I should be suspicious…

Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right,
It lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want and end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others and fall in.
I should be suspicious of what I want.

~Jalaluddin Rumi

Photo: Guillaume Roche. Luxor, Egypt.

(Photo: Guillaume Roche. Luxor, Egypt.)

Recently Ive grown suspicious.

God appears to be acting in my life.

Even worse, others seem to be conspiring on his behalf.

I resent this.

I don’t want God,

showing up now,

like a birth mother

after all these years.

What’s done is done.

I am my own child.

(Aren’t I?)


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Addiction Rage

Kelly Back

I wake angry. Riddled with residue. Rageful at the past. Pissed that I will have to write my way through what was meant to be a different kind of morning on this, a frosty first-day of spring.

Last night, I took my 13 year-old to Mount Snow for a presentation on drugs and alcohol–a requirement to earn a ski pass.

The speakers were newly married. One–a famous Super Bowl star, turned addict. The other–the mother of a 17-year old girl who died in two feet of water at a party in the woods.

Their stories were painful, provocative and prey-ful. There was some concrete take-way; But mostly, I left triggered.

My family is rampant with addiction. My childhood was flooded in it.


I hate fucking addiction.

I’d like to end this piece right there, but the rage hasn’t drained.

There’s more work to do.

I don’t want to feel this.

This pain. This vulnerability. That mother’s loss. That man’s pain. My mother’s vacancy. My Nana’s ugliness. My Gram’s despair. My aunt’s carelessness. (And I’m not even touching my generation or the one after that.)

Compassion. My physician father taught me to understand addiction as disease. But how long does this disease deserve to live? My mother died over a dozen years ago. Her drinking died a decade before that.

How is it still hurting me?

I don’t want it.

I don’t want to lie there waiting outside on the ice with a broken arm calling… “Mom, mom, MOM!”

I don’t to wait for her to arrive without any sign of effort as if she dragged herself to respond to the cries of her first-born.

I don’t want to see her impassive face.

I don’t want to hear her flatly say, Kelly, what is it, without a single question mark of concern.

And I definitely don’t want to feel her rub my fucking head and tell me how beautiful I am a decade later when she’s clearly bombed.

The WOMEN in my LIFE only touched me when they were drunk. Only told me they loved me when they were drunk. Only looked at me with affection when they were drunk.

I don’t want to hear how my siblings and my nieces and my nephews and even my sons are going to avoid addiction. With their minds. Ha!

We have great minds. We have depression. We have anxiety.

WE are hard-wired for addiction.

We don’t have a choice. We will pay the price…

I feel
instead of angry.

And that is enough.


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50 Shades of Gratitude

Leave behind the gray and step into gratitude, in 50 shades, of course.
Here’s my list on the approach of my 50th birthday.
No doubt you have yours…

  1. An entire week, a year, a life… to sense, reflect & write my way to 50.
  2. The gift of my body… to love, to dance, to birth, to nurse, to move through space.
  3. The community of Marlboro, Vermont.
  4. Marlboro Elementary School.
  5. Southern Vermont–where so many find so many ways to celebrate art, voice and humanity.
  6. The state of Vermont which I’ve been proud to call home for 20 years.
  9. The Whetstone Brook.
  10. MacArthur Road.
  11. Dan’s emerging rock sculptures up MacArthur Rd.
  12. Whetstone Ledges Farm Stand
  13. The music makers. Local. Worldwide.
  14. Libraries, everywhere.
  15. Cafes, everywhere. But especially our Amy’s.
  16. Cities. Kyoto. Paris. New York.
  17. The United Nations.
  18. kelly-back-2-version-2-e1386332111765WOMEN.
  20. Men, men, men.
  21. New life… plants, babies, animals.
  22. The splendor of frost.
  24. The sun on the water at day’s end.
  25. That time of day when water becomes glass.
  26. 7 Sisters.
  28. Two sons.
  29. One AMAZING man who has loved me and taken care of me and celebrated me for almost 30 years.
  30. Childhood friends. Highschool friends. College friends. Traveling friends. International friends. Local friends. New friends. Friends to come.
  31. Mentors. Colleagues. Leaders. Teachers.
  32. The SUN.
  33. Conversations.
  34. The male mind.
  35. Male confidence.
  36. Male competence.
  37. The men who have been my friends. Who have fed my mind. Who have complimented me in ways that have nourished me through time.
  38. WATER. Drinking, bathing, showering, playing, watching, gliding, skating. Wine with.
  39. The women who have shaped my life. Who have paved the way.
  40. Bellies.
  41. Birth.
  42. Lovemaking.
  43. Tequila.
  44. Irreverence.
  45. The sacred.
  46. Bliss.
  47. Yoga.
  48. Loving Me.
  49. Being 49.
  50. (Shit, how did I get to 50 already!)
    To Be Continued…

Kelly BackMore on the Path to 50:

FU 50′s
Flat 50
Being 49

Tribute to the 40′s
30′s Retrospective
Turning 20
The Hardest Decade? 10-19
The First Decade


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Flat 50′s?

photo: Kelly Salasin

photo: Kelly Salasin

The past decade has been… tumultuous… inside. With flamboyant expressions of anger, despair, sadness and depression. I’ve retreated more and more into myself until I spend most of my days alone, in silence. It’s been delicious.

Thank you mid-life hormones for paving the way.

Now, as I approach 50 (in 74 hours & 5 minutes), I find myself settling. Placid. Flat.

There are still rises in my emotional temperature, but they are more subtle, contained, measured.

Is this maturity? Evolution? Or just another chemistry experiment inside my hormone-ridden body?

It’s not actually pleasant. I’m not accustomed to a life without highs. But I question the source of the highs that I relied upon most of my life. Did they come from inside or from my mind? I suspect the latter, and thus doubt their sincerity.

Perhaps this shift in chemistry is paving the way for yet another treasure. Equanimity. A life without sharp edges and brittle peaks. (Or perhaps the time has come for me to consider medication?)

Despite this flatness, my life continues to unfold. My learning continues to blossom. My world continues to open. My work continues to expand.

If I am careful. If I align myself from the inside out. Say with meditation and yoga and right diet (all dull choices), then I find myself slipping into effortless ease. Effortless ease. Imagine that… Things just fall into place. Details. Objects. Solutions.

Without the distraction of the dramatic highs and lows which have colored the past decade, I sense the way with greater clarity. I get out of the way more often. I learn, again and again, that the way begins… in me.


More on the path to 50:

FU 50′s
Being 49

Tribute to the 40′s
30′s Retrospective
Turning 20
The Hardest Decade? 10-19
The First Decade


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The First Decade: 0-9

1467296_10152082797143746_86987810_nShe was delivered by the sea, to the Sisters of Mercy, on the Immaculate Conception of Mary–December 8, 1963–her due date; conceived out of wedlock to a woman who had given her first born to adoption only 10 months before.

She would be a perfectly average child, reaching each of her milestones as expected, but never ahead of schedule. By the age of 2, however, she was 30. These are the things her mother told her.

As the first of a fourth generation, her days were spent with adults–with aunts and uncles, grandparents and great parents, all giving orders, which she mirrored back. She even bossed the Sisters of Mercy at the hospital where her grandfather practiced.

Her first home was the castle; to her it was a castle. A stately brick home with white columns and green ivy; set on the avenue between the ocean and the bay, just across from the white steepled church where she would go to Sunday School and return home to her Nana and her Poppop.

Her next home was the trailer park where she lived with her mother while her father finished school. She talked incessantly. Her mother gave birth to a younger sister.

When she was 4, they moved to Philadelphia, to the highrise built for the married medical students. Her mother walked her to school each morning, 4 city blocks and back again. When she was in the first grade, she surprised her mother one afternoon by coming home for lunch. Only her mother wasn’t pleased. “How did you get here!?” she said.  (She never came home by herself again. Or cut her bangs.)

Second grade was spent in New Port News, Virginia, where her father did his internship. This is where she began to fall behind. She couldn’t ride a two-wheeler; and when she tried, she split her knee open and her father sewed it up in the kitchen. She was still adventurous though. She would walk to the railroad tracks and lie down upon them. She would even lie down in the middle of road; but to be fair they lived on a quiet cul-de-sac, and what she was really after was the smell of the rain on the hot tar.

540342_10152082792808746_907869917_nAt 7, she returned to the castle for an entire summer, and her life was… heaven. No parents, no sisters (she had two now), only her grandparents, and her–as the princess. She spent her days at the beach or around town or at the yacht club, and was able to walk just about anywhere she wanted, on her own, as fast or as slow as she wanted to go. The world was hers. The castle was hers. Her grandparents were hers. Her life was hers.

Approaching 8, she was turned back into a child, exiled from the castle, by 2,000 miles. The flight attendant had to rip her out of her grandparents arms, and later resorted to slapping her across the face so that the plane could take off without her sobs. They gave her golden wings when they landed.

Her family met her in Colorado, but they were no longer familiar and her place among them had vanished. A dog had been chosen. A house. Bedrooms. A garden dug.

She created a club. They held fundraisers, community service projects, field trips, variety shows and fairs. She got tape across her mouth from her third grade teacher, Mrs. Campbell, who was very pretty.

Her best friend lived next door, but they went to different schools because Trisha was “mentally retarded.” Years later, when they moved to New York, Trisha would fly to see her, and years after that, when they were both grownups, Trisha would call and tell her about her boyfriend and her two small children.

Just before she turned 10, the family bunny was decapitated by Trisha’s dog, who couldn’t be blamed because of the puppies.

She would gather her club mates around the dead bunny to bring it back to life. They would hold hands and pray. Praying hard had worked when she desperately wanted to keep the black kitten they found in the sewer; and she had won a stuffed frog each week on the bus to Sunday School until they gave her a huge frog and asked her not to memorize any more verses.

She read the Bible every night. It was her own. It had a green leather cover. She still has it. But the thing was, there was only one book with a girl’s name; so as she came of age, she read about Ruth again and again and again, admiring her dutifulness, but always hoping for more adventure.


more from the FU 50′s:

The Hardest Decade? 10-19
Turning 20
30′s Retrospective
Tribute to the 40′s


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The Hardest Decade? 10-19



It would not be fair to say that I hated my teenage years; but when I look back at that decade it is shrouded in pain.

I imagine that I’ll have to clear that fog before I arrive at anything true.

Where to start? At the beginning? At the greatest pain? At the simplest?

It occurs to me that I never realized this about myself before. That my years from 10-20 held so much agony.

Once I wrote a piece cataloging my life’s losses, but I never zeroed into this particular decade as holding such grief.

At 10, my mother began drinking, and I don’t need to tell you the pain of that trajectory for a child. Shortly after, I lost my best friend, my cat, Licorice, and I went a bit mad, crawling into people’s backyards trying to find her, bringing home strays in my arms even though they scratched and howled. A child from my classroom lost his entire family that year, to a fire, only he and his grandmother survived. He was thrown from the window by his brother who returned to rescue his sisters and his parents. Just the thought of it again and I can’t breathe.

At 11, we left our home and our friends and our life in Colorado for New York. We cried as we drove out of our neighborhood for the last time. I cried outside my neighbor’s window that night before, moaning her name. My mother left when we arrived at West Point, taking the youngest two with her. When she returned she was sober and I turned 12. My heart still burns with her absence and the uncertainty of what would unfold.

At 13 and a half, to the day, I got my first period. Alone. In the tiny bathroom off of the kitchen. I stuck toilet paper in my underwear, even at summer camp, even when swimming, because I didn’t know what to do.

At 14, the woman I loved most in the world, who I adored, was killed in a fiery car accident that took her 2 best friends too, just a week before I was to move home, to live near here again. I never trusted life again after that. I turned my back on God. I snuck beer at summer camp. I had no idea how to reach out of my pain. I didn’t cry again for the remainder of my teenage years.

At 15, I fell in love. Or maybe I fell in love with being loved again. But his love was confusing. Consuming. Jealous. Demanding. At times humiliating, and I didn’t know how to find myself within it.

At 16, I was pregnant, twice. Shame spread throughout my cells and took residence there.

At 17, I graduated highschool and left for college and returned home to my family falling apart.

By 18, I had an ulcer.

Approaching 19, on the day our family dog was hit by a car, in the summer my parents’ marriage disintegrated, I began writing. And perhaps, that, was the greatest gift of an entire decade of loss.


(More looking back from 50:
The First Decade
The Hardest Decade
Turning 20
30′s Retrospective
Tribute to the 40′s
FU 50′s)


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Turning 20

“A brand new baby was born yesterday, just in time.”

(J. Johnson, If I Could)

20A brand new baby was born yesterday, just in time… Her name is Louisa, and that is a perfect name, particularly if you have an affinity for L’s, and your first child was to be Lila, but instead was Lloyd.

Louisa’s surname is that of our road because 4 generations of her family live along it, and now I will always remember her coming–in the week that I turned 50; and I will always remember her age, 50 years younger than I.


That is a sobering thought.

A half century separates us. And no doubt before she reaches my age, I will be gone.

She is a newborn and I am a half of a century old. (I realize I am repeating myself.)

Timelines come to mind. The one’s on your desk at school; the ones you practice skip counting with… by 5′s or 10′s or…

But I’m not thinking about that today.

Today my focus is on being 49, and on looking back at the half-century before.

I’ve written a tribute to my 40′s,

a retrospective on my 30′s,

and now I turn my attention to my 20′s, where no doubt time will challenge the recounting…

Some moments stand out however, without needing much dusting:  The climax of that decade for me would be–25–the year I came to realize that I wasn’t immortal.

I’ve thought about that year often because as I approach 50, I’ve realized the other side of that coin: mortality.

(I wonder what 75 might bring…)

I hardly remember my 21st birthday because it wasn’t the big deal that it is now since you were old enough to go to bars at 18.

I do however remember receiving 21 white roses from my father; but I’m certain that it was my stepmother who arranged for those; before she was my stepmother. (She also sent me a spa day when I turned 40 so I’m waiting with baited breath…)

I remember 29, clearly, because I lost my first baby at that age. I was about 3 months pregnant, and that impact reeled into my 30s.

At 26, I got married. At 22, I fell radically in love, but first I had my heart broken, crushed and pulverized. At 23, I shacked up as a ski bum in Colorado. At 24, I ended a career in restaurant management that began before 20.

At 25, not only did I realize that I wasn’t immortal, but I was also blindsided by something bigger: baby hunger. Completely unexpected. Unplanned. And Uninvited.

At 20, I lost everything. My family as I knew it. Our family home. My parents. (They didn’t die. They just evacuated what had been “ours.”)

The year after that I traveled abroad for the first time, exponentially expanding my world while it continued to collapse beneath me. I went abroad two more times in my twenties and never got enough of foreign culture and new experiences. (Though it would be another two decades before I would have the opportunity to travel abroad again.)

I reluctantly became a teacher in my twenties, and found myself giddily happy at it, until a decade later when I fell into a cliche– “burn out.”

I spoke at my grandfather’s funeral at 27, in the year after he danced at my wedding. I stood up in a huge church and took my place behind a podium and looked grief straight in the eye, and said, “WAIT. First, I must speak about this man.”  And to my surprise, grief waited.

I found God again that week, not in the obvious places, but in the music. What is fascinating about that timing is that it was my grandmother’s untimely death a decade earlier that took God from me, while my grandfather’s more timely passing returned God.

I buried my great-grandmother at 28. I rode the ferry across the Delaware Bay to see her as much as I could that summer, and I rubbed her legs underneath the hospital blankets, and told her how much I loved her.

At the funeral, in a tiny country church, I sat beside a seventy year-old woman who whispered me that she had been a third-grader in my Nana’s classroom. “We had so much fun,” she said. “But she was strict. I once got a detention for looking out the window.” (In my memory that chapel becomes the classroom, and I do my best not to look out the window.)

Nana had been the one to introduce me to the world through her atlas, in which she had circled each place she traveled, and which now sits on my desk. She also lent me her bold voice, sending me off to college with these words written in a letter: “With the temptations so great for the young these days, I hope your husband will not find you second hand.”

Nana’s warning was too late, but her spirit was not wasted. She continued talking to me throughout my twenties… of her own coming of age, of vocation, of sex, of marriage, of raising children, of travel, of facing loss and of facing her own death as she entered her nineties.

I remember her lying down on her back every day because she had fallen off a train at 50.

At the time, 50 seemed impossibly far away–for both of us.

And now, we meet there…

(More if you dare:The Hardest Decade:10-19, 30′s Retrospective, Tribute to 40s, FU  50′s and even, Being 49.)


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