shaking things up . . .

ont the set

It feels like these first two plus weeks of the year have flown by in a magnificent way. Big things, big shifts are occurring, I miss my quiet, slow pace of last year, but I have been feeling the desire to add more umph to my experience. I’m feeling like perhaps I can take on a little more. Perhaps I can take a step into new ventures, nothing real big, but just a little bit out of my comfort zone. Of course, almost immediately after that thought I start getting calls to do interviews. I got a call to be interviewed for the Chronicle, then to sit on a panel after the showing of the movie, Lioness. Watch the trailer and the movie if you get a chance – its intense.

Then the moderator of that panel, Patricia Grass invited me to be on her local PBS talk show, and then Fox News just interviewed me for a “feel good” piece on my story of recovery and my time in WISER (the PTSD inpatient program for women at the VA Hospital here in Houston). All of the these interviews were about my experience in Iraq and my journey back to my whole self.

getting unplugged

being silly

me & Patricia Gras

I feel very honored to be able to share my story and have people listen. I believe stories can be so healing and that is what I’m finding in this process of sharing. I’ve trained myself to live in the moments, and take life day by day so I haven’t seen all the progress. But now as I’m stringing it all together through the questions from my interviewers I’m seeing all the progress I’ve made over the years. It has been therapeutic for me.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou

I’ve also been getting nudges from deep within that perhaps this is the story I want to tell. There are plenty of stories about Iraq but I think what is more interesting is the journey I’ve been on over the past five years since returning home. It feels congruent to who I am today. I think I’ll start writing a book/memoir or something. Does anyone have any thoughts, ideas, connections to share – I’m open to receive.

I find it interesting that this subject would be the one I get so much attention from since it’s the one that still scares me the most. I still fear the scorn of my fellow Marines. I think I need to learn from the Alan Garner character in The Hangover when he says, “I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack.” Besides Larry told me that he would be my “unit” from now on, so I wouldn’t feel so alone when I run. Maybe Larry & I have our own wolf pack now! I like that idea.

Big Love to all you,

Katariina

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ubuntu . . .

A few years ago I was admitted into the VA Hospital for a month stay in a lock-down unit on the Mental Ward for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The years following my return from a year in Iraq with the Marine Corps were challenging to put it mildly. It turned out I wasn’t equipped to find my way back from the war zone with all of its death & destruction on my own. Although I was very aware & educated on the subject, I still lacked the skills to manuever around triggers & keep myself safe. I think the biggest problem was that I was in denial about my skills, abilities & the depth of how depression & PTSD were truly affecting my life.

in the in-between

I was spiralling down fast when I finally admitted to myself that spending some time away from my life focusing on unravelling the meanings I made of everything witnessed & experienced in Iraq would be empowering. I knew I had to do something.

The program was for women only & they called it WISER (an acronym for something clever about women). I expected the other participants to be combat vets from Iraq & Afghanistan, but as it turned out during this session they were from the Vietnam era  & were mostly Military Sexual Trauma victims. In addition, they were all southern women from various backgrounds that didn’t look anything like mine. They were kind but I felt like an odd duck for numerous reasons having to do with education level, income level, interests, time in service, rank, & color of skin. They all seemed to share a common southern language that was spoken quickly & softly using words in contexts I had never heard before. I found myself saying, “huh?” a lot, or just laughing & nodding at everything they said. Most of what they said was usually cracking a joke so laughing was a safe bet. These women loved to laugh, to eat & to smoke.

the little girl within is angry

I spent the first week trying to figure out how I had ended up in a cohort of women who were nothing like me. What was the lesson here? Then one day while reading Brian Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, I stumbled upon a page that I had folded, penciled, underlined, & starred with little side notes. It was entitled, Ubuntu. Suddenly I got it!! They were not different from me. They were me & I them. I could not know myself without knowing them with compassion & love. My judgments were more about myself than them. If the women were similar to me, and had been in a combat zone, then perhaps I would have missed my opportunity to focus on myself. As it turned out, I was one of the youngest in the program, I think the oldest was 65 or so. This allowed me to take on a baby role, rather than having to nurture & mother those from the Iraq/Afghanistan era who are much younger. It was serendipitous to land in this pod of women.

the little girl inside is tired of holding it all in

The program was a very intense, life-changing four weeks where the life I had been living, the meanings I made of everything, even back to childhood, & the choices I made were all laid out before me & slowly unravelled to make sense or allow it to just not make sense.

I learned a lot during my stay but Ubuntu was one of the juicier lessons learned.

I wrote this poem below while in the hospital & read it to everyone at graduation.

the gathering

Ubuntu

by
 Katariina Fagering

I came here afraid, alone and lost. I
had forgotten who I was

Wandering
in the shadow lands of darkness, I questioned:

How did I
get here?

Who are
these women?

Do I
belong?

But then a
whisper filtered through my heart ~

 

Ubuntu

I am,
because you are.

Suddenly,
my sisters appeared and I found me in them.

Ubuntu

I am,
because you are.

Because she
is nurturing, motherly, love,

Hilarious

laughter filling the room,

Sunshine-sweet-southern drawl,

So am I.

Because
she is elegant, wise and brilliant,

Seeking,
searching and humble,

A courageous, proud, fierce protector,

So am I.

Connecting
with heart, I take you in my heart.

Because my
sister was raped, I was raped.

Because my
sister has HIV, I too have HIV.

Because my
sister went to war, I went to war.

Because my
sister is an alcoholic, I am an alcoholic.

Because my
sister’s mother died, my mother died.

Because my
sister has been beaten, raped, humiliated, lost, tossed and mistreated,

So have I.

Ubuntu

I am,
because you are.

Together
we are reaching out,

Connecting,

Finding
love, loving ourselves,

Being
Audacious enough. She is enough. I am enough.

All that I

witness in you, my sisters,

So am I.

 Because
you shared the gift of you,

 I now know the fullness
of me.

Marine with Iraqi Children, Karabyla, Iraq 2006

crow . . .

crow stamped on wood

I signed up for a Mono-type class for this semester. It’s starts in a few weeks. I’m so excited. In fact so giddy about it that I had to make my own crow stamp now, before the class starts. I just got this stamping rubber stuff at the Texas Art Supply & drew a picture & started cutting away. It’s so fun that I can’t stop stamping everything!!!

testing, testing,

above studio sink!

on beginning of painting

I’ve had this idea for making an american flag to hang outside on our patio fence. I wanted it to look old & add my style to it. As I started working on it further I decided that it would be a painting about the Marine Corps & war, but a light one. Really maybe it is more about how I joined the wrong Corps. I should have been in the Peace Corps instead. but I don’t know, I was probably right where I needed to be and odd duck. No regrets, some sorrow, sadness, anger, but no regrets.

Everyday as I gain more insight into who I am, really am, without influence from others, I move further away from those things that hurt me more than bring me joy. I seek out those things, people, experiences that are in alignment with who I am. This lessons the dissonance & increases the resonance. I don’t resonate with dissonance.

I visited a gastro doctor last week who told me that my colon was like a jazz band all the parts doing their own thing, not playing the same tune together. I guess Jazz has its place just not in my gut & not in my relationships or work environments.

make art not war

My stars are flowers. USMC is going off the canvas. 83 was the year I joined the Marine Corps. I wrote, “make art not war,” “all we need is love.” “love is all we need,” oh &
“war is never the answer.” Then of course, there is my crow.

Crow is the protector of the castle, the castle being your psyche. He also is a trickster & a shape shifter. Two aspects I love expressing. Tricksters make us think about things that are so firmly embedded in our beliefs that we don’t even think to question. I was a trickster in the Marine Corps.

This painting is about the healing & coming home to me, the me that was me before the Marine Corps.

 

i never saw a wild thing . . .

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen
dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself”
~ DH Lawrence

wild thing

I discovered this dear, little, wild thing resting on my studio door step this morning. She was so peaceful & still that it reminded me of DH Lawrence’s poem, Self Pity. Her presence moved me so much that I had to share her & my ponderings here with you.

I don’t interpret Lawrence’s poem to be about how to die with grace but more about how to live without worry. To live so fully & with such voracity that the end isn’t even noticed. I don’t know what brought the end to this precious bird’s life this morning but I do know that she met the end filled with life. I imagine she was fluttering, flittering & tweeting (not on an iPhone) along doing what she does best when the end came to her without a thought or worry. Death is certain for all of us, so why worry about it, right?

Tears well up from within as I ponder this way of living & I admire her grace & utter beauty. What a gift that she chose my doorstep to rest, so that perhaps I could be reminded to live more fully. Unlike a wild thing, I spend a lot of my day thinking & day dreaming of horrific events. I often imagine what it would be like to have terrorists storm our house, knocking over our furniture, shouting, shooting with such violence as we hide in a closet with our children hoping they won’t hurt us. When I drive I can picture large trucks plowing through my car. I sometimes imagine that other drivers have guns & begin shooting at me. I dream at night of death & destruction in all the ways I’ve witnessed it in Iraq & in other places. I remember those who I knew that were killed in Iraq, both Marines & Iraqis. But I remember their deaths more than their lives. I don’t talk about this with anyone much because it really is a downer. It’s not that I’m afraid of dying, in fact sometimes I long for it.  I struggle with PTSD & making sense of all the hate, destruction, & death in the world. I mourn for our lack of humanity & compassion. Remembering & mourning can be compassionate but I need time to live, create, love, savor & enjoy?

Thank you my little, wild, thing for lying dead on my doorstep. Blessings to you & to all the wild things that are resting today & may I go forward & live in a more mindful, present, grateful space.

Lovingly gracious,

Katariina

 

night swimming

Back in the early 90’s I was listening to REM’s album, Automatic for the People. I loved just about every song especially, Night Swimming. It reminds me of sneaking into the pool near my college, Principia & skinny dipping alone.

More than a decade later I thought of the song while night swimming at Saddam’s Palace Pool in Iraq. I  had to fly over to Baghdad from Fallujah for a few days to talk with the State Department which was stationed inside one of the Palaces. They had an amazing pool out back that sat under a giant Banyan Tree. Helo flights were always at night because it was safer, so I arrived after midnight, I humped over to the Embassy in my stinky cammies, with protective gear & weapons. They gave me a room out back near the pool. Once in my room I put on  a swim suit under some workout clothes & walked over to the pool. By now it was nearly 2:00 am, most people were sound asleep & the pool had been closed for hour. First I sat & meditated a bit on the giant tree in front of me, then I made myself invisible & slid out of my workout clothes & into the pool. I was so quiet as I glided across the surface, floating, looking at the walls of this palace feeling a sort of in awe of this place, the history, etc. And here I was night swimming, a Captain in the United States Marine Corps practically naked in Iraq, swimming after hours. It was magical & I felt transported, baptized perhaps of all the trauma imparted  around me.

Fast forwarding a few years to our backyard garden pool here in Houston where we swim every night. Last night Finnegan had to have the light on, which is much to powerful for the small pool it lights up, so it was on & I took a bunch of pictures of him swimming. We call him Ponyo because he such a fish, so natural in the water. Perhaps it is all the floating I did when I was pregnant with him.

Enjoy the photos & here is the video of REM singing Night Swimming. Great memories.

 

 

 

remembering Megan

Major Megan McClung

Today I am remembering my fallen friends, Maj Megan McClung, SSGT Mike Dickenson, Maj Mike Martino, and Cpl Salem Bachar. . This is part of my daily struggle – I don’t believe in war yet I mourn all those who we have lost in these conflicts. So today I take a moment or two to remember everyone who has lost their life, limbs, brain usage, and soul.

My prayer is that we will wake up and come home. Please bring us home.

let us not forget

I took the photo below for a book cover I was thinking about writing. The beautiful woman is Capt Julienne Shin. Perhaps I will write it someday. The photo to me

depicts the fullness or whole-ness of many who serve.

More meditation is always a good idea.

In war I saw the devastation and cruelity of humanity at it’s worst and I also witnessed exhileration and tears of gratitude for the expansive love and generosity of the human spirit. In this space of great divided possibilities I captured many insights  in the journals I kept. I thought about calling the book, “Slaying the Dragon.”

We’ll see . . . for now it feels too painful and stressful to dive into.

Slaying the Dragon

Slaying Dragons