With Gratitude for Patsy Terrell

 

 

I was on vacation when I heard.

For more than a week I have been trying to wrap my head around what it means, what I want to say, how to make sense of it.

Many years ago, when the internet was still mostly new and online communities functioned with yahoo group lists, I found some of my people – people who wrote things by hand, loved words, believed in the power of words and the worth of communication, kept journals, practiced gratitude, aimed for grace, embraced the wider world, lived consciously.

We didn’t know each other. Not really. We were a far flung group. But we shared. For years. And when social platforms moved on, we moved our friendships to Facebook. We kept in touch, some of us.

That’s where I originally met her – way back when. I ran some groups she participated in, she ran some groups I participated in. I can’t say we were close, but we knew what mattered to the other, we cheered each other on in life, and through the years we kept in touch. Journals and journal keeping was a shared passion. We’d send each other articles we knew would be appreciated. Exchanging bits of wisdom, thoughts on art and writing. She sent a collection of notes from a writing class she took on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I sent little care packages of antique linens or fabulous costume jewelry when one of my clients was downsizing such things. Contemplating community, happiness, beauty, inspiration.

She was an inspiration alright. Indefatigable. A powerhouse of ideas and a wellspring of kindness and compassion, always seeking to understand, learn from and appreciate others. Even from a distance I knew she could bring out the best in people.

We always said we’d meet.

She promised me lunch at Roy’s when I eventually got there to visit – which I assured her I would, someday.

I’ve done a lot in the journal keeping community in the past. She supported everything I did and everything I dreamed of – a magazine, an archives. I appreciated and learned from her input.

Recently she could no longer stand by and watch unfairness and corruption in the political world so she stepped up and she ran a grass roots campaign. Fighting a long time incumbent to gain a seat on the Kansas Legislature. And she WON!

It was so exciting to watch the results of a Kansas election from my home in Connecticut and brag to those around me – “I know her! She’s wonderful. She’s running for all the right reasons. She’ll be so good at this.”

And she was good at it. Insisting on respectful discourse, she said she would not participate in debate that was not respectful on both sides, always. Such class.

My vacation was a whirlwind thing. A road trip planned in a week and consisting of nearly 6,000 miles in 17 days.

My honey wanted to visit his mother in Utah. He said – “Check the price of plane tickets.”

But no. I think flying these days is hateful. I pushed for a road trip and I won.

We’d been to Luray Caverns in Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kanab Utah, Zion, White Pocket, scenic Rt 12, Back through Colorado and now we were driving across Kansas.

We didn’t actually have time to stop in Kansas, plus I knew that if she was in Topeka she was likely busy with the legislature, and if she wasn’t in Topeka, she’d be too far off my path there in Hutch. Nonetheless I thought I’d take a quick look at her facebook. It was dinner time. Maybe if she’d just posted, “I’m having dinner at such-and-such place in Topeka,” I might swing by for a quick, surprise, drive-by hello. I knew that was unlikely. But I looked.

Her most recent post (earlier that morning) – “You’re waking up in a Kansas where the Brownback experiment has ended. Good morning!” And a few other posts about the successful override.

How exciting!

I sent her a text.

“Patsy. I’m on a quick road trip and passing through Kansas headed east. 40 or so miles from Topeka at the moment. Had hoped to make time to meet you but it’s not going to happen today. However I did look at your Facebook page to see what you’re up to as I pass by and I have to say CONGRATULATIONS and thanks for all your work making Kansas and the country a better place. PS. It’s gorgeous here!”

She didn’t answer. Yep. Must be busy.

We stayed in Missouri that night and the next day headed for Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. My sweetie was driving.

That was when I saw the text from a creative maker friend whom I’d introduced to the amazingness of Patsy on Facebook.

His text said “I’m so sorry” and included a link to the news story “Kansas Legislator found dead in hotel room in Topeka.”

My mind stumbled and I looked up at the world around me in a blur. Then my eyes focused on a passing highway sign – Paducah this exit.

Seriously?

This can’t be right. In fact it’s quite wrong.

Patsy was from Paducah.

Patsy doesn’t exist any more?

How can that be?

Ten days later and I still trip over this fact, daily. Patsy is no longer smiling in this world. Patsy is gone. I never got to meet her.

We weren’t close but she meant so much to me. She was so very important to the world.

I can’t wrap my head around how hard this has been on me. I can only imagine the grief of those who actually knew her buoyant energy.

And I feel for her dearest friends Mark and especially Greg.

If you guys see this – all of my hugs and love to you both.

Thank you for being in Patsy’s life.

And Patsy, thank you for being in my life – however much on the fringe, you mattered.

Peace.

  • The photos here were taken from Patsy’s Facebook page – photo credits to Greg Holmes, Kristen Garlow Piper, and David Bell

I keep coming back to stuff

When I started this blog I spoke a lot about my journey to rid myself of my excess of stuff so I could “get somewhere.”

I had sold my successful business that I’d opened and run for nearly 18 years with no idea what I was going to do next. I only knew that whatever was next for me – I couldn’t do it with all this stuff! I couldn’t get where I wanted to be and drag all this stuff with me.

Flash forward a bunch of years. I got rid of a lot of my possessions, created a career whereby I help others do the same. Took a longed for road trip of just over 15,000 miles (around the US – by myself!) and came home from that road trip ready to pack up my home and move on from the life I’d been living. I still didn’t know what I was moving towards, I just knew that I was ready.

Then I met a high school sweetheart and fell in love.

I packed up my house alright, I left behind the life I’d been living and I moved my (now much fewer) possessions into his home. Just about 20 minutes from where I’d owned my business all those years.

I began to work on my writing, (it’s what I do, it’s who I am, and I never quite stop doing it,) with a little Personal Organizing and decluttering on the side.

That’s when I started getting into Life Coaching.

I had become living proof that you can get where, and do what, you want in life. You are never stuck. It’s just a matter of finding your way from where you are.

Flash forward another couple of years, (Holy moly how time flies!)

I’m not at all unhappy with my life at the moment.

I life coach, and I help people declutter to find their way to the life they want. I write and have found my way to my first big book project. I’ve made new connections and I enjoy the space where I reside.

My sweetie isn’t so much into decluttering.

He likes to buy stuff. He likes to keep stuff.

And while I’m not unhappy with the life we share here, I want more.

Life is short – yes?

And I keep coming back to stuff.

I think there’s too much stuff in this house.

I feel like it is holding he and I back from the life we both say we want.

Decluttering still seems all the rage. There are always books coming out about the joys of it or the how to of it. I’m reading yet another new and hot one now.

(Someday I hope I’ll write one.)

But it’s making me itch.

It’s making me itch to get rid of the old china hutch in the spare room (He doesn’t love it but it belonged to his mother.) It’s making me itch to get rid of the twenty cookbooks I kept when I first downsized from 80 or so that I used to own. It’s making me want to get rid of the 15 tiny decorative dishes, trays, and bowls both he and I seem to adore. Sure they are pretty and all but they are a pain to keep dusted and I don’t think they are adding much to my life. He, of course, doesn’t agree. He thinks they are tiny, barely take up any room, aren’t unpleasant, aren’t in the way and that there is no reason to get rid of them.

I keep coming back to stuff.

I have too much stuff.

I am surrounded by too much stuff.

Too much stuff gets in the way of moving forward.

I’m talking about Journals. (Diaries, Notebooks.)

hollie_notebooks

Wow.

It’s not like I’m old really – I’m only 52 – but I feel like I just found a whole new world online. And that’s kinda crazy on some levels because I am hardly a noob here. (Though perhaps the use of the word noob shows when much of my online experience was gained?) I know my way around this wild west pretty well and I’m rather phenomenal when it comes to finding shit on google. But… there’s a whole world that’s opened up in the realms of some of my biggest life interests, that wasn’t here last time I looked. (Which has been many many many years, admittedly.)

 

I’m talking about Journals. (Diaries, Notebooks.)

 

I’m a lifelong diarist. I have filled nearly 100 blank books. I have written about my inner and outer life, as I’ve lived it, for my entire life. I’m fascinated by the concept that some of us write about our lives, (be it consistently or sporadically,) while others would never dream of doing such a thing. None of that is new. There have been diarists and journal keepers since the dawn of writing instruments. I’m just one in an unending line of life writers.

 

At times in my life when I’ve felt lost I often find my way to journals. Like finding, in Powell’s Bookstore in Portland Oregon while I was house sitting for some friends in the early 90s, an entire section of published journals and books on diary studies. (Side note – I use the words interchangeably and call my own book “Notebooks.” and I suspect someday I’ll write about my impressions of the words, but today isn’t that day.)

 

Or like in the early 2000s when I decided that Diaries and Journals were my main life passion and I revived a magazine called The Diarist’s Journal, and I met up with (and physically visited) those few people I found in the US with HUGE collections of published journals, and I participated in many an online forum dedicated to life writing, and I ran a book discussion group that read published journals from the likes of Fanny Burney, Jack Kerouac, Simone de Beauvoir, Carolina Maria de Jesus, Marie Bashkirtseff, Eric Hoffer, and Edward Robb Ellis, and I desperately wanted to start a Diary Archive like the one in France.

 

At the time I owned and operated a Gourmet Coffeehouse and these journal forays were a side project that cost me two tons of money – so much money, in fact, that I practically spent until I was nearly broke. (But again, that’s a different topic.) Soon, I had to let these dreams slide – it just wasn’t financially doable at the time.

 

What lead me, yesterday, to youtube videos about journals and journaling? It was my work on my notebooks from the 80s when I traveled around with The Grateful Dead and lived in my van, and the reality that I am going to publish some of those writings. (Again – a topic for a different post.)

 

But here’s this guy talking about how to make the best journal of yourself ever, and why journals are important. (The way he marvels over the difference between his new empty book and his recently filled one SO reminds me of me!) He happens to have a great presence and motivational bent that appeals to me on many levels – his role as coach for bettering oneself is something I do innately and have only started to make a career of – but I digress. There’s a lot of people sharing videos of what to write in your journal if you don’t know where to start. And people showing their many journals and telling what they use each for. And instructional videos about how to make an art journal, or a smash journal, or an omni journal, or a bullet journal, or…. or…. or….

 

Holy crap! So many people interested in journals! And me, here, thinking – none of these are like mine. My notebooks are dense blocks of text – year after year – just words piling up. Until I find this woman who says just that – “So many YouTube videos of journals but none are mostly text, like mine.” (And all her commenters who say “Me too!”)

 

I suspect one of these days I’m going to need to do a video about my many text filled books – and maybe even a video focusing on my Grateful Dead Tour books with their stickers and decoration.

 

And I’ve yet to start oogling over the videos I see where people are just (I think) going to share views of their collection of blank books –  but I’ve got them lined up for watching! I’m addicted to black books!…

 

Okay I’m babbling but it’s what I do – and isn’t that the best way to get in the habit of blogging? There will be more on this subject to come, I’ve no doubt, but I don’t want these posts to get too long…

PS – I may need to make back issues of The Diarist’s Journal available for sale again…

Existential Dread of TV

I saw this exchange on facebook this morning…

Person 1 – Been waking up in the middle of the night out of a sound sleep for weeks now. Can’t get back to sleep

Person 2 – Ughhh. Here too, its weird in the winter…. At least in summer you can hang out on the patio and look up at the moon. Too cold for that now, have to settle for crappy tv

Person 3 – Haven’t sleep thru the night in 15 YEARS. My mind just NEVER stops and when i lay down it is the LOUDEST. It is like torture , I WOULD DIE WITH OUT MY TV LOL> If i didn’t listen to every rerun of Friends, Frasier or George Lopez i would scratch my own eyes out LOL

Person 2 – don’t get me wrong, I love crappy tv… Esp George Lopez lol. And hgtv, but i’m thinking it may be the ridiculous political news sites that make me unable to shut my eyes

Person 3 – OMG if i watched that crap i would have to take 5 more Xanax to fall asleep. I keep up with current events and watch enough news local and national to stay informed but come night night time that is LAST thing i could turn on unless i want to have a freaken panic attack. I turn on All the reruns because they DON’T engage my mind but provide just enough noise to shut down that fucking HAMSTER ON A WHEEL that runs in MY BRAIN the MINUTE i lay down EVERY night . I am a prisoner in my own mind and if it wasn’t for my tv and reruns i would NEVER SLEEP

Person 2 – also love Criminal Minds and Blue Bloods… Or an I Love Lucy marathon… Whatever it takes!

Person 3 – OH NO i can’t watch SERIOUS shows because then even with my eyes closed i start listening and then i AM DRAWN in to the plot. AND crack me up with I LOVE LUCY because some nights i fall asleep watching FRASIER , Then at 5 am the MUSIC to The I Love Lucy show comes on and i might as well set an Alarm clock. It wakes me out of a DEAD sleep.

Person 2 – I wake up every couple hours so usually wake up and change channel to what I know will bore me the most

This was followed by a discussion of which drugs and what liquor can help the most for sleeping.

 

I think if I start speaking my mind about what I see from the perspective of others, I’m stepping into territory that will make me sound high and mighty (I’m not) and piss off a great many people.

But.

Here goes.

Half the problem in the country is that none of us know how to be quiet with ourselves.

How to just sit and just be.

Maybe I’m talking about meditation, I don’t know, I’ve never been successful at meditation.

But I do understand how to notice what’s going on in the mind, question why it’s choosing to go that way, and how to redirect my mind to more productive thoughts. (Productive in the way of chemical brain changes. Yay science!)

I’m not an expert in this shit. I don’t know what I’m talking about at all. I haven’t even gotten ¼ of the way through my first cup of coffee. I just know that something is wrong with this whole American scenario. Work and TV as a life? Ugh.

*******

I’m back. After seeing my honey off to work and filling the birds feeders before the snow starts.

I know I don’t have any right to judge another – especially as they do whatever it takes to get through the days, the weeks, their lives – but I can’t think of anything more horrifying than TV as a balm.

Everyone looks to distraction to hide from themselves and their own minds.

This is a theme for me. Note yesterday’s blog post where I quoted what Eugene Delacroix says to himself in 1824 – “Poor fellow! How can you do great work when you’re always having to rub shoulders with everything that is vulgar.”

Nothing is more vulgar than TV.

You really want to sleep while all the night long while inane babble drills into your psyche? (I really don’t want anyone to scratch you own eyes out but, seriously? Is this bombardment of boredom really the only other option?)

When do you take the time to learn what you think?

Why do you try to shut your voice down? How does that help?

I understand the desire to quiet the worries, the fears, and the unhelpful stuff the brain throws at us. I carry around more existential dread on a minute to minute basis than most people I know. But drowning it in commercialism, drugs and mass market entertainment does not lead to contentment and peace of mind. Of this I am sure.

A blog used to be

When blogs were new they were a place (I seem to remember) where a writer shared what they found as they searched the web – a web-log.

Along with this sharing of links was some rumination on the content contained therein.

I think perhaps I might need to try to revive that tradition, for trying to treat a blog as some form of journal or diary has too often left me feeling as if I am cheating on my handwritten notebooks, and trying to write articles, while interesting and sometimes achievable for me, is not a form I am drawn to or compelled to write.

However, sometimes I read wonderful articles on physics (hey physics intrigues me!) or watch inspiring TED Talks and while I often share them on my facebook page, it doesn’t afford me the longer form of sharing why I chose to try to bring this article to the attention of others.

I have a tendency to open more tabs than I can read at a sitting. Then, some mornings, like this morning, I decide to clear some tabs. Some get closed right away for the subject at hand no longer holds any interest. (This is a useful skill I’ve acquired while turning myself into a Personal Organizer and Life Coach – to know what matters and what does not.) And others, like this piece about Eugene Delacroix and his thoughts on the balance an artist needs between solitude and social distraction make me cheer inside.

“Delacroix began to formulate what would become a defining concern of his youth and one of increasing urgency for us today, amid our age of exponentially swelling social demands and distractions — the challenge of mediating between the allure of social life and the “fertile solitude” necessary for creative work, ”

So much of our world is comprised of the outer. I worry that my friends and loves do not take the time to remember that what matters is not what you see on the surface. We rush through the days skimming the surface, forgetting the depths. Too many people I know do not even know what it is that makes their hearts sing, do not know what will bring them true joy and a feeling of a a full and worthy life.

Sure, Delacroix writes from the perspective of an artist, but when he says to himself in January 1824 – “Poor fellow! How can you do great work when you’re always having to rub shoulders with everything that is vulgar.” I see this reflecting on everyone. How are we to know what will actually bring us contentment when we spend all our time rubbing shoulders with all that is useless or counterproductive to who we are in our hearts and what we want from the experience of life??

I had this conversation with a friend just yesterday. That there is so much humanity teeming as they run their errands, which we must encounter as we do our own errands, that it’s tiring just to contemplate the enormity of emptiness we fill our moments with.

When Delacroix says in March of that same year, “How can one keep one’s enthusiasm concentrated on a subject when one is always at the mercy of other people…”

I think of soccer moms racing between the deli and the dry cleaners and the playing field, so distracted by the perceived immediate needs of the surface world that she barely sees the game. I think of the people who trade 2 or 10 or 40 hours of their time for a glowing bauble. I think of the people who sit at their desks subjected to the barrage of customer service calls from people unhappy that their new sneakers, their iPhone cases, their kitchen gadget, their new bedding, hasn’t arrived in a timely manner.

Maybe this stance is more reflective of me than of the rest of the US, but if so – so be it.

I do not love the game.

The article calls Delacroix a restless mind. Perhaps that’s a malady I too suffer from.

 

 

 

Because my hugging friend said “The world needs art right now”

It truly is rather nightmarish.

The way this Neolithic evil clown came plodding towards me in an expensive business suit,

dragging a foot in the last century,

and gnashing his teeth like a homophobic bully troll.

He wasn’t really a threat. And I was not yet scared.

As he got closer and closer, he got uglier and uglier.

I could see there was a list in his tiny hand.

My name wasn’t on the list. (But it was no consolation.)

Still this knuckle dragging monster came persistently towards me,

single minded and unhinged.

He said he could save me.

I looked away.

I do not enjoy the taste of bile.

He was slow, I could stay out of his path.

He was too much a caricature to be really afraid of.

His weird mouth and fake hair

like a cliché Disney Monster with a hunch back and crooked nose.

It made me made me point and laugh (this nightmare is just silly!)

Yet onward he came… unstoppingly

inching ever closer to me,

saying under his hateful breath,

“I’m comin for ya, I’m comin for ya.”

Months upon months upon months (a recurring nightmare,)

“I’m comin for ya, I’m comin for ya”

In my nightmare he whispered that he would take away my heathen neighbors, and my Mexican judges, (what the fuck are you talking about?) and beat my uppity blacks,

and I laughed.

I am American. You are no threat to me! (the illusion of safety)

A buffoon, not a monster.

He had a bullseye on me – “Comin for ya, comin for ya.”

He said he’d grab my pussy, imprison me inside a wall.

I tried to ignore him.

He got so close I could hear his knuckles scrapping the pavement of modern America.

I wanted to wake up from this nightmare.

I looked away (desperately) and waited (prayed) for daylight.

Months upon months of unending pursuit and veiled threats.

And yet….

I still felt blindsided when he landed on me.

Like 270 steampunk spiders found me sleeping in my own cozy web.

Like I was innocently crossing a street and a semi truck filled with deplorables came outa nowhere and mowed me down.

I woke screaming

I feel like I got hit by someone else’s dream bus filled with 1950s dinner-making wives,

and I can’t shake this feeling of dread and danger.

 

(That the American dream left me with.)

 

I saw a friend I love.

He’d had the same dream.

We held each other like two who had lost a beloved parent or close friend.

There were no words.

And the mere fact of being held by him, in the face of all that is horrifying and surreal

brought the first tears to my eyes.

Apparently our love was not enough to stop this vile thing.

The color of everything seems different now.

My beautiful purples gone sickly grey.

My vibrant reds look like drying blood.

My painting is ruined.

 

It cannot end on this note.

There must be a….

a….

a….

a thing to do

a way to work

a light to shine

Find it.

Find it ASAP

I damn sure knew what I didn’t want. How about you?

I was 46.

And one night, I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep.

I was wondering how best to motivate my employees to do their jobs more conscientiously. Through the years it seemed to me that the quality of the work I got from them had declined. They just didn’t care. Truth is, I had known for a few years that this was the case. And I also knew, if I looked deep into myself, that the problem was me. They were only reflecting my leadership, or lack thereof. So the real question was how to make myself care more.

I used to care. I cared a lot for a long time.

Good coffee is such a thing of beauty and I’m such a fan of quality consumables, when I ‘found’ it, I sucked it up. The ambiance of the cafés, the vibrant feel of caffeine fueled camaraderie, the level of sophistication to the art and science of it all. How exquisite!

I spent my 29th birthday writing a business plan. Some of my friends crowed about “Saturn Returns.” Seven months later I opened Klekolo World Coffee. Within a year it was bordering on success. At 5 years it threatened to collapse under it’s own popularity, but we persevered. Always it created community. People who frequented the place called it their own.

I loved the coffeehouse for a very long time. It was special and magical and filled with artists and creative folk. Many of whom I admire to this day.

I couldn’t say anything was missing. Life, work, friends, a nice house, a rocking café, the good life. But nothing was jazzing me up like all this used to. And this was it, right? Here I was, deep in the life I’d built.

I began to let the place run itself. I no longer enjoyed smiling at people every day while I made their lattes. Better to let the perky young folks do it. They were all well trained. I tried to empower them to do what was right. Mostly the product didn’t suffer, just the cleanliness, the atmosphere. The granting of autonomy made employees feel like they could treat people however it suited them and when they learned they couldn’t, that they had to respect every single person who came through the door, they didn’t like their jobs as much. And I tried to care, and I put out fires and I engaged in retraining and I went to coffee conventions. And the lease came up for renewal again – 15 years!

So I signed up for another five. What other options were there?

Wherever my 30s had gone it seemed my 40s were going there too.

On this night I speak of, age 46, lying in bed, I thought of many things.

Nothing in my life was what I really wanted. That was obvious. The coffeehouse was struggling, the employees didn’t care. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, because I didn’t know how to fix me. I tried one thing after another to turn it all back around. It wasn’t quite in danger of sinking but the economy wasn’t helping any. I didn’t know what to do.

I was laying there, not sleeping, wondering what to try next. And a brand new thought occurred to me. It was huge.

“If I find myself still here in CT, still running a coffeehouse I don’t love, when I turn 50, whose fault will that be?”

Me. Mine.

I am the only one responsible for my own life.

I didn’t have any solution but I knew now what was untenable.

I looked at my surroundings with new eyes.

I began to let things go.

It took most of two years to reduce my belongings by 75%. It was a learning process. With every layer I peeled away and freed from my hold, I gained more power and insight into what did and did not matter to me.

Along the way it became clear to me that the coffeehouse had to go. It was not moving me forward, nor was it part of my future.

I’m not the best at making big life plans. I didn’t plan to pass college by, I didn’t plan to run off and join the circus, I didn’t plan to return home and start a community, and I didn’t plan what would happen when I no longer owned a coffeehouse. That didn’t matter so much as freeing up space and energy for something new.

My friends shook their collective heads.

“What are you gonna DO?”

“I dunno.”

“Do you have enough savings till you figure it out?

“No.”

Some people think you need to know what you want before you can go for it. I speak from experience. Sometimes, it is enough to start with knowing what you don’t want.