Revitalization in Saginaw

HDU_SaginawNewsMLive Last Friday, I presented to a Leadership class of juniors at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) in Michigan, most of whom were in business programs but a few that were art and theater students as well.  After reading about the Hook Wild Basin Endowment, the professor, who I met at a dinner gathering, sent an email asking if I’d talk to his students about “Visioning,” using the endowment as my example of overcoming obstacles.

After I’d already sent back a reply to the professor with a “Yes, I’d love to,” I looked at Gatita, patiently waiting for me to abandon the phone and my laptop, and I said, “What the hell is visioning.”

Gatita responded by leaping from the desk and onto my thighs so that I could pet her while I searched the internet; the internet that I couldn’t access via my laptop, the internet that I could only read via a handheld device.

As a coach, I understood the concept of visualization (create an image in your mind of the outcome you’d like to have), but visioning isn’t like that, in fact, it’s almost the opposite.  Both visioning and visualization are processes for energy flow, the flow of ideas, creative developments that occur with a single thought but then venture off on different paths:  One manifests from the inside-out while the other begins from the outside-in.  Once I understood the content, I knew my presentation would need to be atypical. I tossed the idea of using PowerPoint slides, and instead told a story within a story about why and how the Hook Endowment came to be.

Visioning vs Visualization

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Visualize me swimming at Sagainw’s Y in my own lap lane! A great option when it’s too cold out to run.

Visualization:  An OUTSIDE-in process that usually begins with a clear solid picture. You control the external image then bring it into yourself; how it would feel to have what you desire. Example: Building your dream house by picturing the brick used to construct it, the square footage, number of bedrooms, layout, etc. You are in control of the details.

Visioning: An INSIDE-out process. It may begin with an idea but probably few details. You become centered within yourself through meditation or prayer or writing or simply asking a question to the universe, then listen to what is being revealed to you via a vision or part of a vision or what I like to call “the next step of what to do” appears in your mind. From this you take action (out). Example: Asking how to honor someone (me); or, how to sustain a nature preserve (Hook)

Until that class presentation, I’d never looked at the creation of the Hook Endowment as anything other than Allan’s legacy.  Three months before Hook passed away, I went to bed one night wondering how I could honor my husband after he was gone.  The word “honor, honor, honor” sounded in my head. We already knew he was terminal, so it was no longer a matter of if but when.

It wasn’t horrible (the dying) or physically painful (the cancer) and it definitely wasn’t the worst (the experience).  Hospice staff often said, “walking with them to the end,” and the thing is, you are literally walking with them, one of your shoulders under their armpit, eventually carrying them when they can no longer stand on their own two legs.  You’re glad to be able to give that much and you’d give more, you’d do it forever if they could just stay with you, but they can’t.  They cannot stay, and so you must also be the one to encourage them to go.  And this, the dying and the being there and the honor are the most traumatic and significant things you will ever experience in both your lives, and trying to make sense of it in the moment is the closest to insanity you will ever come.

I cannot say how Allan’s idea came to him only how it transpired in our house from one single morning.  After my mantra of “honor,” I’d thought the word “scholarship” but really, nothing more than that. Then after breakfast one day, Allan said, “I want to talk to you about something.”  From that one conversation, he made a call then we met with people in person, then over the phone, then communication via email back and forth. We fleshed out options for a Hook Endowment, how the funds would be managed, which students would be eligible, and where the scholarships would be administered.

Different ideas merged together (Hook’s, mine, and the university’s) and from one discussion of a simple donation, we ended up creating a global education fund with the ability to affect how man relates to nature.

It’s not easy for a widow to put aside her husband’s memory or legacy.  But I understand finally that the Hook Endowment was never about him; never about us; almost not even about the Wild Basin except that the Basin is the “nature think tank” by which the message will spread to other universities and cities, other states and countries.  The Hook Endowment is and has always been about nature and honor, education and honor, man’s future and honor.  The Hook Endowment is not about Hook’s legacy at all but our legacy to the earth

And that far out thought definitely did not come to me until the morning of the presentation.

As I stood in front of those students, sometimes with watery eyes, sometimes with a resolve of strength that has always been within me, I shared how in the face of death, Hook and I allowed the end result to be revealed to us, trusting that writing a large check would somehow make a difference for generations.

Some More On Visioning 

Lack of Details:  One difficulty of visioning is that ideas are not concrete, they’re just ideas.  If you’re someone unsure of how to center yourself or how to allow something to manifest, then you run the risk of telling the image what it will be versus allowing a vision to come to you.  If that sounds squishy, it is and it’s supposed to be. Trust is not an easy thing, except when you take the best of what’s inside you and use this to pull on the energy of the universe, the next step will absolutely emerge. Trust yourself, trust the universe, and allow the rest to reveal itself.

Naysayers:   If a naysayer enters your realm of experience, telling you to hurry up or make a decision or discounting the work you’re doing to get to the next step of your vision or worse, pushing off their fear onto you, you will have to mute them.  Hook and I never discussed the amount of our endowment to anyone until it was official.  If we had, it’s possible at least one of the many people who loved us or were concerned about our welfare may have cautioned against spending such a large amount of money when we didn’t know exactly what the future held (What if we needed the money? What if I became sick? What if, what if.)

A friend or partner can be helpful during visualization, even guide you toward more concrete details.  But during visioning, where the answer is manifesting and specifics are few, a naysayer can poison your sense of self, inflicting wounds that you might feel tempted to use to stop the visioning.  Mute is a beautiful button to push.

Obstacles:  We often see obstacles as hurdles to jump over, but in the realm of visioning, it can be the obstacles themselves that prompt the visioning, testing our perseverance, strengthening our resolve.  Sometimes our hearts are preoccupied or our energy erratic and we can only do, do, do and act, act, act, trusting that the universe will have our backs.  That was the mode I was in with Allan those last months, and it only quickened the closer we came to the end.

Even though I couldn’t beat back the ultimate obstacle (death), I could use the misery from that to fuel a vision. Within that time suspended from reality, I felt as exhausted as Allan looked. The only organ in my body operating at full capacity was my heart. I trusted this and allowed a vision to come, then listened to Allan, then listened to others, sometimes following the vision as it morphed into visualization then allowing it to morph back into visioning. Obstacles can be exactly what you need at exactly the time that you need them.

Happenstance or Reason?

When tragedy walks into your front door uninvited, some of you may take refuge in: Everything happens for a reason. Others say:  It’s happenstance; There is no reason or not everything has a purpose.

If you believe that everything happens for a reason, then you will find a reason to make sense of the tragedy.  If you are a happenstance person, and you are wise, you will apply a reason so that the tragedy wasn’t for naught.

Neither is right nor wrong.  I can’t even tell you today which group I fall within: Happenstance or Reason.  But if I were to allow Hook’s death to be the end of all I had to give back to the world, then that is the real tragedy.  Part of me believes what Hook said, “Dying is just part of living.” True, but part of me needs to make sense of Hook’s passing, his life, our marriage, and so I look for ways to honor it and him and myself.

The Revitalization of Saginaw

In the early 1980s, the automobile industry in Michigan began to collapse, pulling the cities of Detroit and Flint, and the ancillary city of Saginaw into a downward economy.  In 1989, I drove out of Saginaw and into the college town of Austin, Texas, a cool music stop between San Antonio and Dallas. Today, Austin is listed as #1 across the nation in jobs and terrible traffic. In the 1950s, Saginaw was what Austin is today, taking in transplants from all over the U.S., many of whom came from Texas.  In 2011, Saginaw was rated the #1 most dangerous city to live in.

At the end of the current academic semester, the Saginaw Valley State University class that I presented to will lead a team of other students and together, they will offer a plan to community leaders for The Revitalization of Saginaw.  Imagine the beginning of talks on how to do anything different in a city that once had at its center, a vibrancy found only in capital cities. Lack of details, too many naysayers, and tons of obstacles and yet, the power in that university classroom was energetic — a clean energy and not the general electric of parents and grandparents.

My admiration for these students, and the visioning and visualization they’re willing to experience, is surpassed only by the anticipation of what will be created in a new Saginaw. It’s not even a question of if or when but how they’ll succeed. Books will be written about this city’s return, of this I am certain.

Speaking of writing, I blog to you live from the Court Street Grill in “Old Town” Saginaw, an area that began its revitalization early, and where they allow me to sit for hours, drinking club soda, and sponging off their wireless internet. I continue to write my own book which has also been revealing itself to me, mainly that it has a split personality.

This sabbatical is my revitalization, too.  Trust, trust, trust.  Heart, heart, heart.  Or in Gatita’s case: pet, pet, pet; scratch, scratch, scratch. The writing continues to come, in manic spurts like me, but it’s coming.

Estimated time in Michigan:  Until the end of March.

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The updated road trip route. I’m holding out in Michigan until the snow clears in the badlands and then onto Colorado and New Mexico!

Congruence in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

CLICK to enlarge: 200 feet from my back door!

Unlike the Lost Colony that landed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1587, my whereabouts in Kitty Hawk will be well known if only because I am a lone, Texas woman traveling with a cat.  Gatita does not, however, partake of the beach with me on my early morning walks or my end-of-the-day strolls.

I was so anxious to see the ocean on that first day, August 19th, that I emptied as much of the Jeep as I could, hurrying in my sky blue flipflops to the entrance of the beach as though the water might disappear before I got there.

I walked north first, to the Kitty Hawk Pier, my face looking out toward the white swells of water rushing in to greet me.  I swear I could hear, Welcome, we’ve been waiting for you…  A mixed laugh-cry almost escaped with that first view as I felt all the second-guessing of this trip recede with the tide.   And my chest, heavy with joy, almost giddy, and holding the most important part of me, knew that my faith had not been for naught.

This is exactly where I am meant to be.

~   ~   ~

Whatever final tears I hiccupped out as I drove away from Austin on August 13th, I did while saying out loud, almost in defense of myself, “I have to do this!”

The oppressive, 104 degree heat from that last day had not only worn me down, but left me with a dusty smell and a shirt that stuck to my back, while sweaty running shorts continued to crawl up my crotch.  I’d spent the last four hours in Austin shuffling small possessions back and forth between the Hook House and the storage unit while I battled a stuffed up swimmer’s ear that still has not completely gone away. I was starting to feel not as though I’d never get out of Austin, but that I’d never escape the hell of south Austin.  It was 10:30 at night when a drug-free Gatita and I hit the road.  Since I was determined to leave regardless of the late hour, my sister-in-law, Mary Joy, suggested I stop in Waco, so I’d at least be out of Austin but halfway to Dallas.

I took her advice which was easy to do because my eyelids drooped as soon as I left the city.  Since I hadn’t researched venues that accepted pets, I checked into a Motel 6 knowing the price was in my budget.  I assumed a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and requested a room on the bottom floor to easily transport the cat to and from the Jeep. Aside from crying for the first 30-minutes of our trip, Gatita was exceptionally calm at least until we realized that there must have been hookers in the room next to ours. Doors opened and closed all night long, but oddly this motivated me to be freshly showered and on the road by 6:30 am, making for a cool, early morning drive into Little Rock.  The tunnel of green trees lining the highways in Arkansas was a welcomed sight from the browning, burnt foliage in Texas. When we crossed state lines, I whispered, “Good-bye for now,” in anticipation of everything good, especially my first visit with an old friend and colleague from the mid 1990s.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I've traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I'd like to go but doubtful I'll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I'm far enough along in my writing, I may.

CLICK to enlarge: The blue line is what I’ve traveled thus far; The red dots where I expect to stop. Question marks are for states I’d like to go but doubtful I’ll make it. If Gatita is up for it and I’m far enough along in my writing, I may.

After two nights in Little Rock, I drove east toward Nashville and met up with the daughters of one of my best friends.  My plan was to stay only one night, but I hadn’t booked a long-term stay in Kitty Hawk yet.  Even though I’d already called three realty agencies representing a good portion of the 200-mile stretch of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, and even though I scoured Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO sites while sitting inside a well decorated, cat-friendly La Quinta (way outside our budget), and even though I spoke with private owners who indicated “pet friendly” on their websites only to openly practice feline discrimination, my options for finding long-term accommodations that would accept a cat were dwindling fast.

There was one more hour before I had to decide whether to re-map a route from Tennessee up to Michigan by way of North I-75, instead of remaining on East I-40 straight into North Carolina.  Although Kitty Hawk was my preferred destination, I’d spent so much time on the internet and the phone that I would have agreed to any place that allowed Gatita. Otherwise, I was going to have to alter my entire 12-month driving route.

~    ~    ~

Sea Kove in Kitty Hawk

Normally, I'm not a paper lover except when it coms to maps & books!

Normally, I’m not a paper lover except when it comes to maps & books!

When the cat and I arrived Kitty Hawk, our heads hummed from the accumulated 1,720 miles I’d driven.  Although she has been an ideal travel companion, her map reading skills are nada, and my brusque, unfolding of paper maps seemed to freak her out at inopportune times.

My co-pilot

My co-pilot

But I want to write, here and now, that I am forever grateful to the travel and cat gods for the presence of Gatita.  I absolutely love having her with me and only slightly more than I love, Love, LOVE living in Kitty Hawk.

Three days before, on the 16th, I’d spoken with Bill, whose kind, southern accent I knew would lead to an elderly gentleman.  He runs a series of rustic cottages called Sea Kove with his artist wife, Cari.  He promised to call me back even though his website clearly states: We are unable to allow any pets.  I explained my sabbatical and how I was looking for a place to write for six weeks, and would he consider allowing me and my cat to rent one of his inns?  I probably said I was quiet, that Gatita wouldn’t be any problem; I may have even offered to breathe less oxygen.  I’ll have to ask him why he altered his long-standing pet policy since I hadn’t dropped the widow card, nor blurted out how this was messing up my plans to create a whole new life.

Bill said that my “kitty cat” was welcomed and that although he didn’t have the same cottage for the full six weeks, he would make sure I had a place at Sea Kove for my entire stay.  The next day, Gatita and I left Tennessee, making an overnight stop in the rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. This halfway point from Nashville to Kitty Hawk allowed me to have dinner with a friend, my first tenant that leased out my home in north Austin during the Mexico sabbatical in 2004; forever spoiling me to expect perfection from future tenants.

And all the foot dragging I did before getting here? It inadvertently helped me to avoid most of the summer beach pricing.  In another week, I’ll be in off-season rates making this a perfect fit for a sabbatical budget.

~    ~    ~

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

CLICK to enlarge: The view from my back porch.

In my room of retro wood-paneled walls and vinyl faux tile floors, there is no microwave but wi-fi and cable are free – a television treat I never allowed myself in Austin. Central air does not exist but a personal a/c wall unit above the electric stove, with burners wrapped in tin-foil, keeps my efficiency ice cold.  The rock hard mattresses might squeak when I lay down but not before I say goodnight to the rhythmic sound of the ocean from my private backdoor porch.  While I do this, Gatita takes her nightly dump underneath the cottage on stilts, in what has become her gigantic, sand litter box.

Yes, we are in harmony with our new home.

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

CLICK to enlarge: Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks

In the mornings as the sun beats in from the southeast, I walk out the front door to sit in the long, shaded balcony that connects me with my neighbors. This is where I sipped my coffee that first morning as the cool northern breeze floated in, and where I met Becky, another a widow of only nine months.  She lost her husband of forty-nine years, Big Dave, to congestive heart failure.  I remembered what nine months felt like for me. The only reason my cottage was available to rent was because someone from Becky’s family, who’s been coming to Sea Kove for over 20 years, wasn’t able to make it this summer.

Becky was “Mom” and “Grandma” to her family, but she was a woman with a broken heart to me. Before she left three days later, we exchanged hugs and information about a book, Seven Choices, written by a Texas professor, Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld, who lost her husband after only four years of marriage. Seven Choices led me to find the strength to do this sabbatical because even in grief there are multiple junctures where we must choose:  To stay stuck in the past or dare to move forward.

No widow wants to lay in misery, to remain rooted in sadness, but it’s a Sisyphus kind of existence, seeming as though no action will ever lead to a different ending.  HDU_WarriorofLoveI was hardly a woman who was half a person when I met my husband.  I was then as I am now — whole — but when you love someone, you meld into one another.  They do not leave this earth without a part of your own spirit going with them. You don’t even have a say so, and this isn’t something that heals in a year. Harper Neeld gathered research data that indicated — on average — four, long years to move past grief when it is no longer the primary way in which you identify yourself.  In the future, when you meet a widow and she is happy again, know that time does not automatically heal all wounds.  That widow had to work at it.  She is a warrior!  We are all warriors — my widowed friends and me — because we dare every.single.day to make choices that test our emotional boundaries, hoping that these actions will carve a path to a future full of joy again.

~    ~    ~

Had I remained in Austin one more night, I would have insisted on staying in my emptied house, pulling Hook’s thermal sleeping bag from the Jeep, unrolling it upstairs on the shampooed carpets then wetting my pillow with tears until I fell asleep.  Instead, I only wept as I drove away.  I apologized to Allan for not being one of those widows satisfied with starting over where things ended.  Or, maybe there was guilt wrapped up in the fact that if it weren’t for his death, I wouldn’t be taking this sabbatical at all.

In the past when I’ve needed a re-boot, a healing of sorts, I would venture out, leaving my homeland for extended periods of time. This sabbatical is not about the travel, though; It’s about the writing.  In the same way, that it was the spilled words of grief that saw me through the first year, I will write my way into this next phase of my life, doing finally what he and I have been waiting for me to do all along: Set myself free.

The book I’ve chosen as my debut will be the reality fiction story of Ava and Daniel, about love, loss, and the beautiful struggle to find joy again. It’s got Hollywood written all over it. The working title, Down Under (In The Land of Oz?), has little to do with Australia or at least I don’t think it does.  I’ve already written 70,048 words because I’ve been rough drafting on and off since last November.  I’ve yet to plot the timeline or even create descriptions for the characters, so I’ve weeks and weeks of background work to organize to get it to a place where I can move into a second draft.

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

CLICK to enlarge: My shell booty in less than a week!

In the meantime, I jump out of bed each morning hoping to hit the sand before 6:30 am.  I give greetings of “Hello!” and “Good Morning!” to my fellow disciples of this liquid healing, sitting in meditative state, or walking with the woosh! of the waves, our only music. We are the new pilgrims of the 21st century, welcoming the sun or saying good-bye to the moon.

At night, my gluteus maximus aches from the twice daily hour of sand trudging. But even though I worry about the intense sun on my adult face, I am a child in wonderment each time I bend over and reach down to collect the black and gray and beige shells littered along the shoreline.  I cannot resist these treasures from the ocean any more than I can hold back the transformation in my heart that is happening.

The second anniversary of Hook’s passing is coming. Until then, Gatita and I are comfortable in our place of contemplation and with life on the Atlantic.  And if I may, I’d like to dedicate this post to those Warriors of Love, whose widowed paths I’ve had the good fortune to cross, who have helped me at various steps along the way: Gail, Greta, Celia, Karron, Cindy, Tomas, Valerye, Kristen, Russell, Felicia, De, Sharon, Laura, Becky in Colorado, Becky in Maryland, Loretta in Arkansas, and the young ones – Erin and Taryn.

And to Megan Ehrisman for recommending the unbelievably, perfect Outer Banks when my original plans for San Diego fell through.

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived. I think it's a sign!

The first shell I found on the beach the day we arrived.

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