Ramble

For the next few days, I’m turning off the talking heads and will be ignoring the news. I believe, and always have, that knowing what’s going on in the world helps me feel connected, but this morning I wondered this: What am I connecting to? Riots, race issues, violence, lies, peaceful vs. non-peaceful demonstrations, a horrible beheading with the threat of another. Hatred. Fear. Anger….

I can’t do it today. So today I’m going to connect with the sound of the wind, the feel of the sun, dog kisses, conversations with friends, the garden, and fixing a nice dinner for Jim.

“I won’t tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world’s voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!”
― Oscar Wilde

It’s cloudy this morning, but warm enough to be comfortable in sleeveless things. I have a sprinkler going in the front yard.  I let the sprinkler sprinkle me each time I move it to another place in the yard, which feels childish and wonderful. I’m not dressed to greet the world yet: gray knit Capri PJ bottoms and a pale pink lacy knit tank. Barefoot, naturally. Messy hair.

Zoe is in the living room hoping for an encounter with her beloved cat. Tillie is in the bedroom barking at the neighbor’s dogs, who are outside hoping for an angry encounter at the fence. The puppy Ursa is in her crate and Chloe is in the bedroom with the other two. She scratches at the bedroom door every few minutes, sure I’ve forgotten her, but I needed the quiet today. Chloe, Tillie, and Ursa get to sleep in, even if they’d rather sit at my feet. I’m sure they’ll survive.

My aim is this: Turning from things that aren’t good and turning instead towards helpful things. Television is off. Music is on. We tuned up my bike and I’m relearning how to ride it. I ordered a bathing suit so I can swim in the community pool, or maybe the pool at the Y. I haven’t owned a bathing suit in years! I might rejoin the local YMCA, which has a wonderful fitness center. I joined it a couple of years ago, paid for an entire year in advance. I visited that gym exactly two times, wasting all that money…

I want to undo that wrong by doing it better this time. Does that make sense?

To-do quote

Abysmal

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I’ve been noticing rancor in the social media world. Much more rancor than I can stand, so I’ve gone quiet. I share photographs and don’t share my opinion about almost anything. We all have “tribes,” and I would trust my heart to my kind of people, the people who are able to see the subtler shades of color, who don’t live in a black and white world and try to be empathetic. They will never write, “I hate Obama” on their Facebook page, and they don’t think climate change is a hoax. That said, the innermost circle of my tribe also won’t use the word “Rethuglicans” and call Ann Coulter a whore, although I confess to laughing about her masculine affect when she’s blathering on television, offending people like me. I consider kindness a strength. I don’t think you’re an “elite” if you have a good education. I don’t mind political discussions, if the discussion is respectful, but that possibility is rare.

One of the things I used to love about social media is the opportunity to learn from people who live different kinds of lives, or live in different parts of the world. I could read differing viewpoints on myriads of issues. But something has changed, at least for me. We are far too polarized and I am tempted to stay within my own tribe and block “the rest of you” out. I don’t like feeling judged, and although I respect your opposing viewpoints on life, do you respect mine? Why would I want to open up my innermost thoughts and get slammed, either passive-agressively in thinly veiled memes, or in smarmy comments?

That said, I also hold to this truth: Writers write. That’s how we process almost everything in life.  I have a right to live my life. I am happier when I write, I am even happier if I write and manage to connect with other human beings, no matter the tribe. It’s good to be happy, so off I go. Be polite on Facebook or I’ll punt you. I punted one of my brothers because he mocks 99% of the beliefs I hold dear. I felt like he couldn’t love me and call me such terrible names at the same time, and it makes me sad, but there it is.

Back to the weight loss journey. Although I haven’t gained any weight back, I’m not losing any either. I’ve been mulling over the whys of this for a few days. I’ve had a rough couple of months, and I haven’t navigated through the rough patches with grace. I’ve been stumbling through and managing to keep walking, but it’s time to do better beginning now. Right now.

The details of the rough patch matter only to me, really. They could be anything. All of us have different challenges, but how we connect is the how of how we handle them. Me? I’ve handled them poorly. I’ve been staying up late into the night, cleaning the house with resentment or sitting on the couch in a fog of depression, wishing my life was not like it is. Things are a bit better now. Thank you for asking. (Ha.)

I’ve eaten ice cream, lattes laced with too much Kahlua, pecan raisin bread (toasted with real butter), fruit cobblers and crisps, milk chocolate filled with hazelnuts and almonds sold by bulk at Whole Foods…

Get the drift? I’m not eating a lot of food, but I’m choosing poorly. I’m soothing my aching soul with comfort food. I am ending this bad direction today, beginning with writing this little accounting of my abysmal failure. If I don’t like the direction I’m heading, the only answer is this: Go the other way.

I’m lucky in that I have a very strong will, so I can simply turn around. I’m lucky also because I don’t mind being transparent about this journey. I hope that sharing the ups and downs helps us to connect somehow. I’m back and I hope I can find support from everyone, tribe or not.

Free write for five minutes: Whenever I eat cheese, or creamy/milky things, my intestines protest in the worse kind of way, and yet I insist. That is stupid, yes? Yes. When I feel that vague hopelessness, or hear that voice that says, “You are an abject failure that didn’t reach a single dream and look! Your life is almost over,” what I can NOT do anymore is fall into that place of sorrow. When I feel wistful about writing, or gardening, or blah blah blah? DO SOMETHING. Stop right there and do something else. Write a poem. Ride my bike. Leash up a dog and go for a walk. Pull fifteen weeds. Twenty. Sweep the driveway. Throw five unwanted household items away. Load up the car and go to Goodwill. No more chocolate. Say yes to fresh peaches. Say yes to summer fruits and roasted vegetables. 

 

Just a Day

Pema-Chodron-on-You-as-the-Sky

Woke up and let the (four giant) dogs outside. Brought them in. Turned the television off. Ahhhh! Quiet.  Emptied the dryer. Folded the towels and put them away. Fed the puppy and gave the other girls a treat. Laid two giant towels on the floor so the puppy could roll her wet body around. It rained again last night and everything outside is wet. Put the dishes I’d washed and dried away.

Pulled on a pair of faded jeans and a light gray sweater. Still barefoot, though. Washed my face. Paid the cell phone bill, and bought another pair of reading glasses, because Zoe ate the pair I used every day.

My New Glasses

My New Glasses

Up coming events: Pay two more bills, make that three. Walk Berkeley, the only client I have today. Go to the grocery store for dinner. Pork medallions with sautéd cherries, I think. Roasted vegetables that will certainly include Walla Walla onions, carrots, a zucchini, and maybe one teensy tiny potato. Leftover blackberry crisp from the blackberries I picked in the park while walking Butch, the basset hound. Jim can have the rest of it. Too much sugar for me.

I am a little sad today, but it’s an un-nameable sorrow. Maybe due to the discord in the world. Maybe due to the untimely deaths and the agony of loss that I feel from my safe little dog-filled home. Maybe because I thought of my father, or I wished for something I will never have again. Maybe because I realize that all of us are broken and we work so hard, every day, to mask the brokenness. Some of us try to fix the broken things, but most of us can’t. When our brokenness spills into the lives of our beloveds, well…. We are connected, even if we pretend we’re not.

I am grateful for grace.

Within the sorrow I feel joy. There is always joy. My intimate friends understand this, but I poorly explain it here. Joy runs through me and bubbles through and around any sorrow. I account for the sorrows here in this blog, maybe more than I account for the joy.

If you asked me what I mostly want to say today, I’d say these things: Tell your truth. Forgive yourself. Forgive the brokenness in others. Quit waging war. Don’t justify bad behavior. Don’t hide. Don’t run away. Do something tangible to undo the hiding. Do something to stop the running away. Stop. Stand still for a moment and turn towards what you are running from. Face it. Walk towards it. Make peace.

 

 

 

a good a time as any

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I stopped waiting tonight. I’ve waited for almost 15 years. I’ve wept a thousand (secret) tears, and I keep hoping, but I have to stop. Just stop. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13: 12.

I stayed up late tonight, ostensibly to clean the house while the husband and hounds are out of the fur-covered rooms, but that’s never why I stay up late by myself, and it especially wasn’t why tonight.

I looked in the mirror for a long time. I’m older now. Sixty. I have gray in my hair and sagging skin. My upper arms jiggle just like the Bingo ladies I made fun of two decades ago. I wear wide shoes, and never heels. I wear comfortable clothes. Casual. I’m not an elegant prize, but I hold a modicum of worth. The pores on my nose could be smaller. My lips are now pencil thin.

Not another tear shed about this. Not another sleepless night wondering why. Not another moment spent wishing or imagining how it could be if things suddenly changed.

“No one is ever ready to do anything,” the man in the meme (above) said. “If there’s something I want, nothing will stop me from getting it,” another man once said. And that, right there, tells me everything I need to know. I cannot, I CAN NOT, allow this to cripple me anymore. And so [she says while wiping her hands on her steel gray PJs] that’s the end of that. I’m moving on.

“To be bitter is to attribute intent and personality to the formless, infinite, unchanging and unchangeable void. We drift on a chartless, resistless sea. Let us sing when we can, and forget the rest.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

 

 

 

 

Smiling Beatifically

“But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” ~ Anne Lamott
Art by Shepard Fairy

Art by Shepard Fairy

Arthur, the basset hound I’ve walked three times a week since September, the old and slow dog I fell in love with, is dead. His best friend Butch is lost. We’ve gone for two walks since Arthur’s departure. If I had doubt about the souls of dogs, whether they love and feel deep loss, my doubt is now gone forever. Butch’s sorrow is so great, it weighs on us as we walk until I finally sit in the shade on the lawn and hold him close in an effort to share his grief. He kissed me today, he looked straight into my eyes and let me see his sorrow. I’m afraid he’ll soon want to die. In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed he’s gone almost totally deaf…

I have to believe love will help him through his abject grief.

It helps all of us move through the horrible times, don’t you think? What would I do without love?

Last night I was in a weird state of mind. It was around 10:00 PM. Jim had an early day, so he had gone to bed early. The house was quiet, almost eerily so. Zoe was in the living room with me in hopes of seeing her beloved cat, so she was parked on the window ledge, focused on that hope. In this state of mind, Zoe is gone from me. Her heart is someplace else. Her love for the kitty is so strong.  I had this sudden strong longing for that kind of love, and a subsequent sorrow, because hardly anyone experiences it… ever. Hardly any human being, anyway.

This yearning comes from reading the Outlander series, no doubt. Jamie Fraser. OMG

But dogs? Dogs never lose that zeal for love. They are thrilled every single time I come home, thrilled as if I’d been gone a month. I fall on the floor and let them smother me with kisses, because yes! I am that desperate for love. And yes! I’ve learned to accept love however it chooses to come into my life.

We promise love and yet give crumbs of ourselves. We do this for so many reasons: We’re tired, we’re in pain, we love but “we’re not in love anymore” (I hate that excuse). We take love for granted, we’ve stopped listening, we’re too busy to pay attention, someone else (or many others) are far more attractive… On and on and on, blah, blah, blah.

My voice says, “I am filled with simultaneous sorrow and joy.” And that’s it right there. I am grateful for this beautiful life and I am also sad for the lackluster parts I can’t control.

Butch lost his beloved friend, and it’s a tangible loss, a loss that can’t be recovered. But what about the losses that come in small increments? What about loving someone who slowly stopped loving you back?

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night.  I miss you like hell.  ~Edna St. Vincent Millay

A Case for Insanity

meme

So, I met a puppy the other day. We were at a picnic on the peninsula – a beautiful place with wonderful friends – and someone brought four ten-week old puppies. I joked with my friend Gretchen that she was in charge of “telling me no,” because I knew I had a dangerous weakness for puppies. I was kidding, of course. We already have three very large dogs. Three is too many. Four would be insane.

But then this puppy looked at me. That’s all she did, just looked right into my eyes, and I knew she was meant to be ours. Her name is Ursa, which means “Bear,” which is fitting because she’ll weigh over 100 pounds when she’s fully grown.

She marched into our house as if she’d been here forever. She follows me everywhere, and since she’s tiny yet, I have to shuffle instead of taking regular steps. Don’t want to step on those precious small bones. She plays at my feet. In fact, she’s doing that now, chewing on a toy hedgehog while Chloe lays next to her. We are outside in the back yard. It’s cool, and cloudy. Crows are cawing about the latest crow drama in the Douglas firs above. Maybe an eagle is nearby. Zoe and Tillie, my other two dogs, are sitting across the yard looking up at the crows. Dragonflies are cruising above. Bees are working the catmint. An impatient hummingbird wants me to refill her feeder and hovers nearby staring at me.

I forgot to move the sprinkler in the front yard, so I’m flooding the unhealthy-looking roses! (Be right back….)

Years ago, when we had lost our baby Melissa, I was chatting online with a friend about the loss, explaining that 43 was too old for a baby, and even through Melissa was a welcomed surprise, I wasn’t going to try again. My heart was too broken. I was too frail. I didn’t have anything left to give.

“No!” My friend cried. “Never give up on creating life. Never let sorrow and fear win. Offer love and create love every chance you get,” he said.

I’ve never forgotten his admonition, and over the years I’ve made love a key aim. You see, I realized some time ago that my dreams of being somebody were insidious lies. I already was somebody. My life, especially if I live with love, can effect so much for such good. Love begets love – a rippling effect that can keep the world from falling apart.

I noticed a remarkable difference in my level of happiness when I began walking dogs for a (very meager) living. Every single dog was overjoyed to see me! Every dog greeted me with effusive joy. I fell on the floor in every house and enjoyed the happy love and joy of seeing one another again. Dogs are simple creatures. They eat, drink, poop, sleep, play, and love. That’s about it!

I greet my dogs all day long with the same enthusiasm they offer me. I sit on the floor with them, or lay with them on my bed. I stroke their luxurious fur and tell them over and over again how much they mean to me. I accept their kisses and they accept my hugs. Nothing is better than that!

When sweet young Ursa came into our lives, I knew it would be nothing but good.

I talk to him when I’m lonesome like; and I’m sure he understands. When he looks at me so attentively, and gently licks my hands; then he rubs his nose on my tailored clothes, but I never say naught thereat. For the good Lord knows I can buy more clothes, but never a friend like that. ~W. Dayton Wedgefarth

 

I wasn’t happy about getting Zoe, our two-year old. I didn’t want a third dog. Dogs, especially if I want them to be well-rounded, safe, healthy, and happy, take a lot of work. And Zoe came with a whole lot of strings, including  a complicated and unhealthy relationship (now severed, for the good of everyone involved). I resented that my husband didn’t heed my plea to “just walk away from this dog,” and he insisted we bring her home anyway. It was the worst thing he’s ever done in our marriage.

Zoe constantly reminded me that I don’t always get my way, and who wants to be reminded of that? But, she was now ours – even though I didn’t want her – and it was my job to acclimate her to our way of life. First lesson: quit whining! Whining won’t get you anywhere with me. Second lesson: Quit being so aloof! We are an affectionate family and you are a self-centered and cold dog. Third lesson: Quit destroying my garden!

I was successful with lesson #2. She’s a sweet and affectionate whiner who still occasionally digs up plants and plays with the root balls. Sigh….

Loving Zoe was like accepting a forced marriage. I had no choice but to find a way to love her, and I am a big believer in this one thing: love is a choice. Because it took patience, hard work, and a painful death of my ego, our relationship is unshakeable now.

Ursa turns to Zoe for guidance, and Zoe is happy to help. They are falling in love. Quite a few of my friends think we are utterly insane for opening up our house to another huge dog, and on a few levels they’re correct. But on the most important level, I’m doing the right thing. There is something about this young dog! I can’t name it (yet), but I know deeply/richly that she was meant to be sitting at my feet. I was meant to love her.

 

Vulnerable

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Before I go any further with the silly fiction piece I’m sharing here, I have to get a little deeper into something difficult to name. Some people call it an “authentic voice,” especially if they’re writers. Poets might call it “vulnerability.” Philosophers might just simply call it “truth.” The problem is that truth is never the same for six people sitting in the same room.

How do I tell a story, loosely based on truth, without making myself the heroine of the story? I was not a heroine then and I am not a heroine today, although I prefer to see it that way. Our stories are messy. We are all complicit. We are shades of gray (not that kind of gray – stop that).

An authentic voice, at least my authentic voice, wants to see everyone through the eyes of mercy, forgiveness, understanding, and kindness. This is not an easy challenge, but it’s important to me. Where did I go wrong in the story? I am keenly aware, and I’d like your help in knowing how to imprint this notion into the fiction.

I grew up believing my mother didn’t like me. She had a joke she loved to tell whenever I got in trouble. She would grow tired of us (she had four children, all one year apart) and would send us into our rooms. I would bleat, “But what did I do wrong?” and her reply – invariably – was “You were born.” I’m sure she thought that was hilarious, but I took her seriously. I’d go into my room and believe that being born ruined her life. And maybe it did. I still don’t have the courage to ask her. I’m still afraid of her.

I became a changeling. I tip-toed through the house so the noise of my living wouldn’t disturb her. I became whatever she wanted me to be, and I got very good at discerning when to stick around and when to go away. I became an expert at “reading the room” and knowing when things were about to go south. This way of life translated to my friendships as a girl, and then to relationships with boys, then men. I became what I discerned each boy/man wanted me to be.

And when I got married? Well… what is more exhausting that that? For both of us, not just me. I was a phony. I didn’t have a clue, not a single clue, about who I really was. My husband grew to dislike me, and although many of my sweet, loyal friends will be quick to blame him, I’m not so quick anymore, because I am intimately familiar with how difficult I was for him.

He grew to despise me. He couldn’t reach me. I was impossible to love. At the end of our relationship, I felt sorry for him. I had a glimpse of how horrible it was for him to be married to a woman he could barely stand. He wasn’t able to love me. I can’t say whether or not he tried, but after almost twenty years, I was able to let it go.

Leaving him, and moving over a thousand miles away, set me free from the prison I’d built for both of us. Believe me, he was no saint, and he did horrible things to hurt me. Not only did he do horrible things, but he made me the bad person of his story, to be the person who destroyed our marriage. I decided to let him have his fantasy, to let him lie to our mutual friends, to let him keep his money, our home, the retirement we’d both saved for, the business, etc. My mother is still angry with me for letting him have “everything,” but it was the only true way to be completely free of him. If he tells anyone that I “took him for everything he had,” he knows he’s lying and I’m fine with that. Let him lie.

I don’t want to pay the very high cost of living that kind of lie.

But what am I responsible for now? To tell the truth as honestly as I can.  I need to be fearless at looking at my part of the dissolution. What did I do wrong? What did I do right? How can I tell that truth with compassion for both of the parties? It’s a daunting challenge.

Once, many years ago, I tried to bridge the emotional gap with my ex-husband. I thought maybe we could find some way to a truce, a sort of peaceful acceptance of one another, but it didn’t work at all. I began with an email request to talk through some of our hardest issues, and it began in ernest, it started out to be good.  Then I got an email that said he wasn’t comfortable with the discussion, that it felt like a betrayal to his second wife, that it had the “appearance of evil” to him. I think he thought I was trying to get him to emotionally cheat on his wife, I’m not sure. But oh my goodness, I was angry. Let’s all remember that he’d had a five-year long sexual affair with my brother’s wife, so calling my desire to work out our differences the “appearance of evil” didn’t sit too well with me.

I didn’t handle it with any veil of kindness, mercy, or grace. I posted our exchange on personal blog that many friends read each day. I asked them what they thought of our exchange. Their replies were full of hilarious comments, most of them calling him an arrogant SOB. I copied every single comment and sent them all to him, so he could see I wasn’t alone in my belief that he was a hopeless ass.

We haven’t spoken since…

Vulnerability is full of personal risk, but refusing to be vulnerable is very risky too. I know who I am today. I live an honest life. I fought through the barriers, one by one, until they were vanquished. I have a handful of amazing friends who know who I am, and who are free to share their authentic selves with me too. Nothing in life matters more to me that these kind of friends.

Absolutely nothing.

A Facebook friend shared a poem on her timeline today, and it spoke to me so deeply about this kind of love. I sent it to my (current and much improved) husband, because I hope he can open his gate to me in this way. I’ll end with the poem. It’s so beautiful.

You are tired,
(I think)
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.
Come with me, then,
And we’ll leave it far and far away—
(Only you and I, understand!)
You have played,
(I think)
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
Just tired.
So am I.
But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,
And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart—
Open to me!
For I will show you the places Nobody knows,
And, if you like,
The perfect places of Sleep.
Ah, come with me!
I’ll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon,
That floats forever and a day;
I’ll sing you the jacinth song
Of the probable stars;
I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream,
Until I find the Only Flower,
Which shall keep (I think) your little heart
While the moon comes out of the sea.
e.e. cummings