Talking to Calamity Jane

I dreamed about Calamity Jane two nights in a row this week which made me ask a friend if he thought maybe it was possible that she was trying to speak to me from beyond the grave. For once, he didn’t ask me if I had been into the liquor cabinet and said instead “probably not, you just have her on your mind lately”. It was nice of him not to point out that it’s kinda weird to have Calamity Jane on your mind…ever…and to try and inject a little logic into our conversation which is sometimes tricky to do with me. I replied that this seemed much too simple and that I had perhaps misinterpreted things and maybe it was Wild Bill Hickok trying to reach out to me instead. That’s when the conversation came to an abrupt halt and I was left with my own thoughts on the matter. (Friends do have their limits, especially with me.)

The dreams actually started when I was reading from my mom’s Alcoholics Anonymous book. The book (or the program) didn’t much work for her in the end, though there was a whole lot of underlining and highlighting on the pages (so she at least PRETENDED to wanna be sober). There were also quite a few “congrats, you got out of re-hab” notes on the back cover from her new friends ,which is a story in and of itself but not THIS story which is about Jane and me. Though I wonder where all these people are now and how they are doing, even though I don’t know any of them. Mom did tell me that most of them were drug users and that drugs were much easier to secure at rehab than a ‘damn vodka on the rocks’.

ANYHOW, the reason I was reading from the big blue book is two-fold. First, my uncle (who is technically my ex-uncle on account of d.i.v.o.r.c.e) recently started randomly (and completely out of the blue) texting to me quotes from A.A. Ironically, the texts would come to me right when I was about to make a poor decision, which I thought to be kind of creepy, so I felt obligated to at least peek at the book out of respect for the creepiness. Now I’m not saying that his texts stopped me from making any of these poor decisions but they did cause pause, which is good when you are about to do something stupid, so thanks for trying, my crazy, psychic, ex-uncle (who will always be my uncle).

Second, even though I am pretty sure I am not an alcoholic at this point (I talk more about drinking than I actually drink) if my streak of poor decisions continues or gets more dramatic, the worry could possibly lead me deep into the bottle at some point and time, so I thought it would be good to be prepared in case I end up in rehab. This way I could be a group leader or something on account of already knowing all the 12 steps and stuff…and then maybe when I am rehabilitated, I could buy the place and make some improvements in the facility like better beds and daily spa treatments because I think all people would drink less if they had better beds and daily spa treatments…

…ANYWAY…so in my reading I came across a phrase which stopped me in my tracks a bit: “match calamity with serenity” and I put these words on my wall of things to think about. (Does anyone see where I could possibly be going here with this? Good, can you tell me?)

The word calamity is defined by Merrriam-Webster (my dear friend) as “a state of deep distress or misery caused by a major misfortune or loss”. Some synonyms for this word: apocalypse, disaster, debacle, catastrophe. A couple of nifty related words to calamity are: bloodbath mishap, and misadventure.

Serenity on the other hand means “a state of freedom from storm or disturbance”. Synonyms for serenity are peace, quietness, hush, repose….such a nice word, repose. It sounds like a lady with her hands daintily folded in her lap all prim and proper; her hair isn’t at all messed up by calamity, which can do that to hair.

The idea of “matching calamity with serenity” seems like a solid idea. You can’t always stop, control or predict calamity, not even the self-induced kind, but you can change the way you feel about it and how you react to it. But, I of course, instead of figuring out how I might find this balance in my own life, found myself dreaming about Calamity Jane and then of course obsessing, which is how I roll. The word calamity must have triggered the dreams and I found myself fixating on the life of an 1800’s American frontierswoman who may or may not be speaking to me from beyond the grave. In my dreams she was not the 1953 Hollywood/Doris Day/movie version of Jane. She looked scowly, dirty and she kinda stunk (though is one really able to smell in dreams?). She was not real pretty but boisterous, and pretending to not care what anyone thought about her, which I totally saw through because we are now bff’s. She didn’t say anything to me in the dreams; she was just on her horse, shooting a gun, being all cool, but somehow I could tell she was sad. After the dreams, I started reading about her. (Hello, she was reaching out to me from BEYOND THE GRAVE! The least I could do was to learn a little bit about her and figure out what she was trying to tell me.)

C.J. was born Martha Jane Cannary. ’Calamity Martha’ or ‘Calamity Cannary’ has a whole different feel to it don’t you think? Would a different nick-name have changed her history? I wonder. She had early burdens that led her to make choices that weren’t pretty. Both her parents were dead by the time she was 12 and she had the responsibility of raising five younger siblings in a time when there weren’t a lot of earning opportunities for women. She did whatever it took to take care of them, as a dishwasher, a cook, a nurse, and a little on and off again stint as a prostitute at a hog ranch in Deadwood, South Dakota (all for a little milk money for the kiddos). This is where she met Wild Bill Hickok and fell in love with him, a man who was charismatic, dangerous and indifferent; he did not have the ability to love her because he was too busy being Wild Bill. (That’s pure speculation on my part, but probably accurate. So many women want the men who don’t want them.) I think this created restlessness on her part. She didn’t fit in with the women of her time but she knew how to shoot and ride a horse and drink a whole bunch, and supposedly did this “as good as any man” and this made her stand out and get attention and possibly feel better about herself.  So this became her gig and I think she had everyone fooled into thinking she was this adventuresome crazy, I don’t give a shit woman. Jane had a flair for acting and story-telling. Mostly she told lies, but she told them with such enthusiasm that she became a legend in her own mind and eventually others’. (There is very little truth to much of the Calamity Jane legend: some accounts say that she never killed a single person. I always thought she’d killed hundreds.) She was for sure kind to people (offering aid to anyone who needed it) which made her hard edged self strangely likable. But was she ever serene?

Records say she died, all bitchy, tired and pissed off about life (no longer putting on an act)…in her early fifties…from alcoholism. I made up the bitchy, tired, pissed off part, but don’t you think that’s interesting, the alcoholism thing? On account of the fact that these dreams started from a quote from my mother’s A.A. book who ALSO died from alcoholism? Mom for sure was a little bitchy, very tired and completely pissed off about life. Do you see how this might be wrapping up here? Hmmm…I don’t…

…but! I think Jane came to me in my dreams to tell me more than just “it’s a bad idea to be a prostitute on a hog ranch” (that would be a huge waste of afterlife energy because I don’t think there are brothels on hog ranches any more…and well…I have many other kinds of opportunities to earn milk money for my kiddos). I think her message to me is this: “H! Stop wondering about how I maybe wasn’t serene. Stop questioning whether your mother found serenity in the end. That’s none of your business and not for you to know or worry about. You can only know your OWN serenity, which is different than anyone else’s and it can be only matched with your own, unique calamity. Just be truthful to yourself: in your life; in your stories; in your relationships. You don’t have to fake being tough when you don’t feel tough. This can lead to having to live up to difficult legends, because seriously, the Martha Cannary in me secretly wanted to wear a pretty dress once in a while.  BUT, if you start dreaming about Wild Bill I will come back from the grave and kick your ass. He is mine not to have. Just sayin.”


  1. Kathy Arington says:

    That Calamity was a wise woman and how nice of her to vist you from the grave with this message.

    And thank you for the drugs vs vodka at the rehab tip. This is stuff you can’t learn just anywhere. I’m thinking you won’t find it in the AA book.


    1. peaceof8 says:

      Ha! My mom had all kinds of loop holes! Its funny, I never knew much of anything about Calamity Jane prior to this week. Who knew it would be such a history lesson!


  2. Susie HW says:

    The rest of the irony is that the match calamity with serenity part comes at the end of doing a 4th step where inventory of the stuff we resent ( think re-sentiment) is processed. – ‘ the stuff that keeps us up at night’. The AA program doesn’t only work for alcoholics – or for all alcoholics- but it is a ‘design for living’ that works for a lot of us. Thanks for the reflection of the program from another lense.
    Have you read Mary Karr or Anne Lamont? have I mentioned this before? ( the are 2 of my fav writers and I blab about them often) If you haven’t read them I’d be surprised since your voice is so similar. Start with Karr’s Liars Club and see ya after Lit.
    Thanks as always my friend!!


    1. peaceof8 says:

      Hi Susie

      I have read some Anne Lamont, mostly her Facebook posts (you turned me on to her). Her posts are wonderful because they are so real, and relaxed that it feels like I am hearing from a friend I know well. Just got one of her books at the library this week. Will check out Mary Karr. Yay! Someone new to read. It’s funny,after the crazy dreams, when I started reading and then writing about Calamity Jane I had no idea where it would end up steering me. I guess that’s the really fun part about writing: getting out of the way so you can see what happens. Humor has always helped me with the FEARLESS part of the personal inventory step…but who knew Calamity Jane would ever be my tour guide? Ha! Love you Susie!


  3. LaDonna says:

    I love this! Keep writing. I laughed and cried when I read this. You are an amazing person and I m so thankful you are a part of my life!


    1. peaceof8 says:

      Thank you LaDonna, I am glad you are in my life also! So much!


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