06 October 2012

The Gift of a Movie

         Here’s why I love movies.  I just finished watching “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and realized that, while watching it with the windows open, the traffic going by, people clicking in and out of the gate that opens onto the sidewalk, and conversation happening between those walking on the sidewalk, I hadn’t heard any of it.  Or rather – I had heard the sounds of life happening outside my window but they hadn’t penetrated as usual.
         Films transport.  The good ones take us over while we are watching them.   Films – even fictional films – show us another reality – not the one we experience usually - that we enter and live in – even if only for a couple of hours while we watch them.  Films show us ways to BE that we haven’t considered.
         Movies carry us along with them.  They provide character and plot that we haven’t lived, but might – if we dare take a step outside of ourselves.  Not recreating ourselves as if we were the character in a film, but perhaps locating some aspect of self, some buried desire or characteristic, that the character in that film awakens in us.
         It’s not that we might be someone else – someone from a movie – but that we might become fully who we are.  A movie can reach out to us and teach us who we might be if we will notice how we are affected by even the smallest image.
         Watching Evelyn/Judi Dench walk alone along the streets of Jaipur, surrounded by its natives, who appear so different from her – watching her observe her surroundings and respond to them stirs up in me the excitement I often experience when I am in a crowd of strangers.  I feel myself swept along – almost as if I’m outside of the milieu while yet inside of it – noticing how this person moves, the generous laugh of another, the sunlight on the face of a third.  And to watch Evelyn move through her scene reminds me that I don’t seek out such scenes often enough.
         When Norman/Bill Nighy finally explodes at his wife, Jean/Penelope Wilton, about who she has become and how little he receives from her, I experience again the pride and energy of having expressed myself honestly – balls-to-the-wall style – to others.  A chord strikes in me also at the opportunities I’ve let slip by for sharing my truth.
         I love movies for – and often in spite of – the ways they manipulate me; the sounds or the produced or source music combine with the camera angle, the choice of sharp or soft focus, the composition of the shot all combine to elicit an emotion.  In life we get to choose what we attend to – and can, and do, make these (often unconscious) choices to avoid a feeling. 
When I’m captured by a movie moment, or swept along in the movement of the film, someone else’s choices draw the emotion to the surface.  Yet, in involvement in a well-composed film I don’t feel resentful of any of this.  Instead – after viewing such a film I feel only thankful – that everyone involved in it did what they did.  I feel grateful – as if I’ve received a gift – and one, that unlike cake, is something you can both have and take in – at the same time.

14 September 2012


Riverfront View from Louisville
Bob Blakely
          I don't have Internet access at home.  While the primary reasons for this have to do with money; I think that there are also larger, more 'karmic' if you will, reasons for having made this choice.  Today I'm reminded of those larger reasons.
          As I write this I'm sitting outside my favorite coffee shop - Sunergos (means:  We Work Together) on Preston St. close to where I used to live.  This morning I came, not only for the delicious coffee but to take care of some work for my supported employment job.  After taking care of answering work emails and so forth I was glancing around - mostly to stretch my neck and back - and noticed, on a man's computer screen, the wonderful picture above.  It's a picture - for those of you unfamiliar with Louisville - of the Indiana side of the Ohio River.  The 'giant clock across the water' - to quote a Tim Krekel song - is a landmark here, visible from many places downtown and on the riverfront.  At one time Colgate had threatened to take the clock down and the protest surprised everyone.
           I was intrigued by the picture, particularly that it is sepia-toned, and obviously taken in winter, so I asked the man where he'd found it - so I could download and use it on MY desktop.  He told me he'd taken the picture himself.  We talked briefly about what I liked in the picture, and he showed me another photo he'd taken.  And then he offered to send me the picture via email.  What a lovely thing to do.
          A while later I decided to move outside - since we're enjoying unseasonably cool and clear days lately.  I'm sitting here piddling around at my computer when the same man comes out to tell me he'd sent the picture.  He further told me that I'd inspired him to do something he's been considering - to quit one of his part-time jobs and return to photography as a vocation and paying enterprise.  The man explained a bit of his thinking - I didn't ask him to - and we spoke casually about getting older and how we often need to make changes in our lives.  Sometimes, we agreed, those changes are a move toward something we've been wanting to do or try but hadn't yet given ourselves permission for.
          This is one of those larger reasons why I'm not supposed to have Internet at home.  Yes, it would be much more convenient to get online any time, making no effort even to put on clothes, much less to get in the car (since there are NO coffee shops in my neck of the woods).  Yes, I could probably afford to pay that bill now - with my second job.  But there's something of isolation in doing that.
          I'm reminded of an episode of Northern Exposure, in which Maggie buys a washer & dryer for her cabin so she can do laundry when she wants, in comfort and privacy.  But very soon Maggie finds that she misses the people she used to see at the laundramat, that she feels out of touch with her community, and, actually, just plain lonely.
           What would I have missed if I'd been at home this morning - besides the good coffee (which, even with buying Sunergos' beans I can never seem to duplicate)?  While I'm not so bold as to think that I alone might be responsible for Bob Blakely's potentially new creative challenge - how much of a difference does it make that I came to the coffee shop this morning?
           Maybe I just need to accept that inspirations are random and serendipitous.  And maybe I just need to keep coming back (as they say in twelve steps) and see what evolves.
          Keep on truckin'.

08 September 2012

Another New Occupation

     My friend Meridian has been on my case [though gently] ever since we met, about my lack of gratitude.  What she means by that is that I don't have the habit, nor, often, the inclination to view a lot of what life and the powers-that-be in the world has presented to me in a positive light.
     She's right in a lot of respects.  While I am daily and deeply grateful for much of what I've been given:  my beautiful and bold daughter Sarah, my dear friends (of whom Meridian is, luckily, one among many), the formal educational experiences I've had, being a Southern woman - I haven't been as filled with gratitude about a lot in my life.
     Now, I'm aware certainly that some of what I don't feel thankful for:  growing up in a dysfunctional and alcoholic home, being married to another drunk, a mother who taught fear more than anything else, and so on - those have been the very situations and people from which I've learned the most.  Those times and places and people have forced me to grow and to grow up, to locate my voice and speak and write from its truth, to understand how to truly respond from my core knowing.  
     Yet I still, too often and too habitually, wish that things had been different, that I'd chosen differently.  I still long to see the world the way others - those with more 'normal' pasts - see it, and wish I could choose from a place inside me that feels more secure - more deserving of the good things the world seems to offer.  
     No - I don't have an attitude of gratitude in general.
     Well, my friend will be pleased to know that recently, since I began a new job, I've felt the pin-pricks of gratefulness.  Not so much for those things I've already mentioned, but gratitude that the universe hasn't presented me with even harsher lessons - the lessons taught through experiencing a physical or mental disability, lessons learned when one is homeless, lessons learned when growing up in severe poverty or growing up far away from family.  
     Nearly every day when working at this job - in which I assist and support persons with disabilities to prepare for and find a real job in which they can grow and develop and eventually become more independent and capable - nearly every day I think, "There, but for the grace of God, would I be."
     Now its not at all that I feel or see or think myself above or in any way better than the clients I work with.  On the contrary - their courage and their persistence, their capacity to overcome, their faith that we can and will help them, their ability to take the small (and sometimes not-so-small) steps that will help us help them - all of these things often make me view myself as JUST SO DAMN LUCKY.  
     The incredible good fortune I had to be born to people who, while they weren't very well equipped to raise children, at least made sure we had a home and food and clothing and lunch money!  How lucky I was to have family to step in when things went wrong or crises happened.  How amazing that I never went to bed hungry, that I did not inherit any life-altering physical problems.
     Gratitude for all of this, and more, keeps tapping me on the shoulder.  
     And when it does I often think myself rather whiny and even demanding to wish my life had been other than it has been.  I have so MUCH - so much love, so many opportunities, so wonderful a home, sufficient food, and leisure, not to mention health and a mind that works well.  
     How can I not be filled with gratitude when I see the truth of what I have, when I encounter in others a reality that - had my life begun or been different - might just as easily have been mine?
     So - I owe it to Meridian - and myself - and particularly I owe it to all of those folks out there who are existing in situations that might have been my situation - I owe it to all of us to say "thanks" when the gods and goddesses of gratitude press for my attention.  

04 September 2012

A New Occupation

The lessons built-in to this experience of moving household surprise me; it’s as if they’re hiding inside the packed boxes, or beneath them, released each time I move one.  If I open it to see if what-I’m-looking-for lurks just inside.
       The lessons are I believe the spirit of this move; perhaps pointing the way to what my soul seeks from the choice – to move – to move here.
       Here is where people are poor, live poor and, too often - poorly.  When you’ve got nothin’; as the song says.  Not everyone, of course IS in poverty.  A famous and – even better - respected architect, my next door neighbors with their rain barrels, ‘community’ garden and dinners from their large backyard garden, the owners of my favorite coffee shop, and surely others of their mind live up here.
It’s real up here, alongside the canal that moves ships into the Ohio.  People yell when they’re mad, and fight out loud, laugh heartily and with a hard edge; here on the northern edge of the city and state there are no barriers to reality.  Compared to nearly everywhere else I’ve lived there’s little work at beautification up here.  Except for the random homemade art that one comes upon unexpectedly.  Against a canvas of often boarded up houses that stand like sad reminders of a time when Portland was prosperous, more than a neighborhood on Louisville’s northwest border, it’s own city; art – made sometimes of junk or found objects and brightly painted, boxes or giant spiders.
The practical reasons for the move – economic, and otherwise perhaps too typically Aquarian; I’ve been accused of hard-headedness and provoking trouble by moving here.  Maybe I do look for trouble – actually, no maybe about it.  But that, I’ve had to find acceptance for, is part of who I am; I like challenge and edgy activities.  Sitting on my bed each night surrounded by slowly decreasing walls of boxes I hear noises outside my walls:  arguments and sirens and buses, sounds I was brought up to fear.  Yet they come to my ears as life – messily and noisily happening, right now.
One therapist I saw only twice several years ago asked me why I was intent on making life harder, “the idea is to make it easier” he said.  I was embracing a brief affair with analysis then, and was amazed at his rush to judgment.  But he was correct – I make my life more difficult than it necessarily needs to be, just to see if I can make it.  That way I’m in charge.  Maybe I’m here because of that.  But only in part I think.
And there it is again – the search for reasons, for why, the desire to learn the lessons right now instead of simply sitting on my bed, or on the front porch (ahhhh, front porch sitting – even in the hurricane generated rain) and allowing what is of, and in, the moment to present itself.  The [what feels like] urgent necessity for understanding – hell, for KNOWING something I am, perhaps, not ready to know rises up from my toes and sits beside me – again.

Occupation of a new space is the only occupation I need to have in this moment.  Tranformative learning – indeed!

24 August 2012

Dear Facebook - what the . . .

So here's what I don't get, FaceBook - among many things - who told you we WANTED or NEEDED to display the entirety of our lives on your site?  Whose bright idea was this Timeline thing anyway?  Somebody who works for you and doesn't have enough to do but worry about the precipitous drop in your stock prices?  Or is there a twenty-something you just hired who believes the way to make a name in the company is by completely revamping the client format - so that s/he can then occupy all their time responding to confused clients who have no clue how to upload a new profile picture?

And speaking of that - I just spent - wasted is more accurate - 30 minutes trying to do just that.  All I want to do is replace the current profile pic with a new one - that's sitting on my desktop waiting for a home on my FB page.  Here's the picture - maybe YOU can get it to post!

For fuck's sake FB making it harder to do simple things is definitely NOT going to endear you to us.  At least not those of us who weren't born during the era when our laboring mothers were texting everyone about the length of her contractions!

This is something I've never understood about living in an online world - why, when something works just fine - like a program or a web site - does somebody employed by that company feel the need to tinker with or change it?  Didn't you all ever hear the aphorism about "if it ain't broke . . . "  The only thing I can figure is that it's job security for someone.  I mean, come on - learn from the lessons of "new" Coke (of course that was before the time of all the youngsters at FB).

Then too, maybe what I think isn't even the point.  Maybe you all at FB, and other social networking sites, probably never think of people my age as users.  Certainly we are not your target market.  I'm aware of that.  But guess what FB people - we DO use your site and others like it to communicate and stay in touch with people.

And really all we want is to be able to do that without having to spend half our online time figuring out how to do something as simple as change a picture.  We just want to get on the site and see what's up with our friends and family and let them know the same about us.

How about trying something radical Facebook, and just leave something that works alone, as long as it DOES work.  Think Lays Potato Chips - think Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  You get the idea, right?  Those companies added new products, but left their big sellers alone.  And everybody's happy!

So, dear Facebook, the best I can tell you is not to mess with success.  I know, I know - you're worried that maybe you won't end up all being zillionaires before 35 after all - poor babies.  You're worried that maybe somebody even younger may come up with a way to stay connected online that will make FB seem irrelevant.  Guess what?  So what if they do?  That's how it goes.  But in the end, people will use what works for them if it does work and doesn't make them crazy in the doing.  Think Microsoft - either way you want to consider it.

Thanks for listening.

19 August 2012

To Be Continued

"So, is there sex, or better yet - love, in your life?"  

The question came from my friend Meridian during a long phone conversation yesterday.  We'd been catching up after a few months of only FB contacts.  I'd just finished telling her about the new job I recently began, and the new apartment I'll be moving to soon, how excited I feel about each, and how relieved I am to finally be in a state of receiving sufficient and reliable income - when she asked that question.

MJ & Meridian - Berkeley, CA - 2009
My answer - negative, as it has been for too long now - brought forth a typically Meridian-thoughtful response.  "Possibly becoming more settled financially and in a place that feels right to you will open up space for sex, with love, to enter."

My friend has a point - in that I have been expending quantities of energy searching for the job that would meet my needs, and even more in locating the place that feels right for me to move to (and all that moving involves).  It is entirely possible that, once all of that energy is no longer needed for those tasks there will be space/energy into which an intimate relationship can enter.

I'd like to believe that this is how it works.  I'd like to believe that the universe does hold potentially all of the things and people and situations we desire - and holds them loosely like so many gumballs in the dispenser, just waiting for us to turn the crank and release them into our sweaty hands.  I'd like to be the sort of person who trusts that good things - or at least the things we desire - are infinitely available to us if we will simply open to them.  Meridian believes that, and she's been telling me for the six years we've been friends that it's this belief that has gotten her the car, the living situation, the friends, and the love relationship she currently has.

I tend more toward a belief in fate.  I live and operate from a belief that we get what we get, and that there's very little we can do to alter what we get - for we are fated to live the life we have.  I'd have been right at home in early Greek or Roman society - in which the gods were considered all powerful and in complete and absolute charge of everything.  Of course, if what we get is harmful or dangerous or in some significant ways "bad" for us - we can reject it.  I've done that certainly.  But that doesn't mean, according to my lights, that something "good" WILL come along after.

And, believe it or not, this way of seeing the possibilities constitutes a real improvement over how I used to view the world.  For over fifty years I believed in control - that I could MAKE things happen or not, that if I just worked hard enough and strove strongly enough I would get what I wanted - regardless of the realities inherent in others or in the situation!  How much energy and time I spent trying to turn chicken shit into chicken salad!  

Life, and heart attack, and heart break, motherhood, and a lot of therapy have all taught me that, no, I'm totally NOT in charge of any of it.  And that learning has all come within the last decade.  

So - although I don't believe that the universe will shower me with all good things as Meridian does, at least I no longer believe I need to strive to make things happen.  Nowadays I focus on simply doing what I can to care for and about myself, on allowing others to support and help me as they are able, and on trusting my bodily and emotional responses to who and what shows up in my life each day.  

Maybe the energy freed up by no longer working to find the 'right' job (for the one I just began feels SO right!),  and the energy that will be available when I get settled into the new apartment - maybe all that available energy around and in me WILL draw in someone for me to love, to express sexually with.  Or maybe that energy will transform into a form of creating that is new and vibrant for me.  How wonderful it would be if BOTH happened!  

Whatever happens with this available energy, however it manifests inside of and around me, there will be a gift in it that will surprise and challenge me.  And I'll be sharing that gift in some way with whoever is open to it.  Stay tuned.

29 July 2012

The Lessons Never Stop - Do They

I guess I've lived alone too long.  It seems I've forgotten how to live with the strong emotions of another person without seeing those emotions as something to do with me.

Maybe I never did know how to do that.  Maybe I never really learned, as many children growing up in alcoholic homes do not, that it was ok to have boundaries, that other people's emotions aren't my problem.

I thought I'd overcome this, that I'd learned - rather late in life it's true - how to draw the line between someone else's emotional outburst and my own feelings.  And I think I have learned that - to some extent.  Yet, when it comes to anger, it seems, I've got some learning still to do.

I'm currently, temporarily, sharing living quarters with a friend.  It's the first time I've shared living space in a long time - five years any way.  And in those years living alone I've had the luxury of escaping from emotional eruptions when and how I chose.  And escape seemed, all that time, to be the best thing for me.  Maybe that wasn't so good.

For the last twenty-four hours my friend has simply exploded with frustration and anger over a situation  - what it is doesn't matter really - that is causing inconvenience and a certain amount of extra effort for him.  It has nothing, zero, nada, bupkus to do with me.  I didn't cause the situation, exacerbate it, or add to its difficulty.  And he is not aiming his anger at me, nor is he in any way looking to me for solutions or a place to lay blame.

Yet - yet - yet I keep expecting that to happen, and find my mind searching for ways I can assuage his anger, ways I can help him "feel better."  SHADES OF CHILDHOOD!!

I know all the reasons for this, all of the experiences from childhood, not to forget a seventeen year marriage to a mean alcoholic, taught me to work diligently and without pause in doing MY JOB to fix things that made others mad.  In truth, my childhood experiences convinced me that my very survival depended on the - admittedly 'childish' - strategies I developed for deflecting or even managing the anger of others.

The most important thing though is that I HAVE learned the core reason for my automatic reactions to anger.  I jump without pause into these ways of thinking because I'm scared!  Anger - particularly anger over something that makes no sense - to me at least - feels threatening to me.  And when I'm threatened I feel afraid, as we all do.

I thought I'd learned to tolerate this sense of fear over the years.  But, I'm wondering now if all I really learned was to escape from the fear by escaping from the angry person.

So now I'm confronting, once again, the reality that the lessons of life never really end.  I'm smack in the center of learning that there's more learning - even at the far end of middle age.  And I'm learning that - though my initial reactions to my friend's anger were just the same as my earlier reactions - I have made some progress.  I did feel afraid - afraid that the anger would be turned toward me.  True also, I did mentally conduct a frantic search for ways to 'fix' things for him - and thus, for me.

But on the positive side of the scale - I did NOT take action based on my thoughts and fears.  Hooray for me.  Instead I'm writing about it, attempting to transmute what's going on in me that holds me back, to transform it all into something creative.  And I'm sharing it with you - whoever you are out there reading this.

Maybe some would think that this isn't much - writing it out, sharing it out.  Maybe they'd be right - for them.  But for me it's a motion toward loving myself, toward gaining, in tiny increments, a sense of peace with who I am - fears and all.  And I say - Namaste to that.

12 July 2012

Tendency Toward Torpor

These days packing up to move, even if the move is temporary, fills me with anxiety, also a not-small-amount of fear.  This emotional response drains the life right out of me - particularly because it's a new response - part and parcel of only the two most recent moves:  the one I'm mired in now, and the move from Illinois back to Kentucky in 2006.  During the many and myriad moves I made prior to that I never experienced this debilitation - on the contrary, I found a certain energy and even a sense of hopefulness (false and fleeting though it was) during the eleven moves made between 1979 and 2004.

Of course I understand the reasons for the differences.  Of course I do, even though what I know about those reasons makes me squirm.  Why squirm?  Well [oh hell, just SAY it!] during those earlier moves I could and did focus on two things:  on other people in my life and what the move could mean to them, and on forcing myself to shove down any fear or anxiousness, really ANY emotions that might distract me from the tasks of moving.  Shoving down all emotions does contribute to the available energy, it's true.  And focusing on others makes shoving down emotions easier.

For these last two moves both of these things differ greatly from when I made the others:  there are no other people affected by my move, and I no longer have either the ability or the need to ignore or subsume my emotional responses.  Whether or not either of these is literally true - and certainly neither is completely true - what IS real, and thus constitutes truth for me currently, is that the move I'm dealing with now is about me.  Yeah, that's it - doing for, and with, and by myself, without consideration of others affectedness - doing only for and about me - that generates anxiety.  The little girl who still lives inside me learned, so well and so completely, that focusing on her wants and her desires was dangerous.  And that darling child seems to jump up and down on my belly as if it were a mattress, when I make choices and take actions in my own self interest.

So - anxiety and fear, and the torpor of the body and mind that these emotions generate, make the work of packing, sorting, arranging, lifting, throwing out, and so forth - the work of preparing to move really feel like work.  None of this is logical.  None of this truly even is real, and so none of it ought to keep me from getting the work of moving done.  And it won't.  Yet I know too that the only way - for me - to move along in the work of moving is to bring all of this into the light and open - by writing about it.

I'm reading Augusten Burroughs' new book, "This is How" - and lovin' it - because he's writing about just these kinds of things.  The ways we wear ourselves out, give away our power, and remain running in place (with scissors of course), our feet sticking in the muck of the unreality we accept as real are his topics - disguised within chapter titles like "How Not to Drink" or "How to Drink."  What he returns to again and again in his literate and ironic style is how we refuse to see what is real, really, and so cannot see what we need.  For Augusten, as for me, the need is to write about what is happening in emotion and behavior.  This act of writing - and sharing, that's part of it - helps with the tendency toward torpor, helps transmute it into it's flip side - the combination of taking it slow and steady and honoring the experience by expressing it.

In the same way that Burroughs has always given aid and comfort to the mistreated little guy who lives in him through his writing, I find that my scared little girl stops jumping on my belly when I write.  She's content to suck her thumb and smile at the upcoming adventure.

17 June 2012

My Real Name Is . . .

NOT the name on my birth, or even my baptismal, certificate.  All my life I've understood that Mary Jo as a label doesn't really tell you anything about what's on the inside - and obviously fails to adequately or imagistically describe my outsides as well.  My evidence?  People keep calling me by other names!

Often even folks who know me well, people with whom I've worked for years, friends, and random others call me Joanne or Marion or Mary Jane or Mary Anne or some other such.  And in doing so, they aren't "nicknaming" me (I've asked them) or even consciously aware THAT in uttering those words they were mis-naming me!  Hell, I even had a therapist - one who was TRULY helpful and who saw and honored me (inside and out) in every moment, but who occasionally said "Well, as you and I both know Mary Jane . . . "

When I was little my grandparents (my dad's mom and step-dad) called me Jish.  I actually like that - and liked it even more when I discovered recently that the word has meaning.  A jish is a Navajo medicine bag or bundle - the place where the healer places the ingredients and totems, the familiars, the tools needed for ceremonies of healing or spiritual seeking.  Yet even this, a word I can definitely get into and would feel a desire to live up to as a name, presents problems.  I ain't Navajo, or any tribe at all except northern European white people (at least as far as I can tell in looking back about six generations).  So - to appropriate the word feels like stealing - like I'm trying to worm my way into a culture and a world view that is not mine, by any right of birth.  It kinda feels - when considering using the word - as if I'd started to dress in dashiki, let my hair turn to dredlocks, as if that would make me a person of color.  In actual fact - for those who may read this and do not know me - I am one of the WHITEST women in town.

Perhaps I'm not that inside, or in outlook, or in desire - but a name has to work for the outside as well as the in.  Perhaps I just lack courage in this area - the courage to just not worry about names any more than I worry (most of the time) about weight or hair color or other externals.

Or perhaps I'm just busy fighting against something that, in the end, doesn't matter all that much.  Or even feeling at odds with my name when it may well have something to teach me - since it's SUPPOSED to be a combo of the names of my parents:  Manuel and Josephine.  Guess it could have been worse.  Guess they could have switched the words around to Josephine Mary, or elaborated on Daddy's name - Manuela.  Maybe, in the end, it's just something - this sense that I am mis-named and that my REAL name is still out there somewhere - that I need to spend some more time with and learn from - as with all else in this amazing life.

[This entry arises from a "Writing From The Soul" prompt.  As usual, when I take up these prompts, something both interesting and challenging rises up out of the writing and I learn more about myself.  I thought to share it as a posting, just to see what y'all would respond to - also because I was feeling guilty that I hadn't written a post since May!  Hugs Mary Jo [Jish?]]

07 May 2012

What Do You See?

     On first glance it seems just a lovely picture, a boy in a field of flowers.  And even though the flowers are poppies and the boy is actually working in the field, topping the poppies to prepare them for harvest and eventual processing into opium; the picture itself is still, for me, lovely.

     Maybe I should view it differently.  After all the many cultural and societal strictures against the production and use of narcotics, not to mention the reality that this child probably works all day topping poppies to earn less than one dollar, maybe I should feel offended - even outraged - by this photo.  Yet I don't feel either.  And honestly I consider that personal progress.

     I spent too many years viewing other people and situations with judgement.  Anyone or anything that didn't fit MY view of things surely must have been wrong - deserving of my criticism.  I'd refuse to see any "good" side, or the beauty, or the opportunity for learning or change - refuse to be changed, to even  consider that I could change, that it might be a good thing for me.  I wanted everything and everyone simple - and by simple I meant in agreement with me.

     It took nearly six decades before I learned to appreciate the complexity, the profundity, the chaotic and paradoxical in my own life and self, which led inevitably toward appreciating those same characteristics in the world around me.  I still fight against it, and want to be RIGHT, to have others do what I want them to, to have situations turn how the way I want them to.  But, these days, I catch those thoughts and can (usually) see them for the psychological bloody piles they are.

    So it does seem to be personal progress that I can appreciate the beauty of this picture, the contrast of textures and the intensity of the white of the flowers (very interesting too since white is the absence of color), the composition, the soft focus of the boy's expression - even as my acculturated thinking says "what a terrible thing."  Having opened up more to how little I actually know for sure, how not-in-charge I am of most everything,  how much time - and energy - I use judging and attempting to control; I am better able to connect with the loveliness of the picture AND into an appreciation of the combination of darkness and light inherent there.

     Sure, none of this is a life-altering revelation or epiphany - but from such awarenesses and appreciations as these,  of such ways of seeing, if not differently at least more comprehensively, is a life worth living made.  That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.  What do you see?

30 April 2012

Individual Occupation? Hmmmmmm....

What is too often missed is that the movement is about occupying the space and the time
 to create a different world. 
Sarah van Gelder

      I'm aware that among those who usually read my words are people who may disagree with the ideas or tactics, even the underpinnings, of the occupy movement.  Or perhaps they just don't believe it has anything to do with them, doesn't matter in their lives.  To those people I dedicate the words in the header - and the linked article from YES! magazine.

     To go "on strike" tomorrow may not be possible for everyone.  But to inhabit space and invest time considering how a different world - one in which we are not all scrambling constantly for money and what we've been raised, or acculturated, to believe is security - could look and feel certainly is possible for everyone.  And even though the official Occupy movement encourages us to join with others in public events or protests, that joining is not necessarily the only thing we can do.  

   Individuals CAN make a difference, though we too often see our own efforts as too small to matter.  A friend of mine was talking the other day about her sense, when she was younger and her children were small, of not being able to do anything to make the world a better place.  She felt discouraged at her inability to make change in the world until someone reminded her that raising her children to be responsible, caring, awake, and loving people WAS making a difference in the world.  

   In the 60's I recall bumper stickers that read "If it is to be it must start with me."  That sentiment, or idea if you will, doesn't really read like a call to rebellion or activism.  That statement speaks such common sense, is so self-evident, that we don't consider it as the radical statement of living that it is  - in my opinion.  We tend to think of individual acts or ways of living as small change in the scheme of world change.  Yet the fact is that until and unless we come to understand and appreciate that our individual choices and actions do possess power (imagine if everyone you know, everyone you've ever known, everyone they know or have known decided never to shop at Walmart again) we'll feel this powerlessness and sense of futility.

   What the occupy movement calls us to do is sit down and think - about how we spend our money, what we do with our time, our trash, our possessions, how we view our work, our leisure time, our relationships, our skills and capacities.  The occupy movement encourages us to consider - how we're living and how what we choose supports systems of economic and political corruption - or how our choices free us from those systems.  The occupy movement wants us to cogitate on all of the things we choose, mostly unconsciously, and begin to make more conscious choices.  None of this requires joining groups or even leaving home.

   Making a different world just by making our own thinking and choosing more conscious?  Sounds too simple, doesn't it?  Maybe it really is that simple.  Hmmmmmm.

09 April 2012

Good Advice from Mary Oliver

Pay Attention . . .

an April breeze, barely sun warmed, casts flickering shadows of the fully leaved trees on the table
tea bags float in deepening brown water in the pitcher on the porch
barely damp air moves against my skin in the early morning
sirens and the heavy rumble of a fire truck move along the parkway

Be Astonished . . .

the warmth in my belly at the sound of my daughter's voice
the dust of the stars, the elements of the cosmos doing their work inside our bodies
to forgive is to be forgiven
chaos is not a negative thing

Tell about it . . .

it's not so much what happens to us, what we do, what choices we make, as it is what we tell ourselves about it - that matters in the end.

30 March 2012

Yes, I'm a Fan

Excitement is high here in the Bluegrass state, and will surely reach a fever pitch by Saturday – when the U of L Cardinals face the UK Wildcats in the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament.  Flags of red – for the Cards, and blue – for the Cats, hang from poles normally reserved for the Stars & Stripes, or flutter from plastic sticks on car windows.  Yesterday as I walked five blocks toward work I counted twenty-six items of clothing with either UL or Go Cards on them, and twelve of the same supporting the Cats.  Of course this is Louisville where the fandom is somewhat divided.  In Lexington – well – red shirts there can only mean one of two things:  either a term describing  a player who’s sitting out a season, or a U of L fan forced to stop for a quick fill-up and wishing they had a jacket to put on while gassing up.

Most people not from here, and even some who are, can’t understand the passion with which we view basketball.  And while it’s true that there are many more important things our energies and actions could focus on, the plain and simple of it is that for many people, like me, college basketball is part of our lives, something we’ve followed since childhood.  The Cards and the Cats are just the most prominent teams, the ones we follow with greatest enthusiasm.  Games are an excuse to gather, for game day parties, in bars where others will yell as loudly as we will, reasons to crowd around somebody’s laptop or sit in the car with the radio blaring – to cheer our favorite players and, later, to critique the play or the referees.

Perhaps the best way to help all you non-hoops fans out there understand what I’m talking about is to tell the story of how I came to be a fan.  When I was growing up enthusiasm and excitement could find no space in our house.  So we had to listen to the games next door – at the Bisig’s.  Back then basketball wasn’t televised.  Radio announcers were the alternative for those of us without tickets.  My brothers and me, Dan & Don Bisig, and sometimes their brother Jimmy (on whom I had a hopeless crush) gathered around the radio to hear Ed Kallay call the games for Louisville, or Joe Dean describe Kentucky’s play.

I can see us now, flopped over chairs in the Bisig’s basement, even sitting on the table next to the radio when the game got close – as if being near the radio helped us feel we were at the game.  The action seemed faster to me than it was, propelled by Kallay’s words about beautiful passes, players diving for out-of-bounds or loose balls, the thunder of Converse-clad players’ feet running down the floor of Freedom Hall.  How, I used to wonder, can he keep track of ten men moving so rapidly on the floor, all the while telling listeners what happened with accuracy.  Sometimes, in the excitement of a snapped pass and twenty foot shot that rolled around the rim before falling through the net, Kallay’s words would desert him, and he’d fall back on telling us, “OH, I WISH you could SEE this!”

During Kentucky games, when a player – maybe Pat Riley or “Little” Louis Dampier – would make a soft layup from inside you could almost hear the swish, and Joe Dean would tell us there was “string music in Lexington KY.”  The twang of the Appalachians in his voice was always a reminder that in every small town and every holler and ridge of the state basketball hoops hung from garages and barns, and young boys spent hours shooting there, dreaming of one day wearing a Kentucky blue uniform.

In the Bisig’s basement we’d throw our popcorn in the air in celebration of shots that fell – unworried about getting into trouble for making a mess there.  The boys would pretend to shoot at invisible baskets, while I shook non-existent pom-poms in the air.

Back then only boys played, as far as I knew.  Yet I loved watching pick-up games, watching the power of the players as they moved the ball forward passing, shooting, even defense.  In high school my fascination grew as I sat in bleachers and cheered for Seneca, my high school, progressed to the state championship.  Then my crush was aimed at six foot Wesley Unseld – a soft-spoken senior who smiled at even a sophomore girl.  His incredibly huge black hands always held a ball, even when walking the halls between classes in his slow, slouching, sleepy--eyed gait.

When I was a student at U of L I don’t recall seeing players very much, but in grad school at UK I felt surrounded by their presence, their height and the way their bodies seemed to conserve energy off the court.  I’d often eat breakfast at the Student Center and watch with awe as Melvin Turpin and Sam Bowie moved slowly and confidently from the food line to the players’ table, carrying three trays, each piled high with food.  Then they’d shuffle back to the line and return with a tray of milk cartons and another that completely disappeared under the juice they’d gotten.

Early in my as-yet-unknown pregnancy and early in that basketball season I would join the mass of undergrads, camping in front of Memorial Coliseum – sometimes all night – to get my allotment of two student tickets for games.  When my daughter Sarah was born she had basketball somewhere in her consciousness already, surely.

When Sarah began to play in fifth grade it was only because her friends were playing – parks league ball coached by parents.  Yet Sarah, even taller than I had been at her age, loved to play.  And she began practicing on her own, with me or her Dad, or when friends came over.  By junior high Sarah had a soft touch with the ball and a way of moving on the court to block shots that amazed me.  Her tiny school held other girls who loved to play as well, and a coach who pushed, and taught, and loved her players – toughly.  Shalon Crowe dressed and looked like a model – for games.  Yet she’d get in a player’s face for mistakes, grab a girl by the slippery jersey and practically drag her to the official’s table to point out what she wanted the player to do when she got into the game.  Shalon could jump from her courtside chair and land, in three-inch heels, beside a referee to argue a call.  She knew the game as well as any coach I’ve met, and she knew her girls and how to motivate them.  Her players – her girls – would have walked through fire for her.

And I reveled in being a basketball mom – encouraging them from the bleachers, cooking high carb meals for the team.  My best memories were of driving girls home from practice or even games – the smell of girl sweat filling my car, their conversation moving from the back seat toward me, making me smile.

They were girls who were learning to love what their bodies could do, who had the chances that we, of an earlier time, had never had – to play, to assert their right to take up room on the floor, to use brain and body as a single unit.  They were girls who understood the execution of a play, how to win or lose as part of a team.  Watching and supporting them made me happy for them, and helped me understand a previously unknown aspect of female power.  To be part of a team, to know others will come to your aid, to know that those others depended on you, that your teammates will encourage you when your shots aren’t falling, and celebrate with you when they are – all things that my daughter was learning and experiencing.  I felt joy for her.

When I watch games now, on television or those times when Sarah and I attend a game together, I yell.  I’m rowdy.  I lean forward to watch a one-three-one defense unfold, and stiffen as a player sets their feet to draw a charge, even feel the slam as they fall.  I am IN the game as much as when I listened on the radio.  Only now, because I know the effort and the strain, the intelligence and focus, the discipline necessary to play well I no longer play cheerleader with invisible pom-poms.  Sometimes though, in the excitement and intensity of a well-played game, my body will want to express with more than voice.  And then, I will still throw my popcorn into the air.

12 March 2012

Weaving Reality and Imagination

At the last Moth Story Slam I told about being twelve and imagining what the new boy coming into our class would look like, how he would behave - based on the one fact that our teacher had given us - that his family had just moved to Louisville from Hawaii.  I told how I fell in love with this imaginary boy before I ever saw him, based on my limited, and very romantic, ideas and experiences.  And I told how devastated I was when he finally showed up - only an average, pale, allergic, boy who was surely scared to death to be transferring schools in seventh grade.  My story ended with the consequences visited upon me for being so caught up in my fantasy that I couldn't see that in reality Kevin, that was his name, had positive qualities.

In too many ways to go into here this scenario - creating a fantasy of who people would be and how they would respond to me, then experiencing supreme disappointment when my imaginings weren't even remotely related to reality - illustrates how I was in the world for many years.  Long after I'd "grown up" and ought to have been more comfortable with reality, I still preferred imagination and fantasy.  This preference has given me no end of trouble - staying in dysfunctional relationships I imagined I could turn around being only one example.

I've often wondered what life might have held for me if I'd faced what was in front of me and dealt with it rather than living in my fantasy world - a world in which no real person or situation could ever be good enough, could ever measure up to my imagining.  In this, my sixtieth year on the planet,  I'm experiencing a shift in that wondering.  You see, these musings about what might have been were always deeply and tightly connected to the part of me where imagination and fantasy live.  I've only just begun to understand that lately, as I've allowed the reality of being an older/elder woman to affect me.

And I can see more clearly, as I feel the physical and emotional and other affects of moving into this stage of life, the value of what my life has held, what I have experienced, even what I've survived and learned through - by using my capacity for imagination and fantasy.  Before, when I wondered what might have been I'd wish I had not sought refuge from reality by immersing myself in fantasy.  Lately I understand that it was imagination and fantasy that helped me live in (to be honest, to endure) the reality around me.  And I believe I've come to that understanding now, at this stage of life, because I've been weaving reality and imagination together - in storytelling.

Not just standing on the Moth stages either.  I've been participating in a storytelling group - in which we bring personal stories, and respond to those told.  I've been writing the stories of my life - frequently only for myself, but more and more often, to share.  Opportunities for telling my stories seem to abound recently.  And I think somehow it has been - in large part - reaching this stage of life that has both encouraged and enabled me to apply my capacity for imagining and fantasy to my "true stories, told live."

Makes sense.  At this stage of life those moments or situations I've remembered with a cringe now seem to me merely funny, or even, sometimes, touching.  This is, after all, the stage of life in which we view what has been from a distance, and - voila! - find unexpected gifts in both the past and in ourselves.  The unexpected - life just never ceases offering that does it?

27 February 2012

Occupy - an Idea

Occupy an idea, live with it, sleep with it, inhabit it until it becomes a kind of "gnosis," or genuine knowing. Occupy a place because you love it or because it needs loving attention or simply because you need a place to be. Find something that feels and smells authentic and occupy it fully in order to bring back life's natural state of diversity and abundance. In the midst of all the change, confusion, and chaos, occupy your own soul; for without soulful presence even momentous events can become hollow and be reduced to political in-fighting and the seeds of change can fail to take root.
Michael Meade.  

These words, written by a man who was my teacher for a grace-filled weekend in late 2007,  showed up in an article on Huffington Post about the Occupy movement.  Yet they struck me personally.  And I’ve tried them out, tried keeping them in mind – as well as in sight, printed and stuck under a refrigerator magnet where I saw them each time I went to the freezer for ice.
I needed words that reminded me to simply be still recently, as I approached what was for me a singular event – my 60th birthday.  Along with selections of meaningful poetry and fiction, I needed words like Meade’s, regardless of context or theme, for sitting with the anxious beliefs swirling in both head and body as I approached this milestone.  I needed reminders that my anxiety had a flip side, if only I could occupy it, “live with it, sleep with it, inhabit it . . .” until the crawly-skinned feeling could lessen.
In the midst of the change that I imagined was coming because a page on the calendar would turn I tried a literal occupation – something that’s worked for me before.  I established my bed as the site of occupation – brought to it warm drinks (on occasion, alcoholic also), yummy snacks, books, the journal I began in December when the first pricks of anxiety made themselves known, my laptop for writing, watching movies, listening to music, extra pillows, baby dolls and bears.  And I allowed myself to spend all the time there that I needed to.  It was, I see now, an occupation of soul and spirit, or psyche and mind – an inhabiting of what was going on within, while simultaneously allowing my insides to be affected by what I brought to the occupation.
And it helped.

I only understood how much it helped when, three days after my actual birthday a dinner I had been told was siblings-only revealed itself as a surprise party celebration– complete with friends and gifts and trick candles in the birthday pies.  [Yes, birthday pies – I highly recommend this alternative to cake and ice cream.]  Before spending time with my anxiety, my surprise at walking into the house where so many unexpected people were gathered would have ramped up that anxiety – made me feel as if I had to ‘perform’ somehow – resulted in internal expectations that I should be the ‘perfect’ honored guest.
I know this because it had been my reactive response to similar situations over the years.  It’s always been a conflict for me – being the center of any attention that I did not seek, did not bring on myself by my own efforts.  Unsought attention would immediately trigger an inner sense of “what do these people want from or of me – what’s my role, or job, in this situation?”
Occupying the uncertainty and fear of what it might mean to be sixty – to become what I’d previously defined as “old” – had in fact peeled away another layer of my thinking about self in this “what do they want” manner.  I’d sat with those habits of self-definition, that really came from old messages, long enough to know them for the burdensome weights on my soul that they’d always been.  I had spent time with my somatic and spiritual desires – taking them easy and pampering them from my bed – allowing myself to accept that I didn’t have to DO or BE or TRY anything except what felt right to me.
And the result was that I could simply enjoy my surprise party – move around to interact with the people there, drink my wine and enjoy the food and the pie (especially the coconut cream), open the gifts, give and receive the hugs – without worrying or stress.  And the result of that was that, not only did I have fun, feel loved and special – but everyone else did as well.

So here’s what I’m thinking:  I’m gonna keep Michael Meade’s quote up on the fridge a while longer.  Wedged under a magnet (one that was part of a gift from the surprise party) that says “I believe in a world where chickens can cross the road without their motives being questioned” the printout of Meade’s words shares space with my ticket for The Moth tomorrow night, alongside pictures of me and Sarah and Josh acting silly at a wedding.  I’m gonna keep the idea of occupying what calls to me for attention where it can remind me, when the next anxious time comes along.

08 February 2012


     You’d think that by this age I’d have learned better than to ask “why” questions – I mean, those are ‘god’ questions, right?  But, wait, hold on to this beginning, this avoiding-getting-started-moving-in-the-totally-wrong-direction statement.  Don’t lose it while I start over.  You’ll see why shortly.

Why is it that the deepest aspects of us, the parts of mind or body or psyche or soul that we absolutely cannot change because they’re hardwired or fixed, the characteristics, traits, qualities, and attributes built in to us from birth and honed by experience – why do we struggle so in giving ourselves permission to be (or do, or whatever) these things?
     You’d think that these built-ins, these things that make us who we are, that serve as our definition in the dictionary of humanity, would serve us kind of like a safety net or a warm blanket as we move and act in the world.  But, in truth, the defining things, the unalterable aspects of us are those that we seem to fight against the most ruthlessly.  Giving oneself permission to be, and be comfortable being, who we are at our core feels, most of the time, nearly impossible.
     Even Jung acknowledged that the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.  In our terror we project those aspects of self we most hate onto others.  Much like what seem to be the motivations behind the actions of prominent Republicans these days – an obvious determination to grab power and control over our society even if it means the destruction of that society – we’d rather punish our own nature, punish too those on whom we project the hateful, than permit it to show.

     Which circles back around to the self-critical statements I began with.  Asking “why” is human.  Though there may not be an answer, at least not an answer we can understand in our human limitations, asking why is important – to our continued understanding of both self and others.  In asking “why” we become vulnerable, open to experiencing reality that may arouse fear, sadness, shame.  Thus the rationale for not permitting ourselves to ask, to not open to the inherent vulnerability of our humanity.  I mean, who wants to volunteer to experience those affects?
     Without experiencing that which hurts, the affects we’ve had-enough-of-thank-you-very-much in our lives, we cannot experience how those affects can become capacities which encourage and feed us.  Only through feeling the fear do we encounter courage, through opening to sadness we discover compassion.  Only through getting to know shame can we come to know its opposite – dignity.
Why sign up to do something so difficult?  Isn’t life easier, don’t we ‘get along’ better, if we just keep pushing away what doesn’t feel good, blaming someone else for what we experience?  There are those, obviously, who think so.

     Some years ago a friend’s mother died after a prolonged battle with cancer.  His relationship with his mother had been a source of profound conflict and intense need – on both sides – for all his life.  Experiencing the death of the parent on whom we most depended will engender, for most of us, a struggle with choices.  We can choose to accept that now whatever we wanted from our parent will never come our way; or we can choose to keep looking for what we wanted from those around us.  We can grow up, become who we are meant to be, or we can remain a child, trying still to be mothered.  My friend chose the latter.  Since I couldn’t, and certainly wouldn’t, be a mother figure to him; our friendship ended.
     Ending our friendship felt worse to me than the ending of my marriage.  Yet I learned so much in grieving that loss, lived so completely with the sadness, the anger, and the fear that I came to understand both more about myself and a great deal more about myself in relationships.
     The signs were all there that he wasn’t capable of living with what was difficult, that this was who, and ‘where’ he was.  I’d seen them, and from who and where I was, chosen to ignore or explain them away.  In the grief I later worked with at the loss of this friendship, I understood that I am a human who loves unreservedly, goes beyond the call, hangs in with relationships when others would quit.  And I roiled around in the muck of self-punishment – because of this aspect of my humanity – for a long time.  Until living with feeling a fool for how I’d been, and sitting in despair at my own stupidity became transformed, through sharing and writing, into appreciation for the depth and capacity for love my behaviors exhibited.
     Permitting my humanity, dwelling in the places where I most hated to live – in the seeming foolishness of my response in relationships, in the palpable sadness of loss, in all those hurtful and hurting places – I learned greater acceptance of me.  I’m more open in the world when I allow the difficult and painful to manifest, rather than try to push them down or project them out.
     Maybe we don’t ask the ‘why’ questions because we can’t control what answers we’ll get.  Following the difficult and uncomfortable feelings into our own interior, allowing them to inhabit and teach us, means we don’t control what will come back to our exterior.  And as perfectly imperfect humans, we just hate it when that happens.

30 January 2012

Oh, the Things You will Think

A few months ago I stopped seeing my therapist on a regular basis.  For several months before I’d been looking at our time together, considering what work was still to be done.  I couldn’t help but see that, since we’d begun, four years earlier, much of the growing up I’d needed to do had happened.  Terry and I had talked about this, and the idea of stopping was broached, several times.  Then, as I prepared for that last visit in November, I knew it was time.

Almost immediately after that ending new opportunities for expression began showing up in my life.  I’m just now realizing that one of them was, and is, to express my fixation on becoming sixty.

It makes sense that, having attained a modicum of maturity through the work with Terry, among other things, I now have greater capacity to see myself as I am.  I do see much more clearly what my reality is.  And that reality includes grief – a deep and profound sorrow about all the years before I began this journey of awareness, the years I couldn’t, or wouldn’t see myself truly.

My reality isn’t all grief of course.  Seeing myself truly includes knowing myself as “one of the juiciest women I know,” - according to a friend of mine.  What’s true of me is also that I’ve discovered my voice, gained appreciation for my body and appearance, learned it’s ok to say “no” as I need to.  What is true, and real, for me is that I like and care for myself more than ever.  Yet I also truly wish I’d learned how to do all of this earlier – wish I hadn’t used up all of those earlier years trying in vain to be who others wanted me to be.

It’s a paradox really.  For this journey of self-knowledge began because I’d spent all those years in the boxes of others’ creation.  The years I grieve over were my teachers, as much or more than Terry, or the deep learning from my California experiences, or even my heart attack.  Those years of actively pushing myself down, smoothing myself out, making myself small so others could feel more comfortable or ok – those years in the dark enabled me to see the faint shining light at the core of me as it flickered, determinedly.  Once I saw it I couldn’t abandon it.

It’s the fact that that didn’t happen until I was fifty that I grieve, especially now, a decade later.  I wonder, if I’d awakened to an appreciation of myself sooner, would I feel less anxious about becoming an elder now?   Would I have the capacity to love, rather than simply accept, the entirety of my life’s reality if I’d made the move earlier?  Yes, it’s navel gazing.  I wonder too if I’d do so much of that now if I’d begun this journey years before I did.

I’ve been seeing sixty as something I’m not ready for, much less ready to be or be defined as.  Yet, in writing about my grief over those ‘lost’ years I begin to see this age differently – as another opportunity for expression.  From here I can view the entirety of my life true.  From this stage of life I can realize, as in the words of a prayer for Yom Kippur.

From grief to understanding, from fear to faith.
From defeat to defeat.
Until, looking backward or ahead, we see that
Victory lies not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the Journey, stage by stage.

Having made the journey is what matters.  The when and how and where matter less than that the journey is undertaken.  Here, at 2012, at nearly age 60 (17 days and counting), with what I have in my purse and my life – is what’s real.  From here I can look backward and peek ahead, rest and take in the view.  And I can tell you – it ain’t really all that bad either.

15 January 2012

Not Done Yet

A coworker married recently.  In telling about her wedding she spoke with strong emotion about her disappointment at the job the (non-professional) photographer had done.  My coworker (we’ll call her L) repeated several times that, “It’s OK.  She [the photographer] is a friend.  Nothing to be done now, I guess.”  Well into the conversation L finally admitted that she was angry at not having the pictures she wanted, that she felt angry every time she thought about it, and that, even though she knows it’s the marriage that counts, more than the wedding, she’s still mad.
     L has been angry for weeks about this, telling herself she needs to let go of it, but feeling unable to.  Another participant in the conversation (call her M) said, “When I get angry over something I can’t do anything about, I just let myself BE angry for 24 hours.  Then I let it go.”  L replied that she wasn’t sure she could do that.
     In the silence that followed I knew what to say, but hesitated, not wanting to appear like a mother or counselor to these young women.  Yet my knowing wanted to be offered, so I told her, “The trick, or the key, if you want, is to truly feel your anger, to live with it, and allow yourself to release it – punch pillows or holler or cry – talk about it.  Let yourself know just how mad you are during those 24 hours.  You’ll be able to let it go if you do that.”
     In sharing this story I’m not bragging about my helpfulness.  Rather this story needs to be shared because I need to remind myself that I do possess knowledge and wisdom that can make a difference – but only if I share it.  The gift of age, I am coming to understand, is a body of knowledge – if we have sought it out over time – and a plethora of experience – ditto – that makes us wise.
     To become an elder is to have understanding – a combination of knowledge and experience gained over time.  We must have lived through and with our experiences and learned from them – even, especially, the difficult ones.  AND we must do something with it all – speak, or act, or in some way share what we have learned.
     It’s this last part that transforms us into an elder.  Hanging around on the planet for six, or more, decades simply makes us old.  Owning our experience, our learning from it and learning generally, intentionally spending time and energy weaving knowledge and experience together, and offering the resulting wisdom to others – in whatever ways we can – we become an elder.
     I’m at the beginning of learning this – of learning that my upcoming sixtieth birthday doesn’t just, or even necessarily, symbolize becoming old.  Since I began facing my belief that 60=old I’ve received numerous opportunities to learn that this stage of life holds gifts – if I dare risk opening them.  Sharing what I know to be true – as I did with L (who appeared, at first, surprised, but then interested in the idea) – as I do when I sign up to tell my story at The Moth Story Slam – as I do, more and more often, even in random encounters with others – sharing both validates my experience and encourages others to do the same.
     It feels scary to me – opening up and risking like this.  Yet I see only two options available to me as I approach 60:  to disappear into the accepted cultural view of a dried-up and pitiful old woman, or, to embrace the vibrant, juicy, experienced, and perhaps wise woman who lives inside.  The first feels like only existence, while the second feels of life.
     I’m reminded – quite often recently – that, when I experienced heart attack almost four years ago, in the moment that dying felt so seductive – the moment of understanding that dying meant not having to try any more – there came a clear voice that said, “You’re not done yet.”  And that voice – though I didn’t want to hear it or accept its message – made my body fight to live.
     Now, as then, the acceptance of life includes acceptance of responsibility.  It means I must fight past the fear of opening up and offering who I am, who I am becoming.  Yes, even at this stage life seems to be about becoming.  I choose to become an elder rather than an old lady.  No, I’m not done yet.

09 January 2012

Rumination on Changing

     I downloaded this picture, from early in the Occupy Wall Street movement, onto my computer desktop.  Every time I open the computer the image moves me, particularly the disembodied hand holding the sign reminds me – that no matter what we’re supposed to believe, in truth changing the world begins in changing oneself.  Not changing to fit in with greater ease, or even changing so our own life will hold fewer problems or challenges – but changing as an appreciation, changing through greater and more loving acceptance of who we truly are.  In her poem, “The Wild Geese” Mary Oliver writes - “You do not have to be good. You do not have to crawl, on your knees, across the desert.  You only have to let the soft animal of your body Love what it loves.”  That kind of change.
         That kind of change, like the Occupy movement, requires faith.  It means understanding that loving what we love, acting from and on what is authentic in us, we may never know how we have changed the world.  Mostly, changing oneself, opening to what is genuinely and uniquely us – to the darkness as well as the sunny side – gives permission to those around us to make their own changes, live with their own authenticity.  And that’s a pretty good payoff.
         I think of this a lot as I approach my 60th birthday – in a bit over a month.  I can’t deny that I view this birthday as the beginning of the last stage of my life.  But, more and more, as I move toward this day and consider the ways I want to honor and celebrate it, I notice “what if” thoughts.  They leap around in my head as if they’d been suddenly freed from cages.  And the animal of my body responds to these “what if” thoughts with energy and juiciness.
         What if this could be the most freeing, satisfying, and fully lived part of my life? 
         What if I let go of worrying about failure, or punishment, or rejection and did what I feel to anyway?
         What if the best things about me are the earthy, audacious, loud, sensual, and humorous things?
         What if I just listened to my body and what it wants instead of trying to convince it it’s wrong?
         I don’t yet know what I will DO with or about all of this, but I know that this is changing, coming to appreciation of who I truly am.  Even in the last stage of life it seems there is faith in possibilities – which flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, the norm.  But as Frank Zappa said, Progress is not possible without deviation from the norm.”  I tried so hard, for so many years, to live according to the norm.  After all those years I’m coming to accept myself – particularly now in the last stage – as I am – not as people want me to be, so they can feel more comfortable. 
         Changing the world begins in changing oneself – and I’m OK with that.  Better than OK really.  Even though it is inconvenient and uncomfortable, we must do it.  At least I must – I need to continue, even in the last stage of life, to ponder the “what if” questions.  I need to live those questions, holding them lightly – not as requirements for being an elder woman but for the opportunities they present to live fully – no matter what stage of life I’m in.