Saturday, September 23, 2017

In the wake of a hurricane, things start to repair

(I wrote this yesterday.)

Hello, world.

I am sitting here with one of my besties, Zina Petersen, in her sister's beach house in Jacksonville Florida. Zina invited me to fly out as she housesits for her sister so that we can have our own wonderful little writing retreat, and writing this blog post was the very first thing on my list of "things I will write."

Landing here in Jacksonville was surreal. I looked out the window as the plane descended and there were entire swaths of forest that had been leveled by Irma's gales, but then other areas that were still completely upright. It was strange to see such clear evidence of calamity--and this in an area that wasn't "as bad." On my run this morning there were toppled trees and an uprooted stop sign, and lots of the old elms had their branches and old Spanish mosses blown off in piles around them. And other areas were just fine.



A stop sign that was felled by a hurricane.

Cheesy metaphor alert: my life feels like this.

2016 was so, so tough. 2017 has been convalescent, but I still feel like I'm in the wake of a hurricane. I haven't known what to write here because so many things happened that I didn't know how to explain or describe. Things that were both hard and beautiful.

I guess I should start with the basics.

Less than three months after my mom died my dad started dating an old family friend and as Lolly and I were on a trip to California to give a fireside and visit the town my mom grew up in, my dad texted and said he was engaged.

This was really hard. It still is hard, actually. I wrote a bunch of paragraphs describing why, but they got too raw--the feelings of hurt and trauma too fresh--and I have saved them for another day. Today, I will focus on the beautiful.

My dad, in December, got married to a wonderful woman whom we all love. Her name was Laura Magallanes (now, of course, it's Laura Weed which is funny because it's so similar to Lolly's actual name, which is Laurel Weed). She is a divorcee of several years, an old family friend, and the mother of four children.

Dad and Laura with Viva, Tessa, and Anna who's holding Lexie J.

Laura is a kind, gentle soul. She is very loving and generous, and she is wonderful with my kids, and the kids of my siblings. She has been very patient as we all have transitioned to the idea of integrating a step-mother into our lives so soon after losing our mom. They have now been married almost nine months, and they just moved from Utah to the Portland area, and so we're very excited to have them so close. Laura is a very low-drama, low key kind of person, and I'm so glad I have a step-mother whose presence is soothing and warm as opposed to the many other possible traits a step-parent could have!

Dad and Laura

I was nervous to meet my step-siblings. My own siblings had known and interacted them over the years (our families have known each other for over two decades, and Laura even helped pay for my church mission back in the day) but I'd never really interacted with any of them until the day of the wedding. To my great relief and great joy, their sense of humor dovetails with ours almost identically. The first things we were saying were things like "aw, good to see ya, sis!" which was such a weird thing to say to a perfect stranger and have it, in legally binding ways, be true. My step-sibs are Monica, Joey, Nate, and Jewell. They are super chill and fun and I really, really like them a lot. I'm happy to call them sibs.

Okay, other pieces of news I should share:

1. As you may remember, my Dad was diagnosed with MS several weeks after burying my mom. At that point, people were trying to comfort me by saying maybe things wouldn't be so bad, and as you can see from this post I was NOT HAVING IT. BUT, it turns out that maybe they were right because Dad's doctor has examined the MRI and all of the evidence and seems to think, somehow, that he doesn't actually have MS after all. Whaaaaaat???? I, truth be told, am totally baffled by this, and I have very low trust in good news about medical things right now so part of me feels pretty hesitant to bank on this as being all the news, or only good news. But I am also really grateful that this seems to be true!

2. Lolly is done with all of her coursework for her Master's degree in marriage and family therapy, and she started her internship yesterday and says she LOVES seeing clients. This makes me so, so, so happy, and I can't wait until she and I (and our friend Ben, who is going to be done with his internship at the same time) can open a practice together. By the way, Lolly is absolutely KILLING IT and getting all A's and it is awesome and I'm so proud of her, and glad that she and I are starting to find more balance in work and child-rearing.

3. I'm not sure how to describe this but I'm getting deeper and deeper in my seriousness as a writer, and it's starting to pay off. More to come on that front later I suppose.

4. In that vein, as I mentioned above, Zina and I are here at our retreat, lounging together on couches, writing, having both eaten breakfast (and written our morning sonnet, because, yes, we're writer nerds okay? We cannot help it, nor can we help that tomorrow we will be having a sonnet-writing race between us. I can think of very few things nerdier than writing sonnets, except for doing so as a competition. (That reminds me of this post from a long time ago which I recently re-read and it made me laugh. You're welcome.)) Goal: if I finish first, I will yell "touchdown" and do a dance like I just won the Super Bowl. Because of course I will.)

5. I am addicted to Instagram Stories. And you should definitely follow me there.

Seriously, I do many a day. If you don't know what this is, let me tell you. Instagram is a site where you post pictures, which is all well and good, and Lolly and I are documenting our weight loss journey there (we have put on so pounds okay? But we are striving towards regaining our health). But the thing I am addicted to is its stories feature (which it kinda stole from Snapchat, but I think Insta does it better.) So, basically, what you get are these funny little snapshots into people's lives, and it is the exact thing I have always wanted because I get to share quirky, funny little posts that are sometimes enjoyable and sometimes serious and sometimes really really stupid ridiculous and fun!

So, if you have enjoyed my blog over the years and miss the days when I slaved away over daily posts (HA! as if I ever got that consistent! LOLZ!!!), then you should follow us on Instagram immediately and start watching our stories. I post. Lolly posts. I do a morning story almost every day with really horrible hair in which I make up a spontaneous jingle.

WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE?

So, join in on the fun. (You can set up an account easily and for free and follow only me if you want--what you will be looking for once you get set up is the picture of me and Lolly's faces at the top in a ball. When you click on it, it will play our stories. Some have sound, some don't, so don't forget to turn up the volume.)

To find us, follow this link Instagram.com/the_weed

Or just download the app, and/or sign into your own account and search for our handle: the_weed.

YOU WON'T REGRET IT. (Unless you do. In which case, sorry about that.)

6. The other thing I'm addicted to lately? Genealogy. (Like, family history getting-to-know-from-whence-I-come genealogy, not take random names to the temple genealogy, just to be clear.)

In light of this, I would really, really love to see how I'm related to you. (If you have lines that extend into colonial America, Ireland, Sweden, Germany or England we are very likely linked somehow, cuz, turns out, WE ARE ALL ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY IN THIS COUNTRY. For reals. It constantly blows my mind.

Anyway, if you are interested to see how you might be related to your local Weed (and my favorite is when I find people I'm related to through multiple non-connected lines, which does happen from time to time) go ahead and sign up for family search at familysearch.org, look up your closest deceased relatives, or any you know of, and see if they are already in family search, then link yourself to them as best you can. THEN the fun stuff can happen.

At that point, log only relativefinder.org (which will have you log in through family search again) and  join my group and we can see how you and I are related (as well as how you are related to anyone else who is in the group, like Lolly for example. (Spoiler alert: Lolly and I are 8th cousins. AND IT'S NOT WEIRD SO STOP SNICKERING.)

So, the group name on family search is: Friends of Josh Weed
And the password is: weed
And here's a link to get there: https://www.relativefinder.org/#/groups/6067/join

Let's see how we're connected, y'all!

In conclusion, I just wrote my first blog post in over half-a-year and THIS WRITING RETREAT IS ALREADY PAYING OFF LIKE GANGBUSTERS.

Also, the beach here is gorgeous and the sand is like powdered sugar and the palms are majestic and the water is like tepid bathwater (and compared to the freezing oceans of the Pacific Northwest, tepid bathwater ocean water is amazing) and tonight we are building a fire on the beach because today is the Fall Equinox and we are combining water, fire, earth and air in of honor the transitions we experience in the elements of our own lives as they echo those of the earth in its orbit or some such other really hippie, nerdy, writery, sonnet-writing thing like that because that's how we do, Zina and me. That's how we do. Don't hate.




Monday, February 6, 2017

California Poppies

When my mom was sick--several years in--she went outside one afternoon in the summer and saw that poppies had grown spontaneously in our side-yard. They were orange and bright. She was something of a gardener. I have many memories of her outside in the backyard bending over plots of dark soil, planting tulips and daisies and pansies and sunflowers--but these poppies hadn't come from her efforts. They'd come from nowhere. When she saw them, she immediately began to cry.

Photo attribution: here.

By this point the cruel disease of plaques and tangles had already eaten away much of her brain function. Years earlier, before the diagnosis, she would forget words, tell repeated stories, ask redundant questions--but those were the deceptive early years, long before we knew the truth--that Early-Onset Alzheimer's was more than the largely inconvenient and sometimes even silly memory-problem we'd seen portrayed in movies and TV, but was so much more vicious, so much more degrading--that it was exacting and thorough, taking a person's dignity and sense of personhood little by little. By the time the poppies came, she could no longer write, and was having trouble forming complete sentences. Yet, when she saw them she knew she hadn't planted them herself. She knew they were a message from her father.

Her father, Woodrow Mousley, had moved his family to northern California in the early 1960's when he and his brother-in-law developed a large swath of land in a region of Morgan Hill, near San Jose. They built beautiful homes there, and they developed a neighborhood called Holiday Lake Estates which was right near the most placid lake I've ever seen. I recently visited it when I was in Palo Alto to give a talk at a fireside, and I was struck by the cobalt blue lake: its placidity, its tranquility. No water sports. No disturbance. It looked antediluvian--untouched by humans. I walked that old neighborhood where my mom grew up, saw the deer and the wild turkeys gobbling which somehow know to move out of the road for the expensive race-cars zipping up the lane. I saw the house she grew up in, which I remember every square foot of from my own childhood, and I wandered the old neighborhood my Grandpa had developed, looking at the other houses my Mousley and Tenney relatives lived in long ago. In its heyday, Holiday Lakes Estates became something of a family compound, but before all the houses were put in--back when it was just a bunch of rolling hills by a lake--the distinguishing features of those hills were their huge, rambling oak trees (they called the giant one in their backyard Methuselah), and the thousands and thousands of California Poppies that bloomed in the spring.

Photo attribution: here.

I never knew they were so orange. The pictures I saw of those hills, before the houses, were black and white. But when my mom saw that shock of poppies on the side of their house there in Portland, Oregon, she just knew. It was a message. Grandpa Woody had died in 2002, but Mom told us she knew these poppies were his signature--that they were his way of telling her he was with her in her illness.

This might sound farfetched to some, but I believe it's real. This type of communication is not unusual in my family. I come from a long line of visionaries. I did not get this gift myself, but many of my family members have it, and they are privy to unusual communications from beyond, in dreams and visions and--as in this moment--uncanny events that defy, or at least challenge, explanation.

My Grandpa, in particular, honed this ability. His patriarchal blessing indicated he had the Gift of Revelation, and he pursued this gift assiduously, as one would practice and pursue any skill. An expert in education (he'd gotten his Doctorate in education Berkeley, and was a professor at San Jose State), he expected as much from himself. He also expected as much from those around him. He advocated for this--that each person could get communication from God, and that all it took was a little practice. His own methods to improve this ability were innovative and surprising. My favorite technique was his use of the stock market to practice getting visions. This was not an effort to get rich. It was a practical experiment with distinct, scientifically sound parameters, the progress of which were identifiable over time. My memories of him from my childhood include him watching the ticker tape of the Dow Jones on TV almost obsessively. The craziest part is that it worked: I've seen stubs where he earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in a day when he was particularly "in tune,"--and other stubs where he lost nearly as much--all in the service of honing this skill.

Grandpa sometimes saved people's lives with this unique, unconventional ability, and I have record of revelations he got just for me, which have borne out. My favorite stories, though, were the visits he would receive from those who had passed on. A quick, largely insignificant one: before his sister DeVere died, he plead with her to come see him and bring him news from beyond, and together they made a pact--that she would come see him as soon as she was able and tell him something concrete about where she was. Sure enough, several months after her passing, he was visited in the night and DeVere's message was clear and concise: "the sunsets here are spectacular." What fascinating implications that deceptively simple message could have! (That is, if you believe in such things as life after death and revelation from beyond, of course.) Where is DeVere exactly? On Earth, apparently? Why are the sunsets different? How is she seeing them? Etc.

So it was, then, that when the row of poppies spontaneously appeared in the side yard of my parents' home--in which they'd lived for around 15 years, ne'er a poppy in sight--Mom immediately understood those flowers for what they were. They were more than coincidence. They were a gift. They were a message. They were a symbol of comfort in her most desperate hour. They were a note from her loving father, who knew her, who was still there with her, invisible, but still aware of her needs, of her discomfort, of the depth of her distress.

Sometimes at night, near the end, my dad would hear her crying as she tried to sleep. Though she could hardly say any words at all, his heart broke when he would occasionally hear her call out "Daddy!" in the night, desperate for comfort. Even now, the thought of this brings me to tears--her mind so deteriorated, her memory so compromised that she was taken back to childhood, to her original source of comfort when she was scared in the night: Daddy. The first time I heard of this happening, it made me immediately think of my own girls and the tenderness of our relationship--how they love me and need me as their father, how good they are to me, and how much I adore and yearn to protect them. It makes me think about how heartbroken--truly, and utterly heartbroken--I would be to watch any of the four of them suffer the way my mom suffered, day after day, year after year. What if Anna were to die this way? Or Viva, or Tessa or Alexa? What if they cried for me--in terror and agony--in the night, even though they were 58 years old and had grand-babies of their own and I was in another place?

I would leave them poppies too, I can tell you that much. If one of my daughters suffered in this way, I would find a way to reach through the firmament, jut my hand between life and death, and leave a symbol they would understand, so they could know I was with them, so they could know that they weren't alone, that I was always there, that they were still my little girls and always would be, and that I would sit with them through the night.

The day after my mommy left I was in a state of shock. The grief was more intense than I'd ever imagined it would be. I was reeling, just surviving minute by minute. Lolly's sister and her husband happened to be visiting, and I sat, dazed, as Lolly drove us home from breakfast (which I'd barely been able to eat). I stared out the window looking at nothing as the dark, rainy skies and the sidewalks and the bland buildings blended together into a stream of passing grey that echoed the insipid emptiness I felt, when suddenly, on the side of the road: a shock of orange. "Pull over!" I said abruptly. "Pull over right now!" Everyone was surprised at my outburst. Lolly pulled to the side of the road, and I crossed the busy street, ignoring the treacherous time of day, blind to everything around me. Nobody knew what I was doing, or understood why I was doing it. I probably looked crazy.

But there they were: a random patch of California poppies. Hundreds of them. They had somehow spontaneously grown on the side of this Washington road near my house, blooming the day after my mother's death. I'd never seen them there before--or perhaps just had never noticed them--but they were beautiful, growing tall, blinking bright orange, waiting to remind me that though my mommy had left this world the day before, and so too had her father more than a decade earlier, I was not alone.

They would always reach for me, no matter the distance.

My poppies.