Well, I deserved that

I think I had a stupid hangover. If that’s what was wrong with me yesterday, I deserved every moment of the misery. If that’s what it was, it was the second hangover of my life, so I’m really not sure because of my inexperience. The first (and only, until now) hangover I had was on January 1, 1980, after a NYE celebration at a wine bar (which was a thing back in the late 70s, chickie babies, along with fern bars). We had flights of wine, small tastes, and I just didn’t realize what was happening. That felt like what I imagined a hangover would feel like: the motes of dust in the air slamming into my head were excruciating, and the voices, oh the loud, loud voices, agony. It was so punishing, I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever put themselves in a position to have to go through that, and ever since, I’ve held myself back from getting anywhere near that experience. I’m a cautious drinker anyway, after growing up with my vicious alcoholic dad, but man, that hangover was bad enough to straighten me right up even without a family history.

Monday evening I had three beers, and then also a lot of really bad food. Too many salted peanuts. A pint of ice cream. A three-pack of coconut Peeps with dark chocolate. A container of guacamole and most of a bag of salty tortilla chips. I was clearly in a hard place, and just cramming as much of everything into my mouth as I could possibly get.

Around 5am I started waking up with a funny, bad headache, and my stomach hurt so bad. What an idiot, eating all that fat! I cursed myself. And thus began the, um, “intestinal distress,” let’s call it. For the next three hours, more or less, really bad business. My head hurt, but it hurt worse when I lay down so I kept moving around, when I wasn’t stuck in the bathroom. I ate something so I could take Excedrin, and drank a lot of water, and cursed myself for having been so stupid.

But the worst part — even worse than the bathroom, because the headache was manageable — was the mood. I really think the mood all day and night was part of the hangover! Has that happened to you? I felt cloaked in a too-heavy and too-tight lead skin. Suppressed as much as depressed, but also all the bad things at once. Mad, bitter, prickly, distressed, irritated, down, flat, anxious, all of it at once. No single bad feeling arose as the most pressing, which was kind of confusing, because I couldn’t say what I was feeling. Everything bad, that’s all I could say.

Poetry group met at my house last night, and that’s usually one of my favorite nights of the month. We have a new member, and he’s an extremely good poet. He wrote a poem about an acid trip he had in the 1960s and I could immediately see that it was a masterful poem, but it prompted a lively conversation about all those acid trips members took in the 1960s/1970s. And OH were they lively when they talked about them! They went on and on (at least it felt that way to me), comparing notes, talking about the wild hallucinations, etc., and I wanted to scream and choke them and run out of the room. That’s not my favorite kind of conversation, anyway, because it always feels to me like it’s making light and fun of something that’s actually horrible. I know what it is to live at the hands of an addict, and I know someone very well who was addicted to heroin and his stories are so very terrible — oh sure, it’s all fun UNTIL IT ISN’T and then you’re stuck, and so are all those in your life. My mood made it so hard for me to sit there and listen, and I was trying hard to manage my facial expression so it didn’t betray my real feelings, but I don’t know how well I did it. I’ve never felt so terrible during poetry group, and my hangover mood was largely responsible. Otherwise, I’d have let the conversation go on a little and then I’d have redirected us back to the poetry.

I had no idea that a hangover could be that mental and emotional state, but I do think that’s what yesterday was all about. All morning, when I was walking around managing the headache and running to the bathroom, I kept saying out loud, “Idiot, you brought this on yourself! Jesus, what were you thinking.” Fully deserved, Lori, even if I also have some compassion for the feelings I was having that brought me to that eating and drinking frenzy the night before. And then the rest of the day, as the physical consequences disappeared, I kept saying out loud, “Oh, I feel so bad. I just feel so so bad. And I brought this on myself.”

The only good thing about that experience is that it seems to have slapped me in the psychological face a little bit, a bit of Moonstruck Cher talking to Nicolas Cage: SNAP OUT OF IT!

The sun is shining. I have a bit of work. I started my day the way I wanted to start it, and for my dinner tonight I’m making this gorgeous spinach salad. Doesn’t that look yummy? Ever since I got back to Austin, I have not been cooking for myself, for some reason, and that’s something I love to do, even if it doesn’t reliably work at the moment. In NYC I don’t get the kind of food I love to make, so when I’m here I’m always eager to make it and eat ALL the vegetables. That salad is part of a wonderful “snap out of it!” reboot. I only have a few more days here before I return to NYC and then we go to Indonesia, so I’d better get busy if I want to eat all the vegetables. 🙂 I’m so glad I learned, on my yoga mat, that all of life is like tree pose — wiggling, wobbling, falling out of it on occasion and getting back into it, and seeking the stable point.

And no more beer. Not for a very long time.

three things: 1/7/17

1) I’ll begin with a poem titled “A New National Anthem,” by Ada Limón:

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always, there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps,
the truth is, every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the short-grass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

Our country is breaking, as was inevitable, and our time is passing. I just hope we don’t do too much damage to the world before it’s all over. One thing I loved about the poem so much were the lines, “best when it’s humbled, / brought to its knees, clung to by someone who / has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon, / when it flickers”.

2)  One of my favorite paintings is by an artist named Helen Frankthaler. She was born in Manhattan in 1928, and began exhibiting her work in the 1950s. This one is titled Eve, and I must have somehow seen it the year it was painted (1995), because I think I’ve loved it that long. I remember having it as my computer wallpaper in 1996, for a full year. I find it so hard to stop looking at it. That exquisite yellow-orange, the shapes above it that certainly suggest a hanging apple. The thin, wavery line, the watery blue.

1995
Medium: Prints and multiples, color screenprint on woven paper
Edition of 108
44 x 29 7/8 inches (full margins)
Catalogue: Ann Kendall Richards, Inc. Inventory Catalogue

I only just learned that she was married to Robert Motherwell, another of my favorite artists! Wow, what a home theirs must have been.

3) Such a terrible feeling, the feeling of being out of control of yourself. Of deciding you’re going to start (or stop) doing a thing, swearing to yourself you are, and then to do it. Again. And again. And then the renewed vow. Even though I have never suffered an addiction, I do know this feeling from a more ordinary position, from getting back on a sugar/eating binge (I’ve been eating my fear and despair since before the election and it feels terrible) or getting out of the healthy habits that make me feel so good, and struggling to return to them as my norm. I remember my dad vowing at night as he was poured into bed, by me for a long time, that tomorrow would be different, tomorrow he wouldn’t drink, but then the next morning he couldn’t get out of bed without a big tumbler full of straight vodka, and the cycle would begin again. That cycle leads to such intense self-loathing, so common among addicts, and I’m grateful not to have that part of it, the self-loathing. I’m grateful to be kinder to myself, gentler to myself, to instead try to help myself in manageable ways. Today, just drink lots of good water, that’s all you need to do. And take a yin yoga class, so nourishing and manageable, and let tomorrow be whatever tomorrow will be. Just today, drink water and take a yin class.

Be kind to yourself, that’s the most important place to start — it really is. If you are kind to yourself, it’s so easy to be kind to other people. It’s so easy to have a bit of yourself to give, then, to send out into the world. Open your phone and look through your text messages — pick one and just send a kind note, a quick text, a surprise bit of kindness. Texts require no time commitment, just a few thumb strokes, and a click. Make yourself or someone else a beautiful meal. Pick or buy a flower, for you or someone else. Little things, quick things, kindnesses — and start with yourself. Just for today. xoxoxoxo

three things: 1/3/17

1)  I started reading Underground Airlines by Ben Winters, following on the heels of The Underground Railroad, and so far it’s spectacular. Honestly, I don’t know why the black people in the United States aren’t raging and fighting white America all the time. (And we women, too.) They (we) have every right to be doing that, and every single time some white American says something about slavery being a long time ago just get over it . . . well hell, even want to punch those people in the throat. This country. We arrived and right off the bat started killing people and stealing their land, and just kept doing that (through to today). And then we stole people from another continent and brutalized them in unimaginable ways to enrich ourselves, and then enacted laws to keep them from getting anywhere (through to today). One horrible thing I learned when a friend did my ancestry is that someone in my history owned slaves in Georgia. She shrugged a little, it’s the thing you learn, and yet it’s horrifying to imagine. And so I too deserve the rage. In the second episode of The OA, a new series on Netflix, a voice-over read the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty (“The New Colossus”) and vomit came up in my throat, it’s such a lie.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The world is going mad and it’s so scary. And the United States is the engine of so much of it. How does a person work with that? (I’ll say more about Underground Airlines after I finish it….)

2) Depression status stable. Not feeling better but not feeling worse, and when you deal with depression you know that’s a good enough report. One thing I’m trying (among many things) is a daily inoculation of art, and today I’m rolling my eyeballs around in this glorious color — great thanks to my beautiful friend Anne for posting the painting on FB a couple of days ago:

Max Kurzweil (Austrian; Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession; 1867-1916): Lady in Yellow, 1899. Oil on canvas. Vienna Museum at Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria.

That color! I would really like to take my eyeballs out of my head and just roll them around in it, coat them like you do a sugar cookie, and then pop them back so that color can seep into me. It’s so glorious, especially in these very gray NYC days. Tomorrow I’m going to a special event at MoMA, 1.5 hours of silence on the 4th and 5th floor galleries, ending in a guided meditation (in front of Monet’s “Water Lilies,” I think). That ought to help too.

My dear sister-friend Peggy gave me the suggestion to make a long list (25 items on mine) of small things I could do, simple things, nourishing things, and you know, when you’re mentally flat and blank the problem is that nothing feels do-able anyway, much less thinking up a list of things. But with her help I did, and daily art is doable. If you are prone to depression, make your list when you’re not depressed, it’s much easier.

3)  Another bit of art stolen from a friend’s FB (this time from beautiful Kathy, who understands so much):

This is not an age of beauty,
I say to the Rite-Aid as I pass a knee-high plastic witch
whose speaker-box laugh is tripped by my calf
breaking the invisible line cast by her motion
sensor. My heart believes it is a muscle

of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood?

This morning, I found myself
awake before my alarm & felt I’d been betrayed

by someone. My sleep is as thin as a paper bill
backed by black bars of coal that iridesce
indigo in the federal reserve of

dreams. Look, I said to the horse’s
head I saw severed & then set on the ground, the soft
tissue of the cheek & crown cleaved with a necropsy
knife until the skull was visible. You look more
horse than the horses

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

against the drizzle. You once had a name
that filled your ears like amphitheaters,
that caused an electrical

spark to bead to your brain. My grief was born
in the wrong time, my grief an old soul, grief re-
incarnate. My grief, once a black-winged

beetle. How I find every excuse to indulge it, like a child
given quarters. In the restaurant, eating alone,

instead of interrogating my own
solitude, I’m nearly undone by the old
woman on her own. The window so filthy,

it won’t even reflect her face, which must not be the same
face she sees when she dreams

of herself in the third person.

– “Age of Beauty” by Emilia Phillips

What a wonder art is. Thank you to everyone who puts it into the world.

three things: 12/27/16

1) Headaches, of which I am the chief taxonomist, the God of Knowing, the Linneaus, the Webster. My dad was a headache-haver, I am the inheritor of that misery, and my daughter Katie carries it on another generation. I have a headache nearly every single day, and know the specifics and instigator of so many. There’s the one that exists in the top of my left eyeball (and the very different one that dominates my right eyeball). The one that sits on the top center of my head. The one that presses on my right temple. The one that wraps like a belt. The one that comes from a low pressure system. The one that arises from smells in the environment. The one that comes from specific bad sleep. The different one that comes from insufficient sleep. The one that comes from perfume or cologne worn by others. The one that I get when it’s too cold. Etc. Etc. Etc. The one that’s treated with hot, wet cloths. The one that’s treated with Sumatriptan. The one that’s helped by beer and a Sudafed (only if both at once). The one that’s helped by massage. The one that’s helped by sleep. The one that is helped by nothing. And all combinations of all.

People want to help, and I inevitably hear that I should go to a doctor. But the issue is that I am a headache-haver, and that isn’t treatable. I know how to identify and treat the different ones, so what would a doctor say? You have sinus headaches, tension headaches, sleep-related headaches, you’re sensitive to volatile organic compounds, all of which I already know. It’s a terrible thing, being a headache-haver, because my day can be derailed so easily and often there is nothing to do but wait for the next day in the hope that it’ll be better. This part of the post brought to you by today’s low-heavy-shaggy-gray-sky-headache. I was in my mid-20s when I learned that not everyone has a headache every single day, and it blew me away. Lucky you, if you don’t!

I have 953 pictures of just him, and only 6 of those are from the past 13 years. I always loved this one, he is so beautiful.

2) My son is breaking my heart anew. I got a message from his ex-boyfriend about a box of Will’s stuff — did I want it, or should he throw it away? It’s filled with pictures from Will’s childhood, mementos, gifts I gave him, an album his sister assembled with pictures and letters from us all when she was trying to lead him back to our family, all just abandoned by him. I’m honestly not sure I can bear to collect them, but I know I can’t bear for them just to be tossed in the dump on Staten Island and so I will collect them. They will smell like Will. He told me that Will lost his job in the spring and he doesn’t know if/where he’s working, and that he doesn’t have the same phone number. He knows he is (at the moment) staying with a friend in Sunnyside, Queens, but nothing more specific than that. The thread is getting so weak that allows me to tug him, frayed down to a single twist. Will knows he is hurting me, and that doesn’t make my pain any less, it doesn’t allow me to just reside in anger at him. I still fill the weight of him in my arms, smell the smell of his baby head, smell the smell of his teenage years, hear the sound of his boy voice and his deep man voice. I still remember his humor, his pleasure in beating me at Scrabble, the way he called me Ma just to crack me up. The way he said I’d be Granma Pete instead of just Pete, to make me laugh. It’s holding the full complexity of it all that breaks my heart. If I could simply be furious with him, or let him go, or just feel all the love, it would be so much easier.

3) I’ve been trying to sit very still and quiet with this terrible feeling in order to understand it. I set aside the headache as its own thing, and focus instead on the heartache. Why is it so painful? What, exactly, is the feeling of it? I realized that I feel chaotic and not whole, that this feeling is one of fragmentation, and an inability to cohere. It might cohere if I had a simple story I could tell, if I had more answers (whatever they might be) than questions, if I had a simple set of feelings. Just grief, for example. My mind feels like threads exploded outwards, my body doesn’t feel whole and comfortable, and my feelings are all over the place, changing with my breath. I’m doing my best just to let this all be, to be present with it and not try to force it into one category, one thing, and to notice that I can do that. Super hard, y’all. Super, super, super hard. I keep suddenly standing up and preparing to walk somewhere, but I just take a few steps, turn around, hold my head, and sit down again. This is just part of life, it’s just part of my life, it just is, and it will not always be like this.

Another happy birthday for me

Where I started. Graham Texas, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should've put a blanket over me!
Where I started. Graham, TX, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should’ve put a blanket over me!

 

This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,

 

We went back to Vietnam, and to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Thailand.

happy me, in Tam Coc
happy me, in Tam Coc Vietnam, in one of my favorite places: on a little boat in a gorgeous landscape

We went to southern China.

happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo
happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo — I was drunk on those karst mountains, man.

We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

happy, flying around Manistique Lake
happy, flying around Manistique Lake, getting to be part of a place that was important in Marc’s life.

Next week we’re off to Laos again, and back to that same tiny fishing village in Thailand.….so only the happy anticipation of that trip properly belongs with this year of my life.

My family grew so much this year!

Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn't know Lucy would be coming, too.
Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn’t know Lucy would be coming, too.

My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.

happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan's life
happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan’s life
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.

My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.

so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl
so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl, applet of my eye
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together, and listening to him call me Pete.

The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.

I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.

happy and crying, my steady companion combo
happy and crying, my steady companion combo, but especially present as I voted.

I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.

I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).

I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.

cindy
getting mehndi with my Cindy; I thought about using the photo of us celebrating my birthday together, but I liked the rhyme of “mehndi with my Cindy.”
don
my darling, precious friend Don, who calls himself (and is, in my life) my Jewish father.
girls
A subset of the “book club” women, my dear friends. Some are missing from this picture, (Anne, Diane, Jen….) but always with me otherwise.
nancy
Nancy, my boon companion and quirt-wielder and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
sherlock
Sherlock, one of my oldest, dearest friends. I wish I had a picture with Peggy.

This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.

from the first batch, eaten with Sherlock
the first dozen, eaten with Sherlock
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Marc's surprise for my early birthday celebration. He knows me. :)
Marc’s surprise for my early birthday celebration. 🙂
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.

I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.

park-snow
my beautiful park during the epic snowstorm
parksummer
and on any day in the spring, summer, or fall
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once

I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:

I cry no matter how many times I read it.
I cry no matter how many times I read it.

I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.

Fifty-eight. Amazing.
Fifty-eight. Amazing.

Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.

Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox

the nature of it all

pushmepullyouRemember the Pushmi-Pullyu? It came to my mind this morning when I was reflecting on something I have been thinking about the last few days, which means it also comes up in conversation (with Nancy, yesterday) and in the way I think about various things I see. When the same kind of thought arises from such a wide and varying range of things, I notice.

  • My friend Cindy posted something on Facebook, a reminder to lower your shoulders, relax your jaw, breathe in and out — and this is a reminder I make to myself dozens of times each and every day. Dozens, literally. Every single day, without fail. Why don’t my bodily habits ever get it?
  • I keep finding myself drawn into an eddy of big worry about one thing or another . . . my lack of work, different details and concerns in my kids’ lives . . . and have to stop myself. Again and again and again.
  • Beautifully arranged sketchbooks like this fly past in my Instagram feed and I want to stop everything and just draw . . . but I remember that I don’t have this specific kind of talent, even as I have learned how to draw.

drawing

What pulls these things together? It’s an underlying pull toward finality, toward stasis, toward a sense that the fact that I have to revisit the same thing over and over means I haven’t “got it” yet. (And I’m not missing the humor in my frustration over not “getting it” that I don’t “get it.”)

This IS getting it. You learn things as many times as you need to learn them, and I think an essential part of human experience is this pushing-pulling experience. It’s like the lesson I learn every time I practice tree pose: Balance is not a static state. OH what an incredible lesson. When I’m in tree pose, my standing foot and my body are negotiating tiny shifts to stay in balance. This does not mean I’m doing it wrong, this is the nature of balance.

And so I resist my still-there impulse toward little concrete boxes:

  • “What’s wrong with me that I still raise my shoulders and clench my jaw all the time? STOP IT!”
    • My shoulders rise and my jaw clenches and I notice and make a shift.
  • Must fix these problems so I quit worrying about them! Or else just quit worrying!
    • It’s OK. Breathe, and open my hands. Do what’s possible.
  • I’ll never be a ‘real’ artist so don’t waste any time on it!
    • I don’t have to be. If I make myself happy that’s enough.

Perhaps this isn’t human nature so much as it’s just my nature, a built-in tendency toward, and expectation of, finality and certainty. It does seem central to my nature, to my temperament, or maybe it isn’t but struggling against it doesn’t help. Opening my hands, accepting, letting it be, and not running off into stories about it does help. It’s OK, Lori. Breathe, lower your shoulders, relax your jaw. Draw, if you want to draw; knit, if you want to knit; bake, if that’s what you want to do. Seek solutions to the worries that keep returning, and remember that a problem-solving stance usually helps. Welcome those little muscle shifts in foot and body, they are the thing itself.

And remember this, too: it’s not all lost. It’s never all lost, as long as your heart beats. Over the last few months I’ve once again lost the thread of my happiest way of living my life. Through the stress of the end of Katie’s pregnancy and Lucy’s arrival, through the terror of the political cycle we’re in, and through my ongoing efforts to find a way to hold onto consistency in my TX-NY life, I’ve lost my daily commitment to yoga, to meditation, to my kind of eating (especially that), to daily walking, to openness. It’s not just that my body is heavier, that my clothes are too tight, though those things are true; it’s that I’ve lost my connection to being present in the moment. So? I’ve fallen out of tree pose. OK.

Today I recommit myself to my mindfulness practice. To silence around me, to doing one thing at a time, to my beautiful food, to my nightly walk, to my yoga practice. Shoulders down, honey. Turn up the corners of your mouth, sweetheart. Open those hands, with the long, beautiful fingers. And take a deep, deep breath.

 

on the misnomer of “mentally ill”

meBefore I say anything else, I’ll claim it: I deal with mental illness. I’m not embarrassed by that, or ashamed of it, and I don’t think it means I’m weak, or broken, or less-than anyone in the world. This simply is, in the same way that I am tall, I have blue eyes, and my smile is gummy. All that simply is. (That doesn’t mean I’ve always been accepting of and happy about those things, except the blue eyes, but they’re all true whether I am happy and accepting of them or not. They simply are true of me.)

But I do very much take issue with two things: the idea that this relates to weakness or brokenness, and the terminology. I assume this was first termed “mental” illness to contrast it with “physical” illness — as if those are discrete, non-overlapping islands of experience — but my own experience, and the experiences of others I know, relate more to a framing as an emotional or psychological illness. I’m not sure what bugs me so much about framing all these struggles as mental illness, exactly, but I do think it’s the apparent separation from physical, which is mystifying, and also that it just drifts too far away from the experience, which then means people are on the wrong track when they try to understand others.

If I told you I suffer with an emotional illness, what would you ask me? Are you sad? Are you anxious? Are you scared? Do you feel despair? Do you feel like it’s too hard? Those questions get right at the nub of it, don’t they? Yes, when my depression is with me again, I am sad, and scared, and I feel despair, and like it’s too hard. When I answer those questions you understand something about me. I could also tell you that my brain chemicals are wacky, but what do you do with that, exactly? That’s a potential treatment approach that a doctor might help me with, but it doesn’t tell anyone anything.

And then there are other kinds of emotional/psychological illness, some of which I also deal with but have learned to keep closer to my chest because they are too frequently misunderstood. I’m not being cagey about them, and again I don’t think they mean I am broken or weak or less-than anyone, but they require more careful language and much more careful listening (and frankly, it’s the more-careful listening that’s the biggest problem). I’m talking here about different kinds of psychosis, for example, some of which are transient, some of which are nevertheless understood by the person in the midst of the experience, and some of which are devastating and debilitating, like the real tragedy of schizophrenia. People are starting to talk more openly about psychosis, and if you don’t know her already, Elyn Saks is an extraordinary woman with schizophrenia that roared forward while she was a student at Yale. Her memoir, The Center Cannot Hold, is exceptionally good at letting you see that illness from the inside, and her TED talk will leave you amazed. I saw her speak in NYC and with the rest of the audience, listened with my mouth open, in amazement.

But even more than my wish that these experiences were called “emotional illness” instead of “mental illnesses,” I wish they were conceptualized differently. They do not mean that we are broken. They do not mean that we are weak. They certainly don’t mean we are less than anyone else who does not have these experiences. Having these experiences simply means that we have these struggles, these painful experiences, these difficulties to deal with. Maybe they become so debilitating that it’s hard to keep a job, but much more often they simply mean that we suffer, and we too often feel all alone with that suffering. I hate that. I won’t draw the kinds of parallels that people usually draw with a physical illness (most often to diabetes or cancer, both of which people are also blamed for, at times….), but I will say that the suffering is real. If you know that someone you love is suffering and you dismiss it, well, you might want to examine that a little bit.

I do suffer. Partly I suffer even without emotional illness because I feel everything so intensely, and because I truly think that to live my life the best way I possibly can, that’s what I’m here to do. I’m not here just to deeply experience the “happy” bits, and to shunt off all the rest as quickly as I can. I’m definitely not here to take the position that well, that doesn’t serve me so I won’t feel it. I think it all serves us, and deepens us, and allows us to grow and learn more about who we are. And so I suffer when my experience is painful. AND I suffer quite terribly from periodic and chronic depression, and sometimes from suicidality. AND I suffer from PTSD, which also includes some strange experiences I’ll write about one of these days. And you know what? Not only do I reject anyone’s notion that therefore I’m weak, I instead say (with a bit of a fuck-you attitude) that actually, I’m stronger than most people I know. I’m strong enough to go there. I’m strong enough to come back. I’m strong enough to stand there and look at it in the face. I’m strong enough to go from here to there:

Yep. Strong enough to go from there to there and back again, strong enough to endure and get richer, and sometimes just strong enough to survive it. Strong enough not to be broken by the pain and sorrow and struggle. It’s the opposite of weak to sit inside that suffering, man, and anyone who has ever been there will give a very loud AMEN to that.

Can I get an amen on that up in here?
Can I get an AMEN on that up in here?