Due North

Due North


I’m wondering how humans are made, the mechanics of it. Or maybe I’m wondering how I’m made, and if it’s more different or alike than other humans. It’s hard to tell. Emotionally I mean. Do we all arrive with the same basic equipment? If so, does this hold true globally? Or is our apparatus set to reflect geographic conditions, cultural standards? How much of what I experience inside is similar to what you experience? I’m actually wondering particularly about happiness. Joy, or the absence there of. Of course, I get it that those in tragic or difficult circumstances aren’t feeling joyful, but is their meter still running quietly beneath the despair, ticking away in a dormant state? I have to believe that we each have a mechanism, the programming and possibility of joy. I mean, I just have to start there, don’t I?


I remember moments of joy as a kid, and have memories of fun, but most of my childhood feels like the longest gray dawn imaginable, taking YEARS for the sun to finally show its late ass face. But shortly after leaving home it did, and I remember being shocked at how deeply joyous I could feel, once the meter started running on the reg again. It was the most pleasant of surprises, and for the most part, through all of the ups and downs of the following decades, that motor has not failed me. Which is not at all to say that I’m always happy. I’m not an idiot.


A few significant things have been taking place in my life over the past six months, some of them movements that I’ve been waiting years to see. It has rearranged some of the furniture in my mind, done some deep internal housecleaning that needed to happen, and I feel healthier than I have in many years. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. It’s been a blast, I gotta say. I’ve also got to honestly say that in this past week something occurred that left me reeling for a few days. Probably more accurate to say reoccurred, as addiction has been a lifelong companion to me, having never had a time in my life where I wasn’t connected to an addict and the impact of his/her behaviors. And of course I have my own issues, though not with substance abuse. Anyway, long story short, the dance began this week again, seemingly out of nowhere, as is often the case. Though not really. (I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, so for those that know me and might be wondering, my family is ok, please don’t worry. No drugs were taken in the making of this story:). As you might expect, emotional issues were deeply involved, and I found myself once again at the bottom of the pit, struggling to find the rope and begin the long climb back to the top. To find, once again, my own sense of peace, while not losing touch with those whom I love and care for. Even writing these words… it’s funny. It’s a well-worn path in my life, but still a bit of a jungle; you gotta get that machete out each time and start chopping your way back to civilization. For me, it’s a fight to get back to my joy. Joy has become the light waiting in the dark for me, the home base.


Even on the worst night of my life, I remember lying in bed for hours, trying to make sense of the inconceivable horrors of the day. And feeling the smallest ticking deep within as I wondered how we would go on living. I imagine it to be like the way a compass needle trembles and jumps toward the north. Beating ever so slightly beneath the shock and pain was the tiniest needle… pointing toward joy. It wasn’t showing the way, but it was reminding me that the possibility still existed, somewhere. I guess that’s where hope lies, right? In that tiny beating needle…. In our belief that Joy is always at least a future possibility, even in the darkest hour it shines from the distance.


So in the shock of this week’s development, I lost sight of that needle momentarily. There were a few days, or parts of days, where I couldn’t get past my feelings. But slowly I began to be aware of the ticking…the trembling of the compass point beneath my emotions. Pointing the way toward strength, toward recovery. Maybe it’s true that our feelings are connected in some way to the compass? Even as I tried to help my friend find his way back from the jungle, we talked a lot about feelings. Understanding them, recognizing them and growing in our understanding of their mechanical origins and directions. Knowing ourselves, and how we work internally. Becoming master of our own ships, stepping up to take the wheel and steer the course ourselves rather than letting the tides and the moon decide where we go. For me, the better I understand myself the easier it is to find my way in the dark. It’s a tricky process; I’m a little nervous even typing those words. Am I inviting the fates to come at me now?


A happier part of my journey this past half year came through a call I began to sense through various books I was reading, about giving back to my community. It took a while for me to find the right spot but I guess about 6 weeks ago I found a place of service in my community that feels so very right to me. The director of this group is a very inspiring woman who, after years of service, had been stricken with a rare syndrome that causes paralysis, among other horrible symptoms. Shortly after I began serving it was announced that she was climbing the local lighthouse to celebrate her recovery, a year after she had been stricken. I went to the lighthouse simply to cheer her on. Believe me when I tell you that that was my ONLY intention, as my fear of heights is lifelong, well known, and a source of humor for many that know me. (You know who you are:). But a wonderful new friend happened to be there as well, even holding pairs of gloves for any new climbers. She asked me a few times about joining in, but each time I insisted my fear was too great. Long story short, when I saw Malea begin her climb, the ridiculousness of my position finally kicked in. This woman had been PARALYZED, and she was beginning the slow eight story climb. Come on, Kevan. How much of a baby ARE you?! … The funny part was that a local newscaster was taping the whole thing, so that when we finally arrived at the top and walked out onto the little landing that encircles the top, the whole thing was captured on film, even appearing on the evening news that night. I was very happy to celebrate Malea’s recovery of course, but I was also having my own private moment of joy, feeling so much gratitude for the beauty and release on that landing. It made perfect sense to me that my freedom would come as the culmination of a series of seemingly random events: my obedience to the call to serve, the inspiring kindness of one woman who dreamed of feeding the hungry in her community, and a beautiful new friend who was thoughtful enough to bring gloves and encouragement for whoever showed up. This to me is Joy at work. My needle was trembling off the charts that day and as I watched that newscast, I rejoiced at ALL that was going on on that red metal landing.


I continue to climb that lighthouse tower several times a week now. Part of it is for exercise; it’s a great workout and I’ve joined in with a merry band of “conquerors” who enjoy the climb regularly. I’m grateful for the exercise and even more for the friendships. But just like that afternoon climb celebrating Malea’s recovery, I’m having my own separate joy experience at the top of that tower. I rest my back against the warm wall of the tower, away from the railing mind you, and look out at the greenery, the shining intercoastal, and the little community I’ve grown to love SO much. And I just let it all sink into my spirit. The great beauty, the deep gratitude that wells up in me each and every time, and the almost primal JOY that resonates through each nerve ending as I stand, amazed, up there in that breeze. I wish I could bottle this sensation, feed it to the hurting, those who might be discouraged… as I was earlier this week. In the absence of that elixir, I can only say… look for the needle. Its tremble might be weak, it may appear to be moving from a great distance. But I have to believe it’s there. I really do think it’s built into our wiring. Look due north, for that tiny tremble.



Let It Flow

Let It Flow

Remember the Brad Pitt movie about Benjamin Button, the guy who aged backwards? He was born an old man and aged in reverse, vanishing as a baby. I’m feeling a bit Button-ish in my aging process, and it’s so exhilarating I can’t sleep tonight… sitting in my living room typing this at 4 AM because my brain won’t stop running, setting off celebratory firecrackers when it’s supposed to be sleeping. Going over and over the revelations of these past few months, trying to take it all in. Maybe simply because it IS 4 in the morning, I’m feeling very big picture about it all. Very “what’s it all about, Alfie,” if you know what I mean. So if you don’t enjoy random stream of consciousness imagery and longwinded wanderings, you may wanna save yourselves and move on to the next post right now. Check out what your neighbor had for breakfast or see the latest pet memes.


Like many females, I’ve always been driven by relationships. Sometimes this has been healthy for me, sometimes not so much. For the most part, I’ve been very, very fortunate, far more than I deserve. A few months ago I drove up to jerzey to support dear friends in a sad time.  It’s funny how that works. When tragedies hit our instincts cause us to come together, to sit in rooms together and just BE. We weep, we tell stories, we eat, we drink, and ultimately we laugh. It’s kind of beautiful, and those moments are probably our first feeble steps toward healing. The human condition is both bizarre and wonderful, and extreme situations highlight that powerfully. Anyway, that week in jerzey touched me deeply, for many reasons. I felt deep affection for the amazing friends who opened their home to us without question, and I experienced profound reconnection with the old friends who came together to provide support for one another. A very intense time, and I drove back wondering how it was possible that I had moved a thousand miles away from people who meant so much to me, with whom I shared a lifetime of stories.


And then I arrived in my beloved floridee, and was warmly engulfed by the sweet, sweet folks whom I’ve been lucky enough to find friendship with here. No, we didn’t grow up together and our stories don’t go back years. None of them ever met my Zack, and sometimes that feels like a gap. But don’t think for a moment that we haven’t grown together. In fact, I feel like I’ve been rigorously schooled here. Creating a new story in a new town is an adventure I highly recommend, and I’m thrilled my kids are experiencing it too, even though some are far from me. I wouldn’t want to see them miss the opportunity to stretch themselves, to have to learn about themselves, and recreate fulfilling friendships. I stumbled many times in the process, especially since some of it has taken place in the worst few years of my life, in a time when I presented a Kevan who was, well, not completely there. Not my best work. As I moved into my eventual recovery I sometimes wanted to wear a sandwich board proclaiming publicly, “That wasn’t really ME,” a disclaimer of sorts for some of my craziest behavior in those dark times.


But the thing is, that WAS me. A broken me, a grief-stricken distortion of me, but still. What I’ve learned is that real friends extend grace that covers those behaviors, and I also have learned to offer grace to those who seemed put off by them, because we’re ALL just trying to do the best we can. This was a HUGE lesson for me, and I’m only learning it now at this advanced age. The Benjamin Button effect. In my doddering years I’m finally waking up to grace, what a concept. I am such a black/white personality, and over the years I think I put terrible expectations on relationships. I regret that now, but am learning to forgive even myself. Maya Angelou said it perfectly: forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it. We’re all just walking each other home, right? I’ve got nothing but love now for every one who shared the path with me, nothing but straight up gratitude.


I’m back to myself now, but I still falter in relationships at times. Do something thoughtless, forget something important, revert to my innate selfishness. Again, the human condition. It’s okay though, I’m not sweating it so much anymore, or your missteps either. I want to do better and I will. I’ll continue to learn and grow, it’s never too late. I’ve got my eyes trained on all the good stuff, and man, there’s plenty of it. We swim in a river of goodness, and the current never stops. Just in the past few days, beautiful amazing things have happened. Maybe they do all the time, but I just paid more attention this past week? I’ve hung out with dear, fun friends who made me laugh (my favorite!), and we spoke to each other of things truthful, encouraging, and creative. I’ve had opportunity to give back to my community, something that I learned at the feet of creative givers, and my life has been greatly enriched by it. I’ve even managed to accidentally (right) beat back a lifelong fear of mine, all because an awesome new friend just “happened to be” standing at a place when I went to encourage someone else. I’m telling ya, the river is FLOWING, yall!


Why am I finally taking in some wisdom at such an advanced age? Wouldn’t it have been prudent to figure out these things earlier? In a word, yes. I dunno, maybe I saw something shiny and got distracted…. Maybe I was busy learning other things…. Maybe I was not learning at all, but was simply surviving other challenges. Could be any of the above. But I am learning to savor these times of growth, I’m appreciating these hard won lessons as they come in. Like Benjamin, I’m moving into a youthful exuberance, with a side of confusion and wonder. It’s all good, though. I’m in the river, baby! No place I’d rather be.

The Beauty of Bread Crumbs

The Beauty of Bread Crumbs

I can’t think of many things more essential to me than friends. And in this stage of my life, I’m referring to girlfriends. Which is odd, because I spent many of my adult years undervaluing their importance. I thought I enjoyed men friends more. They like to be silly, be outdoors, and most have little interest in gossip or shopping; they just felt like a better fit with me. Oh, how wrong I was, and my repentance is sincere and bone deep.


When I moved to Floridee about nine years ago and started my new life here, it took a while to really build meaningful relationships. As artists, we worked at home and left our community most weekends to take to the road for art shows. Made some fun friends on the road, a few who have become deeply significant to us, but most often they are people from all over and we see them in short weekend spurts, when our paths come together on the art show circuit. Making friends here at home would take a while longer.


And it’s funny how I first met Julie. I was invited by an older couple whom I adored to come to their home one night with a few others to see about being a part of their small group, a weekly gathering, back in my oh so distant church days. We told them we were spending the summer in Jerzey, and were in fact leaving the next day for about 5 months. It’s what we did the first few years down here, we still went back to our house in Jerz to do shows and visit family for the summer. But Vito said no worries, no commitments, just come see what it’s about. Out of nothing but sheer respect and politeness we agreed to attend, expecting to merely meet a few new people and be on our way.


Got to their house, saying my hellos, when I heard loud laughter coming in the door. LOUD laughter, and there is no better way to get my attention. My first Julie sighting, and I had no idea what kind of blessing was coming into my life. I was distracted, we all were, by the schedules Vito handed us, listing our upcoming times to host…. in the small group that we had no idea we were joining. However, I’m a big believer in following the path of cookie crumbs the Universe sets out before me. We liked Vito so much, we just thought we’d go along with it.


Fast forward to next fall, we return to St Augustine and take our place in the schedule. Turns out to be a good thing, as we enjoyed these new people and started meeting weekly, 8 of us. All of it part of my schooling from the Universe; it’s been a good thing for me to start over, to be less insistent on my own way. Earlier I would not have allowed myself to get embroiled in any regular hang with people until I made sure it was a good flow (for ME, it goes without saying. Yes, I was a jerk in that way, and others, I’m sure). I liked things the way I liked them. But Vito’s ways were Vito’s ways all the way, and I learned from that surrender.


I quickly came to enjoy so many things about Julie. I thought I was queen of letting it all hang out, but the crown was mine no longer. I didn’t even realize what a gift her straightforwardness was at that time, because it took me a few years to really find my way through the southern culture. Bless my heart. Her truthfulness was a care package from home, in a land where it is sometimes considered impolite to tell the truth. I would come to rely on Julie’s honesty again and again, and for a while, in my craziest sad days, she was like a compass to me, pointing the way to safety… to truth. Being real has always been the safe zone for me; I’m not great at reading subtle signals, at playing the games of manners, especially with females, ironically. But Julie was as real as they come; I never had to wonder where I stood with her.


The Universe was SO behind that involuntary gathering. A year after we started meeting one couple split up, completely shocking us all. This is what I’m saying. We met with them weekly, supposedly sharing our hearts and lives with one another, and to us it seemed to stop on a dime. Of course it didn’t, but this is the thing about southern culture. It’s sometimes hard to know what’s really happening, for me anyway. I’ve since been in another group and experienced this phenomenon for a second time. Believe me, folks, if my marriage falls apart, it shall be no secret or shock to anyone lol. Probably somewhere between my oversharing and their locked lips lies a healthy balance. And when Julie’s marriage struggled she trusted us to know it and be a part of working with them and for them to help, if possible. Sadly, it wasn’t possible, and my friend who had become so dear to me was hurting, openly. It was hard to leave her that spring when we headed to Jersey, and I had no idea that we too were heading for the worst hurting of our lives. Within five days of arriving our hearts were also broken.


My phone rang many times that summer, calls and texts from friends offering support. But I could never bring myself to respond, I just didn’t have it in me. The only calls I took were Julie’s. When your heart is broken there is a rest in sitting with another broken-hearted person; perhaps that’s the power of support groups. We were each other’s support group, and we made it through, carried by the kindnesses of many and of each other.


One of my favorite things about Julie is her capacity for dreaming. The first night I got back we drove down to the Hammock area, sat by the inlet and watched the sun set with a bucket of clams and a bottle of wine or two. She had lost her beautiful home by the water and yet she told me that night that one day she’d have a home in the woods, on the water again. After enough wine, we actually drove around and walked some of the nearby properties, out on their decks and lawns, imagining what Jul’s future home might look like. She had a passion for farm markets too, and shared with me her vision to start a local market to serve both the community and local farmers. Over the next few years I can’t say that I saw much forward movement in either of those dreams but that never discouraged Julie. She talked of those things as if they already were, and in her mind it was done.  She never stopped believing, in herself or her dreams, and that was huge for me to watch. Like me, she is an extremist. Her personality, her vision, her belief in herself… they are rock solid. I felt for a while that I was almost translucent, wispy enough psychically to blow away in a strong breeze, and being around Julie did much to ground me. She is confident without being obnoxious about it, she is sure of who she is, and I had begun to really wonder in my lostness…The Universe knows what it’s doing when it puts out those bread crumbs, it is best to pay attention. Julie was a touchstone for me, and I hope I served a similar purpose for her.


I don’t want to embarrass her by going on and on, but suffice it to say that Julie has been running the Salt Air Farmer’s Market near Marineland for almost 5 years, and since the fall she and her friend and business partner Sloan have been directing the Wednesday Pier Market as well. She’s also bought herself a beautiful home in the woods, right on a spring that leads to Lake George. Dreamer Extraordinaire, she knows how to make things happen. Painful losses and sorrows can hurt us for sure, but they can also strengthen us if we allow them room to do so. I have been lucky in my life, far more lucky than I deserve or ever hoped to be. I know this because of gifts like Julie, and I know that you have similar stories in your own life. Wouldn’t it be great if we recognized and acknowledged them while we have the chance? Thank you, Universe, for unwanted small groups and surprise friendships. May they ever continue.