Living With Pain

painbranchTwo and a half years ago, completely unexpectedly and seemingly overnight, triggered by who-know-what autoimmune response, arthritis descended upon, or emerged from within, my body. I no longer recognized myself, my lack of energy and ongoing experience of defeat and despair.  It took a full year to get an accurate diagnosis. Now, I live with pain, learning to lean into it, challenge it, refusing to let it take over my life. Some days, I want to lie down as soon as I get up, the worst response of all—no response, giving in, giving up, allowing this negative development to take over my life.  Experimenting with anti-inflammatory diet, apple cider vinegar and turmeric, foam roller and exercise bands and physical therapy, I am stretching, stretching, stretching—both my body and my mind. I am a work in progress.

The parallels to the 2016 election are striking to me. Some of us stayed awake watching the unexpected, overnight descent into what feels like madness, while some woke up to the pain of living in an America we feel we no longer recognize. From my position as a white, heterosexual, cisgendered woman with arguably too much education, a financially secure household, and health insurance, I have been privileged to be dismayed and depressed by the increasingly entitled expressions of racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-other anger surging in my country, and by this seemingly sudden confirmation of the power of these diseased symptoms. This was not news to too many living among us, whose otherness is easily identified, worn on their bodies, experienced in an ongoing succession of daily, disheartening interactions.  Jon Stewart said it well when he pointed out post-election that America is not “a fundamentally different country than we were two weeks ago,” or when we elected Barack Obama, twice.

Our body politic is living in and with pain, experiencing migrating manifestations of pain in different limbs and locations at different times.  I was heartened when President Obama himself, who surely feels this pain acutely and personally as few of us can—as a gracious, intelligent, pragmatic man of integrity who has done his best to lead our country in a positive direction as our first African American President, against unprecedented obstructionism and rising racism—gave us permission in an interview to grieve through Thanksgiving. And we have been grieving.

But this wishfully symbolic national observance of thanksgiving and cultural cooperation is over, and we must stand up, lean into the pain, experiment with every plausible approach we can think of to treat disease, stretching our souls and our minds, exercising and extending our capabilities, and work to heal our afflictions. I am in awe of those who are already out on the streets, the social media groups that have formed, offering proactive, constructive, often-easily-implemented ideas for expressing our collective dismay and opposition to the intentions of the newly-elected leaders of our evolving future. We are still, with any luck and a lot of hard, thoughtful action, a work in Progress.

Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse


Light Bringers

The hardest part of our recent election came for me the morning after. Hungover from a long night of drinking in disbelief and fear, I woke up, listened for movement in my children’s rooms, lingered in the idea that I didn’t have to tell them. Maybe I could spare them the news, spare them the fear, the confusion, the truth that our country was clearly entering a darker time. I took pause in the absurd. I could ignore the situation. Election, what election?

I scrolled through headlines. Parody. Satire. I was looking at The Onion, right? Surely, NPR was playing a practical joke. My son entered the room. Almost as tall as I am, this ten year old is starting to resemble more teen than kid. “Who won?” he said frankly, hands deep in the pockets of the blue fleece bathrobe he loves.

Here it was. I wanted to first tell him he’d be safe, we’d be safe, the country would be fine, but I could tell he just wanted the one and only fact I could give, “Trump won.”


What else could be said? When you’re ten you don’t add an expletive after Oh. That was the only thing to add. Well, that and maybe, We are ______.

A couple hours later, after we dropped his sister off at a class, he and I would go to breakfast, talk about what all this meant. One of the perks of homeschooling, he wasn’t about to get on the bus; we had time to talk. Right now though, all we could do is look at each other and listen to the unknown in our silence.

He turned, went back into his room. His audio book, Goblet of Fire, clicked on. I heard his door close lightly. The bigger of our two orange cats smacked my hand with his paw. Not caring how I felt, how little I felt like moving, he reminded me it was time to be fed. His sister joined him, meowed, and started a dialogue between them aimed at moving me. I heard the dog stir patiently in her crate. I had to get up, face this day.

I walked past her room. She stirred. Let out one of her big I’m awake yawns. I took a deep breath, wondered how I should tell my six year, already a worrier, a man who speaks hate, assaults women, stirs violence, who doesn’t care about so many in our country and world won. How do I explain the most important values their father and I, the community we surround ourselves with, try to teach and model: acceptance, kindness, tolerance- not need apply to the Commander in Chief of our country.

“Mama, who won?” Were the first words out of her mouth. This time I did say we were still safe, assured her we would be okay. She didn’t understand how he could win. Asked if this meant everyone would have lots of guns.

Now, almost two weeks later, I am still unsure how to answer their questions and my own without dipping deeply into darkness. The future feels bleak. I wonder if those who voted for him are listening, hear his revised plans, the truth that he will make a better life for himself and the wealthy, for big corporations, and the majority of us workers will pay, in many ways, for them to prosper. I wonder as our planet’s fate spins even more into the hands of climate change deniers and pipeline pushers, how to keep myself from falling into passive living. It feels too big, too hard; it would be so much easier to ignore, tune out, and pretend I’m watching reality TV.

It’s our immediate future I’d be tuning out. It’s too big to ignore, and my family, all of us, will be a part of it no matter how much I wish to pretend otherwise. I wonder how many times in the coming days, months, years my kids will hear and see hate. Will it continue to be painted on our bike trails, on buildings, continue to come out of our “leader’s” mouths? I realize my children have never experienced racism, bigotry, misogyny, hate. I remind myself how many people in this country, how many children, don’t have their same story.

I know we will be changed and we get to choose how.

I know I need to listen to my children and for what they might hear.

I know I need to watch for what they might see.

I know I need to tell my children and myself, we must, more than ever, be light bringers, and then make sure I’m being one.

I know we must stand on the side of love and seek out more ways to help, accept, and give. I know we can’t just talk about it.

I know if we are determined to meet hate with even more love, we can change this country. Stop the spinning backwards. Propel us forward again. The conversations we have, the words we choose, the places we spend our money, our actions, and our contributions, matter.

Last week they saw the new rainbow bridge leading into our town; told me they loved it each time we passed. From the backseat, they agreed with each other, we need more rainbow bridges in our world.

They see safety pins, the one their father adorned with a little silver feather; they have their own, know they stand for help and hope and we are in this together.

They seek little signs of hope, like I do, and reminders of what can be done. The last two weeks, when things felt too hard, and all I wanted to do was shove the cats off the bed, tell them to fend for themselves, pull the covers up over my head, tell the kids we’re all just fine, I needed these reminders. I will continue to need them.

I can’t lose sight. We can’t. I remind myself of the privilege, my privilege, of having so much choice and freedom, and the hard work needed to keep light from burning out in our country. I choose to get up, speak fierce love, be informed, open my eyes and heart, help grow light. I choose over and over to work for and believe love trumps hate, always. For me it doesn’t feel like a choice, but it is, and I have to choose it, we all do, over and over again.

~ Kelly Sage



If I could…..

cat-in-a-blanketIf I could, I’d give the world a weighted blanket; something like a quilt of leaves without the wetness.  If I could, I’d give the world a weighted blanket to drape over our wanting skin; to comfort us through storming times.  If I could, I’d wrap moments in this blanket, not to rid of struggle, but to inspire: there was a time we felt safe.  I think of fast beating hearts, nervous systems seizing at the sound of thunder-clap, beings in post trauma danger loops.  I think of pets who need thundervests just to survive a storm, people who need pets just to survive a storm.  We all need something to remind us of our bones…something keeping our weight here and involved.

If I could, I’d give the world a weighted blanket; something to contain us.

I walked the streets of New York this past weekend wrapped up in my “New York Coat” – grey, scractchy unpenetrable to grime.  A coat that contains me, like the NYPD contained the protest down Broadway.   In a single moment thousands of us move one way, thousands of us move another.  I’ve seen whole cultures of life, colonies of bacteria diverge under the introduction of a drop of something acidic.  Groups organized on each side of the petri dish seperated by the stimulus shock.  Trauma is like this: who goes back to the center for fear of the atomic drop?

If I could, I’d give the world a weighted blanket; something to assuage us.

Allison for the PGM

Follow Your Muse…

museFollow your muse, your own muse, the one who knows you like the back of her own hand.  The one within who watches you, watches over you day and night, keeping your beating heart and all of its dreams and beating bloody desires all wrapped up, safe and sound.  This is the one true voice in the world only you can hear.  And only you can bring it into words on a page so clear and streaming and real and true.  Only you can bring her up and out into the light of day in a world that wants to know and love her, to hear and hold her, to celebrate all she knows and the wisdom she has to share.  You are the only one she speaks to in quite this way.  Your own little code.  You’re the muse-whisperer, you are.  This one that’s just for you.

And you are for her.  Do not leave her alone.  Do not ignore her, abandon her, make her shout and scream and stamp until she is hoarse and exhausted and feeling mute.  Open your heart to her, your pen and paper to her, your time – just a space, a sliver of time – to her and she will shower you with the words you want to fill yourself up with, up to the brim with, up to your eyeballs and out onto a world waiting for what only you, only you, dear woman, can give life to.

~DRH for the Poplar Grove Muse~