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.

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.   

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

An afternoon in which I live out our precarious balance

8/31/2016: Jesus. At the Smiths [grocery store] at 9th and 9th, a homeless mom pushing a shopping cart filled with their stuff and her dazed-looking teen son with auburn hair and freckles following her riding his bike, bags hanging from the handlebars and backpack on his back that had a fucking poster sticking out the top of it.

Oh dear god. I had to sit down on a bench because I was shocked to tears.  Our homeless shelters are currently full so there is nowhere for them to go.

Come fucking on.

How much trauma are we all supposed to bear witness to and still keep ourselves emotionally afloat? Just because we are not walking the streets with our homeless teenagers doesn’t mean we aren’t gutted when we see it happening to someone else.

And I was going to go on an epic rant and go off Facebook again because: its me! I know that I’m part of the problem; of course I am; I have to be. Because we are ALL the problem and the solution; that’s just the way the balance of the universe works.

But rants and self-flagellation are indulgences when someone else is hungry and a teen boy has to walk the streets with a lifetime of prized possessions sticking out the top of a backpack. So I went to Liberty Park and tried to see if they were there. I had $30, and a kind word. But they weren’t there.

Our government SHOULD be our village. But it’s not. We are the village. We are the boots on the ground; we are the ones witnessing and experiencing this trauma together. We are the solution.

And if we can’t shelter our village in our own home then at least we can shelter them in our own hearts with a kind word, a smile, money, a bag of food, a bottled water, or even a simple blessing said quietly to ourselves that their hard times are bringing to them a future of more infinite joy.

May we all listen to our hearts and heed what it says. Our village needs us.

And to the dear Mother of the red-haired boy: next time I see you, I’ll be ready.

 

Post Script 9/1/2016:  I spent about an hour at Liberty Park yesterday, looking for these people, sitting and reflecting.

I don’t believe in accidents; I’ve accepted that Life will include pain and suffering, including my own; I believe that sometimes to get to self-love (which naturally includes love of others too) you have to take a path through dark people and scary times and traumatic events; I know that the journey is fraught because our supposed allies—like religions–tell us foolish things we believe are true, like how inherently selfish it is to put ourselves first (as if being an advocate for ourselves is somehow shameful), which prevents us from adequately using our energy and thoughts so as to become our best selves.

So I knew this experience had occurred to do something for me–to change my thinking, to change who I am.  I knew all that.

I just didn’t care.

Because I didn’t want some big bullshit mental pep talk about how wonderful the Universe is and how connected we all are and how pain is such a great teacher.

I didn’t want to get all dreamy and passive and accepting and Love Love Love.

I wanted peace.  I wanted the pain to stop.  I wanted “basic human nature 101”:  release me from this shit right now.

But the experience wasn’t over, for as I sat on a bench at the park, I opened my email and up popped one from a writer friend in Oregon, telling me that he’d had me in mind when he was stopped by a panhandling couple outside a restaurant, engaged them in conversation, listened to their story, checked for track marks, and handed them money to cover a hostel for a night.  He said he’d never usually do that but he felt like reaching out and listening to them was the right thing to do, and the rest just bubbled from there.  He also said some other things, and together, it barreled me down until as I got into my car, I was crying with joy.

For his email message received at just that time—when I was low and tenderized, and having just finished writing this emotional Instagram post beseeching us all to see the village that needs us, and to shelter one another with compassion and kindness–was like the universe telling me how much it cared about me, and how much it cares about us all.  How—even in the midst of Human Nature 101—the imperceptible connections between us exist, and that Truth is fortunately bigger than me, and doesn’t listen to my discomfort knowing—as it does—the extreme gratitude that is experienced in making the leap from despair to joy.

 

Smells like a Feminist

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The video below of Kathleen Hanna explaining the genesis of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is confirmed as truth by many other sources:  she actually wrote “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on a wall and Kurt liked it, and wrote the song not knowing that her words were actually a put down to him about a girls’ deodorant.

The video is funny (and, in parts, NSFW), especially the part where she talks about how–as a self-proclaimed feminist–she took up stripping to pay the bills in college.  She realizes the irony of what she has claimed she is (a feminist) and what she is doing (taking off her clothes for cash), and it bothered me. Because here is this awesome girl who’s made her own way in the world–kicking ass–and feeling judged because of the freedom she has to make her own choices.

And I get that we live in a culture that sexualizes (then represses) nearly everything, and that women do not always have the freedom or the emotional strength to make healthy choices.  And are–sometimes–coerced or forced through desperation into situations where they are damaged physically or emotionally.  I get that.

But, if a woman is making her own choice–with no coercion or other messed up situation–why can’t she take her clothes off for cash and still be considered a feminist?   Why can’t she admit she enjoys sex, or listens to rap music or looks at Playboy or watches XX?   Why can’t she be and do EXACTLY whatever the hell she wants to be and do?

We women are raised in a petri dish called “feminism”, wherein we are encouraged to be little robotic replicas of the same person and, if we vacillate too far away from that schtick, we judge each other mercilessly and point the finger at each other over our perceived lack of dedication to women’s rights.

But why on earth are feminists’ freedoms AT ALL limited by our own definition of feminism?

That’s just utter bullshit.

Making collective decisions based on a construct wherein we all feel pressured into thinking the same way or making the same choice is the very same unhealthy coercion that has kept women down for eons. There is no freedom in conformity; there is no “liberation” in forced behavior patterns.   And we are not inept or lesser or damaged if–in a healthy mind-set of complete self-acceptance and freedom–we choose to do or listen to or enjoy things that we WANT to do or listen or enjoy regardless of their suitability for the entire fellow female population.

If it is–as many have attested–that Kurt was a feminist, then it must have been so discouraging for him to see the inequality, the hypocrisy and the passivity, and witness his female friends and family suffer under the fallacy that they were not equally as capable as he of making choices for themselves.

So let’s do ourselves a favor, follow HIS example and stop making passive-aggressive power grabs by pressuring our fellow females into feeling badly about their feelings and their choices.  Because when we finally stop judging one another–and truly accept each other’s capability for making our OWN choices–that’s the point when we will finally start kicking some serious butt.