“catchment system”

New poem published in Voice de la Luna, Vol. 9 #3, May, 2017, p. 30.  I am sharing my poem published in the May issue of the magazine here but please do check out this San Antonio quarterly magazine of arts and literature and subscribe here!

It’s a steal at only $35 annually that includes four jam packed issues featuring some of San Antonio’s premier poet’s and artist’s work.

water from the downspout via CC Shoshanah

image courtesy of Soshanah via Creative Commons.  Rights reserved.

catchment system

thoughts dangle

hang

from the eaves

need

untangling

~

these:

stacked in corners

in cabinets

on pages

on shelves

—a life

in leaflets

what to do

with what doesn’t’

have place

 

~

 

that transistor radio

we keep in the drawer

in case of nuclear war

 

—all those batteries

a glossy ad

for gutters

we’ve never had

 

~

 

thirty years

—the gush

 

ducked under

gallons      pouring

off the eaves

water

we could have

saved

but didn’t

 

~

 

we needed:

designer lincoln

sprinkler system

augustine

green

granite countertops

slate floors

swimming pool

 

a catchment system

that never happened

or did it

 

~

 

when batteries die

transistors desist

perhaps:

merciful sky

we’ll shower

under the gush

mouths      wide open

drinking

while we can

new publications: art & poetry

 

how many painters does it take to change a nation 12X12 in mm on paper 2016

how many painters does it take to change a nation 12X12″ mm on paper, 2016 (c) d. ellis phelps

Voices de la Luna

A San Antonio based, Quarterly Literature & Arts magazine has published this painting and one of the poems I wrote for the  Tupelo Press 30/30 Project in March, 2016.

These two pieces represent the beginnings of an increasingly political bent in my art & writing.  To my surprise, the painting has sold.  So much for trying to “make things pretty” when they are decidedly not.

Here you see the matriarchal warrior goddess questioning:  how many painters does it take to change a nation; how many $ does it take to trump justice.

It is not simply a female leader we need.  It is a compassionate, honest, dignified, just, intelligent leader (of any gender) we need.  & since the populace seems blinded and deceived by drama and captivated by fear, I wonder what kind of cataclysmic event it will take to bring us again to our metaphorical knees or whether All that is Whole and Good and Pure and True will move us to redemption.

How does Great Spirit move in you?  This is how it moves in me:

if 

i had attended

the workshop

i would have missed

this:

visitation of cranes

follow this link to read the rest of the poem in Voices

 

 

#RRBC Interview with #IndieAuthor Mary C. Simmons; Part Three, Beast of Belonging (or not)

Mysticaltree1024

image:  “Mystical Tree” Used with permission of the artist, Sya at Deviant Art

Because, as an artist, I work in multi-media (prose, poetry, painting, mixed media collage) and because my creative process is the tether to my sanity and sense of purpose in the world, I wanted to know about this author’s process.

Because my own dreams (and power animals) are my guide, the way, if you will, I  receive from “between the worlds,” and because much of my work is conceived in the Dreamworld, I wondered if the same is true for this author.

Because I stand in solidarity alongside women and men who have experienced misunderstanding and persecution for using their innate powers of intuitive wisdom; because I stand alongside women and men who have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of those in religious authority, both unconscionable misuses of power, and since these themes recur in Corvus Rising, I wanted to know what personal experiences this author has had with these intense social issues.

D:  Does your own experience of the creative process mirror that of your character Jade?

Mary:  In many ways, yes. I bury myself in art like she does, though I do not paint. My mother was a painter, and I opted for the 3-d art forms of ceramics and jewelry.

I am haunted, like she is, with a great many creations pushing to get out of me and into the physical world. Note: I did not say “real,” as this inner world is every bit as real as this surficial one that has its own illusions.

I live in this “underneath” world where Jade does, where the mystical and intuitive are the ways of knowing. And I am often haunted by the beings I encounter.

I fret less than she does and I don’t consciously remember most of my dreams.

D:   Are the dreams Jade has actually dreams of your own or adaptations of your own dreams? Describe your relationship to the dream world.

Mary:  Waking dreams, perhaps. There is such a fine line, you know. I have a vivid and energetic imagination and that underneath world I live in probably would seem like a dream state to someone else. I like to tear away at that boundary between the real and the imagined. There are secrets behind the curtain of illusion in which the real world cloaks itself.

D:  Have you ever feared or experienced being locked away for perceived “insanity,” for being different?

Mary:  If only they knew….bwahahahahaha!

Remember that Waylon Jennings song: “I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane….”

Me to a T.

Seriously, I have never been afraid of being locked away or of being different.

My fear all comes from a profound sense of not belonging. In my book, Charlotte’s graying tells about that. I can see, hear everything, but people are all speaking a whole different language that everyone understands but me. Nobody sees me, no one understands me. I belong nowhere.

That is the lock up: a tremendous illusion that seems to have run my whole life.

Crows Rock by Hartwig HKD flickr CC

image:  “Crows Rock”  Used with permission of the artist, H. Koppdelaney via Creative Commons.  Rights Reserved.

D:  What is your own experience with “animal speak?”

Mary:  I speak to cats all the time, as I believe I am part cat. We just get each other, cats and I.

I’d love to have a crow start hanging around me. I do speak to them (and ravens too) and sometimes it seems they hear me.

I do believe we have misunderstood the speech of animals. If they make any sound at all, we think it’s a mating call. This is a pretty weird idea, considering that animals that make any noise at all do it all year long, not just in their mating season.

Sometimes I wonder what the crows think about our language. All they hear is what we shout at each other. Perhaps they think we lack vocabulary. Or that “F*** YOU! is a mating call.

D:  Have you ever experienced a trance-like state like the one you describe in “The Keeper’s Trance,” like an Ayahuasca ceremony or other hallucinogenic states of consciousness?

Mary:  Not sure I would call it a trance, but I do get carried off by Gregorian chants. It helps to NOT to understand the words.

The trance sequence in my book came from an unknown corner of my imagination; it is outside of any experience that I am aware of, and just came as I was writing.  I hadn’t been thinking of trances or hallucinations at all. That is so cool when that happens.

I was thinking of brains: ours, that of Crows and how we know so much more than we think we do. We have it all in there, but use so very little of it. I imagined our brains as a vast lattice of space that you could walk around in, like a library of sorts. I think we carry a good amount of collective knowledge of our complete history on Earth, if we knew how to access it.

That’s where the trance came in. In the book, the early Patua’ gave the crows and ravens their entire history to preserve as they went underground.

More on that in Book Two.

D:  Have you studied Reiki or any other form of energetic or healing practice?

Mary:  No. My path seems to be through art and writing. Reiki and the other healing practices are a life-long effort, and I am engaged elsewhere. But, because I live in the “underneath,” I know there are different ways of knowing, and different ways of healing than what is out there in the “real” world.
Do I believe in ‘laying on of the hands’ as a way of healing? Absolutely!

00-06 610

image:  “church at Abiquiu”  New Mexico, d. ellis phelps.  Rights reserved.

D:  You mention the “sex abuse” issues “the church has been sweeping under the rug” more than once in this writing. Do you have personal experience with this unconscionable misuse of power about which you would be willing to speak here?

Mary:  I grew up in New Mexico, where they sent the pedophile priest for rehabilitation. New Mexico is the place where the lid blew off Hell, because a great many of these rapists were sent there. The first prosecutions of priest sex abuse were in New Mexico.

I had no idea that the place in the mountains my family and I passed on our way to a picnic—it is still there, called the Servants of the Paraclete—was where they were sent for rehabilitation before being turned out into the parishes of NM.

New Mexico is very poor and very catholic and the American bishops of the Roman Catholic Church cynically sent these rapists into New Mexico churches as Spiritual Leaders. I say ‘cynical’ because I think these self-serving bishops sent the troublesome priests to New Mexico, to sweep them under the rug.

Though it infuriates me, I have no personal experience with sexual assault from priests.

The subject comes up in my book because of one of my main characters, a Jesuit priest who is deeply flawed, but is not a predator. I wanted to confront it head on, as this is not what the book is about at all.

I admire the Jesuits more than the other orders, as they’ve always been about science and education and they haven’t engaged in the exploitative and hateful, bigoted practices of say, the Franciscans, who were quite brutal to native populations (including those in New Mexico).

D: Are the Patua’ a non-fiction tribe in history or a fictional tribe?

Mary: I invented the Patua’–a fictitious and ancient race of humans who spoke to the crows. They do represent what I think we all look back wistfully to: a Garden of Eden where we were one with all of Creation.

Patua’ is a real word, however—it means ‘dialect’ more or less.   They were humans who were more attuned to the natural world of growing things and they figured out the secrets of the plant world. Because they were so connected, they had not forgotten everything humans were given when we got here. They didn’t forget the language of the crows.

Book Two will have more about the history of the Patua’, the Church, greed, hubris, and how their agricultural prowess got them to the same place we are now with corporate farming (a euphemism for ‘starving the people’).

D:  Are the fictional Patua’ in your book symbolic representatives for shamanic and witchery practitioners that were forced underground and persecuted by the rise of Christianity?

Mary:  Yes. There will be more of that part of the story forthcoming in Book 2.

In Corvus Rising, Book One, however, the Church as an institution does not pay the Patua’ any attention at all. Two characters who are priests are actually Patua’ allies, but not on behalf of the church, at least not officially.  Another character who is the elder priest, however, is aghast at the very idea that the other animals are intelligent, sentient and can communicate with humans.  This concept is heretical to Church teachings of all stripes, both in the story and in reality.  The church teaches that humans are God’s chosen, therefore the animals are here for us to use and eat.

The Patua’ were looked at as heretics. Humans are not supposed to speak the tongue of the crows, or any other animal. But they also knew how to grow things far, far better than anyone else. Some thought this was unnatural and perhaps portended an unholy alliance with the powers of darkness.

Though they guarded their secrets, the Patua’ weren’t doing anything magical; their botanical lore was based on many centuries of observation and experimentation.

But what is magic? The thing we point to when we don’t understand how something works. I heard a Baptist professor once comment that scientific knowledge over the centuries has shrunk the ‘God of the Gaps’—meaning that we attribute to God (or magic) what we cannot explain.

D:  Have you experienced building a wilderness abode such as the tree house you describe?

Mary:  I have not, though I was happy to spend six weeks sleeping in a tent when I was in graduate school. I’ve fantasized about caves as well. When my father took me and my brothers to Carlsbad Caverns when we were kids, I fantasized about getting lost from the group and disappearing.

I would LIKE to build an ‘off the grid’ place far enough away from cities to have animals and quiet, but close enough for companionship.

D:  How far along are you on Book Two? When do you anticipate it will be ready for readers?

corn farmer digging by hand

image: “Smallholder farmer prepares maize plot for planting with CIMMYT improved varieties, Embu, Kenya”  Used with permission via Creative Commons.

Mary:  I am hoping to publish Book 2 within the next four to six weeks.  Its working title is Teosinte after the ancestral plant that got bred into the corn plant we know today, more than 7,000 years ago in southern Mexico. By the time Columbus showed up, corn as we know it, properly called maize, was all over the Americas.

D: Tell us how you really feel about cookies.

Mary:  Mmm cookies! In fact, I am more a chocolate freak than cookies. Really, I like to bake, so I gave that to the priest. I bake the most awesome sourdough bread. So does he, thanks to me!

D: In a few words, tell us who you are.

Mary: Enthusiastic. Obsessively creative. Curious. Outspoken. Raucous. Irreverent. I am an extroverted reclusive. Or perhaps an introverted socialite. I love freedom.

D:  Ahhh!  Methinks you are part crow!

Dear Reader: 

Do you have a special relationship or kinship to certain creature-beings?  Does your daytime or nighttime Dream World guide you?  Do you experience a profound sense of not belonging?  How does this show up in your life and work?  Please, tell us about it here.

d. ellis phelps is the author of Making Room for George, Balboa Press, 2013.

a dime’s worth

Though this poignant, haunting video features worthy men and though this song was written in 1930 in the heart of the Great Depression, this unconscionable, societal neglect of our own who have served and yet, who suffer greatly also includes women.

In the song a beggar talks back to the system that stole his job.[3] Gorney said in an interview in 1974 “I didn’t want a song to depress people. I wanted to write a song to make people think. It isn’t a hand-me-out song of ‘give me a dime, I’m starving, I’m bitter’, it wasn’t that kind of sentimentality”.[6] The song asks why the men who built the nation – built the railroads, built the skyscrapers – who fought in the war (World War I), who tilled the earth, who did what their nation asked of them should, now that the work is done and their labor no longer necessary, find themselves abandoned and in bread lines.

Wikipedia

And here, I ask:  why should a women who has served society– birthed our children, cooked our meals, washed our clothes, raised our young, nurtured our health, AND OFTEN ALSO worked a full time job as CEO, secretary, CPA, teacher, care-giver–ever find herself in danger, in need of shelter or food, and unable to find a safe, honorable place in the world?

My volunteer work at Haven for Hope in San Antonio, Texas brings me face to face with this need on an up close and personal level.

Saturday I met a woman who has been living at Haven temporarily. I’ll call her Darla (not her real name).  She has brain damage that causes her speech to be halting, says “I forget things.”  She told me that Haven’s social workers have found subsidized housing for her and last week they took her to see what will be her new apartment home.

I’m thinking that’s great!  Right?  I looked into her green eyes.

“Are you looking forward to having a place of your own?”    She took a deep breath, hesitating.

sadness_149 from hipish.free.frimage:  free stock from hipish

“I’m afraid the man who gave me this brain damage will find me.  I’ve been thinking I need to hire someone to check on me everyday.  I mean, I know this is silly, but I’ve been feeling safe while I’ve been here.”

My heart clenched.

“Does this man live in San Antonio?”

“Yes.  He does.  I don’t contact any of my friends I used to know or go anywhere I used to go so he can’t find me, but I’m afraid he will.”

This story is not unusual.  One in three women worldwide will experience violence against them in their lifetime:  that equals one billion women.  And the fact is, this violence is no respecter of persons.  Regardless of whether a woman is intelligent or not so much, employed or not, married or not, beautiful or not, popular or not, she is devastated and usually debilitated by domestic violence.

We must purposefully nurture loving kindness and let the choice for beauty, gentleness and harmony dissolve hatred and let the Great River carry all that does not serve downstream.

D. Ellis Phelps

What I want for this woman and for all women (and men) who are ready to go to any length to change their lives and leave abuse behind is a culturally ubiquitous commitment to healing this societal disease. I am not alone in this.  Many have joined to bring awareness to the need to stand against violence.

I am for standing together.  And of course, I want perpetrators to be held accountable and to be rehabilitated.  I want those who experience suffering to be comforted.  I want provision for all who experience lack.

But most importantly, I want to be part of a culture reconsidering the current reactive approach to widespread abuse and rage.  What we do now is like sending in the National Guard and the Red Cross after the fact to clean up the mess of a natural disaster.

These entities are necessary and powerful forces for good, providing aid in times of crises.  And let’s face it:  no amount of education will turn a tornado from its destructive pathway.

But education will stop abuse.  Education of the spirit.  And practice.

there is nothing so strong as gentleness meme

image:  meme used with permission by the artist, Brett Jordon via Creative Commons.  Rights reserved.

The practice of loving-kindness.  One word at a time.  One glance.  A smile.  A gentle in-breath and exhale replacing a mean retort. The decision not to hit or yell.  Ever.

The decision to ask for help. The decision to give help in healthy ways.

These are actions we each can take one moment at a time, actions that will change our world for the better.

Ask:  What simple (but not often easy), let’s say a dime’s worth of action can I take today to make my world and that of those around me more gentle, more kind?  How can I change even my thinking, especially my thinking  (this requires spiritual intervention), around someone or something I think I hate or feel the need to punish.  Can I offer forgiveness and loving-kindness instead, even for one instant?  Yes.  One Holy Instant can change everything!

Share your victories and positive choices here and share them with others.  Collect a #formidableWoman badge from this page (at right) and post it on your own website or blog.

Help us reach critical mass and tilt the collective-consciousness toward a culture of gentleness.

peace eLKayPics flickr CC

image:  “Peace” used with permission of the artist, eLKayPics via Creative Commons. Rights reserved.

d. ellis phelps is the author of Making Room for George, Balboa Press, 2013.

#RRBC An Interview with #IndieAuthor Mary C. Simmons: Part One

Scars Self-Portrait Run Jane Foximage:  “Scars Self-portrait” by Run Jane Fox. Used with permission via Creative Commons.

What happens in this eco-fantasy happens in reality: women stand up for their sanity and autonomy (with help or without it);…

D. Ellis Phelps

From page one of Corvus Rising, I was enchanted, its pages calling me into the world of dreams & of wildness and justice reclaimed.  As I read, I wondered how much of the story was autobiography written as engaging fiction and whether or not the strong social commentary I was reading was aligned with the author’s own opinion.  So, I wrote my questions down as I read and corresponded with Ms. Simmons regarding an interview.  She graciously agreed.

I anticipated a juicy dialogue and I am not disappointed.  I will be posting our interview in parts over the next few days.  I hope you enjoy getting to know Mary C. Simmons as much as I have.  Read on…

D:   Are you a “woman of faith?” If so, would you describe your faith? If not, can you describe your cosmology?

Mary:  I am a woman of faith.

But I am not a woman of religion, in spite of my upbringing in catholic schools and church. My mother’s catholic family emigrated from Northern Ireland, and my father’s from Poland—there is no country on Earth more catholic than Poland….my father’s sister was a nun, could speak fluent Polish, had a PhD in theology and was Pope John Paul’s liaison to the US for a while.

I don’t go to church, but have all kinds of time for the teachings of Jesus.

While I was in geology graduate school, I was fortunate enough to be a crew member on a river trip in the Grand Canyon, which mostly amounted to cooking for a group of twenty-two men from an organization called Young Life, which is a Christian group that outreaches to youth.

Sunrise at Grand Canyon Florian F via Flickr

image:  “Sunrise at Grand Canyon.” Used with permission of the artist, Florian F. via Creative Commons.

I learned that you can cook just about anything in a Dutch Oven, when the captain of my boat baked me a birthday cake in one. Eight coals in the top is all it takes.

Food is a big deal in the Grand Canyon. For five days you’re hundreds of feet below the known surface, a long way from anywhere in any direction. Food service, then is huge. Breakfast, lunch, snacks in between, and dinner.

Enchiladas, Beef Stroganoff, Lasagna.

We geologists thought these twenty-two men were pretty weird with their noses stuck in Bibles after dinner rather than gazing in awe and wonder at the five hundred million years of time towering above us, pygmies as we were in the scale of a half billion years of rocks.

stargazin zach dischen flickr

image:  “Stargazin”  by Zach Dischner.  Used with  permission via Creative Commons.

I had a few discussions with the two younger men on the trip, and one of them said: “Jesus gave but one commandment for us: Love One Another. There is nothing in the Bible about excepting anyone from that love…”

As a person who has studied geology, I cannot make a distinction between the Creator and the Creation. I love the Earth, the animals and plants, the rocks and water, landscape and sky. This is my temple.

This is my faith, my religion, and in this Creation, I too speak the language of God.

Wonders Never Will Cease

image:  “Wonders Will Never Cease” by Brian Wolfe.  Used with permission via Creative Commons.

Look for the rest of Mary’s interview with me, appearing in parts over the next few days.  In the meantime, I wonder:  Where do you speak “the language of God?”

 

#RRBC Book Review: Corvus Rising Book One The Patua’ Heresy by #Indie Author Mary C. Simmons

Corvus Rising Book Cover

This is a book of dreams: tree-houses; talking birds, the lost feminine, found.
Wilder Island, a mysterious, mythical island that symbolizes (in my mind) the earth herself, is inhabited by the Corvus (crows or ravens), keepers of an ancient, almost lost language. Almost lost, that is, to humans.
Fortunately, there are humans known as Patua’ who can communicate with the Corvus in this language. Alfredo Manzi, the lone Jesuit priest and professor of ornithology who comes to Wilder Island with the intention of turning it into a bird sanctuary, is one of them.
As the story begins, we witness Jade’s nightmare: crows, shattering glass, a precious medallion given to her by her unknown mother (we think) who disappeared when Jade was very young. Jade’s husband Russ, an academic peer of Manzi, comforts her, tries to convince her that her dream is merely an echo of the previous day’s events and conversation.

But Jade, an artist and believer in beauty, knows her dream means much more.

H. Koppdelaney raven image

image:  “Reflections of Winter”  used by permission of the artist, h. koppdelaney via Creative Commons license.

As a student of dreams, a lover of earth and believer in beauty, I am often one who speaks a language almost lost. I often find myself at odds with what is: too much noise, too many things, too much doing, so I deeply identified with one character in particular, Charlotte, she having been institutionalized her entire adult life and unable to communicate with most humans in language they could understand.
What happens in this eco-fantasy happens in reality: women stand up for their sanity and autonomy (with help or without it); money changers pollute and plunder the earth; people, acting alone or banding together, go to war over pieces of this planet (who owns it or how to treat it), all the while trying to understand or completely ignoring the language of the other.

Enter: the hero.

ravens at the tower 2000 Stephen B Whatley

image:  “Ravens at the Tower” 2000  used with permission of the artist, Stephen B. WhatleyView more of his work  here.  Read his profile on Wikipedia here.

The author of this layered allegory, Mary C. Simmons, has successfully given the role of hero to her crow characters. They are funny and wise, silly and sly and believable. These savvy creature-beings indeed point the way.

I don’t know about you, but I have to believe that together we can make the kind of relationship between animals (human and creature-beings) and between animals and earth happen that this author postulates can happen.

I loved this book.  -&-having never dreamed of crows before, and after reading the first few chapters of it, I did dream of them and then wrote the following verse:

for Mary C. Simmons

crows

carry
fallen oak

trunk of peace
these
do not
fly

they rise

~

such
a thing

i have
not seen

but dream

~

of trees
& crows

constructing

—architects
scrubbing

sky

~

how
(i wonder)

what if

dreams
are crystal

what if

feathers

ruled:

soft
curious
gesture

clever
ubiquitous

aim

~

// men //
are stone

ether

gathered
stacked

& after?

Look for an interview with Mary C. Simmons coming soon on this blog!

D. Ellis Phelps is the author of Making Room for George, Balboa Press, 2013.

Coming Soon: an interview with #indieauthor, Mary C. Simmons

Corvus Rising Book Cover

Here’s a bit about Mary, author of Corvus Rising.  I loved this book, by the way, and I will be including my review along with her interview.  Say tuned.

In the meantime, you can read more from Mary here.

The Choice for Love

 sadness_149 from hipish.free.fr

photo courtesy of http://hipish.free.fr/graphics/feelings/sadness/?id=149

The day I saw my reflection in the microwave glass, standing in the kitchen of my posh, suburban home, drinking Jack Daniels straight from the bottle, I decided to leave alcohol alone. But it was later, much later, and with careful counseling; active listening in recovery groups; abstinence from alcohol and mind-altering, prescription drugs; and prayerful surrender that I made the life-changing choice for self-love and acceptance.

Sunday mornings in Central Texas where I grew up, were for going to church and Sunday school. Sunday afternoons were for being with family, eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes made from scratch with brown gravy, canned English peas soaked in butter, white bread (also spread thick with butter); drinking sweet iced tea; and watching the Cowboys on television: my dad’s regular nap time. We attended the First (Southern) Baptist Church as did all our kin except for my grandmother who swore we would all go to hell because we didn’t attend The Church of Christ. Early on, as you might guess, I got confused about religion.

There were volatile arguments between my grandmother and my dad over religious choices.  Of course, these might have fallen on deaf ears for most eight-year-olds, but not on mine. I practiced deep thinking, said my prayers fervently, and read the scripture in the King James Version of the Bible (a gift from my father bound in black leather with my name inscribed on the front cover in gold), and I listened. I was looking for answers to questions I could barely formulate as yet.

My reasoning probably went something like this: maybe if I listen hard enough, I will understand who’s telling the truth and then I can settle this thing once and for all or, at the very least, keep myself out of hell. Or maybe I thought: if I go to church, read my lessons, sing in the choir, invite Jesus into my heart, and behave really, really, really well, my dad will stop throwing my mother’s head against the wall and shoving her down all the time.

Yes. I lived with family violence regardless of church, regardless of prayer.

Violence is a learned behavior. My father learned how to treat a woman from witnessing the way his father treated my grandmother and he learned how to treat a child from the way his father treated him: beatings with a horse whip; tongue-lashings; harsh, unforgiving judgmental attitudes. And from birth, I began to learn this destructive pattern as well. Of course, I had no idea how it would eventually surface in my adult behaviors or even that it would. In fact, I swore it would never happen to me nor would I ever perpetrate such unhappiness and wrongdoing upon myself or others. How little I knew.

I’m cognitively unsure about my eight-year-old-reasoning, but I can say that I listened well, to everything, like a dog on point. And I tried to be good at everything. I did my chores. I did my homework. I made straight A’s and I never, ever talked back.

Until I did.

When I left home for The University of Texas in the fall of 1970, I was determined to leave all that chaos at home. But guess what? I’d learned what I’d lived. Rebellion had been rumbling in me like a stampede about to happen and when I added alcohol to the mix, wild abandon broke down the gates of any inhibition that lingered in this small town Baptist girl.

As was the prevalent mind-set on campus, “I loved the one I was with,” and I was with many. I took up smoking, cigarettes and pot. I perfected the art of cursing; peppering every phrase with a well-placed explicative. I went to class, but slept through the early ones. I played Spades in the dormitory hallway passed midnight and studied just enough to get by. I drove drunk, bought and sold dope, and blacked out, forgetting my way home more than once.

Most of these mild diversions may sound typical of college life to many, and really they were typical. I was never arrested (only by luck), after all. I functioned well, albeit often hung over. I landed a role as a dancer in the chorus line of the UT production of Cabaret after my first audition, winning the role over many dance majors with whom I competed. I served as a dormitory advisor and a resident assistant during my sophomore and junior years, both honorary positions. I excelled as a student-teacher during my senior year. And I got my degree.

I was educated and ready to live life, but emotionally miserable.

“So,” you ask. “What does any miserable, twenty-something-year-old woman do to get happy?” Get married and have a child. Right? Wrong.

I did get married and have a child I wanted very much to have, but I was still miserable.

“So what was the problem?” you asked. The problem was deep-seated rage and self-hatred—fear in disguise.

By the time the day came that I saw my reflection in the microwave glass, my five-foot-four frame supported a mere one-hundred and five pounds; I was drinking close to a fifth of straight whiskey daily but could not get drunk no matter how I tried; I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. I carried at least three prescription drugs in my purse at all times (for nervousness, headaches, and chronic bowel distress); and I was depressed, misguided, and suicidal.

As you may have guessed by now, I’d stopped attending church as soon as I left home, abandoning virtually all of its teachings in return for agnosticism. I’d seen my first of many shrinks; had multiple affairs; and found that I had no idea how to be happy. My marriage failed, ending with an affair that broke up two families, creating painful waves of dysfunction to this day.

My second marriage and my drug and alcohol free lifestyle have survived, however, for thirty-three years. Why? Not because I am holy now. I am far from it. Not because I have returned to church. I haven’t, though I did time and again, but found no match for my version of spirituality in organized religion. Not because now I am finally married to the right man. This relationship has been tumultuous at best. Not because my life is trouble-free. It hasn’t been. We’ve faced years of federal investigations by the IRS, the SEC, and the FBI for alleged misbehavior and received subsequent judgments that took our life savings. We’ve raised a potpourri family. We’ve been through surgeries, illnesses, counseling and treatment and we’ve watched our parents age, move in with us, and die. Sometimes we thrived and sometimes we just survived and sometimes we nearly killed each other, but here we are. Here I am.

Here I am, healthy as I am, and able to be as authentic and as honest as I am with you because of choice. Not a once-in-a-life-time choice, but a consistent, committed, daily choice to love and to accept myself with all my strengths and weakness no matter what rather than to self-destruct and in the process also destroy others and any chance of life-giving relationship.

Here I am because I choose to look at myself honestly and with great reverence for the path I’ve walked. I choose to acknowledge the grace that has accompanied me on this path. I choose to forgive myself and others completely and quickly. And I choose to hold my head up high.

Here I am because I choose to let go of fear and live in the present not the past.

Here I am because I choose to live and learn without regret. And because I choose to live this way, I know how to let you make your own choices, understanding deeply that church or no church, there is wholeness in all of us that seeks its own level that will rise above all apparent unhappiness and create new life—given half a chance.