Thursday, July 10, 2014

Good Company

If I had not bottomed out and dropped out of college and gotten that job through my cousin at that engineering company and if Marco had not switched to a different middle school and met his friend and if he had not come to the States for college and gotten that job and if his friend had not moved to Arizona and met his wife and then moved to Maine and then gotten divorced and if another woman had not gotten divorced and if she had not rented that apartment in the mill, I would not have gotten to be with these three amazing people.

Life is twisted.

One woman’s struggle to give her kids up for adoption is another person’s dream of having children. We come together and we fall apart.

The hard part, the essential core of getting through this life, is to wake to each time, each moment, whether horrible pain and grief or immense joy and relief, and embrace it.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. it’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” - Pema Chodron

Ah, but I don’t like knowing I’ve hurt someone.

I think that is the worst feeling for me. I will do anything to get out of it. I will apologize even when I know I am doing the right thing. I will drink or eat or have sex to avoid feeling guilty and awful.

But the truth is, I am guilty. I fail at friendships. I fail at marriage. I fail at motherhood. Every. Single. Day. But that is because I am human, it turns out.

“I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.” - Edna St. Vincent Millay

This past week I got to spend time with some of the most amazing humans. How grateful I am for all of their valuable mistakes that led to all of us being there together.

Today, as I sit with my feelings of regret, I will try to also hold gratitude. They walk hand-in-hand. When Pandora had regrettably let out all of the nasty vices, she was grateful to find hope at the bottom of the box. It didn't take away the horror she had let into the world, just as gratitude will not wash away my achy feelings of sadness and regret, but it will keep my pain good company.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Make. Do.

We played hooky yesterday. I let Maya skip school, and we went to my sister’s house to lounge by the pool. This was one of the best decisions I have made lately.

While sitting there, my nephew and I got to talking about passions and our desire to do art and how we don’t have time for it.

This is a complete falsehood I have told myself for many years.

I do have time. And I waste it. But not for the reason you might think. I often don’t pick up my brushes or my jewelry-making supplies or my felt because I don’t have a specific “project” in mind. I can spend hours perusing Pinterest looking for just the right idea, but then I don’t do it. I search for classes to take that will make me do it, and use my lack of funds and lack of time as an excuse to keep me from making “bad” art or “bad” music or “bad” writing. I want to pick up brushes and paint a masterpiece. What hogwash.

On Sunday, I was walking down the street and saw my neighbor on her porch playing her guitar. We started chatting about music and instruments. She showed me her studio. I was geeking out about Marco getting together with her and playing. And then her partner sent me this fantastic article about The Art of Focus. (My neighbors are the coolest.)

David Brooks writes, “The lesson from childhood, then, is that if you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”

And just now Amanda Palmer’s song Ukulele Anthem came on.

“Quit the bitching on your blog
And stop pretending art is hard
Just limit yourself to three chords
And do not practice daily
You'll minimize some stranger's sadness
With a piece of wood and plastic”

I mean, talk about stars aligning.

This isn’t about feeling guilty that you’re not doing it.

This is about giving in to the “terrifying longing” and just going nuts without worrying about what will result.

Yes, I am super busy. That is never going to change, and if I keep waiting I am going to miss all my opportunities. I have to make and do with what time I have.

In honor of Maya Angelou, who lived every day of her life vibrantly, I will leave you with this:

“I believe the most important thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”

Go. Make. Do.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Climbing Out

Depression is stupid. It's insidious, like a secret lover. You don't want it. But it is like erosion within. You're watching the water rise, and suddenly you're in a landslide. Oh crap. And then it's tempting, to just go, washed along in its flow, folding in to the dark, sleepy warmth. You can see the thoughts cycling downward. Yes, you are really depressed. Yes, you are really sad. Yes, this is happening. It's like a fog had rolled in, a drug-like fog. And you're fumbling around for the regular things. But everything is piling up. Oh, dammit, the laundry. Oh, shit, the papers. And there are the dishes. Wow. Didn't I just do them? How can it be this bad already?

Well, today is my friend's birthday. And on Friday we talked for 2.5 hours on the phone. She is battling breast cancer with courage and stamina and strength. When I told her I was so amazed at her positivity, she said, "What choice do I have? Being upset about it doesn't help." She spent much of the conversation inspiring me because that's what she does. She cares for others. She is generous and giving and lets so many people borrow her strength. And for this I am grateful.

Well, this morning I found that she posted this on my Facebook wall:

She had told me on the phone that, yes, we sometimes stumble back into struggles we thought we'd already finished, but that obviously there was something more to learn from it. But the important thing to remember is that we already did it. We are already victorious. And to just figure out what we need to learn and get on with the learning because, "What choice do we have?"

So, this morning I was all mopey putting on my shoes to go work out, and I just thought of her heading into another round of chemo, and it was like a shot in the arm.

I already did it. I survived. I was strong, even at nine. I did it. I can do it again. 

Bobbi was like the Puddleglum from Narnia who remembers that Narnia exists and uses his bare foot to stamp out the witch's fire so that everyone else can get out of the fog and remember too. 

He says:
“I don’t know rightly what you all mean by a world,” he said, talking like a man who hasn’t enough air. “But you can play that fiddle till your fingers drop off, and still you won’t make me forget Narnia; and the whole Overworld too. We’ll never see it again, I shouldn’t wonder. You may have blotted it out and turned it dark like this, for all I know. Nothing is more likely. But I know I was there once. I’ve seen the sky full of stars. I’ve seen the sun coming up out of the sea of a morning and sinking behind the mountains at night. And I’ve seen him up in the midday sky when I couldn’t look at him for brightness.”
Thank you, Bobbi. So, for you, here is a song to commemorate being strong, to honor where we've been and where we're going and to say:
"Fuck yes. I am exactly the person that I want to be." - Amanda Palmer

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mapping Myself

I’d like to draw a map that would show me and all the places I’ve been and all the times I’ve wandered and gotten lost and where I ended up. And on the map would be my friends, these amazing people who have walked sections of my map with me or stayed put while I wandered or ended up in the same place after their own years of wandering. On the map would be my neighbor, thirteen years my senior, who moved in to his house when I graduated from high school. He’s been living there, building his life while I’ve been wandering around getting lost and fat and drunk and finding love and ending up across the street. The same goes for my 96 year old friend who has been living in the same house since 1948. There’s a sadness to think of her living there, working as a psychologist at the VA dealing with PTSD while I was busy being traumatized.

Last night I celebrated my friend’s 70th birthday. She is my friend. She picks me up for plant sales and helps me with my sewing machine. She’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. She only wants to share her life. She shares her knowledge about exercise and diet - but only in a way that feels like a gift and not a burden. She shares her joy over her grandchild and also her questions. She asks me questions about strollers and what’s normal for a one year old. It’s my area of experience, so I share. And all these women around the table, educators and therapists and social workers and musicians, had come together because of Susan’s generosity - because she said, “Would you like to lift with me?”

I’ve been tangled in a mess of old emotions this week. A former dorm sister went public about the abuse she suffered as a child in the mission we both grew up in and the failure of the organization to do anything about it. Eight years she’s been fighting to get the abuser outed and ousted. And their total lack of follow-through, their diminishing of his offenses, it makes me feel like a kid again - with no voice, with no recourse, with no hope of escape. My map would show me wandering around my house, tangled in my path, tripping over the way I just went, lost in the journey.

I meditated this morning because there’s little else I can do to keep myself from getting caught in this again. It reminds me that I’m HERE and I’m not lost and I’m not nine years old. It reminds me that all of my abuse is not what makes my life. My life is made up of a wonderful family and the greatest neighbors and the most wonderful group of women. I have roots here now, I am not wandering.

I want to do something with my story - with all of our stories. But then I watch a preview of a documentary about abuse in another Christian institution, and I think, “I don’t want to spend any more time on this. I want to be done.” And what comes of telling it? What is the outcome I desire? What is it that I am seeking? Do I want someone to validate my feelings? Do I want someone to apologize?

Ultimately, I want my power back. I want to be that little nine year old girl and say, “Fuck no! I will not scrub my fucking feet for you! Fuck no! I will not wash my underwear for you! Fuck no! I will not let you rub my skin raw with your whiskers!” And I want to not be afraid anymore. I want to not feel like I have to fight.

I want to push my pin into my map and keep it there and stop getting tangled in the old journeys.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Weather

For most of my adult life and really for most of my teen years, I have suffered from cyclical depression. Most of that time I thought of it as my fault, something wrong with me, something bad. And most of that time I was taken away with it, like an empty bottle floating on a tumultuous sea. For the first time, I am able to observe it with some clarity. It’s not any easier. In fact, this bout of depression feels even more frustrating than ever before because I thought I’d “beaten” it. But it’s here.

Depression is a very physical phenomenon for me. It’s like my body is suddenly filled with sand and I’m swimming through molasses. Everything is more exhausting. Everything is louder. Everyone is more difficult. The smallest things become great obstacles. I sleep a lot and never feel fully awake or alert or clear. I’m sluggish and tired and dread doing things I usually love - like socializing or talking. I stop looking forward to things.

At least I know, at this point in my life, that it’s not permanent. I know it will cycle. Just a couple weeks ago I was telling my friend how great life is, how happy I am. Work has been great and rewarding. I know that in my head. But right now it feels incredibly difficult. I can’t concentrate. I lose track of things. I’m exhausted by the process. I forget what I’m working on. It’s frustrating. I still have the same amount of things to do, but doing them takes more energy, takes longer and doesn’t feel as satisfying. It’s all in my head. Yet, I’m doing all the same things. And I’m keeping up with all the things I do to get myself out of the funk. I’m exercising, staying on my routine, trying to eat healthy, not have too much caffeine, etc., etc., etc.. But the dark heavy mind cloud is still there. I wake with a sense of dread.

I am trying not to be too hard on myself and others. I am trying to remember that everyone else didn’t change and become more annoying. It feels like they have. And I know my mood affects everyone, so they probably are reacting to me. But it’s me who has changed. Deep breath.

Perhaps because I expected to feel great now that it’s Spring, it feels even more depressing that I don’t. Perhaps because I keep thinking, “It’ll be better when...” and then it keeps being hard. Things keep coming up that make it hard. The winter with all the snow and snow days and struggling to keep up while kids are home and cooped up. And now Maya’s injury. And next it will be something else. No one has been sick for awhile. And allergy season is coming. We’re never in the clear for smooth sailing. That’s NORMAL. So why do I keep thinking that circumstances will change to make me better??

I read this today:

“There was an empirical study that found that people who have the tendency to use more self-referential terms (I, me, myself) tend to have more health problems and earlier deaths. These people have more involvement with the self. Being self-absorbed has an immense effect of narrowing one’s focus and blurring one’s vision. It is like being pressed down by a heavy load. If, on the other hand, you think more about others’ well-being, it immediately makes you feel more expansive, liberated and free. Problems which before may have seemed enormous would then seem more manageable.” - His Holiness The Dalai Lama


That made me remember the practice of tonglen. It is a method of connecting with suffering and for overcoming fear by awakening compassion for others. It is turning the tables on what we want to do (feel bad for ourselves) and instead take on the suffering of others. We think of everyone in the world who feels the same way and hope that they find freedom and peace.

“So on the spot you can do tonglen for all the people who are just like you, for everyone who wishes to be compassionate but instead is afraid, for everyone who wishes to be brave but instead is a coward.

Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us.

Use what seems like poison as medicine. Use your personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.” - Pema Chodron

Here is a short meditation I just did to help open this up. You may want to try it.

And for you, my friends, may you, today, find more space and light within. And may you be freed from suffering through compassion.

“You are the sky. Everything else - it’s just the weather.”
- Pema Chodron

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