Friday, November 18, 2016

Into the Waves

White Water was a huge water park in Oklahoma City, a place where legions of children, dressed in all manner of swim and floating gear, and adults, tugging large coolers of processed food and Capri Sun, would convene to escape the boiling summer heat. Our family would make the 40 mile trek to OKC to spend hours running wild, season passes clutched in hand, so exhausted by the end of the day that my mother would have the sweet relief of a carful of sleeping children on the ride home.

White Water had all of the features of a regular water park: the lazy river, the stories-high White Lightening slide, the kiosks where you could get sizzling hot french fries that rested salty against your chlorine-soaked tongue. But the strangest and sometimes most wonderful part of the park was the wave pool. It was enormous, hundreds of people packed into it's football-field like expanse just waiting, waiting. Suddenly the bell would ring, a scream would erupt from the crowd and the water would start moving, great undulations of waves roiling from deep within its man-made ocean.

I've been thinking about the wave pool lately as it applies to life, this wave pool in particular because unlike the ocean, there was a certain rhythm to the waves. You could sit atop of your raft and ride, or stand closer to shore and slam your body, back turned, against them. And there was that middle ground where you weren't quite tall enough to touch the bottom without the waves washing over your head. This was the thrilling, sometimes terrifying space, that space in between feeling solid and feeling the rush of danger. And, depending on the day, depending on how crowded the wave pool was, depending on the strength of your skinny legs to buoy you up, you sat on the edge of being plowed under or keeping your head above water. The rhythm of the waves had not changed, neither had your expectation of them being there, but the circumstances and your place in them became the variables of remaining above or being sucked below.

I've held this metaphor in my mind a lot lately, as friends have struggled with some pretty deep loss and sadness over the past year, as I myself negotiate my own place in the world, as we as a community lean in to lift one another up when we aren't feeling so strong. I think sometimes it's awkward to ask for help, that metaphor of being in a situation where you know that the waves are coming, but you just don't have the strength in the moment to kick yourself above them, or where how hard and disorienting it may be when everyone else seems to sit atop the water on their own raft while you can barely keep your head clearing the water's roiling plane. And, to extend the metaphor, the folks sitting atop the rafts likely don't even know you are struggling, because their gaze is shifted outwards toward the horizon, their perspective raised above what is happening below. But there is room on the raft for two, maybe three even. I know this, and I know the hospitality of that space if I just ask. Why is it sometimes so hard to do so?

I want to keep working with the raft metaphor, or to talk about the strength of pushing off of the bottom and riding the wave, that powerful feeling of not so much the wave striking your body, but the ride of catching it as it comes and not being swept under by it. To push up and engage, the timing of it coming and you being ready, the sheer thrill of knowing that something can drag you under but using your energy, your life force, to meet it and unify, to roll into it and wait for the next one.

Because the truth is that the waves stop until they start again, and they do start again because life is not static and change happens and shit happens and hard things happen all the time. But the key is this: you are not alone in the pool, although you feel that you may be, and your position in the pool is based on your own negotiation. That's the thing I need to remember most. I choose how I work with the waves.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

what lessons you prepare for us

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
-Mary Oliver, Starlings in Winter

Today is the final day of my three week fall observance, something I jokingly call Lent in September, an extension of my spring observance left over from my catholic youth. Fall is a rich time for digging in for me, the turning and change of the season providing a beautiful backdrop to explore.

Every year something big comes up, usually something overwhelming and huge that encases my thoughts for the entire journey. Last year it was finally mourning my dad after 27 years of not, that space larger and more profound with ripples I could never have anticipated. Lent in September stays with me long, long after it's over.

So I walked into this year with an open heart, wondering where it would go, only to be met pretty much on the first day with the loss of a friend. Not your typical loss of a irreconcilable fight or death or some ripping apart, but the void of just. total. absence. This, a new friend who I'd gotten to know over six weeks of deep sharing and connecting, a creative force in my life in a very short time, someone who I felt a kinship with and an affinity for, a deep channel, twinned in perspective and vibe. It was a deep dive of friendship and then they were gone, vanished, nonresponsive, lost.

I have lived my life with a lot of loss, people removed from my life quickly through all of the regular passages of sudden death and arguments and betrayal, sometimes buried by my inability to get past feeling hurt enough to extend the olive branch and mend things, sometimes my own clumsy failure to apologize for things I acknowledge I have done. It's a dance of getting past your own ego, understanding the perspective of the other person, being clear about what you want out of the situation (mending things? having your say? turning the knife?), humbling yourself to be vulnerable to offering and receiving apology.

Loss that has no closure is totally different. It feels like that feeling of walking into school in fifth grade and not knowing if you will have friends that day, it's the first time the person you feel for handled the leaving poorly, it's the emotional unavailablity of key relationships in your life. Because it's ambiguous and undefined, it's all of the things.

For me, it calls into question everything about how I operate in the world. I've had conversations with good friends about whether or not I provide unearned access to people and what that means, or with others, whether that unearned access is actually one of the most important, vital and beautiful parts of my being. One friend said "I'd hate to see you close this part of yourself down, Fran. It's what makes you who you are." And, they are right.

So this time has been about walking around in the space of grief, with a perspective, for the first time, through all of the loss in my life. It's being able to observe the grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and my experience of weaving in and out of each. I feel like I am watching myself work this from 30,000ft while being deep in it at the same time and it is simultaneously painful and fascinating. Painful because even though you may intellectually know what is happening, it doesn't take the energy out of the emotional feelings. Fascinating because we are soft creatures, we love, love is important and fear is strong, hurt is real, being gentle with ourselves sometimes sits in the smallest places.

At times, I think I'm insane to be this bothered by something that was short term, possibly not legit, a hoodwinking, being had. How could I have just spent three weeks thinking about a friendship that didn't exist for much longer than that same period of time. But these experiences come up in life for us to feel and learn, growing in our own awareness of ourselves and how we are in relation to others, so love ourselves more as feeling and loving beings, to understand our porous boundaries. We are put on this earth to love one another, so in that what is safety? I am still trying to figure out how to simultaneously keep my heart open and myself in check, how to share myself with others when the connection is there and understand that even in the possibility of pain, it's what I am meant to be. Love over fear, every time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Continually Make Anew

It didn't really dawn on me this morning as I drove down Hope street, D riding shotgun, talking about the election, basketball, his high marks at his last camp in "intangibles (hustle, coachability, attitude). Nor did it occur to me as I sat having coffee with a new colleague, touching on the rituals of our wedding day, what it meant to us, where the ideas came from, far and wide.

But now it's hit me, 14 years ago today I got married to someone I loved very much, still do in ways that I never thought imaginable at the tail end of a sad and hearbreaking divorce, so many years of trying under our belts. In those years, we faced so many obstacles: moving, changing careers, birth of children, sickness, death -- so many of life's challenges (and joys) hitting us pretty much year over year, some level of chaos or disruption being a constant. Looking back at the end of our divorce, it felt like our relationship may never have had a chance to even settle in, much less thrive in the way that it was intended to.

But now, another move, another sickness, more career changes, a little more chaos down the road, it occurs to me that in the chaos might live some of the thriving. I am not always quite sure how we are doing it, but we are good. We have beautiful children and a life that we have chosen to live amicably. We are thoughtful of each other and, in some ways, more thoughtful of the ways that remarks or arguments land than we were when we were married. These days, it seems we can breathe and step back and apologize, because it's good ground we are on and neither of us wants to ruin it. Our children are thriving in the space we are able to hold, for this time and in this moment.

I would be lying if I said it was always this easy, or there weren't days that I look at families walking together with a twinge of envy, or if I wasn't worried that the permanent addition of new people to the mix will disrupt this good balance or if I didn't acknowledge how it's weird and hard to understand how to be in this space with a former partner when my normal course of action in breakups is to exit and not return.

But it's the remaking and continually making anew that is the path here, no other choice if we want our children to be at their best, no other choice if we want the one we said yes to so many years ago to live their life happy in our world as it exists now. Because, if we are lucky, we are always each other's, in an altogether different way and in a different space, sitting at weddings and births, shouldering emergencies or loss, opposite one another on the journey of parenthood for as long as life lets us be.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Start somewhere, even today

For Paul, because I'm still learning (with so much thanks).

This morning as I bent my head down to kiss Ava's forehead to wake her, I whispered "Hello, my beautiful girl. How did Mama get such a beautiful girl to call her own?" Ava's eyes fluttered awake and as I came into focus, she smiled and said "It's because you're beautiful, Mama. Where did you think the genes came from?"

"Oh, sweet girl," I said, "Mama is..." and stopped, hearing in my mind what I was going to say next.

What was I going to say next?

I was going to say something to deflect the compliment. I was going to say anything that would deflect what she had just said. "Mama is...old? smarter than she is pretty? not beautiful?"

Instead, I smiled at her and said "Mama is so thankful for that compliment, bug. I love hearing that you think I am beautiful, it means so much to me that you tell me things that you appreciate about me." Because here is this fantastic, powerful, beautiful, creative, light-filled 10 year old who doesn't get that it's not ok to think that you are beautiful, that acknowledging physical beauty is fraught and full of connotations. And, at the very end of the day, she hears time and again that we look so much alike. Who is lying, then, if I deny her compliment, her or me?

I struggle with this question of beauty, the inclination for my girl to watch herself dancing in the mirror, the tossing of the mane of hair, the emphasis on her looks. She's confident across the board: smart brain, kind personality, giving heart, beautiful face. But there is this narrow line of humility that needs to run the border between confidence and arrogance that I feel as a parent I need to enforce, lest this get out of hand. Or is there? Perhaps it's just all my own conditioning now brought to roost in my shaping of this bright soul's opinion about herself. What am I supposed to do?

Years ago, a friend told me about an experience she had with two trusted and lovely friends. My friend is a smart, beautiful, clever, funny, hardworking and talented woman. At this stage in her life, she was already professionally successful in her mid-twenties, working hard and being recognized for the great things she brought to the table. If memory serves me, her friends were running a workshop about messages that women receive about themselves and wanted to work through an exercise where they each made a list of loving truths they believed about my friend. They then sat on either side of her and whispered these loving truths in each ear, one at a time. I think she told me that she made it through maybe 5 rounds before she could no longer stand the urge to reach up and shield her ears, finally asking them to stop, tears streaming down her face.

Maybe it was because we were in our mid-20s, but I sat nodding at her reaction, my skin prickling at the discomfort.

The truth is that I think women want nothing more to than to be truly seen by the people we love and who love us. We want to that inner light to rush to our eyes because we are able to be vulnerable. We want to feel that warm comfort of trust. We want to be beautiful, not only in the manifestation of someone digging our physical form (in whatever form that may be), but beautiful in the most all-encompassing way: heart, mind, soul and personality. Stop a woman on the street and pay her a compliment and watch the smile radiate from her face. These safe, single-serve intersections put a lift in anyone's stride that lasts hours. But go deep with a friend about how much you love and appreciate her, how you love how she walks in the world, how you think she's physically beautiful and watch her squirm or, typically, deny.

It seems the only way around this is exposure therapy: the relentless and targeted exposure of authentically admiring the beauty in the women we love. It's a text to your friend highlighting something that you admire. It's a phone call where you say, with your words, that you find something about her beautiful ("cute" has no space in this exercise...puppies and kittens are cute). It's the letter you write to tell her why you think her being on this earth matters to you, why her relationship with you matters or is important. And then there is the conversation over drinks, looking into her eyes (friend to friend, lover to lover, mother to daughter, etc), where you get to say these things and react to one another in a physical way.

Exposure to her own goodness, in varying degrees of intimacy, from someone she loves.

I had this sort of experience with a friend years ago, at a time in my life where I felt lost, alone, and less of myself than I had been in years. This friend made it his job to show me to myself, to bring me back to an understanding of what I could mean to people, to boost me back up on the path. This is his gift, a source of encouragement for many people I know. I also know he saved my life in many ways by this simple gift of sharing with me the bright light he saw in me.

So who is that 10 year old inside of you that all too quickly learned to stop trusting her belief in her own beauty? And how can you love and encourage that confident 10 year old in others? Because we all love the love, even if it's at different levels and with different layers of security keeping us safe. But it's good to start somewhere, even today.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Light, the white walls, small girl, worry.

Curled around my girl, light streaming through the window, I thought about that forever of not being whole. What would it feel like to have a partner missing a favorite body part? Forever? Forever is a long time. Even if I loved this person, would I be able to hurdle that? And what does love have to do with desire anyway? Does it make it easier to put it away, that need? Who can I call and talk to about this worry? I flip through my mental rolodex of friends, sorting through and through. My BC tribe are all too close to this, my nonBC tribe can't really understand in the same vein, my male friends I am worried will tell me the truth: that it's too much to think about, that I need to just roll with it and quit the worry, that this is today and tomorrow is something entirely new.

Facebook reminds me today that five years ago this week, I had my mastectomy and that four years ago I was rushed into surgery to correct the correction that came from two surgeries before. My brain sensed it even before I saw the digital proof.

That forever of not being whole, that forever of wholly being, that being of forever. What will that being be?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Made manifest

Today the men came to rip out the kitchen, next week the bathrooms, weeks after that the not-original built-ins and flooring. This shit is getting real, for real, now. Minutes after I took this picture, I saw one of my realtors on the street outside. "Come back and see what we are doing!" I called to him. "Oh my, go slow on that remodel, Fran!" he counseled back. "HA! This is go big or go home time, Ralph!" was my gleeful response.

And it was gleeful. All of the anxiety over the enormous amount of money I'm spending, whether I'll be in this home forever, what it all means to this time in my life had been burned away in that minute.

This is my vision, my brain reminded me.

My big, beautiful life, the home I wrote about back in June when I laid out my vision for my future. And that vision encompassed life and home and work and relationships. It is coming true in ways big and small that I haven't focused on, but have become manifest just for the sheer fact that I have articulated them. It's all in motion, big and huge and becoming. I can feel it.

Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is to override the intellect and go with your heart. Sometimes the bravest answer is "yes", or "no" or "not this" or "hmm, let me consider that". Sometimes the decision trees are not enough, that the downward cascade of the worst case scenario is not going to save you from hurt or sadness or tragedy. Sometimes you have to run in front of the good thing to make sure you catch it. Sometimes what you think is a good thing only exists to teach you more about who you are and how gracefully you can let go of things that are not meant for you. And bless them, and say "thank you" for the lesson.

Late night last night, I got some great wisdom from a new friend about creating the life you want to live. He said that he believes that you attract good things by living the good things: to attract depth, you have to be vulnerable to going under; to attract partnership, you have to get past the need to manage the situation; to walk the path with others, you have to be comfortable with the ambiguity; to create a difference in someone's life, you have to know yourself in all of your sticky messy-ness first.

He also said that knowing the difference between suffering through an untenable situation and the life you are destined to have is having a sense of what this big beautiful life would feel like well lived.

What would that big beautiful life look like?
How would that make you feel?
Who and what exists with you in that space?
How will you continue to grow?
How will you help to make this life you've envisioned manifest?

And why are you waiting even a moment to begin?

Monday, March 14, 2016


For my girl Beth Peck, who I'm waiving at from the other side of the mountain.
And for my girl Krista Nye Nicholas, who I can't begin to thank enough for her love.
And for my girl Sharleen Ernster, who is making it hot for women to own it, all of it. Love you.

Dr. Sullivan's PA eyed the opening on my chest, prodded it a bit, gave me a second glance and said "It looks like it's filling in, Fran. I think we shouldn't worry about it."

I'd come in to have a check up, down in New Orleans for a conference and worried about a wound from my surgery that hadn't healed properly. She looked at it again and told me that the wound would not close skin to skin, but would fill up, layer upon layer, until it had healed.

This was not news I was prepared to hear because it was a big wound, a startlingly large wound placed on my reconstructed breast in the most conspicuous place. But she went on to say that after the filling and the healing, that a revision would take place, that the scar tissue would be reworked to bring the appearance back to as normal of a condition as possible. "It will look good again, Fran. It will just take longer than we thought."

I've reflected on this experience a lot over the past few years, thinking about physical and emotional wounds and how they heal, how they are sometimes not just stitched up and become faint memories, but have to take the long road of layering time to bridge the gap and connect again. And then, if we are lucky, and if we are open, and if we desire (actually), someone may come along and help us revise that scar so that it's less noticeable to ourselves, be that through a change in attitude or insight.

One person's scar is another person's roadmap.

Yesterday I got fitted for the most beautiful swimsuits I've ever had, each with a plunging neckline, each summoning my inner warrior who owned the fact that the scars are there and visible and real and not a problem, that it is hot to own your history and all that comes with it. The metaphor of healing with time and love is not lost on me as I roll into this fifth year of living a second life. This is a hurdle, this is the clearing, this is the other side.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Developmental Tasks

The cats are curled up with one another on my grandmother's old chair. I'm wrapped in a blanket sitting on a foot rest against the wall, close to the radiator. The sun is streaming through the windows onto an orchid whose blooms are still intact despite the drafty window it sits in front of. There is laundry to be folded, tasks to be done. I'm ten days into my ritualistic taking away of everything delicious, my body clean and vibrant but limited by a small injury that keeps me from exercising for another week.

Renewal is coming early this year, after a clumsy end to a crappy 2015. I shuffle through the lists that I've made over the past few months when I was trying to jump start my life in this new place. These lists bring a smile, all contain the things that I have done in the past and do well when I am on track. But the smile is welcome instead of the beating up that I used to give myself, the thrumming of blame of what it is I need to do to be in my best space and kicking myself in the ass for careening off track. Instead, I recognize that I have had fabulous meals to eat and bourbon to drink late into the night with new friends, I have had people to discover and to crush on and then to put into a better place. I have had to straddle the space between my old place and my new place, my old work and my new work, my old friendships and new ones just budding. And then there was December and the beginning of January. And now I am here.

So I pull out these lists, I gingerly step around in the reflection of a year, I re-read the vision I wrote for myself in July, I reflect on the gift of developmental tasks at such a late stage. In all, I am patient with myself as I never have been before. I have the tools that I need to be ready to go, outward bound and sure.

[And here I will be, or was, as it may be, as I am posting this even later than expected. But to be sure, it's worth the time and the risk and the aftermath and the everything. Laying fallow and becoming again, anew, only to consider the pruning or growth (who knows) to follow. Trust ourselves, hold ourselves and others loosely so that they may grow too. So much goodness in awakening and knowing ourselves better, so much life to be seen, so much to share and reflect upon, so much to build. Let it be so, even though I missed church last Sunday. Amen.]

(started on a snowy day in February, written only in the last few lines on a balmy night in Sri Lanka, and so many beautiful spaces in between, my heart open wide, having just learned so so so much.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Then and Now

What I remember most is how long it took to type out, hunched over my mother's electric typewriter out in the barn-made-office where our oil company was housed. The song had nearly 68 lines and I was not first in class in typing. And it really made no sense as to why I'd picked this song over other that were his favorites, other than I could see my father singing it and doing a hilarious dance to its jaunty klezmer Broadway tune, as I typed the lines. 
My dad, big as life, funny, irreverent, was gone. Something in the words, in the practice of transcribing them, brought something concrete to the chaos. I handed the note to my mother, folded up, and asked her to put it in the coffin with him. As odd of a request as it was, I know she understood.
The strange things we are called and compelled to do is how we make sense of things, I've learned this in the nearly 28 years since that piece of paper was slipped into his blue ultrasuede jacket, as easily as his casket was slipped into the marble floor that day. Today I have my own "burn box," held on the shelf of my home, filled with the most select group of emails, letters, poems, writings that I want to take with me as I return to ash. Everything in my burn box holds the deepest meaning for me, each piece given to me by loves of my life in moments that will forever be etched on my heart. I want to ensure, for myself, that I can carry this love into my future lifetimes, not an immolated gift for the gods, but love that is deeply entwined with my very essence, encased in my forever, wherever that may be. 
A year ago, I posted the following poem to my Facebook page, no doubt touched by the funny synergy of Leonard Cohen's act. Today we bury a friend, she, herself like my father, far too young and vibrant to be gone. I'd ferry her off with champagne if I could, and a picture of her sweet boy and the man who has been her lifelong backstop, and the best memories, painstakingly typed, all of those who will be here today for them and for her. What we take with us matters, what others give us for the journey, this side and the next, makes the most of life.

Ghosts on the Road
-David Rivard
A bookkeeping man,
tho one sure to knock on wood,
and mostly light
at loose ends—my friend
who is superstitiously funny, & always
sarcastic—save once,
after I’d told him
about Simone’s first time
walking—a toddler,
almost alone, she’d
gripped her sweater, right hand
chest-high, reassured
then, she held on to herself
so, so took a few
quick steps—
oh, he said, you know what? Leonard
Cohen, when he was 13,
after his father’s
out-of-the-blue heart attack, he slit
one of the old man’s
ties, & slipped a
message into it, then buried it
in his backyard—
73 now, he can’t
recall what he wrote—(threadbare
heartfelt prayer perhaps,
or complaint)—
his first writing anyway.
The need to comfort
ourselves is always
strongest at the start,
they say—
do you think
that’s true? my friend asked.
I don’t, he said,
I think the need
gets stronger, he said, it
just gets stronger.