I'm Finding Secret Messages

1. Look! Harriet the Spy made it onto a list of Children's Books that Grow With You. (As shared with me by Secret Message Society Member, Alicia.) 

During some recent correspondence with one of my high school English teachers, I was informed that for him, To Kill a Mockingbird would also make this list.

So I'm wondering, what book did you read as a kid and reread as an adult to find EVEN MORE secret messages?

— Julien Smith, The Flinch

2. This is a snippet from a quote Secret Message society Member, Paige shared with me. Here is the quote in full

Prizes from a recent Secret Message Society challenge.

Prizes from a recent Secret Message Society challenge.

3. This fun little quiz - Which Mr. Men Character are you?

Garbage Art by Justin Gignac

Garbage Art by Justin Gignac

4. NYC Garbage, as shared with me by my friend, Deleise. 

in that wilderness, we roam
the distances of our faith,
safe beyond the bounds
of what we know.
— Wendell Berry, A Homecoming

5. This poem by Wendell Berry as shared with me by Seth. An excerpt of this is shared in the current issue of the Secret Message Society Zine. Although I am just now realizing I spelled excerpt in my own creative way. 

Good riddance. Go get ‘em girl. Forget the past. Fly unfettered to the next perch. Relish your woman-hood. Find a man. Find a plan. Find a church. Find a career. Find God. Find yourself. For heaven’s sake. I didn’t even know I was lost. That i was in a game. Of hide and seek. I’m so tired of finding and looking that I could rip my hair out, scream and shout at, everything somedays.

Fuck finding.

I might be falling apart. But I’m found. I’m here. No one may be looking but it doesn’t matter.
— Heavy Mettle

6. The above quote is from this blog post. OH. MY.

To nurture the allied abstraction between self and society and renew the diluted concept of cool.
— Livedef Clothing

7. I loved reading through the company vision statement from this artist, Melissa Tripp. She also has a powerful twitter feed.  

8. I get these periodic emails from Sark because I signed up for her Great Life Letter list. I wanted to share the insight from the latest one I got that has to do with decision making. The PUS acronym grosses me out, but I guess I won't forget it.

Choose something that you want to do for YOU.  Double check that there is no FOG or PUS fueling that activity and go do it!

  F - Fear                             P - Pressure

 O - Obligation                  U - Urgency

G - Guilt                             S - Scarcity

9. My friend Rebekah shared this Ted Talk with me. I think I watched it with my jaw dropped open the entire 15 minutes. I love it so. I just was telling someone recently about how much (on most days) I love my monsters (aka voices) and that I don't want anyone to take them from me. 

He married her anyway. I say ‘anyway,’ but I’d bet a dollar he married her BECAUSE she was the sort of woman to try to seduce him with brains, however badly prepared - BECAUSE she was willing to risk repulsing him to win him. How utterly illogical of her, and yet how utterly right.
— Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

10. This quote from Julie and Julia that sounds exactly like something my friend Mandy told me once. The notion that we could be loved for our madness not in spite of it. 

11. Finally, this gnome, which I found flying from a tree while on a walk with my boys recently. 

Up a Lazy River

After some yoga that ended with Stephanie Snyder from YogaGlo saying, "Relax the spaces between your fingers," I felt peaceful and pleased. And really, let me go ahead and say that "peaceful and pleased" are the words I could have used to describe my feelings at the end of Easter day, just before I went to sleep last night.

It is rare that a day begins and ends with the same sort of satisfaction. Yesterday felt like I was riding one of those lazy rivers at a big water park. The kind where you lay in the inner tube let the current take you where it pleases while your skin gets warm and golden, or in my case, usually bright red like the Quint 2 Firetruck that services my neighborhood.

I decided to make Aunt Stacy's Banana Bread for breakfast. Aunt Stacy is my sister-in-law and this recipe of hers is a huge favorite with my kids. My girls weren't home from the slumber party yet, but my boys looked at each other in wide-eyed anticipation and cheered and ran the lap in our house from living room to kitchen to dining room back to living room. Since I'm typically making food that they are groaning at, this was a nice change. 

I'm not sure why I decided to make banana bread on the morning that I also had to make two pies and a salad for a family Easter gathering at 4 pm. I think it was because I had already salivated over the thought of a piece of that bread with a Neverland Mug of coffee and once you get that sort of ambiance in your head, it's hard to not give it to yourself.

I put on my apron, like I usually do when I realize I'm A. going to be in the kitchen for a while or B. wiping my messy hands repeatedly on my clothes. I felt so domesticated, which reminded me of that time I ran into a past boyfriend (like literally ran into him) in my hometown and he said to me, "You're all domesticated and stuff now, aren't you?" I grimaced and said I didn't prefer that word. Later, I broke out into an invisible soul rash for the next several weeks? months? years? because all I could think of was Isadora Duncan saying, "You were wild once. Don't let them tame you" and how I probably let down a whole pack of women who run with the wolves and Secret Rebels because I had gone and got declawed. 

But I have resigned myself to the fact that I am in fact in some ways and on some days, wildly domesticated and that domestication feels a lot like being home (to yourself), being rooted, being grounded, being soft and being sure. It also feels like being peaceful and being pleased, which I've already told you was yesterday's theme. 

With the banana bread cooking in the oven and smelling delicious in our home and the 5-year-old asking me every other minute if it was ready yet, I began on making the pie crusts. The process is unhurried and requires some patience. Flour, salt, cutting in the shortening, then adding a tablespoon of cold water one at a time until the consistency of the dough is just right when pinched between your fingers. The "just right" part makes me nervous every time, but it seemed to work out ok yesterday. The process is meditative as long as you're not in a hurry, as long as you can give yourself over to it. I wrapped the balls of dough in plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator to chill for a little bit. 

I paused to watch a Facebook video of my niece, who lives far, far away in NY, reading a children's book. I cried and laughed at the same time. 

My phone vibrated. A thrashing friend sharing her Easter church sermon notes with me: 

"The bible is full of all sort of promises, but if you don't live up to our expectations, they aren't for you."

Then my phone started ringing. Another friend.

"I am warning you. I am highly emotional today. I will probably cry just because I hear your voice."

We talked a bit about Easter and Jesus and Bunnies and how bizarre this holiday is anyway, but how even more bizarre it is when you don't know where you fit or don't care to find out. She was spending her Easter morning in a McDonald's play place. I was spending mine being domesticated. No easter dresses and wrist corsages like as a kid. Things were just different, and even if different is okay, it still can take some getting used to. 

I forgot to mention I made a double batch of banana bread, mainly for the practical reason that I couldn't stand for the bananas to go bad and unused, but partly because I couldn't stop thinking about my neighbors and how hard their lives are. How hard all our lives are.

I had some semblance of understanding about why my mother-in-law loves cooking big full meals for people, even if it wears her out. It's because sometimes it's the only thing that makes sense, putting food in the bellies of those you love. Today I loved everyone. Who cares if I didn't really like baking and I didn't really want to be the mom home alone in an apron while her husband did exciting things like winning bike races. Who cares if I kind of wanted the old ways of things: a new dress and fancy flowers and sunrise breakfasts. Who cares if I had other things I actually needed to be making, like pies and a salad and who cares if I burned out before I got those done. In this way my domestication was actually far from divulging my tameness. I was a madwoman who opens herself to love when it doesn't make sense to her. When the tears fall as if they flowed from some source other than her own.

The bread finished and stuck a bit to the bottoms of the pans. But no worries, my boys were shoving their fingers into the hot metal, risking a burn for the first crumbs. This sort of thing can melt a person, especially if said person is having a ridiculously gushy day. They wanted to partake of what I had made. 

I cut the second loaf of Aunt Stacy's Banana Bread in half and wrapped it in wax paper, holding the folds with washi tape that didn't want to stick. I grabbed art scraps from a bag and dipped my fountain pen in black India Ink and scrawled, "With love." It made me so happy I felt embarrassed. I thought about sending my kids to the neighbors with the treats, which is how I normally handle such a delivery, but this usually ends with me asking my kids, "What did they say? What did they think? What did their faces look like when you gave it them?" And my kids looking at me blank, like it really didn't matter. But it does matter to me, so I decided I wanted to be the one to enjoy the delivery, even if it made me blush and go speechless and smile all goofy and toothy. 

I knocked on my duplex neighbor's door, and Lil came out, also in her comfy clothes, and her face lit up and she hugged me and I hugged back. 

"It's still warm," she exclaimed, cupping the little half-loaf in her hands like it was a small rescued animal.

"You guys have been working a lot of long hours..."

"We have, we have," she said exasperated. 

"I just wanted to make something for you."

She thanked me, and called into her husband and teenage boys, "Look what our neighbor made for us."

I walked across the street and delivered the other half loaf to the single mom with a premie newborn whose kids hold a special place in my heart. Her son answered the door in his bathrobe with a package of bologna in one hand and a slice of bread in the other. 

"I made you something," I said, and he smiled and said thank you and I felt shy when I realized a girl could get off on this sort of moment. There is nothing like seeing someone smile in a bathrobe with gunk still in their eyes. I rubbed the gunk out of my own eyes and walked back across the street to my home, feeling like Christian Slater as a flower delivery man in Bed of Roses.

I sat down at my table to enjoy my coffee and bread. One sip of coffee and the doorbell rang. It was my neighbor, Lil.

"Girl!" She said, her mouth half-full of banana bread and a big slice in her hand. "I just had to come over and tell you, this is DIVINE." She was shaking her finger and using her whole body to get her message across. 

She had to use the word DIVINE, didn't she? Straight to my heart like a secret message arrow. I called God the Divine a lot when writing Thrashing, and here was evidence of the incarnation, showing up right here on my dirty porch with the paint chipped lawn furniture. 

"It is DIVINE," she said again, chewing and savoring. 

"Thank you. You made my day," I said, thinking secretively about how one part of me had pouted when I had made the decision to do the extra work to make an extra loaf.

"No, YOU made MY day," she said, shaking her head and saying "mmm, mmm, mmm," like I had just preached the best Easter sermon she had ever heard. She walked back over to her side of the porch.

I kid you not, no sooner did my butt land back in the dining room chair and my hand touched my  first slice of bread, my doorbell rang again. It was Lil.

"Last time. I promise. I won't bug you again!" She was saying all of this before I even had the door open, and my dog was barking his head off and my heart was thumping love gush. 

"My husband told me not to come back over here, but I told him hush, because you have got to know that this is the best banana bread I have ever had. And I LOVE banana bread. I have had all sorts, and this is better than most bakeries. The inside is moist, but the crust, the crust! We do not want a moist crust, you know what I am saying? And the texture of this crust is..." She was making moaning noises, and I was blushing and goofy smiling, feeling the skin tightening around my ears. My eyes were wet. 

On the inside, a part of me was getting panicked. What if she expected me to make it again?What if it never turned out the same way again? What if she knew I could count on one hand the amount of times I had ever made banana bread? What if she quit her exhausting job and bought a storefront and expected me to start turning out moist loaves with textured crusts that made people moan?

"Well, it's Aunt Stacy's recipe," I said, as if she would know Aunt Stacy personally, "and maybe I just got lucky. You are so sweet!"

"I am NOT sweet. I am honest. I will be talking about this bread at work."

I felt the softening. I laid myself back in the big, cloud-like inner-tube and basked in that love though it might turn me red as a cherry. You have to give yourself over to it, like you give yourself over to the pie crusts. 

"Thank you," I hugged her tight, got swallowed up by the entire perfection of her standing before me and knew the banana bread was saying everything I couldn't find words for in the moment.

My girls came home from the slumber party. I ran to the grocery and got nutmeg and karo syrup for the pies and strawberries for the salad. While in the spice aisle a man, probably in his 50's, and his father were looking at the salts. 

"Are we in your way?"

"Oh, no, I'm just looking."

Then the man says to his father, "Well which kind do you think it is dad, this one says ice cream salt."

"Ice cream salt?!" I said, "I think I want to eat at your house."

They laughed and the son said, "Yeah, I'm putting my dad to work. Going to have him make us ice cream."

They kept looking for their salt. I kept looking for my nutmeg. 

"One of you smells really good," I said, to the father and son, catching a whiff of their cologne. "Or maybe it's your combined scent?!" I added.

The son looked at me his eyes twinkling and said, "I bet it's the ice cream salt." I threw my head back and laughed, thrilled that I was the chosen recipient for his wit. The day was obviously catering to me. 

I returned home and made the pies, crimping the crusts like my mother-in-law taught me. Pecan first, my Love Interest's current favorite. Then apple, my father-in-law's favorite. 

As I folded the dough for the apple pie and laid it in the pie pan I recognized this was the most pleasant part of the process for me. The dough felt soft and smooth and it was a sensual rush to drape it and unfold it, like silk bed sheets. When I put the apples into their bed, all I could think was, they are gushing, like me. This is why Julie Powell equates Mastering the Art of French Cooking with the book The Joy of Sex. Somehow the two go hand in hand. If my past boyfriend only knew how erotic a pie dough could get. Domesticated my ass. 

The evening unfolded just as perfectly as my pie crusts. I called two of my friends and my sister and told them I loved them. I called my grandma and told her I was making pies and thinking of her and her pie. I met my baby niece, Eden, for the first time. I ate an incredible spread of food that my mother-in-law created. I shared heartfelt conversations with my family members and laughed so hard my sides ached. I relayed the banana bread story to Aunt Stacy in the flesh. I kissed my Love Interest, returned from the far-off lands of successful bike racing. I put all of my kids to bed with wet eyes and a burning nose. And then I collapsed into my own bed wondering how in the world I was ever going to put all of this into words or why anyone would ever be patient enough to read it. The Lazy River current pulled me into the rich night of dream world, peaceful and pleased. 

Savoring Eden and her fresh scent of (re)birth.

Savoring Eden and her fresh scent of (re)birth.

My cousin says that Easter is about "Life, fertility, rebirth, the return of the sun, return of the resurrected god; for many thousands of years, this has been a time to celebrate the world coming back to life after the deadness of winter."

I do feel like yesterday was my resurrection day.

Eyes water. Nose burns.

As you might imagine, I set my alarm for 5 am, did some writing and then went for a run yesterday. I was not going to have a repeat of the day before, and besides, I had already given resting a real solid attempt. 

As I took off running away from the dead end street I live on, I noticed three things: one, my legs were still extremely sore in all the joints. Two, my city was a ghost town at 6 in the morning on a Saturday. Three, the sky was pink and orange with the anticipation of a new day. I  was going to see what I could do with it. 

With nearly no cars to contend with, I decided to run a different route than I'm used to, mainly because the running was getting boring, and I wanted to run for awhile. On my new venture I could make it clear to a park, run a portion of the trail within it, the portion that was not secluded in the woods where I didn't feel safe by myself in the dawn's early light, and then run back home. I ran the way there with no headphones, listening to the bird song and talking to myself about how much I love to write and why I had been avoiding it. 

There were three other men out running. I wondered where all the women were. 

In the park I was honked at my several perturbed ducks, while I marveled over the fountain and how pretty it looked in the morning light and how soothing it sounded, even if the ducks were quacking at my rude disruption of their otherwise . 

On the way back I listened to music and tried to tell my legs that they actually could keep going if they would just trust me. For most of the run I followed a man who was running way faster than me with his dog. He had flashing red lights velcroed to each arm, that blinked out in front of me in the distance like a homing beacon or a donkey's carrot. 

Having reached my goal of running 45 minutes, I ended my run on my Nike App, pleasantly surprised to find it was my longest run yet, and walked the last half a block or so back to my house. I saw a bird in the open lot next to my neighborhood. The bird was ripping at a piece of clear plastic wrap that had been torn off a package of cigarettes. It got startled by my approach and flew off with the plastic, presumably to its nest. I imagined its nest being some modern day work of art, interwoven with colorful bits of trash, of which there was plenty to choose from in that open field. I wondered what would become of the bird and his creation once the property sold and the development started. I wondered if all the field mice would end up in our home. They had to have a home. 

I turned the corner to my dead end street and walked down the middle of the road in big long strides trying to stretch out my ankles, arches, knees, calves and hips. There was a bird sitting on my fence singing a very distinct song. I tried to whistle the song back, though my whistling skills are second rate. The bird looked at me, turned its head to the side, whistled its song again and then flew into my backyard, as if to say, "I dare you to follow me." I didn't take the bait. After all, I highly doubted his little game of chase was going to end me at a bottle of Ibuprofen and a tall glass of cold water, and I had plans for that.

Inside Tony was awake and doing cycling laundry and shoving stuff into his race weekend bag. 

"Good morning, Love," he said to me as I swallowed 2 Ibuprofen and tucked the rest of the bottle into the side pocket on his bag. 

"Good morning. Do you have time for breakfast?" I asked, resting against the counter and feeling the flush of my cheeks and the throb of my legs. Resisting the urge to tell him I had just accomplished my longest run yet, because I wasn't sure he was in the mindset to really hear me or to cheer like a madman, both of which would be absolutely necessary at this point.

"I don't. I have to get going," he said reluctantly. 

"That's okay. I just thought I'd offer if you were going to be here packing for a bit."

I worked on catching my breath. He worked on packing the last of his things and grabbing his laundry, and telling me the times of his races because he knows I like to know these things. 

"I'm sorry I won't be there," I said.

"It's ok. I love you." He hugged me solid, sweat and all and I sighed, relishing the moment. One more "I love you guys!" hollered from the garage and then he was off.

My eyes watered. My nose burned. I'm not sure why that happens at the oddest of times, but it seems to happen more and more each day. I think it is my body going through the necessary motions of softening to this life. 

The day from that point forward actually turned out to be far more restful than my previous attempt. My girls left for a slumber party. My boys and I went to the post office, where Luis the postmaster informed me with a grin that he would be on vacation for the next two weeks, and then we went to the park. 

There was a big Easter party going on, and I assumed it was being put on by a church or a ministry because the loudspeakers were playing Switchfoot and someone prayed before they ate. The weather was perfect, the light breeze kept blowing my wrap off my shoulders, which made me feel pretty. My boys played nerf guns with other boys their age. No one fell and got hurt. No one tattled. (Okay, maybe once.) I sat and finally read through some of the final chapters of Julie and Julia with no excuses and had bits of conversation here and there with some other adults. My boys actually got tired of being there before I did. 

We went home and parked our car and then went on a walk. Well, actually the boys rode scooters. I walked behind them and yelled out nervous and worried screeches until their eyes rolled. One of them had an ice cream gift certificate from school and the other one had a $5 bill from his Papi, so our destination was the ice cream shop. 

The afternoon and evening were spent with the boys playing their new Wii game, watching batman cartoons and playing outside with their neighbor friend. I took a nap and drooled on my pillow and then finished reading the last 10 pages of Julie and Julia, celebrating it with the return of my watery eyes and burning nose as well as some chips with pico, wine and the night air on my back porch. 

I thought about these two juxtaposed days of mine. The attempt at rest and the unexpected rest. I had thought about inviting some girlfriends over, but was glad I didn't because I really did appreciate being alone.

I thought about how strange it was that for a few solid hours no one needed me, no one was bleeding, no one was strangling another person, no one wanted me to make them supper or plan their activities. When they rushed in from the outdoors, I would jump and say, "What do you need?!" They would say, "Nothing mom, I'm just thirsty." When my phone rang last night with my daughter calling from the sleepover, I jumped and said, "What do you need?" She said, "Nothing, Mom. Victoria's mom just thought I should call you.

It made my eyes water and my nose burn.

I Breathe Fire

I don't know how it goes for normal people, but I do know how it goes for me. And I don't feel normal. 

I got a text from my mother-in-law yesterday at 9:38 am.

"Are you home?"

"Yes, just not out of bed," I responded. 

I wondered what the normal people were doing on Good Friday. I started thinking about all the things I could have done had I been up at my preferred 5 AM wake-up time.

I could have exercised. I could have written. I could have breakfast already on the table. 

Yes, but I am giving myself a break, remember? Sleeping in like I never get to. Resting. 

Resting feels horrible when it's 9:38 am and I have dirty dreadlocks, sore joints, and hungry antsy kids fighting over who gets to be what character in The Lego Avengers game and my Love Interest has already left for work, early, so that he can ride his bicycle, and my in-laws are texting me to drop stuff off and I feel like a slob.

I remembered the texted conversation I had with Rain over the course of the morning while I laid in bed. At least that was something, right? Me ruminating with an onslaught of words on how love is either going to kill me or change me. Her responding as though I were brilliant. Me wondering if I really meant any of it, or if I was just trying to make myself feel better for screwing up a perfectly good morning. 

But I wanted to stay in bed. I wanted to rest. I am giving myself what I wanted. 

I turned around upside down in the bed and put my feet up on the headboard which sits in front of the window that hangs with thin scarves that I once thought looked good in my hair, but then decided they didn't. Snapping a picture of the silhouette of my feet I wrote the words I had shared with Rain.

I can't I can't okay I can. 

This is what resting feels like, what loving feels like, what getting out of bed feels like. What living with a competitive athlete feels like. What letting others into my life feels like. What parenting alone on a Good Friday feels like. What taking a picture of my feet and slapping on some filters feels like because I need to show myself through my frustration that I am allowed to feel like this. I am allowed to have no energy. To have to peel myself from the sheets because ready or not this day has started and no amount of folding my arms or stamping my foot is going to keep everyone else from having a day. 

I can't I can't okay I can. 

I managed to put on some clothes. Purple clothes because I read somewhere that purple is a royal color, and I needed all the regality I could get. I refused to look too long in the mirror while I brushed my teeth. I didn't have the desire to repaint the face that had been painted just yesterday. Second day markings would have to do. I greeted my mother-in-law for the drop-off and we said our I love you's and then she was on her way, to have a day. I was still revolting against mine.

I made waffles at practically lunch time and sat down to eat mine with fruit piled on top and a cup of coffee as my reward. Everything was effort. Even the swallowing. And the voices kept mocking me. 

I could have ran. I could have written. I could have had some time to myself to do something legit, but I didn't want it. Remember? I didn't want it. I wanted to rest.

I can sum up the morning for you like this: The mom yelled. The kids yelled. The mom yelled louder. It would save you a lot of time and me a lot of embarrassment. Fast forward to the part where I'm stuffing my feet down into boots and hearing the deadening click marking the lock of the shackles forced around my wrists. I lost the key when I became a parent, just like I lost it all those years ago when I snapped the handcuffs around my weiner dog's neck and then panicked when he didn't seem to be able to breathe. Being a mom is way more involved than I assumed when I used to smile at cute kids in the grocery store and they would smile back. Now I am the one who doesn't seem to be able to breathe. At least not yesterday.

The fun afternoon consisted of swimming suit shopping. I might have called it quits about two hours in, but my girls were going to a pool party the never next day, and since they had grown out of last year's suits, we were kind of cutting it close.  

"It's crazy. This is crazy. They're going crazy," I said to my oldest daughter after we made our fifth trip from swimming suit section to dressing room. Per usual I wanted to blame someone for the plot of my life, but everywhere I pointed the finger, it pushed away, like the north side of a magnet interacting with another north. 

My kids are misbehaving. No, they're bored.

My daughter is being too picky. No, bathing suits suck.

I'm a horrible mother. No, you just shouldn't have rested this morning. Oh, shut the hell up already!

This is my life. Standing with a cart full of monkeys while I listen to the store employees fight over who gets to go on break next. (The woman with the headache won.) 

I did what any self-respecting human being would do. I started taking pictures. The ripped box outside the dressing room spoke of all my longing and wanting.

Then, I went into the dressing room where my daughter was and took a selfie, so I could see myself and say to me, by the way, this is hard, this business of seeing and allowing everyone's behavior - my kids, my husband's, my in-laws, mine, the dressing room clerk with the headache. It's all allowed, even if it makes it wildly annoying for all of us to brush shoulders together. 

After we had tried on every size 12 in the store, I waved the white flag. We had one bathing suit and one still to find. I tried to surrender myself fully to the moment, but I may have pouted a little. Who wants to spend a day inside a retail store like this, especially a pretty day with sunshine and a cool breeze?

"I hate that I am so sensitive!" My daughter groaned, in tears.

"Every woman is sensitive when it comes to bathing suit shopping. You're just one of us."

I rallied the troops by stopping for a very late lunch and I splurged for Subway, financially justified because I was way too tired to go home and make something. Also healthfully justified because I didn't opt for the $5 Hot 'N' Ready pizza. Subway at least has the appearance of health because all those vegetables are an option (of which my kids ordered none except a few shreds of lettuce). Of course, I ate jalapeño cheetos because Katy Perry and I know if you're going to make a bad day better, you simply have to burn your tongue off. We clogged both toilets and then headed off to Kohl's. 

I have never been in Kohl's in the 5 years I've lived here, but of course this is the day I would run into a friend from the homeschool co-op and church we used to attend. Me with my second day make-up and my jalapeño cheeto breath and my phantom shackled wrists, two hours into an uneventful scavenger hunt. 

I hugged her, apologized for my breath, and we spoke of the ungodly way kids seem to grow up (It's not fair that it's so cliche to say "oh my how they've grown" because it's just so damn true. And something true gets its beauty swallowed up by a stupid cliche.) 

"Are you shopping for Easter dresses?"

"No for bathing suits."

"Oh! Well good luck with that!"

We both laughed, knowing I was going to be there awhile. 

When she left I thought about how horrible I must have looked, no thanks to all that rest I got this morning, and how of course I would run into her TODAY when I had chosen to gift myself with the luxurious freedom of a wrecked life.

Two of my kids played Pokemon on the floor in a store corner. One did a gymnastic routine on the dressing room bench, the other, as aggravated as I was with the length of this process, waited for me to make trips back and forth from the swimming suits to the dressing room with one more size and one more style. I had plenty of time to think as I walked the course back and forth. The voices in my head started up their repertoire:

I suppose most everyone in my former life assumes I am a screw up. 

If we're not buying Easter dresses, I'm not in church. 

If I look tired and worn out, I must be in a really bad place due to the choices I've made. 

If my child has on sweat pants that are too big around the waste and too short at the legs, a shirt that barely covers his belly button and socks that are inside out and dirty, we must not be making it financially with the job switch from the church to "living the dream."

If I have jalapeño cheeto breath, well, anyone can plainly see this is a woman that has really let herself go.

If I had just gotten up earlier...


This is the surrender, not to the voices, but to my life. My life that hasn't cleaned up or gotten easier since I left the Christian community that has always been my life, but it is still the life I choose for myself, and though I don't believe for a single minute I have chosen poorly, I have to let those voices do their blurting, so they feel seen and heard and loved because I know then they'll quiet back down again and let me go on with my life. They are my thrashing invisible friends, and it is my mad duty to feed and water them, so they don't strangle me. Some days I tuck them into bed. Some nights I shove them into a closet and lock the door. We have a love/hate relationship, but I know now they are here to stay, and so am I. We get to both be here, brushing shoulders.

We found a bathing suit by the way. And it was so perfect on her ever-changing body, that we both squealed.

Also, today, I got up at 5 am instead of resting because that's what I wanted, and I do try to listen to myself.  

I can't I can't okay I can. 




Secret Message Society Zine - Issue Thirteen

Last month was the first time I sold out of Zines! I don't have any back issues of Issue 12 to add to my Etsy shop this time. Thank you so much for supporting my work and the work of the centerfold artists. It is very exciting to get to gather and share secret messages in a self-published piece. 

The Zine is all printed out. Just like last month, I stuffed the envelopes while catching up on the last few Grey's Anatomy episodes.

We are down one traveling gnome due to an unfortunate accident in the Oklahoma wind this past week, but I added a new gnome friend to our home, and I'm prepping him about just where these zines need to be delivered. Don't forget, members, you can tiptoe into the Underground Lair and download your digital copy.

This is the luckiest issue of all - ISSUE 13! It features Janae Maslowski as the centerfold artist. She even allowed me to share a piece of her icon art on the cover! 

It also has #secretmessage contributions by members Bethany PagetDeb Taylor, Paige Nichols, Sara Mock and Angela Byers.

I would really love to send you my gypsy journalism in the mail. Become a member HERE, or read more about the zine HERE.

Back issues are available in my Etsy store. $10 for the previous issue. $5 for all remaining available back issues. Once they sell out they're gone. 

Here is your sneak-peek at Issue 13. 

12 Months of Zines

The Secret Message Society Zine turned 1 year old! Thank you, thank you, thank you to all my subscribers!

Currently I am printing Issue 13, which I will share with you more a little later this week. For now, I wanted to do a little celebrating by showing you a glimpse of what has transpired in one year's time. 

I invited the Secret Message Society Members (thank you all!) to join me in a scavenger hunt last month to take photographs of the numbers 1-12, corresponding with the first twelve issues of the #smszine. In this post, I am going to feature twelve of their photographs along with one snippet from one of each of the twelve zines. I was all emotional looking back through these zines to photograph them. A lot of secrets and thrashing and growth has transpired. 

You can find out more or become a part of the Secret Message Society HERE or if you simply want to sample a single Zine, you can purchase back issues HERE in my Etsy.

Number 1 

Photo by Emily West


Number 2

Photo by Beth Morey


In Issue 2 I wrote a piece about my missing red, wooden handled spatula. Several months later I found the spatula tucked inside a box of kids play dough. I am sure my Zine subscribers will be relieved. 

In Issue 2 I wrote a piece about my missing red, wooden handled spatula. Several months later I found the spatula tucked inside a box of kids play dough. I am sure my Zine subscribers will be relieved. 

Number 3

Photo by Sara Mock

Number 4

Photo by Jamie Bonilla 

Number 5

Photo by Julie McCrary

Number 6

Photo by Deb Taylor

Number 7

Photo by Teresa Robinson


Number 8

Photo by Gina Kimmel

Number 9

Photo by Jessica Russell

Number 10

Photo by Brittany Gooding


Number 11

Photo by Erin Plaster

Number 12

Photo by Angela Byers

Secret Message Society - April Centerfold

The April Secret Message Society Centerfold is Janae Maslowski. The Secret Message Society began as a membership to a private blog. At that time I held monthly online video chats with members and Janae came to them regularly. There were times where the chats ended up being just the two of us. I can still picture beautiful her, sitting in front of a huge abstract painting, sharing with me the first bits and pieces of who I would come to know her as. 

Janae introduced me to Ayn Rand and the worlds of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She introduced me to Katy Perry and that has opened a portal I could have never expected. She introduced me to my MADness. She engaged with me in heretical texting, where we both crossed all sorts of blurred lines. I shared a hot and holy evening with her last summer, drinking wine and blurting soul-freeing atrocities into the phone, facing things that had to die, so that I could go on living. I visited her home last Fall, shortly after my book launch, and threw my empty and disenchanted self into the respite of a land that smelled like Christmas. I wept at rainbows and illusions, stared listlessly out windows and allowed myself to disappear because she was a welcome environment to do so. I laughed to life in a little Oregon bakery (it will always be OUR bakery) shyly licking egg yolk and avocado off my fingers when it leaked out the edges of my croissant. I felt like a little kid just waking up, and I AM just waking up. I flipped through her art journal and walked through her forests and asked her why, and how, and when and where. I feel sure she has felt everything there is to feel in this life, and you can be safe with a person like that. 

I am still coming to know her. All the days of my lifetime would not be enough to explore her depths. She is a constant source of secret messages. I like it when she gets to talking and I can listen. She is an oracle. I feel when I am with her that she has lived forever and she will live forever. I get but a blip with her, and I am thoroughly enjoying my blip. Glad I get to share a blip of her with you today. 








Secret mutant power: 

Hiding in plain sight.

Current art medium/creative endeavor I am exploring:

Weed pulling, flower planting, shrub pruning, gnome finding and enhancing my backyard wild.

A Secret Message I found in the last week:

Don't be afraid of the deep pruning that makes things bare and ugly for a time, because there is time and growth happens.

A stranger I interacted with recently:

An elderly gentleman at the Thrift Store, he was pleasantly surprised to have my 2-year-old take his hand {Rocco thought it was his dad's hand}.

A word that means a lot to me right now:

Felt. As in, seeking out that which is felt vs. that which is thought.

I've been exploring and focusing on embodying my feelings. It is terrifying and tangible. Commiting to the felt in myself is forever changing me. *See THIS POST for more on FELT.

When I don’t feel like my art matters I tell myself:

Don't force it and trust that I have many years to make my matter.

I knew I was an artist when:

I always stood at my desk during elementary art projects. My body told me the truth, creating energized me out of my seat in a way nothing else did. 

A rule I like to break:

I've never been much of a rule breaker.

I was annoyingly aligned with right-doing and right-choosing, mostly because I was terrified of God's lightening and man's disapproval. That being said, I've come to find that I am more of a social norm breaker. I've always felt the subtle and not-so-subtle messages of what is right and best. For instance, I really enjoy eating treats {favorites include: apple pie, donuts, scones} on a regularly basis. It always felt like I was entering the land of weak will and emotional eating because I didn't deny myself sugar. {poor sugar and butter, you've gotten such a bad rap}. And, yes, I let my kids eat sugary treats, too. 

This is what the Secret Message Society means to me:

It is an expansive space to believe, to seek, to find and to build on my own terms.

Here is something I created that I want to share with you:

A teepee, which I made for the kiddos and I thoroughly enjoy looking at.

If we meet on the street we’ll know each other as undercover artists by:

The slightly rumpled day-old clothes and red lipstick.

Each month I am featuring one Secret Message Society Member, both in the Zine and on my blog. I want you to see some of the creative ways these artists think, explore, live. When you open the Zine to the middle you will see an enticing double page spread designed by the centerfold artist. There will be a companion post here on my blog where I ask them a Lucky 13 questions. Want to join our grassroots movement of artists who are actively collecting, creating and inviting Secret Messages into their life?! You can subscribe here and/or get more details. 

Thrashing - At 6 Months Old

#thatthrashingbook is 6 months old!

I am contemplating why my book, Thrashing About With God, may be a difficult and unnecessary read for some (*read also - humbly contemplating why Thrashing About With God hasn't sold as successfully as I thought it might or why the people I thought might endorse/promote it, won't):

The listener is made uncomfortable. The bearer of the secret may be unburdened, but the hearer is now burdened.
— Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey

And if you don't desperately resonate with the burden it's not worth being uncomfortable over. Really, it's not. Because the burden I speak of cannot be fixed or cleaned up, nor can you run away from it and cast blame. The book either asks you to surrender to the great Mystery AND own your great life or to be miserable, and I understand now why people who don't claim to have darkness anymore because they've been saved from it have no desire to take on my burden and make it their own. Who would willingly sign up for that? I get it now! I get it! I get why it just makes them sad for me!

So the book is for the desperate and the mad, which makes sense since it was written in desperation and madness. If you are the desperate and mad sort, would you please pass my book along to others as opportunities to do so arise?! It seems there are more of us than I thought. But we tend to be a quiet bunch, struggling alone. (Maybe because we've been told we are too desperate or too mad.) I love US.

I will be doing a book signing at my favorite local Oklahoma City bookstore, Full Circle, on Saturday, June 21 at 3 PM. Come. We'll talk. 

Untraditional Ways of Sitting Shiva

Death is a tender subject and most folks want grief to be over quickly. But grief works at its own pace. I am a firm believer in allowing the creativity to flow as a method to processing the memories and the feelings.
— Valerie Randall

Marnie Adams created two stunning tribute books in honor of our friend Valerie. One book showcases Valerie's photography and one showcases her digital scrapbooking. It is a heart-warming thing indeed that I got to create an art piece to be included in the latter of the two books. 

This post shares that art piece and a small glimpse at how I've been grieving in my own untraditional way. 

I love you, Valerie.


The Laugh Track

Curated vignettes on laughter:

Laughter through nausea is my favorite emotion, and after that, things got easier.
— Julie and Julia

* * *

"Okay my dear,                                                                                       

You have stumbled enough in the earth’s sweet dance,              

You have paid your dues                                                                         

Many times.

Now let’s get down to the real reason                                           

Why we sit together and breathe

And begin the laughing, the divine laughing,                              

Like great heroic women                                                                          

And magnificent                                                                                          

Strong men.

- Hafiz, Who Wrote All The Music

Things my friends have said in the past few weeks:

"I've been writing rather dark and heavy lately. But it's the kind of dark that makes you laugh...hopefully."

"My therapist is probably going to tell me, 'I hear you laughing when you should be crying, and if you're laughing it means you haven't dealt with it yet.'"

"Well, we're laughing now, and I always know that when we're laughing it means we've finished hashing something out. We are done when we get to the Divine Laugher."

* * *

I remember the first feedback I got on Thrashing About With God from my agent, after he had agreed to be my agent. 

"I think we need some humor. Perhaps some self-deprecation."

"Like Anne Lamott?" I asked.

"Yes, Lamott does this pretty well, only maybe less swearing. Could you add some funny stories? This book is really heavy, and if we're going to be able to go there with you, we need you to make us laugh at what you're going through."

To this day I think it was brilliant advice, but it still doesn't change the fact that at the time I thought, "But this isn't funny."

* * * 

"Comedy is the hardest thing to write," my husband said as we were discussing BJ Novak recently. The art of perfectly timed wit delivered with just the right mixture of humility and confidence is no small task. 

Maybe comedy is the hardest thing to write because it is the hardest thing to live. Dear Harold Crick, answer me this, "Am I in a tragedy or a comedy?"

* * *

Rick Warren, my pastor for two years of this wild life, used to say "We take ourselves too seriously and don't take God seriously enough." 

But I think all of it's serious and all of it isn't. 

* * *

In terms of lights and darks, laughter is both. There is light-hearted laughter that comes from creativity and life and maniacal laughter that comes from surrender and death. Some days neither will suffice and this too is okay.

Yesterday in a phone call someone told me, "He's in a place of euphoria, and everyone wants me to be too. But I don't want to smile. I don't feel like it right now."

* * *

In the beginning of the moments, years ago, when that first happens, we make a federal case out of it. Our stuff is up, what does this mean? We analyze the thought—you know, what perception is being cleansed out? Where is this from? Is this from childhood stuff? Is this false belief? We analyze it, and then as years go on, we don’t make a federal case out of it as much. We just know that we’re going through it.
— Michael Bernard Beckwith

Lately I've been noticing a quicker turn around time. What I mean by this is the stretches of straight-faced, "that's not funny" processing are significantly shrinking. Initially when this happened I needed a friend to help me understand it. I felt as though my lightness was betraying my darkness. Something would occur in my day that normally would have been debilitating, sending me into a tailspin of writing and brooding and groping and thrashing for long periods of time. But now, there seems to be a catch and release. A 30-minute-window (give or take some minutes) of checking in with myself, and I'm back on my feet ready to go. I found myself saying, "Are you really okay, Mandy? Is this really all the time you need? Is this really not going to ruin your whole month? Are you sure you don't need to journal about it?" I was so timid in believing my dark side when it said, "Yep. I'm good. Let's continue."

The path to Cosmic Laughter is shorter now, and the laughter is deeper, more solid and significant and grounded. A thick belly laugh. A Kali induced mad howl. I know what I'm going through and I know I'm going to make it. 

I look forward to the laughter. Love to see it return. Love the feeling when it comes rushing in, and I know I get to expand, unforced and unhurried, to make room for it. I feel ready.

I have spent a lot of my life thus far doing serious responsible work, and I have let myself do it, because I needed to honor that serious necessity. It feels good to have developed some fantastically strong belly muscles to let loose all the laugher that I've had to hold in for ages. 

I now embody laughter and aching at the very same time. Maybe this is the magical elixir that has aged in my deep, dark cellar over the past four years. I'm Ray Bradbury finally uncorking a bottle of Dandelion Wine or The Little Red Tarot pouring out flutes of Elderflower Champagne in the belly of my boat.

* * *

More things my friends have said in the past few weeks:

"Truthfully what I want to do when I get a chance to do something for me is not more work. I want to drink whisky, watch a TV show or read a good book and fall into bed. The excitement is making it from the couch to the bed. I hope this doesn't make me sound like a drunk."

"Now that I finally know I could write a memoir, and it would be damn good story, I'm not sure I want to. I'd much rather watch Gossip Girl and drink wine and eat coffee cake."

"I don't want to talk about work or what I do all day. I have this one friend who will make me laugh. She is silly with me. We can talk about nonsense for hours. I need a release from the normal."

* * *

When my baby brother died I was in kindergarten, and I remember telling my mom that I laughed when I heard the news because I wasn't sad. Over the past couple weeks, there have been moments in the grieving process of my dear friend Valerie that the most ridiculous of smiles has spread across my face, and I can't for the life of me wipe it off. I don't think she'd want me to. She makes me that happy no matter in death or in life. She makes me that happy. 

* * *

Three times this week I have wiped sad tears away while joyfully laughing. Magic comes in threes.