@BEunsettled Travels with Henry

“Do something and do it big.” My daughters said. “You are unhappy, so you need to just do something.” My throat tightened as it always did when it seemed I needed to cry, but really, I needed to speak.
That was the beginning of the scariest decision I have made in a very long time. In 2017, I was going to leave my home in the San Francisco Bay Area, my work and friends of 30+ years, and return to my childhood home, Illinois. A state I had not lived in for over 30 years.
I packed to vacate the house that I had shared with Airbnb renters, dwindled all down to a 10×10 storage unit, load up my Prius C, the very smallest of the Prius line, settle my chocolate Labrador in the back seat and head out.
We traveled through parts of the South that showed me exactly why our politics were in the state they were in, and because my dog is an ambassador, I met and talked to people I would never have spoken to, thinking we had nothing in common. But soon into a conversation with a complete stranger, I learned we had much in common, though I will still never wear camouflage pants or hats. I don’t find that I need to hide.
My decision to trust, believe in not knowing, and put one foot in front of the other, opened doors I knew were there, but I was too afraid to open.
My dog and I lived in a room at an Airbnb in the Chicago area for about one year, where we worked in a therapeutic elementary school and a hospice giving comfort to those there. And then, with the idea that I had collected necessary memories and done what I needed there, I bought a Trail Vail for my hatchback, met some friends from a distant past, comforted Henry in the backseat, and started camping our way out to Oregon.
We, Henry, my dog and I, have lived in Oregon a year at another Airbnb, and I am leaving again. For now, we will return to the Bay Area for the holidays, and then I don’t know what is next for Henry and me.
Thank you @BEunsettled for making a life unsettled a bit more of a thing, crazy but doable.

Hearts that Ache

“I think many people can relate to that excruciating pain of love gone wrong. I’d rather have a broken arm than a broken heart.” – Christie Brinkley

Heart Ache

There is heartache that comes from a love with a partner, there is heartache that comes from loving your children, from loving your brother, from loving your mother, your father, your friend, from seeing someone with no home or someone who can’t be in their home.

How do you avoid heartbreak? You turn away from what hurts like it isn’t there.  You do things that don’t feel right, and your heart breaks another way.

You do them because you are trying to change something.  Make something new happen.  But you still feel left out. You still feel undone, unfinished, unsure, and you do it anyway. You feel aches that you never knew were aches, you tie shoes, you go grocery shopping, you have conversations, and you still feel heartache.

Whose heart do you break beside your own when you do things for the wrong reasons?   Whose breaks when you do something wrong for who you are?  Whose heart breaks when you don’t do something wrong for who you are?

Hearts do ache, that is part of their job, besides love, besides expansion, besides contraction, besides aching. 

Part of what hearts do is tell you something else needs to happen, something needs to expand, something needs to be considered, something needs to speak from the heart.

You study Buddhism to learn to turn towards the ache, to not turn away, not run away and it all still aches, it gets better, and then the ache comes back with a new cut, intended or unintended. And eventually, not soon, but later, you can learn to distract yourself from the ache, to learn what is about ego and what is about heart, where to focus, where to pay attention, and where to draw your attention away.

My mother, Florkila, told me to get a tougher skin, but I never figured out how to do that.  I knew there was something right about that, but I couldn’t figure it out. And so, heartache is a challenge and takes me to find articles about how heartache actually is a thing that affects you physically, Broken Heart Syndrome. 

I want to leave this with a ray of hope, with the hope that aches go away and never come back, or aches heal and never need attention again.  There is hope, but it is different than that.  The hope lies in the heart, the heart that aches, and loves, and aches and loves, and keeps beating, keeps pumping life into our veins. There is hope in knowing that everything, Everything always, Always changes.

 

~Thank you to Carol L. and Lara S. for always being “with” when things have to travel deep and Thank you, Maira Kalman, for the inspiration to just write as things are, to be quirky, to let things land where they land, be complete or incomplete.

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

 

 

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.

I Am Not Who I Think I Am… I Am Not Who You Think I Am

The fairy child, is the changeling, the one who grew up with the humans.  

I am the human child taken to live with the fairies.  Or, I have a secret wish that that is what happened.

She told me when we met that she was not a nice person and said it more than once.  When would I just take someone at their word???  Really believe what they say?  Instead, I respond out loud or in my head with, No, you really are a nice person. and I know the nice will come out.  What keeps me from hearing them and letting go of them?

It was a screaming text that jumped at me.  It said, Who are you? Who were you? And then,  You are removed from the group.  I stopped text-talking to her at that point.  The texting that lead to this was fast and furious, she seemed frantic. But who can tell from a text?  I had angst that felt like high school, a feeling I never wanted to feel ever again.   The vibration of anxious drama was too old, like a stale brioche and too familiar, like an old grimy college couch that swallows you because the cushions have lost their bounce.  A lot was said but she didn’t seem to want a conversation.

Needs were spoken to the wrong person, me, a person who could not fulfill what was being asked.  I did speak/text that to her, as kindly as I could.  I did say what was my truth about my limitations, but it was not a wanted response.

There was a time that I fit a picture and my life looked like it was “supposed to”.  I worked hard to wrap myself around what someone else wanted from me.  Something just to the side of truth that put me beside my self.  It made a rosy picture of okay-ness surrounded by geraniums.  Things looked like they “should” and that pleased me for the moment and seemed to please others, though I don’t really Know that last part.

What is that “supposed to”?  Currently, I am not married, I don’t live in an upscale neighborhood, I don’t have a station wagon or van parked in my driveway,  my partner is my dog and I live in a room in a house with a family I met through an Airbnb rental.  And, I am happy or better said, I am content.

If you had told me at 18 that this is where I would be at my mature age, a part of me would have been excited at the thought.  Another part of me, the part that won in those days, would be terrified and would say, absolutely not!

How much fear runs us, runs us all the time?  I think we become so accustomed to fear being a driving force that we barely recognize it for what it is and what power it has over us and our decisions, how we live our lives.  The fear of losing something or someone, the fear of losing ourselves or the fear we have already lost our self, surfaces, and panic ensues.

Anger and fear are drivers that are too often drunk.  They lead us down conversations we might wish we’d rather not had.  Let me say, not always. But I can’t think of a time I chose not to speak from anger or fear and regretted it.  I can think of more instance than not, that I spoke from anger or fear and definitely regretted it.

It is a time for women to be speaking up.   I am a woman learning to shut up, learning to speak when necessary, and for now, life works better that way, at least in my head.

A special thanks to Kim for helping me keep my mouth shut.

Letting Go and Letting Go

4/2/17 Thoughts on weeding out, de-cluttering and letting go.

I have nothing new to say here, I just have my thoughts, my pain, and ultimately my freedom.  I want to make the letting go significant.  I want to know that what I let go of, makes someone happy or is useful to someone.

I held on to things and let go of many. I still have 40+ boxes of stuff stored in my garage!  It all needs another good combing, but not this time around. I held onto a bathroom rug that was my mother’s.  It seems silly, a bathroom rug, really? Not just because it was my mother’s but because it is good quality and big and I think of my parent’s house in La Jolla that offered such comfort to all of us, my kids, their dad and I. When I see that rug, I think of feeling well taken care of, having plenty…plenty of love, connection, and things, lots and lots of beautiful things..

I held onto the New Yorker cartoon of a zen monk meditating with all of his crap behind a beautiful screen, a cartoon my mother framed and had hung in the bathroom which is a tradition I have kept. It has been in a bathroom ever since she gave it to me. It will go in another bathroom one day again.  That is, if I can find it in all the well-marked boxes. Well, my intention was to “well mark” them.  I just won’t know how well marked until it is time to find something, like the framed cartoon for the next bathroom.

That cartoon represents a tradition in my family of emitting peace and holding the crap behind the screen. This is the tradition I keep trying to change with every move I make.  With each move I make a little headway and always wonder what I will do with all this stuff when I am a Buddhist nun somewhere in my future dreams. I am tired of the energy it takes to keep turning away from what is behind the screen.  And yet, the struggles of letting go are deep and ancestral.  I have gone through nearly every item I own in detail, making decision after decision, keep, don’t keep, keep, don’t. I am doing it, sometimes down to a spotted paperclip or gold pen, or the metal yardstick my mother felted the back of so she could use for sewing. 

Some of these decisions were choices my mother didn’t want to make. Or was it her way of leaving something of herself behind? I know I am holding on to things to leave something of me and my history behind. As I am packing I wonder if my kids will be the ones to go through these boxes and what will they think about or what unanswered questions will stir in their minds.

Many people have quoted the feng shui book to me, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. They tell me all I have to do is hold the object in my hand and ask if it makes me happy or do I love it.  But the questions are more simple and more complex than that. There are objects that hold memories, memories I want my children to learn about, memories my mother wanted me to learn about, memories that keep the lineage, and the familial connection to what is good, true and beautiful. And the memories have energy.  It is that energy I am trying to untie from and still hold onto the memories. And the whole time, the chatter in my head is saying you are letting go of the wrong things, the valuable things, or you are holding onto the wrong things, the things that don’t really matter.  The truth is, I am holding onto what I am not ready to let go of yet.

I let go of 8 car loads to the Good Will, 4 trips to the consignment store, I sold a few beds and furniture on OfferUp and Nextdoor. and took two trips to Clars Auction Gallery .  I brought Clars a coral necklace still with the Marshall Field’s box. It was my great aunt’s and then her daughter’s and then my mother’s and now mine. It now seemed easier to let go of.  For god’s sake,  no one has worn it for over 40 years or possibly longer. It sat in the box making me nervous that I would somehow lose it or it would get stolen. I knew it was time and it would have been so much easier to let go if nice the lady at Clar’s hadn’t explained to me how it was made and the details of each bead, the gold, the cameo.  But I stuck to my guns and it is up for auction in April. I may regret it, but I may feel a bit more free. I won’t know till I am somewhere in my future life, nun or no nun.

 

 

 

 

 

The Chaos of Personal Change: An Unraveling

At first, things seem impossible…

This is not a how-to, this is just what has happened. Choices I have made, where I have been and what has happened.

This story started too many years ago but I will spare you and only go back to Dec 26, 2016, at about 9 am. As we started to make the bed and ready the room for the next Airbnb-er, my youngest adult daughter started to talk to me about how unhappy I seemed. The conversation continued at the Cerrito Grocery Annex with my eldest daughter joining us.  Both beautiful, with different versions of wondrous blue eyes–my daughters, spoke from an intrinsic beauty that is not about hair length, color or cut, not about clothing or make-up worn, how skinny or fat they are, or how pretty they are. They spoke to me from those hues of blue found in their loving souls, “Mom, you are so unhappy. You need to do something, don’t stay here for us.” Tears welled up from a place I had forgotten resided in me,”We hate seeing you so unhappy. We have seen how strong you are, how you’ve changed.  We want to feel inspired by you, you have lost yourself.” The inside pain informed me and I knew they were saying some things that were true.

Later that day, my eldest and I went shopping in SF and as I parked the car, I had a sense that my wallet was going to be stolen.  Though I heard that voice in my head, I did not act on my intuition. As the day went on, my wallet was in fact stolen. Pickpocketed from my purse which hung too loosely from my shoulder, in that casual, chic stupid way.  Panic shot up inside me like an explosion. My thoughts were like fireworks, shooting around about identity theft, mug shots of the hundreds of people who’d walked past me that day, and wondering why. Thinking of the poverty that lurks in every corner waiting to steal what it needed. Wishing that I had listened to that voice, going over and over what was in my wallet that I needed to replace. What was I forgetting?

My identity was stolen, my finances were at risk. I couldn’t help but miss the ironic meaning of this timing and intrusion into my life, into my psyche, into my soul.

As a good and proper adult would do, I went off to the DMV  first thing the next day to get a new license only to find out that there was a tie to my ex-husband I wasn’t aware of. After much hunting, and searching, I uncovered that there was a photo citation of a female, (supposedly me) driving through a red light in my ex’s truck from 3 years ago. But no one could show me the evidential photo. I ended up in the Wiley Manuel Walk in Court Jan. 3, at 8 am and by 11 am I found that the photo no longer existed. The citation was dismissed due to lack of evidence.  Identity returned with required searching and suffering.

Words like the victim being victimized came to mind. My wallet was stolen and I was treated like a perpetrator for a crime that was no fault of my own. I felt that I was working so hard to not be a victim in my life.  But here it was, official, in my face, undeniably the victim, twice, at least twice.

The conversation with the girls that morning had time to cool in my heart. The stolen wallet distraction was useful, allowing the thoughts and concerns from the talk to find a place inside where they could be attended to with care. Having let my girls down, feeling so exposed, still, aches in my gut and makes me teary. It is a good reminder of a responsibility  I hold for my daughters and my daughters’ daughters and their daughters. The responsibility to keep waking up, showing up and saying what is so (thinking respond-ability…yes I have been in California too long).  The girls became the agent of change I was needing. They spoke a truth I had to listen to. Another layer of unraveling since my divorce 8+ years ago was offering up an opportunity, or as I would joke with my sister-friend, another opportunity to experience pain.

I was not happy where I was living. Though beautiful with green all around, it was not right for me.  These truths were daunting.  But I knew I needed to sit with it knowing I wasn’t happy, knowing I didn’t want to live where I lived and knowing I had not one answer about what to do next.  Finally being pushed so far, I could not even consider forcing an answer, I could only sit with what I didn’t know.

At first, things seem impossible, then things seem improbable…then…