The Utility of Looking Back

How I imagined my life in Andalucia, and how closely it resembles the life I actually lived. Here’s why anniversaries are important, why remembering doesn’t tether you to the past but invites you to celebrate where you are right now. I landed in Jersey a year ago today and think I’ve been home now for a long time. But once you live abroad, and you’ve stuck your feet in the muck and mercy and discovery of another country, you’ll never be the same.



From the plane, flying into Madrid—-Spring 2009


Red shoes. New passport. Glossy love, with real smudges. A longer pony. New earrings. Fish by the sea. New waves of my tongue – in Spanish. Liquid water, lightness, sun. Packages to the U.S. A burst of love to Alex and Dylan. Good-bye to Leyden Street and pristine apartment. Good-bye to Safeway, Tommy’s Thai, Andy the hairstylist, and Thursday nights at La Rumba. A history course. An ease with money. A skip down the beach. Meaningful anger. Booming laughter, at myself and others. Writing stories. Opening the windows to salty air and long sunsets. Weaving history, psychology, and language into a web that explains people’s behavior in Spain/DR/US and ??? Poetry. Colorful things in our apartment. Funny ways to name his scoffing. Solidly yet porous-ly myself. A tailor to make pants for accepted, large be-dunk-a-dunks. Engaged, involved, connected. Still a pony, but looser. Kindness to myself. Dispatching judgment. Loved. Squeezed. Hopeful. Inside, a part of, together. My beloved, that breath, that sigh of home and opening. The voice of the mother, the lap of the father, the guidance of the sister and toughness of the brother. All together. Beloved you. Me. Beloved, open, tingling, exuberant sun of days.   ~




Movin’ On Up



Am I the only one besides my sister who misses hearing that song from the Jeffersons? How could you not like that song? Makes me want to sing LOUDLY, irreverently, and shake my trunk wildly. Who ever thought I’d move into a high rise? But Lord have mercy, it feels exactly right. Here’s a view from the 7th floor balcony. In 15 days I am moving, and already breathing in the sweet solitude of being alone. It’s not a view of the sea in Spain, but I’m finding out that any view can be oceanic if you let it. Where I live is becoming home again, but more importantly, I am coming home.

The Rocky Mountains from my patio

The Rocky Mountains from my patio, looking north

Where is home, exactly?



I think almost everything we do is an attempt to discover or reinforce a feeling of home. It’s a bit of a paradox that when I moved to another country, across the Atlantic ocean and into the arms of Andalusia, I slowly came to experience that the location of home is inside of us. Where you find yourself on the globe doesn’t give it to you or take it away. But it’s the outside things we’re doing and yearning for that inform and impact the relationship to our interior lives. I knew this to be true conceptually before I moved to Spain, but experiencing it is another landscape entirely. I’m so appreciative of how living in El Puerto de Santa Maria changed me that I even personify the region of Andalusia, as in, “I miss the kiss of that ocean,” or the above comment about moving into the arms of Andalusia. At times, it did feel like a mighty person holding me, inviting me to chip away at the exterior pieces of myself I clung to with such tenacity. You’ll notice in the poem below how likely we are to make plans for what we think will happen, and how our deepest yearning is always mixed into the hope we have for a new place, a new plan, a new anything.



                        February 2009


Driving north with a smooth interstate underneath me,

I hope the city exits I need take their time.

I’m 31 and moving across the ocean, with a skinny, wiry thought

that brings the feeling of mortality to my chest.

But who do you tell in a moment like this?


If I had told Rumi, I think he would’ve said,

                 You are sheepish and half-wincing with the love of your beloved.

He would retell how I sneak away from sweetness

and go thinking about death instead,

hoping my beloved is tucked and hiding in the sunflower-y hills of Andalusia.

                 How many of us would rather go there, than inside?


Before I made it to the interstate,

I had left the home of a newborn baby,

where we talked about brises and souls.

And on the ride home I make agreements:


In Spain, I’ll peel off the sticky machinations I no longer need.

I’ll leave them in a train station, toss them in the Mediterranean,

place them in my lover’s eager hands.

I still believe salvation comes by shedding a certain number of clunky things.


I arrive back in the city and park my tiny Honda,

gazing at the glow of the seven-letter Safeway kissing my sidewalk.

I bow to the wisdom that stands before crazy

and say, “It’s me.”

I decide we are born with death, with thirsty rumble strips

under our sulking legs, betting that any shimmy of the wheel

will finally deliver us into the greenhouse of living things.


–Jennifer Sandberg

Process is not just an intelligent concept

Almost nine months ago, I left a city in southern Spain that had become my home. Since time seemed to move so lusciously, and so slowly there I can hardly believe I’ve been back in the states for three quarters of a year. Half of me, or more than that, is still often there. It would feel so refreshing to write a post filled with vitality and excitement about what’s happening here in Denver. And there is a lot happening. But time and age will heal us if we let them, and will teach us that vitality sometimes only comes through doing the work that’s vital for us in any given moment. Mine is learning to befriend my weeping, to stay awake in the razor’s edge of longing without reaching for relief, to tell a friend who thinks I’m “together” that I’m actually quite sure I’m falling apart. No one can predict how a personal transition will unfold for us,  although we like to imagine there are evenly structured lines and stages. Even Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the creator of Stages of Grief, fought and screamed as her own body moved toward dying. As much as I’d like to see myself as a more worldly and widely trekked soul after living in Spain, what I see right now is merely a decision to allow this pain to overwhelm me. It doesn’t fit my westernized view of  resolution at all, but at some mysterious point, the only way out of pain, is through it.





I miss the water in Spain

with every hair on my head.

The curled waves unraveling

themselves to make their white spools,

all tumbling gently toward our walking feet;

I said it was a reverent process.

It was how I wanted to come to you.

But my spools and yours

were wound so tight.

We missed our soft unfurlings,

couldn’t feel our own feet walking.

You wanted to carry me, or I you.

It was an alluring, heavy habit.

Now, with every flutter of my feet

touching water, I miss the hope

I had for us.

With every walk to somewhere new,

I marvel at the work it takes.



-Jennifer L. Sandberg