Winds of Change

I wake in the dark to buckets of air thrown in my face and I cannot place myself…

Wait, Yes, I can. I am back home, my second night here after the trip south (3 states, 5 younger siblings, 4 different beds.)

Why is it that the return home rather than the journey itself always displaces me?
And who is throwing air in my face?
And if this is my familiar, why can’t I orient myself in this space?

Which way is my bed facing? This is a question that arises in the middle of the night after returning from any trip, and it doesn’t make any sense, because my bed has faced the same direction for some time now. East.

Lately I wonder if I have worked my brain, like my eyes and my heart and my knees and my hips, too long and too hard, and so, in stubborn refusal, it won’t produce the simple things like a well-known name or a common word or a knowing of where I am in my own space, and furthermore there are moments– waking moments–when not only the date but the day and even the season completely drop out from under me.

My oldest has been secretly worried about Alzheimer’s. He’s apparently checked the list of indicators and tells me that I am surprisingly in the clear, except for one:

Social isolation.

I remind him that I am introverted, and a writer and that isolation is necessary for my work.

“How will we ever know if you’ve lost your mind,” he once said, somewhat anxiously, in the face of something I said in all seriousness that sounded outlandish to him.

I imagine it is his own tendencies and preferences for thought over people that concern him and also the way his mind like mine opens into realms others deny.

“The loss of smell is the first sign,” a friend tells me. Her mother had the disease.

My sense of smell has always been pronounced, but I sniff upon waking today and wonder–Is it fading?

Should I turn the bed south again?

Lately, the orientation feels all wrong although east is the direction upon which we’ve long settled as it lends itself best to the utilization of space and to waking.

Maybe this disorientation is a sign that I’m ready to go. Move one. Begin Anew.

As an army brat, I’ve had detachment disorder to dwellings, even this one that has been around the longest–almost 15 years–unthinkable after a childhood of more than a half-dozen schools.

My boys have the opposite inclination, toward stability; they never want to let this place go. They don’t even like it when I change the furniture around in the room.

It may be that their leaving (my youngest goes to college next month) alongside my long-delayed letting go of parenting younger siblings is what has untethered me.

It may be that this home is the only place where I’ve ever felt at ease enough to truly let my mind go, at least in sleep, so much so that I delight in buckets of wind thrown in my face even if I don’t know where I am.

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 to 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 traveled to Europe 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 again.)

I reluctantly became a teacher in my twenties, and found myself giddily happy at it, until a decade later when I became 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 to 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 on aging to 50:The Hardest Decade:10-19, 30’s Retrospective, Tribute to 40s, FU  50’s and even, Being 49.)

April 19th

Little by little, and also in great leaps,

life happened to me…


Chocolates on my pillow, Santiago

Once considered a “world” traveler, I’ve been homebound for close to twenty years now–rooted on a dirt road in rural Vermont with two boys and a husband.

Imagine my surprise when I found a family-friendly, part-time job with an “international” organization in the small town just down the road.

Within months, this new position extracted me from snow and mud and motherhood, and transported me over the Andes into the vivid metropolis of Santiago, Chile–on the opposite side of the globe–where south is cold and spring is fall.

Within days of immersing myself in work and a foreign culture, I was completely taken aback by the appearance of a 10 year old boy on SKYPE who called me: “Mom.”

Behind this child stood a kitchen sink and an entire household which once had been my familiar.

My new life was made up of twin beds, a simple desk, a closet safe, and my own bathroom–in addition to 40 new friends from around the world, and extended lunches with bottles of local wine.

Like the tectonic activity of Chile, a week later, my reality shifted once again, as I abandoned the 4 star hotel, the 5 course meals, and the 16 hour work days to explore Santiago on my own.

Pablo’s Bed, by Kelly Salasin

I slept on a futon, ate on the street, and walked until I had blisters–even on the bottoms of my feet.

Each morning as I closed the gate on the small apartment lent to me by a new friend, I turned toward the Andes and made the mile-long walk out of this quiet neighborhood to Santiago’s safe and speedy subway.

Often cloaked by fog, and other times obscured by the tunneled vision of a traveler with map in hand, I was caught by surprise by the reappearance of looming mountainous beasts, who soon became my friends.

At night, in the cool mountain air, I drifted into sleep, alone, comforted by the full moon rising in the East, just as it would over my bed in Vermont–5,000 miles away.

Each day I was treated to new delights of sight and taste and texture…

It would be in poor taste to mention the dogs first; but I must. They were everywhere. On their own. Not bothering a soul.

I envied their independence when I thought about their fellow stateside “pets,” stuck behind fences, harnessed by leashes, and eating out of a bowl.

These friendly freedom lovers howled late into the night and slept through the mornings, just like the people of Chile.

It was pointless for an early riser like me to venture out before 11 am to find something to eat, just as it was pointless to try to fall asleep before midnight when Chileans were just finishing their evening meal.

However, if it’s something sweet I wanted, I need not try at all. Treats, of all kinds, abound in Santiago. From pastries and candies, cakes and cookies, chocolates and caramel fillings, the Chileans love confection–even in their drinks.

One classic (and confounding) every-day beverage was Mote con Huesillo: a drink of dehydrated peaches with stewed barley served in palm syrup.  This glass of floating debris, did not tempt me, but I did succumb to another infamous beverage of Santiago–the TERREMOTO.

This fermented wine based “cocktail” is accompanied by pineapple ice-cream served in a one-litre cup. It may be the strongest drink I’ve ever had (and I came of age at the Jersey shore.)

Terremoto literally translates as ‘Earthquake’ since you are left “with the ground (and legs) feeling very shaky,” before you’ve finished your first.  From the looks of the bar where it was served, many had indulged in even more.

Indulgence seems to be a Chilean characteristic; and I, for one, will miss the grand meals served with plenty of wine. I will also miss the warm greetings and single kiss on a cheek shared by all. I’ve had to restrain myself from continuing both of these traditions now that I’m back home.

Though I departed on the 18th, I didn’t arrive home until the next day. My husband met me outside of customs, and we made the drive from New York to Vermont alone so that we could enjoy the renewed awareness of each other–without children.

Paradoxically, Casey and I shared another significant journey on this same date, 18 years earlier. That ride home was from a birthing center, an hour and a half away, where I miscarried our first child at the three month mark.

A gorgeously sunny spring morning mocked that unbearable loss in April, while a gloomy overcast day belied the joy we felt in today’s sweet reunion, following two weeks and an equator apart.

On the long drive home from the airport, we stopped along the coast and shared a mid-day meal complete with wine. Over coffee and dessert, my husband wondered if I felt different from being abroad again. I checked inside, and Whitman’s words came to mind…

I am large. I contain multitudes.

At 47 years old (and young), my alternately expanding and contracting sense of self now includes… three backpacking trips to Europe, the love of two men, the loss of two pregnancies, the gift of two sons, a house to call home, and an enamoring trip to yet another side of the globe.

How all these pieces belong in the same story is as curious to me, as how Whitman’s words emerge from time spent in Neruda country–that is, until I discover that Pablo kept a photo of Walt on his desk; and how I, in my last hours of wandering the streets of Santiago, found myself standing in front of Neruda’s house…

Kelly Salasin, April 19, 2011

Previous post in the series: AWE

Follow up post: Palm Sunday

The Zen Monk & Me

It’s already day 5, and I’m still dealing with fear.  Unlike the Zen monk in the story of the cabinet for the King, my focus is not as pure or as still.  He was done with fear after the first two days, and then went on to tackle pride and egoism.

My work has been more of a medley–mostly fear–with a little ego sprinkled in here and there–and even a touch of visioning– something which the wise monk waited to do until his 5th day when he had cleared out everything else.

It may be that my fear has more layers than his, or that he is more efficient with his time.  No doubt, he isn’t the mother of two, wife of another; nor a YogaDance instructor or a life coach finishing up with clients. He’s definitely not a blogger or an email checker or Facebook poster or Twitterer. He’s not following the elections or making calls to voters. Perhaps he IS planning dinner.

That said, a commission from the King to a carpenter, even a master, is as demanding a gift as the one I’ve been given–and that makes the Zen monk and me companions across the seas of time and continents and desire.

Although I’ve lagged behind his progress, I can be a quick study, so perhaps by the end of this day, I will be ready to begin my work, just as the master craftsman was after his fifth day of  “preparation.”

In fact, I’ve already dusted off my great-grandmother’s atlas, the one in which she marked all the places to which she and my merchant marine great-grandfather traveled in the early and mid 1900s.

After marveling once again over its pages, like I did as a child on her lap, I decide that this is the first item that I will pack for my new role. This large volume will sit beside my desk as testimony to a lifetime fascinated with the world at large.  Its hard and faded ruby red cover will root me to that desire and to my great-grandmother who fertilized that dream in me.

The thing is, when I examine my fears more closely–the hours, the juggling of work and home, the limited time to soften my soul into writing, the need to get dressed for the public on a daily basis–it’s of little matter.

Somehow, for the first time, the essence of the work transcends. Whether I won the lottery, or got a book deal, or found out that I was sick, I’d still want to be connected to this role.

That itself is terrifying; and I’m not sure why.

The only thing I can liken it to is love.  For despite the literal laundry list of chores and aggravation that parenting brings, it has been my richest endeavor.  And despite the challenges that accompany marriage, I’m equally as enamored. Both of these roles transcend the “work” involved by their connection to the heart.

Perhaps I’m afraid that there isn’t room for another…

Kelly Salasin, November 3, 2010

To see the post at the beginning of this week of “preparation” click here: The Fire of FEAR

Or the ensuing post: Great Expectations.

or to start at beginning of beginnings click here:  Life Purpose Path.