things I have gotten used to

About a year before my life fell completely apart in October, 2012, I finally came to a bit of peace about the fact that I was going to live in New York the rest of my life, at the same address no less. (This irony is not lost on me…) Before I found that peace, I’d been too afraid to relax and believe, because I thought that if I did, if I let my guard down, the pain would be too great when I lost it. So I had just about a year of relaxing, thinking aaah, OK, I won’t ever have to move again.

And then of course I had to move again, move #81 at least. For some very good reason, I didn’t turn on myself with recrimination and self-loathing — idiot, see? You should never have fallen for that. That would’ve been so me. Maybe everything around me was just in such agony and confusion that I didn’t have the energy to spare to hate myself for having believed that.

Then last June, when I started changing my life, I entered into a period of peace, by which I don’t mean inner peace but rather the peace of not having disasters and tragedies happening around me. Nothing bad was going on for me, or for anyone I love. It was weird. It kept going. That felt weirder and weirder. Once I felt unsettled by it because I didn’t know how to understand such a prolonged period without trouble.

This morning I realized that my life is still peaceful and I’m just used to it. It’s no longer noteworthy. I’m not afraid that it’ll end — probably because I know it will. Or, rather, it will be interrupted. Trouble will come to me and/or people I love, because that’s how it goes, but peace will return too.

Here’s a short list of things I’ve become accustomed to now:

  • peace, outer and inner
  • my body, which no longer looks temporary in its shape
  • daily exercise (what?)
  • my poetry group; I didn’t get anxious before they came the last two months because I am just used to them and know it’ll be great
  • my circle of women
  • eating well, the way I want. Of course that is regularly interrupted, when I go to NY and on vacation to places that heavily feature meat, like Colombia (whose motto ought to be ‘All Meat All The Time!’). But when it’s my choice, I’m so used to eating well that it’s my go-to selection.
  • Austin. I wasn’t used to this kind of life when I moved back, and didn’t think I could adjust to small-town living. It did take a while, and there were times it was hard, but I’ve gotten used to it and feel in its groove now, and love it again.
so much captured in this picture of my book club: the ease and safety of this group of women, my comfort in Austin, and the expectation of a peaceful life
so much captured in this picture of my book club: the ease and safety of this group of women, my comfort in Austin, and the expectation of a peaceful life

Of course this isn’t a list of things I’m grateful for — that would start off with my daughters and their families. The deal is I’ve always been used to them, unafraid that I’d lose them. And that’s just the best thing.

Speaking of, I get to spend a couple of days and tonight at Katie’s. All that delicious time with my daughter, and with Oliver, lucky lucky me. I hope you are having a period of peace, I hope you have something wonderful planned for the day, and if that’s not true for you at this moment just remember that it will be true again. xo

ecstasy, then laundry

laundryThe post title is a straight-on reference to the title of a book by Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  I was thinking about this yesterday when I woke up, actually, and then as my challenging day unfolded it came front and center. I’ll start at the beginning.

I’ve been staying up too late the last several nights for a variety of reasons, and then sleeping a bit late each morning. It’s not my best rhythm, and when it’s combined with the incessantly gloomy skies we’ve had, it’s not my best head, either. So I woke up late and as I lay in bed doing my morning ritual, reflecting on what I wanted from the day ahead, I felt so flat, so uninspired. Even less than that. So I was thinking about this as a natural part of life: the exciting newness of a change is gone now, and the days are still the same kind of days. Of course. That’s one great thing about change at the beginning — at least the kind of change you seek out on purpose — it revitalizes you and disrupts the ordinariness. For a while, until it also becomes ordinary.

And while I am so very far from enlightenment, I do sit at the foothills of the trail that leads to the path that eventually takes you to the highway that ends up, eventually, at that bodhi tree. At least I have some new skills to help me deal with things. That’s enough.

So I finished my morning ritual, went into the kitchen to make my coffee — another very pleasurable ritual, that — and then turned on my computer, only to find that I had been pretty seriously hacked by someone in Germany. My browser was changed to google.de, and I had been locked out of all my email accounts. While I was in the midst of dealing with all that, which brought its own traumatic memories of our being hacked so horribly in NYC, a friend called with a personal crisis that was just close enough to one I’d had in my life that it rattled my bones. Like a 10 on the Richter scale level of rattling. When I hung up the phone with her, my whole body was shaking and I couldn’t stop pacing in circles. Marc called and I talked to him and broke down crying, remembering my own situation from 2005.

When we hung up, I knew what I needed to do. I changed into my yoga clothes and hit the mat for a vinyasa flow class. I needed to find my way back to the present, back to now, and back to my own body and breath. At the beginning of class my mind wouldn’t stay with me, despite the fact that the class moved quickly and demanded a lot of me, required me to think carefully about positioning my body and breathing. By the end of the hour, as we moved into savasana, I still wasn’t there all the way. I lay there and my old experience was in me so deeply that tears ran down both sides of my face, just missing my ears, in a steady stream. I tried to relax into the earth and just be, and my mind was not still. Then the teacher told a story I’d never heard, about the origin of the pose:

shivashaktiWhen Shiva first saw Shakti, he was so completely struck by her beauty that he fell backwards and lost all desire for anything but that moment. She walked towards him and danced on his stomach, and he had no awareness beyond the moment.

I can’t find that story online anywhere, but it’s so lovely, and it helped me in my roiling moment. I felt Shakti dancing on my own stomach, I felt the ground under my shoulders, and head, and bottom, legs, feet, hands. I felt my breath raising and lowering my chest, and my face and jaw relaxed. It was better.

But it wasn’t behind me all the way, and my shower didn’t move it, breathing didn’t relax it, just feeling the feelings didn’t relieve me into the present moment, a pizza and craft beer at my favorite place in Austin didn’t wash it away. I came home, did the laundry, opened my computer, worked, and lived another day of my life.

022515And that’s what it is. Life is sometimes like that. Inner experiences can whammy you, sucker punch you, just when you least expect them. Spiritual efforts like mindfulness, yoga, meditation, (pizza and beer…..consumed mindfully!) don’t magically wipe everything away. They aren’t magic wands, they don’t eliminate difficulty. But they do help, and they do give me a way to approach difficulty so that I might get something from it instead of just being tormented by it — a seed of wisdom, a connection to the suffering of others, a deeper awareness of my own experience, a more peaceful body. An ability to hold it and know I can hold it, and still engage the world with openness and kindness.

And that’s pretty good.

I do it my way

“You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.” ~Pema Chodron

I’ve been steadily meditating on that idea since last June, and it fits so beautifully — of course — with the focus on mindfulness that has also been part of my life since June. Meditation and mindfulness help you develop an ability to be in the present and simply allow what is, to be what is. (Newsflash: it is anyway, whether you ‘allow’ it or not.) The blue sky is your clear mind, which is always available even when the sky is filled with storm clouds of stories and emotions. Your clear mind is there, behind it all. It’s available to you.

If you’re lucky, the stormy weather is ordinary. A too-busy schedule that leaves you resentful and overwhelmed. Drudgery that leaves you frustrated or resentful. A bit of trouble with a friend that leaves you feeling abandoned or hurt. A project you’re behind on that makes you fearful you might lose your job. Various issues with the kids, your spouse. Those ordinary things can feel pretty big from time to time, but they’re great to practice on. Having a clear mind and not getting swept away by the stories and emotional overwhelm can be helpful (and it certainly feels better). Sometimes ‘what is’ is dire, of course — your loved one is dying, or facing harrowing treatment. Your child has to be hospitalized and the prognosis is scary. Your child is going through anything dreadful, actually. You find a lump and you have a family history. I am so so sorry, and the fact that your clear mind — the blue sky — is available to you is probably not too helpful right then no matter how much practice you’ve done, although it’s good if you can find some of it.

see? look at the bottom corner of the storm clouds...there's still blue sky behind it. There's always blue sky behind it. And the storm always passes, no matter how terrible it is.
See? Look at the bottom left corner of the storm clouds…there’s still blue sky behind it. There’s always blue sky behind it. And the storm always passes, no matter how terrible it is.

Sometimes the trouble simply comes from within. I can provide two examples from my own life of different kinds of trouble from within. The first is my son, and my heartache and anger and worry and heartache (worth saying twice) that he has again abandoned us all and refused to communicate with any of us for the last 19 months. That’s how long it’s been since he has said a single word to anyone. My heart aches, I miss him, I’m pissed off at him, I feel helpless, I cry a lot sometimes, I’ll get caught off guard by something that reminds me of him and I feel the devastation of his absence. I imagine he’ll never come back, that something bad will happen to him and I won’t know. My helplessness overwhelms me sometimes I want to lash out, yell at him, write my anger to him, howl to the sky. That’s an awful lot of weather, and here you can surely see that calling it ‘weather’ does not minimize the very real quality of these thoughts and feelings. But I’ll tell you this: meditation has honestly helped me with this. When those feelings and thoughts come, I open my hands and just sit with them. Heartache — I sit there with my hands open and feel the heartache. It hurts, and sometimes I cry. I let it be, I don’t grab it and clutch it to me, I don’t engage in battle with it, I don’t push it away because I don’t want to feel it. I feel it, it is, I remember that I am the sky and this is the weather, I take deep breaths, and the heartache begins to ease. It was a real feeling, it is a real feeling, but without all the story attached to it (stories of blame falling all around, stories of why he’s doing this, stories of the future) it’s a sorrowful and painful feeling, and it appears and is and then fades. It will come back, but I have felt it and it passed along and my clear mind returns.

In this way, actually, I have known the heartache more clearly than if I’d done something else with it. More clearly than if I put my energy into denying it (that doesn’t really work anyway). More clearly than if I sat there clutching it and embellishing it. More clearly than if I turned my head to imagine scenarios in the future. I know my heartache, I have felt it, it hurts, and it drifts away with the moments. It doesn’t stay with me as long as when I try the other approaches, and the more experience I have sitting with it, the sting is a little less, the crushing feeling becomes bearable — because I have born it. This is my heartache. I am stronger than it.

The other inside thing I’m having to sit with is an old memory that’s trying to resurface. For the last several days I’ve been suddenly consumed with anxiety so great my hands shake. My heart has been pounding so hard it can be difficult to breathe. It’s not a panic attack. I’ve been waking up throughout the night and each time my body holds a very specific kind of anxiety, gritty, filled with dread, sickening. I’ve been thinking I see a man standing in my bedroom. I have a pretty good guess what this memory is, but I don’t know yet. This kind of experience used to terrify me, because the things I already remembered were so terrible, how much worse must be the ones that I repressed? It doesn’t terrify me any more when this happens. A friend asked if I surely want to push it back down, build a wall around it, shut it down. But I don’t. I don’t look forward to remembering, but it’s my memory, from my life — not all of which has been great, but I don’t want to know only the super happy peppy stuff, that’s not my life, then. So instead of spinning out fantasies of what the memory might be (“to prepare myself”) or pushing against it, I’ve been dealing with the sudden periods of anxiety by sitting with them. Feeling them (it’s not fun). Allowing them to be. Remembering that I am the sky and this is just the weather. And knowing that I am stronger than them, I have born others, I can bear this, and it’s simply a memory of something, it isn’t real right now. What is real right now is that I am sitting in my living room in my own beautiful house in sunny Austin filled with strength and light and I know I can bear a memory. I know I can bear a feeling. I am strong. So I feel whatever there is to feel and it passes away. And maybe I’m left with a shadow, maybe I feel tired, but it passed like a storm and I will be OK if it comes again, until it’s done. And still then I will be the blue sky. And I deepen my emotional intelligence.

And one time it was simply too much, too big, my anxiety was so huge and I could not breathe and I took half a Klonopin. Because sometimes that’s how it is. That’s real. Meditation is a process, a practice, not a one-time-fix-all, but always always worth the effort. When the physical response stilled just a little bit, I was able to return to sitting and allowing it to be.

I am the blue sky. You are the blue sky. Everything else, it’s just the sometimes-shitty weather.

vibrate those wires please

not the best shot but I'm hurrying and would rather pick a goofy one of me than one that might not be someone else's best shot. My amazing, amazing friends who are also in our book club.
not the best shot but I’m hurrying and would rather pick a goofy one of me than one that might not be someone else’s best shot. My amazing, amazing friends who are also in our book club.

First: THANK YOU for what you did to help make my birthday the most special and happy one I’ve ever had. Calls, messages, emails, Facebook greetings and wishes, dinners, breakfasts, drinks, lunches, wonderful gifts and cards and smiles and hugs—the fortnight (which ends on the 11th! still celebrating!) has been absolutely magnificent so far. There will be happy birthday wishes tonight, and at least one celebration with a friend on the closing day of the fortnight (I giggle), and truly, this was the best birthday of my life. I wish the same for you on your next birthday.

that toddlin town
that toddlin town

Today I am off to Chicago for a lovely — even if way too short — visit with Marnie and Tom. I’ll go to the closing reception of a show that includes some of Marnie’s pieces AND is the release party for her latest book, we’ll eat a lot of amazing Chicago food, and we are going to a Barn Dance Apocalypse, more on that later! I’m not taking my computer so I won’t be posting again until I get home late Monday.

But before I leave I have a request. My wonderful friend Nancy has taught me a way to pray that works for me. She taught me to pray for divine harmony. I can do that! Of the many reasons I love it, one is that it helps me not act like the boss of the universe, for the truth is that I don’t know what’s best for anyone, including me necessarily! And sometimes the best has to travel a bit of a rocky road to get there, so the rocks are required.

I have a number of loved ones who are in the midst of hard and/or scary and/or painful things, so if you’d just add “Lori’s people” to your own list and keep the wires vibrating with me, I’d really appreciate it. I name them specifically in my own prayers so they’ll be covered by your shortcut. However you do it, whatever you reach out for — light, good things, divine harmony, intervention — makes no difference to me. Just add my people to your list please, and thank you.

And now, to the airport! I think it’s time to consider “the airport” my third home, don’t you?

the thing about trouble

I lived there for a long time!
I lived there for a long time!

Every day brings some kind of trouble, even if you’re in an ongoing period of real peace and happiness, as I am for the moment. I pulled something on my bottom right rib during a yoga pose three days ago and it really hurts, so I’m walking more instead of doing daily yoga, to give it time to heal. It hurts when I move, and I miss doing yoga. Boo hoo. Small potatoes trouble, to say the least. But still, my point is that there’s always something. The banana you were hoping to eat for breakfast is mostly bruised and black. Your hip aches. The cat puked. You were looking forward to dinner but turns out you don’t have the most important ingredient. Your basil patch has blight. Whatever. These small potatoes troubles are huge gifts.

And of course there are big troubles, which sometimes also clump up and assault you all at once. Cancer. Unexpected loss. Financial trouble. A what???? lawsuit filed against you. Tragedy. Trouble that stops your mind when it hits, and you cannot even process the words. Trouble that settles in to live with you for an unforeseeable future, and takes a crap in the corner now and then, depletes all your resources, and grabs you by the throat when you have a moment of thinking you might be OK after all.

It’s much harder to do this practice when the troubles are of life-and-death scale, so it’s good to work with it on the daily small potatoes stuff. Trouble comes  — I’ve pulled something around my rib and it really hurts — and I squinch away from it. I get upset. “Oh, great! And I was on such a great run of sticking to it!” I rush away from it in a variety of ways. If it’s emotional pain, my go-to place is the refrigerator. Someone wounds me with careless words, let’s say, and I hurt. I want that hurt to stop, to go away, because I don’t want to feel it. I distract myself, watch stupid TV — or more likely, I have the television on but I’m distracted and still swirling around the hurt. Maybe I encapsulate it, wall it off. Or maybe I dive in and wallow, and let the hurt become magnetic and draw every other hurt toward it. And boy have I missed a great opportunity to strengthen my trouble muscles.

There is another way, and practicing on the small stuff does help you when the bigger stuff hits. This I know, personally. You take a deep breath and settle down, and just sit with it. Those words hurt me terribly (let’s say), and I feel terrible. I feel betrayed (and for the sake of argument, let’s say it actually was a betrayal), my trust is hurt, maybe I’ve been wrong about how she felt about me. I hurt. Let me sit with this pain, let me just sit with this suffering. Let me sit here without trying to make it go away. And maybe it’s your pain and suffering I am sitting with, maybe I’m sitting next to you. Let me sit there with it, with you, without trying to make it go away. (I find it harder to do this than to sit with my own.) Let this open my heart. I see that I am strong enough to bear this, as it turns out. And my strength builds, just a little bit. I hurt, people hurt every single day. I share this experience with others in the world, and they share it with me. It’s part of being human. It is, it happened, I hurt, I can bear it, and I remember I am connected to everyone. I don’t have to create a story around it, I just stay with it.

ouch
ouch. but there at the bottom rib.

I’ve pulled something around my bottom right rib and it hurts. Here I sit with it, I see it and am present with it. I have been using my body in new ways, strengthening it, and it has felt wonderful. And now something is hurt, a little bit, and so I almost honor that by being present with it. Poor ligament, or tendon, or whatever is hurt. Let me take care of it, let me help my body every way I can. Let me help it heal. Let me continue to give my body movement and exercise, but of a different kind so my tiny injury can heal. My body is in its 56th year of carrying me around, and it’s done such a magnificent job. It created and delivered three people, and it has been strong and beautiful despite terrific neglect. It’s getting old(er) and this is part of what it means to have a body. Of course what’s underneath physical trouble is a fear of it all ending, a fear of acknowledging that life is finite. I think being able to sit with small pains gets you used to that idea. The more comfort I have around the knowledge that my body will fail in its ultimate way, that my life will end (in the future! in the distant future!!), the better I will be able to accept the endings to come, because they won’t be unfamiliar to me. It won’t be my first time trying to sit with that idea.

I remember when I had my own assault of terrible things hit all at once in the last quarter of 2012, among the most stressful events there are — the death of a child, end of a marriage, moving across the country, starting over from scratch. I remember doing my very best to stay open to it and to accept the feelings and be present with it, whatever it was. Of course the hardest part was doing that with Katie, whose pain I could not touch or ease in the slightest, but whose pain I was desperate to remove. The passing of time helped, the love and care of others helped, life finding its new normal helped, small happinesses helped, and my own strength to face it helped….and I became stronger and learned that I am strong inside. I learned I can stand there, sit there, lie there, and face it; not without flinching, not without sobbing, but I can face it and accept it in the moment. I learned that my family comes together to help each other, dropping everything. I learned that I’m actually much better alone than I ever dreamed I’d be, and that boy I can do this. I got the chance to create a new home for myself exactly as I wanted, something I’d never had the chance to do. I learned so very many things from such hideous experiences.

apropos of nothing, but beauty in the world
apropos of nothing but beauty in the world

Maybe you already do this, maybe you see difficulties and troubles as teachers — and not just in later-retrospect, but in the moment. (Even if you curse them as crappy teachers and why do you always have to be the student.) And maybe this sounds stupid and woo-woo to you, and maybe you think, Yeah, easy for you to say, you aren’t living with X and Y, like I am. And maybe you’re right about that! But it’s something that really helps me a lot, and I thought I’d mention it here in case it’s a new-ish idea to you. xoxoxo

what a world

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Whenever I say “what a world” I always think about that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy destroys the Wicked Witch. “What a world, what a world, who would’ve thought a good little girl could destroy my beautiful wickedness?”

On Tuesday I was talking with a very dear, dear friend and our conversation came around to the state of the world, which seems to be just absolutely horrible, doesn’t it? People slaughtering each other in the Middle East and eastern Europe, blood virus spreading, planes being shot out of the sky, our own political system a complete and total disaster and our country riven so badly it feels like a civil war is bubbling and one side is arming up. Eighty-five people own HALF the world’s wealth. Water is turned off to some people in a major US city. Giant holes are opening up in Siberia, global warming suspected.

And then, of course, something like this happens:

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I’d like to think that would happen in New York too, but I’m not all that sure. Go, people from Perth! Keep going.

I feel such despair when I look around. What could I possibly do about Israel/Gaza, Ukraine, ebola, US politics, the extraordinary inequality of wealth? I’m doing very well not to put toothpaste in my hair by mistake. (Note to myself: never again buy hair product in the same color tube as my toothpaste.) I think about all those inspirational people who remind us that one person really can make a difference in the world and cannot see any way that might apply to me, sitting in my chair in my living room and editing manuscripts.

So I think about what kind of extremely local impact I could have — extremely local. “They” say that putting good into the world has ripples, right? So I can respond rather than react; I can act with as much compassion for others as I can; I can try to help people in any way I can find; I can interact in a present way with others, and see the people who aren’t often seen. When I was in New Haven, Peggy and I were walking and whenever we passed someone sitting on the sidewalk begging, Peggy paused a second and spoke to them with kindness. She gave a bit of money. But what moved me was the way she paused and spoke to them. She saw them. I can do that. I can restrain myself from adding any grief to others’ lives, or to the world. I can manage my own anger, my own irritation and frustration, learn how to open my hands.

And so my tiny little efforts will have their tiny little ripples….and the world troubles that leave me in such despair will keep going. I just don’t know what to do. Do you? Where is the good little girl who can destroy all this trouble? Where is Dorothy?

the sky

blue skiesLast night I took a lovely long walk through my neighborhood. I was feeling kind of bad, unsettled, skinned-up a bit. Yesterday afternoon Marc and I took a walk together, him in Riverside Park and me in my neighborhood, us walking and talking together on FaceTime, showing each other the various sights, and I got out of breath. Man. That’s pretty sad. So I recommitted myself to daily walking and left my house last night while the skies were still pretty and blue and the clouds were white. We’ve had such beautiful weather the last few days and my walk was exactly what I needed — physically and emotionally.

Coincidentally, I was thinking about something Pema Chodron said. My friend Megan sent me an image with the thought on it last week, maybe because she remembered how much I love it.

pema

Do you know Pema? Here is her Amazon page that lists all her books, and I recommend any and all of them. The only one I haven’t read is How to Meditate. She’s an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition, and such a clear thinker. Her book When Things Fall Apart has been a touchstone for me, and like a touchstone I return to it again and again. You can also find a lot of her videos on YouTube, like this one which I love, on fear and fearlessness. You certainly do not have to be Buddhist to appreciate her thoughts, to find wisdom and truth in her insights (or those of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen monk).

But the brilliance of that insight — you are the sky, everything else, it’s just the weather — stays with me, although sometimes I forget. When I remember it, troubles drift away. When I think of the full range of troubles I’ve experienced in my life, whether they are enormous (like my childhood, and Gracie’s death) or frightening (like the thing still happening in the background) or our intensifying fears approaching Oliver’s birth, or brief interpersonal troubles, I know they appear and disappear. They arise and maybe they contain noise and light, thunder and lightning, and then they exhaust themselves and dissipate, blow away, and the blue skies are still and always there. Those clouds of worry and upset and fear drift through my mind and sometimes I forget that I am the blue sky behind it all.

That my mind and heart can be as clear and wide open as that sky. That they are as clear and wide open as that sky, and I forget to remember that the rest is just the weather.

eyes full of clouds
eyes full of clouds

Here — please just spend a couple of minutes listening to this wonderful little talk by Pema about this lousy world.

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But seriously, let’s ban the perfume.

mind and body

In graduate school I took a course called Psychosomatic Processes. The way the mind and body influence each other. I learned that cultures differ in psychosomatic illnesses; for instance, few people in Germany suffer with allergies, but they are high in instances of psoriasis. I thought it was interesting that cultures express psychologically-influenced illnesses differently. Before, I’d thought that allergies probably occurred at the same rate in countries with allergens, ditto psoriasis. Nope.

heartYou probably have your characteristic places where trouble, stress, upset, anxiety show up. For my husband, it’s his stomach. For me it’s my heart, and it always has been. That kind of chokes me up — my broken heart really does hurt. Sometimes it hurts so badly that I cannot stand up straight.

When my dad killed himself, I instantly felt like I’d been impaled through the chest. I was impaled through the chest, like a bug on a taxonomist’s pin, still alive and wriggling but stuck, forever. I couldn’t uncurl; even when I tried to stand up my chest was curled around my fist, trying to absorb the blow, and I was bent at the waist.

Do you know about takotsubo cardiomyopathy? It’s also called broken heart syndrome. It’s a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one. People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they’re having a heart attack. In broken heart syndrome, there’s a temporary disruption of your heart’s normal pumping function, while the remainder of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. The apex of the left ventricle balloons out. I imagine that’s what happened to me when my dad died. It was absolutely physical, not at all “just in my head,” and it was such a profound representation of my emotional state.

Throughout the years, intense stress manifests itself in me as chest pain, heart pain. I press my right fist into my sternum, imagining that will bring relief. The funny thing is that I think my dad must have had the same response. When he was very upset, he’d have his hand on his chest in a funny way that always made me think he had probably cut his wrist. I think he was just pressing on his sternum in the same way I do.

In New York, during a prolonged period of intense chest pain I found a wonderful physician who specialized in gender-specific health (and this is an enormous concern where the heart is concerned, and that was her specific specialty). I kept saying over and over to my husband and then to her that it was nothing, it was just pain. I’d said that my whole life — “don’t worry, it’s just pain.” They both said over and over in response that “just pain” can still cause damage. “Just pain” can kill you in so many different ways. She told me about takotsubo cardiomyopathy, that it’s named after an octopus trap of all things because the ballooning ventricle looks like an octopus trap. That it occurs most often in women, whose hearts, I suppose, are more susceptible to breaking.

To me there is something so deeply poetic and perfect about that, and it’s not an accident that we talk the way we do — broken heart, heartache, fear in the pit of my stomach, etc. Emotions really do dwell in our bodies and in certain places, and that’s why we talk in that way. It can’t be a coincidence that women who were raped or molested as children are more likely to suffer with IBS, are more likely to get cancers of the organs in the pelvic region. That may be poetic injustice, but it is still poetic. You suffer where the hurt is.

Stress also tightens my jaw and shrugs my shoulders, fear hits me in my gut, but deep emotion punches me in the heart. I imagine you have your own characteristic place where trouble lives in your body.

No octopus trap for me today, or yesterday, and I hope not tomorrow. But I know it will return. My heart is distributed among so many people so it’s vulnerable to breaking.

xo

being in this world

Trey and Oliver (aka mini-Trey) getting some one-on-one time. Lots of love there.
Trey and Oliver (aka mini-Trey) getting some one-on-one time. Lots of love there.

We’ll all be catching up on sleep and back-to-the-real-worldness for the next few days; for Katie and Trey, the catching-up will take a whole lot longer. I think a person could get more rest on the median strip of a busy highway than in a hospital. I know that nurses are doing their jobs and I’m glad for it, but every little bit throughout the night they burst in and turn on lights and just start talking as if it’s the middle of the day — and when there is a new mom and a new baby, twice as many reasons to check in. My sweet Katie and Trey are so exhausted, when they get home and get to sleep more than 20 minutes without interruption it will be a tremendous help. If ever there was a floor where the patients ought to be interrupted as little as possible, it would be the maternity floor for heaven’s sake. Poor exhausted kids. I want to go to their house the day after they get home and just be there to tend to Oliver while they sleep sleep sleep, and I can hand Oliver in for a feeding and bring him quickly out and let them sleep sleep sleep some more. That would do more for them than anything else.

I’ve gotten a couple nights of sleep and finally, yesterday mid-morning, I started feeling like a regular human being hallelujah. You walk around in the world not even noticing that it’s a thing to be grateful for, feeling like a regular human being, until you hit the wall and would give anything to feel like that. So yay, getting enough rest to feel baseline!

Over the last couple of days I’ve had reason to think about one of my favorite subjects. There are different ways of seeing the world, of being in the world, on any topic. Unless it makes you utterly miserable or hurts others, it doesn’t matter one bit which way you go — you do what makes sense to you, what works for you. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just a different way of looking at or understanding the exact same thing. Different ways of being.

katie and oliver
sweet Katie and sweet Oliver (how could he be anything but sweet with those parents?)

The first thing that made me think about this came about — as it often does — when I watched my daughter Katie. This has been true for an incredibly long time with her. I remember thinking about this throughout our (her) year-long period of grief, through both her pregnancies, through both deliveries, and now through her post-partum period with Oliver. It didn’t just start then, but all these experiences left me in a kind of awe of her strength and solid power. Katie just does not complain. Through her pregnancies she had the normal troubles, sometimes to a great degree. Extraordinarily long morning sickness with Gracie (all 9 months, more or less); excruciating pelvic pain for months with Oliver. But you know, she just manages it and doesn’t complain. During her long labor and her recovery, no complaining. Not once. There’s something about Katie that blows me away, she endures what she needs to endure because she does, and she may mention it briefly in passing, or if asked, but that’s it. It’s just what she needs to do. I said this to her in the hospital and she kind of laughed and said Trey would disagree, but I’m right. Maybe she complains about little this or that, inconsequential things, but when it gets hard she goes quiet and does what she needs to do. She is deeply emotional, and in a complex way; it’s just that when the going gets tough, she pulls in, hunkers down, and does what she needs to do without any fanfare.

OR there’s my way, which is to pull the curtain aside and show the machinery. I talk about it, write about it, explore it and share it, and I have well thought-out reasons for that stance but I think it’s also just more my way, who I am. Still, I admire Katie’s way a lot, and find myself wanting to be more like her. Her way feels like strength and courage and solidity, to me. It isn’t that I think I whine, I don’t think I’m a whiny complainer, but it’s a different way of being, a different way of thinking about suffering and how to respond, and I admire her. Of course there are good and bad aspects to both — if you just suffer in silence and keep it all in, you might suffer more than you need to, you might get into a kind of trouble that would be avoided if others knew more about how you were feeling during difficult times. On the other side, if you talk or write a lot about the hard stuff, it might make it larger and more real in your mind and heart and become a greater concern than it would be if you just quietly let it ride. I share my troubles because they are true and real and I think we all have troubles and sometimes feel all alone with them, so perhaps my experience can help someone feel less alone. But gee, I admire Katie so much.

The second experience that made me think about it came on Saturday night when I had dinner with a friend and we were talking about the general subject of generosity of spirit. She is extraordinarily generous in spirit, and I believe I am, too. We both know people who keep mental balance sheets, people who [for whatever reason] are small in that way, as we see it. She and I give of ourselves because we just want to, it flowers out of who we are, and then we move on. You’ll never get a listing of What All I Have Done For You from either one of us. It’s no big deal, it is just who we are, like she has blond hair and I have brown hair, she is tiny and I am tall. Just who we are. We’ve both been in relationships with friends and family and lovers who were not like that at all. When a relationship is ending, that way of being in the world can really show itself. So we were talking about that contrast, and how hard it can eventually become to remain generous of spirit when the other person is clinging and taking taking taking. She and I might respond in kind, but not for long because it just feels so bad, it makes us feel worse. We’re human (boy are we) so we will lash out or whatever, but ick. Being that way feels awful to us.

Our conversation turned to how to interact with people who have that other kind of response. To keep being generous of spirit and letting go can make you feel like a chump, taken advantage of, even perhaps stupid. But what do you do? Do you behave for the world you want to live in, or the actual world? Her ongoing generosity is not at all going to modify (even a bit) the behavior of the one she’s dealing with. Nor would it for people who were in my life. It’s easy enough — and maybe a valid response — to withhold when dealing with tight-hearted people, and be generous otherwise. Maybe that’s smart. That’s living in the actual world. Or do you blossom yourself into the world in the belief that it does change things, it’s the only way things can change, even if you don’t see it in each and every person? This is a big question, applicable to all kinds of behaviors and ethics beyond generosity, though all kinds of things fall under the umbrella of ‘generosity’ if you think about it. Of course I fail much more often than I succeed, but I think I throw my chit in the “behave for the world I want to live in” bowl. I may get punked/chumped/lose on occasion and that will feel pretty crappy, but whatever, right? Those things happen anyway.

A sweet little family of three is supposed to go home today, and I’d give anything to watch from afar as they put their little boy in the car seat and drive him — carefully, so carefully — home. As they walk through their front door with their long-awaited child, as they greet their dogs who will surely be bewildered by the new member of the house. As they relax and feel so glad to be home, as they walk into their bedroom and place their little boy gently, so gently, into his bed. As they look at each other and feel the way their home has just changed. I’d love to see that, and I can easily remember every single one of those feelings (except the dogs, we had a sweet stray cat that Katie soon named “The Old Bad Kitty”), and the memory is the sweetest sweetest thing. Happy Monday, everyone, the last day of March. The first quarter of this year is ending, how fast it’s going. xo

bleak house

I never read the book, Bleak House, nor did I see the show. I am not feeling particularly bleak in a desperate way, by any means, but it just feels like a bleak time. It’s taking a lot of focus to help myself not feel fragmented, like I’m just bits of dark thread flying through cold, hellish winds. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, I don’t feel dramatic about it, but there is something of that general sense. My default feeling right now is not steady, it’s not calm and centered, it’s not chill. Chilly maybe, but not chill.

my favorite park, no matter the weather
my favorite park, no matter the weather

My time in New York was strange. It was very cold and our block looks especially terrible right now. All the buildings (including ours) are covered in scaffolding, and there are giant dumpsters up and down the block to go with the construction. There are little messy frozen mounds of gray leftover snow, filthy. Throughout the week, our street was dug up. One day a giant asphalt saw went up the length of the block, and then back down the length, sawing parallel lines. (nb: asphalt saws are loud.) The next day the backhoe moved in to dig up the street between the parallel lines. The machine would hack out a chunk, and then pound on the chunk to smash it into smaller bits. And so the street itself is nasty and filthy. The open trench is covered with metal plates, the length of the block, so when cars drive down our block they rattle the plates. It’s been a very disgusting NYC week, the kind we all put up with now and then — usually in parts, like just the scaffolding — and it came during gray, nasty, bitter weather with no days of brilliant sunshine.

And then the backroom stuff I’m dealing with, one thing happened on Thursday as expected, and the next day I met with new professionals who are going to help, and that’s all good but similar stuff is happening for my husband who is struggling a lot about it all. That’s all pretty bleak.

Usually when I’m in New York I go here and there, do things, see people, etc. Usually when I’m in New York Marc and I go out to eat a couple of times. This time, though, except for seeing my beautiful Traci twice, and going to meet my new professionals, I never left the apartment. I got here Friday night, put on my pajamas, and only took them off those three times. There’s something nice and cozy about hanging out in pajamas, but maybe I did it too long, I don’t know.

It’s not like everything around me is in trouble, as it was earlier in January. But I just feel at odds, wrong and frazzled. Lots to get done, enough time? Not enough work, some? It’s an odd time. Get it together, February.

Heading home to Austin today, can’t wait to see those peeps. Love you all, wherever you are.

how to live in trouble

troubleThere are all kinds of trouble in life, obviously. Some are acute — BAM! in and out, over. Those can be dizzying and you may be left in the wake, jaw hanging open. What just happened?!

Others drag out and take on a kind of chronicity that is wearing and difficult for that reason alone, not to mention the trouble itself. I think I’ve lived all the versions. Lucky me. 🙂

Here are the things I’ve learned from my own experiences and from those of others who have lived through chronic trouble of some kind:

  • It will be a long battle, probably, but there are prolonged periods where nothing is happening. During those periods, rest and just live. Let the thing slip out of my mind as best I can — and really let that happen!
  • Trust in the outcome. For the people I know, outcomes all fell in their favor in a variety of ways, and mine may not but I do not know and there is no point in living these months AS IF the worst has already happened.
I am in there somewhere, between the teeth of the gears
I am in there somewhere,
between the teeth of the gears

I can pretty much bet the bank that I’ll struggle with the second one. I will try. But the first one seems manageable, and critical. My situation is now winding its way through the big machine of chronic, long-term trouble, moving through the gears and belts and cogs, and it is underway. In all the long periods of waiting, my life in this present moment is still there for me, and being present in what’s actually happening will keep me going. For most of the days I will just be at home, living my ordinary life. For most of the days I will have my morning ritual, I will make my coffee and watch the little birds out my kitchen window. For most of the days I will have friends to see, poetry to read and my poetry group to enjoy, books to read and my book club to relish. For most of the days I will have my daughters to enjoy and love, and Oliver to anticipate (and then love), and all the pleasures of a new member in my little family. For most of the days I will make decisions about what to eat and whether to get out for a walk, and it’ll be even more important than ever that I eat well and get exercise. For most of the days I will have decisions to make about how I spend my time, and it will be more important than usual that I make good decisions that help me — so indulging in anxiety and junk food and junk life makes no sense for now. I’ll just put those on the back burner knowing I can pick them up later at any time . . . but for now, it’s not the thing to do. For most of the days, I will have to focus on work and getting work, and I cannot let that slide just because I’m in the midst of trouble.

I’ll take whatever you have to offer, and I am asking you for it. (This is a practice run on asking for help, but I mean it wholeheartedly). If you are a praying person, I ask you to pray for me. If you send light and wishes, please send light and wishes. If you hold energy and send it, please hold it and send it. I also ask for your patience with me if I am distracted, if I don’t get back to you as quickly as I have in the past. As Cyndi told me, right now I have to focus and take good care of myself and not worry about everyone else. I agree, and I also believe it’s important for me to stay engaged in my life, which means sharing the lives of those I love, which means caring about what happens to them, helping them if they need my help. So that will be a balance and I’ll wobble in both directions I have no doubt.

Deep breath. As Peggy reminded me, I AM the queen. 🙂 (and…..plot twist!)

grit and grace

All thanks to my beautiful and deeply wise friend Traci for the post title. Traci is one of those people with such extraordinary insights and I’ll say it again, deep wisdom. I have another friend like this and when they turn their light on me to help me in the dark, and when they call out the scary things lurking in the corners, they are inevitably right. Honestly it can kind of freak me out now and then. How do they know those things! Given how often they are right about things I think only I know about, I’ve come to trust them even about those things that seem overwhelmingly frightening to me. They tell me what they see and know and I am instantly (at least partly) reassured.

And so an extraordinarily terrible thing happened to me yesterday. The shoe dropped that I waited for all during the fall, the shoe that I thought landed too late, the thing I thought was over — yeah that thing? It happened to me yesterday. And I became nearly hysterical. I danced right on the edge of hysteria, I nearly hyperventilated, I couldn’t reach the professional who was supposed to help me, and I couldn’t reach my husband. My stomach felt like an enormous fist in the middle of me. I felt my intestines, literally, because they were hard as iron. I felt like puking. I paced in a nearly running way around and around and around. I cried.

I let my friends know, the ones who waited and watched with me during the long wait last fall, and true to their colors, they wrote me one after another in shock, and with assurances, and with love. (Sidebar note: Have I said today how lucky I am? It’s true. I’m so so lucky for a relatively unlucky person.) I got phone calls. I got a LOT of help from an entirely unexpected quarter, knowledgeable help of exactly the kind I needed, and explanations of the giant machine I am now caught in.

As the next hours unfolded, I tried to take in the love and advice. Lots of advice, all of it quite good. I tried to realize that it was good and based on experience, and I tried to rest in it. I tried all my tricks: perspective, separating the emotion from the thing itself so I could see it a little more clearly (because it is designed to be frightening and provocative, and it is!), breathing, paying attention to my body and trying to relax it. I tried to trust that the truth will prevail (hard, because I know it doesn’t always), and I tried to remind myself that even if the worst happens, I know who I am and I have all that I am and all my people and I will be OK, even if there are very bad results. I will be OK in some deep way.

Did you see the new True Grit? This is Mattie Ross, the actress who played the young girl who personified grit. When I saw the movie, I wanted to be just like her.
Did you see the new True Grit? This is Mattie Ross, the actress who played the young girl who personified grit. When I saw the movie, I wanted to be just like her.

And then Traci called me, with a tone of urgency in her voice as she asked me how I am. She knows me, and knows that in the past I’ve gone ahead and slipped into that little boiling pot of despair. But she told me something and it really did transform things for me. She told me that I have grit, and that I handle trouble with grace. Because I know her and trust her, I didn’t argue with her. And because of the way she said it, the words she chose, I see the way I will make it through whatever it is to come. Thank you, dear Traci.

I think I do have grit, it’s not even that hard to swallow that word. I think grit is in my blood and bones, and I’m glad of it. Grace is a little harder, but I know what she means even though I wouldn’t have called it out. It’s quite a helpful thing to decide to go through trouble with as much grace as you can. In the past, to the degree I have done that it was accidental, something perhaps I could see in the wake, looking back. Huh, yeah, I was kind of graceful through that trial and tribulation. But to orient myself in that way, to settle in my head and heart that I will go through this experience with as much grace as I can — and there may be days I don’t even remember that I ever knew the word — that feels like a gift to me.

What does that mean, exactly, to go through this with grace? I’m just thinking this through. It means that I will not flail and thrash (though I will suffer), I will try to hold my head up and remember that I’m not the only person facing trouble. I will try to remember that my troubles are temporary, however long they go on. I will try to stay interested in the world and not simply get obsessed by what’s happening with me. I will take good care of myself so I have as many resources as I can — I won’t help myself by worrying myself into a tizzy and so I will try to work with that so I can face it with equanimity. Composure. I won’t lose myself because whatever they may take from me, I will persist and those who love me know me, and know who I am. If the worst happens and I lose, I do not lose who I am. That cannot be taken away from me.

It’s going to be very hard, and frightening, and infuriating, and challenging, and it will kick some of my sorest, most tender places. I will need help of all kinds — propping me up, making me laugh, distracting me, encouraging me. I will need to ask, and maybe that’s the thing I’ll get out of this. I will finally learn how to ask for help. We will see.

These two wise friends of mine understand the world and universe in a different way than I tend to, though it’s interesting that their views are quite similar, even if they use slightly different words — universe, karma, wheel, it’s all the same thing. Maybe this is another thing I’ll get to learn….to trust all that, to trust that it will do its thing and I will be taken care of, even if I don’t get to decide exactly how that will happen.

what to do

One friend is having a medical procedure today and we are all hoping hoping hoping for answers. One loved one is very blue. One loved one is having to work all night this whole week, completely upending his and his wife’s lives and routines. After I read a collection of stories, I have no more work. Nothing waiting, nothing coming. Still no frogs or locusts, at least.

numnumAnd so today I will go up to Katie’s house for a while to be with her — a reliable spirit-lifter. We plan to watch The Party, that great old 1960s Peter Sellers movie (“num-num? Birdie num-num?”). It’s a movie that my kids’ dad introduced them to, at just the right age (though my kids were well-trained and got a love of jug band music, Betty Boop cartoons, and old music from the 1960s).

Now that Oliver’s name has been decided, I can start work on his stocking, but today my plan is to cut out the pieces for his quilt — I’ll hand piece the blocks, and then machine piece them together:

cool use of drunkard's path blocks!
cool use of drunkard’s path blocks!

I could machine piece the curves, but it’s quick and easy to handstitch them, and they’re portable. A week from Friday I’m back to NYC so I’ll stitch on the plane. And then I’ll show you the blocks when I get them done. It’s a really cute little quilt, and Oliver’s daddy came along to help us pick the fabrics so he’s right there in the quilt too — especially in what we’re calling the fox block at the top right. With such stylized animals, we’re imposing our own thoughts about some of them. The one in the middle of the bottom row, for instance. What do you think it’s meant to be? I have my own ideas…….

Happy Tuesday, y’all — I hope it brings a nice surprise to us all.

ha! haha! hahaha!!

just be glad I didn't select a photo of a plague of locusts. YUCK.
just be glad I didn’t select a photo of a plague of locusts. YUCK.

Up next on the hit parade, cats and kittens, is surely the plague of locusts! The plague of boils! Frogs raining down! For yesterday, in addition to all the rest, my life was hit by fire and brimstone.

I got a frightening text from my husband early yesterday morning. The first sentence was “I fell and it burns,” but the rest talked about a terrible fire, and firefighters everywhere, and so much smoke he couldn’t breathe in the apartment. He dictates his texts so I suspected that first sentence was an autocorrect, so I called him. I was right, but the rest, about the fire, was real.

Around 5am, a fire started in the basement of the bank on the corner. It burned for hours, but luckily there were no apartments above the bank, which is unusual. We always talked about how strange that bit of real estate was — such a waste of space with nothing above. I’m assuming when they address the aftermath of the fire, they will build up and use the space. It’s going to be a big pain for months and months to come, and I hope he can get the smoke out of everything in the apartment.

When my husband woke up, he thought the fire was in the apartment, the smoke was so thick. He crawled out the door and saw all the firemen on our street, and finally figured out what was going on. I wish I were there to help him, or even just there with him so he didn’t go through this all alone.

It was horrifying when I first heard the news, and as the day went on I started feeling terrible, what in the hell else is going to happen! Friends have been telling me their own lives lately, which resemble mine in terms of numbers of troubles popping up all at once. I was feeling scared, some despair, and then I really did just have to laugh. Really? Fire, now? With all the rest, now we also have fire? (And noting again that it’s the penultimate disaster, because the apartment did not burn down, and my husband is unharmed. He’ll have to deal with the smoke damage that permeates every molecule of our apartment, but the apartment and his belongings are intact.)

So come on, that is really enough now. If locusts I must have, I will start investigating locust stir-fry recipes. If boils be mine, I’ll start now preparing a paste of whatever you need for boils. (I’m sure it includes baking soda, so I stocked up this morning.)

But all around these things — and easy for me to see them, since these troubles aren’t in my immediate life — it is a gorgeous day. Katie and Oliver are bopping along, both growing and heart-beating. The skies are brilliant blue and it’s 73 degrees, glorious Texas winter. Dinner last night at my place with a deeply beautiful friend, spaghetti and wine and conversation. Conversations all throughout the day yesterday with people at varying  stages of disaster, giving me the opportunity to extend whatever care I could,  and to listen. A day spent working today. My heart is beating, and I am able to stand and throw my arms out to this nutty world. Today is the 20,156th day I have been alive on this earth, and I want to enjoy whatever it brings me, even if that’s a locust or two….or an invasion. I’ve got ginger and tofu and Chinese vegetables, so I am ready.

Happy Sunday, y’all. xo

p.s. My beautiful friend Peggy reminded me the other day about Lucille Clifton, so I spent some time reading her brilliant poetry. I like this one a lot, titled “Climbing:”

a woman precedes me up the long rope.
her dangling braids the color of rain.
maybe i should have had braids.
maybe i should have kept the body i started,
slim and possible as a boy’s bone.
maybe i should have wanted less.
maybe i should have ignored the bowl in me
burning to be filled.
maybe i should have wanted less.
the woman passes the notch in the rope
marked Sixty. I rise toward it, struggling,
hand over hungry hand.

cracked open

I think we all kind of go along in the world in a glossy way — by which I mean we feel discrete, bounded, ‘sure’ of what we’re going to do later in the day, in the coming weekend, this spring, over the holidays. Next year. If someone stops us and presses hard, we’ll acknowledge what life can really be like. Yeah, yeah, I know, the best way to make God laugh is to make plans hahahahahaha….. (or whatever the saying is), but we know we don’t really believe it. Not today, anyway. Not today, because today we have appointments all afternoon and somewhere we have to be tonight, and we are healthy and young. Hahahahaha!

But when the tenderizing stuff happens, we know better. We remember that we really did already know better. After the pounding my heart took yesterday — really so little in my own self, much more for the people I love — I felt all cracked open. Actually, the cracking started the night before while watching an episode of Top Chef, of all things. Bear with me. Top Chef is the only “reality” show I watch, and I’m always so fascinated by the extraordinary creativity of the chefs when they’re pushed for time and ingredients. Wow, I could never do that. I never would’ve thought of that. One of the common reality show tropes, I gather, is to have a contestant call home while the camera watches and listens in.

Last night one of the contestants called and when he was talking to his daughter, his voice caught in his throat and he was trying so hard not to cry, and he told her how much he missed her. I thought about the fact that parents are often telling their kids (young, middle, or adult) that they miss them, but kids don’t (as) often say it back to their parents. That’s because for so many of us, having our children permanently cracks us open and makes us vulnerable — and especially vulnerable to them — in a way they don’t and probably can’t understand. And they don’t need to, perhaps they shouldn’t. I saw Bette Midler on The Tonight Show (in the Johnny Carson years) right after she’d given birth to her daughter. She told him that she could no longer watch the evening news because she was just too open now, the world felt too dangerous because her little daughter was in the world and it’s frightening. I understood her very well, because my own girls were very little — Will wasn’t born yet — and I felt the same way. You obviously don’t have to have children to get cracked open, and having children doesn’t necessarily crack you open, but it often does, I think.

So I went to sleep feeling that tender open vulnerability that the chef contestant reminded me about, and I woke up and did my beautiful morning ritual and felt open-hearted for a second day, still deeply worried about money, and then 1-2-3-4, bad bad bad bad things for people I love. Not the very worst in any case, but pain and suffering and uncertainty and unfairness, and me with not one damn thing to do that will help. Of course I want to be a magical all-powerful Queen of the Universe and just fix it all, but I am a mere and lowly queen of the pillbugs and the most I can do is pick up the little creatures off the burning street and place them in the grass. I can’t even ensure that they don’t get squished or starve. My powers are so puny.

I suspect that I’m feeling easily moved and open to the world because of the changes I’m trying to make — quieting the noise, starting my day the way I am, eliminating chatter — and I’m glad if those changes are having this effect. I’m glad. So here are a couple of things I saw yesterday that I want to share with you, because I found them very moving.

The “What I Be” project, by photographer Steve Rosenfield. Rosenfield recently asked people to complete the following statement: “I am not my ___ ” He wanted people to fill in the blank with their deepest and darkest insecurities, body image, substance abuse, mental illness, race, sexuality, etc. You can see the images on the project website here. Here’s one that really moved me to tears, because I might’ve chosen to say it too.

his insecurity: adoption
his insecurity: adoption

I could’ve easily filled in the blank with several things I saw in the images. The holocaust survivor who wrote “Hitler” on her extended middle finger also broke my heart. So much vulnerability in all of us, and we walk around trying not to let it show because it’s so soft and scared. I do love that about us, the way we put on our brave faces. Of course there are days our brave faces put us on because of course they’re not just a mask, they are who we are too! We are all the wonderful things, yes, and these too.

And then this one reminded me of the invisible-to-me ongoing lives of others. I love Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. That is some mighty fine music they make, and she is larger than life, a real in-her-bones musician. I didn’t know she has been fighting cancer until I read this piece on her in the NYTimes magazine. She has a new album, though she isn’t quite finished with her treatment for bile duct cancer, which of course caused her to lose her hair. Here she is in the video for the heartbreakingly appropriate song, “Stranger to My Happiness” —


Here’s what she said about shooting the video:

It took like eight hours to do that video. And right in the middle of it, I was standing there and was like, “Hey guys, I can’t do this no more.” I was just exhausted. I was done. It took a lot. They had to take the cord out at the top of my dress where they did the chemo. And my hands and my face and my nails, certain parts turned darker. My feet were colored, like, black. It was like I had tar in my hands and like I was walking barefoot for the last 25 years. So I was really concerned about that. But then I said, “Let me go do this. Because if I don’t do this video and get this stuff done, things aren’t gonna move.”

Asked about her decision not to wear a wig, she said:

I’m not a hair person. My hair on my head is my hair and I’ll connect some braids onto it. But now to go out there without it, it’s a new Sharon. Plus, I want my fans to go through what I’m going through. If they see this maybe they’ll understand. And maybe my story will get across to someone else with cancer. Maybe they’ll say, “Keep moving!” But basically it was to inspire myself. But you know, whenever you do something for yourself, you’re doing something for someone else too.

The bravery and courage we all show in the face of life is so so powerful. Only trouble of some kind calls us to be brave, and dammit I wish we didn’t have the trouble but we do. From the moment I gave birth to Katie in 1982, I’ve never been able to be casual about the world, because she was in it. And then Marnie. And then Will. Since their births, my life has become SO vulnerable because I can be brought to my knees, brought to the deepest despair, by anything that happens to those people. And then, dang it, they went and married people I love the same way. And my friends, dang it, you crack me open too, what can I do in the face of your hard times? Nothing, often, and I hate that.

Then yesterday morning a very dear friend who loves genealogy laughed when she said, “I see dead people.” It was so funny, such a great frame for spending time exploring your ancestors. We both laughed as we parted. I stopped at the market on my way home, still chuckling over her comment, and the store was full of elderly people on scooters and in wheelchairs. I’d seen the van out front but hadn’t put it together — shopping day for these people. I glanced at them as I grabbed the few things I needed, I picked a check-out line that didn’t have wheelchaired people in it, and as I was racing out the door, I passed a beautiful old woman sitting in her chair by the door, waiting to be pushed to the van. I glanced at her and she looked at me and smiled, and suddenly I realized I had not been seeing people. Suddenly I realized that another task is to see the living people, and we don’t, really. We dash along — or maybe just I do — not seeing people. But there she was, dressed and with pretty earrings, taken to the market in a van full of old people in wheelchairs. I paused for a second and stepped backward to smile at her and say hello. I nearly missed that opportunity.

Be kind to people today. Be kind to yourself today. See the people you pass, see them. I get to see a very dear friend today; she’s coming to my place for a walk, bringing me soup we can share, and I am grateful for her. Another friend came to see me last night because she knew what kind of day it had been for me. I feel overwhelmingly grateful to you all for holding me in your hearts the way you do. I want you to know that.

UNCLE

kittyDoes anyone say that anymore? Uncle — as in, “I give up! I surrender!” I’ve heard the young’uns say “I call bullshit on that” which seems to mean something different. When I was a little kid, bullies would get you on the ground and hurt you, until you said uncle.

And so today I’m calling it: UNCLE! UNCLE! A pox on January 9, and the days leading up to it. Hello, trouble, I knew you were hanging around in the alley because you are always hanging around in the alley, and now you’ve shown your face.

One of my oldest friends has had a severe health setback, and it’s a scary time for those of us who love him, and his wife. There are many more questions than answers, and it appears that their lives will be different than they’d expected. As always, it’s the uncertainty that adds the heaviest weight to the situation, right now. A lot of anticipation and hope for news was dashed yesterday, and so today the blanket of new but vague reality is settling.

My husband got a call this morning that wasn’t the worst news that might be possible, but it’s the next-to-worse.

News from Marnie about some unexpected seismic changes, private details but surprising and unsettling.

I have no work and none on the horizon.

Uncle. Seriously. Uncle. Screw around with me, whatever, but when you start screwing around with the people I love most in the world, that is enough. Seriously. Enough.

And yet, it all stops short of the worst news it could be. My friend is alive and there doesn’t seem to be any expectation of losing him. My husband could have gotten the worst news, but he didn’t, and while it’s possible, it probably won’t become the worst news. My daughter has a lot of plans and is enormously talented and has lots of great support around her. Surely I will get some work soon, and there are some changes I can make to my website that might help. (But if you know anyone who has written a book, please put them in touch with me!)  And so it’s not the death of a dearly loved friend. It’s not the loss of livelihood. It’s not a whole rug being pulled out. It’s not impending homelessness.

This morning, after hearing the first bit of stomach-dropping frightening news, I was thinking about writing about the FGOs without ever dreaming that the day would just keep hammering that nail. The FGOs, the fucking growth opportunities. A long time ago I was talking to a friend about a set of big troubles in my life and she shook her head and said in a near-mumble, “Nobody likes the FGOs.”  She glanced up and saw my puzzled expression and explained it, and it’s been part of my regular vocabulary ever since.

No. No one ever likes the FGOs. I sure don’t. I can appreciate the growth when the FGO is long past (long, long, long past), and after 55 years of FGOs I can recognize the G part when bad things start happening…..oh no, this is horrible, and this will change me in some way…..I’ll make some meaning some day, I’ll find some new depth or resource eventually. But goddammit I am sick of having to do that! I’m sick for my dear friends, who have already had too many FGOs in their recent lives, and who should instead have spa months and glory times and just rewards. I am sick for my family members, who should have nothing but the fruits of their good labors. I am scared for me. UNCLE.

I’m thinking of Churchill’s great line, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” It’s what there is to do, but doing it with intent is a little different.  Because even if we do surrender and just “give up,” we actually do keep going, even if we’re being dragged along. What else is there to do? You still have to do your things, you can’t really just crawl into bed and pull up the covers until it’s all gone. It doesn’t work that way. So, instead, to just keep going because it’s the way to get through it (wherever “it” takes you), knowing that you are the one who is walking, you are taking steps one after another, you are breathing and there are things you can do, that’s different in some way.

And so here is a bigger test than yesterday’s test, though it’s now long past my morning ritual. Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t pause and take some breaths, put my feet on the ground and feel them there, take some deep breaths into my body and feel them there, drink some water and feel it going into me, open my arms and realize that I am alive and this is life and I can do what I can, and help where I can, and I am a lot.

But come on. Enough.

gimme gimme gimme

Yesterday I saw that Volvo ad with Jean-Claude Van Damme, which opens with his voice-over saying, “I’ve had my ups and downs, my fair share  of bumpy roads and heavy winds. That’s what made me what I am today.” Here, in case you haven’t seen it yet:

[embedplusvideo height=”350″ width=”604″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1dYSyLj” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/M7FIvfx5J10?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=M7FIvfx5J10&width=604&height=350&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep5628″ /]
 

Aside from the brilliance of the whole thing, from conception to finished video, I was struck by the opening words, the bumpy roads and heavy winds making him/us/me/you what we are today. I had a friend who suffered in her childhood much the same as I did, and who — like me — had to fight for a very long time to get through the consequences. She has a deep and bubbling laugh, one of the most beautiful laughs I have ever heard. Whenever someone comments on it and says they wish they had her laugh, she stops cold and becomes a little hard and says, “I earned this laugh. You can’t have it, it’s earned.” Well, absolutely no one would want to go through even a mustard seed of what she endured and survived to get that laugh.

Causality is a tricky bitch. (And this is setting aside the very interesting question of what she and I had inside ourselves at the beginning that even helped us get through, survive, to earn what we have at the end of it all.) A couple of days ago, in thinking about the anniversary of my moving back to Austin, I posted this before/after picture of me taken in the same NYC location on the same day, one year apart:

before after

He was definitely joking, but my friend Jeff commented on my Facebook post, asking the secret to my incredible transformation. My lighthearted response was in keeping with his lighthearted question:  “Time! Grief! Crying! Love! Sorrow! Writing! Insomnia! Think it would sell?” Even though he was joking, so many people ask that kind of question seriously — hey, what’s your secret, I want that too. AS IF. As if anyone would want to endure the things that left me looking the way I did November 2012; as if anyone would want to endure the things, the suffering, the misery, the very hard work it took to get me to November 2013.

Jeff has lost more than 150 pounds at this point and when people ask him his secret and he tells them, they inevitably say something like, “yeah, well, I don’t want to do that. What else can I do?” Oh, people. You are so funny. I once lost 50 pounds right before I moved to a new town, and when the mothers at the bus stop learned I’d lost that much weight, they asked how I did it. “A tiny bowl of Special K and skim milk for breakfast, a tiny salad with no dressing for lunch, and a SlimFast for dinner, and no cheating ever,” I told them. They were shocked and said, “But what did you have for snacks? I couldn’t do without my snacks.” Oh, you people. Seriously.

This is something I think about a lot, and write about kind of regularly. If I had a choice, would I go through the things in my life that made me who I am (by which I mean the difficult things, of course . . . it’s a no-brainer, yes I’d take the wonderful ones again please!)? Would I return to my childhood? Would I endure the heartache of my broken marriage to my kids’ dad, the thing I did not believe I could survive, truly? Would I say yes to all the events that began October 19, 2012? Who would? If I could choose, would I instead pick a happy childhood, an easy childhood characterized by regular small potatoes troubles? Would I make that choice even if I knew I couldn’t end up exactly the person I am now, and I am so very happy with the person I am now, I really am. I am proud of my eyes and face, I am proud of my strength and courage, I am proud of my joy and smile and laugh because I earned them. I paid for them, and they were not cheap. I am proud of my scars, which prove that I was stronger than the thing that tried to hurt me.

My beautiful friend Traci believes that we choose the lives we come into, the people we are born to, and she once told me that I chose a graduate-level course, I chose to barrel through and do the master course this go-round. I asked her the other day if next time I could take a semester off, do a semester abroad, and she laughed and we decided we’d do that together. Next time Paris, red bicycles in the rain; next time Greece, sunshine and feta and water; next time Hanoi, motorbikes and baguettes; next time together, laughing and watching each other’s backs.

And hey, you, all of you. I love your beautiful eyes and smiles too, and the pieces of you that you have earned. Your scars, your hearts, your depth. Those are the very things I love most about you. xo

Damocles

the painting itself
the painting itself

You know that big thing that’s been hanging over my head for the last few months? The reason I now have a lawyer? If I make it through today without being served, it all just might be over. I am apparently too superstitious to say more, so I’ll just say this and move on for now.

Counting down days, soon counting down hours. My good sleep seems to have vanished, but I always knew it was temporary and I enjoyed the hell out of it while I had it.  Seeing friends, finishing work, it’s all good and I am tired and distracted by the sword.

Yesterday I made a trip I’ve made so many times before. I wondered if I’d remember all the little tricks — the 1 to Times Square, the shuttle to Grand Central Station, the 6 down to 23rd. That’s not the tricky part. Hell, Hopstop can route that trip, or even Google Maps. The tricky part is remembering that I need to walk to the uptown end of the platform and get in the very last car on the 1, because that puts me right by the stairs at Times Square and it’s a short walk to the shuttle. The tricky part is remembering to hang back a little and wait for the announcement about the shuttle — track 1? 2? 3? — and then making a dash for the right platform and getting all the way down to the far end because that puts me in the right place in Grand Central Station. Walk through GCS, past the place musicians always play (yuck, the one today was disgusting) and head to the far end of the 6 platform so I exit right by the turnstile to put me by the correct set of stairs. It’s those kinds of things you learn when you take the subway all the time — which particular car, which particular door, how to position yourself at the last express stop before your local stop so you aren’t trapped in the middle of car and can’t get to the door. You learn that when you transfer across the platform from the express train to the local (or vice versa of course), you just walk straight across the platform and you’ll be lined up at a door when the train pulls in.

You learn that when there’s a very long delay for your train and there’s another one 1 or 2 minutes behind, you don’t take the first one, even though it’s been a long wait. No, you don’t do that. It’s going to be jammed up, so crowded you’ll be miserable, if you can even get on. No, you wait a minute for the next one, which will be almost entirely empty.

You learn that if a particular car seems strangely empty but the others are not, there is a reason, so you don’t get on it, even though the other cars are full. Perhaps it’s boiling hot. Perhaps someone puked and it’s sloshing around. Perhaps there’s a true homeless guy sleeping and the whole car is permeated by that specific gagging fungal smell that characterizes the poor people who are truly, truly, truly in trouble. If you’re on the 1 and you’re headed to South Ferry, you absolutely have to be in the first couple of cars or you won’t be able to exit there.

You learn how to walk straight through a buzzing chaotic crowd where all the subway lines are intersecting at Times Square or Grand Central — you just look straight ahead, not around you, you don’t look anyone in the eye, you just walk straight through and somehow we all do it and no one crashes into anyone else. This prolonged practice made it so easy to cross the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City, or Phnom Penh, or even Hanoi. No crosswalks, no Walk signals, just thousands of motorbikes coming from both directions and you just start crossing. Yeah, walking through the Times Square station taught me how to do that.

I wondered if I’d remember all these tiny little things that used to be entirely automatic. There is that old bicycle metaphor, but getting around Austin couldn’t be more different, and driving my own car has been part of my experience for decades more than taking the subway. Which would prevail? Would it be like riding a bicycle, and I’d somehow just remember? I did remember, even if I didn’t know I would remember as I was going along, and was just kind of following myself a step behind. My body somehow remembered and put me in the right place before my mind remembered to tell me. That felt pretty great. Yep, still a New Yorker. A part-time New Yorker, maybe, but still a New Yorker. And that made me really happy. What is it about this place? We dwell on the allure of it when we are away, but what’s really strange is that we dwell on the allure of it even when we are in the midst of it.

Anyway. Hoping that hair holds the sword steady just one more day……brunch with a friend, dinner with another friend, and then home safe, no more sword. Fingers crossed, y’all.

ugh awry

candyI know this happens for everyone — right? Or at least it seems this way. One bad thing happens. Sometimes that’s it! Sometimes you barely even notice, it’s just a thing.

But sometimes it’s a cascade; one bad thing happens then another thing happens and then another, and then it seems like it’s all gone to hell. My image of this has always been the paper cone that someone swirls in the cotton candy machine; that cone is like a magnet, drawing all the little threads of spun sugar to it, and they collect in a mass around the cone.

That’s how it’s feeling for me right now. There’s all kinds of stuff in my life, so idiotic and crazy it’s not even worth going into all of it, from a sick gut to slow work to emotional blues. And now our moronic “government” filled with batshit insane Republicans who don’t give a crap about anything but their financial backers (I know they’re not the only ones with financial backers, but they are truly the batshit insane political party, my god). How humiliating to be an American to the rest of the world. The government shutdown isn’t immediately and obviously affecting me personally, it’s just one more of the several crap things collecting around that cone.

And so when it feels like this, it’s more important than ever to take a deep breath, to shake your head and squint — hard, if you have to — to see through all this, to see what else there is. The crap won’t last forever, nothing does, and it’s a real mistake to think trouble is all there is. No matter what is happening, no matter how truly awful your stuff may be, there is other stuff. There is always other stuff. When it feels like this, it’s even more important to breathe and sit quietly and think, find the things you have to be grateful for, and then dwell in them long enough to feel them. I’ve found that just calling them to mind is good but not enough to shift things. Instead, I have to really hold them, sit with them, imagine them as deeply as I can, and then it shifts things.

Katie and Trey. Marnie and Tom. Will. Dixie and Karl. Sherlock, Peggy, Traci, all my New York friends so many. Cyndi, Lynn, all my Austin friends semi-old and brand new gosh it’d be such a long string to name everyone, so very many of you. Far-flung friends like Kristie in Canada, Megan in NZ, Laura in Australia, Kty in Paris, Lara in England, sending little notes and touches to me, deeply personal and knowing. I close my eyes and focus on your faces and feel my shoulders relax just a little. I close my eyes and imagine you smiling at me, as I have seen you do so very many times, and I feel a little safer. I close my eyes and think of the times we’ve just been together and the times to come, and I feel happier. My sweet little home, surrounding me with comfort and pleasure and solitude, waiting for me always. My so-cozy bed, my daily rest and comfort. My sweet patio, welcoming me a little easier now that the temperatures are less sweltering. My upcoming trip to Sri Lanka, that deep pleasure of seeing the world. The regular laughing pleasure of the little birds outside my window. Poetry group at my place tonight. Lunch with Dee tomorrow, an evening with Karyn and Mike the night after that, breakfast with Noshaba over the weekend, so much connection. Dinner with Craig in New York coming up soon. The sunrise out my window. Emerald green smoothies every morning. Avocados, tomatoes. Mushrooms. Clean water, cold. Hot tea, rich coffee. Hope. Books.

OK. I can keep going through the current run of gross stuff happening. Deep breaths. Gratitude. Self-compassion. Going slowly and mindfully. And maybe a massage, now that I think about it. Love to all of you. xo

plot twist!

If you’re my facebook friend, you have to see a bit of duplication now and then, though I try always to expand it here — mostly because I have all the space I want, here.  And if I’ve shared something on facebook, it was because it meant something big to me (well, relatively big, big enough) so it either reflects something I’ve been thinking about, have already thought about, or want to think about. Like this:

plot twist

Oh, I think that is so great. It’s funny, of course, and that’s always good, but it’s more deeply great than just funny because it’s all about perspective, and framing, and acceptance.

I think about this a lot, and write about it in a circling way here — how we understand and incorporate the ‘bad’ things that happen to us. And the fact that they do, and will continue to happen to us. Although I think the mission is to understand them and find what else there is in them, I’m always resistant to people who shout at me, as soon as it happens, either to move on, or to see all the good in it. Hang on, dude! I’ll get there, I just have to get there! For me anyway, just telling myself that the glass is half full doesn’t do a damn thing but piss me off and start me wanting to fight with you about that idiotic cliche. Because there is no glass.

ANYWAY. I’ve known people with very easy lives, without trauma, without big troubles, people whose lives are tranquil and successful and not marred by flailing. And you know what, they are so boring. My dissertation research asked students to write about their families when they were growing up, and the securely attached people’s essays were just. so. boring. “Every Thursday night Mom and Dad and we kids would go watch Bobby play Little League and then we’d go get ice cream afterwards.” Yawn. Good for them, I wish everyone could have such peace and security, and I wish I could too, and you could. But there are no plot twists there, that’s why it’s boring. Nothing is required of the characters except to keep going to Little League, to keep sitting around the family table, night after night after night, to keep mowing the yard on Saturday and having the neighbors over for a backyard cookout on Sundays. The characters aren’t challenged in any way except by sameness. (And again: good for them! I mean that.)

Dan McAdams is a famous psychologist who studies the stories of our lives. One approach he uses is to ask people to identify the chapters they’d use to organize their life stories. At first glance it’s simple, right? Birth and childhood. The high school years. College and whatever. Marriage. Children. But of course that’s not the only way one can tell a story. Other ways are probably organized around plot twists, if you think about it. (You can pause and think about how you’d tell your life story, what the chapter titles would be. It’s an interesting exercise!) Not only do the plot twists give a more interesting story, they’re really the primary way we grow. They demand something of us, we either crumble and stay crumbled or we have to step up in some way. Maybe it’s not the best way, maybe it changes into the best way, maybe the plot twist is so big the story has to have a hard reboot.

I really love this idea because I think it will help me see these events a little more quickly for what they are. Something bad is happening to me, it’s terrifying and wrenching and horrifying and so many other -ings. But the plot is twisting, that’s what is happening. Some kind of story is happening right now, and the main character — me! — is going to have to respond in some way. What may be asked of me? I’ll find out, but I don’t know yet because the plot hasn’t stopped this twist. In a way it allows me to step out and be watchful, rather than being the hapless person underneath the action. Plot twist! (And then a long pacing chapter where nothing dramatic happens please.)

the recently paralyzed me

paralyzedEver since I found out about something that is happening, I have been completely paralyzed. Not only that, I don’t even remember the day, when it’s time to get in bed. What did I do? I HAVE NO IDEA. Well, I do know one thing — I know what I didn’t do, and that’s work.

And that is so bad. If I don’t work, I don’t make money. No PTO, no sick leave, no vacation leave, no nuttin’. No workie = no dollars. My bills, of course, come in like clockwork. They are never paralyzed.

Every night for the last two and a half weeks I’d lie awake, tormenting myself: “Tomorrow you are going to GET UP, make the coffee and DO NOT PIDDLE. Just get to work.” Lots of imaginary finger-wagging at myself. And since I wake up about a dozen times a night, I had a lot of opportunities to say that to myself. I practically wore out my wagging finger. Then I’d get up — later than ‘early’ because I am exhausted — and make the coffee and start piddling, I gather, and piddle the whole day away. I remember spotting thoughts like Oh wow, it’s already noon, I’d better get to it . . . Oh well, it’s nearly four, no point now . . . Wow, it’s 7pm, I guess I’ll quit and make something to eat. Another day gone. Tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow.

And I have such a fearful imagination for how others will react to me; as time passed and my clients, who had been waiting on me, were just waiting longer and longer and longer, I became more afraid to contact them. I became afraid that they would yell at me, say cruel things to me, call me on the phone, even. And so I just became more paralyzed. I lost control of even knowing the list of work I had, and getting it organized meant going through two separate email accounts and trying to figure out who I’d said what to, when. And one guy had only paid me one of the two invoices I sent him so I had to write him about that. Blah blahdy blah.

So I’d set these little challenges for myself: By noon, all I have to do is write Michael about the invoice (and then don’t look at his email when it comes in! It’ll be so mean! He’ll refuse to pay!) and go through one email account. That’s it. Then, when that’s done, I can quit for the day if I want. But I’d get the late start, do the piddling, then it’d be noon and up went my hands for another day.

ARE YOU LIKE THIS????

The terriblest thing was that I knew a bunch of things:

  1. No one was going to yell at me.
  2. Least of all Michael, who has never been anything but kind and generous.
  3. Most people probably hadn’t even noticed that I was a little behind. They hadn’t paid me (they don’t pay me until I begin work) so it’s not like they were feeling that money gone, with nothing to show for it.
  4. They’d just be glad to hear anything from me at all!
  5. If only I’d begin, the whole crappy castle would fall apart and I would feel so much better. If only I’d begin, it would be easy to finish organizing my work and then I would feel on top of the world.

I hate that I knew all that. I knew it, but the paralysis was too strong. Knowing all that made the paralysis even worse — it had me bound hand and foot.

Life can just take you on a very long run of trouble, and it requires all your effort to keep going. But then the trouble keeps going and more crappy stuff keeps happening (and good stuff doesn’t happen) and you just need a break, man, you just need a break. You need something good to happen for your family, you just need someone in your precious family to catch a break. Not even me, just someone. Just someone in my wonderful, dear family, something good needed to happen. I was running on fumes, and then this thing just knocked me off the tiny little mouse I was riding on. Maybe I started off on a giant horse, got knocked off that and rode around on a small pony until I got knocked off that, then a little goat, knocked off, then a dog, knocked off, and finally got knocked off the smallest thing. My knees and palms are scraped up and so bloody, my chin is raw from dragging it on the ground.

But the tide may have turned, and I hope it’s the start of lots of good things for us! My darling son-in-law Tom finally got a job, after trying so hard for so long — and it’s a biggie. It means such good things for him and for Marnie. I’m so proud of him and happy for them, and it’s one in the YAY column for my little family. Something happened two nights ago that turned another light on, and yesterday I quickly got everything organized, wrote Michael (and got such a lovely, beautiful letter back from him, and the check is on its way) and sent out a couple of invoices and spent the whole day working. KAPOW!

riding a mouse wouldn't be so bad if you're Ganesha! that mouse is BIG.
riding a mouse wouldn’t be so bad if you’re Ganesha! that mouse is BIG.

 

Today is Friday and I have good things on my calendar. Lunch with a friend, a Skype session with one of my favorite clients, dinner and hanging out with another friend, and then good stuff over the weekend: a party tomorrow night and Sunday night beans and cornbread and Breaking Bad with my precious Katie and Trey. I hope you’re facing things that make you happy too — especially if you’re riding around on a little mouse.

feasting and famine-ing

Late last year, when my life was blowing up and I was trying to figure out how anything made sense, a friend said that a few years earlier she’d had a period like that and decided that the word for her coming year would be “stable.” That sounded really good to me, so I informally adopted it for 2013. I have no idea what I meant by that — most days I barely remembered it, in the first place, and when I would remember it, I’d basically just think hmmm, oh yeah, stable. That’s right. Oh. Yeah. Stable. That’s my word of the year. Stable.

But I did try anyway (and shut the hell up, Yoda — there is too ‘try’). I did establish routines; I did make a point of trying to take good care of myself; I did make myself a home; I did find a social network of dear friends and groups that mattered to me, like my poetry group; I did try to get some roots of a variety of kinds. I did try to make some boundaries and watch them, and do what I could to keep them safe. And in other ways I did things that kept me unsteady — mainly in terms of my relationship with my husband. We’re on! Oh no, we need to let each other go…..but wait! I can’t! So that’s a whole lot of instability right there, and I have not been able to get that part of my life stabilized.

And now there is a legal issue that has me in such a tizzy. My life is indeed very unstable because of it, my future is uncertain, my resources, everything. It’s very frightening.

echoes in the emptiness...
echoes in the emptiness…

My mind is definitely affected by this issue, no big surprise. When things are chill and stable, my little brain is churning churning churning and I have so many things I think about, so many things to write about and explore, and I end up writing a whole bunch of draft posts, little notes. Sometimes I have them queued up for days ahead. And then trouble hits, the instability of it punches me, and whoo boy, it’s just the sound of tumbleweeds rolling down the empty, desolate streets of my mind. Nothing, nada.

What’s so funny is that I still have the impulse to write, to come here. I’ll open a blank post before I realize what I’m doing, and then sit, hoping that perhaps there was something I meant to say. Nope. I’ll want to write — you know how it is, when you just want or need to write? — so I’ll open a blank post and bear down, trying to push some idea into my head so I can think about it, work it through, that pleasurable experience of mulling and analyzing and thinking. Nothing.  I’m pretty sure it’s not just that I’m brain dead right now, my brain’s radio silence is surely due to the stress of everything and the instability it’s wreaking on my life.

I was in New York City for a bit, seeing Marc and dealing with this issue and also seeing my beloved son Will, as you may know if you are my personal facebook friend. It’s good to be back home in Austin, back in my own clean and cozy home where I know where to find things, where the food is mine to prepare (and that’s both good and bad you know; my cooking is much healthier and the way I want to be eating, but Marc’s is SO much more delicious and eyeball-rolling-back-in-the-head inducing). Back to participating in my real life, with my friends and people. Back to my own little quiet routine, the rhythm of my busy days. I hope this means the words and thoughts come back, too. I’d welcome a feast of them, but anything more than this cleanse would be appreciated.

Happy Tuesday y’all. xo

status update

Sorry for the radio silence y’all; if you are my personal facebook friend (i.e., not just a friend of this blog) you have a rough idea of what’s going on. I’m too frightened and scattered to write here for the moment, but will be back ASAP. Have a good weekend . . .

maybe it’s YOU

When lots of terrible things happen to a person, it’s not at all uncommon for others to start wondering about that person — maybe it’s them, they’re doing something. Lots of frameworks support that interpretation; if you believe the “universe” sets things up (or rather, you set up the universe), then yes, you’re responsible. Some people who fundamentally misunderstand karma might say “ah, you’re getting back what you put in.” Some people with a fundamentalist religious framework get a smug expression and a slight nod, yep, you must be getting yours.

And then there are other, subtler thoughts people have. Even if they don’t believe this exactly, they may have a sense of toxicity, of contagion. Better keep my distance. They don’t believe in that as a mechanism, exactly, but still. Better safe, and all that. Wow, she just has one terrible thing after another, what must she be doing?

To be honest, whenever I see a pattern of experiences in my life, I look at myself pretty quickly too! This keeps happening, what am I doing here? If I hear myself thinking, well that one was not my fault, and that one wasn’t my fault, and that one wasn’t my fault, but they’re all similar in some way? Hmm. Even if “fault” isn’t the right concept, I am in the mix here in some way.

This kind of suspicion takes other forms too; if you were terribly abused as a child, sexually, physically, emotionally — and put an and or an or in between those, it doesn’t matter — you are suspicious. People blanch a little bit when you’re around their children. You’re suspicious. (This is particularly true for men who were abused, but it’s very true for women too….ask me how I know.) People fundamentally misunderstand this: abusers are likely to have been abused, and people think that means if you were abused, you are likely to become an abuser. Those are different groups! There is the group of abusers, and there is the group of people who were abused. This is a somewhat subtle logical argument and people are typically unsophisticated where logic is concerned. 

And then there’s the overload factor. You can be empathetic and sympathetic and reach out and help, and you can do that again, but at some point you’re just out of resources. Really? Now this has happened to her? Seriously? Uhhhh…..too much.

It’s too much for me too. It is. I am exhausted by this year, by the terrible things that happened to me and my family. My husband endured six months of harrowing medical treatment that was polished by the daily battles with insurance to see that he got what he needed; my daughter had a difficult pregnancy that ended in her daughter’s utterly senseless death, days before the baby would’ve been born; my marriage ended in heartbreak and sorrow. That is a lot, that’s too much. I’m drained and exhausted by it, and I understand when others are exhausted by my year, too. I’m grateful to have so many people stick with me, stand by me, continue to give me their love and support and encouragement. I haven’t noticed too many people drifting away, and I am surprised a little by the strength of those bonds.

So this is just a note from the front, to give voice and the perspective of someone to whom an unrelenting series of terrible things has happened. To paraphrase Patrick Henry: I know not what other people do, but as for me, I do not seek melodrama and crisis, give me peace and quiet and let me be. That’s what I’m trying to achieve in the world.

trouble overload

UNCLE. OK, you crazy universe, enough already. I give, you win, uncle!

I’m really tired — tired physically, tired emotionally, tired of. Tired of profundity, even. I long for a period of dull and boring, of small potatoes silliness. I long to be ignored by the machinery.

Yesterday dear Katie and Trey were helping me get my cool new couch into my little place, and somehow I twisted in a strange way and seem to have cracked a rib — one of the little short ribs, on the left side. I’m OK as long as I don’t move or breathe, but I don’t see that working for long, right now. Maybe this was the glancing blow on the way out the door by the cranky old universe, which surely has better things to do . . . and that reminds me of Peter Cook’s devil in Bedazzled, who busied himself in quiet times by instigating little mischiefs, like putting scratches on records and popping off a button on new shirts.

Move on, Mephistopheles/Peter Cook. Your work here is done.

Despite the little rib debacle, we got a lot done! We got the couch moved in, and while the size is a bit of a problem, it looks SO much better in the space than I worried it might. We bought two queen mattress sets, one for me and one for my guest room (hint, hint….), and a beautiful bed and chest of drawers for my bedroom. My television for my bedroom will be delivered Tuesday, cable and internet and telephone will be installed Friday, my mattresses will be delivered Friday, and my bed and chest will come the following week. The only big things left to get are the dining table and chairs, a couple of chairs (a leather club chair for the living room, and a cozy chair for my bedroom), and some bookcases. Some small tables, lamps, a filing cabinet. And then the hundreds of small things including dishes and towels and curtains and all those kinds of things.

I’m not quite sure how I’ll squeeze in the time to do that shopping, because I’ve got so much work to get done. I’ll figure that out later. 

Personally, I’m getting tired of heavy posts. It’s been 5 solid weeks of heavy, and I’m keen to do something else for a while. I look forward to photos of my place, lighter stories, interesting links, and some beauty. I really, really do. 

clues

If we are friends on facebook, and if you have spider sense, you may have been picking up clues. Along with photos of walks in my neighborhood, I’ve been posting these status updates:

  • “Why love what you will lose? . . . There is nothing else to love.” ~Louise Glück
  • “How did it get so late so soon?” ~Dr. Seuss
  • I know this quote is true, as the one who is not known and the one who does not know:  “Dani said this woman, with whom she’d lived for two years, had never known her. “I feel like people accept the first thing I show them,” she said, “and that’s all I ever am to them.”  ― Mary Gaitskill, Don’t Cry 

There’s a particular melancholy to them, it seems to me, but maybe that’s just because I know the backroom machinations that drew me to them in the first place. Ever since I got the call from my daughter on Friday, October 19, that Grace died, the world has stopped making sense to me. Like, at all. I see people’s mouths moving, I assume they are speaking English, and yet nothing makes sense. It’s blah blah blah, Lorraine, aren’t you listening to me? Blah blah blah.

And then last week, my husband and I tearfully and painfully decided to end our marriage. It also happened all at once, although these things never happen all at once. We love each other, we cherish aspects of our life together, it’s just thoroughly excruciating, and it is over. 

There’s something so confusing about how fast things can change, but I guess trouble is often like this. You’re driving along, you hit a patch of icy road and lose control of the steering wheel, and in the next instant it’s all different. Trouble can come slowly too, of course, but often it’s just a head turn and a wink and it’s an entirely different world.

I find myself in utter bewilderment. Wait…..what? What did you say? Wait…..the baby died? What? But we’ve been waiting for her for 9 months! I made her a quilt, and a Christmas stocking, we had all these plans what? Wait, what? And what? I have to begin a whole new life, what? Wait….what was that? My marriage is what? But we love each other, what? Nothing makes any damn sense. Not one bit. When I think about how different the world was on October 18 — and now, not even one month later, it’s upended entirely, I don’t know what to think, what to do, how to breathe.

Saturday I will be flying away from my beloved New York City, to another beloved, Austin, to restart my life. There are so many things I can’t bear to think about — this is my 81st move, what will happen with my poor sad husband now, what will happen to poor sad me — and so I am grateful for the numbness of my mind that doesn’t let me do too much thinking.

What a terrible year. The first six months were spent enduring — barely, at times — the treatment my husband was enduring. Dark, dark months, uncertain and miserable and just absolutely terrible. But he is ‘cured.’ Katie struggled to get pregnant, wasn’t sure it was going to happen but she did! And she endured a difficult pregnancy, suffered a lot but it was ok, and at the 11th and a half hour, beautiful Grace died. I turned 54, we re-elected Obama, my marriage ended. How do you even make sense of that?

I can see, through my filmy eyes, that there are other things in the same landscape. I have family in Austin, waiting for me with open arms. I have friends there, connections. It’s so much cheaper there than here, I will be able to buy a place for myself, when I am ready to do so. I will find book friends, poetry friends, there is a vibrant arts community there and I will plunge in. I’ll be creating a life from scratch — I have to buy everything, I start with just books and clothes. So furniture, dishes, towels, bedding, lamps, pots and pans, everything. Pillows. Bookcases. Forks. Curtains. I can see the pleasure and good fortune in being 54 and making a new home from scratch — selecting things carefully, considering only whether I like them. Making a space that is just mine, for the first time in my life. I can see those other things in the landscape ahead, after I pry my eyelids apart, pick out the grains of salt that stick them together from all the crying.

What in the hell is 2013 going to be like, I wonder.