Four Things

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

1. My friends agreed to meet me at the high school’s basketball game. Mom wouldn’t give me a ride, so I walked the mile and a half (in the dark – mean mom). My friends weren’t there! On my way back home, I noticed a nervous-looking man wearing a hooded jacket. He was standing on the corner nervously shifting from one foot to the other, as if he was cold. I don’t remember if he had his hands in his pockets, but he probably did.

He grabbed my arm as I walked next to him. He swung me towards him and showed me a large fishing knife. The knife was pointed at my stomach. We were standing next to an empty plot of land full of tall weeds and grasses. I knew I was in serious trouble.

I don’t know where the bravery came from, but before he said a word I yelled at him. I told him if he dragged me into the field, I’d scream loudly enough to alert all the neighborhood.

“Everyone will come outside to witness what you’re doing, and you’ll never get away with anything. You ought to let go and run right away, you stupid mother fucker.” (Hey, that’s exactly what I said. Can’t lie.)

He hesitated for a split second. I must have scared him! He let go of my arm and before he changed his mind I ran across the street and banged on a stranger’s door. When the homeowner opened the door, I burst into tears and asked him to call the police, and he did.

They never found the would be rapist/attacker. After that experience, I rarely walked alone after dark. I was in the 9th grade when this happened.

2. Between the ages of five and eight I had a recurring dream I still remember vividly. I was under a table hiding from people I feared. They were military, not from our country. Invaders. The table was in a large (hugely large) space that echoed. I could hear footsteps coming, sharp cracking sounds, very clipped and rhythmic.

Even now, every so often, I will hear a song with clapping in the same rhythm as those footsteps and experience the horrible dream as if it was a vivid memory. The footsteps got closer and louder in the dream. They would stop next to my hiding place, and my heart would beat so loudly, I knew they could hear it. They were speaking another language, something  I later realized sounded like German.

I knew they were going to lift up the tablecloth and capture me. But then I’d wake up. I’ve never told anyone about this dream before I told Jim about it last week. Nazi movies? Never watch them. Just can not.

3. A few years ago I experienced what experts call “Sleep Paralysis”  in the middle of the night. I woke up, and  felt completely awake, but I was paralyzed. I couldn’t will my limbs to move. I was keenly aware of a dark something on the bed staring at me. It was darker than any dark I have words to describe. and I was terrified. I thought I was going to die. I tried to say something to Jim, but I couldn’t speak. As quickly as it came, it went away. I hope it never happens again.

4. Jim and I had a baby girl named Melissa. She was a very tiny preemie that lived in the NICU for exactly 30 days. I was with her when she died. All of the doctors and nurses who tried desperately to save her life were weeping at the loss of her. We’d all become friends and they had fallen in love with all of us.

The first time I held Melissa was right after she’d died. In the most horrifying moment of my life, I felt the deepest love I’ve ever felt. Tangible love filled that room. From the window, I saw Jim run from the parking lot, through the front walkway, and into the hospital doors while I was holding our deceased child. I knew that in two or three minutes, his heart was going to break. I wanted to stop time.

When Jim came into the room, relief flooded my soul. I needed him there. His presence always soothes me. His calm spirit gives me an assuredness I can’t find without him. We held Melissa. We said goodbye. We went home. A Quaker nurse sat with Melissa’s body for hours. She did it for us, she explained later. She didn’t want that little body to lay all alone.

We learned that if a problem isn’t “life or death,” it’s likely that we can handle it just fine. We learned it the hard way, but the lesson is set in stone.

 

 

 

What I See

Ursa on her first day.

Ursa on her first day.

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Wait.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
~ Galway Kinnell (RIP)

I’ve been filling my days with busy things: walking dogs, reorganizing the house, doing a bit of remodeling (new floors, new heating system, newly super-duper organized garage). These busy things have overwhelmed the muses in my life and they’ve rebelled. They are sick of my busyness and have demanded I stop, so here we are, dear Blog That I’ve Ignored. I am writing an almost bullet-pointed personal essay so I can clap my hands in victory and go to bed. I will make it up to you. I am repenting. I will return to the daily mulling in hope that someone is still out here.

What to say in the ten minutes I’ve allocated? Love! Whenever I offer love (and there are bazillions of ways to make this offering), the day is imbued with success. Meaning! I want to matter, and if mattering is no louder than invisible acts of kindness that help loved ones get through the day, that’s fine. Snark! I love my snarky friends. Snarky is awesome. Acerbic and sardonic friends make me laugh, especially when the snark is intellectual, because after all — I’d like to think of myself as a liberal elite. I once took a cheesy Internet test that told me that philosophically I was left of Gandhi, so there’s that.

The woman who wrote a book that changed my life (waves at Dagny Kight) will be proud of the next bit of what I need to say. I have hit a personal snag, not losing weight, but not gaining it either. The up side of my eating habits is this: I haven’t touched fast food in well over a year. I eat organic and locally grown food. I stick to low carb, high protein, high fiber, and stay-the-hell-away-from-processed foods-especially-sugar foods. I am not poisoning myself anymore.

The down side, obviously, is that on my quest to lose weight, I am failing. But here is where I’ve changed. Instead of shaking my fist in the air and shouting to the gods about how unfair it all is, I’m doing One Simple Thing. I asked myself what I thought it would take to break this stalemate.

“Keep it simple,” I told myself. “Keep it doable.”

“Then, do it.” (Waves at the Nike marketing team.)

Sooooo…. I’ve joined the YMCA. Why the Y? Because there’s a great facility nearby. Because they have a pool. Because it seems like the right thing to do.  So there’s that.

And there’s NaNoWriMo. And there’s an exciting new project I can’t wait to announce. There’s also a craft event I’m working on with two wonderful friends. There’s a new workbench in the garage full of jewelry making tools. There are the four wild beasts, and the dog walking gig. All of those things will conspire to get in my way. They will stick their feet out in front of my path so I’ll trip on my way to the Y. I will find daily excuses to “miss going just this one time.’

I have news for the subconscious part of me that wants to thwart my plans. You LOSE! I win. I’m ignoring you. If I’ve learned anything in the last year, I’ve learned this: If we want something strongly enough, we can get that something done.

My eyes are burning because it’s time to go to bed. Is anyone still  here?

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

10584051_780287485381544_1640275172891404308_n

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

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