The Disappointing Lingerie Delivery

So there’s this bag. It arrived, stuffed in my mailbox. Hm. I’m not expecting a package. 

Disappointing lingerie

Upon removing it from my mailbox I glimpsed at the sender.

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All I needed was a glimpse, and I knew I was opening that fucker. Matter of fact, it was the first thing I did right after setting my son up with his iPad.

I tried moderately hard NOT to look at who it was addressed to. That way, if I opened it, and it wasn’t for me, I could legitimately feign ignorance and upon returning it, could honestly claim that I thought it was mine. I carefully bypassed looking at the addressee by turning the bag away while opening it. But then, in my strain from ripping the thick, rubbery package, I got a glimpse of an address that was veerry close to mine, but maybe… not mine? I blurred my eyes and kept ripping.

I did the same thing a week ago after I SWORE I sent the last pleading, begging (ultimately unresponded to) text message to my first, emotion-based, post-divorce breakup. You see, in the previous 9 months, I hadn’t memorized his entire phone number. I called him up only by his first name in my contacts. I just barely knew the first 6 numbers. So I knew that if I could delete his number without ACTUALLY seeing the last 4 digits, then all temptation would be removed to further send my dignity into a downward spiral by continuing to text a dead horse.

My fingers dialed up the contact. I trembled a little. I knew that if I caught one half of a peak at those last 4 digits, they would be seared into my frontal cortex like a branding iron on a Japanese Wagyu beef’s ass, and I would immediately, irrevocably send my self-control on a one way cruise to the Antarctic. It was 1st world life or death, people.

I paused. Took a breath. Called up the contact. Quickly found the menu for delete. And… done. But not before I packed my parka because that evil little gnome inside my head, the one with his thumbs inside the straps of his overalls and one cocked eyebrow, that fucker MADE me look at that number. Can a girl catch a break? Sweet African American Baby Jesus. 

Then, like the insane, emotionally unstable, crazy woman I had morphed into over the last few weeks, I immediately started saying random numbers in my head trying to trick myself into NOT knowing what I already, CLEARLY, knew. Six! Nine! Four-Six, Four-SIX! NO! DAMN IT it’s four-eight. It was an exercise more futile than a toddler’s red-faced fit over the last broken cookie.

But I was strong, for a little while before I texted him again and went skeet shooting with my pride. Don’t judge. Pull!

So anyway, this bag came. And it said lingerie. And my curious, impulsive, devoid of self-control self, ripped it open to find a sad, poignant metaphor on my life.

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You’re kidding me right now, right? No split-crotch lacy thong? No dangly tassel pleather-studded bra? No polyester banana-hammock with elephant ears?

A hoodie? Really, life? That’s whatcha got?

And not even a nice hoodie – a cheap, ugly, scratchy man-hoodie. Or maaaybe teenage-boy-hoodie that matches his private school uniform requirements. Fuck.

So now I sit here, with this possible man (probably private-school-boy’s) hoodie and I have to give it back… to someone. After I already opened it. With LINGERIE beaming off it in neon. Which might actually be a federal offense.

So my next thought is: A. Do I drive the street over and hand-deliver this disappointment? Or do I simply wait the 1, 2, 3, 4 weeks before I casually catch the mailman outside my driveway and saunter over with a, “Oh, hey. This was delivered by mistake and I accidentally opened it.” Because I did, you know, accidentally.

And suddenly, I feel the real possibility that I created a problem where there wasn’t one. Shit. Another metaphor.

Oh, no. I do not regret opening that bag. I’m 99.9% certain I’d do it every.single.time a package showed up on my doorstep with the words LINGERIE emblazoned on it in hi-def. You could set your watch to that fact.

And really, if I’m honest, the problem I created… to me… is sorta funny. And stupid. And ironic. And inspired. And I wrote this. And I can’t pretend that I care what the mailman or the neighbor really thinks, anyway. I’ve fought too many wars to give a shit about that kerfluffle. And so I should just stop procrastinating. And creating unnecessary problems. And playing little mind games. And do what I know I need to do. And write this fucking book.

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Practice Does Not Make Perfect

The kids’ toys have invaded every room of my house and it’s making me little crazy. Right now, there are three rooms in desperate need of painting, a brigade of dandelions invading my garden, and stacks of papers that have built up over a dreary, rainy season. I sigh heavily each time I look at them. For the last week I have been slightly obsessed with getting my home organized. Call it Spring cleaning, or whatever, but it has suddenly become of paramount importance that each these issues be rectified and a semblance of order restored to my living space before I can think of doing anything else.

In the last week I have been on a singular mission to create a playroom in a spare bedroom and reclaim my living room as “adult space.” I have made trips to IKEA, Target and Goodwill for donations. I have searched for more than an hour online for the just-so-perfect-paper-organizing-charging-station (which I have yet to find). If I’m being honest, I can think of hardly anything else until this project is complete. I know when I get so focused on one task that there is something larger, deeper at play, and this new zeal for cleaning and purging is no exception.

For four months I have been walking a razor’s edge. I’ve been balancing knives on a high wire and holding my breath 1000 feet under water. I’ve felt the heaviness of the unknown resting on my chest while dragging the past behind me strapped to my neck like a noose. It has been a long, hard winter for all the relationships in my life.

But today, like the tulips and daffodils that are pushing their yellow petals toward the sun from the previously frozen ground (a miracle each time) there has been a transition toward the light in my own life. Some friends have emerged as life preservers. Some family relations have been clarified, deconstructed, ready to build anew, perhaps in a healthier way. Most importantly, my marriage has shifted onto more solid ground and it too is rebuilding with a stronger foundation than ever before. At this moment everything feels like a miracle, from the flowers to my faith.

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt this assured about the future and my sole motivation to organize my home is my way of trying to hold onto that feeling; gain control of it, slap a fresh coat of paint on it and force it to stick around for a while. I believe this much is true.

I have learned a great deal about myself and relationships in the past four months by means of therapy, reading and introspection. In the midst of it, I have swung from one side of the sanity pendulum to the other, sometimes in the very same day. I know more about who I am, a knowledge that came at a high price. I have confronted my anger, my anxiety, my ideas about marriage and family, motherhood and faith. My convictions have never been stronger or more flexible and neither has my body as a direct result of deepening my yoga practice. All of these are good things that have helped me grow, and yet, my compulsions remain.

life is a practiceThis is the lesson standing out to me on this clear, crisp Spring day–that like my yoga practice, life is never mastered. Life is a continuing practice because there is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is an illusion we portray to keep the deeper, larger things at arm’s length; to avoid eye-contact with the ugliness and unexpectedness that lays on the periphery of every thing we hold close.

As deep as my tendencies for obsessions and compulsions run, somewhere else deep, lies the knowledge that there is no promise of ever getting it right, of having it all, of writing the perfect blog post, bending into the epitomous expression of downward dog or even another clear, crisp Spring day.

Even though I want to finish this post so that I can paint trim, I will remind myself in the midst of it that there is no such thing as the just-so-perfect-paper-organizing-charging-station (believed me, I’ve looked) or seemless, knick-free walls that do not hold with them the immediate threat of a toddler’s permanent marker adornments… or relationships without the promise of future disappointments.

My recent quest to organize my house is about me, once again, fighting this reality. In the light of this more hopeful, brighter place in my life, I am already starting to fear of the unknown, the chaotic, the foreboding season I just left, one that I know will come again because… such is life. My need to categorize my papers is me trying to hold onto something instead of slipping into the flow of life, of letting everything be “perfect” the way it is and trusting that everything is already as it should be… a miracle.

But the good news is that life is a practice, and part of that practice is reminding myself again and again that there is no such thing as the perfectly organized playroom and clutterless countertops. They do not exist.

If I have learned anything over the last four months, it is that life is unpredictable and precarious and the only thing we have is the present moment, whatever that beautiful mess might be, and miraculously that it is always enough. I know now that there is no such things as the perfect marriage, the perfect mother, the perfect life… that we are all just practicing at doing our best each day. Something we should learn to be more forgiving with, for, to, of.

I have changed the way I think about these things, and that new thought takes practice too. Instead of saying I am a writer, I say, I practice writing; same goes for yoga. I also practice being wife, a mother and a daughter. I practice patience and gratitude and staying present. Always practicing, never perfecting because I have also learned you can never master anything in life. (Much to my love-of-lists-and-checked-boxes dismay.)

But perhaps with diligence of effort, commitment to the cause, and a willingness to be vulnerable and take risks, I’ll get better at all of them? Maybe?

I don’t believe happiness, serenity and forgiveness comes naturally for anyone. Life is difficult and testing for even the most enlightened and faithful among us. But I believe the more we commit to practicing gratitude, being present, forgiving and loving thy neighbor, the less harsh the winters may seem.

My tendencies are for control and perfection and certainty, but today, on this rainy, shiny, Spring-filled day, with its Chartreuse leaves twisting in the wind and bright tulips unfurling to the sunshine, I know that practice does not make perfect, but I am CERTAIN it will make good enough.

Because there is no such thing as a garden without weeds, relationships without falter, children without messes… and would we ever want it any other way?

How the Life of Pi Changed My Life

*Spoiler Alert for those who have not yet seen the movie, The Life of Pi.

Last Saturday was a tough day. It rained. Hard. I fought. Harder. I cried. Hardest.

I replied to a text sent by one of my best friend’s asking me how I was doing. I told her the truth. I wrote that I’d just spent three hours lying on the floor like an infant begging for God’s grace and that now I was going to a movie by myself for sweet mercy.

I haven’t been eating lately. After those emotionally draining hours, I was suddenly starved. I felt like a wet rag; limp, red-eyed, tear-soaked and heavy with pain. All I wanted was something light and soothing to fill my empty stomach. Something soft; and kind and easy in my senses. There’s a popular Chinese restaurant next to the movie theater that serves these amazing dumplings and steamed buns. There’s a window right in front where you can watch a staff of Asian men dressed in white prepare these delicate morsels.The wait is always over an hour, but I thought if I hung out in the bar, I’d snag a lone seat and be out in time for my movie which started in an hour. I waited awhile. I was going to miss my movie if I waited any longer, so I left and found the first place that could serve me warm food, quickly and allow me to be done in time to see my movie.

I was not supposed to see The Life of Pi on this night. I was supposed to see The Life of Pi last weekend, but as I approached the ticket counter two weeks ago I changed my mind at the very last second (for I don’t know what reason) and saw Silver Linings Playbook instead. SLP was a great movie, and just what I needed that night. But last Saturday, I was definitely going to see The Life of Pi.

I read the bestselling book by Yann Martel many years ago. I remembered the premise. I remembered being impressed by the ending, but I wasn’t ecstatic overall. I wasn’t ready for all the layers of meaning and messages about God when I was 25. But now, I was more than ready.

I ended up at an Indian restaurant eating a creamy, soothing  Tikki Masala with a slight hint of curry and a side of warm garlic naan. I sat at the bar staring in a daze. My eye happened upon a lotus flower. I’d been thinking of lotus flowers lately and this reminded me, once again, that I must call my friend, the wise yoga teacher who wears a lotus flower around her neck, so that she could explain to me the meaning.

I ate in a hurry and literally ran to the theater. The only seats left were the seats way up front, or the single seats in between couples. I didn’t want to crane my neck at a 3-D movie so I sat in between strangers. How fitting, I thought. I’d spent the day feeling so lonely I might as well sit in this theater surrounded by couples with nowhere to lean.

Soon after the movie started there was a scene of the writer and the adult version of the protagonist, Pi, beginning to tell the story over a lunch of curry and naan bread. I was still tasting the warmth of my Indian dish on my lips and this made me smile. Not only was the movie adapted to be about a writer trying to capture a story, but they were eating what I still tasted. I settled into the thought; that I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment. I’m sure this was a result of my emotions being raw as white bone because I was ready to receive whatever was coming to me.

The year, God has been trying to teach me to surrender. I know this. Just look over the body of work here and it is clear how I keep coming back to one simple theme… letting go. My trip to Nicaragua was a pinnacle of this message, and while I was there a month ago, I picked up this postcard that now sits wedged on the edge of my bathroom mirror. It’s my daily reminder of what I know I must do.

shakti cards

Even though I am fully aware that this is the message Life/ God/ The Universe is trying to relay to me, I have not fully understood, until last Saturday night. I am finding that even when you understand a thing about life, it’s not the same things as knowing it.

The protagonist in The Life of Pi, is about an Indian boy and his journey in faith. As a child, and in present day as he’s relaying this story, he claims himself to be a Hindu, Muslim and Catholic. His parents each believed differently, his father, the eternal pragmatist, put his faith in science; his mother is a devout Hindu. Pi’s family owns a zoo in India that has fallen on hard times. They are now transporting all the zoo animals to North America on a Japanese shipping boat and Pi and his family are along for the ride toward a new life in Canada.

The writer whom the adult Pi is relaying the story to, does not believe in God. When the writer asks him how it is possible that he believes in so many different religions, Pi says, “Faith is a house with many rooms.”

The writer says, “Then there’s plenty of room for doubt.”

And the adult Pi says, “Yes, on every floor.”

This metaphor reminds me of a Halloween house party I went to in college. It was in one of the large, old, craftsman style houses. The kind that are more tall than wide. When you enter, it feels like a maze of small rooms and corridors. There were so many rooms that it was hard to figure out where you wanted to be. To add to the confusion, everyone was in costume. In the basement there was a loud DJ playing techno music. In the kitchen, a bunch of fraternity boys holding cups around a keg. In another room, dread-locks sticking out of knit caps surrounding a hookah. I found some rooms that seemed empty, but in the darkness I heard moans. There where rooms where the only girls congregated and still others that were merely functional and of course there’s always that one guy in the corner playing acoustic guitar. Even the front porch had its own feel packed with the claustrophobic and smokers. This is how I view faith, as one big party.

In my life, Jesus invited me to this house party for the purpose of introducing me to God. Of course, God and I, we hit it off smashingly. To this day, I can sit for hours talking to God, just him and me. But sometimes, I must admit, when the music is too loud I can’t quite hear what he’s saying. There are often miscommunications.  It’s just like when you’re at a loud party and someone is smiling at you while talking, but you have no clue what they are saying so you just nod your head and smile back.

Sometimes God is saying, “We need to leave, the house is on fire!” And I’d sit there with a big smile on my face nodding like I know exactly what’s happening. Then I smell smoke and all the sudden I’m really interested in knowing what God is saying to me. That’s usually when Jesus steps in to translate over the noise. When I finally understand what God was trying to tell me via Jesus, I look to God for confirmation. He always gives me this knowing nod. I do as he asked and then ask for forgiveness for not listening the first time. Of course, God always forgives. He’s a gracious host.

I often stay in the room where Jesus is the DJ because he plays some sweet beats that I really love. But sometimes, I’m not in the mood for those tunes. Sometimes I want to chill out with some Bob Marley or I need to talk to my best girlfriends and I have found peace and happiness and wisdom in those rooms as well, because God, he loves Rastafarians, too… and frat boys, and claustrophobics and even the dark, empty rooms where no one seems to be. So I call myself a Christian. I certainly believe in God and I believe in Jesus. I do not, however, believe that Jesus is the only way to meet God.

In the movie, little boy Pi comes upon a priest and the priest explains that Christ is God’s only son and God loved the world that he allowed his only son to suffer so that we might understand God’s love for us. Little boy Pi questions this fact. It doesn’t make sense to him. Frankly, for a long time it didn’t make sense to me either. Like little boy Pi, that logic didn’t sound very good to my little girl self.

The Japanese ship wrecks and Pi is the only survivor stranded on a life boat with a zebra, a orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal Tiger. From here, everything is a profound metaphor for life and our relationship to ourselves, adversity, and God.

Soon, it is just Pi and the Tiger on the life boat. All the others suffered and were killed and eaten by one another in fear and hunger. Pi is a vegetarian so he did not eat these animals. The tiger, whose name is Richard Parker, did.

It is clear to me that Richard Parker is a representation of Pi’s ego and/or adversity. He must now face down this force in order to survive. The entire journey is a test of his faith in God.

His situation seems insurmountable at first. The tiger is fierce, relentless, wild, veracious and a strong carnivore that can easily over-power a skinny, vegetarian, Indian boy. Pi works hard and builds a raft outside the life boat to put distance between himself and Richard Parker. He obtains some supplies and a booklet on survival from the life boat’s hull. The booklet is a metaphor for any sacred text, such as the Bible. He uses the information in this booklet not only to survive, but to devise a plan to outsmart the tiger by making him sea sick. When the tiger stumbles and gets weary, Pi tries to over power the tiger with aggressive behavior. The result of this has only angered the tiger more. Pi realizes that this strategy does not work; that adding anger to anger does not produce the desired result. He realizes that the booklet, although it has much practical information that ultimately contributes to his survival, does not contain precise instructions for exactly what to do when you’re trapped on a life boat in the middle of the Pacific with a hungry Bengal Tiger.

Pi then decides to win Richard Parker over by giving him what he craves most, food. Pi reasons that if he gives Richard Parker food, the tiger will see no need to eat him. Pi is unable to keep up with the demands of a tiger’s appetite and soon, the tiger gets greedy. Not only does he want Pi’s portion of the food, but he wants Pi. The tiger jumps into the water to catch his own fish and comes after Pi on his raft. It doesn’t matter that Pi has fed him, he doesn’t discern Pi’s generosity from his need to survive. Pi then climbs onto the boat and the tiger is left clinging to the side unable to get himself over the edge and back into the boat. Pi learns that you cannot stand up to adversity by being 100% passive and submissive.

Now, Pi could be rid of the tiger if he just lets Richard Parker get tired enough and drown. Pi would no longer have to battle this demon. But then Pi must watch this beautiful creature suffer, and in turn, Pi will suffer with the pain of watching him die. Richard Parker does not deserve to die, he is merely doing what tigers do. Pi realizes that if he allows the tiger to die, a part of him will die, too. Pi understands that sitting by and watching another living thing die just so you can survive, is not the answer, either. Pi works hard all day and prepares his raft with more supplies for survival and then helps Richard Parker back into the boat.

Pi finally comes to the conclusion that he must learn to tame Richard Parker. Not with aggression and hostility, but with love and respect. Respect for the tiger, and respect for himself. He uses fish and a stick. He pokes Richard Parker and yells at him when he over-steps his bounds, but still feeds him and allows him space on the boat. He creates boundaries using love and respect. This works.

When you think his problems are solved, at least in terms of the tiger, a whale breeches next to the boat and all his vital supplies are lost. Pi reaches a point of hopelessness. He has no food, no water, no supplies and is still living with a hungry Bengal Tiger on a life boat in the Pacific Ocean. He says, “Okay God, I surrender. I just want to know what’s next.”

Of course, the surrender part is correct, but we can never know God’s plan. We will never know, “what’s next.” It is not a matter of Pi just accepting God as a powerful force and the determiner of his fate. Now he must know the meaning of letting go of fear and expectations.

Just as Pi and Richard Parker are both at a pinnacle of suffering, they wake up on the shores of a magical floating island. It is inhabited by edible roots, Mere Cats and pools of fresh water. Both Pi and Richard Parker have all they need to live. One night, Pi finds a human tooth inside a flower that resembles a lotus flower. As he becomes fully aware of his surroundings, he realizes that the island is carnivorous. Sure, the island would give him and Richard Parker everything they would need to survive, but it would also eat them. This island is a metaphor for the many ways in which we ignore and numb our lives; the panaceas such as drugs, alcohol, sex, food, gambling, you name it. They will let us live comfortable, we can manage our hunger and pain, but they will kill us.

Pi realizes he must leave the island, or die. He works hard and prepares his boat, yet again, and then sets off onto the ocean to face down his greatest fears again. This is Life.

Next, they are hit by another storm and all is truly lost. There is no hope. Pi says in the midst of the storm, “God, I surrendered, I have done everything, what do you want from me?” Then, Pi finally accepts his fate. He knows he is going to die, he is seemingly no longer afraid of the tiger because he sits and takes Richard Parker’s large head onto his lap stroking it in an act of compassion, camaraderie and pure love. He has given up the need to know what’s next.

Lastly, they wash up on the Mexican shore, barely alive. Richard Parker disappears into the jungle without looking back and Pi is taken to the hospital. When they ask him what happened to the ship and everyone in it, he tells them the story of him and Richard Parker the hungry Bengal Tiger.

Of course they do not believe him. Who would believe this fantastical story of carnivorous islands and surviving on a boat for so 247 days with a hungry, Bengal Tiger? They say he is lying and crazy so he tells them a different story. He tells them a story of tyranny, cannibalism and murder. This is the story they believe as truth.

So the question to us the audience becomes, do we believe in the God we cannot see that is filled with magic and light and signs and wonder?  A God that is around us always, speaking to us, warning us, loving us, wanting us to trust him without question? The same God that brought me to see this movie about an Indian boy in existential crisis, after spending three hours myself begging for grace and mercy, with serendipitous curry on my breath? Or do you believe in the God of tyranny, cannibalism and murder? I left that theater knowing exactly what I believe and what God had been trying to tell me. I also had an idea of what I was supposed to do next.

The very next day, while sitting in a room where I have placed much of my hopes for my future, my eyes filled with tears again. I stared off into the corner. My gaze landed on the back of a wooden chair. The design was lotus flower. I still didn’t know what that meant. I looked it up, because at this point, I am sure it is vitally important sign from God. This is what I found: Lotus flowers represent rebirth. They represent hope. The represent magic and possibility. They take three days to bloom up through muddy, murky waters and when they do, they are pristine, untouched and beautiful, still.

By the time I left that room something had changed.

Since the moment I was lying on the floor on Saturday in the fetal position while the heavens opened up around me, while I begged for grace and mercy, then was given signs that I must not only surrender to His will, but I must give up the very thing I was hoping to find on Friday afternoon… hope, something profoundly shifted inside me. Come Saturday night, I gave up that wish for hope. I realized that hope comes tethered to the idea that you know what you want. That you are holding out for some kind of solution to your situation that makes you happy and fulfilled. I realized that hope is a panacea.

God sat me in that theater with naan bread in my stomach with no direction to lean because he wanted me to lean on him, without hope, without questions, without expectations. But he clearly told me I must still work. I must still prepare. I must not give up doing the hard things, but I must give up the expectation that they will bring me closer to what I want because there is only one person who knows what I truly want… and it’s not me.

If I can surrender, truly surrender and live without fear or hope for what I want, he will lead to the shores of salvation and they will never be what I imagine them to be… they will be better.

On this night God brought me inside the room of two artists, Yann Martel and Ang Lee, so that they could show me what I could not hear through Jesus’s sweet melodies or the words inside my booklet on survival. This is why I want to be a writer; because I know that stories change the world.

I know that many will be tempted to tell me I’m wrong. Anytime I talk about God I get those emails. People will point to Bible verses that speak of this truth, and I will tell them that I have read those same verses. But MY truth is, those words did not speak to me the way this movie did. I am not naive to think that everyone will enjoy this film and get out of it the same things I did. I was meant to walk into that theater last Saturday night and I was meant to sit alone and see the world this way. It was perfect for me but others may not have the same experience and that is okay because art is a subjective thing… but so is religion.

Faith, however, is a house with many rooms and God is the only host.

Amen.

Now scroll back up and look at what the woman in the postcard is holding… and the miracles continue to abound.

The name of the Indian restaurant I went to was MokSHA. I went to their website to see if I could get a picture of the lotus flower that I saw while there. This is what the name means: MokSHA-A Sanskrit term used to describe the attaining of eternal bliss or “highest happiness” by the soul… it’s a magical world, people. 

I Do Not Want To Be A Lie

As much as I would like to be the kind of person who hears lines of poetry narrating their day-to-day life… I am not. I like poetry, I do.  I even write a rhyming poem for my Christmas card every year (although I hardly think that counts as “serious” poetry). As much as the self-proclaimed “serious” writer in me crumples in shame, I must admit that there is a lot of poetry that I simply do not understand.

I heard a saying once that goes something like this: a failed poet is a short story writer, and a failed short story writer is a novelist. In other words, the sentiments and potentiality for beauty and Truth in the art form of the written word is most distilled, potent, and most difficult to achieve in its most succinct form… a poem. Poetry is difficult to do well because it requires a mastery of language, imagery, and a penetrating sense of the world. It is why the great poets are pure genius. Perhaps this is also the reason I do not understand most of it?

But there are some poems, that when I run across them, feel like I’m looking at someone else’s heart on a page. And although it’s someone else’s heart, they have shown me mine as well. It’s the same with a song. Whenever I am moved to tears by music, inevitably, I will think of an off-handed line spoken by Vince Vaughn’s character in Ron Howard’s comedy The Dilemma. I’ve seen that movie only once. I can’t even tell you the plot, but I have never forgotten the simple truth in this line. Vaughn, in a spurt of nervous banter says,

“People say music is the highest art form. It can go the furthest, the fastest, emotionally.”

What is great music but poetry with an accompaniment? Now I’m just musing on art form. Let’s reign this in. Everyone has recognized good art in their life. A moment of pure emotion brought on my the words, sights, sounds of another human being’s creative powers. Poetry, it all its precision and depth, is thought by many, to be at the top of these creative endeavors.

In middle school I memorized Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Raven, on my own and not as an assignment.  I was enamored by Poe and his dark, brooding rhythms. I loved the way that new word “Nevermore, Nevermore” came after me line after line in increasing terror just like the caw of that raven. After hearing Maya Angelou recite On The Pulse of Morning at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, I sought out a copy and kept it folded in a blue treasure box under lock and key. I don’t know why really, much of it flew right over my head, but I knew it was something beautiful that deserved to be kept somewhere safe. There are certain poems that speak to me in that way. I will not say that I understand them all, but they are beautiful and feel like tiny miracles. I ran across one such poem by Ranier Marie Rilke just this week:

RilkeI can’t make every minute holy.
I don’t want to stand before you
like a thing, shrewd, secretive.
I want my own will, and I want
simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action.
And in the silent, sometimes hardly moving times,
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know
secret things or else alone.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to be folded anywhere,
because where I am folded,
there I am a lie.

~Ranier Marie Rilke

This is what I felt inside as I took up a pen and started to write:

I can’t live every moment fully aware. I can’t take the high road in every conversation. I can’t be holy, benevolent, pious, contented and non-reactive in each minute of every day no matter how hard I try. I want to. I want patience to rival Gandhi and compassion to make Mother Theresa proud, but I just can’t. I can not. At least not now. But I don’t want to be ashamed of myself either for not possessing those things. I don’t want hang my head low and beat myself up because I am not perfect and happy and well-behaved in every minute of everyday. I do not. I want to know what I want from this life, and I want to seek out those experiences and the highest Truths with all I have and all that I am. At times when those Truths draws near, when I am pious and benevolent and can quiet my mind long enough to feel the pulse of my life and the holiness in my breath, I want to be  surrounded by wisdom, by goodness and Love. If I cannot have that, I want to be alone. I want to be open. I never want to shut a piece of myself off because it is in the dark places where fear lives. I know that much. And I know that when I am afraid, I am a lie.

I’ve certainly heard of Rilke. When I hear a poem that strikes me as certain and wise, often times, it is Rumi or Rilke who wrote it. I looked around for more on Rilke and found this gem from one of his most famous works, Letters to a Young Poet written in 1908:

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. ~Ranier Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

And that right there is what this blog seems to be about. Letting go and living in Love and Truth because anything else would be a lie.

Wanting What Doesn’t Exist

I need space to think. I know this about myself. I need time to reflect, to ponder, to remember over and over and over the reasons why what I’m doing is important. I need time to untangle the thoughts and emotions that twist like vines in my head, and to do this, I need moments to breath and just be.

And then after I get those moments, I need to connect with other people about them. This helps me not to feel alone and/or crazy.

I need these things a lot to feel good about myself.

The pace of my current life is not allowing for this luxury, and I do believe it is a luxury. The pace of my current life is: Hurry up! Stop that! Let’s go! We’re late! I need this! I want that! (And my least favorite) I’m hungry!

Some weeks my mother-in-law comes over and watches the kids for several hours. For this I am eternally grateful. I just “hired” my 12-year-old neighbor to come over for three hours on Tuesday so that I might have a little time to myself. My husband helps out a lot when he gets home from work and of course on weekends but it is always a joint effort. We get the occasional, and very rare, afternoon to ourselves with the help of my in-laws. Most of the time, if I leave the house at all, there are one or two small people strapped into a car seat behind me.

All of this is to say that for the majority of my week, I am in my house and it is a one woman show.

The constant busyness and the inability to just be is causing a big problem in my life. I’m short with my husband. I snap at the slightest provocation and I’m quick to attack the most minor of infractions. I’m impatient with my kids. I’m resentful and unappreciative of gifts I’ve been blessed with and above all, it is that feeling I hate the most. Because I am blessed and I don’t like taking that for granted for one second… and yet I do.

I don’t like any of these things but I’m at a loss for what to do about it? Short of magically extending the 24 hour clock and figuring out a way to operate on no sleep I don’t know if a remedy exists in this moment in time. As I write this it is 11pm and I should be getting ready for bed. But I’m not.

Because I need this.

I also need to show up for my family everyday. Cleaning, cooking and fulfilling every major (and minor) need of these three people are not always what I want to be doing, and yet, it is what I have to do no matter what, and it is that part, the “no matter what” part that is my biggest problem.

It doesn’t matter if I feel disconnected with myself. It doesn’t matter that my head is cluttered with thoughts and emotions I can’t name because I’m too busy to name them. And because I can’t name them, they come out in the form of my de facto emotion, anger. It doesn’t matter that sometimes I want to scream for no reason because the over-growth stifles me. It doesn’t matter that all I want to do is read or write a goddamn paragraph but instead I’m cutting up strawberries into bite-sized pieces. It just doesn’t matter.

I know there’s a deeper lesson in all of this. I know that the discipline, the delayed gratification and the sacrificial dedication has an ultimate purpose. I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life at this very moment and I know there are profound and important reasons for all of it, some of which I do not yet know. I know that my life is intrinsically better for doing all these things but those reasons are buried like roots deep among the bedrock and my head is all too often in the clouds.

I also know that having roots are the most important things.

I know this, but it doesn’t stop me from gazing longingly up to the highest branches and wondering what the view must look like from up there. Is the air sweeter? The sun, warmer? The breeze, light?

And of course, I know too, that it’s not.

In fact, I know that it doesn’t even exist.

This post was linked to The Extraordinary Ordinary blog for Just Write.

The Fabric of Our Lives

There are two beliefs that flow like an undercurrent beneath all the stratified layers of anxiety in my life.

The details of our pasts make up the individual patches in the quilt of our lives and those patches are vital to the patterns we create in our future.

And…

The most important, impactful and formative patterns in this quilt happen between the ages of 2 and 18-ish.

These two beliefs radiate from the core of 90% of my decisions and thoughts; everything from choosing to stay home with my children and planning ridiculous, themed, birthday parties for 3-year-olds; to the sudden and painful pangs of regret I still feel over bad choices that have affected my present day– such as the unfortunate placement of an Angel Fish tattoo above my ass crack.

Why Shannon??? WHY!?!? I keep telling myself to let that one go because I was just a kid, and I think the literal translation of kid in Latin is “lacking adequate long-term consequence assessment.” But still, every time my daughter points to my back and says, “fishie,” I cringe.

I don’t think anyone will argue that our pasts are important. The first thing therapists want to talk about is your childhood because the early years are when the imprinting begins. It’s where the bad habits, emotional stunting, misguided belief systems and unfortunate neon fabric choices start to lay the foundation for your overall project.

If your childhood is not sewn with a deft hand, these fragile, threadbare patches multiply and start to look like something Jackson Pollock would have painted in the 80s. Don’t get me wrong, a few bad patches are okay, good even! The ugly patches allow you to fully appreciate the subtleties of beautiful ones. We all have bad years and in my case it was most of the 90s, but if you don’t improve your skill and tastes, the day-glo parts can stifle your ability to create an overall timeless piece. One that you’d be proud to hang over the back of your sofa in your golden years.

I say between the ages of 2 and 18-ish because it seems the earlier the bad shit and polyester starts to happen in your life, the harder it is to rid your quilt of these tendencies. If someone or something doesn’t intervene in these years, it’s likely these patterns will muck up the whole damn thing and you live your life always regretting the early patches.

You can fill a lifetime with repeating patterns and hating the result.

This is what happens to me from time to time and is exactly what I don’t want for my children.  I want them to have photographic proof of ridiculous, themed, 3rd-birthday parties and I stay home so they will have as many chances as possible to witness their mother go bat-shit crazy over nothing while in their formative years. Somewhere, in my least rationale places, I really believe this will safeguard them against the regret of rainbow-colored fish tramp stamps.

Every writer has central themes that permeate their work and those are mine; our pasts and the decisions they motivate us to make because of, and in spite of them.

Lately though, I have started to toy with a different idea–one that feels good, liberating and hopeful. One that I hope to incorporate somewhere in the lineage of my life’s work.

The idea that maybe we are not the sum of our patches. That maybe we are something else entirely; something smaller and at the same time ethereal and infinite. Maybe our lives are but one stitch of a master quilt that could enrobe the globe, no… envelop the universe. Maybe, instead of immersing in the patterns of the past and the effects those patterns are yet to have on the future–always lamenting and projecting–maybe the focus should be on the stitch in time that is this moment in time?

Maybe then, all the anxiety that winds its way through my life can just fray away, taking with it the burden of regret and weight of expectation… and every string that comes attached.

Author Stalker: The Cheryl Strayed Edition

I’m an Internet author stalker. Almost two years ago when I made the resolution to embark on a writing career I began studying a variety of things; publishing, plot structure, classic literature, principles of fiction– all through the highly reputable University of Google. Someday they will send me an MFA, I just know it. But of all the time I have spent on the Internet reading about writing, the one thing I can never get enough of is author biographies. The minute I come across a lauded book review, moving essay, accoladed author, or hell, even a great blogger, I want to know who they are and how they learned to write like that? It’s a bit of an obsession, really.

My latest crush is Cheryl Strayed. Her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest, came out this week and the reviews are nothing short of arrestingly, blindingly glowing.

My fingers soon found themselves clicking away on her website to find out who this woman was and what else she had written. I got consumed. So far, I have yet to find an essay of hers that has not moved or inspired me, sometimes to tears. Cheryl’s (we’re on a first-name basis in my head) way with words has gotten me all hot and bothered and not in entirely good ways.

The downside to any obsession is that at some point it makes you feel like shit. It’s kind of a prerequisite for an obsession really, sky-rocketing highs followed by soul-crushing lows.

I was elated to have discovered another kindred writing spirit, a contemporary that spoke to me literally. Maybe we’ll be BFFs someday? I mean, she only lives three hours down the highway in Portland. It’s possible, right? Just as I was mentally planning our next meeting over coffee wherein we would brainstorm about plot structure, theme and the symbolism of geraniums, in came the soul-crushing low.

I discovered her educational, writerly background.

She has an MFA from Syracuse University. Hm? That might be a tad more respectable than my one from Google U. What else? She has always wanted to be a writer, has been writing for years and years and years and has oodles of well-respected writerly friends like Pam Houston, Elizabeth McCracken and Ursula HegiWild, is also her second, critically acclaimed book and among her awards is a Pushcart Prize. The more I read, the more the critically acclaiming, self-bashing, winner of no prizes, voice in my head starts prodding my weak places with a sharp, red, editing pencil.

 “What were you thinking telling the world that you wanted to be a writer? What’s wrong with you woman? You have a BA in Psychology and Communications from a shitty state school for God’s sake. Who do you think you are? If you think you can spin a story (let alone a sentence) as elegantly as Cheryl Strayed then you are a damned fool. Do you hear me?! A DAMNED FOOL! And now your damned fool mouth went and told the whole world you planned on becoming some kind of writer. Ha! Ha! HA! I bet you can’t wait until you see all those people on Facebook in real life? Won’t that be fun you big-mouthed fool!? Why don’t you just go back to slinging surgical devices? At least you were good at that? And while you’re at it, why don’t you stop talkin’ ’bout spirituality and God like you got somethin’ figured out, you self-righteous foo’.”

Incidently, my inner voice sounds a lot like Mammy from Gone With the Wind.

It’s always difficult to go back and place my pointer fingers on F and J and watch that little line blink at me incessantly when I’m in the throes of an author crush. Everything I write suddenly appears amateurish, immature-ish and overwrought with cliché. I am deflated.

It’s not that I’m trying to imitate Cheryl Strayed because I don’t want to be her. Really, I don’t. I like being me. I just want to know how to use my words to do to other people what her words so profoundly do to me.

Feel stuff.

As I type this, Cheryl Strayed has just finished signing her books at my favorite Indie Bookstore in Seattle, Elliott Bay Books. As she was probably starting her reading this evening in that low-hung ceiling basement to a crowd full of admirers in folding chairs, I was putting my infant son in the bath. As she was standing there in front of a backdrop of a packed bookshelf, wrapping up and answering questions, I was singing “You Are My Sunshine” to my toddler daughter. That’s my life and I love it. I love it so much that it makes me ache when I can’t render it with my words as beautifully as Cheryl Strayed does with hers.

Over the last two years I have found only one cure for the heartaches of my author crushes. It is to put one pointer finger on F and the other on J and precede that blinking line with one word at a time until I fill a line, then a page, and finally, hopefully, a book.

Brought to you by the University of Google.

Song of the Cicada

I am not a bug person. I get squeamish when I see spiders and I’d rather not touch slugs if I can help it. I know spiders and slugs aren’t technically bugs, but whatever, same difference. So, it strikes me as odd that I’m about to write another blog post about a bug. Go where the muse takes you, I guess?

I may not like bugs, but I have always liked the word Cicada. I like way it feels in my mouth all curvy and staccato. I like the way the ‘da’ lingers at the end like a breathy secret. I think it would be a good name for a pet.

Growing up in the Midwest, I liked hearing the songs of the Cicadas when they come out in the warming, late Spingtime. When you hear the Cicadas sing, you are somewhere outside, near trees enjoying something beautiful, hopefully with a cocktail. Cicadas are the serenaders of warm, early summer eves when the collective spirits are high.

Cicadas can be heard every year, but the famous (or infamous) swarms of them don’t arrive but once every 17 years. That is the length of the Magicicada’s life cycle. These swarms, or Broods as they’re called, live underground for 17 years before they emerge. During these 17 years they grow, and when they get too big for their exoskeletons, they molt. This happens several times over their underground lives. When they finally emerge on the 17th year they go through one last molting wherein their wings are fully formed and functional for the first time. From there, they take flight. Within a few weeks they will sing, mate, the females will lay eggs, and they will all die leaving behind trees caked in ghosts of discarded exoskeletons. The eggs that were laid in the trees will hatch and the nymphs, as they’re called, will fall to the ground, burrow in, and start the process all over again. It’s fascinating really.

The last Magicicada emergence of “The Kansan Brood” which is located around my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri was 1998. The next emergence will be in 2015. In 1998 I was my second year of college. I was 20 and in between my first and secondmolting.

Molting, is defined as, “…the manner in which an animal routinely casts off a part of its body (often but not always an outer layer or covering), either at specific times of year, or at specific points in its life cycle.”

In my life cycle I have had very specific times when I underwent profound and excruciating molts. As a teenager, I was painfully lonely. On the surface it looked like I had plenty of friends, but just under that exoskeleton was a raw, tender and scared body. I was afraid because I felt a little different and a maybe a bit crazy, and mostly unlovable in every way. I’m sure that’s a common enough theme in adolescence and it was mine. Through those rough years I molted layers and layers of pride. Underneath all that I found understanding and compassion for people who seem a little different, and maybe a bit crazy, and perhaps, who sometimes feel unloveable, too.

After college, somewhere around 24, I fell into a depression. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and I longed for a purpose. I felt like I was floundering. During that disorienting time I sloughed off a lot of feelings of worthlessness. Growing underneath that heavy exterior of pain was someone who had talent and work ethic and a fire of an ambition born out of a hundred embers of small successes.

After I got married, when I was 28, I underwent another molt, a deeply personal one. I was selfish and still hanging onto some bitter pride. It took a good long while to outgrow that skin because it had been with me so long. Under those jaded and jagged outer layers I found that there was greater joy in giving, than receiving. I refocused my myopic view of the world to incorporate others into my vision for a good life. I gave up a lot of things I liked, but what I gained was what I needed to grow.

In 2010, there was a big, granddaddy molt. I found myself on the other side of a legal battle with a very large company which I dedicated many years of my life to, and all because I was a women who didn’t act like a woman should. I didn’t even know these layers existed. I was caught by surprise how painful stripping away these layers were because I did not know, and ultimately feared what I might find underneath.  I thought those layers were critical to my internal being. I clung to them like superglue mixed with cement spackled onto my bones as though losing them would kill me. But as nature intended, either I had to let go, or die, and so I molted which sometimes felt like dying. That year I chiseled away heavy coats of ego and self-righteousness and chunks and chunks of unimportant things that I no longer needed in my life.

That process exposed me like never before. I was raw and vulnerable, maybe for the first time in my life. But do you know what else I found? The beginnings of wings.

But wait! I was not done, oh no, not yet. I still had to burrow out and climb that tree and survive one last molt. This proved to be the most difficult phase of the last 17 years of my life. The climb up the tree involved leaving my marriage, which meant reconstructing and reorienting my entire world view which up this point, had been plunged in darkness underground. Never could I have made that climb on shaky legs, had I not gained strength all those years beneath the surface. I know that now. I was always meant to make that climb. And I was always meant to have wings.

And right now, as I write this, I’ve shed that my final layer. I’m standing on the edge of something more beautiful than my lifetime underground could possibly imagine. And I’m getting ready to fly…

… and just when the collective spirits are high and the time is right… I’m also going to sing.

Because after 17 years of growing and molting I know this much… if I am brave enough to let go of the things that no longer serve me, I will always find something more useful underneath. But letting go is the hardest part, and sometimes it feels like ripping off your own skin because it hurts so bad, but what’s waiting for you on the other side is always something better… maybe even wings.

(*You guys, Cicadas are hideously ugly bugs. I mean, really, really creepy in every way. If you don’t believe me, click here. But seriously, you can not UN-SEE that shit so please, click wisely. I picked the prettiest Cicada I could find on the Internet AND it isn’t even a real photo. This little guy is apparently from Thailand. Enjoy.)

Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word…

I didn’t want to publish this post. When I started writing it, it quickly turned into Bitchfest 2011 scheduled to perform in a venue for one. I didn’t want to publish it because I wanted to maintain a positive vibe here and write about all sorts of enlightening things, not the darkness of my personal hell. Then I decided, fuck it, it’s my blog so I’m going to publish it anyway. That’s pretty enlightened of me, right?

I’m finding that unless you are also currently the primary caregiver of multiple, small, non-sleeping children, 24 hours a day, that empathy is hard to come by. I mean, wasn’t I supposed to know this shit was hard? No one has a baby thinking it’s going to be all designer onesies and chubby ankles, right? And didn’t I consciously go and have a second one KNOWING exactly what I was in for?  Furthermore, haven’t mother’s been taking care of infants since, like the DAWN OF TIME and with far less gadgetry? So what the hell are you bitching about you spoiled, first-world, crazy woman?!

Unfortunately, knowing that my problems aren’t life-threatening or world-ending doesn’t make me any less frustrated. Similarly, knowing that it’s only temporary, helps to ease that frustration for about five minutes until the overwhelming, blurry-eyed weariness sets in again. So, if maybe I can break it down on a biological level, people can understand why I spend most of my days trying not to hit things.

First:

A mother, particularly a breastfeeding mother, is biologically, physically and chemically responsive to her baby’s cry. A nursing mom, (myself included in the early weeks), may express breast milk when they hear their baby cry. It makes sense that there is a strong symbiotic relationship between mother and child, you know, so we feed them and don’t leave them to marinate in their own fluids. In fact, I was told by my pediatrician that “colicky” infants (like the kind I make) might just be ahead of the evolutionary curve. Ever hear the saying, the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well, the crying infant gets the boob.

As for my personal experience, I can feel every nerve ending in my body tingle when my son cries. It feels similar to grabbing a live electrical wire, which I’ve done while changing light fixtures. I am particularly sensitive when I’m lying prostrate, sound asleep at 3 o’clock in the morning. The moment he lets out his first whimper, a jolt of electric energy courses through my limbs that pops my eyes like the jump cut of every zombie movie ever made. If I have to listen to him cry for more than five minutes (which happens a couple of times a night) all that electric energy starts to make me nauseous. It actually sucks worse than I can make it sound because you have to factor in the emotional aspect of this equation which is just too sad to mention.

Second:

You can die from sleep deprivation people. Literally, like, die. There’s a reason they use it as a means of torture, because it’s effective. It’s actually most effective when you let someone fall asleep for just a little while and then keep waking them up, again and again which happens to be exactly what my son does. Personally, I’d rather be water-boarded. Studies have shown that a sleep deprived person is more impaired than someone over the legal limit of intoxication. Speaking of intoxication, chronic sleep deprivation feels similar to a really shitty hangover; a perpetual, all-I-want-to-do-is-eat-greasy-food-and-sleep, kind of hangover. Chronic sleep deprivation (I’m going on four months people) can make a relatively sane, rationale person, do insane, impulsive things like destroy Diaper Genies and hallucinate.

A month after my daughter was born, my husband and I went to Lowe’s. I stopped to read a magazine at the checkout counter and when I looked up, they were gone. I shit-you-not within ten minutes I had the store manager locking the front doors and calling a Code Adam. Turns out they were in the gardening section. THAT is what sleep deprivation will do to you.

I bet I can guess what you’re thinking? “So how are you able to spend so much time writing silly shit on the Internet if you’re SO sleep deprived? Shouldn’t you be sleeping RIGHT NOW if you’re so tired?”

You’re probably right, I should. But honestly, writing, yoga and caffeine are the only things GIVING me energy right now. Because what I know for sure is that when you’re doing what you love, what you were born to do, it fills you up with all the things you need to go on in the face of adversity. So I keep typing. I have to keep typing or I will probably get myself banned from every large box store in the Puget Sound region.

Well, well, will you lookey there? I actually did write something enlightening. Yeah me.

Now Playing at Bitchfest 2011: Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word…(so Mommy can type a few thousand of them and feel sane again.)