Friday, March 7, 2014

A Wild Woman and a Really Big Circle

Some of the circles and loops in our lives are tiny, so tiny they'd barely make it as pinkie rings. Other circles and loops are vast, spanning years, decades even, and the myriad people encompassed therein. In the past couple of weeks, I've found myself wandering rather gleefully in one of those great big circles. And friends, this particular circle comes with a campfire that is redolent with the sweetest wood smoke, and it is warm, and everything I expected. There is singing around that fire. Oh, baby, is there ever singing. It's loud. And there's dancing. It's wild. It's freakin' ineffable.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to May 3, 1998, Rockville, MD. I was having one of my monthly Sunday breakfasts with my dear friend Jessie. It was actually our second one in less than two weeks, but we knew it was probably our last. Two weeks prior, I had blurted out to Jesse that I was leaving my husband and moving to the west coast at the end of May. She was the first person I told. In fact, she was really the only person I told. To everyone else I simply said that I was moving and let them figure out the logistics for themselves. It wasn't that she was my only friend, but at the time, Jessie was my only friend who, I felt, I could tell anything to and still be loved in return.

So, she knew. And there we were two weeks later, having breakfast, when she reached into her bag and said, "I have something for you. This book changed my life. I bought you a copy, because I think you're headed toward something big and you need to read it." With that, she handed me a brand new copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD. Jessie had written on the dedication page, "Dear Barb, This book comes with lots and lots of love and the hope and assurance that you'll soar to your dreams each and every moment of each and every day. I love you - Jess." Stuck between that page and the following were two crisp one hundred dollar bills.

Tears sprang to my eyes. I said, "Oh, Jess... you didn't have to... this is... I... " Jessie just looked at me and said, "Go find your life and don't look back." I did just that. Two weeks later, with a couple of suitcases and my sewing machine in tow, I boarded a Greyhound. As I very slowly made my way West, I devoured Estés's book. Everything I'd ever felt and known deep down, all my crazy ideas and unknown longings for... what? All of it was in her book and her explanations and suggestions made so much sense. Besides all that, it was a ridiculously good read. Just to give you a small forkful to taste, here is the Foreword: We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire. We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.

Here I am, nearly 16 years later, living my dreams, now able to hear the sound of feet and the chuff of breath and smell the musky sex of the Wild Woman within. I pick up the book and read from it now and then. As you can see from the picture, it is well loved - it has done some wandering with me, the pages are dog-eared and yellowing and the binding is beginning to crack. There's a word for how I feel about this book, and that word is reverence.

Now then, about those circles and loops I mentioned earlier. I've been part of a writing group for a few months and a couple of weeks ago, one of my fellow writers turned me on to The Wild Woman Community, saying that they were looking for writers. I sent them an email, they were interested, I jumped through hoops, they liked me, I liked them, they said please join us, I said yes, and the bonfire was set ablaze. So it is that I am to be a Wild Woman Writer and, as well, I will be collaborating with them on some artsy stuff to sell in the marketplace. I hold this in great honor.

Like all things in life, because circles, especially big ones, like to gather in all manner of stuff, it is an honor with a bittersweet edge to it.

Just two weeks after I made my way West, my beautiful friend Jessie died very suddenly. It was one of those things in life that made everything in me feel like it was made of glass. Jessie's death left me fragile and weeping for the loss of my friend as I clutched my treasured book with her handwriting in it. To this day, I can't touch the book without feeling Jessie's hands. I can't read the chapters without seeing her eyes. And I know, in all my creative undertakings, she's keeping watch and nudging me on as one of my Muses. But, with the advent of this new endeavor? Why, can't you see her? She's dancing around the fire, hair flying as she whirls, smiling that big smile of hers and laughing just for the joy in it.

That is why, nearly sixteen years later, I once again raise my mug full of coffee, smile through tears, and say, "Here's to you, Jessie Herman. I love you, my friend."

Loop... chuff... circle... sound of footsteps... whirl... scent of musk... pop of a bonfire log... and a new circle begins.


  1. Great piece! This book found its way into my hands in 1994, helped me through my second divorce, woke my ass up and I have never looked back! I claimed my wildness in the foreword and won't be laying down ever... Thanks Wild Woman for claiming yours and sharing it :-)

  2. Simply beautiful. A lovely honorific to Jessie, and to Wild Women everywhere. I love that this opportunity is unfolding for you. Now I need to read the book, as I have somehow missed picking it up over the years.

  3. I love those life-changing moments!

  4. So beautifully articulated and shared. That book holds a special place for me to and awaken the wild woman in me that is getting louder and louder! So proud and deeply grateful to be sharing one of these circles with Barb. Let's dance 'round that wildfire together! xoxo, Renata


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