Exploring the discomfort of Life…More of That

Walking on the edge, and not fitting in, that would be me.  I became a student in the art of fitting in, just enough to make life work. But that meant living a life of discomfort: a life of separation from myself that came from the attempt to connect with others at the expense of losing me.

Life seems to be made of discomforts; the discomfort of not getting what we think we want, not getting responses we want, the discomfort of a break in a friendship or partnership, the discomfort of not knowing, the discomfort of displeasing people and trying something different, taking risks, the discomfort of being on FB or other social sites and starting to feel pangs of envy, and a sense of being left out.

These discomforts unsettle my soul and teach me.  “What’s learnin’ ya?” my teacher Angeles Arrien would say.  Well, I have learned a few things about these discomforts.  I have learned about my completely unconscious and automatic ability to turn away and become distracted from them.  I have also learned about the power of listening and turning towards the discomfort, pain or fear. I have learned that doing that, actually makes the discomfort less uncomfortable, less potent and more manageable.  When I see the turning, my soul looking, there is a too tall dark shadowy being and I am saying, “I see you.  I know you.  I hear you, you are there”.  The darkness gains a small bit of light, the shadow fades just a bit.  The discomfort and the barely acknowledged fear subside for that moment.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ― Leonard Cohen, Selected Poems, 1956-1968

A lot of my life has been about turning away from all the discomfort and fear that has met me each day.  I am an expert at distracting myself, I think I am not alone in this.

The distractions are innumerable; for each and every disquieting thought, every discomfort, pain or fear, I dare say that there are at least 6 distractions and some aren’t even articulated. They just show up and I find myself somewhere else, not feeling what has caused me distress and that lasts maybe a second, maybe more, until I resurface in the land of discomfort again. In this country, I can distract myself again or turn and face it, stare it down, let it know I am not afraid of feeling the discomfort it brings. At least for that moment, I am not afraid, I am courageous.

As distractions go, they are often made up but seem very, very important and needing my attention. Needing me to turn to the story and/or drama that is much more urgently demanding of me, than the discomfort that I am afraid to face.

The White Queen in Alice and Wonderland was an expert at distractions:  “Alice laughed, “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

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Maybe she should be called the Queen of distraction.

I guess the complicated part here, is that some things we turn to are creative, and do need our attention.  The question is when do we do that and why, at that moment, is it appropriate timing?

Sarah Blondin has a way of speaking to my soul, deep and clear.

Listen to her PODCAST – EXPLORING THE WILDERNESS OF YOUR DISCOMFORT

 

Sometimes We Don’t Know

This past year has been one of surrendering to all I don’t know.

My heart can become muddled over this process of surrendering.  I carry hope and fear around with me as if they were mini-me’s swaddled and attached to my hip, crying for constant attention as to which will get fed first.  On a daily basis, I can feel my impatience, my need to know, and my hopes and fears. My busy mind wants to distract me with thinking that every thought and feeling I have is very real.

My work becomes something of a cliché of being with what is, right now, right here. It is no easy task, and the most difficult part is getting my brain to join me in this being with what is.  It wants to “do”, and fix and make things happen.  So, I resist answers, and solutions and wonder when and how I will know what is next. It is an untethered feeling but inside, I don’t feel untethered. Inside I know everything is working out.  Not by magic and not by force, but by letting possibilities unfold.

The home I stay in is in a low-income community of Evanston, Il. The children in the neighborhood have lives I know little about.  I only know what I see. From time to time a mom is yelling in a tone of frustration, for their kids to come home, or the kids show up at the park when it is snowing and 32 degrees and they are sockless with feet falling out of their gym shoes, no gloves on and I feel cold for them and send them home to get something warmer. Or, like the other day, I take them to Goodwill and buy them gloves, socks, and boots because they tell me they don’t have things warmer.

When I take my soulful dog, Henry, to the park, they come running, gleefully yelling his name and he greats them with a full body wag and jumps to meet them.  The kids are full of life and energy and adorable!  They seem hungry for a hug and signal me by leaning their head against me, and I ask, do you want a hug and each time, they say yes. So we hug and the sweetness of connection is good. It is one of those moments where I, and perhaps they, can forget our differences of color, age, background and just connect. We talk about Henry, school, life, and they take turns running or walking Henry around the park. I learn a lot from these kids and the innocence they still have. I love them and wonder how I will tell them I will be leaving when I know I will.

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In some cases, these are children, burdened with parenting children. Their side of life is a ways away from what I have known and my kids have known. They raise questions for me that I have always asked about the deep inequality of our society and more profoundly, the deep wounds inequality makes in young people’s souls.

Maybe it is my imagination but it seems there was a time when more of our society and government felt a responsibility and cared about all who did and did not have, who was safe and who had shelter.  There was certainly a feeling that it mattered if our kids were safe at school, which outrageously has become a question and challenged in these times.

I feel such a mix of hope, sadness and, fear for these kids on my block, and what lies in their future.  I know some will thrive no matter what, some will do okay and some will drown regardless of resources, programs, encouragement and plain humanitarian caring.

I want to gather all these kids up, give them 3 square meals a day, teach them about junk food and other things about living healthy, give a few hugs a day as needed, tell them that life works out, and hold them close. Connect them to their roots and offer them wings.  The best I can hope for is that our interactions are positive enough that something about our meetings will stick with them and be something they can use one day.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says parents must give their children two things, roots, and wings.

“I have the roots. Now I want wings…Off to Paris to follow my dreams. Be brave, Ida and Morris.  We will meet again in that starry-eyed city. You know I have always lived by my dreams.  And now they have come true.  Roots and wings, roots and wings.  I’ve got to go, Daddy-o.”

~Max, the dog, from Maira Kalman’s Max Makes a MillionMax Makes a Million

Lost to Someone Else: An archival Account of Childhood

There is an idea that if you lose something it’s because the energy of that thing isn’t right for you anymore and it is for whoever else finds and needs it.  I hear this as a relief from the guilt I feel and take comfort in it when I consider the things I have lost.  I am sure that this applies to houses I have lived in, and took memories from.

This journey back to the North Shore of Chicago has been a time of remembering, and a lot of letting go.  The other day, Mr. Henry, my faithful dog, and I toured around my childhood stomping grounds of Winnetka.  The following skims the surfaces of memories, with more to unfold some day.

This tour was on a warmer day than what we have had, all the snow had melted by 40+ degree weather. Henry and I stopped in front of each of the 3 houses I lived in during my childhood.

As I stopped to snap a photo in front of each house, I was certain that I was stealing something that belonged to someone else and I was sure someone would come out to yell at me for stalking or stealing the image of their home.

I was stalking.  Some part of those houses still felt as if they belonged to me. The houses certainly belong to my memories.

 

 

 

1083 Oak was the first house my folks owned from 1951-1960.  They moved there from an apartment in Chicago. I was one year old and my brother was turning five.  I remember that my parents paid $18,000 for the house and they talked about how exorbitant that seemed to them at the time. They borrowed from the matriarch, my great aunt, to make it work, as they wanted good schools for my brother and me, and Winnetka was touted as the place to get that.  My dad was a traveling salesman for Bell and Howell at the time, a step up from the bread truck driver he had been and was fired from for being in an accident.  I think my mom was owning and running a knitting shop with her sister or working at Carson Pirie, Scotts.

It seemed important to take a photo of the front and the back of 1083 as front and back are packed with recollections.  When we moved in, my Great Uncle Benny, one of the ten siblings from Ukraine, would come and remodel the kitchen, which was at the back of the house. There he put in the wonderful picture window, added a bathroom upstairs for the two bedrooms that were my brothers and mine, built a table saw in the basement for my dad, and a darkroom for my dad’s photography.  I took much comfort from having Benny around.  I remember getting a kiss from his scratchy 5 o’clock shadow each morning he came to work, and I remember my mother being happy that he was there.

 

 

 

It was at an early age that I knew things in the house were not right.  The Borden’s Milkman, Nick, came to deliver milk at the back door once a week.  He would always give me a free chocolate milk but that wasn’t why I liked him.  I liked him because every time he came, it was like a little adventure, he was a new conversation with me and my mom, and with his Borden’s Milkman uniform on, he brought in a fresh energy, a sweetness, a light, something about the world outside.  I wonder now if he knew what he gave us.

The back held lots of memories like digging to China under the plum tree, and when I dug enough and dreamt enough about where in China I would pop out, I would climb that tree and watch my dad garden. Around the edges of the yard were my mom’s Lily’s of the Valleys and Pansies and the Peartree my dad tried to train to grow a crooked way.  There were the times my dad could get my very reticent brother to play catch in the yard and I would watch, wishing I could drip sweat like the two of them.

We lived in that house in the 50’s, during the Cold War. I knew for sure that we could turn our garage into a bomb shelter. That or the hinged tornado doors to the basement would also work. I knew more than a kid should know about how radiation traveled, and how to design a safe bomb shelter. I knew as we all did, covering our heads while crouched under a desk, was just stupid. So I educated myself about radiation, it’s movement and bomb shelters via TV ads and World War III movies like On The Beach. My mom took the practical stance of not wanting to live if there was an atomic war. She said that she’d rather die than have to turn away people who had not built a shelter, for lack of food and room.  I’m pretty sure my dad agreed with her.

The front held the steps and front porch door embedded with other moods, yearnings, and desires. I was always waiting for something, really most anything; for my brother to come home from school, or my dad to come home from work, or someone I didn’t know, to just show up and be a new person around to talk to.

I felt bored a lot, something in me had closed down; my aunt said that at about the age of three I had become sullen.  I didn’t learn until much later in my life, that my mother would go into the garage to take Phenobarbitol to settle herself after one of my father’s depressive outbursts or just when she had had enough of him.  The garage served as her “bomb” shelter. I know she was grateful that her first cousin and best friend had married a doctor when in need of a prescription for Phenobarbital.  Though I am pretty certain that my mother’s air was trustworthy and sincere, and when asking a doctor for help, getting it really wasn’t a problem.

None of us seemed happy including my brother and I. The best thing was that we had our dog, Peppy, a part Collie and part Shepard rescue. Really, I had our dog, Peppy, he was my appointed protector, he followed me to school almost every day, spent the night on my friend’s front porch when I did overnights and just stuck by me.  It was as if he knew what I needed, even more than I did.

After about 6 years in that house, my dad had seen Death of A Salesman and decided to stop being a traveling salesman as he didn’t want to miss out on my brother’s and my childhood. So he borrowed more family money and opened a camera store, Powell’s Camera Mart #2 on Elm Street, just down from The Fix-It Shop.  He kinda missed our childhood in some ways anyway because when he was home, he was in an angry depression…a lot. Many years later he was diagnosed with diabetes and I have wondered if his blood sugars were causing his loud yelling and bad behavior.

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Some years ago, I had visited the Oak Street house with my girls.  We knocked on the door and we were invited in by a lovely elderly lady.  She told us that the house was called The Stern house. Now that was a fun fact, as my parents didn’t build the house.  So who did and who was there before us? And why did my parents get the recognition?  I knew dad did good things in the community like supporting The Hadley School for The Blind, the Lion’s Club, and some other charitable causes. I also knew his store had a great reputation. So there is that.

After achieving success with Powell’s, my dad decided to take a big, risky step and buy out his partnership in order to open his own store. He struggled for weeks over whether or not to use his own name.  My mom and I said, of course, he should and so Stern’s Camera and Sound Center became the name.  He was on his path of success.  Though he had had only a few classes in business, he had a natural ability to run a camera store.

1442 Asbury Ave, Winnetka, IL

1442 Asbury Avenue was purchased for $42,000 and we lived there from 1960-1969.  I couldn’t get a picture of the backyard without asking permission and I wasn’t in the mood to do that as this was one of my moments of wanting to be more private. But the backyard once held the Japanese garden my father made and took great care in raking and making patterns in the sand.  The backyard also held the fence between our house and the kid that lived behind us.  My parents always disparaged his parents saying they were shysters so of course, I dated the kid.  There weren’t many ways to rebel in my family but this was one.  He was a jerk, so it didn’t last long.  Quiet parental pressure worked on me and I needed it.

While living in that house, my brother went off to college, after his high school years of drinking, while making straight A’s. On his visits home, he asked to have use of the attic room, asked for the paisley bedspread from India, and the arty hooka my parents had sitting around as an interesting artifact decorating the living room.  They happily and naively gave it all to him and there lay his den of iniquity.  He would invite me up to have a smoke but between no desire to lose track of an already off color reality and being a good girl, I turned the offer down, at least while I still lived in the house.

905 Grove St, Winnetka, IL

905 Grove Street from 1968 to 1982 really wasn’t a home I lived in but I visited often.  My folks bought it after I left for college for a whopping $68,000. My brother was already out of the house.  My folks again did a major remodel adding a second level.  In the backyard, despite my father’s encouragement for us to “live together longer”, I got married at the age of 19, barefoot with a flower wreath on my head. The guy I was marrying was not a jerk, but we were not a match.  He was a wounded guy doing his best to make life work, and couldn’t seem to help the fact that he didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t talk.  The marriage lasted a long seven years, with a lot of suffering due to the fact that I had had such a limited vocabulary when it came to speaking up for myself and I was so fearful that I couldn’t even tell myself what I wanted, let alone anyone else.

There is a storehouse of many more memories, suffering, wounds, and joy that is being asked to be told another time or not at all.

You Are Not Confused!

 

Let’s be clear, here in America, the land of the “free”, nearly, or I dare say, every woman has experienced some degree of degradation because of her sex. According to the very adult, mature man, who I met at the dog beach, he claims that EVERY man has done some kind of sexual or other assault on a woman in his life.

So what is there to be confused about.  Certainly, not that it happens, rather, the confusion is rooted in the “when” it happened and the “how” it happens and our culture and our personal histories.

My teacher, Angeles Arrien, would say, “You are not confused.” and I would add, I just didn’t really want to know what I knew.  Angeles spoke a truth to me, bare, open and clear. There was the permission to know what I knew, what I had spent years pretending to not know or be confused about. And the most difficult thing was that I believed I was confused.  And, I was!  Because when you are asked to mask or hide a very important part of yourself, you become confused.  You can’t find your allies or anchors, you are not sure who will believe you, understand you, or hold you as an upstanding human being who only wants to speak her truth.

What happened over the years I was pretending? The years I sacrificed some part of myself or a lot of myself to get through a moment. The years I had a complete and utter inability to ask to go to the bathroom in elementary school. Which always led to a mad dash home when school got out, sometimes getting to the back of the tall bushes in front of my house on Oak Street, and against every struggle to hold it, peeing in my pants as I fumbled for my keys.

There were the boys that would chase me home every day, thinking it was fun to terrify me.  Oh, just “boys being boys”, right!? ( Isn’t that the same camp as “It’s just locker room talk”.)  I ended up with nightmares about figuring out where my mom’s friends were on my way home so I could stop just in case the “boys just being boys” were really going to catch and hurt me.  Their names sting in my memory like an allergic reaction to a bee bite, Tim R., T.and J. Sawyer.  I knew a few things about them, they weren’t Jewish and I was/am. In class, they seemed pretty nice except Tim. I think all 3 had military buzz cuts which frightened me though I didn’t know why. The Sawyer twins were a bit more finished than the Tim guy. The twins were less rough around the edges.  I was certain the Tim guy came from a house where there were guns. But what if I hadn’t been so afraid, so intimidated? Might I have turned and faced them, faced my fear, and yelled, “Leave me alone!”  Definitely risky, and it certainly would have taken some gumption which I had learned to pack away many years earlier.

There is more to this story; Like the guys in high school who I dated just because they wanted to date me, or the story about the train conductor who was about 20, and I was 15. He was black and he started to make out with me without asking and without me saying yes or no. It was 1965 and god forbid I would look like a racist, or mean girl, and reject him.  It was a long ride, a really long ride. The whole time, not know how or where to escape to and disliking him for intruding on me and hating myself for letting him.  And, after…well after… I didn’t tell anyone. The thought of reporting him didn’t even come to mind. That would be very scary. I thought I was responsible for this happening.  I mean I was the one with no words, no NO’s, no voice.  I never did say No, not even quietly, not once.

It amazes me that I wasn’t more hurt by my inability, my incapacitation to speak up, to form the word No in my mouth even though NO was shouting from every pour in my body.

To put a finale to my adolescent years, there was the very sweet, kind guy, I dated my senior year of high school. This put all the popular girls in a knot.  I wasn’t cool, I was Jewish, and I was dating the Varsity football captain and President of our class. A few of these “know it all” girls, in the gym locker room, said with a sneer, “Are you dating him?”  I quietly said, “Uh huh.”

Then, there was his mom who told him he shouldn’t go out with me because I was Jewish and would get fat after we married. It might be important to note that she was a complete alcoholic but I feared she could be right anyway.  Not because I was Jewish, but because I grew up with Barbie Dolls and was certain I was fat at the age of 7, especially when I learned that food had calories and my comfort food, Jay’s Potato Chips, had a lot.  And, oh, my dad’s very affectionate nickname for me was Tubby O’Neil.  I loved my dad and desperately wanted his attention, and learned that even a weird, really bad nickname could be a way to connect with him.

I married the first time at 19 and we stayed married for 7 years because I couldn’t utter the word No. I was afraid.  I was afraid of my life alone, my life ahead, MY life.  The couples therapist we went to told us about her problems living with an alcoholic, so we quit and then, I quit the marriage.

No wonder I thought I was confused and my head was swimming with confusion.  I couldn’t find my voice and I was certain I was alone in this.

 

FEAR. THE DARK ROOM WHERE NEGATIVES ARE DEVELOPED

 

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Is This The Place?

Is This The Knowing Place?

Is this a place to talk about dreams?  A dream that I had last night. As if staged for a film, the light shone brightly on a printed, typed page with rough, worn edges, surrounded by dark ominous lighting. And my thinking was about how I could transform the work into a piece of fiction for HerName Blog.

Is this the place to ask these kinds of questions?  The questions about where to write about a dream, or tell a dream about one’s life. To wonder out loud for other’s to witness?  To ponder what is true, what I know and what I don’t know? To know things just under the surface of not knowing; Waiting one minute after the words, “I don’t know.” and then to know what I really do know.

I had a teacher once that seemed to not believe that people were confused when they said they were.  Angeles Arrien, with a edgy, soft touch would say, “You are not confused.” and I would add silently, you mean I am not confused, I just didn’t really want to know what I knew.  There was the truth, bare, opened and clear. There was the permission to know what I knew, what I had spent years pretending to not know or be confused about.

It seems a timely topic given all that is going on these days.  Given all the people that seem to not know, all the people that forgot something very important, all the women who have come out from under the veil of pretending confusion or not recalling or not remembering, all the women who have found the Voice of Knowing! These times call on us to know and know what we don’t know and high time to be dropping the veil of confusion.

 

Celebrations, Endings, ​and Beginnings

After my divorce, I left behind a comfort I had relished in childhood in which I fully knew I would be with family for holidays and birthdays and there would be great food.  Life changes in unanticipated ways, pain shows up where you think you can avoid it, and celebrations happen anyway.  Healing happens, joy returns, holidays are filled with fun, awkwardness, conversations you wish you didn’t have to have, some you are happy to have, and jokes go round, making for laughter, grimacing, and oh no’s, he really didn’t say that or tell that one again.

The anticipation of my trip to Portland and the Bay Area was initially filled with excitement and also felt daunting with concerns of how long my visit would be.  I was looking at being with my youngest, Molly, for a week over my birthday and Thanksgiving and then with my eldest, Nina, for another week in the Bay Area.  I love my kids but sometimes the amount of time spent in each other company needs attention.  And, it is possible that this trip has been designed with too little attention to time.  But there is more to know, as the trip is not even halfway through.

My birthday was the day before Thanksgiving, yesterday. I was feeling very happy to be with Molly.  Happy not to share the day with a Turkey as it is, about every 7 years.  Molly and I  seemed to figure out a way to be together without hardly a hint of annoyance and a sense of connection and love.  Our talks, shared desire for food, spas, movies and some political conversation were all good.  Molly treated us to a morning at the spa with a much needed sauna and foot bath, met my daughter’s boyfriend for lunch and a viewing of Pixar’s Coco where Nina, who works for Pixar, placed a picture of my mother in the end titles where there is a collage of many photos.  It was such a gift as if it was orchestrated by my mother from the other side and how appropriate that it is a movie about Dia De Los Muertos. Nina submitted the photo for the movie without any knowledge that the movie was to be released on my birthday.  So there I was with my youngest at Coco, seeing a picture of my mom, made by Pixar, the company my eldest works for. Love, love these women in my life.  And, well for Lasseter and sexual harassment, that is another blog entry, when I have figured out what the f___ to say.

I feel a relief from not being in Chicago. I am pretty sure my karmic healing there has had its time. That is both good to know and a bit scary as I have no idea where is next.

I have come to an end of an unspoken contract with a very long time, dear friend in Chicago. It was one of those all too familiar experiences where the lag time of what I knew needed to happen and when it happened felt way too long.  And the contrast of a warm welcome here in Portland from family and people I barely know feels so good, so healing, really so warming to my soul.

I can feel a lot, and sometimes it takes me a long time to get to why I feel what I do.  I have been told a few times now that the debilitating cold I had gotten 2+ weeks ago was about grief and the lingering cough, the same.  I feel less grieving now over a friendship lost and more sunshine, but the foggy shroud is still needing time to dissipate.  As usual, I want it to all happen faster and once again have to suffer with the fact that I have no control over that.

I am excited and edgy about what is next.  Right now, all I know is that I will be in the Chicago area until about April.

Name Change @ https://wordpress.com/posts/hername.blog

Nellie Evans was having another crisis of identity.  It was time to change her name, again.  She was re-raveling herself into something else.  She didn’t know what yet, but she knew Nellie didn’t speak to who she felt herself to be.  After trying on names like Melinda, just Nell, or Augustine, the name Maime seemed to speak to her.  It was an old fashioned name, but it spoke a strong, yet quiet peace to her soul.

She found out that the meaning of Maime had a Japanese meaning of real, genuine. “ma” meant dance or flax, “i”meant clothing and put with “me” meant bud, sprout, shoot.  The name seemed to mean something of the earth, a dance with the earth, something real with roots.  That would work just fine for her.  So she let Nellie drop away, which wasn’t difficult and she began to recognize herself as Maime.