I Can See Clearly Now (Almost)

31 years of love and loyalty

It started as a little swelling on my eyelid. A little pressure. I could ignore it, but should I? Life went on, but sometimes I would peer into the mirror, squinting to see better. What WAS that thing?

Over the course of a week, it transformed daily—hourly—into increasingly offensive versions of a vision-occluding sty. Finding meaning in almost everything is not a problem for me. And in this case the metaphorical significance of this ocular impediment was not lost on me.

I’ve been struggling to see where I’m supposed to go next.

Life changed on me, unexpectedly, as it often does, last April. It was a shock to my system, though, because the change was not on my terms, but on someone else’s. I am the epitome of privilege, because painful change (not on my terms) has happened only rarely in my life. Like when a lover left the country, and me, without warning once a long time ago. Or some major upheavals resulting from having a severely mentally ill mother. When major change (even the good kind) is imposed from without, the breath leaves the body. The eyes go wide. The feet stumble to keep up with the shifting earth beneath them.

But change, whether agonizingly chosen, instinctively leaped upon, or dropped like a bomb into one’s world, is always an opportunity for growth and personal transformation. In that way, even the most dreaded, hated avenues to this kind of growth are gifts beyond measuring.

So why the sty? What don’t I want to see? Is there a truth out there that I am unwilling to look at? Scared of? Is it just ontological skepticism keeping my vision blocked?

Truth with a capital T can be a slippery little devil. If you’re like me, you don’t often want to see it. And sometimes you do.

Slippery Truth… it’s like a little water snake poking its slick little head up to peer around before diving beneath the water again. All the people who care about me can see it, but I swim on, oblivious. Then, it gets my attention in small but shocking moments. The Truth snake—deep bone-level unhappiness, disturbing knowledge of betrayal, or a heartbreaking understanding that I am no longer valued—slithers into my bathing suit. Instant terror—which in hindsight I always realize was an overreaction—and before I know it, the Truth snake is slipping away again, soon to be a distant memory.

When will I grab the snake and look it in the eye, smiling at it, thanking it for the gift of knowledge that it brings? I eventually do. Why does it sometimes take so damned long? And this time…why must I create a giant infected pustule in my eye to show me the absurdity of my refusal to see?

My recent unexpected change –intentionally not addressed here directly due to matters of honor, practicality, and self-interest—sent me into a brief, but intense, cycle of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining—all within a day or two, then, for me, fear, harder to move past, and, more quickly than anticipated—acceptance, even relief. The clarity and surety of my need to move on was profound, and I wondered how the Truth snake had failed to convey that message, as I had found her in my bathing suit a number of times over the last decade or so. Am I really that slow a learner? Loyalty and love tend to hold me back. Let me rephrase that, I allow loyalty and love to get in my way of choosing positive change, and so change has to fall on my head like a volunteer ladder offering itself as an escape route.

I always survive. I always figure out what is best. I always, inevitably, end up stronger, when I emerge from the birth canal of transformation. But for now I cannot seem to see clearly the path ahead of me, though I know the path behind me is behind me for a reason.

I find myself a decade at least from retirement standing at the beginning of a huge unknown. Single, self-sufficient, both tough and tender, I am unsure. And I am sure. Regular employment has made me complacent. My certainty that this mechanism for transformation is ideal, necessary, and, in fact, the only alternative if I am to continue to grow and evolve the way I want to—it does not change how fucking scary it is to say goodbye.

Remember that philosophical question teachers ask their students? What would you choose, freedom or safety? The answer says so much about you, your circumstances at the moment, and your ability to see your own Truth with a capital T.

Whatever happens next, from now on I will be the only one allowed to apply value to myself. The only one to decide what is best for me. The only one who will dig in and extract marrow from my bones for causes and reasons to be determined only by me.

I am at the very edge of seeing where to put my feet. My outward vision is, for a moment more, blocked by a pestilent sty in my left eye. But it is coming to a head. Literally. My third eye finds itself clear as ever, and these two ways of seeing are in cahoots to get me to the place I need to go. An eruption of knowing is just around the corner. I seek help from within and without. I know my path is clear and glorious, and that when I finally see it, I will leap onto it with wings on my feet.

 

 

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Flight and Flame: My Eostre Dream

I awoke with this dream still trailing through my consciousness. A gift for the first of April, for the magical season of springtime festivals and religious transport of all kinds.

The early part of the dream had faded, but in that first chapter there was a quest, a journey to an important destination. In my dream, it was called the Emerald City. I was the leader of a band of travelers—no, not a lion, scarecrow, or tin man, but other people connected to me in vital ways, perhaps through many lifetimes. It was a small group. We arrived.

The rest is as vivid to me still as if it really happened. After we arrived at the Emerald City, a larger, even more adventurous group of us headed out on an epic quest, or maybe it was a move to a better and even more fruitful future that beckoned. I was inspired by this band of adventurers, and they by me.

The hills we entered were lush and green and steep. The group, which included a wagon, some horses, and other animals, and probably 50 people, trailed out loosely in a line along the path into these hills. The journey was very purposeful, exciting, and joyful.

I was in the rear of the group, knowing I could catch up quickly by using my power of flight. So as I left the city, I soared high above the line of travelers and then dove down through the diamond-crisp air, swooping low to encourage them.

I discovered, as I called out, “Here we go! Onward!” that my breath was fire. Licks of flame shot out into the air in front of me and the journeying people below looked up in shock and amazement and cheered.

I could hear the flapping sound of the fire eating up oxygen, whipped by updrafts. I could feel, reflected back at me, the heat of the flames that came from within me. All in that brief fraction of a moment.

And, in that moment, I knew that something incredible, magical, monumental had happened inside me without my awareness and that from now on, nothing would ever be the same. The dream ended with me flying above, the others traveling along below, heading to an uncertain future that did not frighten us.

 

Stranded in C’ville? Checking My Privilege

I arrived in Charlottesville, VA last Monday. One week ago today, in fact. I got almost all the way here under my own steam. In other words, as usual, I drove. But the last 22 miles into town were under the steam of my old friend Annie. She had to fetch me from the automotive garage where I landed ignominiously when my car shuddered to a stop on Highway 29 and whispered, “I’m done.”

Here’s what happened and what I’ve learned.

  • I probably drove a few too many miles after I could feel how unhappy my car was about accelerating from a full stop. Has putting my finger in my ears and singing “LA LA LA LA” ever, EVER been a good strategy?
  • The reason I came down here is pretty basic: I love this place. Did my happiness at being here change because I didn’t have a car to drive around? Especially since I DID have a car to drive around, because Sarah, another awesome friend of mine, literally gave me unfettered access to her Subaru while she recovered from foot surgery and worked from home.But to be honest, I did feel unsettled all week. I mean, I had fun, saw friends, took a walk in a Virginia snowstorm, enjoyed the Festival of the Book, was warm, fed, blessed, and engaged in more great conversations per day than I can count. But I had a hard time sleeping and felt anxious.So what was it? Uncertainty? What was wrong with my car? How much would this cost? When will I have my own wheels back? And a little bit of “Waaah, no fair?” Ew.How on earth could I feel so sorry for myself when I am in one of my favorite places (maybe my favorite place ever), with some of my favorite people, doing some of my favorite things (from nerding out at panels and lectures about books to drinking Virginia wines to basking in C’ville beauty). I’m a spoiled, privileged person who needed to be slapped upside the head. 
  • In case I was not slapped hard enough, this happened: I got my car back Saturday. It took a while for the part to arrive because of the snow. (Note to self, don’t take weather personally as it is definitely not about you.) YAY! I had my car! I was so very VERY excited!

    Hugging my car when I got it back from garage… the first time

    Exclamation point-worthy happiness! I was so psyched that I even had Annie take a picture of me hugging my car before we headed back to town to join the March for Our Lives on the downtown mall. I got away with a car bill less than $500 and I was going to get to head home almost on time.Then my car died again. The poor thing could not make it even 30 miles without suffering terribly and saying, “No, no, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

    Getting towed… round 2.

    Tow truck (money). Wait till Monday (time). Wait till 2 in the afternoon on Monday. (Are you kidding me? I can’t wait anymore! I’m so spoiled and impatient I can barely believe I exist! Put me out of my toe tapping misery!) Then Cranston the mechanic said, “In my professional opinion, I’m afraid you need a … new transmission.” (More money! More time! More lessons! More slaps upside my head!)

Meanwhile, in a land called reality, as I scolded myself every day to be grateful, and was (mostly) successful, the March for Our Lives happened (check out the pix in that link). Record numbers of people at demonstrations all over the country and world. Young people taking to the streets in numbers even greater than during the Vietnam War (social media is the game changer there). I didn’t make it to DC as I’d thought I might, but I marched in C’ville with Annie and Sarah (who was on crutches no less)

March for Our Lives C’ville

and we joined our voices in song and, much more importantly, lent our ears to the students who spoke so eloquently about not wanting to die at school.

And… Writers and scholars, in town for the Festival of the Book, lifted their voices to elevate the conversation around many topics, from the racial history of the country to how to hold onto hope. Poets read their poems of anger and faith. Thoughtful, measured discourse happened. Beautiful words and beautiful ideas.

Perhaps the most moving event I attended was a conversation with Khizr Khan, famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention and for being insulted by our president.

Khizr Khan in conversation with Douglas Blackmon

His faith in the Constitution of the United States is impassioned and informed. He truly believes that voters will do their job to make radical change in the coming elections, snatching our nation from the brink and from the clutches of racist egoists with no agenda beyond their own self-interest.

In light of his sacrifice, wisdom, and undaunted optimism, I think I can deal with the inconvenience and expense of car trouble while a few hundred miles from home. I’m neither refugee nor victim. Neither disenfranchised nor unemployed. I’m privileged beyond imagining in a world gone mad. I’m grateful that I am here. Grateful I have a car that will be soon fixed. Grateful that I love people and am loved back. Grateful that I can read and write. That I feel joy. Often. That I have a pot of tea even now, sitting by my elbow, and that it comforts and soothes me.

I want to do better.

My week of “hardship” is nothing more than a non-sensical blip on the radar screen of my privilege and, though I’m not done learning, I am glad it slapped me upside the head.

My dear friends Annie and Sarah

 

 

 

 

Virtuality Check (not your typical blog)

I pinch myself. Is this my life? Or am I asleep on a beach having a vivid hallucination-induced dream. Like the convoluted geographically intricate dreams I wake in the middle of. Dreams in which I don’t know where I am, but there is a staircase or a porch. Something specific going somewhere or leading away. It is often made of unlikely objects, like wine crates, or giant pencils the size of barn beams. It seems plausible if a little unsettling, as the dream progresses. Sometimes there are moments of relief, joy, empowerment that explode unexpectedly. Other times I must take flight to escape a predator of uncertain origin, or a horrid dream-world plot twist.

The dream is invariably more real than any idea I might have about the dream. Or anything one might think of as actual, perhaps glimpsed through a curtain of eyelashes: a sun-soaked beach, the blue, distant horizon, a sandpiper at the edge of my beach towel.

But I don’t feel like I’m on a beach. Or otherwise plugged into a matrix of hallucinatory alternative reality. But still. I look around me and I can see the brush strokes in this “real life” and beyond, in the virtual world humans have created. The realm of tweets and counter-tweets, airbrushed, bumpstocked, drydocked, flimflammed reactions, counter-reactions, hyper-reactions to… that’s the part I don’t know.

Who wrote this version? Is there a theme? Is the theme the gradual dissolution of social consciousness and the relentless creation of narcissistically motivated power?

Times like this, other places I’ve been, or lived, seem more real and near than the place I find myself now. This chair, that table, this window, that bank of snow. Where did they come from? The story of their arrival is known to me, but is it known to me because it took place or because my brain trusts it as real? The brain that invented the whole story, perhaps, in a detailed mental construct, a subconscious screenplay, complete with smells and tastes.

The feeling of having my hair brushed and braided by a father dead now many years, a truth that lives even now at the very edge of my scalp’s sensory receptors, is more real to me (sometimes) than the sweat under my breasts as I grunt my way through class at the gym, the smell of my favorite coffee shop, or the talking heads analyzing why no one actually in power wants to do anything about assault rifles in the hands of killers. For example.

What I realize is that my brain, powerful organ that it is, loses its power over reality. I reach out and touch something. You, if only you were here. Or maybe the cat. Or the keyboard. Virtuality check.

My heart is what is left, in the end, to know the difference. To know that the madness “out there” is not “in here” –and never needs to be. We can stay in truth. Or try hard to. That place where the versions intersect and something immutable is imaginable. Conceivable.

A fellow blogger recently reminded me of the Wheel of Fortune—the ever-spinning, ever-rising, ever-falling wheel upon which we can be racked, or whose center we can seek. The seasons will turn with or without me, you, Twitter, Starbucks, or the grid. The sun and the moon will rise and set, and shed their influence, and their light, upon the world, regardless of where on the wheel we are, at the moment.

For the past 24 hours my power has been (mostly) off due to a snow and wind storm. The still place in the center of the maelstrom of 2018—I glimpsed it for a moment in the night when everything was completely dark. The wheel moved slowly, and I could see the spokes as they seemed to float past me in their circling path. But at the center, nothing moved. Head back, to look up at the darkness, I felt maybe, barely, the shifting of that slowly turning hub, but in that moment, I was able stay still and centered and realize, “I exist.”

Trust is Possible: a Thanksgiving Blog

Over the last four and a half years, I’ve written here about the beauty of the broken heart, some painful, enraging truths about the patriarchy and its toxic effect on the 51%, lots of self-reflection, and different stages of my own journey through the tangled woods. Sometimes the tree branches seem to come alive and grab at me, darkly, as if I were none other than silly Snow White looking to be saved by tiny, ineffective fictional creatures. At other times sun dapples the forest floor and shows me the way through, so I can make my own story.

Looking back, most of what I remember about my life is having a hopeful, joyful heart. The bubbling gratitude that returns to me again and again. Not despite the bad stuff of life, but because of the deliciousness that fills in all the spaces around it.

But I still trip and stumble on my way. Identifying my own internal roadblocks remains part of why I’m here.

This year on the day of giving thanks, I am most profoundly grateful for a recent shift inside me.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I lit a small fire in a micro-pit (loaf pan) by lighting baking soda and rubbing alcohol. (Life hack if you need a ceremonial fire and don’t have a fireplace or outdoor firepit.) As the fire flickered on the coffee table, we quietly released into it things that we could identify that were clearly not serving us, and invited into our lives the opportunities, attitudes, beliefs, and people we wished to see manifest. Releasing fears, sorrow, limiting beliefs, and welcoming in joy, transformation, and most of all, love.

As we did this familiar ritual, in companionable silence, I had a serious epiphany. You know how epiphanies can be. A sudden “woke” moment when what you have “known” all along is suddenly clear. For me, it usually means that words appear, elucidating the truth so I can look straight at it. What was an unidentified feeling or belief becomes a statement. The words give the belief visibility and shape. If it does not serve me, the words cause it to lose some of its power so I can deal with whatever it is. If it is an epiphany of empowerment, I can own it and consciously, affirmatively accept it into myself.

On this particular day, these words formed in my mind: “Men always disappoint me.”

Harsh. I might have winced (literally) as the thought formed words and opened up inside me.

Though these words were never spoken by me or even in my head before that moment, I realized that my body lived them. The belief, like a miasma, filled the little innocent spaces in me so that as I opened myself to love, experience, and the men in my life, I was sabotaged by it.

“Limiting belief” is an understatement. This belief was a threat to my happiness and well-being.

Lucky for me, I have a toolbox I can whip out at a time like this to begin the uprooting process. But I knew instinctively that I might need to bring in the big guns this time. I called upon a fellow traveler and dear friend, shaman and healer, to guide me through the discovery, the releasing, and the healing.

Knowing where this belief originated was not technically necessary to expunge it, but I’m a curious sort. I like to know, and, for me, knowing with my head is usually (though not always) a key to a door that allows healing through to my heart and the rest of my being.

My experience, in any particular lifetime (choose one), of being silenced or abandoned or assaulted by a man or men in power, is hardly unique. It is the story of women. We all take these lessons into ourselves in our own ways. But they are just stories and can be rewritten.

The individual men that I love or have loved, from my father, to my son, to my brothers-in-law, cousins, friends, lovers, are inside me. Some have brought me nothing but warmth and love, others have done their worst. But what I realized is that society as a whole, going back to almost the beginning, is so infused with the unbridled, unbalanced energy of the yang, so dominated by the male of the species, that attempts to silence or squelch, deny, ignore, oppress, force, or disempower the yin are all around us. They are the overwhelming, overarching reality for all of us. In some countries and cultures, this energy is more intense and unavoidable than in others, but let’s be honest. It is unavoidable until things change for good.

Those sweet, gutsy, humble, strong men who see the forest for the trees, who understand the toll our world’s way of doing things takes on half the population, they are the ones we fall in love with, right? The ones we want to surround ourselves with. The ones we want to raise, marry, hire, elect, along with the women we also raise, marry, hire, and elect, obviously.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with Thanksgiving? Gratitude, of course.

This year I am grateful that I have transmuted my belief about men to an understanding of my own journey through the eons, and an understanding of something even deeper than that. That though it is difficult to trust, trust is possible. And it is still and always has been, for me, easy to love. Love can heal the harshest ache, and I am grateful for love.

 

 

 

 

“I Don’t Want to Be a Bother” OR Bullshit Excuses for Stupid Choices

View out my hospital room through the circle of orchid sent by a dear friend to heal me.

A few weeks ago, I “felt off” one evening. My daughter and I were watching a hilarious feel-good movie on Netflix. An hour of not very feel-good discomfort later, the movie was over, and I said, “Worst gas pains ever. Can you clean up the dinner dishes?” Twenty minutes after that, I was having a hard time coping with the pain in my abdomen. I was breathing (sort of) through it, only the pains did not come in waves, like labor. It was just one looong wave… of horrid. Then the vomiting began. The backdrop to this was my daughter being “on it” and texting with one of my best friends, Ann, who happens to be a nurse practitioner and our “go to” for the Western medicine perspective. The two of them were pretty much trying to find a “when to go to the ER” solution I’d abide by.

Why was this a struggle? I was sure it was “nothing.” Looking back, even if it hadn’t been appendicitis – which, yup, it was—it was something damned awful. When the uncontrollable shakes and shivers began, I even had a way of explaining that from a medical felony down to a mere misdemeanor.

My thoughts included:

  • “I just want to sleep.” (Who was I kidding? I could barely breathe!)
  • “I’m overreacting.” (No, actually, I was seriously underreacting.)
  • “What if I go in and it’s just gas and everybody went to all that trouble.” (Forgetting that’s their paid job. Like a car mechanic being pissed because I brought my clanking car in to be checked and it turned out to be nothing much. Not likely, because it COULD have been something big.)
  • “Fucking high deductible insurance….” (…)
  • “Maggie shouldn’t have to deal with this in the middle of the night.” (Even though she was already dealing with it, as in a. BEGGING to take me, b. had already made a 30 minute run to an all-night pharmacy seeking over-the-counter solutions, and c. was fetching buckets, hot chamomile tea, blankets, and engaging in lengthy medical texts with Ann.)

My blurry and haphazard thoughts also included growing anxiety because I was not “coping” all that well and part of me just did not want to have to make this seemingly overwhelming decision. Had our positions been reversed, I, the mother, would simply have put my foot down. But even a fully functioning adult daughter who is used to her mom making all her own decisions did not feel quite comfortable bossing me around.

How is it that I could not make this—as it turns out very important—decision when it was MY wellbeing at stake? So much for my glorious affirmations of my value and worth, taking care of myself, being assertive. All this is easy enough when no one is going to be “put out” to “take care of me.”

I’ll ask for a raise. I’ll stake my claim in a debate about politics, ethics, parenting, climate change, organic food, you name it. I’ll speak up to strangers behaving like bullies in public. I’ll insist (of myself) that I go to the gym, eat right, and get regular check-ups.

Had Maggie not been there, I don’t know if I would ever have made the decision to call 911. But she was there. But what if she hadn’t been? But she was, okay, but … what if she hadn’t been?

Lesson learned. Having been schooled (kindly but sternly) by the ER docs and nurses and (very charmingly) by my surgeon, my own misguided idiocy has been made crystal clear to me. All went well. I meekly obeyed all post-surgical commandments and have healed flawlessly. Life goes on in all its beauty and I have felt no resentment, annoyance, or even a whiff of huffiness in response to my encounter with the vestigial enemy within. Only gratitude.

SUPER flattering photo taken by my daughter a few hours after my surgery with her little caption. She was impressed by my hanging fluids, apparently. I guess considering I’d just had surgery I don’t look TOO bad….

 

Holding onto My Soul

possible

Hope.

  • Listening to Van Morrison singing “Wild Night” It lifts my feet and pushes up through my floating ribs. It reminds me, outside of consciousness, how I am still that same kid, back when hope was just part of my circulation, even when I had to learn the hard lessons.
  • Even if love is withheld, used as a weapon, or indistinguishable from loss, a cool breeze lifts my hair and brings hope.
  • Remembering to raise up my voice along with my eyes. I will be heard, and I will see you.
  • Road trips.

Love.

  • It is my superpower.
  • It lives in my body and can’t be banished or defeated.
  • Love built my babies, pushed them out, and grew them strong.
  • Love hurt me, and healed me, and taught me how to be strong and soft all at the same time. You too, maybe.
  • There is lots of it in the world. Do you think it’s hiding, or even gone forever? It isn’t. Look inside yourself and you’ll know I’m right.
  • I love the me that loves the you.

Desire.

  • Buddha said it is the root of suffering. Probably. But it fires me up. The wanting and the longing and the excitement. It’s kinda like being on a tall tower, knowing you can fly, and that as soon as you drift off to sleep… you will.
  • I want to hold hands. Whisper into the ear of a lover. Lie on the floor to look up at the Sistine Chapel. Swing my hips. Breathe.
  • Rare air—icy on the mountaintop, salty and soft from the bayou, or warm from the lips of someone who just kissed me for a long time.
  • And then there’s desire for justice, equity, valor, and passion.

Righteousness.

  • Because: it exists.
  • It rolls like water. A mighty stream.

Joy.

  • Hearing music. Let’s start here: STEVIE. Have you listened to “Do I Do” lately? It will make your synapses tingle with happiness. “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan. The lyrics really are sketchy but it just feels so good inside my body. What else feels good is “Love (Never Felt So Good)”—that thing Justin made with Michael after Michael was dead. (Must dance.) The Proclaimers proclaiming they’d walk 1000 miles to fall down at my door. (YES, thank you.) “Coyote” by Joni – especially the version from The Last Waltz. (The driving rhythms of this song and the voice—it is a truly flawless thing.) And so very very many more. As George Eliot said, “Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.”
  • Sexual abandon. Rare and exquisite. The certainty that every moment is, was, and will be delicious and full of tangles.
  • The middle of the afternoon. Nowhere to be. A city street, the smell of food, rain, or a woman’s perfume: a faint whiff. Boots made for walking and maybe later I’ll meet up with a friend, a loved and precious friend.
  • The unplanned for.
  • Laughing till I pee my pants. Red faced and bleary teary I am at my best in these moments of helplessness.
  • Road trips (reprise).

Activism.

  • As much as backing into the cave of soft darkness and yellow firelight is a temptation of monumental proportions, being cold and wind-smacked outside the White House somehow feels better, in the end.
  • Speaking my truth.
  • Risking love on the rock-strewn mountainslope of truth.