I have a friend who thinks that blogs are just public diaries. Every time she says that (in a way that I know is a not too veiled question of what I do here) I want to stomp my feet in protest. There is a lot of mighty fine writing that happens in our bloglandia–a lot of powerful stuff in raw and polished form.
But, to some extent she speaks truth. There is a lot that gets posted here and on other blogs that feels very much the stuff of journals. There is a certain recording of our lives that happens here, a marking it down, lest it be forgotten. A turning it into words so that we can better make some meaning out of it. A cleansing because sometimes writing about something just makes it feel so much better and why not here?
I suppose someone could say that all writing is in some way, a public diary. It all starts with using words to illuminate a piece of our souls–whether we call it fiction or memoir whether we claim “it really happened” or we just imagine it did. Telling a story, playing with truth, juggling words–if we are honest it all starts in a vulnerable place and with an idea or thought or feeling or neurosis that is all our own. I can see the truth in what she says and hold in my head that she is absolutely right and also hold in that same space the truth that there is some mighty fine writing going on on my favorite blogs.
But truth be told, I know that I get so defensive when I hear blogs (and especially my blog! Oh my!) described that way, because I want to think I am above keeping a diary for the world. I want my writing to be more than the verbal vomit that I always associated with my writing at the time I kept volume after volume of my deepest secrets scrawled in angry, melodramatic rambling prose in black and white bound notebooks.
I want my writing to mean something. I want my writing to have made order out of chaos. I want my writing to point to something true. I want my writing to be–well–beautiful.
I love my blog because this is a place to practice–a verbal sketch book. I write about my life because its here, in front of me. I write about my life because its really the only thing I know to be true. I write about my life, for the same reasons I read voraciously because stories help me rise above the weeds and muck and blurry close up view of my life to a height where I can see the pattern, sense a meaning. It may read like a diary but it is so much more. It is a place to play with words based writing about the stuff that I know best. Its just that.
When I first had my blog I played a lot more. Made lists. Rambled. Posted pictures. But it has changed as I got more serious and as my writing matured and as I discovered that every now and then someone reads this thing. I think a lot about what I write here because you (yes you!) come here and I want so much to delight you and I don’t want to waste your time.
In this way my blog has become a metaphor for something I am struggling with–(hello diary!) living unedited. I have noticed in recent weeks how I can still slip into the bad habit of dialing myself back to be nice, polite, or to fit into what is expected. Worse yet, I find myself holding myself back until the “final draft”. Living in the messy space of being unpracticed has been a, well, practice for me and yet, the deeper I dig in, the more I see where I am holding myself (and my me–ness) back. And my writing and my creativity is just one of those spaces.
Truth is, I don’t write to be good. I don’t write to be considered talented or brilliant or even somewhat interesting. I don’t write for any other reason other than that words matter and stories matter and telling them is good for my heart. They don’t have to be neat or perfect or even stories, do they?
I worry a bit, about what would happen if every day I showed up here and just wrote. Wrote without a point or without a neat ending or even without prose. What would happen if I wrote simply for the joy of playing with words and saw what happened when I arranged them this way. You might stop coming here. You might even call this space a “public diary” Thinking about it makes me sad. But I am willing to take the risk because write now I am practicing living in a deeper, more authentic way and this seems like a good space to do that in.
July is going to be a little experiment. What would happen if I just got here and wrote without a finished piece in mind. It might all be crap. Maybe you should set your alarm clocks for August. We will see.
I just saw this new film at the Silverdocs film festival, which miraculously takes place within walking distance from my house.
I wept out of joy, out of horror, out of the beauty that comes from brokenness, out of what happens when we attempt something crazy and magical–just because. What happens when we take risks. It comes out in October. Go see it. It just might change your life.
The day we landed in Mexico for the first time, we sat in the formal living room in the Mexico City house, cooled by one solitary fan and drank cold coca colas on sticky vinyl covered couches. My legs, made bare by my pretty little sundress stuck to the plastic and I looked longingly at the plush velvet beneath the clear barrier. “Protection”, Juan leaned over and whispered to me, reading my mind. “When something is this precious, we can’t afford to leave it unprotected.”
From my perch on my plastic velvet throne something magical caught my eye. In a living room that was rather sparse, a simple table, a lamp nothing more, the corner exploded in decoration. A waist high table was filled with fresh flowers, plastic flowers, candles burning despite the sun which bleached out the room, red beaded lamps, pictures of saints in gilded frames, ancient toys, figurines carved out of wood and stone. I got up and wandered over, mesmorized. Juan followed me and touched me on the shoulder. “It’s my tia’s altar”, he said. I had never seen anything so gaudy and so beautiful.
Before we left to travel to Oaxaca, Juan’s tia called us over to the altar for our blessing. She pulled out a fresh candle and lit it with ceremony, laid her tiny hands on our heads towering above her. She said prayers for a safe journey and with the saint’s protection firmly in place, she finally let us go out of her watchful sight. When something is this precious, we can’t afford to leave it unprotected.
I was swept up in the mystery of this magical country, I would soon call my second home. I loved, and became a student of the altars I saw built everywhere–in businesses, by roadside stands, in formal rooms and in the corner of shacks. A place for the Virgin to watch over and bless all who labored, loved and lingered there. Yet, the altars struck me as charmlng, antiquated, habits of old ladies with time on their hands, connections to a superstitious fate-based culture, a culture where angels and demons made choices instead of people and gods were arbitrary and mean in how they doled out joy and pain.
When I saw little altars constructed by friends of mine back home, I thought of them as glorious art pieces. A showcase of spirituality. I thought they were things constructed like window dressing to declare one’s love of God. I didn’t judge them, I was enthralled, in love, caught up in them. But I saw them as “extras” as “statements” as artful expression.
That was until the bottom fell out, after that night when Juan whispered to me that he was leaving me. That was until I was plunged head first into the realization that all my expecations and illusions about how my life would play out were dashed.
Night after sleepless night, I found myself whispering prayers in the dark to my tia’s Virgencita, the only woman who I thought might be able to hold my pain. Anxious hands, flitted about while my words poured forth, as though the very emotions, heart breaking needed to make themselves real and physical. One night I woke up and I stumbled into the living room. I suddenly remembered my sister in law, constructing her “Day of the Dead” altar for her young daughter, creating a space to grieve and honor her short life, to give thanks to her children who lived. Old toys and pieces of birthday cake and candy–a celebration of her life, an acknowledgment of her death, a pleading for the safety of her remaining three children.
And suddenly I understood what drove her to create her altar each year–what mad forces drove her forward through tears and turmoil as she laid the table cloth and arranged each item. I found the handthrown clay Virgen de Assumption I had purchased from a local potter in Oaxaca, moved her off her spot in the background of a shelf on a waist high table. I scrambled for a tea light. With a flashlight I went outside and cut wilting flowers from my garden, shoving them into a jelly glass. I found a picture of Juan and I happy and smiling and full of love and hope and bursting with joy at each other’s presence. With tears streaming down my face, I wrote a letter to sweet gods and goddess whoever would listen, imploring them to save my marriage, or at very least to protect my child, my heart, my sense that I would be OK. I thought about all of us flayed and bleeding. My heart whispered to me: When something is this precious, we can’t afford to leave it unprotected. And then I fell into a deep sleep. When I woke, I arose with a new peace. I had found a place to park my grief, to concentrate my dream, to make sacred my worst fears and deepest desires. And suddenly, I had found the strength to go on and to bear life as it unfolded, however it unfolded.
In the last six years, I have constructed countless altars. I take them down and refresh them frequently. When I am going through transition or transformation, their creation guides me. They are not art or window dressing or decoration. They are not a statement about my belief in god. They are a survival skill. An anchor. A thing I do so that I can keep going, despite the chaos and uncertainty and pain and messiness that I experience day after day living life on the edge. I currently have four in my house. Each one is place to hold my fears, my dreams, to learn to trust. I have one dedicated to my community, another to my tenuous and turmoil filled relationship with God and the Universe, my doubts about Her/His intentions, my questions and struggles. I have one dedicated to following my path–where I can park those fears that come up when I listen to my heart. And I have one, tucked away in my bedroom which hardly anyone ever sees, my most private space where my heart dwells. Each one is a place where I can acknowledge, grieve and celebrate. Where I can concentrate my prayers and honor the fears that try to protect me. Each night I light the candles. And then, I can say to my fears, the ones who try and protect me from life’s sorrow. “Stay here and rest, my loves. I must go out and bear life without you in the way.”
On Monday, a young teenage friend of mine set off for the journey of a lifetime. Headed to Rwanda to follow his path, I know his tender heart will see and experience both extraordinary beauty and pain. His mother, so strong, swallows her worry and speaks out loud over and over why this trip is good for him. I too, find myself thinking of him constantly, my prayers of protection, my pleas that he will find mentors to help him process what his tender heart experiences rising up and clouding my thoughts. Sunday night as I wandered through the grocery store, I passed the Latino section and saw the guardian angel candles–the very same ones with their paper wrappers and baroque images of an fair haired angel guiding a child that my tia places on hers whenever we set off from Mexico. The very same ones she lights when we leave her. I bought two, and placed the first on my community altar.
Monday morning, bright and early, I walked to my friend’s house. His parents just back from the airport were upbeat but strains of anxiety showed around their eyes. “This may be corny,” I said “but I brought a candle. To protect your boy. Its a space to hold the fear I know you have. I have one burning in my house for him too.” Furiously we searched for matches and lit it, said a little prayer and then went on with our day. Parking our grief and our worry so we could move on, but knowing full well that our hearts’ love had been concentrated and sent out like a magical golden net to protect him while he walked his new tightwire. When something is this precious we can’t afford to leave it unprotected.
For my dear friends E and K who reminded me this week why I build my altars.
Update: As I finished this sentence my friend just appeared with her phone in hand so I could read the email her son had sent, describing a land that had already captured his heart. I am in tears with joy. If you keep an altar would you light a little candle on yours for a boy, so brave, so wise and so connected to his heart that he left his comfortable life here at 16 to answer the call to love? May he be held up and protected and carried through the countryside by hundreds of prayerful hearts.
I have taken the week off of work with week. Our babysitter is away visiting her family. This is not when we normally take our vacation–we hold out for cousins week each August. So instead, of using the week to escape my life, I am using it to delve more deeply into it. To do all the things I wished I could do if I wasn’t so occupied by my paid work. I have been anticipating it juicily. I feel I put off so much of my life while i am living it.
So often this last month, while battling against the assault of the end of the school year (with its performances, and picnics and celebrations and ceremonies) I would dreamily say, “I will get to THAT when it is all over and I take my week off”. I had a long list of chores, projects, playdates, and fun.
I had a bit of a panic as the week approached–as Friday signaled that “the week” had finally arrived. As I did the math, I had no idea how I would get it all done. Like a general, I pulled out spreadsheet and organized my time into neat little blocks.
But still it didn’t calm me. I was so afraid that the time would slip by and I would have missed it, missed my chance, missed my moment. Missed my juicy life. Missed my opportunities to delve deeply into all that I had put off until “just the right time”. Does this sound familiar?
So I made my schedule (because as we all know routine is soothing and good for children and adults alike), and then reminded myself that as long as I lived deeply in every moment I would have lost or missed nothing.
I am having to do a lot of reminding of myself. This week I am learning that no matter how wise I pretend to be, I can’t shake that habit of imagining a time in the (hopefully) not to distant future, when I will finally get it right, when a bell will ring, when the curtains will part and I will arrive at my perfect life. (I had somehow convinced myself that that time MIGHT just be at the conclusion of my week off).
Once upon a time I could have rattled off to you exactly what it would look like when I finally made it–about the job and the kids and the state of the house. Truth is, over the last 5 years that vision has gotten pretty muddied, but still, I can’t quite shake the feeling that some magical moment is right around the corner and when I turn it, my happily ever after will start.
I am (she says withe relief) no longer attached to one vision of how it might look, but still, there is still that striving, that sense that I am on my way somewhere and it will be my reward for the pain and the struggle and the heartache and all the soul work.
I have a mentor and soul sister named Kaiya. Whenever I mutter that “I am getting there” as I talk about my life she sits up very tall and looks at me very sternly. “There is no THERE baby girl.” she tells me. “There is no magical moment. The reward for doing your soul work is more soul work. The reward for eating healthily is craving more good food. The reward for learning to unconditionally love, messy and complicated people is another glorious day relating and learning from the same messy and complicated people. There is no “aha” moment when it will all make sense. So stop waiting for that moment and jump in. Thats it. Be here in this moment. In a comfortable room with a pleasant view. Sitting with someone you love. Talking about stuff that matters. Talking about stuff that is silly. This is it. This is your life. Its a good life. Enjoy it.”
OK. Thats great. I can sit and enjoy my life in slow motion. I have mastered the art of “letting it all hang out”. I have eased into being–just in a space and time, which is great. Except for when things need to be done. Except for when there are steps to take that may be hard or complicated and demand a lot of energy.
Its so hard for me to be action oriented but in the present. Isn’t that nutty? I am good at simply sitting in the moment, but I am so unpracticed at the idea of moving forward and taking action without any story about that action carrying me somewhere–without the belief that that action will help me somehow arrive. I find that I am either all blissed out in the now on my cushion or sitting in the sunshine or sitting with a good friend and tea or tequila or wrapped up in my down comforters with a great book. But doing things I need to do, that are scary and hard work–stuff like doing art, or writing something longer than a blog post, or taking steps to get to school–doing them for the sake of them, without a sense that they are worthy because they signal some implicit arrival. Doing them simply because they need to be done. That is so difficult.
This week, I painted my kitchen. Once upon a time I never would have gotten started with a painting project like this because it would have been wrapped up in a vision of a perfect house. I would have done the calculus and seen that week or even a few hours is not enough time to arrive at what I wanted and so I would have given up before even starting, paralyzed by what it would take to arrive. I decided I would just practice painting for the sake of it–with no attachment to a beautiful kitchen, or even a neat kitchen. I found it soothing and soulful and restful. I find that I am making progress step by baby step. I am painting my kitchen because it wants to be green. Not because I have any story about a clean kitchen or a beautiful kitchen or even about a kitchen that will be orderly or calm or in which I will live a more beautiful cleaned up version of my current life.
Its a balance that is complicated to find. Just like all the unpracticed people before me, I am failing more than I am succeeding but I am using this week, with its scheduled blocks of time and its chores and its wide open spaces to practice the art of realizing that I have indeed already arrived. With every breath I arrive over and over again.
From my perch on the sidelines, I am amazed how everyday you are different. The little boy who once was afraid of the deep end is now leaping in a rainbow arch playing sharks and minnows with the middle schoolers. The bow backed stand, arms crossed, goggles atop your head. I am a perpetual witness to this miracle, your life so full and so not defined by me.
Your freckles are mine, your fine Irish skin, but your life amazes me, shocks me, is so different from mine. And I know that with each day that passes, your life will be more and more a mystery. The code you speak, the language of boys, your posture, your stance. The way you move through the water, across the ice, on a field–such a mystery to me who trips over her own shadow and runs from a ball. Once upon a time, I knew every boo-boo, every scrape, every hurt feeling and could understand the storms of your moods. Once upon a time you came to me for answers and accepted what I said, but now you are certain I have no idea how things are–and to some extent you are right. I know nothing of sports and boys who play them. I can’t tell you how to shoot a puck better or how to slice a second of your backstroke. I am flummoxed about what to say to the team ball-hog, to the playground bully you stand up to.
And yet there are still, those holiest of moments, often in the evenings, or during a thunderstorm, when your wrap your arms around me, and ask me if I can keep a secret, and the sweet sorrow in your tender heart comes pouring out and I know you are still my baby boy, and that I am still the one who knows the landscape of your heart. While the details are fuzzy, I know the contours, the hills and valleys and know where the land is scarred and where it is more forgiving. And in those moments you and I remember that what I know is about being broken and being human, and falling apart and trying again and being human and loving and kind. And that really it is al that matters. I pray each day that you will continue to trust my broken mama self and know that this is a safe space to just be. I trust I will always be a keeper of your heart or the safe place where you come to be.
But for for now your being is in the water, at the pools edge, or in the snack shack and begging me not to take photos. For now your being is wrapped in a green towel looking for a ping pong partner, carrying a tupperware container of coins you saved up to buy junk food, loaning a dime to the big kids, wondering if it will buy you something more. For now your being is wrapped up in the learning that you can no longer learn from me, except when in broken failure (or something that feels like that) you sneak into my lap when no one is looking and whisper my name and time, the time that is flying by, stops still for you and me.
I am in the passenger seat, driving from Gary Indiana back to Chicago. A song I love is on a short loop over and over. It greeted me in the morning too–when I sprung out of Midway and into the car, when I threw my arms around my sweet friend. The air is hot and heavy but the sky is so so blue. There is so much to do but nothing to do about it so we ride along and listen to the music and talk about arranged marriages and a life that seems so far away and lunch plans and where to stop and how can you possibly measure happiness.
I have just given a presentation in a broken down convention center–where everything was locked and empty and falling apart. While we wandered around trying to find space for ourselves we followed signs to the “arena” to see what what once must have been the hottest place to place but now looks more like a mummy, a relic, bones of a life that was once so much more full but is now just an echo, strains of a song playing in the background of a memory.
I am in a taxi, nauseous from exhaustion having woken up at 4:30 am to make this trip in one day. Sick from my efforts to hurtle through the skies twice. I am heading home to my boy, to my house to my garden and as though an angel touches me on the shoulder I fall deep deep into a silent sleep. Then suddenly it sounds as if a bomb goes off and the blue sky is grey and swirling and the wind is pushing the taxi but the driver holds it steady and I am amazed at how suddenly everything changes.
The storm has held up all the flights. I wander up and down and explore Midway, an airport that is different from the last time I was here. I never fly here–always choose O’Hare but this time the proximity to Gary made me a pioneer and kicked me from routine. Everything is new, not familiar. Everything is shiny and different and exciting and the three hours delay practically disappears.
So so tired. Unable to find a comfortable position. Air blowing directly on me. Three hours on the tarmac but everyone has been so kind. But sleep. Sleep is not kind. There is no telling when the airport will open, if we will make it home. There is nothing to do but close eyes and be tired and sing songs in my head to Max and hope they will put him to sleep.
I stumble through a door, some 22 hours later after I crossed its threshhold last, a song still playing on a short loop in my head, a song I sing as I smooth his sweaty head and whisper “mama’s home”.
Day of brightest light, of biggest wishes, of round mango suns. Day of promises coming true.
This day, this sticky heat, this sweet sweet sunshine pouring in. Welcome. I lift my arms to the sky, try to wrap them around you, you golden orb rising.
I will make my altars anew this day, so full of life. I will whisper shout my prayers to the heavens. I will light fires and eat tomatoes from the garden, let their juice spill down my chin. I will face south and sing alleluia. So much light, so much love, so much joy.
By Mary Oliver
Have you ever seen
in your life
than the way the sun,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon
and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again
out of the blackness,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower
streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love–
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure
that fills you,
as the sun
as it warms you
as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world–
or have you too
About a year ago, I spontaneously decided to go through my blog and find posts inspired by people in my real life and send them to them as a package. It was a strange exercise for me. People in my community of friends know me to play many roles. I am a mother, a neighbor, an activist, a researcher, a mentor, a boss, a student. I am that nice person up the street who hugs and kisses a lot. But very few people think of me as a writer.
And that is a little bit on purpose.
I don’t drive many of my friends and co-workers here because I am a bit shy about the truths that get told here.
Writing here is such a tender process and sharing that writing with the people I love exposes me and often leaves me feeling vulnerable. Its scary enough to share my creativity. But this blog has become a place where I often lay my beating heart out on the table and speak truths that sometimes surprise even me.
So sending those packaged up bundles to those i love was terrifying. I was asking to be seen, warts and all and I had no idea what the response would be. I decided to send them anyway, with no attachment to the response. I decided to risk being loved as I am. Or at very least to be seen.
I know for a fact that I have loved ones who don’t get my writing. Perhaps they are embarrassed or shocked by my willingness to open my heart so shamelessly to strangers. Perhaps they think it is “attention getting” behavior and not art to tell stories like mine. I once had a debate with a woman I respect very much (and who didn’t know I write) about the memoir genre. She hates them. She thinks that memoirs are fiction wrapped up and pretending to be truth and they they are inevitably preachy and self-absorbed and to quote her “artless”. She said the minute we claim to tell the truth we are lying and that if an author really wanted to say something they could be creative enough to tell a story to illustrate the point. I sighed, holding her truth in the light and wondered what I could learn from it. Its true, sometimes fiction can tell truth so much more powerfully but I also wondered about the possibility that maybe to her memoir can be scary. When I speak my truth, not as fiction that could be true but as truth it can be really scary. Especially when it isn’t your truth. It calls us all out as liars.
When I write these truths I immediately run a risk that a rift will open up, a chasm, a valley. I run the risk of being called out as a liar, of my truth being sacrificed on your altar, or smashed to bits when held up to the light of what you might know about me. I run the risk of breaking carefully crafted expectations you may have developed about me or worse yet, run the risk of the snickering comments, “Well, that’s not really how she is”. The reality is that when we write about our lives there is no way to do it without exposure and without blowing up that myth we call truth.
I am a both a holy wise woman and a broken down mess. I am extraordinary and unique and exactly the same as everyone else. I have moments of kindness and moments of pettiness, moments when I am magnanimous and moments where my patience is raw and limited. There are moments when I am profound and moments where I am cliche and obvious and so full of shit. I know that whenever I tell you a story I am only telling you a part of it. That every attempt to convey a truth immediately makes a liar out of me. One face. One truth. There is no way to know the whole truth. Ever. And yet…at that moment, in that space, in the perfectness of a now, no one ever really lies but only whispers what they know to be true in that millisecond, even if that truth shifts the moment it is uttered.
Over this last year, some of the people I love most have disappointed me and it has set my world upside down. Perhaps they were unkind or thoughtless. They may have hurt me greatly, acted in a way I found disrespectful or simply annoyed me. They may have behaved jealously or they may have judged me or someone I love. Maybe I thought they took advantage or took all all the air. Maybe I thought they took without giving. Maybe they gave for the wrong reasons. Maybe I thought they were a hypocrite or made a liar out of me.
At the end of the day though, my disappointment was about me.
I was annoyed because they failed to meet whatever unfair expectations I had created when I declared why I loved them and then quietly in my heart of hearts demanded (unfairly) that they always be that way. I was angry because their truth at that moment did not match up with the truth I had told myself about them. I was convinced that they were perfect in the ways I wanted them to be. I was caught up in a lie. Caught up in the calling them a liar, caught up in not seeing the whole, caught up in not being willing to meet them as they are exactly as they are.
The moment I realized this, something hard inside me began to dissolve. That work is still happening but I feel so much softer around the edges. I am able to hold the reality that the people I love are divine and terrible. We all are. As we stumble through our lives they will be lovely and screw up exponentially and I am simply called to love. And the aim of this practice is to know unconditional love. To see and be seen.
I am making it my practice, to open up and love the fucked up parts of the people I love along with the delicious parts.
Immediately as I wrote this last sentence, I tried to qualify it, for fear that someone in my real life could claim it isn’t the truth. They could point to the thousands of times I have failed at this. They could think I am being smug. They could think a lot of things. It takes too much time and energy for me to worry about that anymore so the qualifications are going out the window. I am flawed and todays truths may be tomorrows fictions but for now this is my truth. The Truth according to Me. The truth that the minute is spoken dissolves.
A few days ago, when I sat down to write, I had an entirely different post in mind. But this is what came up and so I honored it. Truth is, it has been bubbling up and wanting to be written for months now but finally came to the surface, probably inspired by these truth tellers whose posts made me think so much this past week.
These links are not the kind that come back telling you there was a typo in your link but rather links to material that has sustained and nourished me as a I have been contemplated the brokenness of me, the brokenness of humanity and the glory and gift of being broken wide open like one of those geode rocks that looks all plain and regular rock on the outside but inside are brilliant sparkling gorgeous gem-like unique miracles. The breaking is what makes it possible for us to see the insides.
Awhile ago, the lovely Jena Strong (who herself, often writes about being broken open) made a book recommendation. I immediately picked this book up and gobbled it in a matter of a week. Broken: A Love Story is a story of a Native American shaman who found his talents to train horses and to heal people after an accident leaves him paralyzed. More than that however, it is the story of what happens to the author, Lisa Jones, when she allows this man and his community to touch her life. It is a story about the beauty that comes from mess and the peace in living life exactly as it shows up, the joy of surrender.
And then there is Maggie, of Okay.Fine.Dammit. Maggie writes about a lot of things, but she writes with raw exquisite breathtaking beauty about being broken open. Or rather, Maggie–so deeply immersed in this life she lives, breaks open her heart, confronts pain and ugliness and shows us spectacular beauty in the procss. One of the things I love about Maggie’s posts is that she doesn’t feel the need to tie it all up in a neat little bow. She is content with the messiness to be, well, messy. If you don’t read Maggie, you should. She will knock you to your knees. Try this one about the impending loss of a cherished friend or this one about her battle to be true to herself and commitments she made or this one which made her one of my heros for ever.
Or how about this video of Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love and Committed fame. A marvelous look at how we never really arrive anywhere, just muddle through the best we can and do brilliantly. If you have 20 minutes or are feeling like you can’t quite get it together and IT.IS.ALL.FALLING.APART watch this. You will be so glad you did.
And lastly, via Jen Lemen, this song which speaks for itself:
I don’t mind telling the 6 or so of you who still pass this way that I have a lovely family therapist. I started seeing her when Juan told me he was leaving me and she eased our family through our various transitions along the way. She is a resource for me on parenting, a partner who has helped me reframe my thinking about our experiences, a guide to understanding how hearts and lives break and heal, a problemsolver who helps me tease out solutions that work and a teacher who has helped me learn to build fences where they are needed and knock down stone walls where they block out the light.
She recommends books for me and sends me to go see movies. And she buys me nail polish with wonderful names like Abundance and Brand New Skates so that I may always look down at my feet and know where in what space I am planted. At the end of each session we hug tightly, giggling as the rest of the office looks on in shock. I am not sure that we are behaving properly for a therapist and her client. We don’t care. Its much more fun this way.
Today I walked to therapy feeling glorious and full. The air was warm and humid–the kind of air in which smells are intensified as though put through an olfactory microscope–blown up bigger than life. The light breeze that blew brought in all sorts of wonderful intense smells–the mulch from the garden beds, sweet spun sugar from newly baked cupcakes at the bakery, jasmine and peonies and hamburgers and Thai food. Car exhaust. Sugary soda spilled on the sidewalk. More mulch more heavenly mulch. As I walked, I honestly considered whether my visits to her office were needed anymore. I am doing so well, everything in check. Its expensive to keep coming, even when the intervals are so spaced out, even though its covered. And I am so deeply happy, even as I am frustrated, angry, sad, lonely and broken sometimes. I am healthy now. I feel whole.
It has been a long time since we last met. She asks me how I have been and all I can say is fine. How do you capture 6 weeks of heart work in a few minutes. So I tell her fine (honestly)–even as I know I am lying (honestly). I feel a storm, swirling like a thunderstorm developing suddeny on a hot summer day. I feel it rising up from my gut–a breaking open in the safety of my big comfy chair.
Actually…there are moments when I feel so unsupported, I tell her. Moments when I feel so terribly alone–when I am doing this all, keeping it together, being healthy and good and strong and it costs me so much to not fall apart. I am a levee constantly in danger of being breached, straining but still strong. It is exhausting and hard to focus when I am working so hard just to maintain–to get lunches made, and beds made, and homework done and baths drawn, and dinner cooked, and cupboard stacked and boo-boos kissed and litter boxes emptied and trash cans left at the corner. The laundry never stops piling up, no matter how much I do. The dust builds up causing me to sneeze before I am there to do it again. The fridge is never cleaned because while I start I never have time to finish. I never have time to finish anything because I only have time to start. Everything is started and rarely finished (I rage). The to-do list is too long and everything is twice as complicated as it seems and stuck–it gets stuck. I have so many dreams…so many things I should be doing to move those dreams forward…I know what I need to be doing but I can’t do them. No one can help me with these things–they are my path and my journey and I am alone right now–I am supposed to do it alone. I can’t do it on my own but I somehow keep managing to do it part way–to almost do it on my own. Because its so much and while I have long given up on beating myself up for not being able to do it all–the fact remains that when you don’t do it all–a lot doesn’t get done. And it costs so much for it all not to be done. So much is sacrificed. And I am so so tired. And how are you?
I pause for a minute, surprised.
I am surprised (I say) because I am really really grateful. I am grateful for the help that I have–for my dear friend who covered for my babysitter who needed to go to the doctors today and for the people who drive Max here and there while I work. I am grateful that Juan shows up two nights a week so I have time to work late, and write, and do errands without a fight. I am grateful for my job, a place where I feel so exquisitely loved and appreciated, even though I no longer feel passionate about it. I am grateful for my home, my community, my old cat who wakes me up every morning at 6 with kisses unless I ask her to wake me at 7. (She really does). I am grateful for my friends who cook for me and pour me wine and invite me to the most delicious conversation. And Oh how I am grateful for my son who is healthy and kind and growing up into such a lovely young man with opinions and interests and an awareness that is inspiring. I am grateful for all the beauty in the world for the smells and the flowers and the snow and the yummy yummy food so WHY do I feel so f**king ungrateful and resentful?
There is nothing left for me to do. (I am almost yelling now through my tears). I have grown so freakin’ much–I am so strong now. Most of the time I get by just fine. I breathe. I check the evidence. I don’t globalize. I see each situation through three or four different lenses. I reframe. I see the positive. I count to 10. I lower my standards. I prioritize. I count my blessings. I accept. I love unconditionally. I let everything go except for that which is right in front of me.
But it doesn’t change my circumstances.
THIS IS MY LIFE. (I am almost out of breath). I am a single mom with a busy job and not a lot of resources.
THIS IS MY LIFE. I am in the middle of a transition which is unfolding painfully slowly and my not unfold at all because momentum is something that just doesn’t seem to exist in my life.
THIS IS MY LIFE. It is not changing and I don’t know how to change it anymore. I don’t know how to fix it because I don’t think it can be fixed and honestly (I say accusingly–to whom I wonder?) I don’t think its needs to be fixed but this life, my life, my sweet gorgeous, messed up, totally rotten, joyous life–its exhausting and hard and too too too much sometimes. It comes too fast. I don’t seem to have time to enjoy it even though I savor it so sweetly–it is gone before I can truly process and metabolize its taste.
When I sleep–it costs me dearly. When I play, it costs me twice as much. When I try and move in a new direction I feel blocked, stuck, lulled. (Where is the girl with the bowl I wonder?)
You’re right she says. And we sit for a few minutes.
And as we start to talk I am at peace again. At peace because I rode out the storm in a safe harbor. At peace because I let it just wash over me and didn’t fight it. At peace because at the end of the day I AM right–on all counts. At peace because I know I have just spoke the universal rant of mothers who are trying to hold it all together and who are tested, challenged, called to learn through our own unique sets of circumstances. At peace because at the end of the day, I know deep in my heart that this is my path and there is no other place that would be better for me right now.
I wish I could tell you that she had magic words of wisdom that knit me back together. If she I would share them with you, I promise. But she offered me a space where I could break myself open and simply be imperfect and broken and resentful and full of rage, angry and tired and lonely despite the blessings in my life. Where I could be without worries that I have hurt her or alienated her or annoyed her or simply brought her down. That is a gift. It is exactly what I needed: to come unglued and then the gingerly rearrange myself again.
Tonight I am working late, sitting at my computer as the sun starts to fade, sitting here in the knowlege that life is hard, exhausting, and challenging even as it is fascinating, beautiful and holy. There is no way around it. Life is something we must bear–its beauty and its pain. And we bear it breath by breath
In this quiet space with no ringing phones I can hear my heart whisper to me that this grind, this exhaustion, this holding it all together, it is part of my curriculum, my perfectly planned journey to learn what must be learned. And what must be learned (for me at least) is this.
Step 1. Go to the mountain. (Make the world my mountain)
Step 2. Pick up your bowl.
Step 3. Breathe. Trust. Surrender.
Step 4. Repeat