Illumination/Revelation

This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on December 8, 2015, at The Wilma in Missoula, MT. Storytellers shared their story based on the theme “Illumination/Revelation”.

Growing up all Bill McDavid ever wanted was to be an Indian. Many of his decisions were made based on this dream. He learns something very important about himself after participating in his first Sun Dance.

Transcript : So The People Will Live

You guys can’t tell I just peed in my pants a little bit, right? I know you’re thinking what’s this guy wearing. It’s a little bit of the story.

We dance so the people will live. That is the answer I got when I asked the Crow Indians why they danced the sun dance about twenty-five years ago. I was raised in Alabama and we–[Clapping] alright, that’s a surprise–we really had no Indians around in Alabama, but I was fascinated with them. I saw them in photographs, and in history books, and in movies. And if you grew up in the 70’s you remember the Keep America Beautiful campaign there was that Indian that the tear came down his cheek as he watched all of us white people pollute his mother earth. And man, I really wanted to be an Indian.

And that fascination stayed with me until I was a preteen and at that point hormones took over, and girls, guitars, a few other things got in the way of that. And then some years later I was in law school and I went to see a film with my aunt, and it was the first time I had ever seen Dances with Wolves. And when Kicking Bird came out I leaned over to my aunt and I said, “I’m going to make and I’m going to wear clothes like that someday.”

So the next day I went to the library and I checked out a whole bunch of books, and they were all the wrong books. So I started ordering books from obscure publishers that nobody’s ever heard of and they were on things like how to brain tan buckskin, and how to do bead work, and make bows and arrows out of wood. And pretty soon I had a whole wardrobe, leggings, moccasins, war shield, everything, but you just didn’t wear that sort of thing in Alabama.

So it was about maybe a year or two later after graduation I moved to Montana. And I moved into a teepee on the banks of Rock Creek, out here east of Missoula. And I wore those clothes almost every day while I studied for the Bar exam under the light of a Coleman lantern. And I was also looking for a job, right. Every fresh grad needs a job. So I saw posted at the law school it said, “Crow Tribal Prosecutor.” That seemed like a dream come true, right. So I sent them a resume, and I got an interview. That interview was a whole other story in of itself, but suffice to say I got the job.

I accepted and I had no clue what I was in for. So I moved to Crow Agency. My first day a woman came up to me in the tribal court. She was a clerk. She looked pissed off, and she started poking me in the chest, and her jaw began to quiver as she spoke to me. “I just want you to know I don’t trust none of you white people! I never have and I never will!”

Custer Died for your Sins, that’s a great book. It’s one of many that I read leading up to this that gave me some understanding as to why there might be a little bit of legitimate resentment. So I tried to let it slide off. Fortunately, there were a lot of others on the Res who saw my sincerity, and my desire to become an Indian. And so they started inviting me to all of these things that I could’ve only dreamed about. Sweat Lodge Ceremonies, two or three times a week, I was going to Bundles Ceremonies, I was going to dances in the middle of winter when there were certainly no tourists around. I learned how to play hand games. I stayed up until four in the morning nights on end playing in these tournaments. I was living a modern day Dances With with Wolves, and it was a dream come true.

But at every one of these events or almost everyone there was somebody there, often times it was this woman who poked me in the chest, that went out of their way to really make me feel uncomfortable, and they succeeded. But I succeeded, because I’m stubborn, so I stayed.

And one night I was in the Sweat Lodge with my–I had a family that had adopted me there–and I was invited to dance the Sun Dance the following summer. And that was a great honor, and needless to say I accepted immediately, because if you’re going to be an Indian you have to dance the Sun Dance, right? But honestly, I did so with a lot of trepidation inside. If you’ve seen a “A Man Called Horse” you know why. Maybe you’ve seen it in other depictions. I had, and I knew that it always involved a lot of blood, piercing of the chest, and of the back. And I’d seen the scars in the Sweat Lodge. There was–you know–they would drag buffalo skulls around the lodge. They would even hang from the pole until their flesh broke. And that did not sound very appealing to me, but I was going to be an Indian.

So over the many months of preparation, you can imagine the relief that I felt when I came to find out that this particular dance that I would be dancing was going to be a non-piercing ceremony. I can handle this! Well, so what was it then? Well, it was three and a half days of dancing and fasting. And fasting to the Indians is serious business. There is no food and there is no water the whole time. By the second day, I had no concern for food whatsoever. All I could think about was water. Just one drop to get me through another hour, maybe another day. I remember looking up at the stars in the middle of the night wondering what would happen if I were to drink the saline solution that I had been allowed to bring in to manage my contact lenses. Obviously, that would’ve been a mistake so I didn’t do that. So I just kept dancing and all the while I’m dancing, I’m floating above this scene, and I’m looking down at myself with a great deal of scorn and ridicule. Who do you think you are, man?! Look at you! You look ridiculous! So I clenched that eagle bone whistle in my teeth and I held my eagle feathers and I just kept dancing.

And the final day came and it was only after what seemed like an excessive and unnecessary amount of ritual and prayer and ceremony, that they brought in the water — that the water ladies had gone up to the Bighorn Mountains and gotten out of a spring. And they brought it in these big, metal containers that were sweating because it was blisteringly hot. This was August, and my body was not sweating anymore at this point because you lose everything. And this is a time that my white privilege did not put me at the front of the line. I had to wait my turn for the water. And then it was my turn, and I got a little cup. And I remember pouring it into my body, and feeling instantaneously that it was penetrating every cell of my body with life. I swear I could feel it in my fingernails.
After that, we filed out of the lodge, and there were all of these people there to greet us. They had been there all along to help us with things that we needed. And among them was this woman who poked me in the chest that first day. But as she approached me her face looked very different. And she held out her hands briefly and took mine, just quickly. And she said, “Thank you.”

And things started to come into focus at that moment. So I left, and I went home. Only after, mind you, that I went to Pizza Hut. I had been told repeatedly that you should have some crackers and some soup, and take it easy, but…pepperoni! So I went home and I sat on the couch and looked out my window. I didn’t live in a teepee at this point. And I watched the most beautiful sunset you could imagine. And I started to bawl like a baby with this revelation that I had failed at becoming an Indian. I didn’t dance the Sun Dance so that people will live. I danced out of some sense of spiritual materialism, and we white people are good at that. Like I was going pack it all up into a little box, and tuck it under my arm, and go home, and use it up for me. And that’s why I was so angry with myself while I was dancing. And that is not how you become an Indian. “A-ho” (this is “thank you” in the Crow language)

Lying in a hammock in the front yard, Marlies holds her husband's hand as he speaks to her in soothing tones. She stares at the sunlight dapples between the leaves wondering how she can face her daughter who's asking her what's wrong.

Transcript : The Hard Part of Tomorrow

So, Marc has said to numerous people that I’m the most nervous and shaky speaker he has ever put on the Tell Us Something stage. I’m kind of a reward driven person so I’m here to defend that title. And it is scary, but I don’t want you to worry about me because I hydrated today. And so, if I start losing a lot of water up here–in one way or another–just bear with me and we’ll get through it, I promise.

So it’s the last days of July and I walk with my husband through the picketed gate of our front yard. And my kids are inside of the house and I know that I can’t look at them. And I had bought Bub–that’s my husband’s name not even kidding–I had bought Bub a hammock for Father’s Day, and I decided that I would climb aboard that unsteady sling. And he pulled up a lawn chair and sat down next to me, and told me that if I looked up through the canopy of the tree that where you could see the sky through it, you would also see all kinds of insects and birds and even the stars at night. And I’m looking up through the tree.

We had just come from the emergency room–and about ten hours at the emergency room. And it was really busy that day so we had a long wait–about three hours. And I was in the most immense pain that I ever hope to fathom. And all I could do at that point was bury my head in his shoulder, and try to detach myself as much as I could from my physical being. And when we finally did get called we stood up and I realized that the silent tears that had been coming in a steady drip from my face had soaked about a twelve-inch section of his shirt, which now clung to him in such a sweet, sad, pathetic, see through, kind of way. And he had handed me a lot of tissues, and I still had them clutched in my fist, but he never once asked me to use them.

My doctor decided that the first order of business that we would take care of was that pain. And she was the loveliest creature in the world, and angel, seriously. And while we waited for those orders to come through, and we waited for the medicine to actually take effect. He pulled up a chair next to me, and held my hand, and told me stories of every cold beer, and conch fritter we had ever had on far away beaches.

I knew exactly what was wrong with me, I had a hernia–an out of control hernia. I knew that was going to be embarrassing to say up here. My doctor was very gracious to me, and kindly explained that we would go ahead and do a cat scan anyway, just to rule out any other possibilities that my art degree may have not have helped me to find. And a cat scan, by the way if you’ve never had one, makes you feel one hundred percent like you are peeing your pants right there, right now. And you’re not, but you won’t believe anybody who tells you that you’re not. In case you wanted that information down the road, I felt like you should have it.

And so, like I said, this was a really long day, and it was shortly before we were sent home, in like the ninth hour of our visit when my lovely doctor returned again. And my husband slept in a chair upright next to me with half of a cafeteria sandwich in one hand, and an open packet of mayonnaise in the other. And I was drifting in and out kind of–you know I had been medicated pretty heavily. And she came in with another man, and another doctor. And there were a lot of words being said, and he said to me that in fact I did have a small hernia, but that it was no–in no way the cause of this kind of pain. And he said some other sentence that involved the words large mass. And I’m looking around at everybody–at my husband, and at my lady doctor, and at this new guy. And I’m like what, wait, wait, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait. I don’t even have time for this. I cannot be bothered with words like large mass.

And I said, “Are you trying to tell me that I have a tumor?”

And he said, “We want to be careful with that word, because tumor automatically implies to people that they have cancer, and we don’t have that information at this point. So, for today’s purposes, It’s a mass.”

OK, so what does mass imply? That it’s a jar of marmalade? And what’s large mean? Are we talking small rabbit? Are we talking breadbox? I was kindly told, in the sincerest way, to please try not to worry until I could see a specialist. And we went home.

So, in the hammock, I’m looking up in the tree for the points of light, and I’m trying not to worry. But the words by cancer–in my family–has always been followed by, get your affairs in order. And that was going to be especially tricky for me at this point because I hadn’t even had an affair. And when I was younger it would’ve been a better time to do that. So I’m all–anyway.

So at this point, my daughter bounds out of the house, and brightly says, “How’s Mom?”

And I’m looking up into the tree, and giant tears are rolling out of my eyes, into the hollow shells of my ears. And I hate myself in this moment. I hate myself for being weak. I hate myself for being scared, and I hate myself for being in pain. I hear my husband answer her, and he tells her that I’m going to be OK. And I take another second to hate myself for not being able to look at her and tell her that myself. And I don’t want this to be the moment that scars her.

When I was twenty-three I burst into the ICU waiting room where my mom lay in a coma, and the rooms beyond. And I got there just in time to hear the doctors say that she had less than a fifty percent chance of living until morning. And my dad hung there, suspended in air. The way a building does just after it’s been imploded, and he crumbled to the floor at his feet, and begged him for her life–begged him to save her.

Four months after that I visited him in the hospital, and I had driven from Missoula to Great Falls and spent some time gathering myself outside of his room, and got myself together and walked in and offered a, “Hey Dad. How are you?”

His hair was the color of wolves, and he gave me a quizzical look, and gently reached up and pulled a section of it out and tossed it on the bed before me. And I–after what seemed like an unbearably long silence, he looked at me and said, “What are you going to do?”

And I wasn’t equipped to have that conversation that day, and I never have been. So I simply offered that I was going to be a star, but what I knew in my heart was that I was very soon going to be an orphan. And no matter how many times he had told me that he would always be there to pick me up and dust my butt off, that he no longer could be.

And these are my scars. These are the scars that I carry that I’m desperately afraid on that day in the hammock of my children ever having. That they inevitably will have to have and these scars are like a like a large Russian woman that just stands on my throat.

What actually did come to pass was a pretty massive surgery. Sorry you guys I had to do it. And a humbling recovery, but I want you to know that my surgeon is the kindest man and a really good sport. And even though he wouldn’t let me keep it to make a lava lamp out of, he did humor me with taking a really great selfie of himself with my tumor in the operating room–he’s awesome. And it turns out that it was a little more on the side of breadbox than it was rabbit. And thankfully within a week or so we got the pathology back that it was also benign. And a tremendous burden and fear of the unknown was mercifully lifted from us all. Thank you.

Having pet rabbits isn't all it's cracked up to be for third grade Joyce Gibbs.

Transcript : Sunbathing with Peter

So I came home from school in third grade, and I told my parents, “I want a pet rabbit.”

I had just come home from Frankie and Deena’s house, and they had a lot of pet rabbits. And we had a pet rabbit in third-grade as well. We had one in the classroom and his name was Peter, and he was off in the corner. And we got to feed him, and water him, and clean his cage, and that was a responsibility in third grade.

And so my dad says to me, “Well, Joyce, you know that the Bible says that we have dominion over all of the fishes in the sea, and the animals on the land. And you also know that every animal has its own purpose. If you want a dog, your dog you may be able to take hunting and it will protect your castle, but rabbits are for food. And so yes, Joyce, you can have a rabbit. You can have two rabbits. There’s going to be one male and one female, and we’re going to breed them, and we’re going to eat their young.”

It’s a true story, and being who I am and how I was raised and the elk and the meat that I helped prepare after we butchered them. I was like OK I get two rabbits.

So we went to the store and we got one white rabbit and one black rabbit, and a book on how to raise rabbits. And then we went to Frankie and Deena’s house, and their dad got us this really cool cage that was three separate compartments. There were nesting areas in the back, and there was also this system where you could raise the partitions in between so the rabbits could co-mingle.

And so we put–my father said,”I highly recommend that you do not name these rabbits, but if you do we’re going to name one Stew and one Pot.”

So we put Stew and Pot into their separate apartments and then after a couple of weeks we raised the barriers so that they could co-mingle.

And after a couple of weeks my dad said, “I’m not really seeing a lot going on here.”

So we go back to Frankie and Deena’s dad, and he says, “Yeah, you know those store rabbits, they might not be that great. So, I’ve got a doe for you and she’s a good breeding doe.”

And he brings out this long haired, lop eared rabbit who is this big. And Stew and Pot are like this big. But thankfully–thank you–thankfully there were three different apartments in the hutch. And so we brought back–we’ll call her Stella. It turned out Stella was really mean too.

But about two weeks later after they had all co-mingled my dad said, “I think we’ve got something here.”

So a couple weeks later Stella -– it’s my job in the morning to feed and water the rabbits -– and one morning Stella is in the hutch in the back, and she won’t come out. And I finally coaxed her to come out, but I kind of know that maybe she’s had her bunnies. And so I go around quickly to the back and I raise up the hatch, and there are four eyeless, hairless, squirmy, baby rabbits. So squirmy in fact, that one of them squirms out of the nest, and falls to the ground at my feet, and it kind of does this crying noise. And I just pick it up really fast and I stuff it back in the hutch, and I close the hutch and I go to school.

And I tell everyone, “My rabbit had babies, my rabbit had babies!”

And when I get home from work–from school–Stella’s just kind of hanging out in her cage. And so I’m like I got to check out my babies. See what -– if they grew hair, and so I opened up the back of the hutch, and there’s no babies. And so that evening my parents explained to me about my foreignness to Stella. And that Stella had eaten her young.

And so the next spring when Stella had another litter I was just very patient until I saw the little babies come out. And they were super cute, and super fuzzy.

And a couple weeks after that, maybe a month my dad says, “It’s about time to harvest those rabbits” and he says, “If at any point you want to not be involved it’s OK.”

And I say, “This is what I signed up for. I got three pet rabbits. We’re good.”

So we got some pine trees that are really close together, and he nails up a plank in between–ties some rope down from them.

And he says, “Bring me a bunny.”

And I bring him a bunny, and he ties up the bunny from the hind legs. And he takes the ears that are hanging down and he cuts off the head, and he puts the head in a five-gallon bucket. And then he skins the rabbit, and guts the rabbit, and he hands me back this headless skinless piece of meat. And I bring it into my mom and she cleans it, and wraps it, and puts it in the freezer. And we have meat and rabbit stew. And after the day is done we hike the five-gallon bucket up the woods–into the woods–and we leave it for the coyotes.

And now it’s summertime -– and I’m running out of time so I’m going to tell this part really fast. It’s summer time and someone has to take care of Peter the rabbit from third grade. Remember him, he was a pet rabbit in third grade. And the two weeks that I have are in a July-August situation, in the middle of the summer. And since Peter is so different, because he’s a pet rabbit I decide that Peter would like to come sunbathing with me. So I take him out and I lay him in the sun, and I’m there with on my blanket. And he’s there, and he has his bottle of water with the little metal ball at the end. And he’s drinking water and we’re sunbathing and I’ve got my book and my radio.

And then I decide that I need to go inside, and I go inside to cool off. And by the time I get back outside Peter is dead. He has drunken all of his water and he expired from sun exposure, and once again I am shocked and ashamed. And then I have to call my third-grade teacher and say to her that I killed Peter the rabbit. And then I have to call the next kid in line who’s supposed to take Peter the rabbit and tell him that I killed Peter the rabbit. Me who–I’m able to raise my own rabbits.

And then fourth grade starts, and Stella has another litter. And we butcher the litter and we walk up the hill with the five-gallon bucket, and we leave the remains for the coyotes.

And on the way down the hill I tell my dad, “I don’t want to raise rabbits anymore.”

Thank you.

Ben Brewer has a revelation within a revelation when he discovers that the mind cannot always be trusted.

Transcript : Sneaky Puppet­-Master Little Fucker

This was about twenty years ago. The summer between tenth and eleventh grade. And so I was home alone. I was–it was summer–I was sitting in my house, and watching TV. And just out of–kind of–out of the blue I felt like my skull dropped out from the back of my head and I was being pulled out through that hole. It was like right here, and I was being pulled back, and everything looked like in a Hitchcock movie where like they zoom in but pan back–or whatever. And I felt like I was being crushed, and it was very scary. I was terrified. I think I was probably shaking.

I’m not sure how long that lasted, but luckily my dog was sitting on the couch next to me. We looked at each other and he kind of talked me through it. And–he did–and it was helpful. And one of the things that I realized was I needed to face my fear. So I did that and I came out the other side of this feeling, and I pulled out of that. And all of a sudden things were really amazing, and everything was just beautiful, and magical, and bright. It was wonderful and everything was imbued with meaning. For example, the next day I went to go play pickup soccer with my brother. And we went to the field and played for awhile, and then I took off my clothes and started running around the field. And next to the field–I was in my boxers, but I was otherwise clothesless.

And there was a row of sprinklers next to the field we were playing on, and it looked like this wall of water. And It was full of meaning, and what I needed to do was get to the other side. I needed to break through that wall. So I ran like full on and dove through that wall, and skidded across the grass on the other side. And I got up and I was just covered with grass, but I had broken through it because that wall had meaning.

And then after that there was this team of like–I don’t know ten-year-olds, practicing their soccer. And they were all like lined up practicing headers where the coach would throw them a ball and they would head it and then go to the back of the line. So I jogged over, covered in grass, basically no clothes, and I got in line. Like went up to the–waited my turn.

And this was another funny thing about this time–is that. The other thing that I had realized was that everyone else was already there. They were already feeling this–or like on this plane–this new plane. And so I was the last one there. So everyone knew already what was going on. So like I looked at the coach, and the coach looked at me, and we knew. And he threw me a ball, and I headed it, and then I ran off.

So, another funny thing that was happening at this time was we had a French exchange student that happened to be staying with us, then. So, my parents–I lived in Seattle, I grew up in Seattle–so my parents recommended taking him out on a tour. So I went to the museum. My parents had recommended going to the museum, and so we went there. But rather than like look at art, we went straight to the cafeteria, and I ordered us a plate of cucumbers. And, on the way there we had passed–some–a guy who was like passing out free condoms. Like out of a grocery bag, which I took because everything had meaning. There was a reason he was doing that. And so when they–when the lady slid plate of cucumbers over to me I looked at her because we were on the same plane, and I slid the condoms across the counter to pay for the cucumbers. And then we took the cucumbers and ate them, and left the museum.

So I also had like discovered I could tap into new–kind of–powers, and abilities that I didn’t–you know–hadn’t experienced before. So like, I met up with a couple of my friends from high school at a park. We were hanging out at a park and there were three of us, and I wanted to tell one of them–I wanted to tell her–that I deeply loved her. Like I was in–fully in love. But I didn’t want to tell it in front of the other girl that was sitting with us. So I like–I’ll do it in the mic–[snap]–and she fell asleep. And then I could tell my friend that I loved her.

And I, like walking around the city could see–look at buses and the images on the buses would move, and things like that. I could change my shape in the mirror. So I had abilities. So I also–around that time–a movie came out called Lone Star, a Jonathan Sayles movie, starring Matthew McConaughey. And I knew that that movie was really important to see.

And so, one evening my parents told me we were going to see Lone Star. And we got in the car and we drove to the movie theater and pulled up–except that the building that we pulled up in front of was not the theater, it was the mental hospital. And while I was figuring that out my dad had gotten into the back seat and was holding on to me while the nurses and staff at–you know–at the hospital came out to put me on the gurney. Which they strapped me on and wheeled me into the hospital. So picture this, I’m in the hallway on a gurney down the hall. On the left-hand side is like the solitary cell–like where they just put you to sequester you until they figure out what to do–I guess.

And so, while I’m on the gurney–which by the way–while I’m there I’m like this tenth grade like, boy. I was trying to like seduce the nurse next to me to–let me out of here so we can run away together. And so in the–but in that cell–they had to move the guy who was in that cell out of there to make room for me. So they–while I’m on that gurney I see him open the door, and they move that guy out. And that guy is Crazy! He’s got like, the hair–you know–that’s all matted, and he looks really disoriented, and confused. And he’s like saying things loudly that don’t make any sense. And so the moved him out and put me in there. And you might think that like, that was the point where I might have had a revelation–that I was not thinking clearly–but I did not.

So flash forward like a week, and many pills later. I left the hospital, and here’s what had happened–was that–earlier that summer I had gone camping. I had gone on a camping trip, and I had gotten Giardia. Which, for those of you that don’t know, Giardia is something that makes you poop a lot. And to get rid of that– when I got back–I went to the doctor, and the doctor prescribed me a drug called Quinacrine, which is an antimalarial medication. Which isn’t really used that much anymore because it has like–can have psychotic reactions, but I think he prescribed it because the one that they were using at the time had heart side effects–or something he was worried about. So that is kind of the gist of what happened and what my–the revelation I guess or this illumination that I had had actually was a side effect of chemicals that I took to fix my guts. And so, I guess what I learned was that–well it made it a little difficult to trust things like revelations. Because sometimes your brain–your brain can be a sneaky puppet master little fucker. So, thank you very much.

Karla Theilen shares about summers atop a mountain, and her first experience with Redbull.

Transcript : Revelation: Powered by Red Bull

My fear when I found out that we were doing this at the Wilma was that I’d look out and I’d see like seven or eight people, and now the fear has changed to be like exponentially larger.

So, taking it back to 2002 I happened upon this–probably the biggest stroke of luck in my life, which I didn’t realize at the time. But I was practically handed a job on a fire look-out, and I later hear all of these people saying, like, “How did you get that Job!” Like they had been trying and they had been scheming, and their parents had been like breeding the genetic components to, like, make this child that can get a fire look-out job. And All I did was go to a potluck in Darby, MT. And that was–I mean–that was probably the most challenging part of this all happening. But There–you know–I was in the right place at the right time, the right people.

And months later, you know, I’m trudging up this mountain, and–you know after a 64-mile drive from Darby, and a 9-milem hike–and I’ve got my dog Bandit with me. And, you know, we’re post holing through these four-foot snow drifts. And then I started to have a feeling about just how special this thing was that was happening. And originally, I was just like, wow I have a place to live for the summer–no rent no utilities–I mean there actually are no utilities, so no bills. And, it was wonderful.

And I was actually a terrible look-out for the first bit. You know I unrolled all of the maps, and I you know, looked through the binoculars, and did everything I was supposed to do. And I had my concerns when I first started. I asked my supervisor–I said, “Well am I qualified?” and he was like, “Can you read?” and I said, “Yeah.” You know, but the problem might have been that I read too much, and I was often reading. And I remember one time specifically I was–I had my nose in a book. And I heard, “Spot Mountain this is Bitterroot Air Patrol,” and I looked up from my book and I could see this column of smoke that like–I could probably reach out and touch. And the plane is circling it, and so I got on the radio and I said, “Oh, Air Patrol I was just working up a smoke report for you for that smoke over there on–you know, it was like Bad Luck Ridge–of course, it’s called Bad Luck Ridge.

So, the other thing I really wanted to do while I was on the fire lookout is–I thought I would write a book. And I think later–I’m like  about what? Like, I wasn’t–I was just like, I’m going to write a book. You know, don’t ever tell anybody you’re going to write a book, keep that a secret. And I didn’t write a book, in fact, I didn’t even come close. I did a lot of journaling, and I had these composition books, and I would write endless descriptions of these things about my days that at the time I thought were just really tedious. And usually it would just be prefaced with at least three pages of, you know, self-flagellation about, like you’re not writing, you have all of this time, you have all of this space, you have your muse here–you know Bandit the dog, and you can’t even write a book. And then I would write some description about like–I don’t know–making green jello that I found in the cabinet that expired in 1985, and it actually worked. And, you know, things like that.

And I had this brilliant summer, and then I actually was asked back for another summer, and another, and another, and pretty soon I had spent three seasons on this fire lookout, and did not write a book. But I managed to fill thirty-seven composition books full of journaling, and as before mentioned the self-flagellation. I mean I am also a midwesterner, and this comes very easily and naturally to us.

So we can now–this scene is closing the curtain drops the lights go down and when the lights come back up again it’s 2011, and I’m in Billings, MT which is nothing like being on top of a mountain. And I am–I’m in a professional job, I’m a public health nurse, and I have an office. Of course, it’s a county job so there is no window in the office, but I know the Beartooth Mountains are close. And I’m feeling a little bereft of adventure at this point. You know I thought I’m going to be a public health nurse, and I’m going to go save people. I will go under the bridge, deliver the baby, whatever it takes, I’ll do it. But it really–it amounted to a lot of work behind a computer, and in an office.

And this as it happens, like at the end of the day when it just starts getting darker and you don’t notice it because it was so incremental, and it’s like a dimmer switch. And then all of a sudden–you know it’s like the gaining of weight too–you know, a little bit, a few pounds at a time, a few pounds at a time, and then all of a sudden it’s dark, and none of the pants fit. And it’s just–It was just this big flat change in my life. And I unearthed this box of said journals the thirty-seven composition books written on Spot Mountain. And I had this fear that I would lose them, and I–you know–to a fire or something. And incidentally, this is very true the apartment building we lived in Billings did burn down. Not while we lived there but later, so I must’ve been feeling something.

And so started typing, and typing, and typing, and I would come home at night and just type, type, type, type, type. Wake-up in the morning five a.m. type, type, type–before work–and that is not my natural way. I don’t like spring out of bed and go work out. But I kept typing, and typing, and typing, and I thought, “To what end?!” And here comes the pop culture reference–I hope most of you get it. I started feeling like you know in the Karate Kid, you know, when Daniel is like–you know Mr. Miyagi is his sensei, and he’s having him like paint the fence, you know, wax the car, and you’re like–and he just starts feeling like he’s Mr. Miyagi’s bitch. And he’s like, “Whats happening?” And that’s kind of how I felt.

And one weekend my boyfriend Kris was going to the Gorge. That’s in Washington, right. We’re in billings–to go see Rush, and I opted out. And I stay at home, and it’s like that fantastic thing that happens sometimes when you stay home alone, and you just let yourself just sort of go feral. You just eat whatever you want, and you stay up late and you don’t shower. And I thought I would have this–it was almost like binge watching a Netflix series because I was like I can go back to the journals and I can work on the journals. And at this point, I had become really attached to these journals. And in a different way like, it was almost like there was enough distance between me and this young courageous woman–so full of life and so wide open, that I found a fondness for her that I didn’t have for myself at the time. And I went to these journals eagerly.

And this evening–particular evening–I had just given a talk to a bunch of school children about the dangers of energy drinks. And I thought I’ve never had a Redbull. I should try it! So I went to the holiday store by our house, and I found Redbull. And the cans were really small so I bought two. I did I bought two, and actually Redbull–most of you probably know this–it’s not red. I imagined I would like pour this glass of like the color of this Poinsettia plant, but it’s not. And I started drinking the Redbull, and I just started like getting so engrossed in these stories. And you know there was this part where, you know–a friend had brought me these pot brownies, which I’m not even into. But I wanted to eat them so badly–not because I wanted to be stoned, but because I had nothing sweet, and nothing chocolate. And I ate them. I kept cutting these little pieces, and I deeply regretted it later. But I ate the pot brownies, and then I’m reading more stories about–like reading the art of happiness by the Dalai Llama and just throwing it against the wall. And then smoking a cigarette that the packer left behind, you know like.

And you know I was just reading all of these stories remembering my dog Bandit who you know, was at that time sitting in a seat or box of ashes on my desk. And I had compassion for this woman who felt so angry with herself for not writing this book. And I was writing–typing up this part where I had taught myself how to knit, and I’m knitting tirelessly. And it’s like you know, one of these seven-foot long scarves that nobody’s ever going to wear. And I had this Petzl headlamp and I’m just knitting through the night. And in the story, I look to the east and I see this red glow and I panic, because I’m thinking how could I miss that Fucking fire. I mean it’s like open flames. It’s not just smoke, but then I realize, it’s the sun coming up.

And I’m typing this story on my Redbull manic, you know, mania. Redbull mania. And in real life you know seven years after, I’m in my apartment in Billings, MT, and it’s getting light. And I look outside and I realize, it’s morning. And I think to myself, this is it, this is the book. The book–it was already written. The book was already written. And I looked at those thirty-seven notebooks, and I thought about that courageous woman and her beloved dog. Who spent all that time together, and spent all that energy writing down experiences. And–just made me think whatever it is that we think we are pinning our hopes to. You know, something we’re going to accomplish, or our lives will be perfect when this happens, or once we reach this point. And it made me realize then–as it does now–whatever that thing is, you might already be doing it. So, thanks

A.H. remembers the loneliness of spending Thanksgiving in a hospital room and shares the story of how she came to be there.

Transcript : Anne Sexton Pleasure Reading

It’s Thanksgiving and I know it’s Thanksgiving because of the attempt at a Thanksgiving meal that I’m being served. Slimy green beans from a can, potatoes that must’ve originated in a box, a roll with cranberry sauce. There were some other things–less traditional–because I think they’re trying to fill my plate. I’m a vegetarian, there was no turkey.

It’s Thanksgiving and I’m in the ICU alone. My nearest family is 1,500 miles away. All of my friends are scattered throughout the state and the country visiting their own families. I move my food around on my plate with a fork and then give up, push the green lunch tray in front of me and crawl back into the covers.

I was thirteen the first time that I remember the feeling that was later labeled depression. It started as adolescent dissatisfaction with life. I waited for the phone to ring while simultaneously crafting the excuse that I would use to decline the invite–whatever it might be. I had this recurring experience when I was about that age. I lived in this bedroom with my two sisters, and it was large. Our three beds were spread out across this–i mean it felt like it took up the whole upstairs of the house. Had green shag carpeting–dark green–and lime green walls. I lie on the bed at night and the hallway light was on but the bedroom light was off, so the way that the hallway lights fell on the walls made it feel like I was sinking into the bed. Like everything around me was getting bigger and more pronounced and I was getting smaller and smaller until I was just barely visible.

In the lunchroom, I’d just quickly grab one of those small chocolate cartons of milk, and go to the hallway, and if I wanted to talk to anybody I’d talk to the lunchroom aides. And the small joys that existed at that time were the ice cream cart, which surely Michelle Obama has nixed from school lunchrooms. But there was an ice cream cart that came–I think once a week. And the elderly lady that ran it would chat with me while she dumped one scoop into my cup, and then I piled on top of that every possible topping that was available to me. But other than that there was a dark heavy cloud that hung over me constantly.

And as time went by it got heavier, and heavier, and lower, and lower, so that if you looked out it just blocked the view of anything that you could possibly imagine was in the distance. I figured out a way to leave the group of friends I had at the time, cause they just knew me too well, and I found my way into the background of the popular crowd. And the thing about the popular crowd is you don’t actually have to be vulnerable or real, and they don’t have to know you. You just have to go to some necessary parties–pretend to participate. And then you fake it, and it works. I basically quit everything–most things that mattered at the time. There were piano lessons and because I was from the midwest I was an ice skater. There was gymnastics, there were other things.

And when I thought about wanting to die, I would hold on to these little things that I had scheduled into the future. So, for example, I had Dillon tickets one summer. And I remember saying to myself, I’ve got to make it through summer cause I should see Dillon before I die, obviously. And then there was like this sense of obligation sort of mixed with a tiny bit of hope. So, I would think, well, I should graduate high school, and I did.

And then I moved to Montana and the relationship that brought me here sort of ran it’s course, and I was alone. And the more time I spent alone the harder it got to hold onto those things, those Dillon shows, those–you know, obligations. And I spent a lot of time in my seventh story apartment of this very building which at the time was nice, but far less fancy than this. And I would look out at the city, down Higgins, out at the Clark Fork, into Caras Park, and I would see the life of this city that I loved. And I would feel empty. And I sat in the open window of that apartment, which I’m–this is probably still true–there are no screens on those windows and it’s seven stories up. And I wasn’t–that obviously didn’t bother me, but it’s just weird now that I think about it. And I looked out, and I thought–I saw these people like engaging in a world, and I just couldn’t figure out what it was that they were feeling that made them want to do that because I wasn’t feeling that. And on the days that I felt like leaving the house, I’d walk aimlessly around downtown with my nose in a book. And the books were Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, and you don’t have to tell me that those aren’t the best choices when you’re already losing it.

And it became a daily or nearly daily occurrence where I thought about dying, and I thought about ways to die. And the heavy cloud that hovered over me was so pervasive, and I couldn’t see anything into the distance. And the days that it wasn’t emptiness, it was pain. And then I decided I couldn’t think of any other way to make it stop, and I was sort of done trying to figure that out. So I tried to die, and when I woke up in the ICU, and a few days later it was Thanksgiving. I wasn’t feeling particularly thankful. I was exhausted, and the idea of going out into the world and trying to figure out how to do this, how to engage, how to connect, was so overwhelming, and so ridiculously frustrating.

But I got discharged, and I went home to my parents house. And my parents house is the perfect midwestern home. The lawn is manicured so gorgeously, and the white couch and the white carpeting is so perfect and so clean. And the piano–which is constantly dusted but never played–displays all the pictures and all the things a perfect midwestern family has in their home. And we didn’t talk about it, not really, not directly. And I stayed in the bedroom that’s just across the hall from my parents. Which is funny, because it’s not where I normally stay. It was clear they wanted for me to be close. And I put records on really loudly on my headphones. I listened to To Ramona, over and over, until the piercing harmonica was painful because I wanted to feel something. And I read and I wrote letters, and I tried to sleep.

And then one day I came across this search history in my mother’s computer, and it said suicide, depression, and I’m pretty sure it said, cure for depression. If there is a magic wand she wanted to find it, so she could wave it. I eventually convinced my parents that I was Ok enough that they could buy me a return ticket home to Montana. That I would be better here than I was with them. And when I got off the plane I was a little bit better. Not because my mother waved a magic wand, or because I found one, but because I had to be. It became a daily practice to find the times when the cloud lifted just a tiny bit. And then take in that breath of fresh air and look at whatever I could see that just was barely in front me, and I did that, and it’s working.

And this is where the story ends if I tell it ten years ago, or five years ago, or two, but because I’m telling it tonight it doesn’t end here. Because then my friend Mikey died, and the pain of that was unbearable and confusing. It was the first time in my adult life that I saw suicide from the perspective of someone left behind. And Mikey was a husband and a dad, and like a wicked smart hilarious guy. And I know everyone says all of the good things after somebody dies, but this time it’s true. And I felt all of the empathy that I was going to feel you know, that I knew that I could imagine his pain, and I could imagine the emptiness, and I could imagine the desperation of wanting to go. But then I also felt angry, I felt angry that he couldn’t access all of the things that I couldn’t access when I chose to go. His family, the beautiful faces of the people who loved him, all the things everybody says to you about why you should stay. I felt angry that he couldn’t access that, and I felt angry that he was gone. And that was really confusing because I only wanted to feel the empathy.

And so all of a sudden my mother’s magic wand, and the people who said to me, “You know but don’t you want to stay for me, and aren’t you so grateful?” It all came flooding back to me, and it didn’t seem so fucking weird, and so selfish. And there’s not a lot I can do about that. There’s still not a lot I can do about it, all I can do is get off the stage, hug my people, and stay. Thank you.

Bekhi Spika learns that even in a small town, life is what you make of it.

Transcript : Stuck in a Sneeze

Hi, guys. So, a few years ago I decided I was going to do a race, and I’m not the type to do races, so this was unusual, but I had a crush on an Australian, and he wanted to do the race so I did too. It was a good decision.

So, this race was unusual. It was at night, and it was a snowshoe race–or a skiing race–and it was across a frozen Lake Superior. So I was sort of getting in deep–I didn’t realize it. The day of the race I actually wasn’t speaking to the Australian anymore. We had sort of fallen out, but I decided I still wanted to do the race.

So, I drove five hours to Lake Superior. I was pissed at a friend, so I fumed the whole way. And when I got there I couldn’t find parking, and I–it just seemed very chaotic–I didn’t really know how to do a race. I put snowshoes on for the first time in my life, and I think I peed on myself in the porta potty. So, I was not feeling the race. I don’t know if it was a–a grand gesture is what was in my mind–but I kind of figured I’m not going to do it. I know I drove five hours, but I don’t want to do it. And I’m going to go look at the starting line, and I am going to bid it adieu, and go find a hotel and sleep really well.

And so I trudged on the frozen lake in my snowshoes for the first time, and kind of followed the crowd–because I think that’s what you do in races. And I was looking for the starting line, and I think it took about ten or fifteen minutes, and there was no starting line–but there was a mile marker–and I had made it about a mile into the race. And I was too embarrassed to turn around, so I just kept going.

And I love telling that story because it took me hours to do this race. It was a 10K, I’d never worn snowshoes before, I was alone, and I finished it, and it was awesome. And I tell people this, and they’re like, “You’re so brave”, and “That was great”, and I’m like, “But it was an accident!” And I love that. So, I did this race when I was living in Minneapolis, and it was–I think it was in 2014.

I grew up in the middle of Montana on a farm, and I think I sort of had a certain understanding of loneliness because of it. And I became very interested in people, and developing relationships with people, and getting inside somebody else’s head that wasn’t mine. So moving to the big city of Minneapolis was a big deal for me. It was an experience unlike anything I had had before. And I loved it.

I mostly loved it because there were a lot of guys there that I could date, and I did. I had an online profile, and I dated a lot of people, and I sort of met the city and developed into my twenties through all of these dates and these relationships. And that was really important to me. That’s kind of–that’s what I wanted for myself–and especially for my twenties.

I knew that the town that I came from in Montana–it’s Lewistown–maybe some of you have been there. (Cheers) Oh my God, I’m shocked. It’s a town of 6,000 people so–and it’s a retirement community, and there’s a lot of farming around there. So, I just couldn’t myself living there. I didn’t think that it was a place that you lived in the prime of your life. It was a place to live if you wanted to raise a family, or raise cats. So, I wasn’t ready for that. So, I was really determined to at least–I love my family, I love Montana–and I wanted to probably move back eventually, but not until I found a partner. So, I wasn’t going to.

And then, life happened–as it happens to a lot of us. And my sister who had been struggling with drug addiction, for the majority of her life, ended up overdosing on my family’s farm. And I had no choice, I felt like I need to be around the family. I needed to reconnect with my roots, and within a month of her death, I moved back home. So, it was a big change. I think in my head it was sort of like the end of my twenties, and I was only twenty-four, and that was very scary for me. It was hard to accept that at a time when I felt I should be exciting–and I wanted to date a lot, and I wanted to be immersed in a culture–that I was stuck in a town where the biggest news the week I moved back was the Chinese buffet, that it had reopened. And there was so much rejoicing! And I couldn’t–the week before–the month before I’d been in Minneapolis, and Obama was visiting, and it was like the same energy in Lewistown. Everybody was so excited.

So, it was such an adjustment. Even though I grew up there I just–I wasn’t ready for that. So, this all happened roughly a year ago, and I spent the last year maybe adjusting my expectations or realizing opportunity. When I moved home to central Montana–Lewistown, by the way, is the very exact geographical center of Montana. So we’re on all corners, right in the middle of everything. Living here I decided it would be a good idea to start a blog. Just like a private online journal, and I titled it Stuck in a Sneeze, because I felt like I was in that space where you kind of realize you had to sneeze so you look at the light. And then you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and somebody else talks to you and you’re still just waiting–waiting for something to happen. You know either you want the sneeze to happen, or you want the sneeze to go away, but you’re just kind of stuck in that middle area that’s uncomfortable. And that’s how I felt a lot of the time living in Lewistown. My twenties were over, and I was waiting for the next best thing–something to begin, basically.

I think when you’re in a point where you have no options you have to get creative. People ask me how I survive in a town that’s listed–not even kidding–on epodunk.com–and you get creative. There are about seven sit down restaurants. So I now am learning how to cook. Which is really great. I don’t go out clubbing, but I do subscribe to Club W. Which gives me wine every month, and I don’t–my social life really revolves around my family’s business. which is what I work for. We have a manufacturing company. It’s very interesting as it turns out. So, I hang out with my friends there, and I get to play bingo with my mom every Tuesday, and I go play pool with my dad every Thursday. So really, I do feel like I’m winning, kind of in a way.

I’m not trying to say that the experience is seamless, and everything is lovely, and that I’m happy being single. I think it’s hard to be single. I don’t know why this happens, but when you’re single you sort of get into yoga. It’s like, you get into it, and I am, I’m getting into yoga. And it’s really great. I also–like I said in my bio–I ordered a Playgirl puzzle. And I’ve never done puzzles before, but I’m really excited about this one. Yeah, it’s really great. The penis is one piece, though, so it’s not that great. But, you just sort of get creative. I make a lot of soup, and I’m really happy. So, I think – it has only been a year, and I’ve had to make some significant adjustments in my expectations of my twenties and myself. And I had this quote in college that came to me a lot, and it’s–it stuck out to me then, and it still sticks out to me, and it’s:

“You’re looking for things that don’t exist, things like beginnings, ends and beginnings. There are only middles.”

I think Robert Frost said it. And so it’s just a really nice concept that–yeah maybe I’m here in the middle of Montana, in the middle of my twenties, and I’m upset that the Amish kids didn’t hit on me. And embarrassingly the most action that I’ve got is from a metal gate that I tried to climb over, but I was too short. And it’s like, “this is my pathetic life”. But I’m right in the middle of it. I’m in the middle everything, and I don’t need to wait for something to begin, because kind of, I’ve already metaphorically started the race. Thank you.

Marc Moss remembers when he discovered that marriage is more complicated than showing up and saying I do.

Transcript : Set the Night to Music

Tonight’s theme is Illumination Revelation. Coming home from work I turned the corner, a block away from the house, and I could already see the candles, flickering in the windows, and I was concerned initially. Did someone leave candles burning, and the house is on fire? I let myself in through the back door. And I could smell all of the different, vanilla and Christmas spice, and cinnamon blends, and all of the different candles that my wife Michelle loved to buy at one of those big-box stores.

When I was seventeen I started dating Michelle. I didn’t believe anyone would ever love me. She was my first girlfriend. She was a sophomore in college–at a Christian college. I was a good Catholic boy. She was the first person I kissed. We’d go out on dates with her friends, and the hostess would–we could only afford things like the olive garden–and we would go in, and the hostess would say, “Table for four?” And her friends would say, “No, table for 3 with a booster chair.”

When I got married my only responsibility that day was to go and buy a pair of black shoelaces. My black shoes–the shoelaces were brown, because the black ones had torn when I was tying them too tight, because I was nervous at the rehearsal dinner. She said, “All you have to do is show up and say yes.” I showed up, and because it was a nice huge Catholic wedding, there were all of these readings, and one of the people doing the readings was the person that I was in love with.

I didn’t love my wife when I married her. I married her because I thought that the “‘til death do us part” thing would be really easy. I thought that I could live with her for two or three years until she died, because she had been diagnosed with Lupus–which at the time we thought was going to attack all of her organs, and they would turn on themselves and slowly eat her alive from the inside.

We dated for five years before we got married, and it was supposed to be the thing to do. That’s what you did in a Catholic household after you had been dating for so long, and then you get married and have children and you get a job. And I’m thinking about all of these things as I walk through my kitchen, and I can hear our song playing–she picked it not me. Remember Jefferson Airplane and how awesome they were? Well, then what happened to them, Jefferson Starship, and then, Starship–and our song was, Set the Night to Music. Like I said, she picked it, not me. That was on.

I walk through the dining room, it was dark. I walked into the living room, and there were hundreds of candles lit all around on every convenient horizontal surface. It was like a Sarah McLachlan video, or a Police video. She was sitting on the floor. The house was immaculate. She was sitting in her wedding dress, and it was spread all behind her. And all around her wedding dress were many of our wedding gifts. A big crystal clock–that’s heavy and it will leave a dent in the drywall if it’s thrown. Luckily we had plaster walls. We had an old house. All of our wedding photographs were also spread all around her.

And I was remembering a couple weeks before–or a couple of weeks after we had gotten married, one of the gals that I worked with at the grocery store–one of the cashiers–grabbed my wedding ring, and said, “I’m mad at you for this.” We used to go on long drives together. Nothing ever happened because I was a good Catholic boy.

And I’m remembering this, and I’m wondering if she finally realized that all those long drives I was taking weren’t by myself. And she turned to me amidst the illumination of the candles, and she said, “You’re leaving me aren’t you.” And I said, “Yes.”

Thank you.

John Dendy is a songwriter and upright bass player living in Helena, MT. He grew up in Alabama and made it out alive, landing in Montana 20 years ago. He was supposed to be a big corporate success, but fortunately he took a hard left in the nick of time.