How Do I Live?

Image from The Empathy Project at Seattle Art Museum 11/2018

12/31/2018

We arrive on this earth, learn things, affect people, people affect us, eat too much or too little, hate ourselves, work on loving ourselves, work on not hating others, lose people, gain new people, worry about money, and kids, our parents and siblings, and friendships, have some laughs here and there, and then we die, we are gone.  At some point, it is over, just over.  We make up ideas about where we go when we die and typically think it will be much better or much worse than life here on earth. I think we just die.We leave energy behind, we leave memories and that is all we really know.  

Death seems to happen by mistake, an anomaly in our world.  We all know that we die, but I am a member of the club that pretends that it will really never happen to me. Or it will happen in a way that is swift so I barely know it has happened. It will happen as I imagine when I am 100 and still have my wits about me. I will be sleeping and my heart will fail.  My imaginings are based on facts; My mother lived to 94, her sister to 92 and her cousin lives on at 101 about to be 102.

When death happens we land in the country of disbelief and say this wasn’t supposed to happen, especially when the person seems too young to die or cut off from doing something that we think is important or it is just someone we love spending time with and it feels like they are taken from us.

As I don’t have a ritual for death, there are the memories that I want to collect up, like a hoarder.  The Day of the Dead ritual in Coco seems good.  Creating an altar of things that help me remember my friend Paula, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, the friend that died when we were both 19, the friend of my daughter’s who also died when they were 19.  I still carry around my mother’s ashes in a shoe box, fitting for who she was, waiting for the perfect moment and place to put them.  I think of somewhere for the ashes, weigh in on it, and, so far, nowhere ends up saying, yes, leave her here, with us, where she will be taken care of. Maybe a shoebox is the perfect place. It was not uncommon for my mom and me to joke about her and Imelda Marcos.  Not about shared politics, but about too many shoes.

This past month I sat and watched my friend wither away like a dying, brittle vine, still clinging to the trellis it once had adorned with blossoms.  She had stomach cancer but told us she had breast cancer because that is what she wanted to believe. It was part of her wish to believe she could recover from this by diet and positive thinking.  By the time she had told me, and a few other friends, she had had this cancer for a year. We learned of it when the cancer was in the process of attacking her entire body.  In the end, it left her with a writhing ocean of an open wound weeping from her chest.  It was as if her insides had become a riptide of pus trying to break free from her cancer-riddled body, just as she hoped to do, break free.  Prior to hospitalization, a nurse suggested wearing a Kotex as a bandage on her leaking breast, which she did, bringing both of us to uproarious laughter.  The whole time we joked, I had no idea she was dying and maybe it was more fun that way.  It was just a silly bandage that would be removed one day when she was “better”.

The last time I saw her, she was in a baseline assisted living home where she was receiving Hospice care, at least when the nurses chose to follow Hospice’s instruction or when Hospice was there itself. She looked kind of like a person I once knew, but as she became ever more gaunt, she was a sliver of who she once was.  Over a months time, she became an empty body, with blue eyes that moved and had moments, flashes of recognition, and then vacant.  She died on December 24, 2018, at too young of an age, taking secrets with her.

Each day, after leaving the vigil of sitting with Paula, my thoughts would drift off to how will this happen for me.  Who will be with me?  I would like my kids to be with me, but wonder if one could stand the process and if the other will be too busy. I carry a fantasy that my kids will be there like I was for my mother, but that fantasy includes things as if I were like my mother and my kids were like me.  But, in fact, my mother and I were always pretty different.  I mean it was clear we had a special bond, and we were related, but I live my life differently than she lived hers.  I attend to my fears differently, I attend to my hopes differently.  So to think I will have what my mother had in her ending years, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The last time I saw Paula she looked a lot like an alien with a small diminishing body and huge eyes.  I felt cliche when my mind went off to wondering if this is what life comes to and then wondering if am I doing my life right.  Paula died much as she lived. In the end, she was as worried about her finances as ever, though her worries were unfounded, as they always had been. She scrabbled around with friendships and kept secrets or half-truths how she was actually related to certain people who she spent time with. Early in my first visit, at some point in her morphine stupor, she made a comment about looking fat. The only thing that could possibly suggest fat, was her cancer inflamed arm. Even on her death bed, her eating disorder was alive and well.  Her concern and fear of being fat was evidence that our craziness follows us to the end.  So if this is the case, I deeply want to unhook my deep, low self-esteem issues now. I would like my death bed to be free of the ailments of untruths about who I actually am.

So what am I doing with my life?  How cruel have I been?  What can I do about it now? When do I just let go and be kind, do what I need to do, do what I want and brush off the cruel things said to me, by me and others??  Get the tougher skin my mother had wished for me.  I find all my actions are directed towards freeing myself to be present, being kind and generous, uncluttered by my lower needs of inclusion, fear of being left out, needing to defend myself, needing recognition.  I find I am driven to live from a higher place than my ego and I fail at all of this a lot.

After watching Paula, I hope I get there.  I think I want this more than anything other than for my children and their loved ones to be happy, healthy and feel safe.

Henry with Paula
For Paula and Our Friendship… With love from your Buddha Buddy and Henry

“If death is certain and the time of death uncertain, what do I do? How do I live? What matters most to me in the time that is left?”                                                                      ~Stephen Batchelor

 

Revised 1/21/2019

 

 

Are you Indigenous Indian?

“Are you part indigenous Indian?”  Asked a man waiting in line at the Post Office.  A secret smile crept onto my face.  I really wished I was and told him that.  He said he was part and commented on my looks.   No one has ever asked me that before, though I did have one boyfriend years ago, who commented on my feet and how they looked like I had walked many lands and that meant to him that I was very wise.  I decided to just let that be true… for him.

I wondered what the man at the Post Office saw that made him ask. I searched my history and memories like they were typed pages holding secrets, hidden between words.  When I was little I was a blue-eyed blonde with Russian ancestors. But I always thought my grandmother, who was born in Russia, looked like an indigenous Indian and wanted to know the story of her parents and childhood.  I wondered how her looks came about, the tall thin woman she was, with high cheekbones, and sunken cheeks.

That small comment, that day, made me feel so special.  The man spoke to my desire to be with or in as many cultures as there are people, a desire to be part of a tribe, well, many tribes.

Images flutter in front of me and I see my grandmother next to an ancient wise Indian, one whose feet have walked the earth, touched the actual soil. I see the deep sun-dried lines that suggest, wisdom and natural beauty which is simply, beautiful, worn and filled with stories.

Good pick up line, I thought.  It turned me inward, into things deeper in me than I can understand. It made me aware of a ball of light deep inside that glows when I decide to look that way.  It may glow all the time, even when I am not looking.

And when those words enter my thoughts I also hear, “There she goes…off the deep end… again. She is sure that is what certain friends and family are saying about her now, “Ball of light, glowing deep inside…whaaat!”  That says too many years in California, for sure!

So, of course, I am headed back to California, with plans to meet old camping friends, and we will camp our way back, through indigenous lands, where I am pretty certain, no one will ask if I am indigenous Indian.  And I will be back in the land where spoken words of balls glowing deep inside are more commonplace, as well as shamans, healers, and therapists.

Dad's Glass

Floating in A Dinghy in the Ocean…for Now

Photo credit: The Hidden Art of Moonsweeping   Ala Pixar

“You are in a dinghy in the ocean.  You will beach and you will be fine, just not yet.  ElsaElsa, Astrologer

I am that kind of a person who listens to things like this because they help explain what I feel, what I can’t control or don’t want to control. Elsa spoke to a deep part of me that knows, and what I know is that I don’t want to land, not yet. She tells me, in an attempt to comfort me, that landing will occur sometime in early 2019 to Spring of 2019 when I will beach my dinghy. I am hoping It won’t be longer unless when I get to the Spring of 2019 it feels right to wait, again, for landing.

I reached a pivot point where doing something different, though scary and unsettling, out weighted remaining as I had been for so many years, afraid. Some freedom has been unleashed in me that yearns for the next adventure. No naysayers to hold me back with all the fears and considerations rebounding in my mind, “Watch out!”  “You might…”  “What if…”  

The Traveler in me, always thought travel was the luxury of good fortune when I deeply Knew it was my birthright. And now, I can’t go back into the attic, the basement, my room, or hunker down.  This Journeywoman wants to stay out, like an unbound child, reaching for every wish and dream and wants to discover more about all the possibilities of living a life unconfined by “supposed to’s“, shoulds and the restrictions brought on by “ought to’s“.

This journey is not for everyone. It is hardly for anyone, and it is not one I recommend as a choice.  It is a part of a path that is painful, seemingly unending, and at times, very boring. It began many years ago and then, I fell and tumbled further, deeply onto the path 10 years ago, after my divorce.  The road I landed on was laden with much solitude, more aloneness than what gave me comfort and the discovery of the wonders of silence. My soul companion, Henry, my chocolate labrador, was necessary to my bravery, and he did his work of getting me out when I didn’t want to be out and getting me talking to people I might have otherwise ignored.

 

 

The past many years was a life of renting rooms to wonderful strangers who arrived at my door from all over the world, giving me purpose and a reason to get up, make the bed and keep the house clean.  I could focus on being of service to others.

This was a period of too many years of a most disquieting depression. A depression that lurked around the corners of my mind for most of my life with a few respites such as attending Dell Arte School of Commedia, having my kids, and raising them, and travels abroad and elsewhere. The darkness fully dropped its shroud on me and enveloped my mind upon my divorce in 2008.

So, the last 10 years was a time of surrendering to a way I had fended off for a very long time.  It was an uncomfortable and very dark awkward time of clarifying what I know to be true for me.  It was not a time of answers or solutions, it simply was a time of getting by with putting one foot in front of the other, slogging through, showing up as best I could.  And from what I hear, most people had no idea I felt as I did.  It was not that I tried to disguise what was happening, rather, it was a very solitary experience that did not show up when I was with others.  I sought the help of therapists who did not know what to do with this.  How do you treat a symptom that only rears its horns when one is alone?  I sought the help of antidepressants and nutritionists and those gave me a few moments of feeling less than depressed, but moments that felt as if I was teetering on a cliff and could fall into the vat of depression at any moment. I studied about the heart’s desires, forgiveness and began to meditate and study secular Buddhism and that has given me better places to go in my thoughts. It gave me the work of training my mind when headed down the wrong road.

But really, the remedy for me seemed to consist of taking the seemingly very big risk of stepping out of my life as I knew it: Leaving the life I had outgrown; realizing I was wearing a skin that no longer fit and perhaps never did, and slipping out of it even though fear made me want to stay in it, even though anxiety of how all of this would go, made me yearn for the comfort of the old skin, though it was no longer offering comfort.

IMG_2620

Life is different now. I have broken away, literally, and the depression has lifted. I feel released from the prison of my dark mind, my lethargy and the weighty fog that enveloped my thoughts and turned Every Thing dull.

My trip to Chicago in April 2017 started me off.  It woke me up to people and things in the world that I always knew was there, but never really experienced.  As a  therapist, I always said and taught, that a geographic change won’t really change you, but it did.  I let go of things I had been holding on to; my past, a stress, a pushing against, the treading water that exhausted me.  Going back to Chicago, where I grew up, let me live with my memories, see places of familiarity, gather back strength from my roots, refresh old images that rested in my mind and look at them again, and deeply re-examine the childhood I had spent there.

The muscles of my mind hold such a memory.  My great aunt lived on Laurel, a block from the stunning Baha’i Temple in Wilmette.  As a child, my parents would drop me off on Linden Avenue so I could walk the secret path, alone and meet them at my aunt’s house.

This time around, visiting the temple, was not about traveling a secret path to my aunt’s house but meditating at the very temple whose image is embroidered in my mind. Meditating in this place of such craftsmanship,  felt like a privilege.  Looking back, practicing here, seemed to gather all of my past together, under it’s great, intricate dome,  The great atmosphere of light, and shadow allowed wounds to be released and fly through the cement lacework, out to the sky. Though as a child, it was just something to ogle, this time it was a familiar soft, silent place to sit and feel.

Though I did not go to meditate with the idea of healing wounds, it now seems to be what happened.

 

Now, without the darkness of depression hanging over me, I have a deep sense inside me that I am not landing anywhere yet and when I stretch my thoughts out into the future, as if on tendrils, it feels scary and words surface like, “you should know…, if you don’t, you will miss this opportunity for… or you will miss that… ” You will never own a home again, you will never find a place as good as the one before, you will never do this, or that or… ” So many things that won’t happen if I don’t figure this out.  But I am focused on all the things that could happen if I don’t pretend to know and allow possibilities to unfold.

When I just stay where I am, present, not reaching into my future or back to my past, I am okay, things work and life is more full.  It isn’t perfect; places I stay aren’t the aesthetic that is my cup of tea, nor my preference but what does all that matter? What I am finding matters are the relationships with the people I meet, the amazing generosity of spirit on the road and the stories people share with me, as well as the stories they tell just in their ways of doing things, their actions, their ways of relating to others.

I find that in choosing this road, magic has a place. I can have a wish to camp my way back from Chicago to California but feel uncomfortable about doing it alone. Then about two months before I am to leave I get a text from an old friend and camping pal asking what I’m up to. We had not seen each other for some 45 years when we were on our last camping trip from Chicago to Alaska. I called her and she and her husband were planning a camping trip from their home in central Illinois to Portland, Oregon. So I asked to tag along. Some people say I manifested that. I believe I was just aware of a wish, open to possibilities, determined to not allow fear to guide me, and there was the opportunity I could say yes to.

A note about moon sweepers photo:  If I am out in a dingy, I may as well sweep the moon. As a dear friend often said, “What else is there to do?”

Boomerangs and Geraniums, A Retrospective: A Jumble of an Ode to a Divorce

Image: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/geranium/

A retrospective, because now, with healing, it can be said.

Things get said like, no one ever thought death would be a well-visited patient on a maternity ward. (Jodi Picoult, Small Great Things) And there you are with a truth you always knew but never said. Babies die, mom’s die, the greatest hopes die and that is really unsettling, very depressing, but the truth.

More true things get said. No one ever tells you that divorce is like a death and how long that wound of breaking a sacred or not so sacred bond takes to heal, whether you asked for it or not, wanted it or not.  Whether you ever thought of it as sacred. And, either side you land on, there you are with loss and grief and can’t see where you will land or what dark corners you will have to turn before you start to see a speck of light. And you know you will, but you never know when. Everyone around you roots for you, hopes for you and you lean on their belief in you.  You will get through it.

People tell you this is a gift, a blessing, and one day you might even thank him. And you wonder when that will ring true. When does it feel good? When does it feel like the freedom you wanted, you hoped for?

Will it really take half the length of the entire marriage to get over the wound, get over the divorce? Feel free? That’s what you were told and you heard it with your ears covered so you could think that you really hadn’t heard it and told yourself that won’t be me, ever, it won’t take that long, it can’t.

It can’t take that long as there is no place to go to feel better, no hospital ward to hold that wound, that death, or that healing. There are bandages, but that is all they are, bandages, and the wound is slow to heal under them.

Most of us walk around thinking oh she’s divorced, never note the pain of that experience, and push the thought away like a dirty penny. Never really see her. But do judge her, Judge her righteoulsy because we can.

We are not divorced, We are able to make the relationship we have, stick,  For better or for worse.  We have gotten comfortable with what we know, with what is familiar.

And then our life changes and we are the ones getting the divorce. And the judging we had kept quietly to ourselves, flies from us, Like a boomerang spun out into the sky, with unbalanced aerodynamic force, It winds its way back to hit the very place it was thrown from,  Hitting us smack in our righteousness.

Then the boomerang is sent back to the blues again, Flies out into the sky and we have great hopes that it returns with new information gathered from the vast blue.  We hope for information wiser than our righteousness.

We hope for new ways to be with the painful feelings of loss, sadness, grief, And all the other feelings of envy, jealousy, fear, and hatred , That pop out as if they are thorns festering under our skin, Just waiting for the provocation to find its way out.

All the feelings that were, at once kept well under wraps and projected onto others, Are hidden in the garden behind the house, Under the geraniums that everyone pretends to like.

In fact with close examination, those geraniums, really, are not all that attractive:  A pretty bud, with spindly stems, But a very good cover that says eerything is as okay as it was in the ’50’s

How do you explain the wounds, how does healing really work?

Just the facts mam, that is what the attorneys want. They won’t delve into the deep, the sadness, loss, fear, And the tear of pain with each of the children’s experiences, With the mother’s agonizing ache over her children’s pain.

Some say, to do a burial for the divorce. There is a ritual to marry, there must be a ritual for the end of the marriage.

And when a burial is tried there is great hope, As the aches inside ask for the miracle of all the pain being over.

As with any death, the pain remains and heals, taking its own time, whatever time is necessary. There is no rushing it, no pushing it to fit our timing. It is not a time of convenience.

All the pointing fingers at her and her and her, Carry fingers pointing back to the pointer. And that is where the healing is called for,

Where the healing must start.

But we say I don’t want to and I won’t. We just want to keep our eye on the target of the finger-pointing at another.

The hurt is still too deep to look at the fingers pointing at the pointer, pointing at us.

And each time we turn away from seeing the fingers pointing back at us, We ache just a bit more because we know, we know that is the work, The work of unfolding the frozen bent fingers pointing back. The work of looking at the object of the point.

Therein lies the freedom, our freedom.

The bumps and hurdles come when we waver, And want to keep the fingers pointing out, Wanting to sacrifice our freedom to keep another caged. It all sounds so bad, so dreadful, so very unkind.

But divorce brings that out in us.

It is great work to keep the focus on us,  On ourselves, on our pain. It is great work to be so self focused that we will take our freedom, Even if it frees the other. We unbind, unhook from resentments and attachments, And let fly our freedom because now know we are the focus, we are the point.

And, finally, we can say we have let go.  Finally we have perspective, feel free, let loose the past, the anchors, let fly the wings of dreams and hopes to be explored.  Finally we can let go, and we do, and the air breaths fresh adventures into us. Finally.

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.”

Alice_a-dressing_the_White_Queen

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

 

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.

stern-ellen-file1.jpeg

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.

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.