less blood on the pavement than you see this moment in my glass

Today right as I stepped out the morning’s shower I thought, My writing is in the rubbish bin. Easy to think about giving up, now that the spark is gone, a flame so long dormant one fears stoking at cold ash. I don’t write as much as I did and when I do, it’s different than it used to be.

Perhaps it’s that I hold too many confidences. To write in any detail would be insensitive, or even reckless. A friend flees a fight; her man has laid hands on her. She stands in my arms and shakes while I squeeze her tight. Another friend teeters on suicide; her text sounds “off” so I call her, and we talk. She lives another day, because something inside her wants to prevail. Another friend calls; she is angry. She dissolves into tears. I am not frightened of her pain and anger, because I know these are the paths we stumble on as we find a deeper truth. I’m honored to be asked to share a few steps along the way.

Another friend, sober for about five years who’d started “controlled” drinking this summer, has found a new meaning of ruin. Shortly after last Monday’s flood, he is detained for a hit-and-run, and a DUI. He stays in jail; his friends escort him to the local Detoxification And Stabilization facility. He can barely walk.

So: almost 9 PM and I wave to him tonight, as he and the rest of the treatment center clients have a smoke outside in the cold streetlamps. He stares back at me, dazed, a ragged bloom rooted to the earth, perhaps forgotten by almost every person on the planet this moment

Except

at least

One.

That’s all – you know, just in the last couple days.

My son is growing, a half inch a month, at least; I can tell when it’s happening. He devours food indiscriminately; he sleeps twelve hours at a stretch if allowed. His features are less boy-like and not quite a man: a sprite, a changeling. His feet are beautiful and strong and he rests them on my legs and gives me a massage. He’s been attending yoga with me; his young body simply folding in half when required, and wondering at all these grownups who have to work at it.

Our weather, after the flood, changed for the better: cold crisp days and sunlight, an air fine like pine needles. A friend tells me: she say something about Spring, and I realize, Spring will happen again!

And now: the house moves to settle. My daughter runs the last of the hot water to wash her face. My husband and his fine well-built body, in our bed, a candle and low light. I am thinking to myself that when it comes to my writing, it is important I am patient, it is important I persevere. It is important that upon each point I try to tell you exactly how it is. Not much else really matters. I learned long ago that my words can make a difference, and can bring hope to others even when I merely record minutiae, when I try to tell you what it’s like – hot water in a stainless steel basin, and the sound of the washing machine, and the cats settled in and the dog’s feet skittering in his sleep as he rests at his feet, on an old blanket.

May you find that peace, and comfort. May you deeply know the joy of still being here; of still feeling the earth by hand or foot, by the cheek against the pillow. Gravity holds you there and won’t let you go.

WALKIES

the fox in the snow

WALKIES

It’s cold. Cold and windy some days; merely cold others. I dress as best I can for the morning walks with my dog and frankly I’d rather end up over-bundled than the opposite.

My dog is a fit and hardy soul; he traipses across large puddles encrusted with thick ice; these frozen lakes groan under his pressure and he takes a quick drink, then he’s trotting ahead again. I find myself enjoying the fresh air and some contemplation; small brown birds abruptly blossom into colorful flowers – slam into the tenacious blackberry shrubs at trailside. I see a fellow dogwalker now and then, but mostly it’s just the sound of the water in my ears, and my dog’s companionable tread.

Winter Walk

They’re pulling the paper mill down, across the river. There’s a part of me that can’t believe it’s gone. I stop and really get a look – as long a look as I’m willing to take given the cold – and I think about my past, my future. I’ve lasted longer than the mill. Huh. See, I started my engineering life at that mill as an intern, after my sophomore year at college. I remember all the other engineering students and how all they’d talk was money and job prospects and the cars they’d buy.

It depressed me long before I earned the degree so maybe I was fated to let that life fall aside.

I think about when I quit engineering and the few who told me I was wasting my “good brain” by leaving a technical field.

But I’m still standing; the mill isn’t. It seems like each attempt, each vocation, each series of struggles and failures, and I’m left humble, less-than, and in a satisfied smallness.

Winter WalkToday I line my eyes in black eyeliner; powder, line them again. I tuck my blonde curls away up in my watch cap. I adorn myself with the one necklace I own – a cheap little affair with a black cross. And hoop earrings. I make the bed, stopping to kiss the small kitty who asks for my attention. He reclines on his back, his paws up, lazily paddling the air in his ecstasies.

I wash the dishes, and care for the animals, and sew two simple garments. I meet with a friend, and attend to my duties: picking up the children, chairing a meeting, attending pickup rehearsal.

My children are old enough to have a life of their own; this happened very swiftly, and it is taking me quite some time to get used to this. I find myself teetering on the balance beam; realizing that they have formed of themselves most of the persons they will be, and that my job is no longer so much to help them manifest, but to support them in their ever-blooming self. So when my children are well, I feel well; when they suffer, I suffer more than seems possible, and certainly more than is logical.

My daughter’s manicure, deathly deep blue – chipping. The blonde tendrils of my son’s hair, clinging to his perfect skin as he emerges from the bath, wrapped in a threadbare towel. The cozy clink here and there from the kitchen: Ralph washing the dishes. My own anticipation of a hot shower, and a hot lemon and honey to drink. And hanging the last of the clothes to dry and wiping down the counters.

And last night, when my son had so much trouble sleeping, and couldn’t settle, and cried out. And I brought him a warm milk with honey and after he drank it

he fell

into silence,

and slept.

 

“how necessary a world of pains and troubles”; or, what I really learned and where I learned it

Published this month in the July/August 2012 issue of Natural Child Magazine; reprinted here. I think I linked to it on the RUN earlier; apologies if my regular readers find it a re-run.

***

I was an achiever my entire school career. They put me in a “gifted” program my first year, and the rest of my academic experience more or less followed suit. I’ve since had cause to joke, What is a “gifted” six-year-old anyway? The one who doesn’t wipe boogers under the desk? Because at least from my perspective today, I was a pretty typical child. Unfortunately, I responded to being labeled “gifted” in ways not entirely beneficial to my well-being. If I had some degree of intelligence and perception, even at this early age I had a lot of fears and anxieties. I soothed these anxieties by being a “good girl” and getting good grades. I became increasingly reliant on praise, increasingly self-conscious (just another synonym for “self-absorbed”), and entrenched in risk-averse behaviors. If I didn’t know I could succeed, I wouldn’t try. When I didn’t get it perfect, I was embarrassed. Virtuous and kind in many ways, I was more concerned with myself than with helping others.

Still, up until a few years ago, I would have told you that I liked school. I got straight A’s, teachers seemed to like me, and I them (for the most part). I had plenty of friends – and later, girlfriends and boyfriends. This seemed to work out well enough until high school graduation.

I received a full merit scholarship to go to college. Moving away to the city, my worldview began to crumble. The large university I went to didn’t care much about me in any particular way. I could no longer receive a steady diet of public praise. It seemed like the joy we’re supposed to feel these young years, was not present in my peers. Many drank and drugged to cope. Students around me were anxious, overworked, and many seemed primarily interested in gaining a career so they could earn a lot of money. They often spoke condescendingly and harshly about those not in our socioeconomic strata. These were depressing realizations, considering our narrative was that we were “succeeding” and having a good time.

My first college course was Calculus something-or-other, and there were five hundred students in the lecture hall. Without a high ratio of teacher to student, without being able to be the “best” in the class and get noticed, my motivation abruptly collapsed. I remember going to that particular class far less than a dozen times in the quarter. The rest of my college was lackluster, hanging on by my fingertips and occasionally looking forward to a class after my own heart – the rare times I could take a non-math and non-science course (my major required rigorous coursework in science, chemistry, physics, et cetera).

I graduated with a 3-point-something in engineering, and within four years. Yes, this represents a lot of work and is certainly an accomplishment – especially considering the general ennui and unhappiness I lived with! But see, I simply didn’t know what else to do with my life, and I had to maintain the GPA and the field of study to keep my scholarship. Plain and simple.

I graduated in 1999. Thirteen years have passed since I entered the career field with halfhearted life-plans of working a nine to five in a well-paid position. At first I worked and excelled in the field. To my surprise I did enjoy engineering work – far more than school. But soon after we started our family I quit the field, leaving behind a substantial income and the unforgettable experience of being owned by a corporation. My partner and I had the desire to provide a different life for our children than we’d had, and we set out to try it.

This single-income life involved a lot of hard work, in fact more difficulty than I’d encountered in school, or in engineering. Busy raising babies – and that was a real education! – for some time I thought I would have resources for nothing else. But that was merely the labor-intensive, exhausting, and exhilarating years of parenting small children. Over time this day-in-day-out, twenty-four-seven commitment paid dividends in deeply examining what was important to me, and why. It also taught me, day by day, to be less self-focussed and to give without expectation of return (a wonderful and valuable lesson). It also taught me to enjoy my children, instead of look forward to the day we’d institutionalize them in school. And when I read my writings over the last eight years I’ve journaled, these changes within me are evident.

Life changed. Time flew by. Sooner than I’d have guessed, the boot camp of the early parenting years had softened. And in the ensuing years, besides raising the kids within our means and my partnership, I’ve re-invested my time and efforts in the genuine interests I’d had as a child (namely, writing, art, and sewing), and I’ve succeeded in these exploits. And – perhaps most dear to my heart – I learned the value in any earnest work well-done – yes, dishes, diapers, cooking and cleaning. Meditative, mindful, honest pursuits, as worthwhile as engineering, no better nor worse – honorable and satisfying.

Yes, probably my most dear “accomplishments” are those of the last ten years: learning from the experience of raising children. This is a revelation, especially considering where I came from. Children were loved in my family, but they were also decidedly placed as second-class citizens. Raising them, the day-to-day, was considered beneath a progressive, intelligent person’s prerogative. Kids were rather pedestrian affairs, noisy and messy and best managed and well-mannered.

I’m happy to tell you today that everything, simply everything in my worldview has changed, and for the better. My children and my experiences learning from them gave me my life back, little by little.

And it would be unfair not to mention the many adults and children who came before me, who voiced the passions and the daring I hadn’t found in my home- or school-life growing up. It is due to these mentors I was able to find my own place, take pride in my work (paid, unpaid, vocational and avocational), and my own contributions. Today I live a life hard-working and doing absolutely what I want to do. We are fed and clothed and we love one another well, and I want for nothing else. I don’t, to wit, come home at the end of the day and try to dissolve my stress and anger with a glass of ice and bourbon. I don’t, to wit, compare myself to the next door neighbors or pine for what they have and I don’t. I don’t, to wit, find my kids something to “manage”, mold, or create in my image.

Their dreams are theirs, under their own authorship.

And I am very grateful for all of this.

I was in my thirties when my life began to unfold and I grew brave enough to join the human race, joyful and free. But I see the bloom in my children even now. Perhaps my experiences can benefit my children. I hope so.

But for myself? Being entrusted with nurturing their dear lives afforded me the best education money can’t buy.

 

Off To The Bus, Banana Cake In Hand

and not pieces of gold and silver

So, health problems. I am so fortunate to have friends and family who care and who ask and who offer to help me. I am determined to learn how to graciously accept these offers, when appropriate. That is one thing I may stand to learn from this process, as well as a few other potential lessons.

I am frightened at the possible prognosis for my health difficulties. The couple people who knew a few details after the ER visit tell other people some stuff, to my somewhat-dismay, but I’ve only divulged to my brother every bit I know so far, including the details from yesterday’s appointment with the specialist/surgeon. For the time being I’m not super-interested in sharing. You know there was a time not too recent I’d feel I owed it to anyone who asked, to tell them everything. Not so, any more.

BY THE WAY, the visit with the specialist/surgeon was a discrete joy in what has been a slightly out-of-body experience. He was like someone drew a really Handsome & Distinguished Doctor, then made a cartoon about him, then adapted a live-action movie of the cartoon. We had a consultation in his largeish office which included “many leather-bound books”, and etched-glass awards for being amazing in his field, and he was at a big desk listening to some smooth-ish jazz and typing away on the laptop and airily but I assure you professionally dismissing some of the questions I asked, the ones where my nails were digging into the chair arms.  He had a direct gaze, firm handshake, knew his arena of expertise (far as I could tell), and carried an impeccably-polished mien. Later in an exam room he joshed with his assistant while trying to casually put hands all up in my business, unfortunately I couldn’t hear their conversation because everything turns to white noise when I’m subjected to this kind of thing, necessary though it may occasionally be.

I step out into the fall weather with the kids, or today on my way downtown on my own. I’m grateful for the solace of meditation and walking, two activities that are very helpful to me, especially now. I’m grateful too for my family who is very strong and very loving. For the friends I saw today and the friend who’s coming to dinner tomorrow and for the sister who visits. For the chocolate ganache I made up in the kitchen and the “extra” children we had in our home. For the warmth of new boots and a car to drive and the way my body, most of my body anyway, feels alive. I am grateful for time in the pool today with friend and my own children, enjoying an afternoon swim and the feel of the water hugging my body and the experience of hot and cold and shower tile and back into jeans and my favorite hoodie. I am grateful for juice my husband buys just for me, and for my son’s loving and open nature as he asks if he can take a flower from the bouquet he bought me, and bring one to a neighbor girl, and then later tonight when he brings me a bowl of fruit, and then a glass of water.

I am grateful for knowledge to be patient with myself as I learn how to live. What a gift life is to me, not to be spent but to breathe in, “As it is,” and breathe out: “As it is”.

Ralph just caught this immense, horrible spider out our porch. Happy Autumn, everyone!

Today amongst lots of your typical daily activities most everyone does, I also made time to practice meditation. I held a guided session this morning in my home* while my youngest child slept (my oldest child stayed at her grandmother’s last night). The second meditation practice occurred in a group setting and was mostly silent – my first time in a group, sitting still and without sound for a half hour.

I am amazed at how much more quiet and calm my mind can be these days than it used to be. Meditating, I soon find myself in a semi-trance, not sleepy and not unaware. As long as I make myself physically comfortable, I do not resent the time sitting. So far I am relatively successful at dismissing the part of the mind that attempts to call this practice a waste of time. I can collect myself from whatever I was doing and relax into, and enjoy, the practice. This is relatively new. It’s pretty wonderful. In moments during a guided meditation the experience feels like work; while I illuminate the “inner enemies” I can feel weary and tired and sad. But finishing the process (which includes the fire of meditation and eliminates these burdens), I have a great deal of energy afterwards. Energy to take care of others, to serve, to be kind. To be patient. Joyous, loving, and free.

Or more specifically, to clean the bathroom, finish the laundry, practice asana, make snacks for children, bake bread for my family and for friends, drive my son out to a playdate, return phone calls, sew, pick up my children and then play with them, fix food and clean up after, mail a letter, drive and sing happily to music, pick up coffee, give a ride to someone who needed one, buy groceries (and help my daughter in learning how to shop), ask my husband about his day and really listen, assist with dinner and cleanup, and listen to and talk wtih a friend regarding a recent personal setback.

In between my meditations and while doing these other things, the mind occasionally attempted to make this a bad day. The mind also tried to tell me I Wasn’t Good Enough (oh… that old chestnut! I’m almost starting to feel fond of it!). The lowest point: In the midday I tried to do some work and found I was very tired and had little energy for the task. I felt angry and ashamed of myself – and anxious, as the work I wanted to do is something I need for the weekend. But I accepted my situation and sat down and watched a bit of an entertaining-enough film (hint, Hugh Jackman taking a shower outside) and, as I couldn’t quite accept a total resting moment, I knit. But I promise, I knit in as relaxed a fashion as possible. When it was time to rise up again, I was ready.

And now? It’s just about time to lay down. After a slice of that pan de los muertos. Which turned out perfectly – and was a joy to make.

Life is pretty good.

* I have been using Harshada Wagner’s classes; his teachings and meditations have been incredible gifts.

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it

Today my daughter hands two bills through the car window, to the man we often see impassively holding a cardboard sign. He’s youngish and handsome and has a sun-worn face. Today he has a nod going, maybe heroin or methadone, maybe just sleepy. It takes him just a beat to notice us. We give him the money and when he thanks us I say, “You’re welcome” and I feel not the slightest bit of angst or anxiety or grandiosity or depression about any of the business and I drive on and feel a tremendous sense of gratitude.

I have a book important to me I read everyday, and on the first blank page is a handwritten note, “What’s my motivation today?” Every day that I ask myself that question, I remember I’m put upon this planet to help others. The plans in store for me, well I have no idea (this is actually often quite calmly terrifying, more in a minute). I have come to know my purpose is to help and I’ve come to know I don’t know ahead of time where and when and maybe I’ll never know if I did or how much. The guy with the cardboard sign is just one example of someone I’ve helped (maybe), and not the only person I’ve helped (maybe) today. As for who I’ve harmed, I don’t know that either, although I hope if this is revealed I can make restitution.

This man with the cardboard sign, maybe that money went straight to benzos or a bottle of Boone’s Strawberry Hill. Maybe it went to food or socks. Most certainly his life isn’t any less worthy than mine, which means maybe it’s as simple as someone asking for something and I get to say Yes or No, and when I give I get to know I haven’t earned those two bills any more than he has, as far as I know. If I hadn’t been given the opportunity to give the money, then seen the opportunity and taken it, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know I don’t deserve the money, it’s just something in my pocket. What a relief it is to know this last.

What a relief it is to no longer teach my children greed, athough they have every opportunity to invest in that quality in their lives, should they wish.

I have a rule about help for others, a suggestion given to me by someone who’s helped me quite a bit, maybe my first spiritual teacher in the flesh who I’ve recognized as such. She told me I could give and help as long as I did not rob my own family, and she told me to pray I do the Next Right Thing. That’s easy enough at least for starters. In the moment it isn’t always clear if I’m robbing my family or not, and I’ve come to rely upon a fledgling bit of intuition and I’ve had many such incidents I won’t bore you with now, although I assure you they were not at all boring for me.

It would be easier to live the way I used to because then I had Plans and I knew how things would turn out. Then I could obsess about things I wanted to do or acquire or feel smug about eventualities I was sure I was avoiding through my virtue (I’ve since discovered, I have no virtue). I could pretend I’d earned or deserved or worked hard for the comforts I have and the wonderful people I get to see every day. Then I had it all tidied up: I’d raise my kids like this, I’d do such-and-such on this day, I wouldn’t throw away my time on people unless I knew the return I’d get (although I never would have put it in such direct terms, most especially not to myself). I’d give gifts for friends to keep me in their good graces. I’d avoid enemies. I genuinely thought if I didn’t do things for others or say the polite thing or the thing I thought they wanted to hear, they wouldn’t like me.

Now: I have no enemy I avoid, not on this earth. Now: I don’t do things to be liked. Now: I like myself more than I have previously (I’m not claiming cause & effect, there, with those two separates). I don’t much worry who likes me. I know I’m loved. And I love so many, and I feel it so often.

One of the things I’ve realized in a most striking fashion is I could never, ever pay back the gifts I’ve been given. It is not possible. I have to live with knowing this.

It was easier to live the way I lived before. Back then I didn’t tremble like an ant before God, prone to devastation or heartbreaking good fortune alike.

the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding

 
I have recently committed to a path of Honesty. This may sound easy to many on first read, but rigorous honesty is something entirely different than, “I don’t steal from my employer’s till” or, “I don’t tell bald-faced lies, or at least not that much, or only when it doesn’t matter.” It means no longer telling any lies, even those by omission – and excavating where I’ve been lying while lying to myself by not admitting I was doing so.

Deeper still, honesty to me means no longer accepting the tacit bargains of codependency and hardened hearts. It means being present in the moment (this is hard); it means caring about the other party involved in a way almost transcendant. It means risking hearing the other person’s response when I speak up with things previously unsaid. It means no longer lying to myself that omitting information isn’t dishonesty – when it really is.

Relevant to the last few days, I have committed to being honest about my thoughts and feelings with my friends – specifically when something they do hurts me or affects me adversely. Everyone is different, and some people (though I suspect, not so many) do not have this difficulty in their relationships; however, I historically have. What I have typically done in the past is either held my feelings inside (and thus developed either resentment or anxiety, or both) and/or perhaps committed to avoiding or turning off to these people – cutting off or curtailing friendship. I’ve often thought a version, a lie really, not so specifically spoken, of “easy come easy go”. It has been my softer, more cowardly way to let go of a possible intimacy than do the scary work of growth.

You can imagine how hard it is to live this way with husband and children. I’ve caused a lot of suffering for them and myself.

And finally, I am of course of severely diminished use to anyone else – everyone else – when I live this way.

Yes; when I live this way, growing active cultures of Anxiety and Resentment, I become Fearful and Angry. I don’t necessarily complain too vociferously to other people about the party who hurt me; but of course I have spoken evil about individuals. I regret this as these behaviors accomplished nothing good. I don’t want to do this any more.

My avoidance tendencies and my responses due to deep-seated fear of being cut off (from affection, mostly) were developed and perfected over a period of many years, as a result of my upbringing and as a survival mechanism. While understandable responses as a child, I have spent years parcelling my mind, heart, and spirit into ever more narrow and frightened spaces. I’ve outgrown the usefulness of these strategies and they now hurt deeply – and not just me.

So I am honest now – to the best of my abilities – and it is not at all the freeing experience one who hasn’t committed to fully might guess. It is quite terrifying. Implicit in telling someone, “Ouch, that hurt” is every single Boogeyman that kept me from saying it for years. The possible responses: “See you later, I don’t need this shit”, “Come on, you’re making a big deal of nothing!”, or “Well now that you’ve opened the floodgates let me tell YOU just what I think about YOU!” – exactly the results I’d feared so much and for so long. It risks everything I hadn’t been willing to risk before – all this at a time in my life, now, where I am learning to cope with life on life’s terms; without the evening cocktail to obliterate the pain.

See, telling someone I’m hurt is the opposite of a Control thing; no, Control was what I’d tried to maintain earlier by my dishonesty. Speaking aloud these truths is not done to secure a friend’s future behavior nor demand anything in particular from them, but to be honest about who I am – today – and what I think and feel. I don’t require people change, and I could not force this result even if I wished to; to the best of my ability I merely tell them in as direct and brief a way possible (seriously, like one sentence) what they did and that it hurt. Then I wait to see how they respond.

Turns out, so far, some people don’t like this kind of honesty much. Most recently, someone I care for very much literally stomped out of my house. I won’t write down the things this person was quite quick to talk over me and claim about my character, but they were many and they weren’t complimentary.

After the person left it felt so tempting and familiar to think of attempts to “take it back” – to apologize if I hurt their feelings – to diminish what I said as if one or two sentences were too much for me to claim. But I can’t apologize for other people’s experiences (or feelings). And at the same time I am brave enough to be honest, I realize there is no friendship I absolutely need – there are many I want to keep, if possible. What I need is to love others unconditionally, and to instantly forgive them when they wrong me – even if they never apologize.

I am no longer going to deal the way I used to with those who respond poorly to me; even those who outright try to hurt me. I can’t afford to hold a grudge or cut them off from my thoughts and prayers.

The one time in my life, that I can remember, that I earnestly wished for death – I sat in an AA meeting in early sobriety and even my final barrier, that I could never physically destroy my body for the pain it would cause my children, in that moment even that barrier was removed – a man shared and at one point he said, “No one owes you a goddamned thing for getting sober.”

His words were like freshets of water and they give me strength now.

But, unlike the words of my mentor and virtual life coach Dalton – I find pain, really, does hurt.

show some love, you ain’t so tough

Another opportunity to know me, if you’d like:

Today, my life, I’m a fortunate person. I have my health, I have my family. I have loving and supportive friends and I have many in my life who support me from near and far. I have two children and a partner, three individuals who are the exact people I would choose to live deeply with given any choice; I have many people who daily fill my life up with inspiration, energy, and copious volumes of love like a drug-rush. I have a warm place to call home; I have food for my family and clothes on my back and a place to live and a home and yard full of animals to love up and care for. I have relationships that daily deepen – a real gift, there. I have my health (inasmuch as I can tell) and I live in a beautiful and wild little smudge of a town, wet greenery and the elements keeping me company.

I have life. I feel breath drawing in, I feel it leave my body.

Early-early this morning, just after midnight, it was revealed to me that someone I know took some vulnerable and (I’d thought) private disclosures I’d shared with them – and aired these to (at least) another person. Besides being just old-fashioned betrayed and deeply hurt (I’m not sure why anyone thinks it’s okay to co-opt someone else’s painful reality for juicy third-party discussion), the information really concerns difficulties my husband is having; the kind of stuff that could have real-life suckery for him – possibly including his job.

Oooh, exciting, right? Well, don’t be reading here looking for details or recriminations or a rant about an individual. I do not now and have never used my blog as some kind of sneaky tattling service and nor do I need anyone on my “side” as to why or how I’ve been so horribly wronged or whatever.

This is about my feelings. And my limitations.

I have many friends who support me – and I thank them for this. Amongst them, my husband and my mother have served me immensely well as they know me and my relationships better than anyone besides myself and Ceiling Cat – and they love me very much. I know when I talk this out with them they will listen, because they are amazing. They will hear me out, they will acknowledge me, and they will help get me through this.

But I haven’t talked to them yet, and tonight I’m suffering. Getting over the initial sting, I’ve found that the betrayal (of myself and of Ralph, whom I feel protective of and love through-and-through) is the least of my worries. What is killing me is the pressure I now feel – this onus that I have to do something about this. You know, do the RIGHT thing. Confront someone in this awesome effective way, reasoned and compassionate but firm. Confront someone who may lash out and hurt me at the same point I’m wounded and scared. I should Be Direct!  – but avoid precipitating drama (precisely in the kind of social situation often set up to instigate drama). Tell people my feelings.

Feelings? They’re necessary, wonderful, a part of life. But some people do not honor our feelings nor hold the big and scary ones tenderly. Some people feed off them like vampires.

That frightens me. I retreat in my shell. I feel claustrophobic, alone. Tired.

And I feel terrible about myself.

Here’s some truth: people hurt us – sometimes when intending to do us good, sometimes by being merely clumsy. Sometimes they are deliberately getting a jab in because it feels good (in the moment), or because they’re suffering and their own suffering is so loud in their ears they do wrong by us, or by being aggressive or blurting out the wrong thing – they hurt us,

and then we place the burden of this on our own shoulders.

See, I feel an incredible pressure to confront those who call themselves friend and then (by accident or design) hurt me. The pressure is twofold. One, I know I’ve hurt others and when they’ve been brave enough to tell me I am given the intense honor of knowing them at a deep level. Yes, I want to give my friends this gift in kind. Two, I don’t want to live a resentful life. This puts me in minor agonies, because resentment, at least as it functions for me, is not a product of how shitty someone else was (big or small), or whether they said sorry or they Never Did It Again or made amends. Resentment is entirely in my heart. It’s like a suitcase I continue to bang along behind me.

And this? Tortures me.

Forgiveness – again, as it works for me – is not an automatic quid pro quo given in change after the offending party says “I’m sorry”. Yes, “sorry” is underutilized: not enough people say “sorry” and mean it. And yes, they can and should do this, often, and yes, it can help – in fact a heartfelt apology often precipitates forgiveness. But the power to forgive is something that lies within myself. I know I should not allow others to hold me hostage; yet I do.

As I type here, I feel sad. I’m not sure if I will trust this person with the Real Me anymore… that is, I suppose, their loss – but it’s mine too. It’s my limitation. The inability, today, to trust again. I am not big enough. Not spiritual enough.

Not today.

And you know what sucks. Also. It’s my birthday. Big fucken deal, right, but I am a superstitious person (didn’t you know?) and I hate having some kind of assy existential crisis during milestones. One Thanksgiving I worked my ass off and made a perfect dinner and after ten hours of working without even a bathroom break (my mistake, I got carried away) when I finally sat down to relax and enjoy my efforts and my company, about five minutes later my sister and her boyfriend and my husband were in some huge simmering-then-exploding Drama. It upset me for days. Again, my limitations.

I’m going to get a hot bath and my warm wiggly kiddos and cry a bit. And you know what? They’re going to be immensely restorative and beautiful and they’re going to acknowledge my pain and Suck and they’re still going to love me. When I wake up there’s going to be birthday awesomeness for me. I know it, because I really am surrounded by wonderful people who care for me very well indeed.

I have life. I feel breath drawing in, I feel it leave my body.

“we need to do this again soon”

We weren’t invited to one friend’s Christmas or New Year’s party this last season (although we were invited to an end-of-year birthday party which we regretfully passed up as it was in Seattle). I know, it’s kinda funny. There were a few galas open to groups we’re involved in, and we elected not to go to those for a few reasons. The season passed joyfully for us with much family love and fellowship. But the social and friendship aspect gave me a minute’s pause. A few weeks later, and two nights ago after a breakdown of intense sadness and many tears, I have come to see there is something amiss for me. I think I’ve begun to sort it.

I know many people take a lot from my life, my friendship, my writings (here and elsewhere), and my example (as wife, mother, social thinker, and whatever else). Lately I’m not sure how much I’m getting served by those I give to, those I think on so much, and the efforts I make to help (however effective – or non-effective! – they are). I feel a deep sadness when I think on this. I know I am loved by many people and liked by many people. I have only once in my life genuinely been rather friendless and that was such a breathtaking experience of pain and crystalline awareness I feel, today, a deep gratitude and awe when I think on this episode in my life. I am not “lonely”, not only because we are very social, but due to the quality of these many exchanges. Friendship, however, is sometimes elusive and trecherous terrain.

Sometimes I wonder if some people deliberately stay away.  In saying this I don’t think I’m being overly neurotic or self-obsessed: think on it, if you wrote as often and as publicly as I do on (occasionally) very radical ideas and you knew you were read by many, you would probably wonder too. But without concrete evidence I can only guess if my impressions are true. I know many people think of me as “intimidating” (#1 adjective levied against me if not discussing my busoms), “smart”, “inspiring”, “open-minded” and “compassionate”; and many people will speak with glowing praise on my writings. I sometimes wonder if they keep me at a distance because they are as self-described: intimidated (I have done this myself in relation to some people) or threatened or angered or scared by my passions. As if all I am are the passions I write about.

But these are guessing games on my part. In the meantime, there is no shortage of “positive feedback”. Besides the explicit Thank Yous I receive, the words like those identified above and the thoughts many share with me on what they’ve read let me know I am appreciated. I believe I am very fortunate in that I’ve always taken praise with a grain of salt. Praise is not about me and my quality, it is about what was ignited within the individual receiving me. When my writing is praised I have the opportunity to learn a bit more about the one praising or thanking. It is a joy, a bone-deep joy, to know and believe those who tell me I’ve helped. I’m very fortunate to have helped many. But I’ve never taken it to mean I was something special, because I know I’m not, really. I’m merely a writer. I was happy to write before I knew my reader statistics and before I opened comments. I’m happy to write still. I will write until I can’t anymore, no matter who is reading and responding.

Appreciation is a positive experience for me and I do not want to belittle its role in my life, nor my gratitude for those who take the time to express it. I thank them then and I thank them now.

But being appreciated, admired, serving as helpful, and serving as a mentor are not the same as experiencing friendship.

Friendship is being together. Without conditions and without praise. With love. Love is simple. And scary sometimes.

Friendship means spending time. As I’ve gotten older and not only experienced family life but observed my friends and their young children, I have heard many, many say they don’t have time to see those they love, that they miss them, that they have to make more time for them – someday. And here I will get very personal, because this is where the sadness really hits me. When I hear this from my friends it injures – every time. My heart simply breaks and childhood hurts swell up inside me. It is not my friends’ fault. At all. It is something I have not yet moved past. My own mother, so dear to me, struggled with being so pinched she was often fleeing rather than being with me (my brother often does the same). She loved me and she paid for me but I sensed she was never There, her foot always half-out the door (ask my half-sister more about that, too). Her inability to be with me wasn’t about me, a little child who needed her, and then a growing and grown woman who wanted to be friends. It was about her feeling of claustrophobia and her fear that any commitment would limit her, her bargain that “busy” and earning money and Good Girl performance would make her worthwhile in the eyes of others – a bargain that served too-often as the lash against her back. It was, in final estimation, damage done her as a child in repeated and subtle or overt ways, within her family, sure, but within the narratives of a patriarchal culture built upon the suffering and hard work of and oppressions heaped on so many women and carers.

I can know in an evaluative way how my mother let me down, and I can forgive her for that, and I do (I think). I can know it in no way negates the many positive attributes of her character nor how much she loved us (it is a myth that parents who fuck up in this or that way have less “love” for their children). It also would be a false picture not to point out her commitment to earn a good wage and work hard to support us were valuable parental enterprises that kept us safe from many hardships (although more, I suspect, served her sense of “security” – something we can never really have, but so many seek out fervently). Her work served us one way, my father’s presense served me another. My experience of my father’s presence has been the greatest outside source of strength in my life. I wonder if it is his absence I feel so keenly, leaving a void in my life; I wonder if over these last couple years my sadness in some friendships is an echo of that pain.

But the hurt I experienced through my mother, it is still with me. I don’t know why. I blame myself now (there’s no point in blaming her). And I don’t understand; and I wonder if I’ll ever be free of those childhood hurts.

In light of my recent reflections and my feelings of sadness I’ve experienced anew a gratitude for the time I’ve recently received from friends. Thinking on it now there are more than I’d realized. Several dates smoking on the porch or getting a cup of coffee or sitting in our living room talking comic books and homestyle cooking; shopping at the thrift store and laughing until almost peeing; even the brief conversation in the parking lot when I know my friend is really there, really seeing me. IM conversations and email exchanges where my loved ones take time out of their life for me. The candy date in Olympia just last Monday. And last night being invited to our friends’ (Ralph seriously bogarted baby Easton) where we caught up and talked and experienced nothing more than fellowship.

People who read here should know (or be reminded) I don’t use this space as an attempt to communicate with someone indirectly. My thoughts here are not directed at an individual or a few individuals. I comb through my every sentence in an attempt to avoid this. This caution is something necessary in a public journal that wouldn’t be in a private one – but it also helps me avoid externalizing my conflicts while discovering what they are, deep inside, where they are often more complex and yet, in the end analysis, simple as a kitten on Christmas. I sometimes wish I could do all this “growing” in private, air these vulnerabilities without making myself vulnerable. But: there it is.

What I’d wish for anyone reading here, near or far, is to consider those in their lives they aren’t spending time with – and why. What is being served by missing someone, by loving them from afar? Consider telling them you love them. Consider spending time with them for the sake of seeing them. Compliments and thank yous can wait another time. Don’t assume anyone you know isn’t lonely or rattled or sad or needing support. Don’t assume those who appear “strong” do not have hurts and deep sadness. Don’t assume they know you like them, or love them. Assume instead you might not see them again (and you might not). Take back your life. It’s yours, just now.

I will be doing the same in the next few days.

And now? I’m going to get up from my computer now and go sieze that precious, flavorful strawberry.

***

Small Stone #13*

My children
love the way I smell.

Small stone project

Stand-In
(Small Stone #14*)

Family Meeting!
But father is asleep
I identify the fluffy and small kitty as his proxy.
Giggling, satisfied smiles all around

Small stone project

i tried looking up quotes about failure but they were all depressingly bootstrappy

Today my many failures smirk from the corner of my ill-lit kitchen, leaned against the wall with arms crossed, sarcastically raising their eyebrows at my futile attempts to simply keep going. I’d been ignoring them for some time, primly folding fabric and wiping down counters and using my cheerful voice and washing and cutting up vegetables and all those typical things I do. I’d been thinking if I just kept working then pretty soon the failures wouldn’t seem so bad, and I’d have my little proofs at my competence and goodness and merit, and I’ll sweep these narratives out the gap like the dust from the back porch, close my door/mind and they will be gone.

Yet the failures stack up perfectly and make an airtight case. Many are small, incidental; some are large, oppressive. Perhaps no one wants to hear them enumerated here but I need them out of my mind, their crushing and entirely accurate little proclamations about my character and failings, their circular arguments that get louder and more tangled and mar my speech and thoughts while others around me have simply no idea how much I am preyed upon.

I’ve spent the last better part of a year ruminating on a particular encounter and unsatisfying and distressing conclusion with an acquaintance-friend. I have not given myself license to write about this freely here for fear of causing someone else pain or risking a reader taking my very vulnerable thoughts and using them against me with gossip and speculation. It is not that I assume the worst about people, it is that when I write or speak vulnerable words I do not wish to be re-traumatized by those who receive them. These are the very, very brief times I wish I had a private journal – the times I cannot synthesize my painful thoughts and speak in ways I that feel safe enough.

Yet the interaction is like a sore tooth, prodded, acutely painful, even months later. Before the final sundering took place I’d created a gift for this person. For months after dissolution I carried the gift and willed myself to send it – I believed like Thich Nhat Hanh instructs that when one is angry, one should give a (non-creepy or passive-aggressive) gift to this person, and the anger will dissolve and forgiveness ensue (this has worked for my relationships in the past), but I couldn’t bring myself to do this. I simply could not. I realized after a time I wasn’t Angry; I was (and am) Hurt.

I am hurt because at the close of our arrangement this person was a complete bully, yelling over my attempts to restore balance and discussion, bringing forth wrongs I’d committed that I’d had no concept were being experienced as such. Many of these sins brought against me were both unfair and inaccurate and at the end of this conversation the person admitted this (although did not offer apology nor attempt amends), but the words rang in my ears and are still rattling around all this time later. During our acquaintanceship this person had conducted themselves with a quiet uncomfortable evasion when I’d tried with every fiber of my being to be clear; in fact the exact misunderstanding I hoped to avoid is exactly what exploded forth in the end. This haunts me. I am not scared of bullies as a rule but when the person chooses to abuse me over the very thing I was scared might happen, my strength leaves my body and I have nothing, I am completely cowed and hurt and Done. They have Won in every sense of the word.

I know someone who must resort to bullying is a fearful person; either entirely damaged (as I do not believe in this case) or simply adhering to needs of Control and little depth of compassion. I know this. But it does not make me feel better.

Smaller and more exacting nonfulfillment on my part stares at me apace, even today while my hands busily handle my duties in false confidence.  I spent much of my Friday making foodstuffs for company (and many for storage, as we have quite the farm bounty) and in the end analysis I feel I first of all did not impress anyone unduly with my cuisine, and secondly although in my mind I realize my efforts to cook for family and friends and prepare good, whole food, these are wonderful exploits, I cannot stop the cynical voice in my ear saying I’m a silly person, a self-demeaned woman for standing at the sink and scrubbing and peeling and slicing and then sautéing and mixing and straining and gently stirring and setting aside and doing the little math in my head about feeding Ralph this or that or the children or family or company this exact thing I think they’ll love. And even though I know I feed not only my family but others, and so often (not always) my food is experienced as delicious and healing and restorative and nourishing, there’s this terrible voice telling me what I do is Nothing, it is Drudgery, it is unpaid and unmerited and not cared for. This voice makes little sense to me from a logical perspective but it has been powerful these last eight years I’ve been home doing the Work I do.

And this morning I’ve spent quite some time feeling terrible because I was requisitioned to do a sewing project and I failed. I did my best and worked hard and thought I’d done well but it turns out I’d done a few things wrong. While I tell myself Anyone Can Make Mistakes it would seem my mistakes are so much worse than others, the pain I cause others seems so much larger than I would ordinarily assume, I begin to wish I had not Tried at all, had not said Yes I Can Do This For You, had not tried something that wasn’t a guaranteed success, and I am reminded of how little my skills really are, in every way, and anything I’ve done before I was proud of recedes into a pathetically small pile, it is actually not real but rather Wishful Thinking, and every compliment others have delivered were only false platitudes, and I was a fool to enjoy them.

My previous experience of relatively rugged self-esteem was rather an attempt on my part to think I’m someone I’m Not.

I sat down to write this precisely after cooking breakfast for my daughter and before writing an overdue email to a friend. The breakfast preparations were necessary because no, not ONE MORE thing could I do incorrectly, I could do one thing right, if I was struck dead on the way back to my bedroom I would at least have fed my daughter.

The breakfast and the email are not much. But they are things I want to do, things I can do.

That will, in the end analysis, have to be good enough. Because it’s all there is.