Friday, September 28, 2012

just to let it go

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it.
Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.
- Dorianne Laux “Antilamentation,”

The dusty boxes are still sitting in the bottom of my closet back home in Oklahoma, my meager pilfering through them surfacing so many emotions that I felt like I needed to stop, to breathe, to reframe my thinking before I carried on.

A text sent to my friend said it all:
"Sorting through all of my childhood to pre-Portland life. Kind of intense to realize what a depressed and fcked up young adult I was, even if people didn't see it on the outside. Crazy."


"It's really weird to struggle with the idea that there was a lot of lost time in my life. Time I will never get back and time I may not have in the future."

So today when the poem above from Dorianne Laux came through my feed, something hardened from long ago became soft inside of me.

You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation.

Every year I spend the days before Yom Kippur reflecting on the past year (no, I'm not Jewish but I borrow this tradition). Thinking through the things that made me happy, thinking through the things I regretted or that made me sad or wistful, thinking of things I want to do in the next year, who I love, who I want to spend time with, how I want to challenge my mind and life to do good things. It's a important time to write things down, to take stock, to see where I am going.

Sitting with these feelings this in-and-post cancer year has brought in the added layer of "time". Time I have wasted, things I have done, situations I have been in during my life that were neither healthy nor happy. And the great sadness of looking forward and thinking about time and not having it and how horrible that would be.

{And then reading that Susan Sontag was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in 1975 and lived until 2004. So go figure.}

What softened inside of me was the realization that life is too short to dwell in what happened in the past, to rehash the things you wished had happened in relationships, to question decisions that led to different paths than the future I had seen for myself. Even for a person like me who has struggled with the depressive tendency toward rumination over such things [the twisting of invisible hands and the sighing of invisible sighs that leaves you sitting in a rut you can barely peer out of], there is the possibility to not revisit this, not to drag it with me, just to let it go.

Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it.
Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by. 


Saturday, September 22, 2012

What is Essential is Invisible to the Eye

Today I smell like dirt and sweaty-ness and deliberation. My feet hurt from standing too long looking at shades of my childhood spread out on tables in my aunt's new home while my lungs cough up dust from brown-filmed boxes kept in basements too long.

My sisters and I are wrapping up the final stages of the Great Dividing of Things, a summer's worth of sorting and selecting from my mother, grandmother and aunt's possessions that will come to reside in our own homes. The Great Dividing has been intense, not because we have fought or wrung our hands over these things. In contrast, we three have managed to be loving and thoughtful of each other in our system, only wincing once or twice at losing a much-loved item to another.

No, the Great Dividing has been intense because we are women who carry so much of who we knew in the things we can touch and feel. Grandma's glassware reminds me of strawberries and cream breakfasts on early morning wakings in her beautiful home. My mother's shotgun, a favorite bronze statue, the bold charcoal strokes of a favorite auntie's talented hand: all comfortable reminders of a home that will no longer be here for us in its present form. Often simple things become exceptionally beautiful for the story behind it...a sweet Victorian biscuit holder becomes even more cool knowing that Dad and Aunt Pat bought it while in Europe together and a salt and pepper shaker set becomes more valuable when it was brought from the Old World by people we never knew but who in some way relate to our present being. It's a struggle not to make everything meaningful, to not drag too much forward for the sake of holding on to people who have left too soon and to places that are no longer your own.

And through this process, I have begun to realize just how important this essential nature of things is for me. A week ago I began to re-read a copy of The Bone People, underlined and dog-eared by my 20-something self that reminded me of the sometimes-lost but fundamentally strong woman I had been then. I wear Mala beads made by my gorgeous friend Molly and am soothed by their smoothness and her power during a stressful meeting. I have my own ritual of rereading a new copy of my favorite book before I give it to a friend just to imprint my own feelings, energy and intention in its pages.  There are things that are in every way precious to me because of the thought or intention with which they were created or loved or given to me. In rough times, these are the glue, the touchstones, the cairns on the journey.

It's the feel, the smell, the thought, the history of person's imprint on an object that makes it special. It's holding something that's been held by the person you love. It's the essence of the person connected to you peering through, the heartstrings that it tugs, the feeling of knowing yourself there that it provides.

Rifling through my closet, I reached back to find an old sweater of my mother's that I'd brought home after she died. She'd been gone for over a year but her warm, achingly familiar scent still remained mixed in the soft fibers as I buried my nose deep and drew in her memory. "Mijo!" I called to David, "come here". Without a word, I held out the sweater for him to smell. Drawing back, eyes shining and face flooded with memories, he smiled and said "Grandma Suz." Oh, sweet boy, that we can hold on to that, that we can, that we can, that we can.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Set Me Free

Lisa's iPhone was on shuffle as we started the road trip back home, first Emmylou's voice ringing out sorrowful and true, then Jim Croce, then Tracy Chapman. Each song a well-worn groove in both of our minds, tracing back to Mom, to Dad, to Hunter, to Grandma, opening a space to reconnect to our stories, to process our losses, to make sense of the lives we have been given and to look forward to the futures we are writing individually and collectively. We had been together for a week of family camp where she wrangled her two small people through activities, the dining hall and the sandy walk from the cabin to everywhere. She was, in her usual way, calm, composed, organized and stellar.

When I think of spending time with my sister, an image pops to my mind of her swimming towards me, pushing a small blue raft while I tread in an ocean of water. She's talking to me as she approaches, acknowledging how tired I am but encouraging me to hold on, to keep my head up, to alternate using my legs then my arms so that I have strength to last longer. We lean our shoulders and arms onto the raft that she's brought, letting our bodies float and release in the shared time...stable, cool, relaxed. And then it's time for her to go again, and as she swims away the raft becomes smaller, but big enough so that I can tread, then lean back and float, tread, then lean back and float, tread, then lean back and float on my own with what she has given me.

This is the essence of my sister: pushing the raft out, tired herself but speaking words of encouragement, a song in her heart for the journey back, swimming, swimming, varying her strong strokes to make progress against the sometimes tremendous waves. Watching her move makes me want to be a better swimmer, to take pleasure in the cool water even though its rough. To meet the challenge but not be consumed by it. To have grace moving through the water.

I love you, Lou.