dis-ease · doubt · recovery · serenity · service

"What’s the Point?"

I intended to buy this book I heard about on NPR: Data: A
Love Story. It’s about how this Jewish woman my age, a statistician and
analyst, decided to create her own algorithm to “crack” online dating. In the
end, so it seems, she did. For herself at least.
So, with a wry smile, I went in to ask for it. They showed
me the general area, I didn’t see it, but perused with rare time to kill in the
early evening. I ended up with a book of essays by Ray Bradbury, and this funny
little set of them by another Jewish woman my age called I was told there’d be
cake
.
I am usually loathe to buy books in general, thinking that
the library is one of god’s safest havens. And am especially averse to buying
something I’ll read once for entertainment value and then never pick up again.
But, my entertainment budget for the month hasn’t been touched at all, and I
figure I can pass it along to others, like the sisterhood of the traveling
satire. – After its purchase I actually sat outside reading in the fading sunlight
laughing out loud. What a
rare treat!
There’s one essay in which she reports that she and her
cohort are lost in the first-job abyss, each sector of her friends languishing
underslept, underpaid, underappreciated. And it occurs to her that she should
volunteer. Instead of focusing on herself, despite being the world’s great self-indulger, she decides to volunteer at the butterfly exhibit at the Museum
of Natural History.
Hilarity ensues.
But it struck a chord with me. I’ve been feeling languishy lately, too.
I’ve been feeling, What’s the purpose of it all. Why even try to strive for
anything, what’s the point anyway? Why am I feeding myself farmer’s market
food; buying organic food for my cat; going to the gym; meditating; reading; acting? Why
am I passing my time this way anyway? We’re all just passing time to an inevitable erasure. Why do anything at all?
Reading Cake girl’s
revelation, it occurred to me yesterday that I haven’t helped someone
one-on-one in a long time. I’ve been in a limbo of my own work, and until
completed, I’ve been instructed to wait before I help someone else in this area.
In the meantime, I could be looking to help someone in the field I already
know, but that hasn’t happened.
I hypothesize my own languishing could be offset my a dose of
selflessness and help of another person in the unique way that people with our
set of experiences can help another person.
Enter: Email this morning from a woman asking me to help her
out one-on-one. In the area I’m not supposed to be working in yet.
Hrm.
I’m going to talk with my own mentor about it. I think the
anchor of helping someone else would get me out of my own head, but I also
don’t want to pass along my diseased thinking in this arena if I really haven’t had the kind
of psychic shift that could help.
But. I may lobby for it anyway. Things are
all weird with me and my own mentor, which could also account for some
of this languish. I did ask someone else if they could help me one-on-one, but
I have yet to follow-up to set the actual coffee date to discuss.
Whether I end up helping this girl out or not, it reminds me
that some people actually look to me for help. That there’s something I do
have to offer that is unique in this world, and isn’t that the point in living? Could it be the point?
Not to live for
service, but sort of. Otherwise, I find myself questioning whether I really am
a Zoloft candidate after all. 

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camping · community · confidence · courage · doubt · grace · insecurity · laughter · love · self-esteem · self-love · serenity

Confidence: How To.

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Think of something you know you know how to do. Something
you enjoy knowing how to do. Maybe it’s making the lightest quiche, or playing
the drums, or changing a bicycle inner tube. Maybe you know that you know how
to plant seeds that germinate, or fix this computer bug, or mix the perfect vermillion. Maybe it’s as simple
as knowing you know how to hug a child, or tell a good joke. Find something that makes
you feel competent and confident.
Experience that feeling. The surge of blood through you, a
sense of guidance, purpose, direction. A sense of being the right person for
the job, in the right place at the right time. A feeling of ease and tension
release, of certainty and even exuberance. I know how to do this – I love
doing this.
For me, about 2 years ago, I realized it was (car) camping.
I know how to do that. I knew when we
needed wood, when we should start the fire, how to put it out. I knew how to
set up my tent, how to walk in the woods, how to avoid poison oak. I knew how
to brush my teeth at the tap, and use my headlamp to find my missing sock. I
knew how to have fun, how to do what needed to be done, how to help others
because I knew how to do these things.
What if… we allowed for the possibility that we could have
that feeling in more places in our lives. If we could recognize the mastery we have in some areas, and allow that
sense of confidence and competence support our less certain attempts. Maybe, it’s just knowing that I know how to
put on liquid eyeliner with deft precision. Can I allow that to fill up my tank
a little? – Come to think of it, can I recognize that I know how to fill my gas
tank! (If you grew up in NJ, you might not!) 😉
But the point, today, is that although there are many areas
in which I am not an expert, and that will always be so, and there will always
be something to learn in the places I want to become more adept… there are also
a host of places that I haven’t recognized I’m doing pretty well.
I think this is what they call, “building self-esteem.” What
a concept.
But, it’s true. People in general, and people like me, tend
to dismiss what we think is easy for us. For me, I have tended to dismiss my
writing when its complimented, since it can be so easy for me. What’s the value
of something that is wickedly simple for me?
Somehow the idea that valuable things are hard things came
into our zeitgeist. This is not to say that you or I needn’t work for what we
want, but it’s about recognizing what we have, and sometimes what we’ve been
given, that we take for granted.
I take for granted that I know how to put on crisp eyeliner.
I learned it, I do it, it’s a part of me. So, I forget it’s not something everyone else knows. I take for
granted that I can write this every day, for better or worse! I take for
granted that I can talk to the children at work and make us both smile. – Well,
that one I don’t. I don’t take the smiling for granted, just the knowing that I
know how to do it.
If I were to go through a given day or week, and take note
of the things that I seem to “instinctively” and “intuitively” know how to do,
how many things would pile onto that list?
Sure, there are blank spots, there are gaps, there are wide
berths of where I want to know and learn and be more. But they’re gaps. They’re
not the whole.
If I tried to recognize that I could feel the same
self-esteem while cooking eggs in the morning as I do when making a teepee out
of wood in a fire-pit; if I could remember to feel adept and facile when I
parallel park my car; if I could allow a sense of ease and confidence for the
simple act of knowing to pause in today’s heavy sunshine,
I imagine that delightful, intrepid poise can offer a
foundation for my less assured endeavors.  

adventure · beauty · courage · intimacy · romance · serenity · sexuality · vulnerability

I want to tell you everything.

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I want to tell you how gently he kissed my forehead, and how
warm his body felt as I shifted in the night. I want to tell you how natural and
serene it felt to twine my fingers into his and lean my body against him as we
waited for the stoplight to change. I want to tell you it was a good thing his
roommates weren’t home most of the time we were, and about quietly resting my
foot on top of his knee while he told me a story over the sunlit kitchen table.
I want to tell you everything. But, it’s not only my story.
And this one is still being written, still has a few more “Choose Your Own
Adventure” plot twists available, and the ending of it could be sooner or
farther than we know.
So, I’ll try my best not to tell you that it was only when I
was finally unpacking my suitcase in Oakland that the tears that had surged and
abated in airports across America finally fell. Or the relief I felt stepping
into the open air of the BART platform and looking around at the hodge-podge of
people I’ve grown so familiar with. I’ll try not to tell you about the dull and
persistent ache of withdrawal.
He’d said, “escaping the world” once when we were planning
this.
I’m sure all vacations have their hangovers. The return to
grim reality, and also to familiarity. The return to my own coffee pot and car
and a toothbrush that doesn’t fold in half. There’s a relief and a longing.
Like finishing a delicious meal and finally placing down your fork, overfull,
yet wishing you could savor it all again.
You remember the small moments. The ones where you took a deep, satiated breath. The angles of the New England homes you drove past on ancient winding
roads, and the spray of the Atlantic, blue today, over the rocks. You remember
playing with his pinkie finger while you waited for your pregnant waitress, looking, still self-consciously, out the window by your table, since it
was only day 2 and you felt new and strange and uncertain.
You try to remember everything. To etch it into
consciousness, since it will certainly fade, the exact tightness of
his arms around you while you lay naked against him; the exact way his chest hair curled while you fiddled with it musingly; the exact timbre of his echoing laughter under the short
kitchen ceiling.
I’d told you before I left that I imagined being held
delicately and protectively and surely by him, and that for once, I wasn’t
frightened of it. Well, friends, it was true. And though we’ve taken fantasy
and pulled it into the realm of reality, with all its attendant Yeses and Finallys
and Contentedness, … we also both took the courageous move to explore the exact
shape of reality’s rough edges and Almosts and Not Quites.
And should it be once again with the man this time was spent
with, and should it be another person completely: I am buoyed to know that I
can rest in the arms of a man, with no thought of escape.

anger · detachment · faith · fallibility · family · forgiveness · humaness · serenity · spirituality

The Father-Daughter Dance

My friend found out yesterday that her father is dying in
Switzerland, and she and another friend happened to be at my house yesterday
morning when she got the call. It felt like divine timing that she “happened”
to be at my house, instead of alone in her apartment, when she received this
call, and then had to argue with her phone company to get international calling
added to her account so that she could call the ER where her dad was admitted.
We were able to sit there with her, just to sit in my kitchen
while she paced my living room, on the phone. Able to make her tea and just
set it there, whether she wanted to drink it or could or not. Able to bear
witness to her tears, and her fear and her love and her fraughtness about
timing and money and taxes and passports and citizenship.
We were able to help her talk through her very next steps,
just the ones she needed to do that day in order to prepare to get on a flight
tonight.
It was a gift to be able to be present with that.
These past two days, I’ve pulled the “Emperor” card.
Shuffled them thoroughly, cut the deck, and again, this morning, I pulled the
Emperor card.
I squick at this card. I don’t like it. In my book, it lists
the traits of this card: Fathering, Structure, Authority, Regulation.
Um, you all know my dad was in the military, yes?
My friend yesterday, between phone calls, told us how much
she loved and admired her father; what a kind man he was, how great a man he
was. It was obvious that she had great esteem for him.
I, do not have the same feelings toward my own. And
strangely, I got an email from him just a few days ago.
We haven’t spoken in months. Not since his brother died
unexpectedly over Christmas.
But, I had been thinking about him, and that it was probably
time for me to send an, “I’m not dead” email, just a check-in, just to touch
base. And then, there was his email.
So, I replied. Reported the generic updates I would tell a
casual acquaintance about my life. And it’ll probably be another several months
until we speak again.
I’m still livid, folks. I’m still angered and betrayed and
astonished at how he behaved when I had cancer, when I was going through chemo.
How he demanded phone calls on his time table, instead of mine, when I was the
one in a hospital bed with chemo dripping into a port in my chest. How he simply told me, when I
asked for this to change, that, “This is how it works.” How, even though he was
newly retired
and was working in
the yard
of his fiancé, he somehow didn’t
have any other time in the day to call his daughter in the hospital.
And mostly, it’s just sad. It just still saddens me that
this man has no idea how to show up for people. That if it isn’t something that
is structured, regulated, and orderly,
he doesn’t know how to address it, and therefore, he simply tries to quash it.
And, unfortunately, people, I’ve grown up too much to be quashed by him
anymore.
I’ve done a ton of work around him, asking for compassion
and forgiveness. In fact, just these few weeks, I’ve been using a new
affirmation: I forgive my dad fully and easily.
Strange to realize now, after the new email, the
Emperor card, my friend’s ailing father, that this might be part of that process. This doesn’t seem like coincidental
timing to me.
I know that I have more work to do. I know that I feel very
unwilling to forgive him, even at the same time that I have compassion and
understanding for someone who never, ever had kindness modeled for him. Someone
who didn’t have his own father, and only a step-father who demanded perfection and doled out derision.
I know “how” to have compassion for him. And sometimes, many times, I have it.
But, forgiveness is another thing.
And I know that my unwillingness to forgive, to continue to
drink the poison I intend for him, is only holding me back, and is only
creating blackness in the light I want to move toward. I know that my
unwillingness to forgive yokes me to him as surely as shackles, or, perhaps, as
surely as love. 
I also know that it is only in the past few weeks that I’ve
begun seeing this new therapist, and last week, just the mention of my
father, almost in passing, came up. She remarked later that it was clear there
was some work to be done there. Which, obviously, I know, and hope for us to do together.
The last thing, and the only thing that’s keeping me from
burning that Emperor card is the end of the description in my book. It says
this card can also stand in for the archetypal father “in his role as guide,
protector, and provider.”
Surely, mine was not able to be this in a way that was
supportive. But these are the exact qualities that I’ve been seeking and hoping
the “Universe” embodies. That I’ve been praying for, and trying to trust the
Universe to have. That it supports me with guidance, protection, and
provisions.
Individual, versus Archetype. Reality versus Fantasy.
Compassion versus forgiveness.
I really hate that card. 

joy · serenity

Crouching near creekbeds and small plants.

I am definitely finding a reluctancy to plug back into the frenetic pace of life. I feel like that movie A Waking Life where it’s this wonky combination of real life film overlayed with animation. Walking yesterday out of the office at lunchtime to go meet up with some folks, I found myself looking up a lot more – seeing the trees, wondering how they’re doing in the smog, and looking at the glimpses of sky through and sun on the tall buildings. Although I felt rather serene in doing that, I also feel a sense of resignation or sadness to “have to” jump back in whole hog to everything.

I sort of feel like my priorities have shifted. Like everything that was consuming me before I left is like an echo of a memory of a dream. 😉 And I sort of like this ‘one foot in this world’, ‘one foot in another’ kind of feeling, and am sort of curious if I can, and how long I can “keep it up.”
I kept on remembering the very clear sound of the crunching of the leaves and branches under my feet as I wandered off the paths on the 300+ acre camp this weekend. The feeling of my legs lifting up over the dried wiry plants, catching my jeans on them, pausing to plot the best route through the poison oak. (Luckily, I learned a while ago I’m not sensitive to poison oak, but I don’t rub my face in it.) We were given time to simply go sit with nature, find a spot, and sit. Things are so alive and moving out there. It’s like, even if you’re just walking, you don’t even notice. The redwoods creak. It sounds like someone stepping on an old floor board. The sound of the wind coming through the dry leaves on the trees made me wonder at first if there were a highway or a stream near where I was, but no, it was the ebb and flow of the wind having a conversation with itself.
A small bird was pecking its way through a bramble bush near where I was sitting, and although I couldn’t see it for quite some time, I could acutely hear where it was and hear its progression closer to me through the underbrush.
I also took a walk on my own on Sunday morning while a good portion of the women did yoga. I wanted to be outside. I said that I’d had the strangest urge to rent Castaway when I was sick last week, and that I think it was part of my desperate thirst to touch base with the elements. This weekend wasn’t “real” camping, or any kind of fend in inclement weather. But, it was certainly natural.
I walked into the unknown hillside, knowing where the stream was, and wondering if I could get to it from my side. When I couldn’t be sure I could actually get back up the steep drop in time to join the others for breakfast, I still felt drawn to go hang out by the creek. So I went around the other way, climbed over the wooden fence, and crouched by the trickling stream. It was nice to have spent some time not near the water, as sometimes that sound, although harmonious, drowns out what other sounds there were – like the small bird’s progress, and the creaking of the swaying redwoods (which was, by far my favorite sound).
But I squatted by the river – I read once that this stance used to be much more common, and aided in childbirth, but we’ve come away from it as a society – it was nice to squat there, to feel my hip bones sort of melt open and my body familiarize itself with the stretch of my calves and achilles’ tendons. I know according to Seinfield, squatting is a bad naked pose, but that’s okay – I wasn’t naked 😉
I watched the stream’s progression for some time, and noticed where the water level must have previously been judging by the carved out, mossy underside of some tree roots. And I drank from the creek water. (I told a girl later that if I die in a few days, they know why.), but it was so clear, and it was from a running portion of the creek, and … it tasted better than Fiji water. It tasted like clarity, life, calm. And it was so cool, a freshness that I felt as I sipped it from my cupped hand.
You can imagine why, now, coming back to the current reality –which looks like me in front of a computer screen, copy machine, or cataloguing library books– is lacking in a sense of enchantment for me. But, it’s alright. I remember all that of this weekend very clearly. And I made a note too that the stream is now a part of me. I drank from it. Whatever clarity, calm, wholeness it embodies (or doesn’t, maybe it’s just water), I now have that source within me. Surely, perhaps I always have it, but as I crouched down and noticed the fresh eetsy beetsy red leaves of a new poison oak sprout, I laughed at its cheeky, unwavering confidence.