An Unprecedented Waste

Things change and I am prone to change. I rearrange the living room once a year, and I want to move out of my house continually. I clean out and bring more in. It is a rhythm of the universe, perhaps. It is the rhythm of my body. Sustenance goes in and waste comes out.

But when waste leaves its source and enters into another, then what?

How does one balance the desire to call an early childhood precious and bucolic when the poisoning began so early, before a first haircut, a blonde curl affixed under cellophane in an old photo album yellowed long by age having moved from the front room to the attic, to south of the city in which I was born and then towards the ocean, through the air first class to a mountain town in Montana, and into a basement for safe keeping. That curl of hair had a secret all along. I didn’t learn it until 35 years later. It took a lab, a scientist, and a microscope.

I grew up near the confluence of the Clackamas and the Willamette rivers. The Willamette, a snake moving through a valley below the Coastal and Cascade Ranges, runs with run-off and wash-off, chemicals crop-dusted over ag-land for a hundred-plus miles, mills checkering and discharging along its shores, industry built along the hips and eddies of its curves before spilling into the city, a gas spill across its waters carrying the recreators, the boats the kayaks and the sternwheelers – even today, the barges full of grain and cars that come up the Columbia from the great Pacific Ocean, from the East and the South and everywhere that water touches. The Clackamas, a more pristine river, falls from the glacial cliffs of Mount Hood and subterranean springs that trickle into the Willamette, drips gathering from the canopy of the rainforest. I’ve been dewy with the condensation of the region from my beginning, my parents hiking into the wilderness with me on their backs, the Cascade’s streams our sunny day destination, the Clackamas river a quick place to take a dip, I walked as if on water behind my mother on the timber stacked back-to-back – ready to harvest – on the Willamette like matchsticks. As a teen I’d find my way to its banks by city bus to meet boys, to give ourselves a mud and sand scrub, and leap from cliffs we were told to avoid. We drank Boones Farm on the banks and made out by moonlight. Skinny dipped where we could, when it was dark and in light, made love in the rain once and in the sun again. I was in it and of it and it was in me. I was poisoned long before any of this, but exposed a little more every time I dove in.

The scientist who learned the secret before me was the Willamette Valley’s southernmost end, in a lab at the University of Oregon. He deliver the results to an attorney in Seattle who called me in Montana to say, “we are so sorry to tell you this, but your exposure is unprecedented,” and even with an masters-level education in writing, even as a lover of words and a wordsmith, a researcher and a writing professor, I questioned what “unprecedented” meant, so I just kept on asking, now what?

“There’s nothing more we can do.”

“If you were in Washington or California, we’d have a case, but there’s nothing we can do. Not in Oregon.”

So this is my only way towards a sort of justice. I will tell you what happened in the watershed that ran into the Willamette and how its waters got deep inside me and found their way back out thirty five years later, taking with it so much waste.

Me and My Trauma Body

Today:

How’s everything else?
Getting over being sick, myself.
Oof-Did you have the stomach flu?
Fucking Diverticulitis. I’m old.
You are NOT old. You’ve got trauma body.


Trauma body.
A serious illness – as many of you experience – changes not only your world view; you know, that precious idea that to have been close to death means one is to be grateful for everyday, that bodies heal and adapt and it gets better; but actually, your body. The old , the once sick all know this istrue. We walk the world and, even those of us that are also survivors, see other survivors as doing well, or atleast better than they once were. I do it, see my friends that I know have suffered from illness for a long time and long for the kind of presumed health they appear to have. I know better.


After four days of pain, I strode into my favorite coffee shop – the owner, a friend, walking the length of the room towards Charlie and I. We were going to talk about a project, we had our community building hats on, but I couldn’t do it that day. I was crippled by pain, anxiety, and fear because I’d been suffering with a deep pain in my guts for four days, and the doc ordered a CT scan and labs that exact day, the day that I called. My friend, not typically one for a hug and especially not during COVID saw the welling-up of tears in my earts, heard my utterance that I was scared and brought me in for a hug. She knew I needed that hug. She saw me come close to death. She’s seen her friends through it.

“I’m afraid it’s cancer. I know better, but I’m afraid.”
I think that’s pretty normal, she said, or at least expected.

I’m always afraid it’s cancer. A pain in my hip = cancer. A relentless headache = cancer. Nothing, the silent but deadly kind: cancer. Cancer skewed my world view, my perception of my personal ecology, it wrecked me in physical ways that I’ll never be able to rectify I fear, and even though I look, and I try to be clear about the ways in which it does because not as many people know the life long side effects of a powerful disease such as this, such as MS or diabetes or the litany of other ways in which life is deteriorated. Yes, deteriorated. That’s why it is, isn’t it? Every day, from top to bottom, the questions and the unseen issues associated with survival: when will it come back or get worse?; the nagging brain reminding you you might die and perhaps too early; the numbing of feet and limbs and random parts of a body from chemo, radition, and surgical sites; the weakened joints and muscles; the loss of dexterity or a constant shake; the uncontrolled swelling of a body; the vunlernability to other illnesses – the flu, the ‘rona, an infection; the issues of cognition and memory; the guilt of not being fully able to return to the way you were; gross things that I won’t recount here; the acknowledgement that your deterioration will inevitably be faster than those around you. It’s a hard thing to say outloud but it’s true. I will live a good life, a longer life than I expected after I was alerted to the cancer in my body at age 35. But I won’t have the kind of long life I thought I may have had: living to my 80s or more like both of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. I mean, so long as the world doesn’t burst into flames before then.

It might.

A friend whispered to me the other day: Yeah, I’m undergoing radiation three times a week. Prostate cancer. The second time. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dump that on you.

There are a lot of ways that folks deal with diseases and their side effects: quietly, loudly, intermittently, as if it is a bump in the road on the way to regaining health. I honor all of the ways – it is not my disease or body. I am the loud one, but I am saddened by the quiet pursuit of the tenderhearted who go it alone, apprehensive the share the burden they are carrying because I am not is triggered by the serious illnesses of others. I have often considered working in hospice care and probably will some day. Having been cared for with patience and the grace of others was like nothing I could’ve ever imagined. To have a memory of cancer treatment as a challenging but joyful period is a gift that was given to me by my caretakers and my community. I continue to be grateful.

When I got into the chair for my labs this week, I was greeted by three nurses who saw me through treatment. One of them – despite COVID – brought me in for a hug. I needed that hug. I walked to the CT center and sent her a text: Thank you so much. I needed that. When I went into the CT room, the Radiology Tech recognized me. We talked about how I still count the holes in the speaker (Hold your breath. You can breathe.) for comfort. She asked how many: around 260. I remembered that the man who recorded the voice for the CTs across the nation works at my local hospital. It was the voice I heard at Mayo clinic too. How long has it been? Over seven years. Are you doing okay? Mostly…

It’s all familiarity. The hospital is somewhere I never want to go, and yet there is comfort there.


The scans are clear, there are no tumors and no blockages; a relief since I haven’t had a scan in a few years. The diagnosis is Diverticulitis. My pain felt like someone stabbed me in the abdomen and that it was healing. I was sick. Sometimes I was doubled over or on my knees on the floor with pain. With some heavy antibiotics and a temporary liquid diet imposed on me by my partner via research, I am on the mend, but I can’t express to you how upset I was, still, that an infection like this is thrust me back into the deep fear of death.

Honestly, I’m tired of this sick person existence.
Tired of the cost of living, or going without the medical supplies I should have.

Tired of the internal dialogue:

Be gentle to your trauma body, your brain.
This is awful and it’a all because of cancer.
Your body is damaged, ugly.
Your body is strong and has lived through so much.
Nothing will ever be the same.
Nothing will ever be the same.

Trauma body, trauma brain: they inform so much of what I do. How I press through challenging life issues and don’t do the work I need to in order to keep my body well. How I shut down during conflict and I am always expecting it. How I am always looking around to see if I did something wrong, and looking forward how I can persist if something goes wrong.

Cancer made me fucking strong and also tender. It’s given me perspective and can pull me right down into the bog with a swiftness. I’m seven years out and it’s always there reminding me that I’m a part of all things, and all things come to an end.

But not today, cancer, not today.

Mid-Season, Saturn Return?

It’s summer and aged men in Corvettes and muscle cars are out and about. I’ve been making fun of them since I knew what a mid-life crisis was, but in my head it was strictly for men, their cars they never got to drive and the women they never got to fuck when they were young. I’m almost 43, now, and if you didn’t already know what was going on with me I’ll get straight to the point – probably a mid-life crisis. Maybe Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe Mid-Season Depression Disorder.

Nothing like mid-season depression disorder during a pandemic and revolution. And menopause. The youth coming into their adulthood are like, psshhhh – nothing like coming into adulthood at this a time like this.

I get it now, the desire to burn it all down and walk away. The desire to get that one thing back that you didn’t get a chance to do more of when you were young, to get back into that body, that energy, the below-the-ground buzz of living and knowing that – this is hard to explain without sounding cliche’ – you’re coming into something different, maybe bigger, and if you’re lucky better, all the time, and that that’s the norm. Here at almost 43 there is still some of that, there’s still things to do: buy a home (late bloomer), be done with menopause (do we ever really?), pay off an escrow for a business, build a chicken coop (built it between drafts!), or make time for a vacation. There is no buzzing anticipatory energy, though, at 42. Not for me. Just subtle anxiety that time is running out for everything, everything is a mess, the mess encompasses everything, and everything is too much. It’s a nice tight circle.

I understand why people cut and run. I understand the happiness of wheels carrying you fast down the road. I understand why people use their privilege and pay other people to help them with simple things like paint a room, clean their house, take their dog out to walk, but I don’t have the means for that. This is adulthood and it’s dumb.

Before 10 am on any given morning I have thought about the following: data-entry for taxes, whether or not I could ever buy this house, how much I hate this house, how I’d like to renovate this house, how we’d put together a chicken coop, what parts of the kitchen we’d like to change, how I’d like an oasis to meditate, how I don’t have an oasis to meditate, and then I cried over a personal inventory I did last night about who I am right now, and who I’d ideally like to be, and I cried because maybe my meds aren’t working, and maybe my marriage isn’t working, and I can’t concentrate because my head is too full and now I am angry, but what is that anger stemming from and I should take a vacation and a vacation costs money and I should ask friends if they have a space and there is a pandemic and I’m anxious about seeing friends and…Exhausting.

Now I’m sitting in the back yard wearing a swimsuit while watching the laundry wave on the line, listening to baby chickens purr while they hunker down for the coming storm.

That’s not a metaphor.

Life is overwhelming, I think, for most humans these days. In the store I can see it in their eyes and I can feel it in my vibe. Channeling my mom’s words, I’m doing a piss poor job of taking care of myself. I need one of those community college personal development courses that help you define your values, time, priorities and hell, even schedule. I took one of those classes when I was 24, when I was young. I also used to teach those classes (smirking as I type).

One of the benefits of being young – in my experience – is starting clean. Even if you had to move in with a friend, you start with a clean bedroom and a fresh house, even if you move to a new city and live in a dump of a shared house with nine other people, you still have a new landscape to navigate. We have designed this modern human experience to anchor you as your grow older and you have to be fucking strong and willful to live in a different way because the anchors are big: the marriage, the business, the house, the rules and quite frankly, the goddamn energy it takes to change things.

Dear Friends: if I have cancelled, delayed, ditched, ignored or “been busy” for the last two years, I apologize. I’ve been saddled with business brain and a growing social anxiety and finally, exhaustion. I have felt like a fraud and a shit friend. The grapple is whether or not they way I am existing is actually me at this age and development, or a me that isn’t living their truth. I’m slow at processing these things. It’s a mind fuck, so I called a professional.

My therapist, thankfully, offered me a session on a whim. I might have sent her a text that said, “I’m suffering. Can you get me in?” It’s not an easy fix, these issues I’m having. She agrees and will see me again in two weeks. Perhaps there is never a fix for some issues, maybe just self-care or a step stool to reach a better state of mind. Friends and time outside of work is my self-care. A glass of wine (maybe not three) on a patio with a friend talking until it is dark (thanks, Olivia), or a hammock and a book on a creek with Charlie. Some roller skating – I’ve talked about that some. Or a morning walk. And for me, meds are a step stool. Cortisol runs through my brain like blood: all the time, pumping and circulating. It’s really helpful when trying to run a small business during A PANDEMIC, but trauma causes it to carve deep canyons in a brain at that rate. Dopamine is a river runs through the canyons in a drought, never quite high enough for the tubers to make a happy river run without dragging over some rocks. The meds are the water released from a dam. I’m learning the river. I appreciate the dam.

This is all to say: I was prescribed a little bit higher of a dose of my meds and some time with friends, both which have helped me to steady myself.

The 40s are weird. I see you, friends, so many of you at the crossroads of this time, divorces and relocations and career changes, kids leaving, your body changing, diseases invading, days moving faster and faster. It’s cute that people say (insert age) is the new 20, or whatever. Everyone’s path is their own, yadda yadda, and we don’t even skim the surface of how much we need to talk about life as an aged person. It’s not even a conversation we need to have so much as a conversation to continually have, especially with younger people as they grow. We talk about puberty and all the fun stuff that comes with it, but we never talk about other stages in life unless we are in a college level developmental psychology course. I’ve heard women say that after a certain point in their life, they just disappear – people don’t even turn their heads when they enter a room. And quite frankly, men have been eerily silent on their aged lives. Maybe the dichotomy of a woman’s experience and a man’s experience (see Men Are From Mans, Women Are From Venus – thank you to the 80s) is about over. Maybe we can just start seeing it like a normal event, or hell, even an astrological event, like a Saturn Return (ask a lesbian), like a stage of life that could be a little easier instead of being a surprise.

Maybe it’s not just me. Maybe it is Earth’s Saturn Return. Maybe it is imploring us to change, to make a new path. Let’s sit on a patio and talk to one another – at a safe, six foot distance with our own finger food and hand sanitizer, or for fuck’s sake let’s take a walk and talk about what is happening, what we can do to make things better, for more than just ourselves and our weird 40s, but for more people, the people we purport to care about – so that this world is a little less lonely, and a little better, and especially so we can create a new kind of culture, existence, and world.

We’re doing it. We have to. We’re in the streets, we’re in communities, we’re writing and thinking and doing.

Maybe it is all going in the shitter; I don’t believe that, though.

I believe the universe is in the midst of change, too. It’s calling us to join, saying it’s time to make some changes.

I’m not scared. I’ve got all the cortisol in the world.
And we’ve got work to do.



Do Better

My mom sent me a Facebook message tonight: Write on your blog!
My absence on a certain social media must be getting to her.

It’s been a minute; a lot of things happen in a minute. It was April one day then it was August. I was depressed as hell in the Spring and now I’m doing better. Even with my sharp memory for sequence of events, there are only a few years I remember beginning to end. 2020 has been one of those years, like 2001 was including the months leading up to and after September 11th. Those whole damn years were brimming with depression, change and realization. If I knew more about the cosmos, I’d attribute it to that.

From behind the counter at the bookstore – because I don’t do much else – there has been a lot of observing. First, let me tell you that I kind of detest books about bookstores and stories about writers. That will not be my schtick, but ultimately I do have conversations with folks that attune me to the community around me, and here is what I am hearing: there are a LOT of divorces for people of my age. My mom says, it’s what happens at your age. There are a LOT of exacerbated mental health challenges. There is illness and potential patients who are putting things off. There’s a lot of drinking – no surprise. There is loneliness. There is fear. There are differences of opinion. There is rage.

I’m going to pull out the dirty carpet on Charlie and I. In the mornings on our six minute drive from the Sixth Ward, there are a lot of things to complain about. People not using turn lanes, people breaking for pedestrians and for no reason, too-long lines at Starbucks when folks could shop local, and the irritating Jeep that parks in our lot with the “Red Neck Bitch” sticker over a confederate flag. I’ve threatened to record us so we can be grossed out about our six-minute tirade. I’ve said, “we are terrible in the morning on our way to work” and I’ve also said this is our safe space to be assholes because it is hard to show up over and over again and be in a relatively good mood when you are working with the public. By the time we get into the store it is over. But the store is a place where discussions happen, and to be honest it is designed that way. As former educators, it is deep in our bones to mine and bring to the surface pressing topics. Charlie is a historian; I am a writer.

This is ultimately what I wanted to write about: It was about 12 pm last Monday when a couple came into the store, one lingering near the front, the other deep in the Young Adult section referencing a conversation about books on her phone. She was not much older than me. Hell, for all I know she could’ve been younger. He’s way older and standing apprehensively near the front door. I approach, offering help with finding the books her daughter back in South Carolina is seeking, and she’s excited because we have found several of them and there is no sales tax. When she gets to the counter with her stack, she’s grabbing a tote, looking at stickers, and finding other gifts to bring home from her RV trip to Montana. Right as she’s about to pay she says, “Forget it. I don’t want any of it” and starts for the door. I’m blindsided by this and apparently her male counterpart is too because he inquires. She says, “They don’t like police officers” as she heads for the door. Funny things is, we had that conversation that exact morning on the way to work, pissed about the encroaching Back the Blue signs in our neighborhood, discussing whether or not the Black Lives Matter uprising was incongruent with supporting police officers. Can the two exist simultaneously, we wondered? I don’t have the answer for this, but in our group of close friends there exists a man who is a state trooper who we love and admire. We also make is plainly clear that Black Lives Matter through our conversations, our actions both through the store and at home. But anyway, the lady, she’s headed for the door and Charlie posits the question to her: can’t the two things both be possible? But she can’t hear it, she’s arguing, “All lives matter!”, she’s pressing to leave, she’s saying something about riots and violence. And Charlie is out of their seat walking toward them saying, “You don’t think black lives matter? Get out! Get out of my store! Get out, now!” The store was full. Folks were coming in as they were going out. I looked around in my daze. No one was batting an eye at their response. People kept shopping. They were nodding along.

This is not the full exchange in my memory because cortisol. Because trauma response. Because my memory falls out when I am in fear. Because I shook my head and pivoted towards Speculative Fiction, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy to help a customer seeking a recommendation. Because I said, “I just can’t. Not like Charlie” out loud.

I wish I could better express my truth like that. Or, I admire that Charlie can turn on a dime and express exactly what they believe in alignment with an active conflict. My processing speed is long, delayed. I’ll let someone yell at me and make a scene or monologue me for five to ten minutes before an articulate truth is able to emerge. I’ll have a response a day later during a shower, long after the fact. I’ll wait a week to share my feelings, after the fear has left my body.

This is what I do know: when I come down off that cortisol high, I know what’s right and wrong. I came out of the back room at the store thirty minutes later and rubbed Charlie’s back. I said, “I’m proud of you. That was the right thing to do.”

We haven’t gotten that Yelp or Google review… Yet.

I still don’t know how they got that far into the store without seeing all of the signs outside: the fascism quote on the sandwich board, the Black Lives Matter letter press sign on the front window, the Black Trans Lives Matter sign, the rainbows, the Open to All, the We Welcome poster. I don’t know.

I do know that I’m trying to tighten the space between conflict and response, and to trust my feelings in effort to inform the ways I respond. I want to act faster when opportunities arise and also honor survival strategies that I learned so long ago. I want to protect the feelings of others because I feel deeply, but I also wish to better honor my own.

I’m practicing. It’s hard.
But I’m doing better and I will do better.

Oaks Park, 1991

I wasn’t the only one whose parents would drop us off at the rink on Fridays and Saturdays where we’d be unsupervised for hours. Oaks Park Roller Rink in Portland, Oregon was where I found myself and my friends. It’s where I had my first kiss, where I met the boy with whom I shared my virginity, it’s where I met my life-long best friend, and lied consistently to my parents about what I was doing and where I was staying.

Not my skates, not my rink.

I’ve had three pairs of skate in my life. The first set was a white Riedell ankle boot on quads (never in-lines) that came with a bitchin’ case I plastered with stickers. I was thirteen that year. They were stolen around the time I turned 15, case and all, around the time I found dance clubs instead of roller rinks, and thought going to the rink on the weekends was dorky. But I never lost my love for skating, I just wanted to dance at the club, hang out with gang members and do drugs instead. My second pair was my best friend’s skates, also white ankle boots on blue speed wheels, that she’d decided she no longer needed since she started swing dancing more regularly. I kept those for a little over two decades, it seems. I used them to commute to work in Portland when I was in college (from N. Alberta to SW 10th YWCA once), before the city was overrun with hipsters wearing tall striped socks with their vintage skates and tall bikes. I moved to Moscow, Idaho for graduate school and brought the skates. I used them to get to school and to walk my chiweenie, Nugget. She loved to run next to me while I skated, I think. Finally, I landed in my current skates. I bought them on a road trip to Oregon in 2013, just before I was diagnosed with cancer. They are fancy black ankle boots with soft outdoor wheels. I skated away from the brewery that day we got them and it was like I’d never left them. I’m 41 now, and I’m not as balanced as I once was, but about a month ago I asked Charlie if they’d seen the skates lately; I couldn’t find them. Turns out they’d been in their closet all dusty and sad for about 3 years. I was elated.

I’m just going to shoot straight – I am going through a midlife crisis. I’m taking inventory of my values, who I am, and who I want to be. I’m trying to see what is in alignment and not. I’m trying to make peace with my body, with the frequent hormonal mood swings of menopause, and I also think it’s a really shitty time to be thinking a lot about yourself when the world is on fire, when there are revolutions going on that need the energy of as many people as possible. Still, there is a lot of hard work to be done personally and in the world. One of the things I’m working on, personally, is finding joy. I’m a pro at coping with stress by investing all of my energy in work. All work, no play makes Chelsia a dull girl.

So as soon as the weather was good, and as soon as I could grant myself an hour for some time, I bolted to the park. As soon as I felt good and warmed up, I was skating backwards in the parking lot. By the end of my hour I had fallen three times, jammed my wrists twice, and scraped the palms of my hands. I’m 41.

When the weather came, I scoped the park in my back yard. The same park where – after my big surgery – I walked step-by-step, lap-by-lap, until I could walk a full ten laps without peeing my pants. It took a long time and patience, and a lot of episodes of On Being. But a couple of weeks ago, when I went out at sunset I decided – without pause – that I’m tired of not skating they way that brings me the most joy, and I don’t care who sees me being dorky, and I don’t care who sees me fall.

So, out I went with my Spotify playlist titled Bounce, Rock, Skate and of course, my roller skates.

You can’t scroll through an Instagram search without seeing people roller skating these days, and that also makes it easier to me to be seen. My style of skating is jam skating (skip ahead in the video some to see it). I can’t dance stationary while on my skates, but I like speed and rhythm and I can roll. I’m not a beginner, but I’m not going to dare put my feet on the skate park half pipe. I want to have fun, not break my wrists, so I got wrist guards.

So if you see me rolling down the street, a little groove in my step, the volume of my headphones way to high, I’m rolling in nostalgia at the rink with my best friend doing our synchronized jam routine, thinking about the boy I once thought I loved, the virginity I didn’t mind sharing, and the misfit friends who helped me find my to a lifelong joy at Oaks Park way back in 1991.