I’ve been supervising a graduating high school senior for the past month. He wanted to try his hand at being a full-time writer, bless his heart, and he’s writing a novella for his final project. At our weekly meetings, he turns over a chapter or so of writing, and we discuss the previous week’s work. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve taken the teacher’s seat, but the old neural pathways started firing right away: show, don’t tell; omit needless words; keep dialogue spare. Though my role is more advisor than teacher, I can’t help myself. At our first meeting, I bled feedback all over his manuscript in black ink. What follows is a roundabout apology.
On the occasion of Earth Day, I sat at my desk and reflected upon the Frank-Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho, where nine years ago I traveled by raft down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. I’d turned 50 a few months before and had begun to think in terms of bucket lists. I was with my husband and 6-year-old daughter. I wanted us to have a real wilderness experience before the wilderness was gone.
Six moons into Mystery School, I set out to the woods of Druid Hill Park looking for raw material for an arts and crafts project: Although you can simply purchase a pre-made wand online…we highly encourage you to craft your own. The wand is the sacred instrument of magicians, wizards, little girls in fairy costume, and urban priestesses-in-training who are behind on their coursework. I’ll say this: no matter how madcap the curriculum, there’s always a practical component that finds me boots on the ground, tromping around in nature.
Leaving the Amtrak waiting area at Penn Station, New York, a few weekends ago, I walked away from my wallet. Technically speaking, it’s a clutch, big enough for credit cards, cell phone, cash, driver’s license, checkbook, keys, ATM cards, and yes, it was all in there. I was so intent on hustling my daughter and self onto the train, that I somehow lost track of the wallet. It hit me as we were getting settled into our seats. There was possibly enough time to sprint back upstairs to the waiting area. I got off the train to consult with the conductor who’d taken my ticket on the platform. He pointed to the end of a long line of passengers. “I’ll get to you when it’s your turn, ma’am.” I’d left my daughter on the train and had nothing but my ticket in hand. If I went back up and the train left and my wallet was already gone, I’d really be up a creek.
When people learn that I’m from Vermont, the next question is, invariably, “Do you ski?”
I grew up in the town of Richmond, perhaps best known as home to “the Skiing Cochrans,” a family of mythical athletes. Their father, Mickey, coached all four of his wholesome, ruddy-cheeked offspring all the way to the U.S. Ski team and many national and world cups. Barbara (Barbie, to us) brought home a gold medal in slalom from the 1972 Sapporo winter Olympics. We were sprung early from school for the parade celebrating her triumphant return.
Two days after Christmas, six years ago, my daughters and I traveled home to Vermont, to ring in the New Year with my parents. We settled into the cabin up the hill from their house and went down to say hello before bed. Dad was stretched out in a recliner in front of the fireplace. He’d been diagnosed with bone cancer about a year before, but he was doing well. He wasn’t in real pain, any more than the usual pains of a man who’d lived hard all his life, a man with lousy knees and stents in his heart, who’d tracked mountain lions in the Great West, split thousands of cords of wood, worked as a farmer and a firefighter, among other things, and had finally written, on a scrap of paper I found after he died, “My time is the only capital contribution I can make.”
What exactly is an urban priestess, my brother asked. I’d been in Mystery School for a week and couldn’t answer the most predictable question. I’d need to come up with an elevator speech.
A priestess is a conduit between the seen and the unseen worlds, deeply human, divinely inspired. She is committed to reflecting the highest truth in all her relationships.
We eat to comfort, to numb, to escape, to block, to reward, to punish, or maybe to return to some place of sweetness we once knew, home sweet home. Geneen Roth, in her book Women Food and God, writes, “Our personality and its defenses, one of which is our emotionally charged relationship to food, are a direct link to our spirituality. They are the breadcrumbs leading us home.”
After setting some intentions around creative goals in July, I asked the Universe for a sign that I was on the right track, designating the black cat as the symbol that would indicate Universal approval. This exercise comes straight from The Universe Has Your Back, the book that I groused about in my last column while suffering from a bad back. I’m still not so high on Gabrielle Bernstein’s book, but the exercise has already borne fruit.
Heading west, I’m reading The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein. “The universe is our classroom, and when we accept our role as the happy learner, life gets really groovy.” I want to hurl it against the bulkhead. Then again, she’s come highly recommended by people I respect, and I like this: “Obstacles are detours in the right direction.”