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Worn Out Selkie Skin

I had a reading last weekend and the main message that came through was: You need to die.

The person doing the reading (my sister) said I had already shed my skin like a snake, but that I kept putting it back on like a jacket. And it was time to let it go.

Ironically, I had just had a conversation with a very magical lady about selkies. We had connected before through a mutual friend, then she found an old post I wrote about selkies and asked me to elaborate on my selkie journey.

Photo by Alec Weir on Unsplash (Used with permission)

Photo by Alec Weir on Unsplash (Used with permission)

Selkie is an archetype I connected with after my last breakup, realizing that I had given up my selkie skin to be with the land-dwelling man I loved. I was irresponsible with that skin. I left it out in the open and it was snatched away from me. Lost.

When he left, I felt like I was finding my skin again and learning how to be very careful and deliberate with where I left it. But…I also felt something else I couldn't quite put my finger on until my sister made the snake analogy. Like maybe that old selkie skin didn't quite fit anymore…

I am still uncertain, even after days of thinking it over. Which part of me is the shed snake skin that I'm still wearing? Which part of me is the old, ill-fitting selkie pelt? And how does one find the new skin underneath? Is there such a thing as making that kind of fresh start?

Those who shed skins are the people and beings who walk between the worlds. In that sense, I find it very hard to pinpoint everything that's real and true about me. Some is real in this world and not in others. Some is true in other worlds but not this one.

But the word "true" makes me think of being true to yourself - true to your skin (whichever world you might be in). I still feel that I keep some of my skin hidden in the "real" world because I'm afraid to let colleagues and outsiders know what I do. I pretend my life as a writer and artist and blogger doesn't exist at work. Not true to my skin, at all. That feels like wearing a jacket. Like wearing a false skin to blend in with the rest of the "normals." (If there's really such a thing as being normal.)

And if that's the skin I'm supposed to shed once and for all…well, that just gives me the chills. (I need that jacket back!) I can hardly think of anything scarier than that. But at the same time, something in me knows I have to "come out" before the end of the year or I'm never going to get where I want to get.

I suppose it's possible that I can't even find my true-fitting skin until I start to let the shed skin go, once and for all.

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Ghosts, Bones, & Hope

The sun casts long shadows across the brilliant green grass. The branches of the junipers, pine, aspen, and hawthorn rustle in the cool afternoon breeze. The mountains stand proudly in shadow, shielding the sun as it prepares to disrobe for the night.

There used to be four dogs who tumbled across this lawn, barking and jumping. Two of them were lean and fast as foxes. One was a little slower, a little heavier, but her bulk never stopped her from taking flying leaps over the creek. And the youngest simply happily yipped and sprinted, just trying to keep up with everyone.

Amongst these furry creatures once ran three little boys who found pleasure sitting on the swings or play-acting swordfights with long sticks.

Copyright: Yancy Lael

Copyright: Yancy Lael

Everyone was so young and life felt like it was just beginning.

But on this afternoon when the wind is stirring our hair, when the birds are calling, and the sun is brilliantly orange, there is but one dog on the lawn. The three boys are older now, and have two little sisters in their circle. Despite the growing number of children, it has never felt so sad, so quiet, so empty here.

Two seemingly happy parents have been whittled down to one. A brother is missing. The three beloved dogs. There is no laughter. No more chaotic tumbling of 12 furry paws. No more choruses of barking.

The ghosts that are here now are deafening this afternoon. So loud in their silence. Even the baby owls have disappeared.

What remains in the empty space? Is there anything there, at all? Is it just memory, the bite we take that fails to fill our stomach, but tempts us to keep eating? Are there ghosts there waiting to comfort us? Or is it just the empty space that takes nothing, but has nothing?

Past the lawn, just down the hill, lies a pile of bones that once belonged to a young, vibrant buck. And beyond that, I have seen another buck, his antlers velvety, eating in the field. The animal who left the bones spoke to me once, a long time ago, about loss, about the seeming randomness of death. Then one day, this new buck, this living creature, appeared, and suddenly, the bones are not so loud anymore.

I hold on to the hope that one day another pack of dogs will sprint out across the lawn in a raucous tumble, knocking over several children in their path. They will appear just like the buck appeared. Without a lot of fanfare. Someday, they will just be there.

And the bones, the ghosts, will be there, too. They are always there, just in the foreground, or sometimes, a little to the left. We never forget our ghosts.

(This post is dedicated to Belladonna.)

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The friends we make in the wild world

I haven't seen my owlets in nearly two weeks. They grew up fast, as I knew they would. When I first encountered them, they could barely fly. Within 3 weeks, they were expert aviators. When I first met them, they would let me stand a few hundred feet away and take pictures and videos of them with my zoom lens. Within 3 weeks, the moment they heard me coming, they would fly away. I could barely catch a glimpse of them.

I knew they would be gone by the end of the summer, looking for their own territory. But I thought I had at least a month before they went off on their own.

But the last several times I've gone out to look for them, there has been no sign of them. I see feathers here and there that have been lying around for a while - nothing new, nothing fresh.

I listen so carefully, trying to hear their call, but nothing comes. I hear the magpies and the hawks, but no baby owls. Every now and then, I think I hear them…but when I stop to focus, the sound does not recur.

I have to admit, I really miss them. Watching them has been one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. What a privilege to get a chance to watch three baby owls grow into maturity.

Copyright: C. Martin, 2017, used with permission

Copyright: C. Martin, 2017, used with permission

In a way, they became my friends. I looked for them every Friday and Saturday evening. When you're owling, you have to slow down. You have to listen. The very act of walking so incredibly slowly, of looking into every tree for some clue of their whereabouts, was incredibly relaxing. It helped me manage the stress I've been struggling with at work. It helped me feel connected to a broader, wilder world than the one I currently inhabit.

Without little Lyra, Sirirus, and Vesper, I feel a little bit lost. Suddenly, the world feels so much emptier.

On Monday night, I walked the woods for over an hour, looking for them in the fading light. I began crying, feeling so hopeless that I will see their beautiful yellow eyes again. Was the last time the last time?

My sobbing startled a buck that had been eating grass several feet away. I didn't see him until he spooked and ran away. At the time, I was standing next to the bones of another buck who had died in November 2015, back when my own life was heading deep into the underworld.

The buck gave me some hope. He was young, his antlers velvety. Maybe another sign that my life is finally and fully emerging from that dark, deathly place it was in for so long. One buck left this world, and another has come into it, just beginning his life.

It gave me a little hope, even as I knew I had to face the fact that I might not see my little ones ever again.

I stayed at the farm on Tuesday night - something I don't normally do on a work night. I woke up just before my alarm went off, at 4:30AM. I laid there, staring at the ceiling, waiting for my alarm to go off at 5. Ten minutes later, I heard hooting.

I knew it was the mother or father owl sitting on the tree just outside the window, as they had done so often just before the babies were born. I couldn't believe it. After almost two weeks, one of them returned! Not one of my babies, but still…it was reassuring to hear one of the adults.

I went on with my day feeling much better, much more hopeful. Maybe I'll see them again. Or maybe the mother owl came to tell me that they were all moved out and happy in their new territories.

At work, a co-worker gave me a birthday present - a pair of owl-shaped earrings. It felt like the owls speaking to me, again, reassuring me.

I don't know if I'll see the little ones again. They might be gone forever, now. But I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with them. And I hope that the parents - or at least one of them - will stay on at the farm, letting me visit from time to time.

It is just good to know that we have friends out there, somewhere in the wild world, who touched our lives. And maybe we touched theirs, too.

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The Boss

I have always been the kind of person to struggle with authority. Not the way people usually mean that. I'm not a rebel, by any means.

No, I struggle with the fear of having an authority figure call me out, which is why I do what I'm told to do. All I need is someone to appear to have authority over me, and I will do whatever the hell they tell me to do.

I also struggle with having authority. In general, I don't want it. And when I do want it, I don't seem to have a powerful enough personality to wield it with any sort of power.

But somehow, I've always ended up in jobs where I have to play the role of an authority figure. I was a teacher for a long time, and now I run two programs and oversee about 20 adult staff members.

And I'm not very good at it.

It took me many, many years to draw the line in the classroom, which I suppose is pretty pathetic. Most people don't struggle at all with laying down the law with a child. But I did. I didn't want to hurt them, to scar them in some way. And I was deathly afraid that they would see me as the enemy and just want to keep fighting me all day.

I couldn't draw the line in my relationship and as such, he dated other women while we were together and I never once confronted him about it. I was terrified that he would leave for good if I "pushed" him by demanding his respect.

Sometimes I feel that I'm having similar problems in my day job. Don't want to listen? Great, no problem. Don't want to follow the rules? Your call. Don't respect me? Oh well!

How does the wild world model authority and power?

I think about my owlets and their parents and they operate in very specific ways when it comes to power and authority. The little ones sometimes challenge their parents, physically scuffling with them until the parents move to another branch. The parents hooted incessantly in the months before the babies were born, audibly marking their territory. When I stumble upon one of the owlets, they click their beaks at me, warning me that I am too close and expressing their distaste.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

They speak up. They make themselves clear. They sure as hell aren't worried about whether or not I'll be angry with them or if I'll interact peacefully with them in the future.

And yet they are not unshakeable. Crows will sometimes gang up on one of the parents and peck at them. Tiny little birds will often dive-bomb the owlets, making the babies fluff up their feathers in disgruntlement. The owls don't do much in response to this - there isn't much to do. The attacks are usually short-lived, not worth the time to make a fuss over.

So what's the answer here? Speak up, speak clearly, draw the line, and let the little stuff go?

Perhaps. It seems so simple when put like that.

But the human world is always like the wild world. It feels like it should be - we are animals, too, after all - but there is so much more complication to it all. Or maybe we just make it complicated.

I don't know what the answer is, yet. Part of me feels like I'm just not good with being an authority figure and I should just accept it and shy away from that role. But we will all have to face that role in some ways during our lifetimes. It's not something we can put down and ignore.

Maybe there's only owlet-sized steps to take to practice speaking up, clicking my beak, drawing a clear line. Maybe that's enough… At least for now.

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Respecting the Space

I've been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to respect the space that we're in, as well as the things in it. There's nothing wrong with a mess from time to time, but overall, I look at unused desks piled with papers as disrespectful to myself and everything in the stack. I look at a sink full of dirty dishes as disrespectful to myself and everything in the sink.

One of my goals at work has been to keep my space clean. I failed incredibly at this last year, being so frantic that I would throw things into a pile in the corner, desperately just trying to keep any part of the surface of my desk useable. I don't have any more time than last year to organize anything or keep it clean - but I take the time. I prioritize that over everything else, because I want to respect my space, my time, my work, myself.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I have been helping to clean up the land at my mother's farm on the weekends. Some parts of the property haven't really been touched for over a decade. I've found trash, plastic, soda cans, old barbed wire… There's even junk out there from the last family who lived on that land, 25 years ago. No. Disrespectful. I'm cleaning that shit up.

My home is the biggest challenge for me at this point. I'm not often there, being at work and the farm most of the time. But when I see my office space filled with more clutter than any other space in the house (well, okay the garage is the worst), I realize why I'm struggling to keep up with the blog and get some freelance pieces out there. I'm not respecting - or even using, honestly - my work space.

The first area I tackled was my bedroom. I struggle with stress- and anxiety-induced insomnia and I realized, looking around my room, that I had started to bring my work in there. I had notebooks, calendars, and paperwork all over the place. Not at all a place for rest. I moved all of that out and haven't let myself do work in that room since.

I put off facing the office and living room because part of me doesn't want to face the mess. Part of me doesn't want to deal with all the stuff I need to sort through.

But it must be done. Every day I don't do it, I realize I'm not respecting myself, and I cannot let that continue to happen.

I've got to face it all and start respecting my space, my possessions, my home, and myself.

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Pay Attention

It always surprises me how challenging it can be to do the simplest thing - like pay attention to what's going on around me. Were we always this distracted?

I get thrown off by my cell phone dinging. I lose my focus when loud cars roll by or people spill into the office, talking loudly. I fall back into old habits of rushing not even always realizing that I'm doing it.

I'm trying to take a slower, more deliberate pace, especially at this time of year, when work is so stressful. I make time to write down my tasks in a date book every day, to help me focus on what I'm doing and where I'm going. I try to force myself to take breaks and to focus on taking care of my body.

Nevertheless, the rush creeps in. Just last weekend, as I was wandering the woods, looking for my owlets, I realized I was crashing through the brush at a rushed pace. Why on earth was I was going so fast?

Habit. Pure and simple. When I walk, I usually walk for fitness and am focused on what I have to get done when my walk is over.

But that's not the case when I'm owling.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I had to remind myself to slow down. I had to remember that I can't find those precious little creatures unless I walk very slowly and listen for their soft calls. I have to pay attention to every little thing around me.

I have to take notice of the magpies flying above. The way the wind is blowing. I have to look so carefully in the trees and listen with deep concentration so I can hear the owls' squawks.

All of this is a necessary reminder.

My bicycle commuting used to be this touchstone of focus for me. I can remember writing blog posts about how much bicycling slowed down my attention and helped me to appreciate the trees and flowers, how it allowed me to notice such "small" things like a beetle crossing the road - something I never would have seen from a car.

But all these years later, in another town, at a much faster pace, I have lost this sense of attention when I'm bicycling. I'm moving too fast. Hurrying too much. Trying to avoid the traffic, trying to get to work on time.

So now I must re-learn this lesson from the owls. Stop. Listen. Look around. Pay attention.

As I reminded myself of this last weekend, I stumbled upon a bush that was surrounded with owl feathers. I stopped, realizing my little owls had been there, probably not so long ago. My focus deepened, instantly.

Looking up for more clues, I found myself almost face-to-face with one of the owls. Right there. So close.

It took me several more minutes to realize that his sister was sitting right next to him, concealed by a branch. And another several minutes to notice his other sister just across the path from me.

There are a lot of things in life that sit quietly in the trees, waiting for us to notice them. It can be hard to see them. Hard to hear them. But if we remember to be deliberate and focused, we will take notice of the clues.

Go slowly. Listen deeply. Look closely.

Pay attention.

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In Mystery, They Remain

I spent last Friday evening looking for my owlet twins - with no luck. I roamed 40 acres of land and could not find a trace of them. I couldn't even hear their calls.

Disappointed, I thought I might not get a chance to see them that weekend. Until Saturday night came around.

After seeing their parents flying in the back pasture from the windows of my mother's house, I ran out with binoculars and camera in hand.

As I was snapping pictures, I thought I was imagining what I was seeing. Not two little fluffy white creatures…but three. What? Did I really just see that?

I turned on the video camera with its zoom lens and started watching the little owlet who had landed on a pile of hay (I was too far away to get a good view with the binoculars and certainly couldn't see well enough with my naked eyes). Another stood nearby. And then…sure enough, a third one flew in.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I could not believe it. What kind of blessing is that to have not one, not two, but three owlets growing up before your eyes?

I watched them in awe for nearly an hour. They were playing on a pile of hay that I had gotten it into my head to move a couple months ago. The pile had previously been sitting near the house (once a fort for my nephews) and had rotted over the winters into a pile of disgusting mush. I was so sick of looking at it that in March, I decided to haul it out to the back pasture, with my brother's help.

Well, I couldn't have moved it at a better time. The little owlets seemed to loved using it for hunting and flying practice. The short peaks made for perfect, modest "diving boards" (though they still face-planted an awful lot). They picked up chunks of hay and tried to lift them while flying (mostly unsuccessfully) to (presumably) strengthen their legs and build coordination, they went crazy over the buffet of bugs living in the decomposing matter, and most of all, I imagine, they were listening for the little mice who have since made a home in that pile, honing their ears for the day they will be hunting on their own.

They watched me watching them, often looking directly at me. Their parents fly away whenever I get within 300 feet of them, but the owlets are young enough not to care. I still remain at a distance, but unlike their parents, the young ones will allow me to observe from far away, occasionally looking my way to make sure I'm not coming any closer. Somehow, the mother and father owl will reappear in a nearby tree without my notice, flying away a second time when I get up to leave.

That Saturday night, as I watched and recorded videos, the sun cast a stripe of light straight down onto me and the owls. It was as if our little slice of the earth had turned to gold. I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Did this happen every night, I wondered, and I was just too busy indoors to notice? Was it just this time of year, when the sun was at that particular angle in the late spring sky?

I didn't have time to ponder it much more - the light literally disappeared in less than a minute, casting the world into the last stages of dusk, that murky, beautiful gray-blue that emerges along with the stars in the sky.

Little Lyra flew across the field and into a tree at that point, nearly falling out, as she often does. She held on to the branch for dear life, falling upside-down, her wings extended. She looked like a giant, white, fluffy bat. I have seen her do this before and like always, she pulled herself upright again and caught her balance, sitting proudly on the edge of the branch, looking my way as if to say, "See? I got this."

Her brother, Sirius, soon followed her, almost landing on top of her, almost knocking them both off the thin branch that wasn't quite big enough for two birds of that size. Somehow, he managed to regain his balance and both remained steady on their perches.

Below them, their little sibling, the mysterious third fledgling that I had only just met that night, had perched on a fence post and was looking out at the mountains.

When I thought it was just two owls, I randomly decided that they were a boy and a girl (which may or may not be true). This mystery baby…I'm not sure yet. I suppose, in my gut, I think it's a girl. I'm a little stumped on what to name her. But I know she'll send me a clue when the time is right.

Just as the final light of day disappeared behind the mountains, the triplets' mother soared above them, landing in a tree several yards away. Always watching, no doubt. She and her mate are never far from those babies.

I love watching them. I love being reminded of what it means to really pay attention to something. I love the surprises in the world that we fail to notice because we don't go outside enough. Mother Nature is always waiting to remind us of her beauty.

But once the sun goes down, I have to surrender. After dark, I'm sure, is the best show of all - watching the owls hunt and fly and call to one another. But alas, I don't have their eyes. I cannot see in the dark. And illuminating their nighttime rituals with artificial light to satisfy my curiosity just wouldn't be right.

So in mystery, they will remain. I will get a few glimpses of them here and there - hopefully a lot more before these little fledglings move on to find their own territory. But what they do in the dark will stay in the dark, as it is meant to be.

As all mystery is meant to be.

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Flying Lessons

Over the weekend, I spent an evening sitting outside, watching the owls. To my surprise, I found out that there was not just one owlet, but two!

There is something about being in proximity to something wild - especially a predator - that thrills me. I came face-to-face with a coyote once and it was a moment I will always remember. Going outside at sunset with a pair of binoculars and finding the yellow eyes of an owl staring back at me is such a rush. And to find not one but two babies, recently. . . it was such a treat.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I sat and watched them for about an hour over the weekend. The father owl came and sat, watching them, for a few minutes, then he flew away. Afterwards, the little boy (I've randomly decided that they are a boy and a girl) flew from the tree he was sitting on and landed on the roof of a pole barn, a few hundred feet away.

Watching these sweet little creatures try to fly was hilarious, heart-warming, and adorable. I didn't see the little boy (who I named Sirius) land, but I heard it - a loud crashing sound on the tin roof of the pole barn. When he took his next leap, he literally collided with a juniper tree, getting his wing stuck in the branches for a moment, until he could maneuver himself into a better position.

After that, he and his sister (who I call Lyra), called to each other for a long time. Their calls are so sweet - not a hoot, hoot, as I expected. Little, baby squawks. They called back and forth again and again until little Lyra took her own journey into another tree, making a similarly clumsy landing.

It was such a happy time. The junipers and willows seemed so happy to be able to catch these little owlets and shelter them between jumps. And their parents were, without a doubt, watching them from nearby.

The next night, I went out looking for them, but could not find them. Until I stopped and listened. I heard them calling to one another again, and followed the sound of their calls. Sure enough, coming down a hill, I noticed Sirius sitting on top of a pole, looking over a field, as the sun went down.

I am sad for the day they will leave us, going out on their own to find their own territory. But for now, this summer, a time when they will remain close to their parents, I'll enjoy every second I get to spend with them.

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Fledgling

I find that there is no more dramatic, tragic, or triumphant stage in all this world than nature. Spending time outside feeds my soul in every way. I couldn't love it more.

I try to spend a good portion of the weekend outdoors - especially in places that are a little bit wild. That is mostly accomplished by visiting my mom's ranch, just outside of time. Forty beautiful, slightly secluded acres that are regularly visited by deer, skunks, badgers, owls, ducks, snakes, and coyotes. Even an occasional cougar.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

For the past several years, there has been a Great Horned Owl living on the property. With my love of owls, I often take sunset walks around the property with my camera, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

This year, my job was made easier by the fact that the owl found a mate and they have regularly made appearances near - and sometimes even on (landing on the rooftop) - the house. It's such a delight to see these powerful, beautiful birds swoop down from the trees just outside the window or to hear them hooting once the sun goes down.

A few days ago, my brother made a discovery: the owl couple had a baby.

What a wonderful surprise! Honestly, is there anything cuter than an owlet?

I heard the owls calling on Saturday morning and went out to see if the baby was up and about. I wanted to see her with my own eyes. As I approached the pond, the mother owl swooped down and landed on a fence post right in front of me. I was shocked - and so was she when she realized she had landed right in front of me. She immediately flew away and I laughed because she had come to sit right next to a plastic owl that we installed years ago to scare away the real owls and keep them from killing the ducks.

Whoops. I realized suddenly that it wasn't a plastic owl sitting there. It was the owlet!

I watched her throughout the day, stumbling around on the ground, trying to fly. Her parents swooped down on either side of her whenever she seemed to be in distress. At one point, she made herself a little bed in the grass near a fence and spent the better part of the day there. Her mother sat on the fence post almost the entire time, her head bent down, watching her little one. It was so sweet.

When I checked on Sunday, the owl family was gone. Back to their nest, I assume, with their little fledgling, who only has a little more time with her parents. Soon, she will be on her own, probably leaving the property and looking for her own territory.

The parallels between this journey and my own are clear. I'm in a state of fledge right now, too. I already have my own nest, but my nests have always belonged to someone else (meaning, I've always been a renter). I'm about to leave the nest I'm in and truly find my own territory.

But I think of those owls and how Mother Owl sat with her baby all day long, staring at her, making sure she was not disturbed, making sure she was safe from harm. We all have that force of protection in our lives. We may leave the nest, but we'll always be watched over.

When I think of the dangers that little creature faces - the neighbor's violent dog, coyotes, hawks, rattlesnakes . . . It's a miracle she was hatched from her little egg, and a miracle she made it to 9 or 10 weeks. It's a miracle she left the nest, not quite able to fly. It's a miracle that she's climbing fences and trees and building her leg and wing muscles. It's a miracle that she has gotten this far and that someday - very soon - she will be one of the most powerful predators in the area.

Life is holding her, taking care of her, like it does for all of us. Even when we leave the nest and have to establish our own territory. Our protector is watching from above.

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I know exactly how I got here

When I was 10, my parents decided to write book under a pseudonym - my first name and an ancestral surname. When I saw the name Yancy on their business cards above the word "writer," I knew with every fiber of my being that I was going to be a writer. I started my first novel the same weekend their business cards arrived.

I know exactly how I got here.

I wrote novels longhand in spiral bound notebooks all during my teenage years - because back in those days, families were lucky to have one computer for everyone. We had to share. It was easier - and more private - for me to write my romantic novels and mysteries in my notebooks, dreaming about becoming a famous novelist someday.

I know exactly how I got here.

Copyright: C. Martin, 2016

Copyright: C. Martin, 2016

My uncle gave me his old laptop - a funny name for the machines they had back then, which were really just smaller desktop models that weighed 20 pounds and only had one purpose - word processing. But hey, that was fine with me. It was all I needed. I started writing dozens of new novels on that machine, looking for the one that would capture my attention long enough for me to finish it.

I know exactly how I got here.

In the mid-90's, I was fortunate enough to get a real desktop computer of my own, which changed the game, entirely. Suddenly, with the speed of typing, I could pump out 10 pages a day if I was disciplined enough. I wrote three novels on that computer, certain that they would bring me the kind of publishing contract and  public recognition I was looking for.

I know exactly how I got here.

Oh, did I mention I almost never sent out queries to publishers? I was too scared for that. It felt so vulnerable to share my work with them. What if they thought I was a stupid, naïve little girl? (Well, I was.) I couldn't bear the thought. So my writing remained a secret from the world.

I know exactly how I got here.

In 2007 or 08, I took a big leap and decided to join all the other green bloggers around the world. A Green Spell was born and I was hooked. I made so many wonderful friends through blogging - some I'm happy to say I am still in contact with today. It was another world, back then - blogging was such an exciting platform for creativity and personal connection. Not so saturated as it is today. I loved it.

I know exactly how I got here.

In 2010, I took another leap and began selling the beauty products I had made to heal my skin. It was a big departure from the career in writing I had always wanted. But I enjoyed every second of it. There weren't nearly as many green bath and beauty vendors as there are today and people took notice of the care I put into my products. My shop and its blog, Five Seed (named after one of the streets in The Poison Box's fictional town, Salome - a novel I had abandoned by then), soon eclipsed A Green Spell, forcing me to put more and more of my time and attention there. Eventually, I knew I had to say goodbye to A Green Spell, a decision that was very difficult for me, but I was relieved to have more time to spend on Five Seed.

I know exactly how I got here.

It didn't take long for the market to become saturated with organic bath and body products. Competition became a genuine problem. And when a certain small business platform rolled out new policies barring natural beauty sellers from any mention of herbs, their history, and/or their healing properties, I was essentially put out of business. Sales went from the hundreds to less than ten in six weeks' time. Maybe there was a Plan B that I didn't see at the time, but I must have been pretty burned out because I let that disappointment end my business. And I can't say I'm sorry about it.

I know exactly how I got here.

The end of selling beauty products pushed me into another kind of production that I hadn't previously planned on: sharing the story of how I healed my skin. It started out as an idea for my blog, and then became a pamphlet. The pamphlet soon evolved into a book. Over 200 pages of what I had learned about skincare. The original plan was to make it into a PDF - and I had no idea how to sell something like that. But I soldiered on. I was quickly led to the world of self-publishing and my book became not only a Kindle book, but a real, full-fledged, paperback, as well.

I know exactly how I got here.

Suddenly, holding that paperback in my hands, I realized I had come full circle. I was finally an author.

I know exactly how I got here.

The next few years were filled with writing more books. Next came The Paris Diaries and Dear Me. I resurrected The Poison Box (to my delight) and then published Being Beautiful. As soon as Being Beautiful was finished, I knew I was done with my beauty books. I had been working on a huge series of beauty books prior to that, but I scrapped all those projects without a second thought. I knew what I wanted - I remembered what I wanted. And that's what I needed to put my energy toward.

I know exactly how I got here.

But the problem of my website still remained. After Five Seed closed, I made the quick and simple decision to set up a website under my own name: yancylael.com. That way, people could easily find me if they wanted to learn more about my writing. But I had to say goodbye to my old audience. Most were not interested in following me. I had gone from a natural beauty expert and product provider to a writer. A big leap for them. For me, though, I was just getting back to my roots.

I know exactly how I got here.

I started to notice that people were less engaged once I became yancylael.com. Was it because my name didn't evoke anything for them? Because I didn't have any cute titles like Five Seed or A Green Spell anymore? Because people weren't really sure what, exactly, I did?

I know exactly how I got here.

It didn't help, I'm sure, that I had a brief couple of years, during the promotion of Soulful Skincare and Being Beautiful, that I did beauty coaching and intuitive healing. I'm sure that had people a little confused. Was I a writer or. . . ?

I know exactly how I got here.

In the past year, I have tried to develop my website brand by calling myself what I am: a storyteller. Yet still, I feel a disconnect. Like something is not quite getting across. I often get the nudge that I have to perhaps remove Yancy Lael the writer from Yancy Lael the blogger, the seeker, the creative. As in, one site for publishers, for clients, for people looking for my books. And one site for people who want to connect more deeply with me and my stories and art. Perhaps I do need that website name that evokes something in others. Perhaps I do need to look in another direction.

I know exactly how I got here.

I believe in letting the wild world dictate what it wants. I believe in letting gardens find their own way to beauty and abundance. Hell, I wrote a whole book about leaving your skin alone and letting it finds its own way to health and beauty. Now how do I find that for my career? How do I let it go and let it find its wildness, what it wants to be?

I know exactly how I got here. But I'm not quite sure - yet - where I'm going.

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The Dirt in the Graveyard

This time in my life marks the passage of an anniversary - the anniversary of my dog's passing and the season when my legal ties with my ex were fully and completely severed.

Two years ago, it was.

It has been a whirlwind, ever since, scrambling to make ends meet, to alter circumstances that needed to be altered, to keep up with savage deadlines, to push myself to find my passion again.

The first year was the worst. I remember the pain of it so clearly. I thought my efforts would prove fruitless. I was so scared and lonely and everything seemed so far out of my reach. A home of my own. A book deal. A new dog. Another love. A child. I only kept pushing and walking and trying because I didn't see any other option than just giving up - which I wasn't willing to do.

I didn't notice that things had started changing... until I noticed. I started having memories of things that happened a year ago, and how sorrowful I had been. And I realized I didn't feel that way anymore.

I started to press forward with more enthusiasm and I realized I had some seriously cool dreams I wanted to pursue.

And that list of things that seemed impossible... The one thing that seemed the most impossible, the one thing I thought I would never achieve - buying a home - I have.

I'm signing the papers next week.

It's impossible, yet it's happening.

Last week was the official anniversary of my dog's death, and the symbolic ending of the home I had built with my ex. And you know what? I didn't remember the significance of the day until four days later. I didn't remember to think of my dog, or cry, or put out flowers for him. I was too busy remembering him in life and thinking about all the good times we had together.

I didn't have to mark the sadness or the loss.

There is a scene in the sequel of The Poison Box in which a character is having a difficult time dealing with the loss of a loved one. Mary observes this person and observes a smell on him that makes her think of a fresh grave.

I think there was a long time that the dirt from the grave of my old life lingered on me. Stale and musty and hopeless.

But it's gone now. The dirt I smell now is rich, damp, and fecund. Ready to grow all new things.

It is much like the place where I found a coyote who had died, just over a year ago. Last spring, the grass grew around the place where his body had been, as if it was protected by grief. But this spring, it is lush and overflowing with thick, green grass.

Eventually, the grave gives life again.

Copyright: 2016, C. Martin

Copyright: 2016, C. Martin

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Wildfires & Bonfires

I have spent the past few weekends helping my brother clear out the fire hazards at our mother's ranch. We live in an area extremely prone to wildfires and we all take that risk very seriously. One of the things we do in the spring is rake up all the pine needles, broken branches, and other flammable yard debris and we burn what we can and drop the rest off at the landfill, for chipping.

Copyright 2017, Yancy Lael

Copyright 2017, Yancy Lael

As I was out raking, pulling in more material to throw into the burn pile behind me, I thought about how much we depend on our management of the land. It wasn't always this way - the land used to be free to manage itself (which it did quite well). It let the fires sweep across its plains, its forests. There was a reason for those fires - they cleared underbrush and other plant life that was competing with established trees. It was a clearing out that made room for other life to succeed.

We don't tend to be too keen to let Mother Nature manage herself on her own, anymore. We have our cars, our homes, the roots we have almost literally put into the earth. We don't want the wildfires to sweep through our land. So we do our best to control that.

Nevertheless, things happen. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. And yes, those fires sometimes rip through the land, despite our best efforts. As my brother and I threw branches and pine needles into the fire, we talked about our own hurricanes and wildfires - broken relationships, recent disappointments, and all the new growth that was coming into our lives.

I wondered, though: Who was the keeper, the watcher of these wildfires and everything that came after them? Who held and protected the voles, the badgers, the deer, when fire ripped through their land? Who held my brother's hand or mine when the fires swept into our lives? Who is watching us? Who is protecting us?

And of course, it was just the right weekend to be around a bonfire what with today being Beltane Eve. Just the right weekend to be pondering the protective mother energy of this universe and all the new life and new growth springing up around us.

I feel so certain that there is someone or something that holds on to us during the wildfires. We are protected through the burn. We often can't see until later how much good the fire will do for us.

And now…spring is here. It's the time of year when we'll start to see the new life springing up in the areas that were burned. We'll start to notice that yes, someone was holding us through that entire process (even if that process lasted many years - or even a decade or two) and just waiting excitedly to show us what was going to spring up from the ashes.

We are always held. Always protected. Always blessed.

Even in the fire.

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What's the value of a love story?

Copyright: Elizabeth Tsung, Creative Commons Zero License

Copyright: Elizabeth Tsung, Creative Commons Zero License

What makes a love story worth telling? What makes us want to read it? Is it a feeling of acceptance and connection that we long for? Is it the thrill of sexual tension? Is a romantic story just another way to experience an adventure, or to explore our culture's social constructions?

I often ask myself these questions, as a writer. While I enjoy a well-written, tumultuous romantic story, both in books and on the screen, I often question the need for another romantic story if I'm the one writing it. Is this story worth telling? I ask myself.

In all honesty, I feel that our culture fetishizes sex and romance in ways that make us a little lop-sided in love. We expect to give up so much of ourselves for another. We expect a partner whose love obliterates our problems. We expect sexy, perfectly choreographed love scenes in the bedroom and a perfect dance of domestic bliss in all the other rooms.

It's a fun fantasy, to be sure, and there's certainly nothing wrong with indulging in books and movies that feature these kinds of relationships.

But that's not what I want to write about. If I'm going to write about love, I want it to mean something. I want it to be real.

I'm not the kind of writer who wants women to fall in love with her male protagonists. At least, not in the usual way. I want my characters to be both achingly beautiful and completely wrecked. I want their laziness to be out there for the world to see. I want their grasping desperation visible to my readers. I want their weakness to be fully seen. I want it to be hard to love them, but also impossible not to.

Oafish, sometimes thoughtless Crue and his innate aggression that is occasionally put to good use. Responsible Dan who keeps everyone at arm's length. And Simon, prone to bouts of obsession and desperation that threaten his mental and emotional equilibrium.

The Poison Box was born for one reason: to tell Mary's story. I didn't sit down to write a love story. Despite all that, I found myself getting pulled into the very passionate stories of every character in the book, whether those stories included a romantic/sexual entanglement or not. By the time the book was finished, I felt it had evolved into a beautiful tapestry of love stories that all helped to tell the stories of the women in the book: from Mary to Ema, from Olivia to Ruth.

The second installment of this series, however, has evolved into something I didn't quite expect: a blatant love story. It is still Mary's story - it will always be her story - but this time, the story that is asking to be told is her journey into, around, through, over, and into again, a romantic relationship. Don't get me wrong - it's no Nicholas Sparks novel. Mary, my dark maiden, would never condone that. It's just not who she is.

And if you know Mary - hell, if you know me - you know she won't be riding into the sunset with her lover at the end of the book. To me, there's little beauty or satisfaction in that. I want to see the struggles. I want to know my characters have faced their shadows and that they're willing to face those shadows again and again, just as we do in real life. Sometimes, I find it even more romantic when people fail at love than when they succeed.

It's not pretty or stylized. It's not sexy or glamorous. It's just two ordinary people finding a peace between them even in all their mess. To me, that's sexy.

But is it worth writing? I still ask myself. What's the point of a book or movie or TV show that's mostly about a romantic relationship? Is that a subject worthy of our attention?

I'd say yes in most cases, having enjoyed my share of romantic stories. If it's my own story, I'd also say yes. I felt entirely comfortable sharing a snapshot of my last relationship in The Paris Diaries. I feel that anything that breaks our hearts and exposes us to another human being's deep passion strengthens and enlivens us.

So, yes. If that's what we get from a love story, then yes, it's worth sharing. If we can find ourselves in someone else's self-discovery (which is inevitable in a romantic relationship), then it's worth it. If our own passionate nature is heightened by a romantic story, then it's worth it. If our hearts break open, even just a little bit, by reading or watching someone stumble through the landmines of the heart, then it's worth it.What's the value of a love story?

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Passion is Everywhere

Copyright: C. Martin, 2015

Copyright: C. Martin, 2015

I thrive on passion. I think we all do.

I think we do ourselves a disservice by relegating passion to the bedroom. By trying confine it to one person, one relationship.

In reality, passion is everywhere. From the roiling flow of a river to the sound of thunder. From a roomful of excited students to the infatuation between a mother and her baby.

It even lives, I believe, in sadness, tragedy, and fear. There is passion in an earthquake, passion in illness, passion in a panic attack, passion in the way people come together when facing hardship.

When I was a teacher, this was something I yearned to teach my students. I wanted them to find the passion in music, art, poetry, books - and hopefully learn to see it beyond the arts. This was a harder task to achieve than I ever dreamed possible, but every now and then, it happened.

One of my favorite memories of that time was when I worked at a boarding school that served middle-school aged girls who were dealing with mental illness and psychological trauma. I made some headway with a book we were reading, but couldn't quite get them to the point of falling in love with art and literature.

One day, I brought in my DVD of The Phantom of the Opera and we started watching it. Each day, I found a way to work it into the curriculum and we talked about symbolism, and how music, choreography, and well-chosen words could add to the experience of a story for viewers and readers.

Those girls were mesmerized. With the issues they were dealing with, they strongly identified with the Phantom and were able to connect to the story even more deeply because of that. I would get goosebumps looking out at them as they watched the movie, and even more chills when we talked about the scenes we had just watched and they made connections, dug into the meaning of the story, and expressed their desire to write something similarly moving.

They got it. They understood the passion and they felt it.

Imagine if we all felt that the majority of the time. Imagine if we didn't relegate it to moments with a lover. Imagine the ripple effects that reverberate from us when we allow ourselves to embrace this passion for life (and for more passion).

The funny thing is, I don't think the events of life would change all that much. We'd still have the same love, the same tragedy. But we'd go deeper. We'd love deeper and feel deeper and connect deeper. We'd swoon just a little bit more. It would feel so good and so tender.

Our hearts would be broken open every single day. And it would be exquisite.

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The Terror and the Beauty

There is a place about 20 miles north of here that I have always loved to visit. A 300-foot gorge cuts through the earth from west to east with the beautiful Crooked River twisting through its base. For 25 years, I have passed over the Crooked River Bridge that spans this gorge on road trips and visits to Jefferson County. This place inspired me so much that when the vision of Salome (the setting of The Poison Box) came to me, one of the first things I saw was a 300-foot gorge cutting through town with the Two Thieves River running at its base and a beautiful, tall bridge spanning its width.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

There is a raw beauty to this landscape, both the real one and the fictional one. Steep sides covered with brush and boulders, rushing water at the bottom, running on for miles and miles…

And each place has a dark history - from the young man who threw himself over the edge of the gorge in Salome to the dozens of men who fell to their deaths while constructing the Crooked River Bridge. There are even signs all over the area overlooking the Crooked River Gorge, stating that hundreds of dogs have leapt to their deaths, not realizing there was a 300-foot drop on the other side of the short wall, and reminding visitors to please keep their dogs on a leash to prevent such a tragedy.

Even in its beauty, the landscape is full of peril. Even in its grandeur, there lurks danger and even death.

Just as in life.

Over the past few months, several friends of mine - people in their 20's and 30's - have fallen gravely ill. Just like that. Out of the blue. Beautiful, healthy, young people stricken with health crises that are mostly attributed to people much more advanced in age.

A young man in our community was recently killed in a freak automobile accident. He was 18. We had just attended his graduation ceremony two months before. He was just beginning his life.

And then there are my own freak accidents - injuries and issues that popped up out of nowhere that violently shook my life or brought it to a near complete standstill.

But somehow, there is still beauty in it all. The danger, the threat, the risk cannot displace or diminish the beauty of the human spirit. The friends who weather their hospital stays with grace, who courageously cut off all their hair and keep their hearts open and soft even in the face of terrifying uncertainty. The community members who come together to honor a lost member. The family who stands together, hand-in-hand, to weather one of the greatest losses they will ever endure.

Each person, each soul, cuts their way through this world. We all leave our mark, somehow, just like the Crooked or Two Thieves rivers cut through the earth. In that beautiful way we make our mark, we also somehow find that we cannot escape the vulnerability of being human.

And the realization that that vulnerability is also beautiful in its own way.

Terrifying, but beautiful as hell.

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