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

1959550_690887990968349_1400451652_n

 

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

37897ced08d9b87338b76e21dea4dbb9

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

 

Part Two

It’s a beautiful morning full of bright blue sky and birdsong. Jim is working, so it’s just me, four dogs, one cat, an assortment of unruly weeds, thirsty gardens, dust motes, and undeniable joy. I’ve been mulling the idea of cost. What does personal freedom cost me? What price am I willing to pay for my integrity? How much am I willing to work for what I truly want? That is the (eventual) thrust of this short story I’m sharing in bursts with you. Here is Part Two.

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

“I’ll be right back with that cream,” I mumbled, while thinking I need another pot of coffee so I can hide the whiskey I’ll need to survive this day.

I got up, grabbed the two empty plates and asked, “Should I make another pot of coffee?”

He smiled and shivered as a body would shiver it if were speaking soto voce, but I refused to acquiesce to the passive-aggressive dramatics, ignoring him by walking away. We were staying outside, and that was that. It was at least 72 degrees, which by Seattle standards is as good as it gets. Seattle-ites stop wearing socks with their sandals when the temperature rises above 60. Seventy degrees will bring out the shorts and bathing suit tops around here. Max (the ex) hails from Mission Beach, San Diego, where a brisk 72 degrees would mean sweaters, wool socks, and thick down-filled vests.

Weather wimps, I thought.

“I’ll bring you a blanket,” I said as I moved towards the back door.

Moving from my hometown of San Diego, where the sun shines for 255 days of the year, to Seattle, where the weather is constantly changing, had fundamentally changed me. Why get upset about the rain? Sure, I’m used to sun, but so what? I invited this change by moving away. I left everything I knew, all of my friends and family, my home, my beautiful Mediterranean garden, and even most of my furniture, to start a brand new life. I created a new chaos, but why not dive into that and learn new things? What can I do about the chaos life brings, anyway? Nothing. Instead of whining about the heavy gray skies, or the rain, or the snow, or the unbelievably cold and damp wind, I’ve learned to embrace the unpredictability of this place. I’ve found an unshakable peace here. Max wasn’t going to screw this up for me. I wasn’t going to let him. He didn’t hold the sway he used to have.

I went into the kitchen and dropped the dishes in the sink, then started a new pot of coffee. While the coffee brewed, I went into the pantry for the desirable whiskey, but decided against it. I wanted to have all my wits, because I had no idea why, after ten years of complete silence, Max was shivering like Tallulah Bankhead on my patio. I was secretly glad that I’d spent the last few days pulling weeds. If he’d come to visit a few days earlier, the horrible things he’s said about my crappy work ethic would seem true.

The kids told me last week that he’s getting a divorce from wife #2. He was having an affair with her before our divorce was final, so they’ve been together for almost twenty years, the same amount of time my marriage to Max “lasted,” if one could call it that. We hadn’t been much of a couple for fifteen of those twenty, and according to the kids, things hadn’t been that great with Chris (#2) either.

“He’s always making her do all the work,” my son had explained.

“When we go over there for dinner, he sits on the couch and orders her around. She flits back and forth, bringing him drinks, cleaning the house, fixing dinner, setting the table, and everything else.

He won’t let us help her, either. He tells us to sit and talk with him while she does all the work.”

He told me that his father doesn’t take out the trash, doesn’t clean the cars, doesn’t mow the lawn, or even change light bulbs in the house. He drinks a beer and leaves the bottle wherever he took the last swig. He leaves his dirty clothes on their bedroom floor.

“But Mom, he expects that house to be immaculate. He yells at her, right in front of us, if anything is out of place,” he explained.

Blah, blah, blah, I thought. This is so stereotypical, isn’t it? Emotional abusive, lazy, distant, impotent man married to compliant, eager-to-please doormat. It never goes well for the doormat.

I should know.

I noticed that there were cobwebs in the corners of the kitchen ceiling and swatted them away with the nearby kitchen towel just before Max walked through the door.

“Look, we really do need to talk. Can’t we just talk in here? This is important stuff and we’re going to need to sit down and write some things out on paper. Get your laptop too, okay? Here’s the deal. I’ll just blurt it out and then we’ll have plenty to talk about. Remember the accountant we hired for the agency? Joel?” he asked.

“The guy who looked like Thom Yorke, except with a mullet?” I asked.

“Who?”

“Nevermind. Yes, I remember him. Why?”

“We met with a couple of lawyers last week and they all agree,” he began.

“I need to give you $500,000 before the end of the year.”

I stared at his unreadable face…

“I’ll go get my laptop,” I said.

But first, I headed to the pantry for that whiskey.

Fiction

Yesterday I had an epiphany. I spend my life waiting, and this practice of waiting is robbing me of my precious life. I wait for a quiet moment to write. I wait for my husband to want to share his heart with me. I wait for affection I’m never going to get. I wait to be appreciated. Adored. I wait for the time I can fit into a size 10 dress before I feel a real weight loss victory. I wait for damaged relationships to find their way to magical reconciliations. I wait for apologies that will never come. I wait for happy endings, for situations to make sense, to find the wisdom in horrible events.

But life is messy! No human being can ever fully fulfill the hopes and dreams of another, and if you believe that, as I often have, well… Pfft! Again. Poppycock.  I realized that I need to step over, or at least around, the dead bodies and keep walking ahead. Time is a-wasting, and I have things I want to say. So, I’m starting with this, a short story. This is just a page (for now) but I’ll write and write and write until it feels done. I’m not going to wait for key characters to die so I can tell the story honestly. Pfft! This is fiction! FICTION, I tell ya.

Introduction…

We sat outside under the Madrona tree on a warm August day. Leaves fell with each burst of breeze, but I didn’t mind. I’ve learned to accept the necessary messiness of native gardening: pine needles and little cones everywhere. Leaf miners in the lilac leaves, slug holes all over the Hostas, black spot and rust on the Oregon grape.

He stirred a mounded teaspoon of sugar into his coffee.

“You still like it stronger than I do. French roast?” he asked.

“Italian,” I said, taking a quick sip of mine, which was black.

“I have half & half in the house,” I offered, remembering that he barely even liked coffee.

He declined, pressing his lips into two thin lines. The breeze lifted another handful of leaves into the air, and I sipped my coffee again, taking a fortifying breath.

“So…” I began.

“Yes, it’s true,” he interrupted. “Who told you?”

“The kids,” I replied. His lips practically disappeared.

He was much thinner than he was last time I’d seen him. Pale. He was up on business, far away from his home in southern California — a home we once shared almost two decades ago.

“I didn’t come to talk about that,” he said. “You gave up the right to know about my personal life, remember?”

“So why are you here?” I asked, feeling an ancient anxiety, a familiar irritation, a tempting desire to smash his thin straight nose all the way into his brain.

He put his coffee cup down and looked towards the back door. Madrona leaves showered the table, narrowly missing his cup. He caught the tip of my mouth twitching in what he’d call an immature glee, but I reminded him in a wordless glance that he’d also lost the right to tell me what is and is not humorous. I had what he called a “sarcastic wit.” I prefer to call myself (with pride) “sardonic.”

“Would you mind getting the cream after all? And maybe a blanket? It’s cold out here.”

I considered moving this meeting into the house, but resisted, knowing that’s what he wanted. God, I still hated him…

That’s it for now, dear lovely and wonderful friends. Is anybody still out there?