4 life lessons from firehouse 531

Slow is Fast.

Everyone wants everything done as quickly as possible. It’s human nature. Be healed now. Be ready now.

But if you let events spin you — if you become a creature of reaction — things end up taking more time and resource. Instead, go slowly be methodical, and pay attention. Rushing doesn’t get you where you’re going faster, it only trips you up and tangles you in your boots.

Have faith. You’ll get your gear on. You’ll arrive on scene. You’ll overcome whatever you need to, and you’ll do it fast.  If you allow yourself to go slow.

 

Some Things Need to be Tied Down. Some Don’t.

Before the engine speeds away, some gear needs to be harnessed with every knot and buckle imaginable. Other items can just be wedged in between and counted on to stick around.

In life, it works the same. Some things require conscious effort.  Focus on those things rather than worrying about the things you’ll carry with you no matter what your speed or mission.

 

Train, Prepare– then Improvise.

In my time at the firehouse, I only went on five calls and none bore the slightest resemblance to the next. The best we can hope for is that our training and preparation allow us the stretch of mindset needed to see us through our improvisation, so we can adapt and overcome.

 

Write the Most Honest Narrative. Then, Share It.

The narratives we tell — the stories we keep alive — set the groundwork for future training and preparation.

Even if you don’t have the chance to benefit from it, someone might.

Tell your truth, and then let it free.

 

___________________________

It’s Year 4 of Rarasaur Blog, so I’m going to share 4 Lessons I’ve learned from a variety of places and people and experiences, and how I apply them to life.  These are some of my favorite takeaways from working as an inmate firefighter.

Firehouse 531 is made up of great guys who worked through a variety of situations, and you can send them cards and letters whenever you’re so inclined.  They take care of us in there, despite the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through to do so.

California Institute for Women
Attn: Firehouse 531
16756 Chino-Corona Road
Corona, CA 92880

ec-cars3

Do you collect life lessons, too?

life by number

If we were having coffee, I’d probably invite someone else along. That’s the mood I’m in today, though that particular characteristic is my second worst socializing trait. I like to invite others along. Unless I’m specifically asked for one-on-one time, I can make even just a cup of coffee into a barn party with just a few clicks and swipes.

Someone should really take this phone away from me.

My first worst socializing trait is my tendency to add a question mark of possibility to finite plans. You want to meet for tea today? Great, we’re set. Oh, did you say today because you thought I was free? Because I’m free tomorrow, too. Also, did you say tea because you’re worried that I’m drinking too much coffee? I’m not, I’ve dialed it way back. Did you say tea because you forgot that you wanted to try that juice place around the corner? Or were you just really feeling tea today? Did I want to change the plans? No, I was just asking.

I really was just asking.
Someone should take these question marks away from me.

They say a curious mind is a sign of great intelligence, but I wonder about a curious mind unfed.
Mine is unfed.

I’ve suddenly realized that the last two years of my life have put living on hold.

I think it’s a good thing that I’ve wake up to it, shaken out of it. It’s time to see animals and walk on beaches. It’s time to count the stars.

I saw the moon last night, or the night before.
She was full.
A curious being, fed.
A curious being, glowing.

I’ve lost my glow along with about a million other things, but I don’t have time to count losses when there are so many wins that need tallying.

I like to count.
I like life to count.
I like to give myself the things I like.

So I’d invite a friend to join us for coffee. Maybe I’d invite someone who could be a friend. Maybe I’d invite someone who once was a great friend, but their heart got caught on one of those stars I’m so fond of counting.

You can invite them, but of course, most can only make it back when the star falls, and their wishes come true. It’s an odd-shaped truth that most wishes take us back to where we were, in some way or another.

I’m a little bit funny about odd-shaped truths. I like to leave them where I found them, and then count all the many times I stumble upon them again.

I like to count.

_______________________

What do you do when you’re feeling depleted of input in?

choose your own coffee adventure

red-1

My family would keep calendars on the wall for months. There was always a reason. Dad liked the flowers on top of the April calendar. Mom wrote an important number on January 10th. My little sister ate July and then we would forget about August by the time we came to it.

I have an odd relationship to time. My year flipped over while I wasn’t looking. I think childhood habits would have had me content to keep living May. A year from turning myself, a year from his death, a month before I fought a fire, three months before I was actually free.

I am actually free now.
In the freedom, there are stories, and they’ve been piling on themselves. If we were having coffee, I’d ask you to tell me what you’d like to hear about, and I’d tell you all about it.

Here are the story fragments, there’s a poll at the end. Fill up your cup, choose your own coffee adventure… what have you been up to, Best Beloved?

 

red-2

He never had good eyesight while he was living.  He couldn’t tell the difference between myself or my sisters, and we looked so different that people were often startled we were related at all.

Remember that, he’d say, when I die.

He believed he’d be allowed to guide me, he believed he’d look down on me from up above, but he never had good eyesight, and couldn’t imagine a life where he did.  He liked knowing me by my reactions, by my laughter, by my movements– he never cared to know how I was shaped.

He said he’d whisper wisdoms to me, and sometimes I find them in someone else– someone similar enough to me that we are friends, someone similar enough to me that I could see how he would get confused.

A few weeks ago my friend had a funny dream and I never said anything in response, I didn’t know how to tell her that he’d often talk to strangers thinking they were me, and that it didn’t stop, even after he died…

 

red-2

My heart is too full of holes to hold regrets, my soul is too full to hold my stories in.  I like to talk about the stories we can’t talk about.

I like to talk about my skin, and how it feels things.  I like to talk about my heart, and what it warms to.  I like to tell the stories that peel away the layers of me that cover my naked self.

I like to be naked…
red-2

On the Internet, we found a place to grow imagination, not just wield it.  The power of growth is not always something you can see.  You can not always measure the buttons that could have been sticks that might have been swords that yesterday were manifested on the back of a real life horse.

It is a word, a meme, it is a keystroked story that is carried continent to continent, and though you don’t get to see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful, as powerful as the sticks that you once held in your backyard.

This new generation has not lost their childhood, they’ve expanded it, and it needed expanding because my own was so small that it barely existed…
red-2

Let me introduce you to the patriarchy.
Let me tell you about the ideas
that tell boys not to write poetry.
Let me tell you about the embarrassment
that would wash over faces when people realized
“all” my husband did was
create.

Let me introduce you to the patriarchy,
that smothers the boys
as purposefully as it suffocates the girls.
Let me tell you how it sparkles,
and how it shines,
and how even though it wears the blood
of a thousand severed hands,
it is still so hard to
throw away.
Let me tell you how to smash it.
Not even diamonds
are forever.
red-2

I feel like inventing something.  We used to do projects and call them “Ra-Son Labs”, we were always making things, doing things just to do them.

Dave would tell me that when the world finally made his brain explode, I should find myself someone to be around who would never ask why I was putting together puzzle pieces upside down.

If they don’t get it, he’d say, they don’t deserve you.

Everything about that story explains why I found myself on a dating site for all of a day.  They say if you’re looking you don’t find things, but I’m not the sort to walk around with my eyes closed.  I am always looking, for every possibility.

This morning I checked the clouds for signs of snow.  It’s August in Southern California, but it’s good to keep your eyes open.  It’s good to watch.

They say a watched pot never boils, but you know what else never boils?

Water that is never put on the stove.
red-2

On July 4th, I released my book of poetry, Sack Nasty. On July 24th, I hosted my own book signing– and company launch, alongside my guys, Matt, Anthony, and Bill. On July 28th, I started the editing process for The Upside Down Tree. On August 1st, I found a note from Dave, written years ago, with a 30 day challenge he created so I could get used to Instagram. On August 2nd, I started that challenge called #Somethingist and have seen so many wonderful submissions that I’ve cried. On August 4th, my podcast “Frightfully Wondrous” got listed on Itunes and Google Play for your easy listening. On August 5th, I went to BlogHer and met a million amazing bloggers, approximately.  On a Facebook Live, I called someone’s hotel roommate their bunky, so that should give you a pretty good glimpse into my current level of PTSD.  I’ll be launching a web series soon, where we talk about really big topics.  The first one is about shame, discrimination, prejudice, and privilege, so of course I used a lot of spoons.  Maybe the next one will be about PTSD.  I want to cover topics that we stumble over.  I want to Rarasaur them.

On August 6th, Rarasaur blog turned 4 years old.

In 21 days, I turn 32 years old…

 

 

#somethingist

Years ago, Dave made me a 30-day-challenge because I said I needed one to get me interested in Instagram.  Time went on and I fell into my happy over-use of Instagram any way, but I found his notes last night and thought I’d take up the challenge.

A few expressed interest in doing it alongside me so I’m sharing the list here, as always– the more the merrier.  Tag it #Somethingist so I can find it.  Use these on Instagram, twitter, Facebook, your blog, wherever.  Pick one idea and build it out, or all of them, in order or out.  Let the prompts take you wherever they want to go, as always, there are no rules here.  Myself, I’m going to do them in order and post them to Instagram.

I’d love to see your somethings, wherever or however they be…

1.    Something unfinished
2.    Something unlikely
3.    Something true
4.    Something invisible
5.    Something damaged
6.    Something possible
7.    Something displaced
8.    Something shocking
9.    Something substantial
10.    Something fragile
11.    Something temporary
12.    Something surprising
13.    Something strong
14.    Something illuminated
15.    Something dangerous
16.    Something secret
17.    Something foretelling
18.    Something obvious
19.    Something celebratory
20.    Something repaired
21.    Something terrifying
22.    Something lucky
23.    Something suspicious
24.    Something healing
25.    Something silly
26.    Something far
27.    Something near
28.    Something open
29.    Something closed
30.    Something overdone

 

my fault

It’s my fault.
I walked under that open ladder.

It’s my fault.
I broke that mirror in the 7th grade.  I stepped on a crack in the sidewalk,
I made the cracks that others have stepped on.

It’s my fault.
I didn’t forward that email.
Years later, I chose not to share that post.

It’s my fault.
I work for a man who opens umbrellas inside.

Years before, I worked for a man who sent me to prison.

It’s my fault,
and I never claimed it wasn’t,

and if you’re really really lucky,
maybe your life
can be all your fault, too.

It’s my fault.
I married a handsome man who loved me, a man who I loved,
a good man.

It’s my fault,
I got all A’s in classrooms, but then went to prison
and got a C in firefighting.

It’s my fault.
I questioned God.
I questioned Science.
I questioned
my own
heart,

my own
history.

It’s my fault.
I wore white to my wedding.
I wore blue to his funeral.
I wrote in a book.
I wrote a book.

I stepped on a crack
and maybe that’s why
I broke my own back.

I stepped on a crack
and maybe surviving it
is why I have a story
at all.

It’s my fault.
I carried a talisman.
I found a four-leaf clover.
I blew out all my candles
with one breath.

It’s my fault.
I mixed my triumphs and disasters in the same bowl.

I never even put the divider between my grocery and yours.
I eat my salad with the same fork as my dessert.

Once, I used the same fork for 6 months straight.
Once, I was given a fork and forbidden a pen…
which makes sense.

I’m far more dangerous with a pen.
Just look what I’ve done with my own story.

Sometimes the ink smears and beloved pages float away.
Sometimes the words come to life in my nightmares and make me scream,
sometimes they stab into my readers and make them cry,
sometimes they make us bleed as mournfully as my pen.

I live my life.
I write my life.
I write.

It’s my own fault,
and if you’re very lucky,
then your life
is your fault, too.

chug, chug, chug.

The time is now,
and it is yours.
Wake up and
drink in dreams.
The world is
full of joy for you,
bursting
from the seams.

We’ve been saving
all the Stories
for you and
all your future friends.
They’ll make you brave
when the world looks cracked,
because you’ll know
how quick it mends.

Fill yourself up
with our magic and love,
till you burp up
a world-wide hug.
Be brave, lucky one,
we’re waiting for you:
so chug,

chug,
chug.

______________

Our beautiful #StoriesBaby and her mama and papa need your loving thoughts right now.   She needs to be eating more so she doesn’t get transferred to a hospital. When you’re in the right frame of mind to offer up good vibes and/or prayers– just remember this thought:

Dear #StoriesBaby, #ChugChugChug. We love you. Sincerely, The Whole World

roots and wings

I left prison today, last year.

I washed before leaving, taking the longest and hottest shower I had taken in what felt like years.  The girls gave me space, so I could get as clean and ready as possible.  I left all my bath supplies behind, the bodywash and shampoo, the deodorants.  Somebody would use it.

I left everything behind.

All I had was two bags of letters, large ziplock bags that had once held instant beans.  I kept my stinger, because Steph said I’d want to show you guys, and she was right.  Steph was usually right.  It’s why I left everything to her.  She was leaving just a few months after me, and I knew she’d leave everything behind, too.

To the girls who needed it, and everyone needed it.

I walked across the Yard, carrying the bags.  They were heavy in the way that paper so often is, the way that reminds you it was once a tree.  The way that shows the little sheets have not forgotten what it was to be rooted.

It was a drizzling day and I walked the long way.  I was wearing sweatpants, a white tank top, and a sports bra that Dave had purchased for me in one of my quarterly boxes.  I was lucky to have something to wear out, including broken oversized flipflops.  I had left my good flipflops behind and worn out the pair that no one really needed.

They handed me a debit card with $200 on it.  It was my gate money, intended to help get me the clothes and transport I needed to get me home, and to my first parole meeting.  I was lucky enough to have a car waiting and clothes inside, a possible job, and a house not too far from where my first parole meeting would be.  The girl going home the same day as me needed to use the money to buy a bus pass, to get to Northern California, where she’d need to get a hotel for the day to make her meeting since she didn’t have a car.  “Will it be enough money?” I asked her, as I did the calculations in my mind.

“No,” she said, and I knew what she meant.  She’d be skipping that parole meeting and hoping that it wouldn’t land her in jail again.  We all make choices.

I gave her the number of a friend up that way, told her to call if she decided she wanted to do it right this time.  She had tattoos up and down her arm, prison tatts that told me this wasn’t her first rodeo.  She looked clean now, though.  Resigned, older, but clean.  She wasn’t trying to subvert the system, but $200 doesn’t take you up the coast and get you clothed and fed and ready to see your children.  It certainly doesn’t buy you a hotel room and a bus pass for your parole meeting.  It doesn’t pay for the job interviews that you’ll need if your friends and family don’t come through, or if you don’t want to ask because then you’ll be re-immersed in the world that got you locked up to begin with.   She’d been down 4 years.

The man in the watchtower shouted down to me.  He said my mama was already here.

There’s a tone people have in their voice, when they’ve met my mother.  I’ve heard it my entire life.  It’s slightly disbelieving, it’s gentler than they’d use with anyone else, it’s sort of wary as if they expect to be told they were the butt of a gloriously juvenile joke.

It had been so long since I heard that voice, that I stared blankly up at the watch tower.

It was raining now and my eyes filled.

I walked to the car.  We went and had tacos. I changed into the clothes my sister packed for me.  She’s been packing clothes for me my entire life.  I didn’t inspect them first or think about it, rote memory clicked in and I gathered the pieces that I knew she would have considered.  I changed in the taco shop bathroom, thinking that every waiter in there must know I just got out.  I looked at myself in the mirror and saw more of myself than I had seen in years.

I spoke to my family.

I began the journey of reactivating my accounts, but almost all the Rarasaur accounts were locked up.  Dave had changed passwords and without his notes, there’s no way I’d be able to figure it out.

I stopped by my father-in-law’s house and gathered up some of my things.  Some of Dave’s things.  Some of our things.

When I arrived to the home where I’d be staying, I took a bath.  The bathroom here is about the size of my cell, just slightly smaller.  I didn’t need to take a shower or bath because I just washed, hours before, but the privacy and hot water was too appealing.  The shower here is fancy.  You can control temperature, flow, direction.  I sprayed it on, and stood under it.

And dirt filled the tub.
It washed out of my hair, peeled off my skin.
The cleanest I had ever been inside, left dirt rings on the tub.

I sat in the tub, wasting time, wasting water, getting the outside of myself clean in a way that the inside of myself might never be again.

I thought of the girls and the jokes we told.  How we’d wear flip flops in the shower forever.  How we’d clean the dinner table with pads.  How we’d use the flashlight system to call the kids in from the playground.  You joke about trauma because laughter makes it lighter. Laughter distances you from the roots you’ll always remember.  It lets you stretch.

It gives your wings a little bravery.

Roots, and wings.
They’re both so important, though they often pull you in different directions.  Neither one is necessarily better, or always smarter.  They’re just two things that we wish on everyone we love.

In this way, paper is like us.  It can be heavy from the memory of roots.  It can be light for the hope of wings.  Each sheet is no different than another sheet, except for the words we write on it.

I step out of the tub and wrap my hair in a towel, full of colors I hadn’t seen in a long while.  I remember standing in front of my dad, my hair wrapped in a towel, trying to make a paper airplane fly.  I was six.

Six and one quarter, actually.

The folded plane just kept falling, and skidded across our tiles.  I reviewed my instructions over and over again, as dad watched.

“I folded it right,” I told him, as if he had made any claim to the contrary.

He inspected the airplane, pointing at my scribbles that had become unintelligible in the folds.  “What does it say on the paper?” he asked.

“It’s my name.” I told him.

“Your full name?” he questioned, surprised. “Well, that’s the problem.  That’s a big name. Thousands of years old.  Imagine how heavy it is.  It might just be weighing it down.”

I peered at him, wincing my face up in skepticism, but his face was blank, so I started over.  I used a clean sheet of paper, folded it, and let it go.

It glided across the room.

“Can I have this one?” my dad asked, pointing to the airplane on the floor.

“It’s broken.” I reminded him, looking down at it with a critical eye.

“No,” he said, setting it on his desk.  “It’s not broken, it just doesn’t fly yet.  I like the weight of it.”

I shrugged. My towel falling off my hair constantly as I ran around the room letting the airplane go and glide, time and time again.

I looked in the mirror again, seeing even more of myself than I did in the taco shop.  I wondered where that airplane ended up.  I wondered if I could leave the bathroom without panicking now.  I wondered how many more times I’d feel clean when I really wasn’t.  I wondered why I felt so heavy when I had no roots left at all.

The girl in the mirror had a long name, thousands of years old.
She crossed it off and wrote “Ra”, but her skin remembers the roots.

I look at her with a critical eye.  Even today, a year later, a year to the date that she came back.

She is broken, no matter what dad says, because she cannot do what she was built to do.

But I like the weight of her roots, I like the stretch of her wings.

I like her,
even though she doesn’t fly.

Yet.

Live reading:

it’s okay to play.

It’s even okay to win.
So go do that.

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Win a copy of Sack Nasty at GoodReads:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30822141-sack-nasty

Win a copy over from Book at the Door and a print of one of my signboard images:
https://behindthewillows.com/2016/07/12/book-at-the-door-july-giveaway/

And/or, come to my party and win one there:
http://www.eventbrite.com/e/poetry-from-the-edge-tickets-26251100749?aff=es2

[If you win at Book at the Door but you already have a copy, just tell Jessie who you think we should surprise.  I’ll still send you a print of the signboard, or any of my other signboard posts if you’d like a happier one.  At least play, though.  She appreciates your support, as do I.]

You have permission. Go put something silly in the world. #JoyIsAVitalResource

A photo posted by rarasaur (@rarasaur) on

It’s okay to play.

Actually, it’s awesome to play.  It means you’re making the world a little more joyful, and I am thankful to you for doing that.

So blow bubbles.
Win a book about prison poetry.
Hug a friend.
Put something happy in the world. It needs it.

#LetsGoLetsGoLetsGo