Blog Hop: Thoughts on My Writing and Introductions to Other Writers!

Thanks, Lisa Borja, for inviting me to take part in Blog Hop. (Click on Lisa’s name to see her blog–Meditative Dishwashing.  It’s great.)

Blog Hop Rules:  Answer the four questions below, link back to the person who invited you, and link to the people who will be posting the following Monday.

My answers follow:

The passage of time can radically alter a story.  A new place becomes home, hardship fades from memory, brains rewire and the trauma of a head injury, chased with a cancer diagnosis, becomes a gift.  –expert from an earlier post, Garage Sweet Garage.

Months before my two kid goats arrived, I received the news of a malignant melanoma diagnosis from a doctor at a hospital that I had visited for the first time just the week before–to have a mole removed from my right lower leg.  I walked into his office expecting to leave with my stitches removed and relief as the parting theme.  Instead, I walked away with a fuzzy head, a few sketchy notes, and the stitches still in my leg, an open chapter in the story of stage II cancer.

My current writing tells two stories in real time: the story of caring for goats, and the story of healing from the Melanoma. It chronicles how the two stories, the goat story and the Cancer story, over time, have become one.

What am I working on?

I’m doing weekly posts in my blog—The Expert Within. And when I say “weekly” posts, please interpret that in the loosest possible way. I say it with all the best intentions of making that a reality one day. Writing a blog—even one which has what Google Analytics constantly reminds me is just a handful of followers–helps me to write in a more committed way. The mere idea of a reader pool reins me in from a rangy series of haphazard journal posts to something more buttoned up; motivating me to correct grammar, and say something that others might occasionally find useful. But the truth is, what I’m doing has a journal-like quality; it’s helping me to make my way through, and make sense of, a confusing time.

I have a good hunch that Cancer came as a way to shake me out of my self-protective ways. I was accustomed to locking all the doors of my emotional house. The melanoma made me realize that the scary robber-slash-monster was already inside; there was no sense of security in those locked doors, anymore. What was needed now was fearless self-inquiry; writing about it helps me to sort things out.

Why do I write what I write?

In working with the melanoma, I identified (on a gut hunch) two things that I could work with to hasten my recovery:  diet, and emotions. 

The diet part was obvious, if not always easy. I mostly tackled that first, with a few things thrown in about thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, and how the wrong ones can mess with your health. And then I wrote about it.

At first I described my process in a more serious way, citing research I had read on cancer and personality; and cancer and diet.

Then, as I stood face to face with what, in my psyche, needed looking at, I wrote about that.. Figuring out what might need adjusting is not so much an analysis, as an excavation. I’m going down through the layers to see what is there below my level of consciousness. Suddenly, I realize things that are not as easy to share. I tether the part of me who doesn’t want to be judged and do it anyway.

People in my writers group are very supportive. After meeting with this group for a year, I learned to read them: their silences, the way they’d study the little pattern on the library table if they didn’t like something, or lean in and look at me from the length of it if they did. Through careful interpretation of the body language and verbal gaps, I gathered that all the emotional “talk” was a little dry and boring.  Emotions, Cancer, blah blah blah.  You know.

Then, one of the writers suggested I consider writing about the goats living in my garage. He thought that goats would be more interesting than paragraph after paragraph of feelings-talk, I guess. I tried out the idea of using goats and their crazy-making ways as a metaphor for emotional growth; this seemed to hit the sweet spot. I took a leap of faith and submitted one of my posts to Upwave, after asking my friend, Jo Wagner, for editing help. To my surprise, it was published.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Declaring a genre is for those who actually know the difference between (insert the names of genres here—I can’t think of any.) I’ve heard genre talk in my writers group, but have no context for understanding it. I just read one memoir called Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne LaMott.  Such a funny and poignant take on Christianity.  Very loose in style.  Not necessarily needing to make specific points on spirituality; just her story of wrestling with it.

Every time I read something that I love (Like that Anne LaMott book), I adjust my approach a little.  So there’s not yet enough consistency in my blog writing to pinpoint who it’s for or what it’s about. One thing: if someone else, feeling as alone as I felt after the head injury and in working though the cancer diagnosis, benefits, I’ll be thrilled.

How does my writing process work?

In the morning, when I’m drinking tea or meditating, ideas come to me and I try and capture them.

I have been following the Oprah and Chopra guided meditations over the past 16 days, because in their intros, Deepak is nice enough to say that I already possess the things I desire. Ideas come forward and I pause the narrative over and over. At 14.21 minutes, at 14.33, then again at 15.01…I write the ideas rapid-fire on a laptop post-it note. When I hit play again, the electronic music swells and the vocals float in. I see, in my mind’s eye, Oprah and Chopra shaking their heads. This is not how meditation is supposed to go, they are thinking in tandem.

Next Monday’s bloggers are two wonderful writers:  Peter Hogenkamp and young Lief Beaver. Peter is at and is twitter handle is @phogenkampVT.  Lief is at


Leo the Loudmouth (and Orion, too)

IMG_4270The goats were delivered to me in the cutest of packages. Round little bodies. Curious, cherub faces. Voices of silk that tickled my ears. But these packages were harboring a secret that would spring up at me like the coiled thing inside of a gag party favor can of peanuts.

Their vocal cords and lungs, not yet matured to full capacity, offered no hint of the loudmouths they were to become. Then, they settled in and grew. Their bleating changed into the sound of two car horns of differing pitches morphing at the honk’s end to the sinister sound of “o” that gets emphasized when someone at the end of their rope shouts “no!”

Leo and Orion are living and breathing feng shui, reflecting what I keep missing over and over; the clutter and messiness in my emotional household; the trail of unfinished business. Without these bullhorns of the reminder world bleating out their message in the highest of decibels, I just wouldn’t face the inner crap that barricades me from that “next step” I so obviously need to take.

I’ve failed to speak up, generally, until now. And still, outside of these little essays, I unconsciously mirror the opinions of those I’m with; because I know somewhere in my deepest recesses, that it makes life a little smoother. It lubricates the sides of me that need to slip in amongst and between those with their own opinions, who might boot me out of their circles if they were to discover our differences.

In my early years, my independent way of thinking was not only discouraged by the adults around me, it labeled me as “impossible” and put me square into an emotional no-man’s land. This was life’s equivalent of being banished to the moon for a behavioral “time out” where you need older people to survive. When I learned that just having an opinion was a little dangerous, I started keeping those opinions to myself.

Goats—at least the two I know–aren’t ridden with early learning about being seen and not heard. They aren’t embarrassed or guilty at all when all attention is on them. Just the opposite. They know it gets them what they want, and use these interactive mechanics to their advantage. Foghorn-like cries equals get the ball rolling in their world: putting hay in the manger and feed in the bucket. And maybe several sticks of spaghetti tossed onto the milk stand on a good day.

Goats never deny their needs from a place of avoidance. When I walk outside for their morning feeding, they yell from inside the garage in a tone that says, “thirty seconds from now we will have died of starvation!” When I put the feed down and open the service door, they barrel though in a “where’s the fire?” fashion, trampling the chickens and heightening their reactive shrieking. They know what they want; and they make their point with verbal succinctness and direct physicality.

The evidence that the goats are my messengers seems to be this. I bristle at a bleating show of confident self-promotion all around me. Making my way through a end-to-end array of Facebook postings and other self-promotional blurbs is a little trying to buy whole wheat bread in a bakery filled with poppy seed muffins and raspberry brownies. I need the nutritional sustenance of self-acceptance that gets created from within, but I want the quick emotional fix of positive feedback that can be found in those sweet-smelling grease-stained bags people are carrying out the door.

Leo and Orion don’t try and slip obliquely self-promotional posts into Facebook. They say, simply and with full vocal force, “Pay attention to me, damn it!”

I want what they have, so I watch what they do; how they go about their day unhurriedly, but with purpose. Then I observe me—my neurosis-ridden thoughts and my feeble attempts to untangle them and change my approach. I write, and then I don’t. I write a little more openly, and then I don’t write for a very long time. I practice my own brand of wellness, but avoid talking about it. Or if I talk about it, I so avoid the disgruntlement that may get stoked by my unconventional beliefs, that I fail to get my point across.

My black yearling with white spots offers some illumination, just like the Orion in the sky, the one he’s named for. On most days, the consistency of my ability to utter “my truth” mirrors the consistency of Orion’s relationship with the compost bin. Sometimes he’s all in, eating it up; other times he bypasses it in a hurried pursuit of some shiny thing just beyond it.

I recently wrote an email to a local oncologist’s nurse saying what could be paraphrased as “I treated my own cancer, and I probably won’t follow your treatment suggestions, but can we schedule a visit so that you order a PET scan for me?”

Trying to call the shots in the world of health care while hiding the fact that I’m doing it proved two things. I have an exaggerated fear of truth-telling, and there is a complete ineffectiveness in my self-invented faux-benign approach. Thirteen emails later, I abandoned my efforts with a deflated “Hey, who needs a PET scan anyway?’

Sometimes I give my goats the stink eye when they hit the peak of their volume. Sometimes I smile at their vocal theatrics; I see a thread between the words “Ma” uttered over and over at a high-decibel output, and the utter loveliness of the feeling of being needed. And beyond that thread, I see another, stretching out to what I imagined is a more enlightened future.

In this future my dream is realized: easy breath in, easy breath out, direct eye contact, and the words I long to say uttered without any hesitation. A string of these four things, end to end, stretching to the rest of my days. Leaving what is known and secure, and making just a little more room for the stumbling onto even greater accuracies and peace and the beauty that can be found in the midst of fear and the unknown. The channeling of my inner-goat.

Why I Keep Goats

2013-11-27 12.10.38I didn’t see this coming.  I am a grey-haired, middle aged woman living on a farm in rural Wisconsin, with two Nubian kid goats (and two chickens) in my garage. At 40-something (a decade ago, give or take), I was wrapping up a New York interior design career, and scrambling onto the path of establishing psychotherapy practice in the Minneapolis suburbs. My work as a therapist was all about a person’s inner world.  Interior design, with a pointed focus on ones outer environment, seemed the direct opposite. Inside–outside. Yin and Yang.

These opposites have something in common, too. They are the domain of ones personal, and very private, life. The private territory of inner-person and personal sanctuary often goes untouched by the hand of an outsider. And with good reason; they represent an area of great vulnerability—and a large part of what makes an individual unique.  A self-appointed fixer-upper of the lives and environments of others may have just a little bit of a control thing going on. Good-intentioned manipulation, but manipulation just the same. But that was then.  Things are more in balance now.

I keep goats because…They’re making me over: softening the edges of a need for control and fear of the good stuff—love and bliss and the messyness of life. They’ve blurred the lines of fun and work, giving me glimpses of their sameness.

They are anti-control and shun social order. Goats do not seek an expert in order to better themselves. They don’t give a rip about anyone’s degree, credentials, or skill set, and so I’m just one of the herd.  No more, no less. If I want to see them (or get them away from the Lilac Bush) I can call them in until I’m blue in the face, and just see a momentary glance of their busy, blossom-filled faces, before they turn away again and continue chewing. (Meanwhile, my dog, Gobo, comes at an obedient trot.)

If they feel like it, they’ll come; otherwise, I’d better have treats in my back pocket if I really mean business. I am not the boss of them.

They follow their bliss. My dog Gobo, embracing the merits of order, keeps his bliss well contained. He brings his own toy outside to play with–the thing he’s identified as his sock or empty plastic water bottle. Not so with the goats. Their bliss, involving my things, does not reflect my own limited understanding. It is much more unbridled. I might lecture them with Andy-of-Mayberry restraint and wisdom on the folly of pulling buckets off shelves and hoses from their hooks, but they’ll ignore the merits of my well-constructed logic, and do it anyway. Just because it’s fun.

Back in the field, I can fence a nice “turnout” that excludes vegetables and flowers and picnic tables and backyard gatherings.  The goats slip under, between, and over, a display of both boundary reconfiguration and their personal philosophy that fences are just barriers for the more ambitious fun-lovers to work around.

Lovers in weird costumes. Okay, so maybe they are not the beaux of the barn with bells.  Their affectionate personalities more than make up for what they might be lacking in beauty.  My goats call to me each and every time I’m within earshot. If I succumb to their invitation to visit, they rub their fuzzy faces against mine then look right into my eyes.

They’ll accompany me on a long stroll through the neighboring woods, stopping here and there for a taste of clover or an oak leaf, then running to catch up so we can continue along side-by-side.  Back on the farm, a single yearling may endure the shock of an electric fence ribbon just to be with me. To hang out while I weed the garden or do field work—returning to be with his herd-mates only when I go inside or get in the car.

When the water buckets have turned into blocks of ice, I might call out in the general direction of their insulated shelter, just to make sure they’re out of the cold. They always reply with a groan-like “hello” through the door flap, keeping open the lines of communication.

Their love extends beyond “just me and you.” They are fond brothers, sleeping intertwined at night and standing shoulder to shoulder a good part of the day.  Head butts, part of their play, are mere faximiles of the real thing. One goat’s dramatic wind-up on the haunches will end with the gentlest of head-taps to the other.

The treat their garage-mates well, too. At feeding time, they share feed-bowl resources with chickens a fraction of their size, demonstrating a “love you, Brother” interspecies one-ness.

Fun and work are the same. They have an effortless part in nature’s chain of command. Their favorite food: weeds and other undesirables. Box elder and Buckthorn (invasives in this area) are special treats. Clearing an entire field left fallow is a joy-filled task. Trimming around my tractor shed and cleaning up the scrappy box-elder grove is done without so much as a work-requisite. Their manure is so garden-ready that one can cut out the extra composting step to add nutrient-rich food back to the earth.  An even better built-in shortcut:  Leave other compostable things—like the discarded trimmings from soup vegetables—in a feed bucket and they’ll manufacture even more of the good stuff. Organic-grade fertilizer on a 24-hour turn around.

They are anti-grownup. Goats are uber silly, which revs up my inner first-grader. Soon I’m delivering their feed with a Mrs Doubtfire man-falsetto. Crooning a Beatles tune at the top of my lungs, mangling the lyrics of “Hello.” Calling their winter coats “outfits” and straightening them like a Barbie Doll aficionado.

Goats are better teachers for me than anyone I can think of right at this moment. The have pulled me far off the path of order and productivity, making me course-correct from displaced priorities. Loving, anti-authority bastions of good will and effortless work, they’ve shifted my worldview from an interpretation that necessitates struggle, to a heart-filled embrace of the co-mingling of earnest work with rest and relaxation. They’ve rearranged my “how” of purposeful living, crossing out “effort” and writing in “ease.”

Garage, Sweet Garage

A year ago, I cleared out my garage, and the recesses of my heart, to make room for some months-old baby goats.  As the goats were transferred from the dog carrier to garage on adoption day, they were dubious of their new surroundings.  (A garage and a wire fence wrap-around, were not on their bucket list of places to stay, no doubt.)  They made mental notes of any security weaknesses that could be leveraged as a means for escape.  Captivity and confinement could be tossed aside as soon as they had a good plan.  Frequent sidelong glances towards my dog Gobo and I added to their arsenal of tactical information.

Their plan to spring from “150th street” seemed to recede from consciousness around day four.  The nipple-clad coke bottles delivering warm goat’s milk helped their newly manufactured brain cells erase everything but hunger signals and giant question marks.  Thoughts of return to Cumberland and reunification with the clan had all but disappeared.

I know that goats aren’t like us. They don’t go over and over events to make sense of it all. They don’t comb their story for nuggets of wisdom. They don’t characterize real events as as “pivotal points” in their story. But if they did…

Their story changed as the days flew by. The theme and context had broadened with the passage of time.  The expanding time-line provided more story content, increasing the complexity, but the accuracy as well.  Details and characters were fleshed out more completely.  The garage wasn’t prison after all.  And I wasn’t the enemy.

I delivered the “goods” twice daily.  The twin kids would climb over each other to get to one of two bottles offered.  Once engaged, they produced a 3-minute duet of staccato sucking noises.  If Leo was the first to finish his, he’d shove Orion out of the way and latch onto his bottle for the drizzle of remaining milk.  Their “jailer” became someone to love, and under the woozy influence of rich goat’s milk, the inside of the garage took on a glowing, friendly look.  Less prison cell, more beloved childhood home.  Leo, who wouldn’t have anything to do with me on adoption day, would now climb onto my lap and gaze dreamily into my eyes.  Stockholm syndrome.

The passage of time can radically alter a story.  A new place becomes home, hardship fades from memory, brains rewire and trauma becomes a gift.  I fall in love with two small livestock sentients. Time provides a greater story context that broadens the goats’ understanding of “this prison” and the “woman who runs it.”

Can we outmaneuver time?   Albert Einstein concluded in his later years that the past, present, and future all existed simultaneously.  And the most highly recognized physicists since Einstein have made even more dramatic advances towards a timeless perspective of the universe.  In the study of Quantum Mechanics, our focus can change any event, even one that has already occurred.

Months before the goats arrived, I received the news of a Malignant Melanoma diagnosis from a doctor at a hospital that I had only visited before on one other occasion–to have a mole removed from my right lower leg.  I walked into his office expecting to leave with my stitches removed and tumor-less relief as the parting theme.  Instead, I walked away with a fuzzy head, a few sketchy notes, and the stitches still in my leg, an open chapter and signpost for the next surgery.

The surgeon delivered a story of spreading cancer cells that was so frightening and contrary to expectation, that following a day of stunned inaction, I stepped treatment pre-production up to a dizzying speed.  I could only think of one thing–to seek the most expert advice I could find, and follow it.  The news, delivered by a medical doctor with the sound logic of the medical world, reduced my once broad spectrum of possible solutions to any health problem to just “Medicine.”  Medicine offered the only solution.

My memory offers a few sketchy details:  one of these is a visit with a Twin Cities surgeon who could do a second surgery to get every last cancer cell and biopsy cells from adjacent lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread.

That was the visit in which the friend with me asked:  “what happens if she doesn’t have this surgery?”  The answer, “then the Cancer will come back” seemed to be missing the word “could.”  It will come back.  Not could, but would.

The absence of a single word (and it’s forced certainty) made me wonder what else might be missing.  There seemed to be an absence of the context that time (or a good rewrite) would provide.  The context that would shift the word “will”–to “could”–and “could”–to “won’t.”  I wanted to live in the story of “the cancer won’t come back.”  A warm glowy home instead of a prison.

Eventually, the context-deficient story received an edit.  I added my own “inner expert” to the cast of characters.  I avoided the surgery and followed my heart.  I read book after book, reigniting, in me, what panic had erased.  Trust in my own ability to heal.

I worked with diet first, and then looked into the most personal part of my story, now thrown into greater relief.  After reading up on type-Cs, Cancer-prone people, I concluded that my back story, too, needed an edit.  Prison bars were in every chapter.  How did I write such a lopsided narrative?

As my writing teacher Carolyn Wedin recently pointed out, a personal story is never really finished.  The state of becoming lacks resolution.  But we can’t wait until the end of our story to tell it, or to make sense of it. For now, assignment of structure—any structure—would have to do.

Walls of a garage change from “prison” to “home” with a slight change in story structure. It was literary structure that had the means to favor a person, opinion, or even an outcome.  The slant.  The writers I admire are slant wizards who can lift the story out of its chronological order, broaden the focus with several steps back, or increase the time taken into account so that just the right ending comes into view.  Following this wizardry as best I could, I rewrote my own, real story.

Four months before learning about the Melanoma, I gave a presentation at a brain injury conference. I talked to other professionals about my recovery from a traumatic brain injury I had sustained five years before. The last Power Point slide held an affirmation I had written about the malleability of reality, with just a hint of how goats, garages, and scary cancer news might shift and change:   “In each moment of every day, my state of being reflects a reality in which nothing is missing. My happily ever after is now.”

Goats in the Garage

Mind, Body, Spirit.  Life events have made each of the three a pointed area of focus at one time or another.  When I was young, a label of “smart kid” was slapped on as haphazardly as a validation stamp on a parking ticket.  That set me on a path called “mind.”  From that point on, I invested heavily with time and energy, anything my brain could spit out.  I found all confidence in that one asset, and over-achievement became my comfort zone.  This brought forth a decent return–a sense of worthiness in my eyes, and those of others.

The brain injury of my late forties presented me with the opportunity to invest my intellectual currency elsewhere by stealing away my well-honed ability to think clearly and productively.  But thinking, especially work-related thinking, was all I knew and could rely on with any degree of assurance, so the opportunity for a well-timed detour was missed.  Instead, I used my remaining pared-down intellectual capacity to germinate and grow more brain cells.  I used the most powerful positive thought I could muster to recapture those abilities the brain bleed had tossed out some months before.  Most of my ability to remember, and nearly all of my ability to process complex ideas returned.  Confidence in the intellect grew, producing a bumper crop of newly found confidence and reliance on the mind.

Cancer in my mid-50s finally pulled me off that path and onto another.  Experiencing a brain injury and cancer as a one-two punch made me wonder if I was missing some sign from the universe that might result in punch number three if I didn’t get it figured out pretty quickly.  So I set about doing that.

Somewhere in that space of time, I thought I might do well to abandon my workaholic ways.  Just to see if that addictive over-focus might have been hiding something.  And, boy, was it.

But the cancer was serious enough that I needed to mesh this “how-to-avoid-punch-number-three” investigation with some additional concern for my body.  I read about healing it with diet, only, and set about a plan to do that.  Pretty successfully as far as I can tell.

So of the three, Mind Body, Spirit:  Mind–check.  Body–check.  One to go.

A year and a half later, with no apparent spread of the cancer that all three of my medical doctors had warned me about, I’m back on the immanent trail of punch number three, determined to stave it off.

Could it be that punch number three has to do with spirit?  Those two sets of three could be so conveniently pared.

If it is spirit, and I’m on it’s path, it doesn’t look a thing like what I expected.  I thought it was all quiet meditation and good works, and becoming perfect in the eyes of the unseen.

Instead, it’s shown up in my life looking more like the goats living in my garage.

People had warned me about owning goats.  (But interestingly enough, rarely do they warn you about going in search of spirit.)  They said that goats would find their way though any fence, eat stuff you don’t want eaten, and basically drive you crazy.  My new soul-quest has not strayed far from the crazy-making capacity of Leo and Orion, the Nubian goats I adopted last spring.

Leo and Orion are twins who I bottle fed when they first came to stay.  They were just months old, and in order to have them close at hand and out of the cold, I put them in the small pole barn that I had–up until that point–called the garage.  One of their first days with me, they escaped and headed east, presumably to return to their former home of Cumberland some 20 miles away. Friends Dan and Anita stopped by just as I scrambled after them with some hastily warmed bottles of milk and two dog leashes.  As Anita and I alternated dragging and bottle-enticing, Dan prodded them with a box-elder stick.  They bleated like high-pitched fog horns all the way back to the garage.

Eventually Leo and Orion exhibited signs of abandoning their sought-for escape to Cumberland.  Garage became home.  Now there is a rhythm to each day; a rhythm I have yet to embrace.

Daily, the goats climb every shelf in the garage, including the ones set at roof-level.  They unearth buried things, de-shelf things that have been put away, and poop in and anything not on a shelf.  They pull the plug on their bucket de-icer, knock over and attempt to decapitate their food bin.  If not in the garage, in the summer months, they might bask in their goat-ness by downing sunflowers and running rip-shod over near-ripe tomatoes in order to corner their very own Kale plant for a chew-through.  A cool-weather detour in might entail caving in the lid of the compost bin with one well-executed leap, just in case anything in there might look better than garden fare.

The rhythm of my post-diagnoses days have had something of the same feel.  Old memories are unearthed and too-harsh feelings–the ones I had so carefully pack away–are de-shelved.  Fears burgeon to the rooftops and sit just beyond my ability to rope them in.

Heart and soul and goats are such funny little creatures.  So maddening at times, with their curiosity and desire to strip stowed away packages of the tape and rope and glue that holds them together.  All the structure so important to me is deconstructed at night while I sleep or in random moments when I have let down my guard.  The next day, during “turnout” I try and make everything right again.

My life, and everything I put stock into, has been deconstructed–presumably for a glimpse at what’s inside, behind, or beyond the point at which it’s all pulled apart.

The Goats.  They are not even billy goats, for God’s sake.  They are neutered; affectionate and non-aggressive.  I go out to their goat house (AKA my garage) several times a day, because they make their cute goat sounds and come running up to see me.  They sat in my lap when they were younger, and would still if they could get away with it.  I still recall the Simpsons’ baby sucking-pacifier sound they made when they drank from their nipple-capped coke bottles.

I believe there is an eventual purpose to pulling apart facets of the heart and soul.  And that there is a time when things can be put back into newly labeled boxes and back up onto the shelf.

Spring will bring the new, upright Sunflowers and Kale plants and other good garden edibles.  Fences will be made more secure.  But more importantly, I’ll learn to balance what seems punitive and harsh, with the things that are just so right.  Destruction, do-overs, and crazily high-decibel bleating that sounds eerily like “Ma” shreaked over and over will be tempered by dewy-eyed gazes, near vertical leaps into the air, hat-grabbing, dog-butting and other endearing qualities that make goats, goats.  I’ll learn that life isn’t neat or tidy, that perfection isn’t expected, and that the most joyful times come when one surveys the ground with it’s dumped and scattered remnants of feelings and history and walks right over all the stuff.  At least until spring brings the opportunity to recycle it into one garden or another.


Just Sayin’

AffirmationsContact Sheet

Hard to believe, but a trip to Milltown by my friend Sheryl turned into a photo “op” for an essay she’s working on.  I don’t know about you, but it’s not often that I’m the subject of a visual story by a talented artist.  Could this be those affirmations?


Colored Page

Remember that post called Thoughts Jumble–the scramble of thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that comes forward in most standard posts about my “growth” trajectory?

None of my writers’ group people liked it.  Too touchy-feely-boring-y.  But, can we talk before I hit “delete?”

I went from making that post private, to public, and back again a few times over.  Now it’s public again.    If only to serve as an illustration for how confusing this stuff can be.  And because I’m stubborn.

I can almost hear a few groans.  Stay with me:  I’ll deconstruct and decode; promise.

Thoughts and feelings are the best way to access hidden beliefs operating on a subconscious level.  They lead us to beliefs that we accept as true, but can be changed fairly easily.  When we change our beliefs, we become conscious of the thoughts associated with the belief, and they often change, too.  And the troublesome feelings just kind of go away.

Why would we want to find the hidden beliefs?  Because beliefs create.  They create our experience, and probably our entire sense of what’s real.

An example.  Do you know anyone (maybe you) with a belief in poverty?  That’s shorthand for feeling and thinking that there is never enough.  Enough money, food, clothing, maybe.  Or even enough love.  A belief in poverty can create an impoverished life.  Not living in a cardboard box, maybe, but a chronic condition of prosperity sitting just beyond ones grasp.  A lack of safety in one’s financial world.

How do we fix this?  Often, it’s at the level of belief that the problem can be fixed.  A reader, Kristine, commented that her sense of lack existed in her earliest recollections.  This is true for most beliefs, especially the well-hidden ones.  Messages from our parents and others in a position of authority (aka societal messages) get implanted in our unconscious, and remain just below the level of consciousness until we unearth them.

Can I do my own unearthing, you might wonder?  Absolutely.  Here’s how.

First step:  Write stuff out.  You don’t have to do it publicly like I did.  But just get things down on paper.  Just write about anything you’re struggling with.

Step two, using the Gootugo map and colored highlighters, markers, or desktop highlighting tools, color code your words according to the ABCs in “go.” In other words, if a sentence or two in your written words reflect feelings, give them a pink highlight.  If they reflect denial or defenses, make them aqua.

Gootugo doesn’t have colors yet.  But it should:  (note to self–add the colors already!)

I assigned the colors as follows:  Autothoughts = green; Beliefs = yellow; Consequences = orange; Defenses (or Denial) = aqua, Emotion = pink, and Family = violet.

I just went to that Thoughts Jumble post, and colored the first opportune sentences with the appropriate colors, as an example.  But I completed the color coding on my laptop before starting this post, just to make it easier.  That effort is illustrated in the screen shot at the top of this post.

Let’s talk a moment about Denial.

Denial is what we do when we can’t face something.  We usually can’t face something because it seems too frightening to go through, or because it’s too painful to bear.  Fear and pain are not easy feelings.  Innocent bystanders (those lucky people whose defenses are still in place, or who have not experienced many hardships) might wonder what’s so damn scary about getting close, or painful about isolation.  But trust me, if they were easy, we wouldn’t need the twin soldiers–defenses and denial–to protect us.

The better part of my Jumbled Thoughts post sported a nice aqua highlight.  Denial free-flow.  If only February days above 10 degrees Fahrenheit were that abundant.

Can you spot defense and denial in the Thoughts Jumble post?  Comments welcome!





“As If” Building Blocks

Let me take a few of the affirmations from the last post, and begin to develop an action plan.  Behaving “as if”  (L = Leap of Faith in Gootugo) is a good way to jump in.

Those affirmations can simply be transfered to a gratitude list.  The purpose of a gratitude list is to notice–in a more formal way–the proof of manifestation.

Needing to jump start my efforts, I took my list of affirmations, and added small ways in which the affirmations were already true for me.

So, a partial list of manifestations, with their real-life demonstrations in parentheses:

People care deeply about what I have to say.  (Carolyn, Marlys, Joanne, Vicki, Nan, Dana, clients–and others I may have forgotten about–have all said, at one time or another, my writing spoke to them.)

Being pulled to writing is part of the path to a place where I feel like an essential part of the whole–community, family, and the earth.  (My writers’ groups most always feel like places where I can express what I care deeply about, and see more deeply into others via the thing that matters most to them.)

I feel happy and satisfied; I do in life the things I love.  (I’m doing more and more of the things I love, including writing about the things I feel passionate about.)

Doing the things I feel drawn to do contributes to my well-being and sense of abundance, and that of others.  (Writing, if I refrain from using it to get approval, makes me more excited about life.)

I’m able to put the most exciting projects first because I know and experience how they maintain my financial well-being.  (I just made $75.00 on GoDaddy by selling one of my domain names.  It was a name that I thought had very little merit as an auction offering.)

I don’t fear challenging the status quo.  It brings me pleasure to have and share new and unique ideas.  (People I have lost contact with, because of my leave from work, and a move to rural Wisconsin, have said they miss me.  Perhaps this is because I contribute something unique to their lives.

All criticism or lack of interest immediately becomes the inspiration I need to become a good writer.  (I recently felt a push to prove myself when a criticism seemed to lack a supportive vibe.  It brought up an “I’ll show you” feeling.)

I feel at peace with my past, knowing that it provided just the right building blocks to get to this place.  (I’m facing the awkward feelings I get when on Social Media sites.  I say to myself: “I’m going toward my fears.”  Facing these fears turns up a hidden negative belief I can look at and change.)

This place feels like perfection.  (Sometimes when I write, I feel like I’m so in the moment that I loose track of the hour I’ve decided to devote to it each day.)

Anyone out there not following your passions?  Avoiding Social Media?  Feeling less than perfectly satisfied with your life?  Is this a help?  Comments are loved more than chocolate or gold pieces.




Gootugo Site 2

I don’t want this blog to be one long string of threads about futility.  So let’s talk solutions.

A premise:  We create our experiences–with thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  Some experiences are good–happy, memorable and inspirational; and some not so good–Disappointing, destructive, or just plain sad.  It seems a stretch to say that experience is not something that just happens to us, but that we actually create it, but that’s precisely what I’m putting out there.

There is lots of evidence for this connection.  Mind Over Medicine by Lissa Rankin, MD.  (Scientific Proof that You Can Heal Yourself); The Biology of Belief:  Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles by Bruce H. Lipton; and This Article suggesting that even your past isn’t set in stone, by Robert Lanza.

‘Nuff said.  Read for yourself.

But if thoughts and beliefs  really do directly determine what happens to us, that’s something we should capitalize on, right?  The good experiences we want, and so would do well to hang onto the interconnecting thoughts and beliefs.  The other thoughts and beliefs should be dodged like a wad of gum on a heated up sidewalk.

But how do we dump the thoughts and beliefs that aren’t working for us?  And how do we manipulate thoughts / beliefs /emotions in the moment?  I don’t know about you, but despite my desire to do this, I’m not all that successful–especially in the areas of my life where I already feel stuck.  And even though this has been my own decades-long inquiry.

There are lots of people with lots of theories on how to do it.  So where to start?

I tend to like the variety of options–after all, you can’t have too many theories about how to change things for the better.  But, in my experience, not all of them work equally well at any given time.

I want them all at my disposal, for the same reason that I read the menu at Cafe Wren before I so much as order even a cup of tea.  With the selection in front of me, I can order the thing that I’m most hungry for.  Ditto on perusing  “negative thought interventions.”   The approach that I’m most hungry to put to the test in that moment is often the best.

But something as esoteric as a list of approaches to thought-experience manipulation makes it seem that my brain’s memory centers are made of Teflon.  Keeping a number of these approaches in mind during any give time period seems a little impossible, because they just don’t stick.  So, for sanity’s sake, I invented a way to make them stick.  Thus, my very own menu of “thought intervention.”

I named this menu “Gootugo.”  Gootugo, short for “goo to go,” has two sections–you guessed it,  “Goo” and “Go.”  The “Goo” section helps me to examine troublesome thoughts and emotions (which lead to troublesome behavior and experience).  The “Go” section reminds me how to change these thoughts and emotions.  Each point of examination (in “Goo”) and thought intervention (in “Go”) has a letter associated with it.

The site where you can see the Gootugo in its entirety is here.  But, notice that it’s still under construction, so please check back again if you don’t see there what you’re hungry for.

When I travel to a new place, it’s pretty much a given that I’ll have to consult a map.  Having inherited the family “directionally challenged” gene, I can’t keep the map in my head, no matter how diligently I study it.  Same with Gootugo.  It’s such unfamiliar territory, that I need a way to call it up when in the murky waters of negative thought.

So I paired Gootugo with the alphabet.  If you can say your ABCs, you have the Gootugo itinerary nearly committed to memory.  This gives you access to the points of examination and interventions, both, even when the map isn’t in front of you.

Just to give you a sense of how this works:  In Gootugo, A = automatic thoughts, B = behavior, C = consequences, E = emotions, and so on.  Each of those words helps call to mind an area to investigate.  So A reminds you to do a quick inventory of automatic thoughts–thoughts that are so automatic that they play over and over like a song lodged in your head.  Letters A – F make up the Goo section.  It’s named “goo” because goo is shorthand for stuck. 

The go section contains letters G – L.  In “go,” L = Leap of Faith, G = Go, and so on.  Some of the words, like “Go” need to be deconstructed further.  For example, “GO” is an acronym for “generate opposite.”  Generate Opposite is a reminder to come up with a thought diametrically opposed to the one that is playing like a bad song, in order to interrupt it.

Hop over to, if you want to know more.  That’s where I’ll post the instructions on using this mnemonic map.  Posts in this blog–The Expert Within–will detail how I’m using it; at least, that’s my plan.  Your comments are invaluable, so please add your thoughts to the mix via the comment section.




Thoughts Jumble

In my recent post, Metaphor, I said that getting good things in life–like connection or perspective or a sense of self-valuation–can feel burdensome.  Why is that?  Why does getting something we want so much feel so scary?  (Stranger yet, we remedy this by sabotaging our own successes.)

There are theories that explain this, lumping good change with bad change as a general source of stress, but theories aren’t that helpful in these situations.  Theories aren’t helpful because in self-sabotage, we’re messing with our own lives.  In my case, I talked about mounting a beautiful horse and riding it around Mall of America.  (I didn’t really do that; the MOA ride was dream metaphor, summarizing the enormity of recent “real life” changes.)  When it was time to put the horse away for the evening, I panicked.  As in, “Oh my god, what do I do with this wonderful horse now that he’s mine to take care of?”

When I look hard at this dream, it’s clear that I feel scared about changes in my life.  Though I felt certain that they’d change life for the better, the good changes came with not-so-good feelings:  heightened feelings of loneliness, shame, and and even fear.  Now that the changes have been made, how do I calm the feelings they kick up?  Taking cover from these feelings–like the stinging spray of dirt and gravel launched by the hind hooves of a fleeing horse–is a hard-wired reflex.  It’s hard not to duck.

“Were the changes worth it?” you might wonder.  One of the biggest changes–time away from my practice in order to improve my emotional and physical health–felt (and still feels) especially uncomfortable.  A cancer diagnosis made me do it, but despite the powerful motivation…not easy.  In one big purge, I  eliminated most everything that defined me, and distracted me from my own thoughts.  Leaving me with–God help me–my own thoughts.  Another change was to put myself (and my health) first.  This meant eliminating most everything I loved and relied on as mood elevators, from sugar to overwork, with all the shades between.  Leaving me with a pretty crappy mood the majority of the time.

Yet, these changes may have saved my life.

The uneasiness I’ve felt throughout my work hiatus highlighted just how much I’ve avoided “me as the focus” until now.  Not the work me, or the thinking me, or the me that others reflected back.  Just me.  Maybe that kind of highlighting was needed.

This “duck and cover” avoidance is funny to me, because I so didn’t know I was doing it.  Denial is like that.  “I am so attuned to my inner world, I thought, prior to pulling down denial’s walls.   I loved doing growth and introspection like others love ocean side holidays or scrap booking.  I spent all kinds of time and energy to change careers in midlife, just so I could become a psychotherapist and spend every work hour talking about it, or something related.  Listening to “self” has been the topic of endless hours of both clinical and private time.

I followed this inner voice like my goats trail me to their feed bin each morning.  I obeyed it when it told me to initiate work changes, take on big work challenges, and when to start my own practice after my head injury in order to better control my environment.

Does the word “work,” repeated three times in that last sentence, stand out for you, too?  I know, right?

I knew myself in the work world.  I knew what I loved to do (in the work arena) and pursued it.  I knew not to be afraid to go after new challenges.  But I didn’t know a whole lot of other things.  Which includes most of the territory outside of work.

A quick illustration:  things I knew about my self as a creative, productive worker:  pristine Half Moon beach.  Things I knew about self-acceptance,  love and connection:  murky pond on 160th street.  Through the muck, I could see only that I lacked confidence.  And that I was often miserable.  But I wasn’t willing to sit in that misery long enough to know much else.  Sitting in a pond isn’t that much fun.

I didn’t know, for example, that I was scared to get close to people.  That I worked so intently, consistently, and productively because a break in the action would bring intense loneliness and feelings of failure in relationships.  I didn’t know that I had a general sense of myself as not worth the effort, and every time that idea was challenged, I struggled.  I became, at the same time, both intensely happy and terrified.

A thoroughly described problem just screams out for a solution doesn’t it?  I have a plan.  For now, tell me:  does any of this ring true for you?