Only by taking a step,
And then another,
And then another toward
The edge of My World
I discover that
My world isn’t flat after all
Only by taking a step,
And then another,
And then another toward
The edge of My World
I discover that
My world isn’t flat after all
I write these words
mostly in my head because
they’d be too loaded
to have brazenly displayed
on my computer
or on my calendar.
our feelings are
communicated, even though
So I’ll just keep writing
what I feel
in my head to
keep me safe
(written some time in the early 1990s)
I am at a complete loss tonight. Of all the things I could have heard this morning, I was not prepared to hear that Chris Cornell died. I’ve been in a tailspin since 5:15 this morning, with virtually no time or space to process this news and grieve.
If you follow any of my socnets, you may notice a Chris Cornell influence. My Tumblr references “Drawing Flies” and I may still have “Searching For The Good With My Good Eye Closed” as a tag line in a few places.
To appreciate the gift of Chris Cornell’s words, and the power of Soundgarden’s music, it isn’t necessary to have been in the Pacific Northwest 30 years ago, as some incredibly powerful and innovative music was gestating in clubs along I-5. If Louder Than Love or Badmotorfinger made you sit up and take notice, then you knew early enough what an influence Soundgarden would have.
Portland was fertile ground for many of these bands that had formed a few hours north, in Seattle: Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Green River, Alice In Chains, and many others. For those of us who are contemporaries with these artists, who came of age with them and supported them in those early years, in small, steamy clubs with sticky, beer-soaked and blood-splattered floors (those mosh pits tho), they are we and we are they.
Andrew, Kurt, Layne, and, now, Chris. Losing them hurts like hell.
Many people are posting many Soundgarden/Audioslave/Chris Cornell videos today. I’m choosing a live version of “Seasons” which has been playing in my head all day long. It is one of the most perfectly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and I like this live version because it shows Chris’ humor. Even if I can’t cry yet, he at least got me to smile one more time.
I was going through a box yesterday evening when I came across a stack of old journals, many had been started, then stopped.
One in particular has a few entries beginning right after my mother’s death, as I began processing that and everything that came at me in the months that followed. I wasn’t consistent with the entries: some are a couple of days apart and then there is a gap of several months. Some entries are letters that I wrote to Mom.
It isn’t easy to read those old entries, yet in re-reading them I see that I handled her suicide really well. I was very aware of what I was feeling and very tuned in to those who were helpful and those who were full of shit.
From 22 December, 1991: “I remember right after Mom died people were saying that they hoped one day I could forgive her for what she had done. And I couldn’t understand that because I wasn’t ready to be mad at her yet.
“Of course, time has changed all that. I was at my angriest last month when I was trying to finish up on the house.
“I’m still angry, but now I’m more lonely and scared. And no amount of love and support from friends and relatives can fix that.”
There was the trip I took with some friends a year later, when we visited San Francisco. The ticket for Alcatraz and receipts from various shops and restaurants are pressed between the pages.
I also was trying to document random things about Mom so I wouldn’t forget (how she drank her coffee and the way we would sit on the couch with the dogs and read or watch TV). Three and a half years later, after my Grandpa died, I wrote more random things about him that I didn’t want to forget.
That journal stopped after I wrote only about 1/4 of the way through it. Usually when I find partially-filled journals, I press them back into service and finish writing in them, but for this one, I think I’ll just let it end where it stopped.
My temperament has been a little on the fragile side the last couple of weeks. And yesterday, as I looked at a calendar, I realized why.
I have officially lived half of my life without my mother.
From this day forward, I will have lived more of my life without my mom than with her. That sentence feels pretty weird.
I can’t really say that surviving mom’s suicide has gotten easier over the years. It’s more like the sharp edges of the grief and pain and anger have dulled with time, as flowing water smooths out a stone. I haven’t dwelled in grief for many years, yet there are times when it just sort of pops up and stops me in my tracks. And, in that 15-day gap between my birthday and the anniversary of the day that my life changed forever, I tend to feel overwhelmed a little more often and my patience is razor-thin and I need quiet alone time even more than I usually do.
And so today is one of those days that I am aware that I need to pause and take a breath.
Because I am the one who is still breathing.
And so I begin another trip around the sun.
I’m a different Me this year. Or, rather, I’m more ME now than I have been in a very long time.
Over the past year I’ve made an assessment of my life and have been sorting what I’m bringing with me—and what I’m leaving behind—in the year ahead.
I’ve done some Spring Cleaning in my apartment: a first pass of the bookshelves and donated four boxes of books and carrying piles of magazines to the recycle bin. I’ve also been working on some Spring Cleaning of old beliefs and habits that are harmful…though releasing some of those beliefs and habits is not quite as easy as putting books in boxes and driving them off. Sometimes it requires driving the habit away several times before it stays away for good.
The year ahead guarantees challenge and change. Victories and setbacks. And learning. All the learning. I know that I’ll come to know myself even more deeply, and that many of my relationships will strengthen (and that some may dissolve entirely). I begin this year with a list of behaviors that I will no longer tolerate, just to keep peace. In turn, that allows me to begin this year with my feet firmly on the ground, and an open heart.
I’m sick again! I thought my suddenly stuffy sinuses meant that my allergies might be taking off, given the pleasant weather we've had this week, following two or three solid months of rain (POLLENPALOOZZA). Alas, as the afternoon wore on yesterday, I was ticking all the boxes for Cold (allergy attack generally means stuffy and itchy; cold means stuffy and body-achy). The only box I didn't tick was the sudden intense craving for tomato sauce or salsa: that seems to have been replaced with the craving for Thai curry.
Admittedly, this is an improvement over last year, when I caught the Death Flu, missed several days of work and then had to cancel my birthday vacation to make up for the sick leave. At least with this cold I'm somewhat functional, despite snot-induced sleep apnea preventing me from getting much rest overnight. (On the plus side, I don't really need to wear my night guard, since mouth breathing keeps me from grinding my jaws.)
Since I've got stuff to do this weekend (ex. Charlie and Clancy have now decided that they hate the "yellow" can food and prefer "blue" can, so I need to exchange cat food), I'll be packing the hand sanitizer and limiting my interactions as much as possible. (EDIT) As much as I looked forward to attending the viewing party with my fellow Alamedans, I’m grateful that today’s PeoplePower.org Action Event livestream will be available to watch from Casa de los Gatos Locos, so I don’t have to worry about infecting other people (or grossing them out). This is a really important event, so I’m grateful I’ll get to attend without leaving home.
The theme for today: tea, tissues and leftover Thai food.
So, a while back, I published The Year That Was 2016: Part One. That would indicate that there would, at least, be a Part Two, right? So, a few weeks later, here we go.
I’ve determined that 2016’s raison d’être was to help us figure out what we are made of. Because 2017 and beyond will demand that we have a clear idea of who we are and what we will and will not accept and we are going to have to defend these boundaries with every part of our being. For me to get to that, though, required taking that first step back to figuring out who I am and what I’m made of.
By the end of 2015 I was unrecognizable. I had made one significant accomplishment that year, something that neither my mother, nor her mother had achieved: I turned 50. And…now what?
In an earlier version of this post, I spent at least a thousand words describing how sick I had become, without even realizing I was sick. How disconnected from my life I was. How badly I needed to disconnect from the outside world by the time Friday afternoon rolled around (well, I needed that by the time Monday lunchtime rolled around, truth be told). What it comes down to, though, is a concept from Julia Cameron’s book, Transitions:
I had abandoned myself.
I know exactly when and how it began. And, by the end of 2015, it was literally killing me. I was in constant pain, emotionally and physically. Outwardly, I was living an active, “healthy” life: I was riding my bicycle between home and the ferry terminal, I walked from the Ferry Building to my office next to the Dragon’s Gate entrance to Chinatown in San Francisco. I had been vegetarian for about 18 months.
But years of stress had left my system in constant fight-or-flight mode, which was made worse with the onset of perimenopause. Heel and knee pain made walking and cycling extremely painful, and, psychologically, I could no longer have the television on or even listen to music in my free time, because I couldn’t stand to hear human voices after the work week.
I put off seeing a doctor about the heel and knee issues because the doctor I had been seeing could never resist the urge to fat-shame me. I could have walked into her office with a sword sticking out of my ribs and she’d tell me I’d be just fine, if I’d just lose 80 pounds. I had received notification that she had moved on, and I had been in pain for a year, so I decided to give the new doctor Kaiser assigned to me a try.
He listened to my issue with the heel, and to the sounds my knee makes when it flexes (a sort of mash-up of bubble wrap popping and a paper bag being wadded up). He printed out stretching exercises from the physical therapy section of the website, to alleviate the heel and knee issues. He did not mention my weight at all.
Stretching the heel and my quadriceps (to help the knee) led me to try yoga again. (I had started a semi-regular practice in the summer of 2014, but stopped when Simon got sick and I put every spare ounce of energy I had into his care for the last few months we had together. I did not go back to yoga after he died, though hindsight indicates it would have helped me deal with the grief that consumed me.)
I began a home yoga practice, piecing together sequences I found in Yoga Journal, and after a couple of weeks, I thought I might like to try yoga classes.
Classes? With PEOPLE? ARE YOU STUPID? Every time I thought about it, my brain invented all kinds of reasons not to try classes. You’re too fat to do yoga in public! You don’t know the names of all the poses! You’ll fall over all the time! Yet it felt like something I needed.
I looked at yoga studios in Alameda. Most of them looked nice, but when I saw the page for Leela Yoga, I saw photos of people who had bodies that looked like my body. So there went the “you’re too fat” argument, because people with my shape are doing yoga. And they look happy! The studio held a Yoga 101 workshop the following weekend, led by Beth, the lovely and amazing owner of Leela. Thanks to Beth’s lighthearted and welcoming approach to yoga, not only did I learn the names of the ubiquitous yoga poses, I learned that it’s totally all right to fall over! (Even experienced yogis fall over.) Now, instead of hearing all of the negative feedback and fear in my brain, I was hearing a message that maybe I had found a safe place. A sanctuary, that wasn’t my apartment. And Beth not only led a wonderful workshop, she stayed after and went over the class schedules with us, pointing out classes that were best suited to our needs (for me that was, slow pace and not crowded*).
I began adding Tuesday night Gentle Yoga classes to my schedule. I was finding all of the kinks that I needed to work out, physically and emotionally, but I was in a safe space to explore these issues, surrounded by supportive and intelligent people. It was in Gentle Yoga class that I found the strength to do the impossible!
Healing was taking place, but by early summer I had healed just enough to realize how sick I had been. I knew I still needed to make some major changes to my life, but still felt stuck and terrified of jumping into the unknown. I attended a couple of workshops led by Nicole Smith Levay and signed up to explore life coaching with her.
For the last half of 2016 I worked with Nicole, unwinding decades of negative messaging, helping to find my voice again, and envisioning, describing, and committing to a life that I actually want to live. A life that I don’t need a vacation from or want to retire from. And there were parts of that life vision that I began living in immediately (writing and restarting my blog being one of those things), not just dreaming of living it “someday”. It was—-and continues to be-—a lot of hard work, as anything worthwhile is. But, with Nicole’s steadying guidance, and the physical and emotional awareness that I had picked up from my yoga practice, I had finally reconnected with my life and all of its potential.
Which set me up well for what happened on 8 November. As the full horror of the election result dawned, I realized that my part to play in saving my country, in saving our democracy, made my life vision a hell of a lot bigger than I had originally penciled out. A new life began taking shape during the last six weeks of 2016. The plans I began making are exciting and terrifying, but I have created such a solid foundation in faith and strength that I know that I can handle anything that 2017 throws at me.
So, in my Tuesday night Gentle Yoga class (oh, hey, I’m taking yoga classes, that’s a new thing in 2016!), just after the Orlando nightclub shootings, our instructor asked us what we needed from class that night. We were all feeling frazzled and fragile and were pretty unanimous in our need for peace and grounding. With that information, class began.
We went though a series of breathing exercises and our usual Sun Salutations (though more gently and deliberately-paced this time, less “flowy”). I was feeling my Om and pleased with myself that, for once, I didn’t get lost in the Sun Salutations and end up off-pace from the rest of the class. I felt grounded and peaceful.
And then our instructor asked a question.
“Who here as done handstands before?”
I don’t recall a single hand raising.
Next thing I know, the class is lining up against the wall, preparing to do Downward-Facing Dog poses, with our butts facing the wall. “The strength that you use for your Downward Dog pose is really all the strength you’re going to need for the way we’ll do a handstand,” our instructor informed us.
Well okay then!
So here we were, down dogging at the wall, then comes the instruction to walk our feet up the wall until…TA-DA! HANDSTAND!*
My Afraid Brain: OMGWTFBBQSUPERCALAFRAGILISTICNOPENOPENOPE
I have a pretty good handle on Downward Dog (I would figure out in future weeks that I needed some minor tweaks in form, but the fundamentals were there). But I have NEVER had upper body strength and I have NEVER had core strength, certainly never enough of either to support my big body!
Still, I was making so much progress in my practice, I owed it to myself to at least make a go of it. So I got myself back into Downward Dog, then tried to push my left foot up the wall, only to feel it slide along the wall…NOPE. I tried pushing up the right foot instead…NOPENOPENOPE.
My Afraid Brain: FOOLISH WEAKLING! WHAT PART OF NOPE DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND? IF YOU DO THIS I GUARANTEE YOU WILL CRASH AND BREAK YOUR NECK OR TURN ME TO MUSH! AND THEN WHO WILL FEED YOUR CATS? HUH? WHO?
I knelt in front of the wall, nearly defeated. After a minute or so, I got up and walked across the studio, leaving the cold wood floor for the sanctuary of my mat. I knelt on my mat and took a few sips from my water bottle, fighting back tears of…lots of stuff. Fear, frustration, anger, betrayal that after I had specifically asked for peace and grounding, we were being led into something that unleashed complete chaos in my brain. And now I was about to be a total FAILURE at yoga** and how in the hell can someone FAIL at yoga? THAT IS SO NOT THE POINT OF YOGA THAT’S WHAT EVERYONE KEPT TELLING ME.
My Afraid Brain: HOW ABOUT CHILD’S POSE AND YOU CRY INTO YOUR MAT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS? YOU CAN HANDLE THAT, SINCE YOU DON’T NEED ARM STRENGTH TO KEEL OVER AND CRY. **
I took another few sips of my water, and then scooted my mat back against the wall. I knelt with my back to the wall and then pushed myself into another Downward Dog. I held the pose for a few breaths.
One more long, deep breath. One more long exhale…
My Afraid Brain: DON’T. YOU. DARE…
And then I pushed my left foot up the wall, and my right foot followed. I did a fucking handstand!
AND I DIDN’T DIE
Me: SUCK IT, AFRAID BRAIN!
We finished the class in Savasana and chanted our final Oms before rolling up our mats and putting away our props. As I was packing up my mat and getting ready to leave, my instructor came over to me and asked me if I was all right.
“I’m okay,” I said. “It’s just…this went WAY out of my comfort zone, tonight. I have never had upper body strength or core strength to do a handstand.”
“But you do!” My instructor quickly responded.
“Well, I know that, NOW!”
We said our good-nights and I rode my bicycle home. I may have been feeling a bit invincible, since not even a stiff breeze off the bay was slowing my roll.
Home again, I stowed my mat and looked around my apartment. I found one tiny bit of wall space in my bedroom suitable for handstands, so I did another handstand.
Wall-supported handstands are now a staple of my practice, like Warrior II, Pigeon Pose, balance poses, and Downward Dog. I do a handstand almost every day. My goal is to hold them for 20 regular, even breaths every time. Some days, though, the handstand feels finished after 12 or 15 breaths, and there have been a couple of days that I have felt so wiped out that I gave myself a pass for the day, rather than risk injury. Yoga is, after all, about noticing what is going on with my body and honoring what my body needs (or needs not).
Like the rest of my practice, the lessons from my handstand stay with me off of the mat. When I am faced with a situation that seems difficult–even impossible–I remember that I do every day the thing that I was convinced I would never, ever be able to do.
Sure I may go up and come right back down from my handstand, or I might make a mistake or two during my day, or I might not pass an exam, or have some other undesired outcome on a project.
But the only way that I can fail is to not show up at all.
And when I do show up, I might just amaze myself by doing another Impossible Thing.
*Not to be confused with Tadasana, which is, basically, what I call Power Standing (a.k.a. Mountain Pose) and is done on your feet, not on your hands.
**This was all manufactured in my brain, not anything at all what my amazing instructor and beautiful classmates were saying.
***My Afraid Brain is a real asshole, sometimes.
I turned off my old “word blog” ages ago.
Right about the time I realized that people related to my day job were Googling me and I…panicked. Although I kept the photoblog going (mostly), I stopped writing, except for my own paper journals. I locked down most of my social network profiles as tightly as possible, and I collapsed into myself, making myself as compact–invisible to anyone not approved by me–as I could. Still, whenever I noticed that someone related to work had searched on my name, I felt sick, even though most of what anyone could find was cat pictures.
And then I went into a years-long deep funk because I had lost my identity. I mean, I had pretty much lost my own goddamn name because it became a signature at the bottom of letters sent to people, some of whom weren’t happy with what I had to tell them. I understood why everyone in a customer service type role was named “Ms. Jones” or “Mr. Smith”: my name no longer had anything to do with who I am, only what I do to earn a paycheck. (Even now, the voices are screaming OMG DON’T BLOG ABOUT WORK DON’T BLOG ABOUT WORK!!!) For several years I bounced around off of the walls of anger, depression, confusion, and grief. Anger. Depression. Confusion. Grief. ANGERDEPRESSIONCONFUSIONGRIEF. Bouncing from one to the other to the other, it was impossible to find an opening, or any light at all, to lead me out of that trap.
How I found my way out of that awful trap and back to this place is a subject for another post (well, several posts, probably). I’m here now, taking a leap of faith. I’m finding my voice again. I’m writing again because there are so many things that interest me, that I want to explore and talk about.
I am writing again because it is so fundamental to who I am. I am here now to take back my name and my identity. To speak my truth.
I laugh (often at myself).
I ride my bicycle.
I create art.
I tilt way to the left, politically.
(Sometimes I tilt way to the left or the right, physically, if I forget my allergy meds and end up with a nasty case of vertigo.)
I am here, 51 years and counting, because I have a wicked great sense of humor.
I am a photographer.
I am a Cat Mom.
I am a practicing yogi.
I am curious.
I am passionate.
I am compassionate.
I am a slightly goofball, middle age woman with the vocabulary of a well-educated sailor.
I am a lioness, born under an Aries Sun and Scorpio Moon.
I am independent.
I am bright.
I am highly spiritual.
I am a warrior.
And I am BACK, my friends!