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.

Yellow Ledbetter

Click for audio

“Eddie Vedder admits that he changes the lyrics and meaning of the song when he performs it, but he wrote the song with one story in mind.   The song was written during the first gulf war, when “Papa Bush” was President, as Eddie calls him. The story is about a young Grunger kid, all dressed up in his flannels with the long greasy hair. His brother goes off to fight in the war and gets killed. He gets a letter that comes in one of those yellow army envelopes and learns of his brother’s death. So, all upset, he decides to go out and walk it off. On his walk he passes by a neat, middle-aged or elderly couple sitting on their front porch having some tea, and he sees that they have an American flag out. He gives a wave, because he feels like he relates: “The flag, my brother, you know…” But they don’t know, of course. They don’t know what’s underneath the grunge and the long hair. All they see are the outward appearances, and they don’t wave back.”

Today I unfollowed a FB page when one of the members group-texted calling Bernie supporters ‘burnouts’.

It was all pro-Hillary and blah blah blah, look at how over-intellectualized we are followed by invented narratives and name-calling like five-year-olds.

And maybe I’m rushing too quickly to protect myself from those unlike me, but when time is short–and honestly, it’s actually short for all of us, all the time–it becomes less possible to entertain living within such an unsightly, formulaic dynamic.  Because I’m more than the sum of one-word branding and finding space inside to nurture myself has been hard, and I’ve grown intolerant of a world not up to the task of helping me meet myself with a loving heart.

And interestingly, I didn’t get too upset about it, like I might have at one point in time.

It just made me think of this song.  They played it at the Bernie Sanders rally last year.

I went with my younger daughter, Livy (who’s named after Mark Twain’s wife; born in the year 2000–11 months after the Y2K “disaster”, 10 months before 9/11–on the same day as Twain, and gifted too with writing ability, and cursed, as he, with too many ideas) because as we walked back to the car, the sun was going down, and I was like, why not live the big dreams?

Why not believe in the goodness of people we don’t know?  Why not wave at the grunge kid in the tatty shirt?

For when you look at what we do with our thoughts–mindlessly cataloging human beings so as to protect our emotional selves–we are magic beings creating poison worlds, distancing ourselves from one another for no reason, lost inside a world in which somehow it makes more sense to create a docudrama of nefariousness out of someone waving than it is just to pick up our arm and wave it.

And driving home, we turned up Yellow Ledbetter as we sank into the sky and clouds of a magic day, and passing the golf course, I was singing along with the mournful lyrics–and yes: I was so dreamy that day–but when I looked at Livy in the passenger seat of my car, window down, hair blowing in the air of a warm day, the earth was tilting towards a star and I was like “look at that big dream.”

Look at that art project of sky and skin.  The sky painted color that’s actually just air and the girl of tender-hearted benevolence imprinting the world with a more grace-filled future.

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Golf course, Salt Lake City, March 18, 2016
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Livy after Bernie rally, Salt Lake City, March 18, 2016

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.

Closure

And it was a time of great vulnerability.  But I didn’t know it then.

Because at age 20, away at college, and in love with the future, I couldn’t see anything but sex and hope and an unwavering commitment to fervor and reverie.

So we danced around reality—he and I—and played family in the rental in Davis, walking my dogs, brewing fancy coffee, drinking Bailey’s—becoming grown-ups—setting up the Scrabble game while blasting Led Zeppelin, lying in on the weekends, our lazy Saturdays spent with AM radio telling of the SF Giants, and him tinkering under the hood of his 1967 Mercury Cougar in homemade t-shirts satirizing society (“I DON’T work out at Golds’ Gym” or “I’m High On Crack”).  Both making a world for ourselves, living a love story we were writing on our own.

And we were so tender, he and I; babies who had lived inside lives unbecoming our gentle hearts–him with the role of tending his sweet father who was succumbing to alcoholism, and me literally having my family explode the minute I stepped off to college—and we were so perfectly timed, growing towards one another as we lived within a protected sweetness that our families hadn’t modeled, removing ourselves from the life we didn’t want to see, reflecting back to one another the safety of kindness and humor and gentle days, Fool in the Rain playing as letter tiles were chosen, him leaving funny poems on my pillow in the morning (“your eyes are the color of pond algae”), me writing my first name alongside his last in my Cognitive Psychology notebook.

But October 17, 1989 came, and the earthquake stirred all that I’d been pushing away, and in mere moments, the entire trajectory of my broken family burned inside me, dad crying in the armchair, mom telling me I wasn’t welcome to come home, dad moving out, mom unstable, making my younger sister Alex do the Ouija board until that day Alex snapped and ran away from the house (that in just two months she’d be inside when it shook into its death) with me following, trying to fix the world I didn’t want to end, petrified of what could happen if I let her go; wanting to save us all from brokenness and still not being able to, for even the earth knew it was too late, and tossed the house down the hill, making everything cockeyed and wobbly, and smelling of the remnants of a dead family, rotting food from the tipped fridge, moldy water, smashed perfume bottles, the beloved Angel fish lying dead on the floor.

And it was too much.  I had seen too many broken hearts, had lost too much for dreams to still come true, and pushed him away in the disbelief that good could even exist, and in the breakups aftermath, he cried—tears on the lashes of lovely hazel-blue eyes—and asked me why I had to leave, believing I guess that I would actually have an answer even though I didn’t know anything, and wouldn’t, not for so many years.

But, as if we both needed an answer, he stayed with me.  For during my lifetime since, I could not stop thoughts of him, and did not want to, and shuffled around a feeling of grief for what I’d done and turned away from—dreaming of him at night–struggling with near-crippling bewilderment at the feeling that I was irrevocably chained to an ever-distant past, existing within my marriage in reverie for the intimate connection he and I had shared as we huddled together all those years ago in college in Davis, warmth and humor and hope and respite from a damaged world.   And I could not shirk it no matter how painful it was to remember, and did not know why.

Yet here in the shadow of all these years, I see it now for what it gave me.

Because all this time later, I can push through the darkness to the beauty, and see myself for the different person I became for knowing him.

For it was magic. That time.

I loved him and I knew he loved me, and in reflecting goodness back to one another, we walked together through the shadows of grief, loving with open hearts against all probability, and nurturing a sweetness so seductive that even at 48 years of age I can still taste and smell the impossible magic that it was.

And for so long, it was a loss, but even in the remnants of 28 years and the passing of a million lifetimes, I know that he was and always will be a gift to me.

Because he changed me forever—danced upon my soul–beckoning me to emerge towards the safety of himself, and in bearing witness to his powerful love for me, I became stationary within a beautiful moment, and existed in perpetuity as witness to joy and happiness and the affirmation that I could be loved.   And it was an impossible gift that I will carry with me forever.

So on this, his birthday—February 28, his 49th–I just wanted to say:

Happy Birthday, Steve. You were a safe place in a terrible storm. Thank you—my beautiful friend–for showing me how to love myself.

 

 

A Gift of Dark Days

I’ve never cried so hard as that day in 2007 when James drove his moving truck down the street.

He was moving from Salt Lake to live with his office assistant/girlfriend and her son 2000 miles away, just weeks after we told the girls we were divorcing, a divorce which blindsided me, James and Sarah probably beginning their relationship that summer we dug out our basement, when I unknowingly insisted James stay with Sarah and her husband Ryan near the Virginia Vitech office rather than come home to the stress and unpleasantness the girls and I were living with.

“James, no: really. It’s horrible here; just stay with Sarah and Ryan and I’ll take care of stuff here.”

Naturally, he didn’t tell me Ryan had moved out.

But on that epic day, Livy had lost her first tooth (in a bowl of popcorn!) and when he drove off in his UHaul, both girls chased the truck down the street, and he noticed, stopping at the end of Garfield Avenue–next to the orange house he’d eventually move into after the break up with Sarah—getting out of the drivers side to swing around to where Julia and Livy waited on the sidewalk. And there was this moment in my mind—this lovely flash of hope–that he would hug his daughters so tightly, he’d never want to stop, and would recover who he was and become the dad they needed.

But he didn’t. And that night I cried with the force of eternal heartbreak, as if something in my body was already living the future–the sense of rejection my girls would feel, the way they’d blame themselves as faulty, believing if they’d only been different, he wouldn’t have left–instinctually knowing this archetypal loss and what it meant to us all, rolling myself into the fetal position on my bed in the darkness of earths night, convulsing from grief, and the unrecoverable knowledge that the hill was far off and way too high, and that my daughters–my most beloved ethereal connection to both this earth and my own soul–might never be whole again. And that neither would I.

But I was wrong.

I have said goodbye to many things in my lifetime—so many versions of myself and what I thought I needed to be happy— and while it is true that the girls and I were never the same again, the events from that time changed us, scarring us with an experience that gave us no choice but to reach out to one another and (eventually) to go more deeply within. For I never wanted that day to happen–and even now, don’t want the memory of it–and begged God so many times to make the pain go away.

But the Universe in her wisdom did not listen, knowing that one day there would be a stronger, calmer me for the trial, knowing that the evolution of a more sacred human requires unwanted experiences so as to better understand and connect in compassion and grace with our world and our fellow beings. Knowing that it is often our own tears which baptize us into better versions of ourselves.

And absent the human-centric aspect of Time, it becomes possible to witness even the most-emotionally cold day of your life as something you wanted.

Because I’ve been struck with reverberations of that day each moment of the ten years since, and it is within the now that I can see–just adjacent to the sometimes still-intense feeling of loss–that there is a “me” that is actually bigger than such times. For the momentary relief of pain that I desired cannot compare to the joy of knowing I’m now better for it, and you do not even know how beautiful you are until you have had to fight for yourself.

And when you can take something shitty and use it to make something beautiful, there is no fear or need or want anymore: there’s just one opportunity then the next to embrace yourself as a sacred space and learn how to power your way into a more redemptive world.  

And dark days then become sources of strength, powering us all to a better version of ourselves.

One Single Yesterday

Sometimes I think it happens that Time becomes a weird entity, mashing together events of totally different origins and reconvening them as if they were occurring together, right then, into a singular story, clear in connection, real and provable. Maybe it’s a Tune in, Turn on, Drop out thing. Or maybe my kids drugged me (which I’ve asked them NOT to do. so many times. goddammit).

Last night, I was walking a dog along 1700 South near 1300 East, singing aloud to “Me and Bobby McGee,” and realized that I’ve been on a journey in this life—wherein I’ve been worn down to almost nothing just so I could find myself again—and as I walked alongside cars speeding with haste to unknown places, the power and strength of Janis’s passionate and authentic life could be felt in her voice, and under the nearing-full moon, listening to her sing lyrics written by someone else for an experience she never personally had, I experienced her journey too, she of the tender soul who felt out of place and unattractive but didn’t give up reaching for the big dreams, and living the big life; living how she wanted, doing what she wanted, carving a path out irrespective of how weird it seemed to others, dying after a life so big she accidentally killed herself by living it.

And I’ve heard people relay Janis Joplin’s story as if it was a tragic one, because there is a tendency to believe that there is something inherently sad about a life of internal struggle ended accidentally at a youngish-age.

About an hour later, still singing the same song (I get on a roll with one song sometimes), I see my oldest daughter’s FB post, in which she’s wearing a sweatshirt a friend bought her that says “I Understand. I Just Don’t Care,” and it tickles me, because it’s so “I could give a shit less,” and even though I know Julia feels tender and out of place and unsure, she’s also living how she wants, doing what she wants, and steering her life in the manner of her choosing, and I wonder if maybe it was Janis Joplin who helped her get this way, and that maybe someday she’ll be me, singing to herself on a dark street in Salt Lake City, and as homeowners exit their cars to go into their homes, into normalcy–pumpkins on porches, and utter predictability—she’ll be okay with weird, with walking down the street, loving the world while also not giving one shit what it thinks of her. That someday she’ll make it to where she loves herself enough to stay calm and centered as she lives each day as if she’s daring the world to judge her.

And I thought that maybe THIS is the end of Janis’s story.

Because there is no stopping Time, it marches and evolves and becomes enriched with past, present and future, and when we pull back from it, any story holds the hope of transforming someone else’s experience so as to exact different outcomes, and if Janis’s life becomes an example that inspires others to perhaps see themselves differently or be aware of a more-enriched bevy of personal choices, then her story didn’t end at her death, but carried on, weaving itself into lives and experiences, meshing her own life into something different for the promise and hope it gave to others.  For her life was so big that we could all see and hear the experience, and so real–so authentically her, so authentically noncomformist–that the loss of her manifested as societal change, funneling into a 48 year old unapologetically-singing aloud on the street and an 18 year old facing emotional foes with an altered set of skills and a vision both broader and simultaneously more tender of both her world and her self.

So be yourself, everyone. Love the world but don’t let it tell you who you are. Value yourself. Dare it to judge you. Be authentic; be big; be weird. You’re special.

For in living your story, you’re changing the future for someone, somewhere, in some time.

And thank you, Janis Joplin, for choosing a life of authenticity and nonconformity so that we could all learn from your strength and your struggle.