Home Sweet Missouri, Journey

To Fear, Standing Up, and the Indomitable Ms. A

The thing I remember most about my 11th grade English class was Joseph McCarthy.

My high school English teacher died last week. It wasn’t a quiet death, no it was sudden and violent. She was ripped out of the world and those that remain still haven’t come to grips with her departure.

Ms. A was a domestic violence survivor, but I didn’t know that when I sat in her English class my junior year of high school. I learned that recently, nearly fifteen years after she had me in class. She’d begun to write her own story, to give voice to her own experience. Her words, like her voice in the classroom, were a force to behold, simultaneously piercing and cataclysmic. And yet, it seemed that they gave her a sense of peace. Her death, then, was tragically perverse.

I, like many of my classmates and community members, am having a difficult time grappling with the reality of her passing. I keep thinking back to the lessons Ms. A taught me. They’ve echoed and reverberated through my lifetime; I learn and relearn them the older I get. This makes me smile, because isn’t that what every great teacher wants? Their lessons to just keep on educating, year after year?

Way to go, Ms. A.

I don’t really remember anything that I read in high school. I vividly remember all my favorite books from ages 4-14. And I have strong ties to many stories and poems and essays from my years in college and graduate school and beyond. But the four years of high school are a literary black hole in my life. I could psychoanalyze that but I think the easiest explanation is that I was preoccupied with a million other things. Read: I was an adolescent.

So, when I think of Ms. A, I struggle to remember what we read. What I remember was Joseph McCarthy. We studied the literature of the 1950’s and what I remember from that unit was an in-depth examination of McCarthyism and its implications. We read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I remember the comparison of the Salem witch trials to McCarthy’s quest to rid the U.S. of communists (and homosexuals and artists and civil rights activists), and evaluating how Miller’s play served as a vehicle to express his views on the subject; to take a stand.

Ms. A also gave us the Harlem Renaissance. She gave me Langston Hughes’ poetry, James Baldwin’s stories, and Lorraine Hansberry’s The Raisin in the Sun, which was undoubtedly another of Ms. A’s lessons at work—here, a story providing a platform to highlight inequity and racism. Again, I don’t remember the story very well, but I remember the history and the implications of the writing on the world clearly.

These are some of the best examples of the power of words to shift perception, to stand up for something, to advocate through literature. In that regard, they rocked my world.

I was scared of Ms. A. She was sharp, took no shit and wasn’t afraid to stand up to the snarkiest of bullies. She was, in a word, fierce. I was scared of her, but oh, I admired her, I wanted to be just like her. Her actions and her demeanor showed me how to take a stand.

I kept in touch with Ms. A. She followed my writing, as well as my personal journey of travel and exploration. We had conversations about writing and social justice. The more I found courage to publicly take a stand in my own work, the more she encouraged me. Even in my mid (okay, late?) thirties, I can tell you, that still matters.

When I was a teenager I thought she was a fearless woman. Now, I know better. She wasn’t unafraid. She let her fear stand beside her as she stood strong, told her story, let her words empower her. She was an example of a woman who had plenty to be afraid of and was, but she stood up anyway. This lesson is her legacy and I will hold it close.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey

Beahans on a Journey Home

Team Beahan is taking a grand leap this summer. We are selling Casa Beahan in Seattle, putting all our worldly possessions in storage and going on the road for the foreseeable future. We are on a creative quest to find our new home. IMG_1156

Why? Why would we leave a house we love, a neighborhood we totally jive with, a community of friends that are our family in a part of the country that could simply not be more beautiful? That’s crazy.

Well, no one said we weren’t a little crazy.

We have been digging in and re-evaluating our philosophy on living and working for many months. We want, more than anything, for our life and our work to be fused, to achieve the ultimate work/life balance. I grew up watching my dad work day and night at his craft. I believe he did it because a) he is a hard worker by nature b) he had a family to support but more importantly, c) because he loved it and he couldn’t not do it. It was so integral to his life that while it was grueling and wore him down, it also fed his soul. And, frankly, he was really successful–a nationally known furniture maker. 

Mr. B and I want that too. I have gotten a big, beautiful taste of that in the last few months. I left my career in the nonprofit world to pursue writing, and it is similarly something I feel like I never stop doing. I never stop writing. I wake up and read to push my writing further. I write all day–sometimes it’s all day in my head, working out a scene or motivation. Sometimes I get out of bed to put the ideas that were churning through my head as I drift off to sleep on paper. My vocation is my avocation.

Anyone who knows us at all knows that we have been dreaming of opening up our own business. Mr. B has been day-dreaming about this since I’ve known him, and I’ve just gotten in on the action. The idea has morphed through the years, but the plan is pretty simple to start: a community arts center, a place where people gather to do, learn, show and see creative work. A place where we can write and paint and support others to do the same.

As all this discussion simmered and the creative energy burbled we began to see this plan emerge–sell our house, pay off everything we owe, minimize our expenses, nest-egg some away and invest in a trip across the continent to find our next home. I can feel all of our collective creative energy burbling to the top. It’s like in the process of searching, we are creating something as well. I am going to write this into a book. What makes all these places different? Similar? How do we react, both individually and as a couple? How does our art change?

Our quest over the next six months is actually quite simple. It’s a quest to find the place where we can build this life. Our criteria is pretty basic:

  1. Low cost of living–the less we spend on housing and transportation the less revenue we have to generate for ourselves.
  2. Community of creatives. It does’t have to be big, but one that we can contribute too and build our own life within.
  3. I want something smaller. I miss the quietness of the Ireland country roads, the simplicity of not having so much to choose from (I realize this is decidedly NOT the American way), wide open spaces and a community where people know each other.
  4. We love to be outside. When I am outside I do not want to sweat profusely all the time. I did my time in the Missouri humid summers, it’s miserable and I am not interested.
  5. Mr. B must be close to a movie theatre–not just the big box flicks, but the indies as well.

It’s a journey to find our place. It’s a game changer. It might lead us right back where we started here in the PNW, and that wouldn’t shock me. I’ve certainly returned before. But the decision to create a new life in the process, that feels big. To have a chance to soar above the mundane, to take a risk to live our life differently–that feels huge.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey, menagerie, Uncategorized, Words for Food

Culture Shock.  

It’s taken me two weeks to really get readjusted. Yet another thing I’ve never done before, this adjustment back–like grieving where you’ve been, its uniqueness and how impossible it is to both explain and replicate.

I returned from my month-long writing retreat in Ireland to a whole new ballgame. Really, it’s like I was playing golf and now I’m playing cricket.

I left my nonprofit work with a hard stop, spent four quiet weeks hibernating in the hills with the cows and kitties and fairies. And then I returned and within a week had a new gig as a social media/marketing wrangler, a new professional identity as a freelance writer, said the words “I’m working on my novel” out loud, put finishing touches on MFA applications, re-budgeted, reassessed, reconsidered…recovered from a kick ass headcold…

Here’s what I miss about my Ireland adventure:

Peppers--the writing annex, where everyone knew my name and what I was working on.

Peppers–the writing annex, where everyone knew my name and what I was working on.

  •  Druid Cottage
  • Brown bread
  • 2 hour-long walks in the country
  • Peat fires, specifically mine.
  • Silence
  • Simplicity—from food to routine, everything was barebones, accoutrement free
  • Walking into Peppers and feeling like I belong
  • Wind howling around the eves of my cottage making me feel strangely secure and cozy inside.
  • Not ever knowing what day it was or what time it was.

Here’s what I am so glad to come home to:

Here goes...

Here goes…

  • My menagerie
  • My new (fully functioning!) oven and it’s various culinary adventures (which may or may n to include baking brown bread).
  • OAK! The best burgers in Seattle. The best cozy winter bar. Happiness abounds.
  • Public transit (yes, really—it’s nice to not have to drive everywhere)
  • The right side of the road.
  • My new gig with these fun, creative, shit-kicking folks, Team Diva Real Estate. Taking buying, selling and renting to a whole new level. I love their commitment to relationships, neighborhoods, to knowing the quirkiest spots, to snark and pink.
  • IPA’s, especially this one. Guinness is oh, so good, but I’m a Northwesterner at heart.
  • Esquin and the Saturday wine tasting—what you’ve never been to Esquin? Best wine shop in Seattle. Nicest staff. Best back room with phenomenal deals.
  • A new adventure as a freelance writer (stay tuned)

 

 

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey

Bringing it Home

When I work with young people, I talk about integration–it’s not a Sarah tool, it’s a learning tool, but I think it’s often overlooked. But critical. How can you take the experience you’ve just had–good or bad–and integrate what you’ve learned into your life? For example:

I was [bad at math]. Then I [asked for help from my teacher and worked with a tutor]. Because of this I [got a higher grade on my test]. I feel [proud, confident and less tense in math class].

The next step: how do you keep those feelings you have right now?

I am in the last few days of my writing retreat. I woke up with the sun (which is NOT early, trust me), ate bread slathered in butter and jam, took a long walk through the “neighborhood” in the pouring rain, took a quick hot shower (quick because the hot water lasts about 5 minutes), ate an egg and cheese and fruit. Now I’m curled on my cushiony daybed with hot tea next to the fire. I feel peaceful and inspired, ready to crank out the last few pages to complete one project.

I was worn out and worried all the time. I worried about my finances, my students, my career, my weight, my family. I worried that I didn’t have enough time to write and time was slipping away from me. I decided I couldn’t do that anymore, so I let it go.

Mr. B and I have long talks about how to live more simply so we can slowly start to spend more time doing what soothes and inspires. We want to spend less time chasing the bus to commute to jobs to take care of the customer or push for the outcome to show that we are competent and worthy of our paycheck. That is incredibly hard to change, it’s the way we’ve been taught to operate. It’s the way our culture works–we spend so much time chasing someone else’s permission or approval to validate our own happiness. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’m cutting out the middle man.

The trick, of course, is that in making that decision, I am faced with figuring out just what it takes to make me happy. And, it seems to me, this is not a one time project, but constant reassessment and adjustment.

This trip was my exercise in just that. In some ways, it been as much about establishing what is essential and what I can let go as it is about the writing. Because letting go of something will make room for better writing.

Here’s what I think I need more of in my life:

  1. Silence. It’s okay if there’s no one talking or music playing.
  2. Bread. I’ve eaten nothing but bread and butter for the last 25 days. I do not feel bad, I feel healthier than I’ve ever felt. Screw this low carb bullshit.
  3. Butter. See above.
  4. Liquor. I’m not a liquor drinker, but there is liquor on/in/around every dish I’ve eaten outside my cottage, I swear. It’s time to bring that back, ’cause it’s totally worth it.
  5. Walks. Long ones.
  6. Listening. All the writing I planned to do went back burner because in listening to people talk, the stories came. We don’t listen, really listen, enough.
  7. Laughing. I miss my chats and laughs with my great old friends, my wild wine Wednesdays and League nights. You shouldn’t ever be too tired to have a bit of that.
  8. Brian. That probably goes without saying, but I feel like my other arm is missing. You know you’ve got it bad when you talk to him and he’s not even there (see #1).

Here’s what I could let go:

  1. Coffee. I know, it’s PNW sacrilege. My insides don’t feel like they are boiling when I’m not drinking six cups a day.
  2. Wine. Not totally, but maybe less. See above…less on the boiling insides and more on the fuzzy head.
  3. Make up. Totally overrated. Stop putting on mascara to go to the grocery store.
  4. Running. When running starts to feel obligatory (read; I should go for a run–the should meaning, I’ll get fat if I don’t or I have to because I’m training or because I might want to train for something soon) it’s not fun anymore.
  5. Leaving the house everyday. I’m pretty sure there is enough food in my house at any given time that I don’t ever NEED to go to the store. Just stay home.
  6. Planning–Mr. B is saying his hallelujahs right now. I’ll never be able to totally give it up, but my anxiety levels would drop considerably if I just decided each day what I wanted instead of days or weeks out.
  7. Meat–I’ve probably had meat twice a week since I’ve been here. I don’t have a big fridge, so nowhere to store it or leftovers, so I only eat it out. I haven’t missed it.

Some of this is tongue in cheek, but really, I think the moral of the story is that all the things I do because I feel like I should are just cluttering out the things I do because they make me so very happy. Less is  more they say…

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey

Halfway to Home

Haven't found the pot of gold, but it seems like a good sign.

Haven’t found the pot of gold, but it seems like a good sign.

I have been here for 18 days. I am well past the halfway mark of my retreat into the quiet and the writing.

I’ve never done this before. I have never gone somewhere and just stayed. Growing up we rarely took a family vacation that involved going to one place and just staying. We drove. We woke up in the morning, found breakfast and got on the road to the next spot. Sometimes we lucked out and found a random quaint town on the back roads in Wisconsin or New Mexico. Sometimes we found a Motel 6.

As an adult, same rules apply. My stays usually last about a long weekend at best. Usually that’s because the money runs out or the couch-surfing is only available for short stays. When I was in Ireland last, five years ago, I was here for something like three weeks and I didn’t stay in any town more than two nights. I managed to do a complete ring around the island, even making my way to the far-reaches of the Dingle Peninsula and the Aran Islands and the Antrim Coast.

This time, I’ve stayed put. I visited friends in Wexford and made a side trip to the Glencree Peace Retreat Center-that’s a whole different story. I slept in Bray. I staggered my departure time to make sure I didn’t hit Dublin commuter traffic. And when I finally made it past the tolls and back into the rolling hills I felt relief. Back to my cozy cottage, my laptop, my notebooks, the kitties, the fire.

I was talking to Mr. B last night on FaceTime (thank goodness for FaceTime) and I found my mood shifting drastically into tears. I spouted worries about money, holiday gifts, and obligations at home. When it really came down to it, though, I wasn’t crying about those things, because I’m not really worried about those things.

I’m sad to go home.

These 18 days have been perfect. I slowly unwound into this space, walked, read, ate bread and butter and walked some more (and ate more bread and butter—low-carb can go to hell). And then when I finally sat down, words started happening. Not even close to the way I thought they would, not on any of the projects I’d brought with me ready to tackle. But they came from deep recesses of my brain. They are scribbled on paper all over the cottage, the car, my phone, my purse. When they get stopped up, I take another walk, read another story, eat some more brown bread slathered in butter and jam.

Mr. B wrote me later and said “this isn’t a month long trip to Ireland to write but a trip to see if this life suited you.”

It suits me. I’m crying because while this is so great, I know I have to go home and make this happen there and I don’t know how.

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Journey, menagerie

A Cow Followed Me Home Today

My biggest regret of this trip to-date is that I did not charge my phone last night.

Everyday I take a break and go for a walk through the lanes around my cottage. At home I run, but around here it’s cold and rainy and the roads are more like trails and hilly…walking is nicer. The loop takes me ninety minutes or so. I’ve collected quite a handful of canine friends on these hikes.

My canine companions.

My canine companions.

More pals.

More pals.

I have no idea where these dogs live. Every day I find them at a different house. They remind me of me and my neighborhood pals when I was growing up. To a tourist in my little corner of the world, this roving pack of children could belong anywhere. We were in every yard, ours or otherwise, crawling in every tree, on every porch. The world was our playground. These dogs are the same.

So, I’ve made friends with them. There’s also a blind little pot-bellied short-fat (Mr. B-speak for a dog with very short legs and a very round belly) that chases me at the top of the hill. And a black retriever of some kind that resides in my favorite house and tries to shepherd me away every time I walk by.

Beyond the kitties that keep me company in the cottage and the pack of semi-wild dogs, my animal encounters have been fairly limited.

Until today.

I was taking the last left turn onto the road that connects with my lane and just as I was rounding the curve I see a cow in the road. Not crossing the road, not on the side of the road, just standing stock-still in the middle of the road.

It stared at me.

I stared back.

Everything I was ever told as a kid came back “Livestock are not pets. They do not want to be your friend.” I stood a little longer and then decided that I was never going to make it home if I just kept staring blankly at cattle. So, I went around. The cow (I actually don’t know if it was a cow. I don’t know what gender this animal was. I don’t know the proper name for it. I’m just going to keep calling it a cow.) turned its head to watch me and it’s body followed. I watched it over my shoulder as it took a few steps after me, and I scampered along. All I could think is that the one thing I did not need today was to get rammed by a cow in the middle of rural Ireland.

Well, the cow scampered after me. It followed me at a trot. I cannot imagine what this must have looked like–I was running down the middle of the road (albeit a small road), followed by a cow running after me. I was out of breath mainly because I was giggling so hard I couldn’t keep running.

I stopped, turned around, hands on knees to catch my breath. “Are you kidding me?”

The Cow stopped too and looked at me. I took a few tentative steps. So did it.

“You CANNOT come home with me, ” I said over my shoulder. She (let’s just call it a she) kept following me as though she was pretty sure she could find a nice place to cozy up at my house.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I debated walked up to the nearest house and knocking on the door, but then I just couldn’t imagine what I’d say. Excuse me, are you missing some livestock? Because it’s trying to follow me home. The locals already know me. When I go to the pub, people I’ve only seen once ask me how my book is going. I’d forever be that American chick who had a cow following her around.

So, I just kept walking. I sorta hoped maybe a car would come along so that i could point at my new friend and ask if this was normal.

We passed Pot-Belly’s house and he barked and chased the sound of us and the cow began running at a gallop to get away. And then, out of nowhere, she turned and walked into someone’s front yard. She walked right past the front window of their house and over to the gate to the pasture and stood there. She looked sort of forlorn standing there, gazing out at her cattle-friends, unable to get back in.

I stood for a second and debated. Should I knock on their door? Point at the obvious and say Hey, brought your cow home for you. I decided that ultimately, someone else was better equipped to help this rogue piece of livestock than me. And maybe it’s not that weird to have a cow in the road, really. Just a few days ago I saw a herd of sheep run down my lane.

So, I left her. I ran into a couple more of my dog friends on the last leg home and they sauntered up for a pat and then went on their merry way.

I really wish I’d had my camera.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey

Here in the Quiet

IMG_2579People are generally surprised that I’m an introvert. And, realistically, if it’s all on a spectrum, I’m probably just a few hairs over the line into the land of the Introvert. After all around people I know, small groups preferably, I am definitely not shy. I frequently have an opinion and feel compelled to share it. Mainly because I see some sort of injustice or underdog that needs defending and if there’s one thing I can’t abide it’s seeing a dog knocked around. By and large, I am deeply driven by relationships.

But then there is my overwhelm button which gets tripped when I’ve said too much, been around too many or listened too long. Then it feels like I’m hyper-sensitive–more anxious, irritable, indecisive, emotional. Sometimes I feel a bad cold coming on. I don’t think its psychosomatic, exactly, it’s just my body responding to what my brain can’t handle.

Pre-dawn breakfast, 7:45 AM

My previous job was so very, very about relationships and listening–to students, staff, partners. This was no doubt the reason I loved it. Also, it was very easy to slip into the land of overwhelm.

I decided months and months ago, before I decided to leave my job, to take a month away from everything and retreat into writing. I wanted to see what I could produce if all of my energy was focused there. I wondered what it would be like to not have to cram my writing into a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon and then to be discouraged when I couldn’t get enough done. What if theI had all the time in the world to just do this one thing? I wanted to return to Ireland to work on a particular project, and besides, it’s a place I love that I’ve visited before.

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The stroll up the hill.

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Mists and green and sunrising.

I am here now. The project has shifted, but the goals are the same. All the things I was most anxious about before I left–the driving on the left, the hidden costs of everything, getting lost in this very, very rural part of the world, not writing–have been dealt with. I made it, I found snacks and I figured out how to light a fire with peat (it is NOT like a wood fire, folks). I slept something like 12 hours and my jetlag is pretty minimal.

IMG_2548I feel great. I have not spoken to a soul (other than a quick FaceTime call to Mr. B to let him know I was alive). I don’t have a television and wifi is a little on the spotty side so I haven’t bothered to try Netflix. I haven’t listened to music or podcasts.

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Thank goodness for dry feet.

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I can’t bring myself to interrupt this quiet.

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I went for a couple hour stroll this morning to explore my corner of the world. I met several chatty mutts and some less chatty horses. I clambered through a bog to the top of a magnificent hill and talked to myself the whole time. I am not sure what I said in my head and what I actually uttered in sounds. It doesn’t matter.

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This quiet, it’s delicious. I am savoring it. And I feel myself slowly unwinding.

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