Equal to the love you make

[FB post from yesterday, 8/27]

This morning at 5:04 AM I got an email via my yelp account from a recently-homeless woman who wanted to get a quote on how much it would be for me to board her two “beautiful” adult cats in my home.

It was already a weird morning because my friend Graham sent me a link to my old Garfield house which is now for sale again and seeing the interior sterility and the back yard–which the summer after James moved in 2007 was the site of a “healing through manual labor and sunburn”–with its huge tree gone and most everything I planted looking dead really put the punctuation on the end of that chapter in my life. It was the punctuation you typically see after “you stupid fucking idiots; what the actual fuck.” 

And so it was that I started my day. Sunday. An easy work day before the madness starts up tomorrow and moves well past Labor Day; my life not yet recovered from the July 24th madness, and my sick dog, and bug treatment, last foster kitten/group, etc., to where all the madness has started melding while laundry mounds to dangerous proportions, and every text is an agony over whether I should accept or decline more work or accept or decline the next group of foster kittens, etc. when I’m sleeping on the couch in my clothes because it’s easier to rouse myself to another workday when I don’t let myself get too comfortable.  

And as I drive in the darkness towards Capitol Hill–the ever-so-slight tension in my body already existing as I imagine Stella’s upcoming glucose test, and what if I don’t get a prick of blood the first time, and what if her values are really low or really high, and what if she doesn’t eat, and what if something happened to her in the night, etc–I’m thinking about this email. 

Because yes I struggle; yes I’m overworked and exhausted. But she’s living in her two-door car with her two kitties and it’s gotten “extremely difficult and she’s worried.” And while one part of me still holds the visceral memory of getting to the tipping point upon which I had to either start caring for myself properly or die, another part of me doesn’t know where that point is anymore. For as you live and grow, you get stronger, and as I’ve cared for myself over these last few years, I’ve become more capable, and while I know it’s not my responsibility to superhero all of life’s shit away so that no one else has to feel pain, at what point does non-action in the face of suffering actually become cruelty? At what point does saying no become me living a life of fearful, self-indulgent, privileged hoarding? There’s no glucose strip for this; there’s no manual.  

As the thoughts paraded, I drove west on 13th south and when I neared the freeway, something dashed across the street in front of my car. There was really no one else on the road so for a second I thought it might’ve been a wild animal but it wasn’t. It was a lost dog, a pitbull who looked scared. So I pulled my car to the side of the road and rolled down my window to talk to it, wrestling with myself. Because the desire to lure it into the safety of my car conflicted with the knowledge that Stella had to have her test and shot spaced almost exactly 8 hours apart, which was just a few minutes away, and as the dog slunk away–pausing and glancing over at me, unsure of itself–my heart broke in grief just a very little bit before falling into acceptance.  

For as the damned thing looked back at me with eyes like it would’ve gotten in my car, I thought of how in just the eight months of 2017 I’ve earned as much as for all of 2016–making a one year pay increase of $21,000–and how I was going to make another catio for my cats anyways, and dictated into my phone a response telling her that I don’t board animals but have a catio in the back of my house she can put her kitties in during the day. knowing she might abandon them, knowing she might be addicted to drugs or otherwise unstable. Knowing that this improbable situation may work out to be a total Garfield House.  

Because I get something from a world in which someone like me would still be willing to offer what they could to help someone like this lady. I get something. WE get something. And sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I make things all about the other person or all about compassion or all about an animal when really it’s about all of us. For I get something from this. 

And even in the darkness at the end of the night, I didn’t get to see that scared dog move into the safety of my car but I did get to see it look back at me, and even in its fear, curiously wonder about the love and concern for it held within a human heart.

And I guess that’s enough.

Everything looks different

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Last night my girls, Ellen, and I watched Thelma and Louise together, and because I’d forgotten how long the movie was, the event lasted into the early hours of today, at which point my youngest–who’d been hesitant to even watch it at all for the last scene she’d heard so much about–excitedly chatted to me through my bleary-eyedness, saying that along with Donnie Darko, it was now one of her two favorite movies.

None of them had ever seen it, and Livy asked me in one of the first scenes when Thelma’s husband Daryl was being an asshole to Thelma, “Is that just the way it was back then?” The movie was made in 1991.

No, baby; Daryl’s just a dick.

In the midst of girl power and Thelma and Louise gunning it to their chosen end, Ellen held my left hand still and, as I watched the movie, drew upon my skin the pattern you see in the picture above; somehow, in the warm living room after the hot summer solstice day of 2017, she accessed an internal well of artistry from within a near-meditative state, and–moving henna tube into curves and points–created this freehand design, reaching over while the first section was drying to grab my hand again and add more detail before moving on to make entirely different designs upon her own skin.

When I finally saw the finished product upon my hand, my mouth was open in surprise because I could not formulate a connection to the type of mind that could so effortlessly create such a vision. I couldn’t “get to” where a human being could so confidently embrace hovering over flesh with a tube of dye and still be able to funnel the experience down into a work of art.
Because that’s just not me. I’m never going to be able to zen out and manifest this kind of thing on someone’s arm.

And I used to think that in order to live fearless, I couldn’t say such things to myself. That in order to stand within my own power, I had to self-talk myself with “You can be/do/have anything you set your mind to!”

[Which is where I’d cue up the time I snorkeled in Hawaii with my sister, thus supposedly pacifying my fear of the ocean. Somehow I thought I could talk my fearful emotional mind into experiencing something in a logical way, but, in reality, my logical mind was saying “good for you!” while my emotional mind was saying “what the actual fuck are you doing in the water?!?” because logical mind can only take you so far, and then you’re stuck in the open ocean, hyperventilating and shitting your pants because your feet are dangling in what is basically a giant shark tank and, for the love of god, who is playing that fucking Jaws music?]

But I’ll never be able to “you can do it!”/Pep rally myself into–voila—I’m now Renoir, and being no good at something shouldn’t always bring out the self-esteem protection squad.

Because mind over matter is bullshit and invalidates the natural sense we have of who we are and what choices are right for us.  And, unless you’re hurting someone else, it’s perfectly okay to let yourself be who you are. It’s perfectly acceptable to say “I’m no good at this,” and not feel like it somehow means you’re giving up on yourself.

At the end of the movie, Livy and I discussed what our favorite parts were.

Livy’s favorite part is when Thelma calls Daryl to see if the police have been asking questions and almost instantaneously hangs up, knowing their phones are tapped and that the police are listening based solely on how nice Daryl is to her. It’s pretty classic.

My favorite part is when Thelma, events skewed against her having created a transformation in herself to where she finally feels in control of her own destiny, sits in the passenger seat, and says, “I feel awake. Wide awake. I don’t remember ever feeling this awake. Everything looks different,” and wind whipping her hair, they course together in their convertible as fugitives through the waking world of red rock.

Forever tuning

And so it was that when I was about 13 I went to see Adelaide the psychic whose name my family had been passing around for a while and she told me two things which stuck with me all the way through until that time when I was trying to make the decision whether to break my engagement with Chris and be with James or listen to my mom and stay the course through the uncertainty and into a marriage which by now of course would have already ended.

The first thing Adelaide told me was that one day I’d be writing a book, and the second thing she told me is that one day a man with blue eyes would say goodbye to me and I might never stop crying.

As fortune would have it, I looked for that blue-eyed boy for many years, hoping for a love that was so deep I’d cry forever at its loss, thinking that perhaps she was speaking metaphorically or that the goodbye would not come to pass.  So when one month out from marrying Chris in the foothills of California, I saw vibrantly-blue-eyed James at a bus stop–the night after dreaming I was swimming in pure bliss with a blue-eyed man–I retrieved James’ dropped Blue Book, thus starting an awakening within myself from which it became obvious that uber-cerebral Chris was for a “me” that didn’t exist anymore.  It was 1992, three years after my parents divorce, 2.5 years after the earthquake destroyed the dome the emotional fallout from which saw me drop out of college, and mere months after Chris and I had moved from Maryland back to Davis, CA–the college I’d dropped out of–so I could finish my degree; life was finally becoming stable again after such a long time.  But there I was. 

I do not feel I can adequately express how frightened I was during that time.

I would not be able to encompass what it feels like to be financially dependent on someone with no place to go yet knowing your soul won’t let you stay; I wouldn’t be able to explain what it feels like to go through days of being petrified, shaking and unable to eat, hearing your mom scold you for not marrying him anyways.

I would not know how to condense a lifetime of self-doubt into one event, from which one choice is accepting the truth of yourself and causing hurt, disgust, and personal hardship, and from which another is accepting a life of ease, making everyone else happy, while you slowly suffocate.

It was as if Life was trying to kill me and, in order to survive, I had to constantly be looking over my shoulder.

And I guess it isn’t an accident that today, summer solstice 2017–the longest day of light, a pagan day of power, 25 years out from this event which shaped me in ways that each day I’m still recognizing–I see two FB friends are “interested” in seeing a screening and discussion next month of the movie Thelma and Louise and in just seeing the movie title, I’m instantly back in Davis California, sitting on the floor of the living room of the house I shared with Chris watching Thelma and Louise for the first time.

Because the past becomes what we are, and the entire world is really just an orchestra of forever-tuning instruments.

For Adelaide was right.  I did lose that blue-eyed boy and did go on to shed what-felt-like a million tears.

But I didn’t cry forever.

Because sometimes there are moments when we face going against the tide, believing ourselves weak and frightened for the feelings we’re having; and sometimes those very same moments are actually portraits of ourselves standing alone in our own power amidst a crumbling world.

The Yin and Yang of Del Taco

And sometimes it’s true that the things you believe you need in order to be joyous aren’t the right things at all, and so it is that I’m standing in Einstein bagels this morning getting breakfast for my kids experiencing an epiphanic moment.

Because in my former life, I was a married, stay-at-home mom—whose hobby basically amounted to filling up her spare time with activities–and I can remember standing in line at Einstein bagels during that life with a “gettin’ ‘er done” attitude, as if getting my kids bagels was just the prep for the bigger parenting moments yet to come; as if standing in line, waiting for my nova lox on plain, crossing “nutritious breakfast” off my to-do list, was devoid of meaning unless accompanied by the million things I was reciting in my head that I’d obviously still need to do in order to be a good parent.

But ten years out, I’m now experiencing a life in which my parenting is done via text and in moments of stealth, or at the end of my workday (and they’re ALL work days), when my eyes are hazy from exhaustion and I will myself to stay awake and present long enough to hear their voice bare the heart and soul of themselves.  I’m experiencing a life in which my million things to do are actual things I really need to fucking do and not some mental exercise in overparenting. And so at Einstein this morning, facing a day of relative ease (work-wise), I’m grabbing bagels to take home, and have an intense experience of knowing that this moment is of special treasure. Because when you normally don’t have time to do even the basic stuff, it becomes the most delicious act of nurturance just to stand in line and buy your kids a bagel.

And maybe there’s like this yin/yang of experience where it’s a Truth that we can’t ever truly know anything–like “joy”– in its fullest and most proper form until we’ve embodied a “lack” of similar equivalency.

Which makes sense. The last time I experienced this same feeling was at the eating counter at the Dancing Cranes over my leafy green salad; the sun was streaming in, and while I sipped an espresso, I was overcome with emotion at remembering how I was once unable to afford the food I was now-putting into my mouth and how even just that very day–only just 200 minutes before–I’d had too much work to do to be able to afford a moment to sit down and nourish my body. And so there I was, living realizations and juxtapositions, and joyously embodying a moment of complete abundance, as if the lack from my past had cleared out a reservoir of privilege and reset my baseline to ‘absolute simplicity.’ The yin being the only thing making the yang possible, this dark energy existing in my life to enrich my experience not with a negativity but rather with the contrast needed to fully embody the sensation of joy.

And of course, I really don’t know. For I also remember having this feeling of joy after finding an open fast food restaurant at the end of my 18 hour Thanksgiving 2015 shift, and there’s a certain amount of justifiable haziness to a spiritual experience in which you find yourself exhausted and hunched over a taco salad in your car, thanking God for Del Taco.

But in the dissection of the past and blending in of the present, I sense the truth of yin/yang, and try not to be too hard on that “she” steeped in the privilege of time who gracelessly moves within “getting’ ‘er done,” because I could never be the person of joy today without the beautiful soul that I was, standing in line, worrying about a million little things, and there is much growth in just acknowledging that my current moment of “now” will one day be my future self looking back at me.

And of course, in the yin and yang of all experience, wisdom comes in fits and starts, meshed together in time, and stalwartly avid in unclarity, but even in the solitude of a solitary moment, there is comfort in knowing that every experience of lack–every time-barren moment and every flawed “you”–is really just a temporary stop in the longer journey towards making us whole.

Bringers 

Going to meet a new (pet sitting) client two weeks ago, I walked up to her apartment to have her tell me I just missed the police escorting her ex-boyfriend and his cardboard boxes of life out of their once-shared apartment.

She is a fully-woke, always-present, powerful “feminist” (in quotes because I really hate labels) heart surgeon fellow with the financial and emotional support of both the University of Utah and her family and friends, and is happily-here in white-male centric Utah in a patriarchy-infused specialty standing strong against XY superiors telling her not to become friendly with the nurses, yet found herself in a situation where her relationship had devolved to the point where her Wednesday break from the hospital was spent with cops because the restraining order against her boyfriend for abusing her meant that the man she once trusted and made a life with couldn’t legally be near her without a law enforcement officer. 

And as she relayed the story of how she was denied legal help in filing the order of protection–“They wouldn’t take it because I didn’t have any bruises”–she was reflective and kind and talked about it as if she was living fully in the now rather than in the realm of unanswered “whys”.  

And again, somehow I meet the most remarkable people in my work, and I’m grateful to be allowed into their story.
For as she talked about how no one would take her case, she lamented her own privilege–financial/emotional support, the ability and resources to write her own legal documents–and a mere 30 minutes after her abuser had walked out with cops, spoke not of her own trials but of the wider insult of systemic injustice wherein a series of thinking errors has led to a culture in which women are basically forced to evacuate from their own lives, forgotten by a society that condemns them to their fate, then blames them for not being strong enough to leave.

And in looking at her, knowing that this terribly stressful thing had just happened in her life, watching her finesse her painful experience into a teaching moment beneficial to our entire society, it was as if she was integrating all the stories of our world so that she could hear the bigger sound.   

Because we all have trauma, but the internal recitation of the world’s crimes against us is an energetic trap and, in the end, we’re all responsible for what we bring to the story of our world.   

FB Memory Share/Thoughts 

(For people who don’t know me irl, I somehow very circuitously became a pet sitter–someone who takes care of animals in their homes while they’re family is away–as my primary occupation. This post is about one of the families I tended for and that is me in the photos above).

I had to stop sitting for these guys because they had moved to Sandy (I’m strictly Salt Lake City) but if I ever write a book, I’m going to contact Luna’s human to include her story.  

I don’t know what motivates some people to nurture what is not easily nurtured.
Her new owner didn’t know if Luna could be rehabilitated–didn’t know what would happen, was unsure what would come of her effort–but Luna’s story pulled her into a situation wherein, at once, she was faced with the daily acceptance of knowing Luna’s ugly story at the same time as she realized that making a life with Luna would be extra work and no guaranteed outcome.  
And it’s remarkable.

People often want “easy” for whatever reason. Maybe they think easy will make life easier or something; that makes some sense, I guess.  

But really I think the truth is that striving to always make things easy doesn’t always make things easier. Because in always shaping our lives into “easy” we don’t challenge ourselves to rise to anything, and it’s in the rising to things that you hone the ability to stay calm when shit goes down. For you don’t learn to conquer emotional foes by sitting on the sidelines, and there’s emotional power in forging willingly and lovingly ahead through uncertainty.

Tiny Dancer

And even in the dark, I knew I was cutting it too short.

But the late hour and the music from my headphones were mixing forcefully in my head with the words she had spoken so back and forth, back and forth, I cut the grass, leaving the carpeted earth raw and sore, and thoroughly exposed to the ferocity of the next day’s sun.

And there was power in her words, for previous to this night, this neighbor’s life was boasts of Bella her dog toughened by being chained in the snow and Tiger her cat who’d dragged his broken leg behind him until it healed on its own, and I’d avoided her like a voice of imminent darkness, running from her and her pride over images of sad shivering dogs and injured cats.   But an innocuous question this evening began the unraveling of her soul, and what started as an unmowed lawn at sunset had manifested into this neighbor’s eyes misty, her voice husky, together weeding my flowerbed, the sharing of her self dissembling her carefully-constructed bravado.

And as steel blade sliced the grass, I rewound and walked with her through my mind–hearing again of no car, no money, a bipolar husband who won’t let her leave but uses grocery money for weed and stashes condoms for dalliances–and knew that at sunset when I’d come out to mow, we’d both been different, but as light faded, she’d let me see who she was and we’d descended into the sacred space of intimacy, my mouth forming the questions I dared not even want the answer to–“But do you still love him/does he love you?”–and her answering–“No”, face collapsing, eyes spilling–standing aside any veneer under the realness of the darkening sky, as if the world was right then living within a poignant vulnerability it could not resist.

Because as she said it–“No”—she dissolved her own dream; and there was no love anymore, no happier moments to soothe the heart of rough times, just $600 of weed replacing food in children’s tummies, Bella the dog going hungry on nights the kids clean their dinner plates; her heart filling itself with days of impossible longing, baring her soul to her neighbors because of the agony of the loss, and cradling broken dreams from within her most tender self until there was nothing else to do but reach out to the world for solace.

And the disintegration of her façade made my heart implode.

And later–weeds pulled, soil under fingernails, living the truth of a dirty life–I sheared Nature as I softly cried, replaying a singular song as I mowed the long, thick green so short that it could not now avoid being scorched by Mother Nature’s sun, playing out the life of this woman as Elton lowed to me his sweet song about young days of dreams and hopes.

But standing in the cool of the darkened planet, I felt a shift.  For as day goes to night, such is the way of everything, and as I smelled the shaved earth, I remembered that burned forests are actually the best fertilizer for new life.

And in a single second, the words of this grieving woman became the music of a human soul, her vulnerability beckoning me closer, inviting me to love her, to nurture her fragile dreamer and inhale the softness of herself.   And it was a magical act of grace that from within the power of her own sadness, she could let me know her, for in so doing she had heeded the call of cherishing her own self.

And under the dark of the summer sky, the world sang to me lyrics of nostalgic counterpoint, and the tears falling down my face christened the night, and changed me.   And from within my own private emotional world, headphones still in ears, I replayed the evening, now hearing the whispers of it’s cleansing beauty.

For there are nights of heartbreak, feeling trapped within a life we don’t want, our misery perplexing and hardening, feeling distracted by our thoughts into the clipping of a scorched lawn.

And there are nights that are the end of a summer’s day, where we slip out of the room of our own experience to step back into the dream of ourselves, listening to Elton extol the universality of our bittersweet journeys while we wait for the deadness of the brown grass to once-again turn green.