Sunday, November 1, 2015

Of Armor and Amulets

For Timothy, who has me thinking about all of these things

Most days, my hands roam over my jewelry box, seeking the pieces I am drawn to for the interaction of energy and effect. My dad's belt and buckle, my grandmother's amethyst ring, my daughter's handmade bracelet: I used to think of dressing this way as my armor, a way to steel myself to meet something rough.

I remember so clearly the act of dressing for court, the last act of a painful and gut-wrenching divorce that dumped me out onto those hard wooden benches raw and bruised. That day, I dressed in my typical black, fortified by my grandmother's gold bracelet on my wrist, my father's chain a protective amulet underneath. My lawyer leaned over to whisper that my makeup was flawless. It was all intentional, every bit, a way to end things with as much care and attention to how I'd begun.

But today, sitting in church on All-Soul's day, I realize these pieces I wear are less armor than talismans, ways for me to feel connection and strength from those I love. A symbol of authenticity from a dear friend at my neck reminds me everyday to have courage to be true not only to myself, but to all of those I come into contact with, my grandmother's amethyst reminds me of her gentle nature, of her kindness, her empathy, her compassion.

I've been thinking about kindness and compassion a lot lately, about the fragility of openness and intimacy, and the difference between intimacy and vulnerability and that warm space in between. A couple of months ago, my lovely therapist Marilyn and I were talking about what it feels like to be open to giving of yourself, only to be hurt in the process. "You don't get to have it both ways, Fran," she admonished me. "You can either be free with the deep intimacy that you are able to offer people --which is one of the greatest gifts you have--but you can't be hurt when people take what they need and go. You either offer yourself freely, without expectation, or you build expectation in and limit who you share yourself with. You can't have it both ways." Her words have struck with me, playing over and back in my mind in the past few days as I'm pondering that blending of intimacy and vulnerability that sits atop my personal foundation of authenticity, courage and self-worth that are inked upon my spirit.

It's too easy to wall off, close the vault and shell up, climb back in a the first sign of ouch. But that serves nobody and it certainly doesn't serve my own purpose as the person I am in the world. Most of us are messy, most of us are feeling around in the dark for a light switch, most of us are feeling like we are failing at something important in our lives. So every day we armor up and go out into the world, not sharing our deepest gifts with others in ways that would help to serve and heal not only ourselves, but also those that are treading water just the same.

What if, instead, we turned to our talismans, to our guides, to hold precious things close to us to remind us of who we are, to lean against each other when we stumble in the present, to live it less afraid and more honestly and with truth and trust. There is a vast difference between being defensive and being fortified, between being armored and being available, between keeping ourselves from the real likelihood of disappointment and instead learning to navigate when situations present us with choices on how to meet things head on, to talk them through, to care, to forgive and to heal. And to be so thankful for the choice.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Theory of Everything (on a rutted road)

*not sure if the above pic is of Oklahoma, but man it looks like it.

The dirt in our neck of Oklahoma is thick and orangerust colored, beautiful for growing wheat but hell on wheels when it rains more than the ground can absorb. I have felt this, firsthand more than a few times, but most notably when Hunter and I went out for a "drive" (a.k.a. my 14 year old boarding school self sneaking off to smoke) only to get stuck up to the running boards of my 1968 beetle. Elbow-deep in that clay-shale mud, dragging armfuls of sticky paste away from the wheels and laying down wheat hay for traction, we were able to get that little car out of the ruts and back up onto the middle drier ground so we could creep our way home.

The ruts in Oklahoma rainy season are no joke, deep and jagged, the earth peels away in thick sheets and tire tracks push so deep that you worry about damaging the undercarriage of your car. You have two choices: to be in the ruts, go slowly, grind out the undercarriage and risk getting stuck or to find a way to flip your car up onto a space where you straddle the middle ground with one wheel while bouncing along the warshboard (yep, warshboard) side on the edge of the road with the other. One requires you to risk long term damage and breakdown, the other requires you to attend to what you are doing with laser attention, as falling back down into the ruts could cause damage worse than originally expected.

I first thought of this analogy when I was talking to a friend about behavior change in long term relationships, how it's so hard to change things when what you know is the rutted road, especially when you aren't sure if the road is going to change or get better or if this is it, turtles all the way down. It also applies to conditions in life that have locked you into patterns and beliefs and ways of being. "I'll just wait until the kids are out of high school to engage with the life I want to live" or "It's good some of the time, so until it gets really bad, I don't want to change ...(my job, my relationship, my habits)."

And so you keep going and going and going until one day you realize where you are, stuck in this wounding condition, and you can no longer bear it--the noise of the scraping and the tension of your arms having to hold the wheel straight. In essence, what you are doing to your very soul to stay locked in the pattern that is ultimately not where you need to be.

So you look for those few-and-far-between patches where the rut weaves and jags so you can work your wheels up onto the higher ground. And that getting up on the higher ground is not only difficult, but also in itself exhausting and unstable and new and naked. The ruts are easier to navigate but a painful destruction of your tender unexposed side, the higher ground scarier but ultimately probably better for long-term sustainability--the reality is that you just. don't. know. The truth is that sometimes you are in it and you don't want to be, but getting out of the car and into the thick muck on foot is not an option, you just have to ride it until it's done, wherever that leaves you.

I sat across from my dear girl Lara the other night laying out this Theory of Everything (on a rutted road), each of us feeling it in our hearts for the painful relationships we've been through, realizing also that this is just part of the human condition of change in life overall, from losing our mothers to thinking about our best selves and those parts of ourselves still waiting to be born. And we are still learning, and choosing, all of us.

Love makes space for everyone’s happiness.

This is a piece I wrote during my #lentinseptember days.

I have struggled immensely over the years to come to terms with my mother’s decision not to marry again after my dad died. She not only didn’t remarry, but also didn’t date anyone. For years when I was a child, I thought this was because she loved my father so much that she couldn’t bring herself to be with someone else, that this was the essence of true and abiding love, a love that I should search for as an adult. As I grew older, I began to understand how complex having your partner die can be. I think my mother was afraid to extend herself again, afraid of losing someone again (as her mother had), afraid of rejection, afraid of what life like might be like on the other side of this immense fear. And, in addition to this incapacitating fear (and this has been true for my two friends who have been widowed), some people would not let my father die. People shared their condolences on an annual basis, remembered the anniversary of his death, sent her cards on his birthday. She was, in their minds, married to my father forever and therefore, in some small way, in her mind she was beholden to that narrative. My best friend brought this home for me when she told me about her own experience of having to leave friendships because all her friends ever wanted to talk about was her husband and how much they missed him and wished he were there. She had ceased to be a young and vibrant spirit in their eyes and was, instead, the memory of husband she’d lost. I think this, in some ways, is because people want to believe in endless love, true love, love that lasts a lifetime and beyond. That they themselves are worthy of that undying love, that they themselves may be loved in that way.
And, in reality, that love may exist and it may never die, but that does not mean that life does not move forward into different narratives. Nothing replaces that love, but beauty and vibrancy and life get added in the form of new love. It is impossible to unlearn anything in our brain, we only add new learning and experiences to it. And so goes our heart.
I remember when my friend and I sat at the coffee shop in those fragile days after her husband’s funeral, discussing what life was like now and what her future may hold. “What if I wanted to be buried with him and I get married to someone else?” she said, her tiny, grief-wasted frame leaning across the table. “What if he was my one true love? How will that next person feel?” I remember telling her that I thought this was a normal part of grief, and that her life and the end of her story were hers to write, and that story included resting with whomever she wanted to rest with, that the next man in her life would understand. People who love you have a wide berth of forgiveness of emotion, nostalgia. They understand love and loss, or they do if you’ve attracted the right human. They take what has happened as part of your living story and love all parts of you. 
From my own experience, I know there is a tremendous weight on a child whose parent does not move forward in her/his life. It creates unrealistic expectations of love and commitment that likely will be unmatched with her/his future partners. It also makes that child feel guilty at the sacrifice that the parent offered, should that child feel less compelled to be so completely self-sacrificing as a parent his or herself. In some ways, it’s a perpetuation of guilt and shame. My mom sacrificed so much by doing X, I should be able to... It’s always felt hard and raw and not reciprocal to me. It feels like too much that’s been given, a sacrifice too great. It’s fear and avoidance and nakedness cloaked in love, but it’s not love alone. Love makes space for everyone’s happiness.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Emerging Fullness, in the Deluge

MR. O'DONOHUE*: Well, I think that the threshold, if you go back to the etymology of the word "threshold," it comes from "threshing," which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness. And I think there are huge thresholds in every life. I mean, I think, you know that, for instance, I'd like to give a very simple example of it is, that if you are in the middle of your life in a busy evening, 50 things to do and you get a phone call that somebody you love is suddenly dying. Takes 10 seconds to communicate that information, but when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. Because suddenly everything that seems so important before is all gone and now you are thinking of this. So the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we are on is so tentative. And I think a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and I think that very often how we cross is the key thing.
MS. TIPPETT: And where is — where is beauty in that?
MR. O'DONOHUE: Where beauty is — I think is beauty — beauty isn't all about just nice, loveliness like. Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming. And I think when we cross a new threshold that if we cross worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing then we cross on to new ground where we just don't repeat what we've been through in the last place we were. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.

Today I walked back through church doors that I hadn't crossed in ten years, my return prompted by something John O'Donohue said about community and christianity and this great understanding of beauty and thresholds and moving into "more critical and challenging and worthy of fullness." The decision to stop attending church was as frivolous as my starting: I began going to the Unitarian church when I was 24, having finally found a spiritual home and I left because we moved to a new city and the feeling of loss was too deep, too disconnected upon return for me to feel comfortable. In short, because I had lost I denied the very thing that would have likely helped me to heal, connect, and grow. I've been journeying around in an array of seeking in the past year, all sorts of hooey and loveliness and unknown that I myself don't know if I believe, but I've been looking for a map, hanging my heart on trying to divine how things will unfold, reaching back to work through hard things and looking forward to predict the future. Who knows if any of it is true, but it's something to think through and that in itself is valuable.
These days, the season of thresholds feels like it's coming to an end, after years of disarray and change and heartbreaking loss and difficulty, it feels like life is settling out. And yet, it's not. We fool ourselves with that thinking of calm, that chaos isn't balling itself up for another go at our lives. It's instructive that way, the call in the wee hours that a friend needs our love or that someone is leaving our life or that we ourselves just find us dragged behind the black dog of depression for even one day, knees skinned and tender, grown unused to the sudden tumble. 
But what I've learned instead is not to fight the chaos and the change and the strife and the difficulty, but to live in the experience of it. When David was about to be born, I took a number of hypno-birthing classes so that I could hopefully remove myself from the pain of his delivery by envisioning a happier place somewhere sacred and beyond (with chocolate babka, but that's another story). But the truth was that I couldn't remove myself from where my body was, that only by reaching into the intensity and depth of that physical pain could I get through it. 
And so I'm beginning to understand that that's what all of this is about, the transitions and waiting for life to calm down and even out and not feel like I'm deflecting lasers with my light saber. The truth is being in it, with whoever needs it, with myself clear about my own needs, with a sense of community that is big and robust and purposeful, with love and gratitude and sadness and the whole gamut of it all, is the beauty of life. Alive and giving, alive and conscious, alive and intentional. But alive and in it and not afraid and not tired and not waiting for life to begin anew, easier and more simple. 
Because we are complex creatures living in a complex world. If you are going to engage, it gets messy. Put your boots on and get to work. Meet these times worthily, so as O'Donohue notes, "what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing then we cross on to new ground where we just don't repeat what we've been through in the last place we were. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life."


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Simple gratitude, for persistence's sake

For Ally, with all of the lovey love.

I don't remember if it was the second or the third time that I had come home to a note on my door written in beautiful, clear handwriting, something to the effect of "would love to get to know you and your kids, lets get together for a playdate." It was another note I placed on the table inside and went about my day, back in the relative safety of my house, nursing the fresh wounds of having made yet another move in a short period of time.

We had just moved back to Seattle, leaving our newly-settled life in Cincinnati for a return trip to a city that I loved but didn't want to leave friends for, to a house on a block in a neighborhood that, at that time, would change my life in ways I couldn't comprehend.

And here was this note, again, from the cheerful and lovely mother my own age down the street, beckoning me to come out of my shell and into the light, to make friends, to start living my life where I needed to be instead of living in the last life I didn't want to leave. Patient, persistent, loving, kind with just enough pressure to nudge me. Those early days of Ally knocking at the door of our friendship were the traits that have run deep and abiding through a relationship that has spanned the past 11 years.

It's impossible to describe what my friendship with this woman has meant to me. This morning I was scrolling through past Facebook Instant Messages, looking for a nugget of wisdom that she had shared, past dips and turns in each of our lives, alongside words and advice so profound I savor them every time I read them today. But it's always been like this, after I got over my initial resistance, be it sitting on her leather couch drinking wine while our children played in her playroom or marking miles around Greenlake, those physical presences shifting into digital spaces where we could both write our advice, consolation, cheerleading, handholding whenever things got good, bad or indifferent, a digital Room of Requirement where the advice I need to reflect upon seems to magically reappear.

She is wise, this woman, and fierce and loyal and loving and creative. She's the Ally of the chocolate cake. We have an odd sisterly synergy, often experiencing the same things on parallel tracks, our timing slightly before or after the other so that we can lean into one another's experience. Tapping into her spirit is like getting onto an electric grid where you are fed a stream of low current love. Always, you always know she is there, consistent power on reserve. And she creates a space for you to share your energy with her and with others. She's at once a conductor and a generator. If you know her, this idea makes total sense.  She's electrifying and stable at the same time.

As I am writing this, I'm thinking of too many things to write at once, all the while with tears streaming down my face in simple gratitude and the overwhelming feeling of being so. damn. lucky. to have collided with such a generous and loving spirit who kept at it at a time when I needed it in ways that I didn't even understand. I trust her with my very heart and soul, this girl, and am so very blessed.

I love you, sweet friend. And thank you.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Feeling with clumsy fingers

The girlchild and I had a fascinating conversation today about wanting to help when help is not wanted. 

She and her brother got into it hardcore over him making mac & cheese for lunch and her wanting to teach him a more efficient way to do it because she’d done it so many times and is good at it. And she loves to help, to be seen as a helper, to love the people she's loving through the help. She stomps off, he rolls his eyes, emotions fray all around. 
So we talked through the wanting to help and what that feels like and how to separate wanting to help because you care about the person and wanting to help because you feel like you have something to offer and wanting to help because it satisfies something in you. And how sometimes, in the best of all worlds, it’s all three. But sometimes, it’s not and sometimes you have to check in with yourself about that. And sometimes as much as you want to help, it’s more important for people to do it on their own, to feel their way through an experience with clumsy fingers, not to rob them of the learning that they need and desire. 
This concept of wanting to help when help is not wanted has been my most powerful and profound lesson this summer, from friends and former loves and people I would give a kidney for. Wanting to help is clumsy. And checking yourself as to why, to what your frustration might be, to how you orient yourself in relation to the person at the center of the trauma (Susan Silk pretty much nails it in this piece) is critical. Awash in the warm bath of good intentions, we forget that part. Next comes the anxiety of being seen as a "nonhelper" or not being helpful or aidful and you've tied intention squarely to identity. Pow! Pow!
So chicamia and her bro did a little back and forth about how to decline help politely and how to receive that decline graciously. It was a moment as a parent where you are teaching, but you are learning 100000x more, or to quote Robert Heinlein, "When one teaches, two learn."

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.          -Mary Oliver

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love

My mom would be chuckling right now, as I write yet another post on death and funerals and loss. When her own mother died, it was weeks and weeks of morose and moribund sermons from the pulpit that nearly drove her as crazy as the Oklahoma winds. But here we are go again. I am not sure what in the hell is going on in the universe, but it's been a shitty week for too many friends.

For my dear L.T. Love you.
I have an image of my mother and her sister outside of the church in Beloit, Kansas, wrapped against the cold wind in fur coats, clutching each other as they followed their mother's casket down the path and into the hearse. They were both sobbing, their handsome, strong beauty crumpled from weeks of grief and pushing against the inevitable that a late-stage lung cancer diagnosis for a vibrant and remarkable woman brings. I don't remember much but that intimate moment, my grandmother's legacy stitched up in the space held by that embrace.

I can imagine that my mom felt the same push and pull that I did in those final days of my mother's own life, the real-time grief nearly impossible to process, the guilt-ridden wishing that this part would be over so that she would be free and so that we could move on to mourning her given that she already was a shadow of herself. The hardest thing to process was that she was never going to go back to the way she was, that it was reality, that it was over. And that's what we all mourned in real time, that space of anger and sad, that glimmer of her old self in between the days of losing her moment upon moment. The winding down was hard,  unfamiliar, not sudden like it had been with nearly every one before. And the winding down was slow and then fast and then too slow in its fastness, which doesn't likely make sense unless you've lived through that interminable time of ending.

There are a million things I want to tell my friend tonight, my girl L.T. who texted me in the wee NYC hours to tell me that she had just today lost her mother, an extraordinary woman with fire and depth and sparking adventure and deep love and good strength, so much good strength, for her family. 

I want to tell her of the things that I learned from Marie Howe about the spaces that are made by loss in which I learned about myself, so many years after she had gone: 
     I had no idea that the gate I would step through
     to finally enter this world
     would be the space my [mother's] body made.

And how I wish now that I had written a jar full of memories to keep for myself, a scrap for each, that I could pluck out and savor, some fit for my kids, many only fit for the curious adults within belly-laughing distance. And that I wish I had recorded those stories told in the numb days after when we all walked around with dead eyes, tracing the thin, worn path we had too many times before, knowing that it would be five days before the smoke cleared and we could begin to see what damage had been done.

And that in the blackened landscape, shoots peek through and life comes back to itself.
And that letting those shoots grow is important. Really important. Live.
And that good music helps. Often on repeat.
And saving that thing that smells like her in the back of the closet. That's the best. Do it.

And how five years, five years after she left, I can still be knocked nearly breathless by a poem from May Sarton that comes across my desktop without warning, kismet in far too many ways:

An Observation
True gardeners cannot bear a glove
Between the sure touch and the tender root,
Must let their hands grow knotted as they move
With a rough sensitivity about
Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,
Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.
And so I watched my mother's hands grow scarred,
She who could heal the wounded plant or friend
With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;
I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,
But now her truth is given me to live,
As I learn for myself we must be hard
To move among the tender with an open hand,
And to stay sensitive up to the end
Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

So, sweet friend, so many things and nothing all at once. I wish there was more space to tell you right now, right in this time where everything and nothing is there. It's too much, all of it, and there is so much more to write.

Love you, L.T. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Where it sits

My bit of my mother's remains are nestled between a thick stone slab and the outer box of my brother's coffin, slipped there in a smooth wooden box by a persistent funeral director and a kind person at the Archdiocese who knew that spot, one spot down, was meant for her and not her 15 year old son whose life ended too early. Mom had always joked that she wanted to be with Dad and Hunter in the end. "Just sprinkle me around the edges," she said. "Nobody will ever know."

But she's there with a banded plaque that spans the marble, a three-person plot made out of the two. She thought about the options before she died, knowing she would be cremated, noting that our family plot was still an option in her small hometown in Kansas, talking about Africa and the ranch and of Dad and Hunter. So we divided her ashes, each taking a small part of her great legacy, to trail her earthly being back to the places she loved.

It's a curious thing to think about where your physical being will be after you die. Our people have always been buried with family, generations of people in the same acreage in small towns on the plains, still married through early deaths and lost children and all manner of combinations of life that came next. You were with your people, that man you married or the parents you lived with or the generations of people who stayed within the same range of life that makes a family a community. You can trace that lineage through the fading marble, lives made visible and marked and remembered.

I've never given much thought to where I want my remains to be after I've gone, never had that discussion with anyone outside of my then-husband. In those days of early marriage, I'd always assumed that we'd be together somewhere, ashes mixed, such a romantic notion. Cremation offers you that, a pause button, a hilarious pause button in some ways, allowing you to believe that if you are the one and only, there is life ever after together somewhere.

But life circumstances change, and change radically, and a new life requires you to consider these things anew. And the question of permanence keeps coming to me, of marking space and time, of having a sacred spot for your children to visit if they need to. A place they never go but can if they want to. And this notion of dividing suddenly feels weird, like the human form is elastic, stretched to the corners of the earth.

Even as I write this, my body craves the weight of place, one place, consolidated in its being. Permanence. The intimacy of ritual. The process of saying goodbye. The feeling of knowing where someone is. Not having a plan makes me feel unmoored and anxious.

Where will I go? What is special to me? What will be most important to my kids, most of all? Where is my soul most in touch with this earth? When I think about that one question, a few images appear: The sunrise over the fields at headquarters in Oklahoma, the evening sky in Santa Fe, driving into downtown Seattle on a sunny day, the tiles of the Rome train station, the south China sea at sunrise from the deck of a suddenly feels as easy for my kids to travel to these places and snap pictures as to fling the grainy remains of this body into any space. I'm adding this to the list of things to leave behind, the ideas and thoughts and what it would mean to remain upon this earth long after I'm gone.

1,640 miles away, I can imagine sitting in the cool marble room tracing the name of my sweet brother who came into this life 40 years ago today. That's where this sits.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Unbroken Circle

Some days I wake up in a panic that the cancer is back, my post-sleep skin wrapped in an uncommon scent, a shoulder that won't unhinge, weird tweaks that I notice. I don't think about it, so much, normally, but there has been a lot of there there lately, my gut/intuition on overdrive in my day to day life which gets me all muddled up when it comes to the inner workings of my body. I keep listening, just listening. Listening is good.

Lately I've had so many friends diagnosed w/cancer, it's overwhelming. We hold hands and walk forward, sometimes we pull each other up out of the choppy water, sometimes we rage and other times we sit quietly. But it's a gift, this presence, being able to be with another who is walking down that road. Years ago, I was lucky to be with my mom as she died. It was at the same time the worst experience ever, and yet something I would never miss. And would never miss for anyone that needed someone in that moment to hold the space. It's at the same time something you never want to experience again, and something you could never deny anyone.

The grace of a post-this-time cancer existence is like that. We shelter each other, feed each other words of solidarity, clothe each other in the warmth of friendship. Because it's the seed of that experience that cracks us open in a fundamentally life-changing way if we let it. It brings out terrifying beauty from our core. And once you've let yourself feel the depth of that change, you could never withhold that grace from another.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Make Yourself Yours

As I shuffled boxes around from room to room yesterday, it dawned on me suddenly that everything I own is finally consolidated in one space. The relics of my highschool and college years and those weird years in between owning my own home have been brought from my mother's house, my grandmother's pieces divided, the selection of things that I took from married life sit boxed and wrapped in my new home.

It's all here. All of my history and present in one place.

And as I've rifled through some of these boxes, I've pulled out old letters from friends, pictures of my much younger self, snapshots of periods of my life when I was somewhat lost and somewhat found. There are the chatty "how are things at ..." letters from my mother that wait for me, along with a cache of chosen objects of my father's that will find a place in my home.

The idea of working through these boxes is remarkably unnerving, observing the hard and the good, remembering what came before and what contributed to who I am now. Meeting that girl at 9 and 13 and 18 and 25 and 30 and loving her, all of her. It's messy to uncover a lot of things I've left boxed away for years, but it feels like something that is part of being the girl I love at 44.

Today Parker Palmer wrote a beautiful piece on loving all of ourselves, inspired by this quote by Florida Scott-Maxwell:

You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and are fierce with reality.
Then he goes on to add this:
Today, at age 76, I know Scott-Maxwell got it right: there are no short-cuts to wholeness. The only way to become whole is to put our arms lovingly around everything we’ve shown ourselves to be: self-serving and generous, spiteful and compassionate, cowardly and courageous, treacherous and trustworthy. We must be able to say to ourselves and to the world at large, “I am all of the above.” If we can’t embrace the whole of who we are — embrace it with transformative love — we’ll imprison the creative energies hidden in our own shadows and flee from the world’s complex mix of shadow and light.

I'm going to spend some time with this today, thinking about how fierce with reality I can be. I feel like I am a good stretch there in my present life. Maybe digging back into my past a bit will make me even more myself, uniquely mine. 

Parker Palmer's piece is on the OnBeing site. Worth a read:

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Distance (Part II)

For T. L. and K. R. especially.


It hits you when you open boxes, digging through things that have meaning so essential to who you are and where you have been: letters of kindness from past lovers mixed in with transcripts from years of college where you didn’t give a fuck; paintings that hung in your grandmother’s home that your small-person’s eyes thought were magical; the honest and intentional letter your now ex-husband wrote as homework for the last hopeful stint of marital therapy that you wish you could unpack a little more now; the heartfelt cards your kids made on your last day of chemo that tell their own story of worry; your mother’s St. Gerard prayer card that hung on her bathroom mirror every day of her journey of motherhood.

You are thousands of miles from many of these experiences; time and physical distance and a long journey of letting muddy water settle into clear has brought you to a new space in a city full of its own personal mark on your life, in a beautiful new home that already feels like the right space for your spirit. And these things make you think of a metaphor that your mentor gave you years ago when you worked in a domestic violence organization. She said “The thing is, Fran, that when you are in the middle of something traumatic, hard, unavoidable in life it’s like you are in a house on fire and you are nattering around trying to decide what to carry out with you. You’re thinking ‘Should I take Auntie Harryette’s doily? Or what about these twist-ties? Where is my juicer?’, all while the house is burning around you until someone finally pulls you out of the house and sits you on the curb across the street. It’s only then, wrapped in a blanket and with the oxygen mask on your face do you realize how things were and how, by anyone's measure, you could have not survived it all, but by the grace of whatever moves things* and people who helped you out, you did.”

Today you are sitting in your new home, in the grey sunlight shifting through the windows of your new favorite spot, listening to the songs friends gave you for the journey here. And you are sifting through these many years of so many things, so much loss, so much love, so many good people that have put their arm around you and guided you to a safer place. And it’s this distance, close enough to remember but far away enough to have perspective on, that allows you to feel the full force of gratitude, of loss, of appreciation, of duty, of remaking, of love and to sit weeping at the weight of it all and in appreciation of the opening that has happened in your life that means the next chapter. That it’s not sifting through the ashes to find what is left, but rather the blessing of the spaces and people that were and are no more, to ritualize the memory and to move forward powerfully, happily, with courage, without anger and into a new life of your own creating. And you are so thankful at this moment for this moment. And you are so acutely aware of friends who need that arm around their shoulders to get them out of their own burning houses. And that’s what it’s all about, this remaking of love and kindredness, of your people, of accepting and receiving love when you can't see what you need but just trusting that others can help guide you. And realizing the path was the path in just the way it had to be.** 

It’s beautiful and hopeful and quite different than anything you've ever felt in your entire life. And you are grateful beyond measure, your heart welling and brimming in its fullness. Amen.

*Jan probably said “God” here, but my father always said never ruin a good story for lack of facts.
**I also remember so vividly a FB post from my friend Lee which recalled a moment when she was lying on her bed so ensconced in emotion and feeling that all of the shit she'd been through had been worth it. I think this feeling is similar. I have held on to that post for so long, Lee, and wish I had the exact quote. Thank you for giving life to it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Be (in love)

For B, who gets it.

As I was leaving for the airport in Oklahoma City last week, my sister handed me a cloth pouch with these words printed on it:

Be in love with your life. Every minute of it. -Jack Kerouac

I couldn't help the mental eye roll that immediately followed as these kinds of slogans make me nuts. It's impossible to love every minute of your life, much less to live with the pressure to do so.

But I started playing with the phrase as the kids and I boarded the plane.
Be in love became Be (in love)... Be in a state of love. Lead with loving intention. Lead with a being of love, which feels wholly different than expecting your life to have the rapturous quality of being in love with something. Holding yourself in a state of love means that you can hurdle things as they come, that you can deflect the negative and live in truth, that resting in a place of love removes you from being in the place of fear. Being in love with your life is to look at the world with an expectation. Being (in love) means that no matter what comes your way, you are held in a safe state of your own choosing.

Choosing to Be (in love) with your life is not a simple task. It requires you to let things go, which often means letting go of people, old wounds, sadness and fear. It means holding yourself to the promise of possibility. It breaks a lot of old patterns. For someone like me, it's getting past the resistance to the over-positive that smacks of saccharine or delusion. It's understanding what existing in a state of love is about. For real.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Interior: On Writing

I struggle with this idea of writing. There is a part of my heart that loves it, that loves the release that I feel when I put together something that resonates with me, with others, brings others to tears or laughter or whatever it is. I feel like sometimes this will be my mark if everything falls into the shitter and I leave this earth earlier than anticipated, something for my kids and my friends to hold onto. 
And there is another part of my heart that understands the weird precarious nature of writing, the part that doubts that what I do is useful to anyone that doesn’t know me, that pieces are touching because the people that read them are people who already love me, and that for those people it’s like reading a piece torn from a diary from which you can identify parts and pieces that make sense. But I wonder, really, if these things I trace onto the paper make a difference to anyone outside of the circle of my friends who hold me and my experiences close. I’ve had amazing feedback from people that I have loved and I’ve been really wounded by people I have loved not giving me any feedback. It’s an interesting and tender spot that I don’t want to care about, but I do.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, wondering if that is why I have chosen the rapid-blogging format I use (I don’t know if this is such a thing or if I made it up, but this it’s writing all in one shot, less-than-miniscule-to-zero revisions before posting, get it out and get it up style). If I do it quickly, nobody can remark on the quality. If there are no revisions, I can blow off any mistakes or feedback. If I don’t put in the effort and if I only rely on the whim of the moment, I can’t be expected to be serious about this in any real way. In short, I avoid all of the conflict of criticism or the reality of feedback by being 13 again. My mother would laugh out loud at that idea.
So I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve been thinking that I still only really want to write to get things out that I notice, that I love just writing thinking that people I know on Facebook will read it, that I am not a “writer” and I have no aspirations to make this any more than it is. But I need to take this to another level, maybe work in a longer format or build in revisions or begin to take things out of this stream-of-conciousness format that it lives in (as I am typing now) and into something more coherent and cohesive. There is part of me that loves things raw and I have experienced my friends transitioning their gifts from raw talent to tutored and trained talent with mentorship and help and sometimes the transition is rough. I’m not sure what it means to lose your edge and some of the authenticity either. Maybe I’m trying to convince myself already that this is not a good idea, so I’m going to say it before I back away from it completely… I think when I get to Providence, I am going to find a writing coach.
There, I said it.
Now I have to do it. Or come up with a really freaking good reason why not to (which may be, well, I’m not writing coach material).
So wish me luck, friends. I’m peering beyond the edge on this one.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Raising successful children

There is an inordinate amount of time spent at indoor soccer. Inordinate meaning days every week for watching practice or scrimmage-like games, days where you see the same kids playing pretty consistently. My kids enjoy soccer, but they are not the kind of players that are hungry for the ball, first across the line, driven by some inner force that zips them up the field. Nor am I the kind of parent that coaches (at least not all of the time) from the sideline, calling to their kid when they are standing at midfield to give them pointers or tell them how to run plays. Those are the achievement-oriented parents who are gunners themselves and have gunner kids...or don't. I've always wondered that. What's it like to be a non-gunner kid of a gunner parent?

And there is also a little something in me that wonders if the decision we made not to be pressure-focused and achievement-forward parents has meant that my kids step back a little too much, are less driven than they probably could/should be, less likely to get into the college of their dreams, less likely to be superstars who have climbed mountains and made a perfect grade on their SAT and started their own magazine by the time they are 12. It's also a privileged position that my kids don't have to think about these things the way other children do. I think about this a lot and I wonder, as most parents do, if we are doing the right thing not manning up our boy or perfecting our girl, if the lack of nightly math homework will really screw them in the end.

And then I have a day like the other day where I am driving down the road with my precious cargo when the topic of change comes up: big changes, small changes, god knows we've had our fill. D says "Well, this year I have been through A LOT of change." I smile, thinking "no doubt, dude", but I ask him what he means and the conversation goes something like this:

D:  Well, this year I have been through A LOT of change, Mom.
M:  Like what, bro? What kind of change are you thinking about?
D:  Um, Mom? BRACES?
M: Braces?
D: Yeah mom, BRACES. It's like the biggest thing that's ever happened to me. It's huge!
M: Well, it is, D. Your parents also got divorced and don't live together anymore and we are all moving to Rhode Island in a few months, but I hear you on the braces.
D: Well, the divorce was ok, though. I mean, I know it's hard for a lot of kids, but it has not been a big deal because you and Dad did such a good job with it. I meant to say that to you the other day. I just don't know what the big deal is about divorce.
M: (totally misty). Well, it is a big deal to a lot of kids, D, I'm glad you recognize that. And I'm glad you feel confident about how your dad and I have worked things out. I love you, Buddy. You're the best.
D: Thanks, Mom. (big smile, squeeze on shoulder)

It's those moments where I think that it's all going to be ok, that we are raising some emotionally kick ass kids who think a lot about things, whose strengths lie mostly in the way they relate to others, whose lives are held tight by people that love them, many of whom do not live under the same roof.

I'll always be worried about the path, in so many ways different than the one that I was given as a child. I'll always be worried that I haven't done the right thing as a parent, that love is not enough, that my kids will look back and wonder why I didn't push them harder or expect them to achieve more. I suspect they will, in any condition, know that I loved them, more than anything in the world. And their 43 year old selves will continue to feel that, whatever path in life they choose.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


For a long time I have had a recurring scene pass in front of my eyes, a flickering black and white clip of a man with artificial wings affixed to his arms, running dead set for the edge of a cliff. He runs, flapping like hell, only to pull up short just feet from the edge, not trusting his homemade contraption to hold him against gravity.
He is Icarus, Daedalus' son, anxious against the bright sunlight, worried about his own weight on the wings, worried moreso about his undescribed and hidden desire to fly to the highest heights with abandon.  What that will mean and what that will make, his desire to fly is thwarted by last minute doubt and worry.
But tonight, Joseph Campbell's recording of ancient wisdom rang true:
“A bit of advice
given to a young Native American
at the time of his initiation:
'As you go the way of life,
you will see a great chasm.
It is not as wide as you think.' "
--from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living

Today I bought a house, cementing my decision to move to a city long considered a future home, under different conditions and for different reasons, but an idea set in motion long ago. And I'm here, now, and happy and excited, this bittersweet taste in my mouth not crowding out my delight at new discoveries, but also not salving pretty profound feelings of loss and change.
It's like coming back to something and knowing it for the first time, like T.S. Eliot talked about, but not really. It's holding the space of what was with the space of what might be. It's being unsure about how to marry what has already happened (the people you love(d), things you've experience(d)) with an unchartered course.
My girl, Bridget (who is truly a gifted spiritual advisor) noted that this is a time to accept & be, explaining that if things could be different, they would be. And so I move forward, buying a house on a familiar street under radically different circumstances, celebrating a new life in environments that hold many memories, stitching together what is new and old without being totally clear on the design that will unfold. More crazy quilt than the careful block pattern that has governed the stitching of my life for so many years. Stepping into it, breath deep in my lungs, stomach tight, arms strengthened and ready to hold these heavy wings aloft, trusting in my own ingenuity, ready to take flight. 
Light as air, it's not as wide as you think.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Eye trained on the sky

As part of the writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed (right?!), she offered us a series of prompts to consider. Here's one...

Create a summary of who you are.
There was Leo and Cygnus and Cassiopiea. And Draco and Virgo and Libra. But most of all I remember turning my face to the heavens and finding the points that made the handle and cup of Ursa Major. Alkaid, Mizar, Alcor, Alioth, Megrez, Phecda, Merak and Dubhe, names I didn’t know then, flat on my back, my skinny brown legs held fast against the earth in my 7th year.  
The sky over my hometown was always lit with stars, as far as you could see, the light pollution of larger cities far away. To my untrained eye and not scientific mind, the nighttime sky was a blur, an ocean of light, awash, save for the handle and cup, the only way I could get my bearings in the canopy of the world. 
And 7 turned into 17, my world increasingly complex. I was a failing high school student, newly fatherless, with sexual agency beyond my years, drunk on new freedom, coors light beer and the possibility contained in a thick course catalog from my newly matriculated university that I read like a bible. The stars were dimmed by the Dallas lights but vibrant on the road between Dallas and San Antonio where Sha and I steered her big gold cadillac into the night. Or Dallas to Houston. Or Dallas to Austin, fueled by our own sense of finding ourselves.
Those years felt ungrounded, unfixed, too much and too big. Unmoored, unskilled at navigating the map without an understanding of where I needed to go, 17 became 21 became 25 became 31, with mountaintops and oceans and foreign lands and jobs and wandering, so much wandering, in between. 
I did not fully know then, as I am just beginning to learn now in my 44th year, that I am capable of making sense of the stars, of orienting myself within the blur, of understanding the anchors in the sea of light. That in the universe of stars, and in the universe of life, it’s less about a roadmap and more about points of bearing. For a person who has sought the map, who has felt (and currently brutally feels) that the road is being made right before her feet, this is a revelation. Maybe it’s about integration instead of a specific direction. Maybe it’s about weaving the body, the mind and the mojo, understanding the landscape of possibility instead of a fixed horizon. Maybe the point of exploring is to understand where you are at any given point in time, but not be tethered by a specific path. Look at how well the explorers did when they thought they knew the way, but look at how they successfully navigated a way home by casting their eyes heavenward, trusting their bearings written in the night sky.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Impossibly Imposterous

I leave Tuesday for LA and then on to Hawai'i for a writer's workshop with Cheryl Strayed. I'm late on everything in my life right now, the mounting tension of work and an upcoming event and a move coupled with the emotional baggage of cleaning out my old home has kept me from really thinking about where I am off to and why.

In truth, I am petrified. I'm scared because I remember last summer at my workshop with Lynda Barry that I couldn't write, that my brain felt flat and beige, that I was intimidated by the women in the crowd who were professional writers who, in short bursts of time, could write pieces that left me feeling pale.

I also step back in these spaces, not wanting to be a fan girl, not knowing how to be in this world of workshoppiness. I am not a writer, nor do I consider myself to be. I'm a person that uses this tool to share things that I would normally share if I were sitting across from you. There's a heavy load of acceptance that rides along with it, and ego for sure, but it's never been anything more than what it is: a way to record my experiences, mostly for my kids someday, in a format that I hope helps other people process their own shit.

So why does it matter?

It feels like it's a lot about context, which is a space I've been exploring a lot lately in terms of life in general. What it feels like to get positive feedback from people who love you and wonder if it translates more broadly to a wider audience who doesn't know your story or love you or hasn't traveled so many roads with you. It's life outside of your own personal cheering section. It's this question of being confident in what you bring or wondering if you are believing your own bullshit. It's the journey understanding your own magic in the context in which you live. In short, what if you believe what people tell you about your writing, your spirit, your being...and it's not true. Enter these short bursts of nagging Imposter syndrome that make you wonder how it all works.

This may not make much sense, but they are things that are rolling around in my brain today as a friend and I talk about vulnerability, honesty, confidence and being solid in who you are.

This quote used to hang in my office. I need it tattooed on my forearm.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Between Knowing and Not Knowing

I had written this piece ages ago, didn't publish it and came back to it after a conversation with a friend yesterday touching on trust, using your words to tell people what you want, need and expect and the dialogue that has to happen after to ensure everyone is on the same page. Trust is a bitch.


I have an image in my mind of myself in fourth or fifth grade, seated at the edge of the big pull-out bleachers in our gym-cafeteria, an expanse of collapsed bleachers a skinny ledge with a 15 foot drop creating a bridge across to the other side where on the wall I can clearly see my name written. The name appears courtesy of someone who hates me and makes my life miserable on a daily basis, my stomach a knot at what must be written there but my nervous system in full blown panic mode at the thought of shimmying across the expanse and sheer drop off (on to tables and chairs) to see. I simultaneously want to know what awful thing has been said and hate myself for the fear of heights and falling that keeps me from to finding out. So my younger self sits with the knowledge on a daily basis that something lingers out there unknown and not dealt with and she sits with the knowledge that it's her own weakness that prevents it. Even as I write this, my skin prickles and my hands sweat just at the memory.

I'm spending some time thinking and feeling through what it means to trust and what makes for a good and trusting relationship, what it means to be open to trusting someone, how you have to sit on the edge and contemplate moving across the expanse of all of your prior conditioning to get to there and then work your way back, broken or elated. Part of what I am pondering is the worry that pops up of not knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling, remedied quickly by actually using your words to ask (miracle!). But, in truth, the wounds that still hang around from my childhood lead me to need closure, that I feel like I can handle pretty much anything as long as I know the truth or another's version of it. Learning to articulate it well, to request feedback, to stay on top of things with communication, build verbal agreements. It's all part of it, but it's not the whole thing.

So much of relationships are about the edge of the cliff, moving through our fear and pushing there and back to find what we need to find. Pretty much every moment of it is not guaranteed. But it's made in those moments of moving yourself out, inch by inch, making yourself face your fears anyway. It's really fucking complicated and takes so much work and, in truth, it's work you need to do for yourself and without the aid of others. It's you, no net, nobody spotting you. It's being solid at the core so you can be solid for others, especially the person with whom you are building the trust.

[I feel like I've just written myself into a totally different understanding of what I'd started out to write. Hilarious.]

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Somehow this is not how you envisioned it, midday grey skies coaxing through the windows that you notice are in need of polishing before the people come to look at what is there. You envisioned bourbon in glasses and smoke and arms fisted up into clenched hands wrestling over who gets what. But it's not that. It's a Monday and you are starting with the bigger things when your partner of so many years lays it out for you. There isn't a lot there, honestly. Extracting the family pieces that you've either dragged with you or recently dragged in, there's not a lot there worth keeping. Old mattress 10 years on that may need replacing (that saw both of your children home), bunk beds the kids no longer want, too many items from IKEA to warrant a move across half of the nation. Save a few pieces of furniture, all of the accumulated knick knacks and a heavy lift in the kitchen, glassware and dishes, there simply is not much there. Easier to pitch it, give it away, parse it out and buy anew than to spend what it would take to bring it along.

You are not ready for the gut-punch that this brings, the sudden thought of this person you've been with for so long starting a life with barely a trace of his old, your history's imprint erased from the smooth arms of the chair, wiped clean off of the glasses, not nuanced in the myriad of future choices he would make about his accommodated life. But it's not the you being erased that is the gut-punch, it's the history, it's the together, the starting over and moving on.

And for the next few hours, you ruminate over what investment means in a marriage. What not having a lot in common to divide up means. You want to lift this metaphor into the narrative of your marriage, to use it as a tool to make your case. It's proof, you think, because the bigger truth is your heart is sore, because accumulating/not accumulating objects feels like it should mean something, because after 14 years you expected more to be there, because you can't quite erase the image of your partner's back entering a home, not your home, to start anew.

You would be foolish to leave your thinking there, so you don't. You remember hours in the garden, great meals in the kitchen, small people at soccer games and school board meetings and graduate school. You remember moving and packing and unpacking and fishing trips and the long stretch of time that this house you are leaving has afforded you during beautiful summer weather and magnificent fall leaves.  Fourteen years, not measured in big things you bought, slippery to hold onto save for the two bright and amazing beings the world will delight to receive someday. Slippery to hold on to save the small objects from faraway places that you hope his future partner won't ask to remove, the pieces that were too beautiful to let go of, the pictures you stack to split up, the wedding invitations you set aside for the kids, the bags and boxes of life moved through that you haul to the curb. It's all there for the viewing, all of the miles and years of hopeful emotions that you relive in each pile, your heart too soft for this work of winnowing what's worth keeping and what's worth leaving behind.