Sometimes – actually more often than not – life doesn’t go according to plan. Quite frequently it gets sidetracked with the messy stuff, the hard stuff, and the things that either make us or break us. Even the little things that maybe not on their own could break or make us have a huge impact when viewed cumulatively.

That’s just it though. It’s the messy stuff that matters. How you deal with the hard stuff. How you come together as a family – even a family of friends. Roller coasters aren’t any good if they only go up. You need the downs, too, to really make it incredible. Sure the drops and whizzes and turns can make your stomach drop out from your chest and catch your breath in your throat. They can be thrilling and scary and exciting and exhilarating. They also wouldn’t exist without the long climb up. And the long climb up would never be worth it if all you could do is get to the top and stand there stagnant and look around.

No way, baby. Let’s RIDE!

I am pretty sure that I can fix my knee by next weekend. Forgot the joint supplements for a few days and felt the difference. Took them today and felt the difference again for the better. New knee brace is here to keep me from over extending it. Weather looks good for next Sunday. And I’ll take my healing body for a test run hike through the snow to my favorite place in the woods tomorrow morning again, and get back into my groove that I love so much that helps make sense of this crazy roller coaster called life.

I love this life. Even the hard stuff. Especially the hard stuff. It reminds me that there’s still so much more to learn, and so much more healing to do. And the best part is that it reminds me I never ever have to do it alone – even when I come home to an empty house and feel a little melancholy at the hollow feeling in my chest. That’s okay. I’m human too. The other thing that matters is that I feel. I feel so deeply and so truly that it’s easy for me to get caught up in the moment and forget the road ahead. This time I remembered. It took work, and help from my friends. And some fighting of my own skeletons and demons to remember why I am here. I am here to help. I am here to love. I am here to be loved. And I am here as a part of this incredible amazing family of friends that make this house home, and make me realize what life really could look like when you let go of some of the struggles and let life unfold around you and envelop you and make you whole again.

I am so happy today. I am looking forward to tomorrow. I am looking forward to so many amazing things ahead. I am looking forward to challenges and changes, great roller coaster rides, theme park and oceanside summers, camping in Luzerne, riding the horses, and of course, sharing these great times and smiles and laughter with all of these amazing people I love.

I stood outside tonight and talked to my best friend as I lifted my head and looked up at the moonless cloudy sky. The tiniest of snowflakes dusted my face with magic, and I sneezed that sneeze you sneeze when something as soft as a feather or as light as a snowflake tickles your nose. There’s magic in the world everywhere you look. You just have to stop looking for the extraordinary and realize that it’s the ordinary where the magic lives. You just have to really be alive to see and feel it, and let it change your life and everything ahead.

I’m right here. It’s pretty amazing, actually, to spend a week in a pendulum push trying to stop myself from overthinking and over-explaining while doing exactly that which I hate – overthinking and over-explaining. To come back to center and realize I’m already home. I have faith in you, and in me, and in us, and in all of us, and in a higher power – God / Goddess / Spirit or whatever name you choose, and everything that comes before and after us all comes together to guide us along the way. I have faith that letting things go, and remembering to breathe is the best thing I can do to be there for those I love. I love life. I love us. Tomorrow is another day headed towards true north.

 

 

 

skeletons in the closet & stories of the past

Skeletons in the closet life without a paddle

I’ll keep throwing the skeletons in my closet at you, any chance you’ll let me and even those you won’t. There’s a lot of them. Lately I’ve been ending sentences with phrases like so… or you know, right? Or but anyway…and trailing off like I’m saying something you probably aren’t going to listen to anyway. You won’t, will you?

But then you did. And you questioned me on it. Made me figure out me a little bit more. Realize that sometimes throwing my skeletons out in the street isn’t necessarily the best way to handle them. Perhaps I need to dance with them. Ask them their secrets. Find out why they are staying here. And then send them away for good. Perhaps that’s better, but what would I know? I’ve been dancing with the devil for years, what’s so different now?

Everything. Everything is different.

I am learning.

Even when I think I am better, I realize there are parts of me that are not. Just so you know there may always be a little part of me that is afraid that I am not good enough for you. It’s the one thing I’ve heard in my whole life. My father’s only been dead a year.

In some ways it feels like forever. In others, it feels like yesterday. In both cases, I wish to put that part of my past as firmly in the past as I can. But I am learning that in order to do so, I might have to stop and take a breath and stop justifying and proving my every move to people who already care about me. I’m not used to that. I don’t think of myself as someone to get jealous over or pay attention to. I’m the life of the party because I’m the funny one, and the fun one. I’ve never been the one everyone looked at because she was anything but the entertainment, or always the entertainer. I guess I am learning that, too.

 

Me and a bunch of old friends got together today for the first time in a long time. We’ve all moved. New houses, new locations, new significant others. Renovations. Life changes. But we shared drinks and laughs. We laughed more than I almost remembered was possible. We joked again. We watched football. We talked about old times, and making new memories. We talked about getting the band back together, and started planning it. We missed friends we lost. And toasted to them, too.

Funny thing is, you can see life for whatever it is right in front of you and you can talk about the past, but sometimes it takes someone else to call you out to keep you from repeating it. I was saying to my friend tonight that even though I lost all this weight, and I know that I did, I look down and my legs look the same and while I was not anorexic or anything, I could understand how someone could be. Because looking down at me, I saw the same legs I always saw, regardless of how much I weighed and I scared myself a little in that moment.

I spent the rest of the night between laughing those deep hard belly laughs that refill your soul, with questioning myself and if I’d ever be good enough. Was I now? I never felt like I was before. What changed? And what if, more likely than not, I am wrong and I am not good enough? I never feel like I am either good enough or not too much. Somehow I feel like I am the worst parts of both at the same time and that terrifies me. I know that people look up to me, and I want to be better for them but sometimes these self-doubts creep in and cast shadows on my thoughts that tell the skeletons in my closet it’s okay to come out and dance. Perhaps with your help, and thanks to you for showing me, I can simply ask them, “what keeps you here?” And finally close the door.

 

Life Out Here

Life out here

Today started like shit. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, which is hard to do when you’re waking up from an otherwise empty bed. Or maybe that’s the problem. But anyway, I digress. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, which these days feels like any side. Things were strained. My knee grew a new lump – or two actually. With no joint space, too many surgeries, and far more fun than it should be able to handle, I need to take a weekend off from snowboarding.

That makes me feel left out – even though my kids want to include me and our friends want to include me, the right move is to not go and rest my knee. And everything else that’s hurt at present. My butt. My back. My shoulders. All of me. I am so tired of being in this broken body, so I suppose if I want it to heal, I should give it time to do just that.

Then work was well, work. Busy. Crazy. Some bad. A lot of good. A ton of great. A few phone calls. A few that really mattered. A few that really made me smile. My favorite person. My incredible kids.

Eating dinner with Shell, waiting for Morgan to come home, we were laughing and I realized something. We laugh every day. We have fun every day. Not some days, not most days. All days. It’s something we live by. Even on the hard days we smile and laugh at least once a day. It’s something my family didn’t always do, and something that I didn’t even realize we do until I had the stark contrast between how we live and what life looks like elsewhere.

Laughing, hugging, smiling every day is such a powerful part of healing. It heals from the inside out. From the heart and the soul, until the mind forgets and lets go of all the pain and hurt and poison it held on to.

Thank you. Thank you to my kids for loving me. Thank you to my kids for accepting me and caring about me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for wanting me to be included and helping when I am broken so I can heal and not be left behind. Thank you for making me laugh with you every single day. And above all, thank you for being you, incredible human beings that just made me laugh with you again.

TV together. Family movie night. Weekend snowboard trips. Sushi and a movie. All the things we do together, these things make us stronger. Help us talk through the hard stuff. Work through the rough days. And figure out the shit we have no idea how to figure out, together. Like what happens when families collide, or when lives change, and talking through how things can sometimes change for the better.

Not all change is bad, you know. There are good things on the horizon. Sometimes it takes a little (lot) of blind faith. Deep breaths. Taking a moment to remember where you are standing, what the ground looks like under your feet, and how to find solid ground so that the damn foundation you’re building lasts not just for now, but forever. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is just walk across the street or out the door – feels a mile to my feet, too. Or a million. I’m not sure.

I can tell you what I am sure of, though.

I am sure that I’m right here. I am sure that I am not going anywhere. I am sure that this is home, and this home is filled with so much love and laughter and conversation and openness from the serious to the silly. Like a roller coaster, but the best kind. The kind that you just need to ride yourself to experience it all – the ups and downs, the thrills and laughter and smiles. We’ll get here. We will all get here, together. Life is different out here. We laugh more. We live bigger. It snows higher. We love harder. Longer. Forever. Come join us.

 

 

 

 

Truth

True north truth life without a paddle

I woke up at 5am in a cold sweat in my 60° room on this -8° night as the wind blew around my house shuffling the thoughts and fears in my head. It’s been over an hour and a half now, me sitting here, sweaty, begging my brain to stop and let it go and let me do the easy thing. Let me follow the path of least resistance and simple pleasures, to hell with the rest. But I am not that person, and that is not how my brain works. So I am here, writing, sitting up in my bedroom in the dark waiting for the first whispers of morning light to shine through my bedroom window and lull me back to sleep under the comfort of dawn. I know sleep will not come until I get these thoughts out of my head, so I am here.

I’m right here.

Of course where I am doesn’t necessarily matter right now. Of course I am right here – this is home and where I belong. This is where my family is, where my life is, and where everything that is near and dear to my heart and precious and full of love in my soul lives. Almost everything. But the last piece isn’t mine to have anyway and I know that.

There’s more I want to say that I can’t quite put in words, and that’s okay. They will sound different later, in my voice, and that matters too. Not just what is said, but how it is said, and when. Almost now, but not quite.

Life has a funny way of sorting out its own messes if you just look up. Forget about what the halo around the moon two days in a row tells you. Forget about all the dark promises and hopes. Forget about the 5am fears that wake you up in a cold sweat and tumble your thoughts on end so that you can’t go back to sleep until you let them spill out into the world.

Just speak your truth.

I almost forgot that recently. Navigating things I never have, being there for someone who has become my best friend to me in so many ways, it was easy to let the emotions try to convince me that as long as it was based on caring and connection and love, that it also had to be true. But that’s not always the case. It’s possible to be in love in fragmented ways, and to keep those fragments from actually touching so that you can have a safe space to live your truth, and another space to live your life. The problem is, when you do that, you’re actually fragmenting yourself and hurting your soul and that’s far worse than anything else you could put yourself through – especially with everything ahead.

2020 and 2021 have been a year of immense change. Everyone says 2022 will be better – and it will – but not if the changes we experienced and all the lessons we learned in these past two years of hell are ignored or glossed over. They have to be lived, felt, and grieved. And all the work we’ve done on ourselves these past years has to be the foundation for more. So much more.

Foundations built on truth, laid on broken ground will still crumble. Even the strongest foundations of concrete and water mixed together in the exact combination needed to be stronger than anything before will never stand a chance if the ground it lays upon is cracked and broken. Before you build the foundation, you have to first be standing on solid ground.

I am now. I don’t know where you are, not exactly, or what the ground looks like under your feet, but that is also not my place to ask or answer.

I will not build on broken ground. I built this home on trust and love and honesty and the life around me reflects that. Sometimes, truth takes the high road, sometimes it’s the easy one. But more often than not, it’s the path through the forest you can barely find beneath the tangle of trees and the snarl of branches, grabbing at you as you go by. Tugging at your chest, ripping away the hidden thoughts, the deepest fears, and the little lies you want to tell yourself to make the easy path – the clear one right in front of you – the right one. But you know in your heart it is not. You know in your soul it is not. And you built this home on a solid foundation surrounded by this forest, and it knows. The forest knows. You do, after all, go back there almost every day and hang your fears and worries and weights on those trees, and they gladly take them from you, and you let them and you smile.

You cannot hang your heaviness in the forest and then ask it to hide your heart. It takes your heaviness to give you hope. It carries your burdens to show you light through the canopy and love through the trees. It whispers to you that it will be okay, and reminds you to tell your story. Your home story. Your love story. Your life story. One that makes even the ravens overhead stop in silence to listen.

A lil bird flies over head, reminding you to speak your truth. All of it. I’m right here.

Feel Good

Life without a paddle i love you cj millar

Another night I just can’t sleep. Another night I just can’t stop smiling. So I’m down here hanging with the cats and dogs by myself in the ski and snowboard shop (because yes we have that setup here in the new house and it’s amazing btw) finishing tuning my board because it’s FINALLY FUCKING WINTER!

We’re hitting the mountain tomorrow – the local one with like uh, one run open so don’t get too excited but hey it’s local and cheap and fun so yeah. And guess what? We have fun no matter where we are because that’s what we do. There’s a point in life where nothing matters but time and doing things we love with people we love. I’m there – at that time when what matters is us. This. All of it. Time well spent, together.

The “Maiden Alpine Adventure of 2022” commences tomorrow morning and I couldn’t be more excited. Like a kid at Christmas I’m staying up late getting everything ready. Don’t even care that it’s a baby hill on a half-assed mountain. It’s home. And you know what matters? We’re here. Together. My kids are both going (they talked me into it, old bones and pulled muscles and I don’t care because being with them is what really matters). Their friends are coming. Two dead beginners but that’s awesome because we can all do this together. And it will make me go slow – something I am NOTORIOUSLY bad at haha!

Ask me how I ended up on a board again after 23 years…

No really. Ask me. Or not. Because I am going to tell you anyway.

My father died just a little over a year ago. I was an avid skier as a kid. The whole nine – from ski club to ski team, starting with NASTAR in the 7th grade at Gore by myself, to high school ski team, to an obsession that turned into a dream and something I was actually really truly good at.

I skied slalom and giant slalom, often opting to practice more with the boys because their coach was harder and more challenging and I wanted to be better. I skied varsity in the top 6 as a freshman, wrecked my knee and nearly missed the next season with surgery, followed by a far-too-fast return to the slopes that held my league and state rank to have me in the top seed most races by junior year until I blew out my knee again. Racing too soon, too fast just lead to injuries that would set the stage for the rest of my life.

Several (now 4) knee surgeries in, with things torn down, pared out, and pieced and screwed back together, I was told to never ski again. So naturally after shattering my left tibia in an massive inoperable spiderweb fracture of fantastic proportions, complete with stitches, I returned to the mountain on the board my cousin got me. A hair too big Burton Air Fly 5.0 that was too big and too fast for someone of my size.

It was perfect.

I replaced racing with shredding and moguls and slalom turns with park and carves. My knees hated me but I could stay upright, and I loved every single moment. I live for winter and cold sharp air that hits you in the face so hard it takes your breath away. This. I live for this.

Back to my father. Anyway he died and it was awful. We were estranged but take anything awful over what you may have to do and make it so much worse and that was my past year. Hell. It was a hell worse than any hell I ever imagined. But hey, my son bought a snowboard because he wanted to get back on the mountain. He worked really really hard and saved up a lot of money so I went with him to help him choose. He got an amazing LibTech and Union bindings, and talked me and his sister into joining him (she had only really skied up until this point).

She made honor roll so I bought her a board as a reward. We got a great deal and she saved up for boots, and suddenly I was the only one in the family without one. So I did the only logical thing. After 23 years off the slopes, I jumped back in whole heartedly – the only way I know how to live – and ordered my dream board. The one I always wanted and could never afford, or never needed, or just couldn’t justify. But fuck it. I was 44 surrounded by death and change and what the fuck did it matter? Go big or go home.

I chose both of those things. I ordered my dream Never Summer Lady West, complete with a Ravenclaw-like eagle and a cougar snow stomp pad because well, I was old, and cougars are cool (yes I realize how lame this sounds and yes to my kids you can stop rolling your eyes at me now haha). Flow bindings. Ride boots. Fit my newly 80-pounds less body into high school ski pants that were still too big and bought new stuff. And the new me got back onto a god damned board on the top of our little mountain and I felt a little closer to heaven that day, again, for the first time in a long time and I rode.

I lived. I really lived. And I continue to live.

It’s after midnight and I am home and can’t sleep, waxing and tuning my board to every inch of perfection because I love this shit. I live for this. I can’t stop smiling. And I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow. I don’t care if there’s only one run open and we’re taking a bunch of friends that feel like family for their very first alpine adventure. What I really love about all of this is that it’s the first of so much more. A tradition we started last year, and one we will continue for so many years to come. It’s nights like this that feel like Christmas, a kid alive again with wonder in their eyes at all the magic of the best any New York winter ever had to offer. And it’s because you’re here – or maybe you’re not here yet because you can’t be, but you will be someday. And there rest of the gang’s all here. All of us.

This is home. My home on my snow-covered mountain where I can’t stop smiling, so happy for finding someone my soul connects with in a way I though I would never feel again, or ever like this. Surrounded by so much life and so much love that anyone who isn’t sitting here smiling like a fool is exactly that – a fool.

I love you guys. All of you. When Jimmy died, I promised I’d never again keep those feelings in, or let another day go by that I said “goodbye” instead of “I love you.” I’d never say hey – let’s do that tomorrow, because in the marrow of my bones and the deepest parts of my soul that time is right the fuck now.

I love all of you, my life is full, and my cup runneth over. Thank you. And thank you, too. You are my favorite person, I love you.

Soul of the Matter

soul of the matter life without a paddle

I had a dream – or whatever you want to call it – last night while half asleep and stretching and meditating or whatever it is you call it. I’m not a formal meditator. I know it’s good for the body and mind, I just don’t have that level of self-discipline or focus to be honest but occasionally, I turn off my phone and sit on my bedroom floor in front of my electric fireplace and surround myself with some of my favorite stones including the one I found in the forest as a child and just am. I sit there and just let myself be. Let my brain do whatever it needs and push out and quiet all of the thoughts and the stresses and the to-do list and chores and all of those things and just let myself “be” whatever that means.

Anyway, that’s what I was doing the other night and this dream-thing happened. I saw someone I care about deeply lying motionless on the forest floor. Not necessarily dead, but as if they were dead inside or something. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense at first, but I let my brain just do whatever it needed and absorb whatever message it would eventually give me. It felt like I was watching from somewhere else – like I wasn’t physically there but for some reason I needed to see this. And I realized as things came more into focus, this person was bare-chested but something between the ribcage was strange. You know that space on the front of your chest where your ribs don’t quite meet? There. The place where when animals eat their kill they open up first because it’s the easiest way to the heart without having to go through bone, right there below your sternum. What I saw was this person’s flesh was actually black there. Not dead or rotting but it was as if it was filled with poison.

Two wolves, one grey and one black, came out of the forest into this clearing – where this person was, where I go in the mornings in my woods here to sit and lay down my troubles and breathe. And they tear open his chest right where the poison is and rip it open to the bone. It’s weird though, they’re not eating the flesh, they’re ripping it out and tossing it aside, getting to what’s underneath – the heart. Then suddenly, they stop and walk away back into the depths of the forest and disappear from view.

My view draws closer and I see what they did. They tore out the poisoned flesh, and only that, never touching the bones, and leaving the heart clearly exposed. The amazing thing though was that the bones were good – there was no poison in them – and it made me think of that song. In looking closer I could also see this person’s heart was fully exposed as they lay there motionless, unaware? Unconscious? Dead? I didn’t know what – and I told you this didn’t make a whole lot of sense, as it was a dream after all – but I could see their heart raw and bare and and that deep purple red that you equate with love and passion and all things pure and it was still beating. It was still beating. The bones were good and their heart was still there.

So I laid my hands on the space in their chest where the poison used to be, and could feel that the wolves took all of it out and the forest absorbed it back into the forest floor, the way only trees and a forest can. A strange thing happened next. I could feel this person that means so much to me start to heal right under my hands. Slowly, but surely as if the forest’s and my energy together had some sort of magical healing powers that could bring this person back to life and make them whole again. Eventually they took a breath and the dream faded away just like the poison and all that was left was a small black stone – remnants of the poison that had been buried within for so long. I heard someone or something tell me to bury it at the base of the rock where there was already a hole waiting, in that circle of trees, facing north – to always find your true north – and remember to breathe.

This morning I woke up and found that black stone. It’s been in my room for a while. It’s a black tourmaline, known for absorbing negative energy and releasing it back to the earth, especially useful after a period of great trauma or emotional stress. It’s always on my dresser next to my bed. Naturally, I got up and went for my morning walk back to that clearing. I grabbed a pointy rock on the ground along the way so that I could dig a hole at the base of that rock I use as a headrest when I lie down – the ground is far too frozen to dig even a small hole to bury it in right now. And when I got back there, the strangest thing happened. I moved the leaves away from the base of that rock and there was already a small hole there, just the right size for the black tourmaline. I pulled out my phone to check the compass and it was already facing due north. The hole for the stone at the base of the rock was facing due north – true north – in that small clearing of trees.

I buried the stone there in the woods this morning. Someday, perhaps, when the time is right and the person I care for so much whom I saw in that dream is here, they may dig it up, clean and renewed from the energy of the forest and ready to live again.

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Ever feel like when you’re waiting to hear from someone, the air is just sucked out of the room and it feels like you can’t breathe? Like if you’re waiting for even just one more minute, you may suffocate, or choke on your own anticipation and just can’t do anything about it, or really even want to?

That. I wrote about it once. A long time ago. As a kid in high school wishing for something I was pretty sure I’d never ever find but would spend my whole life seeking out anyway. I found it a few years later in a best friend that changed – and saved – my life in a way that I can’t even imagine or even completely comprehend in what feels like centuries after all that’s happened. That was different – we were siblings. Family. Kindred. I loved him but was never in love with him, though somehow I’ve managed to compare everyone I’ve ever dated to him, quite unfairly I might add.

Simple words that held a lot of soul, and my hopes for the future. For someone I’d find someday. I’m older now. Wiser, too, or so I’d have you believe. The air doesn’t do that anymore, though if we’re being honest, it never did before either. I just did it to myself, suffocating on expectations and choking on the hope that the potential I fell in love with would be the same as the person in front of me.

It never was.

Perhaps it’s me. Perhaps it’s this life. The three of us went our separate ways. Jimmy died, Mike was broken, and I went to pieces and put myself back together so many times that I don’t even look like the girl I was back then anymore. That’s a good thing, I think, in many ways. But I’ve long since reconciled my heart and my mind that what the three of us had as kids was something magical, something incredible, and not something everyone gets to have. The knowledge that I’ve had that before in past lives, and again in this one was enough to carry me through eventually. Finally. After many years of grieving the losses, the broken hearts, and giving away the keys on a cord – key to my heart, key to my mind (that’s the twisted one of course), and a penny for my thoughts – for the last time in my twenties as I told him I loved him and he walked away because he couldn’t deal. I was too much a reminder of the ghosts of our past, still alive in the flesh. And so he buried me with Jimmy and those memories and I choked on the dirt as that part of my past got covered over and the world buried me alive.

There’s no air down there. You get used to living without it. You adapt. You change. You climb your way out to stand back up and move mountains. Build walls. Wrap your heart in barbed wire and tattoo it on your back with a reminder of truth and justice to always keep you honest. You keep going one foot in front of the other. One broken bone after the other – but those are okay. You can work through those. No more broken hearts because you don’t show that to people or give that away. Tell enough stories and share enough of your life and people don’t ever realize that they know you without ever really KNOWING you. And I liked it that way. It was easier. Safe. And I could build myself a home knowing that I had no one who could hurt me because I simply let no one in. Not really.

Then I walked into a room and couldn’t breathe again, only I wasn’t choking this time. Something took my breath away. My walls never came down, but somehow they didn’t matter because you already knew me. Really knew me. And could see me as me. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The scars. The broken bones, and broken trust. The lost girl who ran off to her forest to build a life on top of the last mountain she’d ever have to move.

 

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Winter Solstice

life without a paddle cj millar winter solstice hiking cat and dogs

The sun came out this morning back in the forest and I laid down in a circle of trees on the forest floor. I left my burden there, and I stood up a little bit lighter from the weight the trees took off my shoulders.

Thank you.