Skirting the Edge of Safety

by Deb Sinness

I want to talk about the things I love…
an overcast day on the bay filled with colorful kayaks,
each carving a path
to meet in the middle,
separate yet unified
in seeking a record.

Snow crunching beneath fat tires
careening through the trees
losing control,
my balance impaired
falling in the deep, soft snow.

Exploring unseen lands,
hiking to the edge of the
circle where birds perch,
as if they own the land.

Tubing out of control down
a slick snow-covered mountain.
The rubber I grip guides me to
safety but reminds me,
safety is not what I seek…
Go now.

Adjusting to Retired Life

“It is a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I didn’t hate my day job, but it seemed every day brought an onslaught of challenges.

I did, however, like the people I worked with and loved the routine the work week ushered in. I knew I only had so much time outside my work hours to get other work and writing done, motivating me to use and structure my time well.

This retirement thing is going to take some getting used to. Right now, it still feels like I’m on vacation. It’s a challenge to get into any writing done when I’m traveling.

So I’ll just have to steal moments of time until I settle into a routine that suits me. Meanwhile, adventure awaits…and I’ll be posting photos of some of my favorite places.

When I wrote poetry in the late 1990s, I wanted to publish a book of poems called Solitary Sojourns and Everyday Epiphanies. I never did, so I’ve started a new Instagram profile called SolitarySojourns where I share photos from my travels and thoughts on this, my sixth decade of living in a meat suit on this beautiful, blue spinning marble in the cosmos. My blog will become more of a photoblog while I focus my writing on finishing my memoir so I can move onto other things…and more adventures.

Writing As Art

Writing Myself Home
I don’t know if I could
or even if I should
dig through the debris
of buried memory
to get to the place
where I can face…
myself.

I wrote the above poem in the late 1990s and when I wrote it, I suspected it had to do with my mother’s mental illness and my fear it would happen to me. I had a good life with a husband who loved me and the daughter I’d always wanted, but something was always gnawing at me? I never felt satisfied, and my mother’s memory hung over my life like a grey cloud. I quit writing shortly after when work and family life took priority.

I came out to myself 12 years later. It would take another 6 years to come out of the “having a mentally ill mother” closet.

Last Fall after moving back to North Dakota, I read a call by the BisMan Writer’s Guild for a collaborative touring art show called The Art of Writing, sponsored in part by the North Dakota Art Gallery Association. Artists and writers were to submit samples and if an artist selected a piece of writing (or vice versa), they would create pieces of art inspired by the other’s work. I wanted to submit my poem, but it needed a title.

After having spent two years drafting, rewriting, excavating, and shaping my memoir, I realized the poem was a way to express what I could not. It was the beginning of “coming home” to myself. Then a year ago September I moved back to my home state of North Dakota. I literally and figuratively had come home, thus the title Writing Myself Home.

Today The Art of Writing touring show opens for a month at the James Memorial Art Center in Williston, North Dakota where I spent the first six years of my life. My poem, in word art, will appear with the piece of art created by the artist who was inspired by it.

An Artist’s Reception will be held on Friday, September 17th from 7:00 to 8:30 PM, one year from my first full day as a North Dakota resident again.

Life truly has come full circle.

It’s. A. Wrap.

I retired from my day job today.

In 1974 at the age of 15, I started working for 75 cents an hour grading papers for a high school teacher.

“Be a secretary, you’ll always have something to fall back on,” my father told me. His advice bit me in the butt a few years later when as an Army Reservist 1976, I applied to be in the first class of women to be admitted to West Point. I missed the age cut-off by one year because I needed a year of prep school.

I’ve lost track of the number of jobs I’ve had over the years: medical clerk typist, pharmacy tech, “Officer Friendly” in military police community relations, C-130 cargo plane loader, publishing manager, small business owner, production control analyst, realtor…and secretary.

Sometimes I felt sentenced to being a secretary because I’d boomerang back yet again. Now, after all these years and perspective, it was an awesome way to get my foot in the door of some solid, well-respected companies. I’ve made the most of that opportunity the last 11 years and am grateful to have been able to bookend my career with the Army, first as a 19-year-old reservist and now as a retired civil servant.

I retired from my day job today. It’s going to take some time for that reality to sink in…but it definitely feels good.

Any advice for a new retiree?

Countdown to Retirement

I’ve been intending to write a post for the past month and a half, but I’ve been busy preparing to leave my home base to travel back to Michigan to work my final days in the office. It’s been a whirlwind.

As of today, I’m down to three days and a wake-up which seems surreal…but it’s finally here. Although my shoulder surgery delayed and changed my plans, if life has taught me nothing else it’s how to be resilient.

I’m grateful to be blessed with friends who have opened their homes to me during this interim period. I plan to hit the road and be a nomad for time, meandering where the spirit moves me, then winter in Tucson.

Three days and a wake up…tick, tock.

Coming Out Stories During Pride Month

I’ve attended Pride events large and small in the last decade, but nothing moved me more than Capital Pride last Saturday on the grounds of the North Dakota State Capital in Bismarck. This town I grew up and fled from, finally felt welcoming…and the rainbow cloud over the festivities confirmed that.

In preparation for Pride, a local bakery held a 100-word Pride story contest with prizes for first, second, and third places. Stories were submitted. Prizes were awarded. There was, however, no publication of the stories.

Our stories deserve to be told for we are your daughters, your sons, sisters, brothers, your mothers, fathers, and yes, even your grandparents.

My military-related coming out story was published Wednesday, 23 June on The War Horse. The following is my tiny personal coming out story…

“I’m Proud of My Gay Daughter”
said the pin I wore to my first pride event.
Daisy came out as bisexual in 2001 at 16.
Five years later, she dated a woman.
I worried for her career and safety.
Five years after that, I came out.
I had to start over…again.
When I broke the news,
Daisy tucked me under her wing.
At 56, I’d lived in many closets.
If Daisy hadn’t come out, I wouldn’t have either.
And that pin I wore to the 2011 Motor City Pride?
Daisy wore one that said
“I’m Proud of My Lesbian Mom.”

Badass Women Warrior Writers

After I was discharged from the Marine Corps, my first mother-in-law asked me what would be a prescient question.

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to be a writer.”

“Don’t strive to be a writer, write.”

It would take years before I finally put pen to paper, first writing poetry in the 1990s. Then in 2018, I saw a Facebook post saying the MilSpeak Foundation was hosting a Women Warriors Writing Workshop weekend at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. I only had to pay for my room and transportation.

I jumped at the chance and took an early flight so I could check out the Whitewater Center and take a zipline tour before the festivities started. Note to self: visit the Whitewater Center again and try whitewater rafting.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I wanted to reignite that dream, to write the book I wanted to read when I was struggling.

The weekend was transformative.

A Friday night welcome reception with Open Mic kicked things off. Several women were published authors, and many others were further along their writing journeys than I was. It was intimidating. And inspiring.

The weekend was filled with keynotes, break out sessions, and on Sunday a small-group workshop. Participants were asked to bring five copies of a work-in-progress, whether it be fiction, memoir, poetry, or an article. I went back to my room to write something so I could participate.

Nothing.

I could not write. I was so hung up on wanting it to be perfect that I couldn’t get any words out of my head.

Sunday morning I listened in awe while other brave writers shared their stories. I vowed one day I would too.

It’s been three years since that weekend spent in the company of badass women warrior writers. Although I didn’t write anything myself, I consider it the beginning of my writing journey because of the writing friendships I made and the inspiration I received…and the adventure continues.

Once A Marine, Always A Marine

Forty-five years ago today, I stepped off the bus in Parris Island, South Carolina onto the infamous yellow footprints, forever changing my life.

While I intended to stay in and make it a career, the post-Vietnam era was not a popular time to be in the military. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out after my four-year enlistment. Now, 45 years later, it’s crazy how fast time has flown.

I am forever grateful to be one of the Few and the Proud…Semper Fidelis my Sisters and Brothers!

6 Lessons from Pa on My Boxcar Birthday

We are inextricably linked to our parents on our birthdays: they brought us into the world and are our first teachers.

On this 66th birthday, I’m thinking about my Pa…the dice game 6-5-4, the double-six boxcars he loved to roll, and the life lessons he taught me.

How to be a good parent. He raised me to be independent, yet I knew I could always count on him to be a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, or a soft place to land.

Be less judgmental and more accepting. Rather than passing judgment on something, he would keep an open mind and say, “Well, that’s different.”

Focus on the positive. Pa had had been through a lot in his life plus he had medical problems, which you never knew because his focus was on you and making the best of the situation.

Cherish friends and family, giving them your full attention. There was nothing more that Pa loved to do than sit and visit with family and friends.

Stay curious about people. Pa loved to meet new people and hear their stories. Being an introvert myself, I challenged myself to be more Pa-like during my 2020 pre-Pandemic Portland trip. The rich, memory-filled trip was one I’ll never forget.

It’s never a bad day for a drive. Pa loved to drive and said, “There’s always something new to see.” After he retired, he worked for car dealers and Enterprise, driving and shuttling clients while chatting them up. He racked up some serious miles, and I definitely get my sense of adventure and love of the open road from from him.

So my 6-5-4 take-away on this day is: 1) life is like a dice roll, you never what’s coming; 2) don’t be greedy and squander a decent score because the next roll might be worse; and 3) sometimes, when you least expect it, you roll boxcars and win the pot.

My Decade of Pride

Ten years ago, the evening before my 27th wedding anniversary, I came out. Although I had been faithful to my husband, I found myself oddly attracted to a woman so I finally came out to myself. I wasn’t sure if I was making the biggest mistake of my life, but I knew leaving my marriage was the path of integrity. Thankfully, the split was amicable. How amicable you ask? We went skydiving together for the first time three months later, weirdly something I never would have considered when we were married.

After the financial chaos of 2008, there wasn’t much to split. I didn’t make a lot of money as a secretary, but with benefits and my foot in the door, I knew I would be okay. I had done lots of hard things before. At times it wasn’t easy, but I persevered.

Looking back on the past 10 years, I’m humbled by the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, the places I’ve been, and I’m grateful for the opportunities that have come my way: living my rock star dream of playing in Sandy Mulligan and the Gypsies, going to 2012 Toronto World Pride, a trip down memory lane running 12 miles on Parris Island and attending the 69th Anniversary of women serving in the Marine Corps, running in Windsor, Canada and coming up through the tunnel and hearing my name announced in the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon, having a Free Press photographer catch a snapshot of me celebrating marriage equality in Ann Arbor, realizing the dream of running the Marine Corps Marathon and having that journey published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running For Good, and so many more memorable moments.

This year it’s about taking another leap of faith with retirement on the horizon…so cheers to the years and the new adventures to come. And in the end, all anyone wants in this world is to love and be loved.