the difference between my mother and me

or at least one of the differences

I was speaking with one of my clients the other day. He is an inmate in Michigan who claims total innocence in the murder for which he was convicted.

I believe him.

Whether or not he’s actually telling me the truth remains to be seen, but I honestly believe he shouldn’t be where he is. And he’s there for life. And he’s 33.

His co-defendant is a different story. I’m not so sure that he’s guilt-free.

That too remains to be seen.

So my client and I share a birthday. While we were talking he asked what I did for my special day.

I actually had an entire special weekend complete with boating and hollandaise, and bloody marys, and hot springs, lots of fabulous sex, and a lemon chiffon cake.

I felt so uncomfortable answering. I felt guilty.

Ironic, right, when talking to a convicted murderer. But yes, I felt absolutely terrible telling my guy just how much fun I had while his day was another shitty one in confinement with no choice of meals, no homemade cake, no lounging in hot water under the sun while birds and bunnies and bears wandered around 20 yards from where we sat.

I felt insensitive going on about it so I just told him that I went rafting.

It’s one thing to say to Ted Bundy that I’m enjoying my freedom. It’s another thing completely to tell an innocent man whose entire life has been ripped out from under him because of a flawed system that I’m going out and having fun when he should be doing the same.

His response, “Fuck, I can’t wait to be free so I can try something like that.”

And my heart breaks and I am more determined than ever to help this man.

And then I think, “Well, maybe when he gets out (fingers crossed)I’ll take him on the river. Wouldn’t that be an amazing way to celebrate his freedom.”

Then I think, “Wouldn’t it be cool to put together a river trip for a bunch of exonerees?”

How fun would that be?

And I picture myself rowing a raft through a canyon, with a bunch of very large tattooed black men who have never done anything like this and have barely been outside for most of their adult lives. And I think it sounds like a total hoot.

And wouldn’t it be so healing for them?

So here’s where my mom comes in.

When she and I talk about my work, she asks, “How do you know if they’re telling the truth? Anyone will say anything to get out of prison.”

“What if you get the wrong person out?”

“They wouldn’t have gotten convicted if they were innocent.”

“They must be guilty of something.

“Aren’t you afraid?”

“You don’t tell them where you live do you?”

As if any murderous felon from across the country would be able to find me lost in the canyons.

When I say that I really like one of my clients, she purses her lips, shakes her head and says, “You’ve always been so easily persuaded.”

As if any person who tells me that they are innocent is lying and I am just a gullible fool who fell for someone’s bullshit once again.

She thinks it’s dangerous for me to be communicating with killers, but I’ll take a murderer over someone like my ex any day. Way less dangerous.

She would try, no doubt, as she is still my mommy, to forbid me to go on this river trip. She would fear for my life.

Is my he’s-lying-through-his-teeth detector fully functioning? Could I possibly be wrong about someone’s innocence? Is my client truly a cold-blooded killer? Hopefully, maybe, maybe.

I tell my mom that just because someone has been convicted of a crime doesn’t mean that it has actually been undeniably determined that they pulled the trigger, so to speak. Those lips purse again, the head, almost imperceptibly, moves back and forth, the eyes roll; she is cynical while I want to believe the best of everyone.

I begin with the premise that they are, as they claim, innocent, until it is proven to me, in no uncertain terms, that they are guilty.

Wait, that sounds kind of familiar…

more on friends and friendships

I spoke the other day about navigating friendships and wanting to be a part of a group. I’m not and for whatever reasons, probably never will be.

So, it’s the individual relationships that deserve my attention.

One of the things that many of my female friends are saying these days is, “I want to choose a few women who I really value having in my life and nurture those relationships…consciously, carefully, and with love.”

I don’t know if it’s an age thing or a pandemic thing or just wisdom speaking, but the women who have declared this as their truth are the women who inspire me and make me feel complete in who I am.

I am accepted and loved.

The funny thing is that these are primarily women who I aspire to be like, yet feel as if I’ve got a very long way to go to achieve that aspiration; I am not in their league.

The writers, the healers, the teachers. The women who move through motherhood with grace while also accepting their parenting failures with honesty, humility, and humor.

These are the women who feed us all, fight for the planet, for our community, for our children.

They love their children and the earth equally and unabashedly. Some even share my passion for the desert.

They are my Red Dirt Girls.

Well, except for one. She declared a few years ago, “I don’t care about being near wilderness – it’s not my thing. Give me a park with some grass and a bike trail and I am happy.”

To her I say, “You be you honey and I love you all the more for NOT fitting into the mold.”

These women are wise.

These women are compassionate.

These women are kind, ethical, integrous, and passionate.

They are willing and able to be raw, vulnerable, honest, and exposed.

They are funny; in a lighthearted way and, in a laugh-at-the-funeral sort of way.

Some of them know each other. Some of them love each other. Some have no idea who the other is.

When I had small children, friendships seemed so easy, so effortless. Every day I’d get up, feed everyone, then figure out a way to share the day with other moms and thier kiddos. It made for natural intimacy.

But with time, the commonality of overwhelm-by-toddler shifts into football and jobs and carpooling. As paths cross less frequently and lives veer off in different directions, just “being” no longer feeds that intimacy at a steady pace.

One has to actually make the effort. A skill not readily at my fingertips.

It means phone calls and plans and driving and commitment.

All of which I am resistant to.

A lifetime of emotional turmoil of navigating relationships with girls, understanding loyalty and security, has given me insight into what makes for a good friend and what makes for a disposable one.

This insight must also be applied to me. I must impart this wisdom upon myself and act on it. I do not want to be disposable.

When the phone rings, I struggle to answer, but I am forcing myself to pick up the handset and say, “Hello.”

When someone tries to make plans in advance, I tell myself, promise actually, that I will not back out at the last minute. That one is surprising many who have come to expect that I will automatically be a no-show.

I am learning to say no to TAM sometimes because I have plans with one of my gals. This is a big one for me; I am historically the one who puts the boyfriend before the girlfriends. Fortunately, for the very first time in my life, I have a partner who supports these actions and doesn’t make girls’ night all about him.

As much as putting energy into freindships exhausts me, as much as reaching out goes against my natural inclinations, I am attempting to step out of my comfort zone because I understand that to get anything out of a friendship, I’ve got to put something into it.

And, be it pandemic or age or wisdom, I grasp that the time is now, because I am currently surrounded by women who are magnificent and inspiring, and if I want to continue to be surrounded by goddesses, I have to make them feel as if I actually care about them too.

Which I do.

Immensely.

And with gratitude.

Red Red Wine

I think I am going to get drunk and morose tonight

I’ve got a bottle of red wine that I picked up at the liquor store this morning at 7:45 AM.

Yes, you read that right: the closest booze to my house in the middle of nowhere is open before eight o’clock in the morning.

God Bless America

Anyway, I am feeling really sorry for myself tonight and wondering, as many of us have done when it comes to our families, “Why did I think it would be different this time?”

And worse, “Why can’t I get over it?????”

Why do I still need the approval, the kudos?

Why must I continue hoping to be seen, when it’s never going to happen?

Most of the time I can shrug it off. With love, forgiveness, and acceptance, comes peace. But every once in a while, something happens in my world that is so big and fabulous, (and not too left-leaning) that I think to myself, “Oh they can’t help but sit up and take notice now.”

But they don’t. There is just absolutely zero interest in my world. Nada.

Of course, my wonderful mom in interested in plenty of my world – that’s why we’re friends – but no one dares to go near the WHO that I AM.

Because I am foreign to them. To them, the landscape of my home and my soul is a frightening, uninteresting, sagebrush sandpile.

They don’t speak of connection to place. They don’t think of it.

They don’t speak of a lot of things that I do.

I am impolite society.

And radical.

As a result, no one in my family has ever read anything that I have written unless I’ve specifically sent it to them.

And sometimes, not even then.

They don’t think of me as a writer. Some might not even know that I can write.

And it bugs me.

So I finally get published. In a book. With a cover. With other gifted writers and poets. And my essay is only seven pages long.

And no one has found time to read it.

Fuckers

Working hard

I pay a lot of money to have an office one day a week. Thursdays are my power days; my phone works, I have high speed internet, No dirty laundry distracting me. I rock and roll in m office.

And then, like now, I’m just not feeling it. So instead I’m googling corgi puppy videos, Stephen Colbert, and Hilarious Wedding Fails.

This is what I found:

There are many things to spark a comment here, but I’m stuck on the fact that the gal that wears a prissy, virginal, all-covered-up wedding dress and angelic headband, WITH TENNIS SHOES is not usually the same gal showing off her knickers on stage at a party
SOOOOOO uncomfortable. Is there a Groom’s cake too? Who cuts into this? Murder or suicide? And lastly…where do you cut? Do you cut off limbs, a boob, or do you go full on and stab directly into the vagina rose?
The commentary focused on the chickens (a play on releasing doves for good luck), but not one mention of the dress. Really?

Cortez?

I love this man. I want to be friends with him

No words necessary

life lessons…on repeat

You know that life lesson that you are faced with again and again and again; that painful experiece that you keep reliving over and over; those karmic messages that you just don’t seem to get; the recurring themes of your life that make you bang your head against the wall screaming, “Fuck. Not again.”????

Mine is about feeling like an outsider in friendships, work relationships, family, social gatherings, sitting home alone.

My mom’s theory about why I am so different from the rest of the family is that I was hatched under a rock. It’s her loving way of saying “one of these things is not like the other.” I don’t mind when she says it – there is so much love attached and a little bit of humor on both of our parts.

I do mind that my brother thinks the same thought without the attached fondness.

Regardless, it was clear from the day that egg hatched that I was different

When I scour memories of my youth to try to understand this square peg feeling, I see the common thread winding its way from nursery school to today; I just don’t fit. Not quite.

From preschool to 8th grade, I attended the public school in our town. I had good friends. Monday through Friday.

My parents’ friends’ kids, who were the people we spent weekends and vacations with, received their educations elsewhere: first elite day school then off to boarding school. When they all were shipped off to the superior education centers of the Northeast, I went to an all-girls prep school.

I didn’t fit with those folks because I wasn’t sent away, I lost the closeness of my kindergarten friends because I was no longer in math class with them, and I never quite settled into my high school because of various reasons, one of the primary ones being that I didn’t play Lacrosse.

My attentions were spread out over varying groups of people. One way to view this was “How great, you have so many friends.” Another way, the way that it felt, was “You’re not quite one of us.”

Plus, although unable to put words to it in the moment, I was never destined to be a part of the elite.

Westward Ho!

Thank fucking God.

But I packed up this odd man out and brought her with me to Utah, California, and back to Colorado.

I remember a moment at Outward Bound, a meeting with many of the social misfits with whom I worked. There was a point in our conversation when I realized, “I have found my people.” These were the folks that, like me, weren’t mainstream “normal”; they thought outside of the box, they lived outside of the box. The weirdos, the quirky ones, the loners, the independent thinkers, the beat of their own drum marchers.

30 years later and I still feel a kinship with those friends that includes acceptance and understanding. I feel like I belong. And yet, those friends are scattered far and wide, leaving me forced to navigate relationships closer to home.

I’ve moved so often. I’ve changed jobs so often. I’ve led a transient lifestyle that isn’t conducive to long term comraderie. I am terrible about keeping in touch.

Although out of sight is never ever out of mind.

I was married to an abuser who cut me off from many people. Many people cut us out of society because no one liked him or wanted him around. I’ve been the gal who put a boy before her friends. I’ve held people to extremely high standards and cut people out because they didn’t live up to those standards.

Have I set the bar unreasonably high? Unrealistically high? Have I been unforgiving?

I don’t know.

Years ago I had a friend who sucked me dry. Our relationship became very one-sided and exhausting. Someone said to me, “If a friendship isn’t feeding you any more, it’s okay to let go.”

So I did. And it was a relief at the time. Now that friend is gone. There will be no opportunity to mend that relationship. And I have regrets. What did I miss out on? Did I cut off my nose to spite my face? And yet distance seemed imperative at the time.

In hindsight, did I do the right thing? Should I have had more compassion? Was I self-righteous or was I protecting my sanity?

Where are the lines between judgment, forgiveness, and healthy boundaries?

During the eruption of my world, I lost an entire group of “friends.” Some right away, some took me a lot longer to release. Much of it still pains me to think about.

I also had die-hards that came out of the woodwork to support me.

Much of the agony from that time stemmed from me trying to navigate the gray area between forgiveness and standards. I tried desperately to work around betrayal because I wondered if I had unrealistic ideals about what friendship means in the midst of turmoil in a small community.

When I returned to my values and let go of those relationships, it was ugly and icky and so so lonely. It has taken several years to feel solid in my stance, but solid I feel.

Does knowing I did the best thing for me ease the loneliness? Does it make me feel like less of an outsider since I am outside of a group of people who don’t move through the world with my idea of integrity?

Nope. I couldn’t have felt more lonley than I did in that aftermath. I still feel twinges of FOMO.

And because of immersing myself in that clique (I can now see that for what it was) I let other friendships become less of a priority. But, would I have let those wane if I’d already felt more of a sense of belonging.

Did I try to create a new posse because I felt outside of any and all others?

And now, I have no posse.

I have TAM and Elvis and Joey. I have a couple of loyal friends but they are not really connected to each other in many ways. I value these relationships more than you can imagine, but there is not a “them” of which I am one.

And maybe this is the way that I am destined to go through the world.

I do find that every time I try to fit into a group of people, a community of folks that are intimate, always on the invite list, and have pot-lucks, I end up getting hurt because I feel left out.

Do I create this because of my quirky, independent, introverted nature? Or, does this happen because I am quirky, independent, and introverted and therefore I don’t make it high on the priority-friendship list?

In high school I used to joke that I was often included in gatherings because of my entertainment value. It was an easy way to deflect the hurt that came with being on the fringe of the mainstream.

I can accept and feel a sense of pride that I am not cliquey; that I don’t ever want to be a part of a group that leaves others out. But there is a difference between a clique and a tight-knit group of people who love and care about each other and share values and laughs and love.

That is what is so elusive to me. It’s something that I see other people, my friends, create, maintain, and enjoy. From the outside looking in, it looks like so much fun, and yet, I can’t quite manage to create that for myself without discord and feelings of rejection.

And when I feel that, back into my lonely cave I crawl.

I know my introversion and my inability to answer the phone doesn’t help any situation, but I do have friends who know, love, and accept this about me. As much as I recognize that this is who I am, and I understand that sometimes this quality of mine can really impact the quality of a relationship, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want and need those relationships that include love, laughter, tears, and a sense of belonging.

So my dilemma is what do I do?

Do I truly want what I think I want? If I do, wouldn’t I have figured out a way to create that by the tender age of 55+50 weeks?

Maybe I’ll have an answer by the time I turn 56.

PLEASE READ THIS

This is an email I received today from one of my clients.

For those of you who don’t know what I do, I investigate wrongful conviction claims for the purpose of exonerating innocent men and women trapped within our prison systems.

He is 32. He has been imprisoned for 9 years so far. He was convicted alongside a co-defendent whom he had never met. There was ZERO evidence against him.

He’s poor, uneducated, black.

If your heart doesn’t break then you don’t have one.

First of all i wanna say happy easter then thanx for allowin me to be me. i wanted to be respectful an not use curse words it was hard lol.. the number (witness) gave me before is off now it was so long ago, i tried recently and it was doconnected. sorry. trust i want to locate him as bad as anybody but he did say that he was goin to help me and i only want to prove my innocence you know. I HOPE you can find them cause you cant imagine. i mean i know i tell you how much this shit pains me but i cant stand being here especially cause i never been on the innocent side of this situation an fightin for my life just the thought of that HURTS so fuckin bad feel me. Everyday bullshit irritation, like fuck why i just cant wake up from dis bad ass dream but the only thing keep me goin is knowin you on the other side of the gate workin to help free me. I tried to call but i had the last 2 numbers messed up lol… But have a nice day an when you write please send a pre-paid stamp always i only get 11 dollars a month so its tight for me being that im all i got you know but have a nice day and hope to hear from you soon.

how’d it happen

During this visit I have:

taken the kids on a tour of my un-landscaped, dusty, goathead-filled yard naming all of the non-existent plants that will live here some day

taken the kids on a tour of my bird-feeders identifying each species along with it’s seed preferences

shared innumerable tales about Elvis the Wonder Corgi, the most amazing and cutest dog ever

squished onto the couch with them to peruse through every. single. photo that I’ve saved in Rubbermaids over the last 25 years

forced them to ooh and aah over as many photos of Elvis as I have of them

followed them around the house trying to set up a schedule for the day

gone to bed while they are just getting going for the evening…9:00

I’ve turned into my GRANDMOTHER!!!!!!!!!!

A plea to my friends who are not creatures of the desert

To all of you who have not experienced the magic and wonder of Southern Utah,

First: Stay home. We have too many people here already

Second: Take my word for it, this place needs protecting

Third: Speak up and Speak out

As many of my readers know, the wide open spaces just to my west are the places that feed my soul.

What many of you don’t know is that they are under attack and we, thanks to our new administration and especially Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, have hope for the first time in 4 years.

Grand Staircase Escalante (created by Clinton) and Bears Ears (Obama) are National Monuments that not only encompass some of the most stunning and fragile landscapes in the world, but they also contain a rich cultural and spiritual history that needs to be protected along with the spadefoot toads and the claret cup cactus.

These started out as NOT our lands to protect; these are native lands. Sacred Lands. Lands that have provided well-being on all levels to many Native American tribes for generations.

Now they are OUR responsibility because we fucked it up for them.

Thoughtless, heartless, money grubbers want to drill for oil and gas. They want to develop hotels and recreational byways. They want to create access for every kind of motorized vehicle ever built. They want to chip away at every inch of cryptobiotic soil that bravely holds it all together.

They want to risk the destruction of ancient archeaological sites that provide us the opportunity to look deep into the past.

There is no other place like this on the planet. Presidents Clinton and Obama knew this and did something about it. Our most recent administration tore it to bits.

Now we have Deb Haaland, badass, who is taking a look around. She is walking the lands. She is talking to the invested parties. She is listening to the voices of her ancestors. She is weighing out the value of these two monuments and the cost of relinquishing their safety and security.

Repairing what was undone in the last four years will ensure that these sacred lands are available for both traditional usage and the enjoyment of newcomers.

Allowing drilling and development and motorized recreation will ensure that the rich history, the culture, the beauty, the sacred significance, will blow away as sand particles in the wind.

Please, educate yourself. Speak up. You may not have personal experience with or investment in what exists within the boundaries of these two National Monuments, but it is important, imperative, that what is here remains here.

If we can all jump on board to worry about the Amazon rainforests, then we need to jump on board to save the deserts of our own nation. You don’t need to go there to understand the need for protection.

Do it for you. Do it for the planet. Do it for future generations.

Do it for my sanity.

Please.

Grand Staircase Escalante
Bears Ears

Where are we now

As spring rolls into the canyon, or actually tears through on hurricane-force winds, it brings change, rebirth, joy, a little bit of sadness, and hope.

Anticipation of things that are good.

I am vaccinated. That fact alone brings relief, a sense of expanding my lungs to breathe more freely.

I have seen my mother. She has been so godawful lonely that I have been reduced to tears. I went just to visit; not because we had to move, not because someone was in the hospital, not because someone was dying; it was actually just a vacation and my mom was happy.

So I was happy.

TAM’s 9-year-old came for a week. Just a sweet, pleasant, do fun things, kind of visit. We laughed and snuggled and saw friends and had adventures. We camped in the mountains. We camped amongst the saguaros. We rescued some dumbass teenagers who haven’t yet figured out driving a 4-wheeler. We counted stars and played backgammon and drank cocktails made with fresh grapefruit from the Florida excursion.

He will return for the entire summer. More adventure, more snuggles.

More grapefruit cocktails.

TAM’s other child and her partner are considering a return to the motherland from the tropics of the fiftieth state.

My chickadees are getting ready to fledge; a moment in our lives that delivers excitement and dread in the same package.

Two things that I told my kids throughout their entire upbringing:

  1. Don’t ever drink and drive. You can ALWAYS call me and I will pick you up. No questions asked.
  2. If you choose to spend your life in Montezuma County, make it a choice. Go out, see the world, experience new places, new people, new things. Then, if you want to come back, great. But let it be a conscious decision, not a default.

Apparently my first message didn’t sink in.

Which left me wondering if the second one would.

It has.

Careful what you ask for, Mama.

One of them leaves this weekend. He’s moving to Idaho. To a place that, until this week, he has never seen. He goes with all of the confidence particular to a 23-year-old man in love. He has a light in his eyes and dreams of changing the world, one river at a time.

Number 2 leaves in a couple of months. He is moving to a city. He’s a kid that should live in a city – at least for a while. He too goes with the support of a great love and a need to stretch his wings that have been clipped for so many years. He dreams of expanding his mind, his possibilities.

Number 3 will be entirely on his own for the first time, without either of his brothers next door keeping an eye on things. For the average 25 year old, this may be normal or past due, but not for this gentle soul. The first in his family of origin to graduate high school, to get a degree, to stay out of prison. He too is venturing into new territory and standing on his own two feet.

We will have a gathering this week, a final evening of togetherness before everyone goes off in their own direction. TAM will be here for that because he is family.

This time, these changes and moves and girlfriends and boyfriends, we are in a transition: a reshaping, rearranging of what the Strazza family looks like.

As a unit, we were so broken. There was so much hardship and pain that we endured, both together and individually. We each had to fumble our way through the muck.

We relied on each other while at the same time needing to separate from each other to find our own unique footing.

We had to need each other in ways that were bigger than the damage. We needed to find love and support and vitality outside of our little cluster.

And then, to truly begin to heal, we needed to bring what we found back to Us.

My family never looked traditional. We are mixed – mixed histories, mixed bloodlines, mixed skin colors, mixed world views. We are connected by tragedy and resiliency. We are living proof that what creates family isn’t necessarily having the same DNA.

What is in our hearts is what connects us.

I love this hodgepodge.

I love that there is an ebb and flow, some coming, some going. I love that I live somwhere that will always feel like home to everyone. A place that can hold all of us and provide a sense of security to those who are scattered far and wide.

I love that my chicks are heading out, exploring the world and themselves. They are persuing dreams and making shit happen. I love that TAM’s kiddos may all be here.

The change is difficult, no doubt. I have been so spoiled to have my children here, within visiting distance. I can stop in and have lunch or drop off boating gear.

To not have them close by will be shocking and painful. I will hate that I can’t just stop by to lecture someone on the importance of Thank You letters.

I don’t know when we will all be together again. It grieves me to no end. But, my babies are doing exactly what I hoped for them to do.

My dream, as their mom, is to see them pursue their dreams.

Which they are doing.

With great aplomb.

I am so proud. So excited. So thrilled.

The transforming spring winds are here and with a full heart I will welcome them.