Dances with Dragons

It is no secret that I love the HBO hit series Game of Thrones.  George R.R. Martin is genius in so many ways, and the show follows suit.  And for many reasons, I wonder how Martin connects in the ways that he does to the plight of the marginalized in his medieval and magical imagined society.

One of the ways that I identify with the characters in this series has to do with the plight of the woman.  Not one woman in particular, but a great variety of women in a great variety of situations.  Raped, owned, captive, forced to do and be what another bids you to be—all are ways that women in the stories suffer due to their perceived weakness and their lack of agency.  But we don’t stop there.  We go on to tales of power and strength and cunning and a capacity for greatness in the lives of these fictional women.

I sometimes feel like a fictional woman.

That might sound strange.  I’m not bipolar or schizophrenic and manifesting with delusions that I am a character.  I simply bear burdens that I rarely hear about in true tales.  My life is an epic tale already, and I assume that I am still only about half way through my life, barring the development of fatal disease or the collision with a truck that might end it a bit early.

I’ve gone through so many things in my life that it is difficult to believe that they all truly happened.  I wonder how I survived.  I wonder if I have some cosmic draw upon the evils of our society.  I wonder whether the story has a glorious end, or whether the bad things will keep coming indefinitely for the rest of my life.

I sometimes feel like a fictional woman, because I have never met another who can relate to all of the things with which I relate.    I feel like this life is impossible, not plausible, and maybe a bit crazy—this life of struggle after struggle and story after story.

The marginalization, lack of agency, and captivity that the women of Westeros experience feel like real things for me.  There are moments it is too real for me—when I have my hand clamped over my mouth in shock and my stomach feels as though it has dropped out of my body, leaving an empty, sickly cavern in its place.  Being owned, being abused, being captive: these are things that I know intimately.  And most women don’t have that intimacy of knowledge and connection with all of the bad things you might imagine.  Most women have experienced some marginalization or lack of agency, but not with all the forms of marginalization and lack of agency you can imagine wrapped up into one package.

So, who imagined my story?  How did it become this epic tale that recounts the plight of each and every woman who crosses the pages of Martin’s imagination?  When did I become the poster-child for trauma and trial?

I think the answer is staring me in the face.  And I don’t want to name it—I don’t want to name him, because that will make me feel the unwarranted guilt of calling out the wrongs of those who made my story go so “wrong”.  Because somewhere, deep in my psyche, I still feel responsible, and I still feel shame, and I still feel confused, and I still feel like I need to protect those who harmed me.  That is crazy, and more than just a bit so.  That is a lot crazy.

The startling thing here is not my responses to trauma and trials, but that my responses are considered less acceptable than the actions that brought about those responses.  Molesting your family member, or sex without consent, or smacking around a non-compliant partner, or treating a woman like property are all less offensive to many than my psyche and my ways of coping with the traumas of my life thus far.  Even more startling is the fact that my depression and disability, which are directly related to those traumas, are seen as the marks of a dirty, lazy, crazy, messed up, burdensome, whining, free-loading, fuck-up.  My disabled status is more criticized than the ones whose actions caused my disabled status.  I am attacked for having been attacked, and not just being fine with that.  I am attacked for having been wounded and not just putting a Band-Aid on that shit and going ahead with life unaffected.

The ways I relate to the women in the imagination of Martin, and their portrayal by the producers of Game of Thrones, are ways that express the greatest possible struggles in life.  But I also relate to the women becoming something stronger and more powerful and more able with each passing event.  Hard things make strong people.  And I hate sentiments similar to that statement, in some sense.  I don’t believe that the divine offers us challenges to strengthen us or prepare us or make us useful in the lives of others.  I don’t believe that triumph follows trials, necessarily.  I don’t believe that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  There are plenty of things that didn’t kill me that made me broken and weak and wishing that death had been offered instead.  But, I cannot deny that some of my strength was forged in the fire of evil attacks upon my person and my psyche.

I don’t want to say that I am better because I was treated worse than most.  That simply is not true.  I am far worse off because of the poor treatment I was subjected to in the past.  But I have also developed some great skill in coping and in fighting for justice and in being a beacon for those still caught in a cycle of dark, dangerous mistreatment and marginalization.

One doesn’t negate the other.

I’m a fucking mess who learned lessons in being amazing.  They exist in tandem—the broken and the brave.

And you don’t want to process that last statement.  It fights against the dichotomous thinking that we have been programmed toward for centuries.  Either/or thinking is rarely the best line of thought.  Both/and is the way that the world actually offers itself.  I am both broken and brave, at once.

The women of Westeros are broken and brave.  They are overcomers.  They fight to gain their freedom, their justice, their right to be whom they choose and not the ones they are told to be by others.  But the knowledge of trauma and its effects upon its victims lets me know, with certainty, that these women are also irreparably broken.  There are some things that you never forget.  There are some things that never stop having a hold.  And that hold doesn’t need to propel us toward evil and revenge and perpetual suffering.  Sometimes those things that have a hold are the inciting motivation for our desire to find justice and agency and bravery.  But they still have a hold—they still take a toll.

The thing that I need to keep remembering and reinforcing in my own life is that it is alright for those things to have a hold and take a toll.  It is okay to suffer the effects, and it is okay to fight for freedom from those effects.  And those two things can happen simultaneously.  I can allow both the bravery and the brokenness to exist and to be honored and to be experienced and to be felt deeply.

I am allowed to be both/and.

Sometimes my ability to press forward toward a goal of peace and justice and healing is inspirational.  Sometimes my inability to cope and overcome and heal is just as inspiring.  And it is so and should be so because I am both/and.  I am both a woman of strength and a woman who copes with weakness.  I am both a victim and a victor.  I am both broken and brave.

Learning to celebrate the difficult parts of your life and your person is not easy.  I’m certainly not to the point where I do so with consistency.  But I am closer to celebration today than I have been in a long time.

The challenges are difficult for the women of Westeros.  The moments of champion are many for these same women.  One doesn’t negate the other.  One informs the other.

In the same way, my challenges inform who I become and how I live in this world.  The bad things are not negated by the good.  The lessons don’t erase the loss.  The struggle remains real, even when it seems like I am overcoming, because there are those things that hold on—the things I can’t forget. And those things are a part of who I am, not just a part of who I once was.

Allowing yourself to be both/and, and accepting the brave and the broken equally, is not simple in its execution.  It is ridiculously hard.  It is something that I want to do, but that I am constantly told by my society that I should not do.

“Get over it.”.  “Let it go.”  “Just forgive and forget.” “Look at the bright side.” “At least you haven’t experienced [thing that one deems more crappy than your experiences].”  “There are children starving in Africa.”  “Focus on the future.”   All are well-meaning sentiments, and all are telling me to stop being the person that I was shaped and developed into, and to ignore and subordinate the majority of the things I have experienced.  And I think that desire to ignore and subordinate the broken and the bad things is a conditioned response.  I think that our society tells us that value is tied to good things, and those who experience bad things are people of little worth, or of poor character.

That is a terrible, incorrect, and damaging view—that struggles are the result of poor choices by lesser beings.  That is the root of every “ism” that we experience in our society—racism, classism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and more and more.

Instead of feeding the fallacy that my challenges are evidence of my personal failures, I would love to see a society that can live in the both/and.  I would love to feel that my challenges are just as valued as my moments of champion.  I would love to be treated as a whole—a woman who has trauma and trials and triumphs.  I would love to be accepted as I am, without judgments that minimize the effects of my past experience or tell me to cover up wounds for the comfort of others.

The thing is, I cannot cover up those wounds.  I am covered in wounds and scars, and those don’t disappear.  They might heal a bit, or stop openly bleeding, or be less pronounced over time.  But they never disappear altogether.

I have a scar across my lower abdomen from a childhood surgery.  It used to be a big, hip to hip, thick, red scar.  Now it is lower and thinner and just a touch lighter than the skin around it.  It seems to have shrunk quite a bit, as my body grew, I aged, and time passed; but that scar is still present and always will be.  And that is a part of my whole.  That scar is a moment in time etched on my body for life.  That scar is tied to psychological effects and physical limits and family dynamics and the response of my community.  That scar says all sorts of things about who I am and where I have been and where I am traveling now.  Because it says all of those things, it is important.  It is as important as this moment or any moment to come.  It shaped me and created a way of being and a way of reacting and a way of living that I would not have without it.  So, it needs to be honored and held and accepted and loved as an important part of me.

Identifying with women who overcome the worst challenges and become champions is something that most of us can do on some level.  But it takes a lot of deep consideration to understand the ways that the trial and trauma shaped the triumph.  It takes a lot of understanding to see that the victories are often bittersweet, because of the place where the moment happened, the change came, and the suffering informed the future actions that brought us to the victory.  That understanding is so needed.

Accepting my past is imperative to being in my life today.  Honoring my struggle and refusing to hide or ignore what is difficult to cope with is necessary for me to survive, to thrive, and to continue working toward moments of victory.  Being a champion doesn’t mean you are not still the oppressed and challenged and broken woman in some ways.  And acknowledging both the brave and the broken in me is so important.

Because none of us are only our triumphs.  All of us are both/and.  We are all light and dark, commingling in a storied history.  And it is time to begin celebrating that storied history.  It is time to sing and dance and toast to the storied history that includes both trials and triumph.  It is time to see the characters before us—both fictional and not—as both/and.  It is time to honor the whole person, and end the practice of trying to bleach the dark bits in our histories and our hearts.

I am working hard to love all of the parts of my life and myself.  That work is made harder by those who insist that the hard times and bad times and horrors that have been and are being endured should be hidden behind false smiles and kept behind closed doors.  I need for those around me to be willing and able to accept all of me, and to look at the hard times and bad times and horrors without recoiling in shock and disgust.

There is a moment when a character in Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark, is named by her challenges.  Her name—her title—is questioned because she was forced into marriages against her will.  The power and influence she might have is called into question because she is no longer a woman who holds her family name.  She replies by claiming that she is and always has been a Stark.  She did what she needed to do to survive, but that didn’t make her into someone other.  She has changed, but she is also the same.  Her history and her present are both tied into one.  She is twice married, but she is still a Stark in her heart.  She is both/and.

I think that it would serve each of us (and likely the whole of the universe) well to respond to and respect the both/and in the lives and personas and stories around us.  I believe that the acceptance of the light and the dark, the trial and the triumph, the challenge and the champion, allows us to celebrate who we are without the question of worth, value, purity, influence, or power.  Being who we are, wholly and completely and without shame, is only possible if we accept both/and.  I cannot celebrate and dance and play and love and live in the ways I want and hope to while others force me to question whether my value has been reduced as a result of the history I carry with me into today.  None of us can truly accept ourselves or others until we acknowledge that the dark and the light commingling is a part of our humanity, and that, regardless of what we are currently experiencing, we are still valued and loved.

We need to become a society that does not place value on one and not on another.  We need to be able to face what seems like it must be fiction due to the enormity of the challenge, and still smile and offer kindness and show love.  We need to be people who celebrate the whole.  We need to accept that the same character who is sold/married to solidify an alliance is also the Mother of Dragons.  And we need to celebrate her in both of those moments—the terrifying and terrible wedding night, and climbing atop a great beast and flying to the rescue—in a way that does not deny part of the story.  We need to find a way to accept that all have value, in each and every moment.

I identify with these characters, because I am forged in burning flames.  I have a storied past, and those moments shape this moment and the moments to come.  And I am determined to figure out the way to both dance in the darkness and dance with dragons.  They are equal parts of me.  They do not disappear, and they cannot be hidden.  They are parts of a whole, and should be honored as such.

Join me on this journey.  Let us learn to dance in darkness.  Let us dance with dragons.  Let us be both/and.

Same

There is this way of speaking that has taken over much of the communication between me and my daughter, and some of my friends as well, I suppose.  We shorten things.   It just seems like a whole lot of flourish and extra syllables isn’t necessary or important.  And while, as a writer, I am a huge fan of the flourish and the big words, in life they aren’t always helpful.

So, when we are thinking, “I completely agree and have a very similar perspective on this issue”, we instead say, “Same”.

I’m in the mood for pizza.

Same.

I can’t believe the state of the world and am grieving deeply over the pain and wounding that is overwhelming millions.

Same.

I wish that I could be in La Jolla right now.

Same.

I’m overcome with grief and don’t know how to express anything clearly, but everything hurts.

Same.

Yesterday I received news of the death of a good friend of my parents.  And all day I was feeling the weight of grief.  I was feeling it not just over the loss of her life, which is definitely significant and important, but also I was mourning the loss of my own mom.  And I was drawing all sorts of parallels between the lives of these two couples and feeling for those going through what I and my family went through a year ago.

All day I wanted to reach out to the daughter of the deceased wife and mother.  But there were not words.  There weren’t words when my own mother died either.  And the platitudes and “she is with Jesus now” assurances helped not one bit.  In some cases, they did more harm than good.

So, in the evening, I finally realized that what to say was that there was nothing to say—that nothing makes that pain lessened and nothing changes the complex feelings and nothing brings back the mother that you long for now more than you ever did when she was alive.  And I reached out with exactly that: an assertion that nothing would help and that I wouldn’t pretend it might.  I offered my love.  I offered my listening ear.  And I offered my sympathies.

And she shared a huge piece of her heart in reply.

As she expressed her feelings and her struggles and her joys and her surprise and her pain, I realized that all of these long years, we have been living a parallel life.  As she spoke of her many-faceted emotional state and the journey that she had been on as her mother became sick, her father became a care-taker of sorts, and her mother passed, I could have replied with that often used, “Same”.

We were sharing a history, but doing so apart from one another.

When we were kids we played together when our parents got together.  And it wasn’t as though we didn’t enjoy hanging out, but over time, as we became old enough to not be dragged along to our parents’ social events, we stopped spending time together.  And there were times when we connected over the years—running into one another at Christmas or a special event when we were all present once more.  But those little interactions became cordial and socially acceptable, instead of times when we played with abandon or shared secrets or did all those things that come easy when you are young, but cease to be so as you grow up.

Peter Pan had the right of things, in many ways.  Growing up steals much of the honesty and joy and many of the dreams which childhood allows, and even encourages.

What was stolen from this woman and myself was the opportunity to share our similar journeys.  Until last night, we had not had the opportunity to bond over shared experience, or to support one another.  It took the death of both of our mothers to recognize one another on a path we had been walking together for years.

I’ve been thinking much today about this sameness, and this similarity, and this shared experience.  I’ve been thinking that we all felt the weight of struggles alone, and all of this time we could have been bearing them together.  I have had other childhood friends express feelings that I have struggled with: I’m not enough, I’m not good enough, I cannot compare with person X, I don’t fit in, I can’t do anything “right”, I didn’t want to treat person Y like that but wasn’t brave enough to put an end to it and went along with the crowd.   All of this time, we were all young women (and a few men) who felt alone in our struggle.  We were not alone.

We are not alone.  We are united in this struggle.

The organizer in me wants to shout from the rooftops that we need to come together and fight against our common enemy.  But the pastor in me knows that such a strategy isn’t necessarily the right approach here.  What might be helpful is for me to express continually my struggle, and to allow others the safe space to express their struggle.  Because SO MANY TIMES I find that we are coping with the same feelings, and have so much in common, and could be bearing burdens together.

I’ve said before, and will say again, that I label myself as “spiritual but not religious” because organized religion has left bad tastes in my mouth time and again.  I believe in the Divine.  I don’t name it in terms of a triune god, but I believe.  But one of the things that many religions teach, and that I think is a divine directive, is that we share in one another’s burdens—we carry the heavy shit together to make it lighter.  And for some reason the place where I grew up chants the religion like a name at a boxing match, but also chastises individuals and tosses burdens onto their backs while they whisper behind their hands at the failures of those individuals to carry the load.

It is a sick practice, really.  It is wholly other than the divine imperatives to care for and love and welcome and heal and help everyone—like literally everyone.  All of those imperatives tell us to help carry the load, not toss it on the back of another.

I broke under the weight.

So many people I know broke under the weight.

And still the weight is piled.  My daughter experienced that weight when we moved back to that area.  And I left, rather than have her live in that place and in that way where you never feel like enough and people are constantly trying to hide their brokenness by breaking the person next to them.

Today I see that we can fix this.  Today I see that we were fighting the same war, but we were all at different battle sites.  If we could have been honest then, in our adolescence, and shared how we were struggling, we could have become a powerful force for change.  We could have swept that town of gossip and lies and shaming that keep the focus off of the problems of one, only to shatter the life of another.  We could have united to bear one another’s burdens.  We could have lifted the weight and held one another up and shared a journey.

We didn’t.

But I am committed to doing so now.

The past doesn’t change when we change in the future, but it can transform in some ways.  It has the benefit of perspective, and new perspective can shed light on events, even though the events themselves do not change.  And I am ready to look at this childhood in this place with these people in a new light, and with new honesty and connection and trust.  I believe that looking at it in this way will transform not just the past, but will transform us as women and men who thought for all these years that we were alone in our struggles.  Knowing we were in it together and talking about it together in this later stage of life empowers us.  It lets us acknowledge and release the bad and lets us acknowledge and embrace the good.

And that doesn’t happen overnight.  And some events you don’t get over completely—or at least there are some I don’t think I will recover from completely.  But knowing that the burden is shared, and that I am not the only one carrying the weight of those events puts me well on the way to recovery.

So, here I am, people of my youth (and any other time period, really).  I’m standing open to receive and to offer with honesty, with trust, with grace, and with understanding the journeys—mine and yours and ours—and the events and the feelings and the burdens.  I’m here, committed to change, committed to new life, committed to carrying the weight together.

Let’s all try to open up.  Let’s try to do it before any more of our parents die.  Let’s know that the circumstances of our childhood don’t define us.  Let’s know that molds were made to be shattered in order to exhume the beauty within.  Let’s know that we don’t need “thicker skin” or to keep our business private or to hide or to hurt.  We are allowed to be—in all of our ways of being we should feel comfortable and free and alive.  Let’s stoop under the weights of our friends and neighbors and partners and brace ourselves underneath, helping to lighten the load a bit.  And when enough of us are willing to stoop down and take some of that weight, we all find relief.

Community.  I’ve studied it for a long time.  And I keep coming back to this idea, that burdens are borne together, or we are crushed.  So, in order to survive, we need to start looking at the plights of those around us and responding with the short and effective communication that my daughter and I have come to use so frequently.  Same.

There is a quote I use often, and love from Lilla Watson.  “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

It is time for us to work together.  In my childhood community, in my current community, in my social circles, in my city, in my country, in my world, and in my universe it is time for us to work together.

It is time for us to understand that the liberation of one is bound to the liberation of all.

We can only be free when we are free together.  We can only bear burdens with all of us carrying the weight.  We overcome only because we do so together.  And we do so together because in many ways we are all on the same journey—not just in the specifics of events or feelings, but in the sense that we are all evolving and developing into a better version of humanity (or we should be, at least).

We are meant to look to the person next to us, to see their experience and their perspective and the events that shape them and to declare, “Same”.  And if we cannot do that, we will be crushed under weights we didn’t imagine would ever be placed upon our shoulders.

I think we see that in the news every day of late.

We join in sorrow over things that were caused by a refusal to bear burdens of another.  Discrimination doesn’t hurt us personally—that is the burden of the gay or the black or the Muslim—so we don’t enter the fray.  And we are seeing the results of that failure to stoop and lift with our fellow human beings.  When we don’t bear the weight together, people break.  But there are consequences felt throughout the entire community when those individuals break.  You can’t escape the aftershock of the seismic events.  So, why refuse to help hold the weight that might prevent those events?  Ignoring the problems of others doesn’t work.

We lift together, or we are crushed.  All of us.  The whole of humanity.  The entire planet.

And saying it that way makes it seem an enormous task.  But it really just starts with us listening and bearing the weight of the feelings and experience of another.  A world full of people caring about the person next to them is a world that resembles what most would see as a heaven or a paradise.

That heaven, that paradise, is achievable in the here and now.

It can happen if you open up and share your journey, and listen well to join in the journey of another.  It will happen if we simply love one another, care for one another, and bear one another’s burdens.  It will happen when we hear the struggle or joy of another and can respond with a genuine agreement.

“Same.”

 

 

 

 

Letting Go

When you have been hurt by people in the past, it can be really hard to trust people in the now.  And it isn’t the fault of whomever you are with now if someone before hurt you, but it is also not easy to keep the two experiences separate in your mind and heart.  As a result, we often try to control things in new relationship and new situations—to keep things safe and metered and carefully mapped.

But things like love and care don’t flourish in an environment where things are safe and metered and carefully mapped.  Passion can’t exist there.  Trust can’t exist there.  So, by trying to prevent hurt from happening we create a place where the happiest and most healing relating is also prevented.

I’m certainly not proposing that we let any and all experience happen to us, without setting boundaries or ensuring our health and safety.  We definitely need to be safe and have boundaries.  But there is only so far we can take those boundaries and that safety before they transform into something else—something more sinister and potentially damaging.  If we are not cognizant of what we are doing with those boundaries and that safety, they can become control.  They can become an inability to let go.

The other night I had a date.  It was an amazing date.  We had an early dinner and drinks, and there was not a moment of dead air between us.  We talked about all sorts of things, and then we dropped my leftover food off at his apartment on our way to a karaoke bar.  We had tons of fun.  We drank, he sang, we made “friends” with a group of Guns and Roses fans on one side of the bar, and a beautiful mother and her daughters celebrating a milestone birthday on the other.  He held the room captive as he sang, and every single person clapped and sang along with him.  He loved being on that stage, and his excitement was contagious.

Eventually we ate again, because we had been out for so many hours and had so many beers.  We took a cab to another bar, and once more he brought everyone into his state of excitement and his love of song.  And I watched him with pride.  Because between songs he was talking to me.

He was more than talking to me.  He was holding every word, and passionately engaged in conversation, and geeking out on my fandoms as hard as I do—maybe harder.  He was wrapping his arm around me.  He was holding me close.  He was kissing my lips.  And I felt honored to have him there doing so.  I felt blessed by his presence, and I felt privileged to be his chosen companion.  I was certain that he could choose lots of other women, but he was choosing me.

And I still refused to let go.

I didn’t sing on stage.  Which makes no sense, because from childhood I have been desiring the stage, and loving every moment I was allowed and able to sing upon it.  And while I am a bit self-conscious about my voice today, with hoarseness and the breaks of a pubescent boy often plaguing my vocal chords without warning.  But that wasn’t why I didn’t sing.  There were plenty of singers worse than I who took the stage.  And I sang loudly from our little table in the corner, with him at my side.  I didn’t go up because I was pretending I didn’t want to.

I wasn’t pretending for him.  I was pretending for me.

I was pretending I had too much humility or shyness or reservation to perform on stage.  I was making excuses for myself and to myself.  Because being up there meant being vulnerable.  Being up there meant I had no control over the outcome.  Being up there meant opening up and letting loose and letting go.  And I wouldn’t do it.

Later that night, back at his apartment, when I took off my shoes and my sweater and my scarf to be more comfortable and cool, the tattoo on my left arm was in full view.  After having hugged and kissed me a bit, he ran a finger over that tattoo, which boldly declares, “Enough”, and he said, “I assume this is about taking your life back.”  Taking my life back is how I described myself on the media platform where we first came into contact with one another.

He had the right of it.  That tattoo is part of fighting back, and saying I have had enough—that I won’t take any of the bullshit I do not want and that I create my experience from now on.

But that tattoo is also about reminding myself that I am “Enough”, just as I am and without any comment or consideration or care of another.  I am not almost good enough.  I am not lacking.  I am not without value or merit or reasons for pride.  I am, wholly and completely, enough.

And in that moment I started to cry.

I wasn’t entirely sure why at the time.  Further thought on the subject, however, brought me to the place I stand this morning.  I know now that I cried because I wasn’t acting like enough.  I wasn’t letting go and letting my true self shine.  I was controlling and metered and safe the whole night.  I was in the presence of another for only a few short hours.  But in those hours, I wanted to be what he admired, instead of being all that I am and waiting to see if he might admire me.  I wanted to create an ending where I don’t get hurt more than I wanted to create something real and deep and true.  And the moment I felt that was what I was doing, I wept.

Crying on the first date is usually a terrible idea, as a general rule.

But even then he was fabulous, and walked through that moment and moved forward with me to the next.  And a bit later I reluctantly left, wanting to remain curled up in his arms, but knowing that my poor dog needed my attention more than I needed the attention of this man.

The next day, thinking it all through once more, I felt ashamed.  I felt foolish.  I felt the familiar weight of having pretended instead of having let go to be myself.  And last night my text went unanswered, and all I could think was that I hoped that my pretending did not take the opportunity to be with this man again from me.  I hoped so much that my refusal to be vulnerable and true didn’t take away the joy of that night and leave me always wishing for another.

I still wait in hope.  And I hope that this realization will offer me a chance to step up next time, and to boldly belt out songs from that stage.

While I do want to see this man again, there is more to it now than a connection with a potential partner.  There are all these layers of decision that we must navigate in every single moment.  And in the moment, I denied the truth and didn’t let go.  In the moment I played safe and controlled and let the hurts of the past define me, and not the heart and the soul and the spirit of the present.  I sought approval, instead of seeking joy.

Sometimes, when people ask me about my history and what I might regret, I shock them with my answers.  They think that my bad marriage or the night of binge drinking where I was sexually assaulted before morning or my drug use or any number of “bad” or “sad” or “regrettable” decisions should be what leaves my lips.  But it is not those things that haunt me.  Because during that time, when all that chaos was happening around me, I still held fast to me.  I didn’t feel like that woman needed to hide in the shadows.  That woman took the stage.  That woman built her own fucking stage if there wasn’t one to take.  That woman was brave and powerful and wild in ways that her later incarnation has not been.  I regret leaving her behind.  I regret not being her on Friday night.  I regret that I forgot that I am enough.

I believe that this man will offer me another chance.  I believe that he is kind and caring and understanding, alongside being fun and courageous and cuddly and cute.

And when that chance comes, I need to swallow any hint of reservation, of safety, of control.  I need to jump up and sing out and let vulnerability rule the day.

I need to trust that I am still, and always, Enough.

I need to let my heart love.  I need to let my spirit fly free.  I need to find and hold joy.

I need to let go.

 

Shifting

I was talking with my dad yesterday, and our conversation turned toward the topic of change.  Particularly, we were talking about what it takes to change your mind—to move toward a new idea or concept and abandon your previous thinking.  And that discussion led to some thought about how my own progression and development of thought has come about.

Admittedly, I have had experience and opportunities to gain knowledge that others have not.  That knowledge and experience have definitely been part of my transition from one school of thought to another.  But I sometimes feel that there is something more leading my shift in ideas.  And I began to consider what that might be.

At times, I think that my childhood traumas might have had an unintended consequence of pushing me toward something new.  The stark difference between what I was told and what I was experiencing motivated me to look for something that seemed more honest and authentic.  And the shame and struggle of being different and feeling tainted or marked in some way caused me to seek out a framework that didn’t make me out to be some evil, sinful thing, awaiting a horrible hell where I would burn in eternal fires.  (Mind you, I was feeling that way because of what was being done to me, not because of anything I had chosen to do.)

I bore the weight of many things, and I didn’t even remember some of the things until college.  I was always sort of unaligned and a bit mistrusting and a tad weird, but my first year of college was the start of the journey toward full-blown PTSD crazy.  Crazy isn’t a diagnosis here, but more of a title for how others began to view me.  Because symptoms of rage and nightmares and flashbacks and depression and risk-taking behaviors seem like crazy to the untrained eye—and also, it would seem, to a number of professionals. (My mistrust of rural doctors is founded upon the continued failure of rural doctors—especially those of the psychiatric persuasion.)  And when you are “acting crazy” you start to feel even more crazy, because you don’t really want to act out in those ways, but there is a compulsion within you that is far stronger than any reason you might try to hold onto. There isn’t really a way for the brain to rationalize away trauma, no matter how hard you try.  And, for some, the harder they try, the more dissociative their condition becomes—moving toward dissociative identity disorder, which is sort of the peak of dissociative brain activity.

Luckily, my symptoms hovered in the PTSD realm.  And I was also able to compartmentalize well in later years, and to push my trauma into particular and less “crazy” behaviors, like risky sex and smoking and manipulation and petty theft.  While those things weren’t great for me, they helped me keep the world blind to most of the symptoms I experienced, and kept me on a more even plane, temporarily.

But, I am getting into tangent territory.  And the point here wasn’t my struggle with the symptoms that arose from my childhood, but with change and shifting ideas.

I had symptoms that pushed me out into the world.  I moved from city to town to city to hilltop commune to city, and I experienced life in ways that many have not.  I saw poverty and abuse and homelessness and sex work and violence and mental illness and struggle of many kinds.  And I saw them up close and personal, not through huffpost articles, but on the actual street and in my real life.  You can’t live with and in those spaces without changing the way you think, because the truth of those things is forced upon you, and no amount of rationalizing or pontificating will make that truth go away.

But when you come back to “civilized” society after living off of trash can food and free clinics and using your body as capital, somehow the “civilized” people want you to stop believing in the truths that were evident in that other portion of your life and experience.  They don’t want to hear that the poor are made so by their action or inaction.  They don’t want to know that abortions happen because of careful, thoughtful consideration by intelligent and capable women.  They don’t want to believe that gay people are such from birth.  And no matter how many stories of civilized people with struggles I would tell, there were those who refused to believe what I knew to be true—that love lives in those people and in the midst of those challenges, and that they aren’t evil.

I remember the time when I was still attached to the thinking of my family and my hometown and the people within its boundaries.  I believed in the badness of sex and drugs and curse words and poverty and moral failure of many kinds.  I spoke out against abortion and thought homeless people needed to get jobs and believed that I had the right to judge others based on my superior attention to religious law.  But I was wrong.  I was very, extremely, ludicrously wrong.

I am fine with people being wrong due to their limited experience and understanding of a thing.  I was that person.  The challenge is the people who will fight to the death over their belief, which can be easily refuted with more experience and understanding.

Information is everywhere these days.  You don’t have to look long or look far to grasp a greater understanding of things.  But there are still many from my history or in particular circles who demand that their limited view is the correct view.  They believe they have the right to judge others based on their superior attention to religious law, even when I can tell them clearly and concisely how their view of the law is incorrect.  The problem, in their eyes, is the failure of my seminary training, not their understanding.  And they will continue to insist upon the truth of something that is easily disproved.

Some might think that I am the same way, because I have things that I hold to and will not deny credence or accept variance.  But the difference here is that I have researched and studied those things, and have not yet been offered an alternative proof.  I’m not closed off and refusing to accept anything.  I’m very open, or I wouldn’t be at the place I am today in my thought.

I started the shift, in some ways, when I was very young.  It didn’t make sense that god is love but god didn’t rescue me from illness and abuse.  I didn’t want to be in the place where I was suffering that illness and abuse.  I wanted to get away.  And this may have fueled my running, but it wasn’t the reason I left the ideas of my rural, religious, right-wing-esque home.  I left those ideas because they were based on false assumptions and not on the truth.  And when I use the term truth here, I don’t mean my opinions, but things that I have tested and found to be based in fact and supported by the stories and anecdotal evidences I have encountered.

As I moved farther from the religious teachings, and closer to the people living out a different life and expressing other ideas, I came to find that I loved learning.  I loved learning so much that I decided to obtain an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees.  And the more I learned, the more I discovered that those closely held ideas in my hometown were not facts.  And the more I expressed facts, instead of those closely held ideas, the more I was labeled and challenged and discounted by people in that hometown.

Yesterday, when talking with my dad, I mentioned that with every degree and every new experience, I get farther in my thinking than the previous group I shared life with.  My experience in Chicago and in study of social justice moved my thinking slightly “left” of that which I believed when I was in Phoenix and studying theology.  My experience in Phoenix and in study of theology moved my thinking slightly left of that which I believed when I was in Sioux Center and studying philosophy.  And my experience in Sioux Center and in study of philosophy moved me slightly left of that which I believed in Kansas City and Rock Rapids and Sheldon and some remote area in Oklahoma’s red hills and in studying life’s hard knocks.  So, as we dissect the course of my life, we get back to small town high school days … and the people who were in the seat next to me in high school think I am so liberal that I am going to a horrible hell where I will burn in eternal fires.

And it matters not that I can put forth an argument against a literal hell so good that I got an A+ on the paper where I did put it forth while in seminary.  That first community is still filled with people who view me as the crazy, liberal, leftist evil that belongs in hell fires.

I struggle to understand people who would deny the facts, and ignore every study, and refuse to accept any anecdotal evidence, and not listen to the stories of others, but hold fast to what has been proven untrue.

I’m not that type of person.  I love change.  I love learning.  I love knowing more and being more informed and having more ideas.  I love testing theories and researching topics and gathering data.  I love the moment when you say, “Oh”, because you have just discovered that you were wrong.  And I love the moment when you say, “Aha”, because you have just discovered that you were correct.

So, I guess the only direction that I can go as I seek the close of this post is toward encouragement.  I encourage everyone reading this to open up to an idea.  Just start with one.  You don’t need to live on the street and be an addict and get divorced and explore your own sexuality and go to seminary and study philosophy all at once.  And you don’t need to start with the idea you hold most dear.  But start with something.  Pick one topic and research it and talk to people affected and gather data and take information from a variety of sources, and see if you feel differently at the end of that process than you did at the beginning.  You can’t manage this type of study, however, if you cannot come to it with the understanding that you might be wrong.

All of the shifts in my thinking required this one thing:  the willingness to be wrong.

I had to accept that I might be wrong about what is evil and what is good.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about what causes poverty.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about racial injustice.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about personhood from conception.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about the morality and personality of sex workers.  I had to accept that I might be an addict.  I had to accept that I spent years fighting battles that I now am ashamed to have fought.  I had to accept that I don’t know much at all.  I had to accept that I don’t have all the answers.  I had to accept that my concept of the divine may have been very wrong.  I had to let myself be incorrect and let myself learn from others.

I might be a stubborn and belligerent gal, but I have never not wanted to learn.  And this openness to ideas has caused shift after shift after shift.  And those are good.  Those are well researched, touched by truth, seeking the divine, open to any outcome shifts.  They weren’t all easy shifts to make.

It wasn’t easy accepting that the creation story or the story of Jonah and the whale aren’t literal.  It wasn’t easy accepting that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law.  It wasn’t easy to accept that a fetus is not the same as a live birth.  It wasn’t easy to accept that I have white privilege.  It wasn’t easy to accept that disability doesn’t devalue a person or their life.  It wasn’t easy to accept that gender is fluid.  But I would rather work toward accepting something with difficulty than work toward demanding a lie be accepted as truth.

And there is a chance that I am wrong about all the things I now believe.  There may be new information that comes to light, or new experience that shapes my ideas, and I may be proved wrong.

Then I will need to shift again.

In many ways change is life and life is change.  I believe that in order to live fully, I need to explore in ways that allow for change to happen.  This includes the humility of accepting the times when I get things wrong.  And I get them wrong plenty of times, but I seek to leave my ego at the door when I engage in study or conversation, so that I can keep learning from others.  And as I learn, I change.  But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

As I change and shift, I become a better person.  Contest that all you want, I won’t retract that statement.  I may not become what others wish I were—I may not fit their concept of “better”.  But I am better.  I am more knowledgeable and more open and more kind and more considerate and more accepting than I have ever been.  And one day soon, as I learn and shift and learn and shift, I will be even more so.  Not because I can shoot down other people’s ideas with fabulous amounts of sarcasm and snark, but because I can listen and learn at every moment and in every stage.

When my mother started to slip toward dementia, she went through some periods of regression.  Some of the comments she made were very racist.  But I knew that wasn’t my mom today coming out in the moment, but it was my mother in her youth, before she made the shift from the racism of her family members and the challenges of race in Chicago during her teens.  I was watching her shift in reverse, going from the loving and caring woman she became back to the girl she once was.  Those early ideas were so offensive.  And my mom was a much better person at 55 than at 15.  If I suffer the same disease she suffered, I might someday make an anti-transgendered comment, or say something about poor people needing to work harder.  But I won’t mean it.  Because I have evolved past that point.  I’ve become more open and more loving and more caring, just like my mom did.

And I have rocketed past my mom’s development, and the shifting of some others, but I also come behind those who have flown to the front of the pack, leading me into a new age of thought and action and understanding.  I love knowing that there are others pioneering, and that I am in good company as I continue to learn and to change.

Evolving, shifting, and changing should be seen as good.  None of us should be stuck in the same rut for 80 years and then die.  Not just because I see transformation as positive, but because I believe that transformation and growth are at the heart of being human.  We have one of the longest periods of development of any creature on earth.  We change slowly.  We grow slowly. We reach our pinnacle at a very late age.  And I don’t think that is accidental.  I think we were meant to keep changing in order to keep evolving into a better form.  We are designed to move forward.  We are made for shifting.

I work on creating new neural pathways and reintegrating parts of my brain all of the time.  Old humans can learn new tricks.  We are supposed to do so.  And the more we work at learning, the healthier our brains remain as we age.  Learning, which our brain needs, always begets change.  It is a natural progression.  And maybe your progression won’t lead you as far “left” as mine has led me.  But don’t be afraid to learn and don’t be afraid to change.

Evolve.  Become better.  Shift.

Plans

Yesterday I received a rude message.  It made accusations against me, because I had posted on Facebook both an update to my fundraiser, requesting donations to pay bills in May, and a request for pictures of items my mother had painted, to utilize at my tattoo consultation.  In the mind of the one offering the rude message, these two things were linked, and I was asking for money to pay for “luxuries” like tattoos.  This is untrue.

And I could probably create an entire book about how paternalistic judgments of how the poor are “allowed” to spend their very limited resources are completely unnecessary and unwarranted and unwanted.  Trust me. The poor have a far greater understanding of thrift and priority and hard work and collaboration and kindness and care than most people.  Until you can hold a single $5 bill in your wallet for two months without spending it on anything, or furnish a household using only the items others discard, or own a wardrobe where every article of clothing was purchased on clearance or secondhand, don’t tell someone with limited resources how to use their money.  They know far more about money and value than you could imagine.

But I won’t focus on the aforementioned paternalistic judgments today, because what I have been pondering more fully is the idea of making plans.

The tattoo artist I met with last evening is booking appointments for January right now.  If I choose to have him do this tattoo (which will be an amazing commingling of what I had imagined as 2 tattoos), that honors my mother and my daughter and covers most of my right arm, I will need to wait until next year before any inked needle pierces my skin.  So, last night we talked about design and created a plan.  I spent no money.  And I used the Facebook comments as a forum for explaining that I had spent no money, nor would I spend fundraising money for tattoos, or any other personal entertainment or luxury items.

But later I was thinking about how great it is that I am even making plans for next year.

When you have as much disease plaguing you as I do, and when you have so few resources that you aren’t sure how you will make it to next week, you could posit that plans are something superfluous, and that the present moment is the only time and place where the focus should lie.

I think that would be a sad position to hold.

Please don’t misunderstand. I work very hard to live in the present moment—to put the past behind and to reduce anxiety or worry that comes from looking forward.  I love the present, and being present in each moment.  Mindful living, where you fully embrace and enjoy each moment as it is, without judgments or adjustments, is living that I am working toward every day.  I meditate, and color mandalas, and do yoga, and work to taste my food rather than devour it, and allow all sorts of sensations and emotions to arise and coexist and leave without trying to change them.  Being mindful in the present is extremely important.

But the future, and living toward it, is also a beautiful thing.  I sometimes wonder if my life will go on for many years, or if my days are short in number.  Especially lately, in the face of testing for early onset Alzheimer’s disease, I think about what my end might look like.  And while I am not worrying over it, and will accept my end with as much grace and compassion as I am able, no matter what happens, I love the idea that I am still planning a future.

I am planning a wonderful future!

I was browsing in a boutique last night.  And the first thing I said to the sales woman when I walked in was, “I have no budget for clothes right now”, but that wasn’t where we left things.  I also told her that I love every outfit that comes up in that boutique window, and I nearly give myself whiplash as my bus goes by the shop, and that one day when my finances are better I will definitely be in to purchase some clothes.  As the conversation continued, at one point I commented, “I in no way believe that my past or my current situation define what happens in my future.  I absolutely believe that I will have better circumstances in the future than I have today.”  The shop keeper echoed my statements, and we had a lovely philosophical discussion about the practical subjects of our lives.  And that moment was filled with hope.

Later, while I was walking down the avenue, I reflected on that conversation, and on the earlier tattoo consultation.  I decided that plans are a sort of miracle for me, and likely for people with situations similar to mine.

I cancel plans often.  There are many days when my health hijacks everything and leaves me in a state where I cannot do what I had planned to do.  But despite the fact that I cancel often, I keep making plans.  I could sit at home every night rather than disappoint others and upset calendars with rescheduling.  I don’t.  I keep placing meetings and social events and mating rituals into the little boxes that frame my time, even when I know a good percentage of those boxes will later be altered.  I keep living, even when life isn’t easy.

Realizing that I keep living in these little ways brought up thoughts of long-term planning.  And I also noted that I have long-term plans.  I plan on having a home filled with things and people and animals I love.  I plan on growing old.  I plan on getting married, or living in a long-term partnership.  I plan on being near the beach.  I plan on having resources.  I plan on finding a way to create art that funds my existence.  I plan on having enough and not feeling any lack.  I plan on having a full and rewarding and beautiful life.  I plan on being covered in tattoos!

There is so much future hope in the way I live today.  And, interestingly, I find that the more time I spend focused on being present in this moment, the more positive my plans for the future become.  The more meditation and mindfulness exercise and mandala coloring I do, the more full and rewarding and beautiful my future life seems.

A few weeks ago I had a date with a man, and when we eventually got around to setting a second date, he followed up the planning with a “we will see what happens” comment, that sort of felt like it gave him permission to flake out on the second date.  At the point when he began to flake on the second date, saying he was still stuck at work, I abruptly ended my connection with him.  I didn’t do it to dump him first, or because I thought he didn’t like me, but because he seemed to be in this space where “we will see what happens” trumps “we will”.  I didn’t want to be in that space with him.

I want to live in a space where planning for a great future happens, and speed bumps are slowly and carefully overtaken, but that doesn’t make me turn away from the fabulous things I see ahead. I want to live in a space where the best and the most and the loveliest are assumed.  I want to plan for a life that is outrageously good.  And I want to put all sorts of energy into the present, in order to fight for that future.  I don’t want to see what happens.  I want to shape what happens.

This week has been filled with conversations with a lovely woman.  And she and I have been looking for a time and space where we can have a first date.  And while there are no plans set in stone, and no little boxes on the calendar that currently hold her name, we both see only a future where we get to spend time together.  “We will be in touch.”  “[We will] talk soon.”  “We will find a good spot.”  “We will do that another time.”  “I will teach you about that.”  “I will show you when I see you.”  “I’ll tell you that story when we go out.”

A future planned together, even without definitive plans, is far superior to not committing to anything that might sound like a plan for a shared future.  And a future planned with good things and fullness and love is far superior to waiting to see how things transpire and what life hands you.

For many years now, I have been a “we shall see” type of person, who would wait for what life handed her and then cope with the consequences.  But the last couple of years have brought about something new.  They have brought out the “I will” person.  And she plans for the best possible future, even while the present threatens to overwhelm her and the past pulls at her ankles, attempting to drag her underground.  She assumes that better things are coming.  She believes that life will offer her more.  She knows that the divine wishes her survival.  She knows that she is allowed to—meant to—thrive. She makes plans.

I make plans.  And they are not based on what I currently see around me.  They are based on what I know lies within me.  And what lies within offers all beauty and fullness and goodness and grace and love.  That is the future I am planning toward.

So, on a day next year, I will have Joseph add some fabulous ink to my right arm.  And I will pay for it with money I have earned, either through my slow and steady work or through my long and arduous fight for disability payments.  And I will shop in that little boutique, and take some of those coveted clothes from the mannequins in the window and put them on my body.  And I will weigh less and cope with my illness more. I will be more self-compassionate and I will trust and love others more than I do today.  I will have an amazing partner, and get married in a pink dress, and live on the waterfront, and travel to beautiful places and have money in my bank account and on and on and on…

Because I plan to live the best and most treasured life I am capable of living.  And even with over twenty forms of illness to live with, I am confident that I will be capable of living in amazing and wonderful ways.  If at some point those plans need to be cancelled, so be it.  But I’m not going to cancel a beautiful life before I have planned one.

I’m going to plan one, and do my best to see it through, with every little box of time containing something or someone amazing.

With every little box marked “LIVE”.

Magic

There was a time in my life when I was involved in a bit of Wiccan foreplay.  I never actually joined a coven or became a card-carrying member of the organization, but I certainly dabbled for a while.  It is interesting that for some years after, I had an aversion to such things, and sort of tied anything having to do with the non-physical aspects of life to evil.  But that is likely because of Christianity, and its refusal to let things exist in a realm without firm, dichotomous boundaries.

I remember that when I would participate and attempt to do things in this environment, with others more committed to the religion than I, they would often marvel at my ability to conjure or find or follow or send “energy”.  And even though I was apparently doing those things, I didn’t really understand fully or believe that those things were happening, or that I was talented in doing them.  I did find certain aspects of that community fun and entertaining, and I also found it to be a community that was tightly knit and deeply caring and wholly invested in light and love.  That was one of the best things about that time in my history, being in that light and love.

Today, I did a meditation that I have not used before, and it was talking about one’s “inner goddess”.  When I started it, I just thought it would be a generalized sort of “love yourself more and let your personality shine” meditation.  But it was not that at all.

The teacher explained the metaphorical young energy that rests in the root chakra, and that one kundalini yogi expresses that as a sort of “daughter” energy that needs to be drawn up and matured by a “mother” energy—basically the divine, or God, or Allah, or the universe, or whatever your chosen belief system might call it.   So there is an internal and an external energy at play in this meditation.  Now, I have experienced the whole concept of the chakras and finding balance and strengthening and such and so forth a lot since beginning with yoga and meditation and mindfulness practice.  That isn’t strange to me.  What was strange is that as I did the meditation, the energy I found felt like and looked like the same energy that I was connected with in my experience of “magic”.  And then I had a huge epiphany.

All of these things carry different names in different contexts and in different communities, but there is just one energy in me, and just one energy offered by the divine, and there is only one way that they mingle and become one and share space.

I’m sure that statement will confuse some and offend others.  I’m prepared for that.

However, I cannot deny my experience, strange as some may find it, and I hold fast on this point: that the energy, the life force, and the magic, are one.

I still believe in magic.

As I meditated today, I did as the guide asked, and I envisioned golden light and white misty light and a corridor of energy within and between my chakras, and the mingling of my personal light and the golden light of the mother, this feminine spirit of god, and energy filled not only that corridor, but my hands and my heart and my environment.  I was finding and following and transferring that same energy that I magicked all those years ago in the Wiccan community.  I was holding light and mingling with the divine and feeling my own energy and strength and purpose balling up in my hands, and I knew, with certainty, that this was a moment where the veil is lifted and the divine and the human connect.  This meditation brought me as much connection as a church worship service, or a retreat weekend, or a prayer circle ever has, and even more.  Because I finally recognized the divine and myself commingled and connected.  Even in religious circles, I have not experienced this so fully and completely.

It might sound crazy to some, for me to express that my energy has mixed with the divine.  But to many it should make perfect sense.  God among man.  Humanity and divinity.  The spirit of god being poured out.  Power and laying on of hands and healings.  It all ties to the energy in me mingling with the energy of the divine.  And Shakti or Jesus or Allah or whatever doesn’t seem to matter when you look at it the way I experienced it in this meditation.  A human being guided and lifted and matured by the spirit of the divine.  My daughter energy being fed and nurtured by the mother energy.  The completion of a circle long broken.

In the Garden of Eden, as the story goes, god walked with man and taught and guided and discussed with man the way of life.  And the assumption often is that we cannot get back to that garden, so we cannot get back to the divine.  But that isn’t true.  We can be touched by the divine in a twenty-minute meditation.  We can be touched by the divine in a moment of prayer, bowed toward Mecca.  We can be touched by the divine in a big Assemblies of God foot stomping, slaying in the spirit service.  We can be touched by the divine in the “special music” portion of the liturgy when a word hits us in the middle of the performance of a song.  And we can be touched by the divine in the everyday interactions with those around us.

Magic, in the sense that my energy becomes commingled with the divine, is everywhere around us.  All we need to do is see it and accept it and embrace it.  All we need to do is make it ours—hold it dear and be grateful for it.  This magic—this spirit—pursues us.  It reaches out to us.  All we need do is reach back toward it, and we can be utterly transformed.

But we don’t, more often than not.

We refuse to believe in magic and in miracles and in a divine that would extend purest light to us, body and soul.  We refuse to believe that our story is melded with the story of the universe, in significant and deep ways.  We refuse to understand that our energy is tied with this greater energy, and that we are made of the stars and meant to shine.

And that isn’t the ego talking. That is the voice of the divine shining through me today.

Abundance is a concept often misused in religious circles.  We are sometimes told to give to the tele-evangelist and that god will bless us with money in return.  A “prosperity gospel” that assumes the rich are moral and good in the eyes of god and the poor are morally base or need to repent is a damaging and terrible misunderstanding of the divine intent for abundance.  We are full to overflowing with energy that is being touched by the divine, and all we need do is let that be fostered, matured, and blessed.

My situation or station in life do not scream “Abundance!” My situation and station scream out desperation and need and longing and desire and “Not Enough!”  But my spirit, and the energy that lies within me are abundant and rich and full.

If you don’t feel that way—can’t understand that you are fullness, in your current state—then maybe you need to connect with your inner goddess as well, and find that mother spirit that matures and guides you into such fullness, such abundance, and such gratitude.

Do I sound nuts?  Probably.

Do I care?  Not one bit.  Because I know that this much is true—the divine lives in me, and pursues me, and longs for me, and commingles with my essence, and makes me whole.

Learning to be whole.

That is the way that I titled this blog, and it is what I really wanted desperately at the time—to figure out the way to be whole, and not feel broken down and shattered.  But I am and I was and I will be whole, always.  I just didn’t know it in the moment that I started this blog.

I know it now.  I am wholeness.  I am a piece of the divine.  I am made of star stuff, and I am connected to the spirit of the universe and to every other piece of star stuff within it.

I am magic.  And so are you.

Making Enemies and Infuriating People

I have a friend who often uses the hashtag #makingfriendsandinfluencingpeople, which I believe is based on a book about doing just that—using specific strategies to create connection and influence others.  I also believe that it was a book popular within business circles some years ago, so I have suspicions that the influence part was what was stressed, and the getting what you want from others is the point of using the strategies.  I don’t know how much we can then call that “friendship”.  (But I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to its tone or effectiveness with certainty.)

My friends—the true and real and lasting ones—are people whom I suffer with and rejoice with through all sorts of circumstances.  And I don’t think that a book of strategy for connections would have been useful in the development of those relationships, because they were forged in fire, in many ways, and that forging was often horribly uncomfortable.  Really, the way that we became friends was by not appeasing one another, and by venturing into dark waters together … some of which I thought would drown us both and destroy our connection.  But the thing about being willing to sacrifice your friendship for the good of your friend is that it strengthens the bond with the people who are best for you, and offers those who would not be your friend through both thick and thin the opportunity to walk away.

I was recently speaking with a dear friend via Skype, and we questioned how we became friends at all, since we were both very closed to connection and guarded and mistrusting and walled off at the time.  But, as we discussed it, I realized that sharing mutual distrust for humanity was what bonded us.  And that sounds a bit weird, but we created a connection out of not connecting.  We shared uncomfortable space.  We were both different.  We were both damaged.  We were both in need.  We both knew frightening dangers and horrible pain and devastating events in life.  And because we shared all of this, we were able to quickly dive into the dark waters together.

Other friends have been less quick to dive in.  Some friendships were not cemented until years without communication had passed, and the realization that the challenges the other had placed upon us were meant to love us, and not to harm us, and the remorse and the forgiveness and the forgetting of the division and distance made the bonds strong.

Suffering plays a big part in friendship, because the best way to connect is to break together and to heal together.

Religious texts mention this frequently.  Warnings against fair-weather friends, and commands to support one another, and models of rising and falling together abound, not just in one religion, but in many.  Life together means a life of ups and downs together.

I think that one of the reasons we fail, and make enemies instead of friends, is that we react harshly when we are incapable of rising and falling together.  When we think that individualism is of high importance, and we refuse to imagine that those falling are doing so because that is half of life, but believe that falling is a moral failure, we speak in ways that harm others.  When we are falling, and nobody will hold us as we do so, we sometimes lash out in what looks like anger, but is truly fear at its core.  When we are afraid of falling, we pretend to be rising, and we become disingenuous and dishonest and untrustworthy, which breaks apart bonds and ruins relationship.

We make enemies and infuriate people when we don’t allow ourselves to enter the dark waters together.  When we avoid the falling half of life, and try to wish away the times of struggle and the dangers and horrors that accompany life together, we cannot treat one another in positive ways.  We make up excuses and judge individuals harshly and create scales of worth and value or hierarchies of wrongs and sins and evils in order to justify our refusal to join one another in the sorrows, and be half-friends who only stand in the moments of joy or praise or pride with others.

I am in a season that lacks joy or praise or pride, and others use the scales and hierarchies in attempts to discredit me, so they don’t have to accept that this season—this falling—can happen to any of us at any time.  They hurt me with accusations and define me with degradations, in the name of fairness and righteousness and, at times, even in the name of god.  And I don’t quite understand the instinct to distance one’s self from the one falling.  It seems like far more work to uphold the excuses and the judgments and the scales and the hierarchies than to simply hold onto one another as we fall and as we rise.

I understand that the dark waters are a bit frightening, and that it takes work to swim through to the other side.  But many of us aren’t offered the chance to ignore those waters.  Some of us have been drowning in those dark waters since we were small children.  Others of us wade in the dark waters daily due to lack of resources or abusive acts against us or illnesses or addictions or living in the midst of violence or deep loss.  But those who have a choice, and those who choose not to venture into that space are failing the ones who are falling, and pretending at goodness by attaching themselves to those that are rising.  Being that fair-weather half-friend makes a liar of you, because your joy and praise and pride is not your own, but it is stolen from another.

As one who has been in the dark waters for a lifetime, I want to share something with you.  It is terrible and desperate and contains horrors … and you should long to dive in.  Making friends and influencing people is meaningless if it is this false, half-friend sense of friendship, and the only influence is yours upon others, and not theirs upon you.  Diving into dark waters builds relationships that last and that stand firm in the face of overwhelming circumstances.  Diving into dark waters, and holding one another while we are falling and while we are rising, offers us the fullness of relationship that superficial connections cannot achieve.  Trust, boundaries, vulnerabilities, honesty, and deep love can only accompany these dark-water friendships.  Everything else is insufficient, and you are missing out on love and life if you don’t have people in your life who are holding you while you rise and while you fall—who don’t attend your struggles the way they attend your happiness, who come to the parties and not the funerals.

This is the fullness of love—the “unconditional” that we hear about, but rarely experience.  Rising and falling together.  Suffering and celebrating together.  And refusing to hold on to any judgments or scales or hierarchies.  Wading in the dark waters, and connecting in the midst of that murky river, with walls stripped down and conditions removed and humility and trust and the knowledge that brokenness is not all-defining, but that we can build a beautiful love from the bits and pieces, is a most fabulous use of time and energy.

I don’t often make friends and influence people.  I live a relatively humble life, and I don’t get out into the world to make connections very often.  And sometimes I make enemies and infuriate people, but not for the reasons listed earlier in this post, but because I push back at people’s refusal to accept the existence and the pervasiveness and the importance of the dark waters, and I try to break down the judgments and scales and hierarchies that some hold more dear than love.  But I seek, every moment, to be the type of person who holds humanity in high regard, and who seeks to hold every human I meet as they rise and fall as a result.

I don’t always succeed.  Because even as I seek to break down judgments, scales, and hierarchies, I was conditioned to hold them in higher esteem than humanity and love.  So I know that it is a fight to continue to hold everyone as they rise and fall.  I know that it isn’t easy.  I know it doesn’t always come naturally at first, and there are days when you will revert back to the scales or judgments by default (and you are usually overcome with shame when you realize you have done so).  However, every moment of that fight and every discomfort that results from diving into the dark waters is worth it.

Love—in the most deep and pure and deconstructed form—is worth it.

Rising and falling together is love.  Meeting needs is love.  Standing together in the darkest of moments is love.  And if you don’t brave being in the deep, you won’t find love.  You will find the half-friends who let you remain unchallenged in the good times, but abandon you in the difficult times.

When the deep rises up and you find yourself wading the dark waters, you want to be held by true love, and friends who are there for the whole of your experience.  And you want to hold onto others as they rise and fall.  Because a deeper, richer, more full life is the reward for holding on.

I want that life.  I want those friends.  I want that love.

Do you?

Dare to dive in.

 

Birthday

I  started bawling while I typed out a text to my daughter.  She turns nineteen today.  I can’t even wrap my head around that.  That tiny seven pound bundle of smiles and tears that was placed in my arms all those years ago changed everything about life and love.  And I know that lots of people will say things like, “I didn’t know what love was until I became a parent”.  I don’t really subscribe to that.  What I will say is that I had never felt love so deep and so full and so beautiful until I held that gorgeous bundle in my arms.

I think this is the worst part about human development—that we forget that moment when our parent first held us and looked into our tiny face and beamed love toward us.  All the late night feedings, and lullabies, and peek-a-boos, and looks of love and joy are left engrained in the mind of a parent, but lost for the child.  And by the time we start remembering our parents’ actions and interactions with us there is discipline and disappointment and distraction between parent and child that wasn’t there in those early days when all we could possibly show our babies was unadulterated and unconditional love.

I realize today, in ways I never have before, that my own mother looked at me that way once.

It was hard, listening to my siblings express their views of my mother and who she was to the funeral director as we sat planning for her funeral.  They knew a different woman than I did.  That was painful, and illuminating.  They received and remembered love and generosity and selflessness.  I remembered a harsh and argumentative history of always feeling not good enough and being a constant disappointment to my mother.  I loved my mother dearly.  I couldn’t figure out how to like her for most of my life, but I loved her.

But once, she looked in my face like I looked into my baby girl’s face and she felt only love and joy and possibility.  I wish I had the ability to remember that moment.  I wish I knew that look and that feeling more fully.

My mother was the first person to hold my daughter at her birth.  I was divorcing by the time I gave birth, so my husband wasn’t present for the birth. (That was probably good, because his attendance might have led to me being charged with murder, or assault at the least.) My mother took his place at my side, and neither of us could have anticipated that she would be at my side for 40 full hours of labor, but she was.  And at the end of the two day ordeal, I was too exhausted to hold my own child.  So, the pictures of my baby meeting her grandma precede the pictures of her meeting me.  I was thinking on that long ordeal yesterday, and what it took to get this beautiful nineteen year old woman into the world, and how my mom was there for every moment.  And I remember, exhausted as I was, seeing my mother look at that baby in that moment, with more love than I knew she was able to give.  With more wonder than I thought possible, and with more grace and generosity and selflessness than I knew she had within her.

I didn’t understand in the moment of preparing for my mother’s funeral that the way my mother looked at her first granddaughter was also the way she viewed me.  But she did.

When I texted my daughter this morning I told her all the things I wish that I had heard my mother say to me when I was nineteen.  And I didn’t do it on purpose.  I simply realized, after offering all the love and encouragement and pride that I could muster in a text message, that I wished my mother had been able to tell me those things when I was that age.  She didn’t, or couldn’t, or didn’t know how.  And that was why I knew a different woman than my siblings—because I couldn’t remember that love from when I was so little that the discipline and disappointment and distraction became primary ways of interacting, and when I was old enough to know my mother well, we were divided by so many differences of opinion and a similar stubborn will that we couldn’t express well the love that had been there at the beginning.

It was there at the end.

The end for me was years before her death, but the first year that she began to forget my face, when she clung to me as we said goodbye after a visit and cried and repeated over and over and over that she loved me.  She was trying to make up for lost time and opportunity, I think.  To say it enough that it would sink in—be remembered.

It is remembered, and so is the moment when they placed my daughter in her arms and I saw my mother’s face turn to pure love and the fullest joy.

My daughter is one of the best people I have ever known.  And she brings me all that love and all that joy every day.  She is intelligent, compassionate, caring, kind, generous, selfless, strong, loving, loyal, talented, and exquisitely beautiful.  She follows her dreams.  She calls out the bad and promotes the good.  She gives her last dollar to someone who asks, just because she can’t bear to see people in need or in pain.  Since her childhood she has offered her all for others, climbing up on the counter to reach foods and bring them outside to passing homeless men and women from the age of seven, at least.

And while I find her utterly fabulous, we also have differences of opinion and similar stubborn wills that make it difficult for us to see eye to eye at times.  But, unlike in my relationship with my mother, I have learned to let go of some of my stubbornness, and to let my daughter hold her own perspective and pursue what matters to her.  My mom couldn’t let go of that control—the desire to shape me into what she believed I ought to be, instead of let me be the person I was.  For my daughter’s sake, I am trying to let go of that control.  Sometimes I fail, but I apologize when I realize I have done so.  I look back to those moments of late night feedings and peek-a-boos and lullabies and I hold onto that picture of love and joy, and at the humility I felt—so undeserving of such a beautiful light in my life, of a being who offered me so much and stole nothing.  And I seek to let her be that light today, without my interventions.

It can be hard to let go, as the birthdays pass by.  It can be hard to remember that moment of love, looking into a newborn face.  But I encourage you to hold onto that moment.  Remember it when your child colors on the walls, or when they pee on the living room floor, or when they break your favorite vase playing a sport indoors, or when they bring home that boyfriend with the crazy hair and the smoking habit, or when they hate piano lessons, or when they want their nose pierced, or when they quit their job, or when they marry an asshole (I mean, some of us do), or when they tell you they hate you and you are stupid and they wish they had some other parent, or when they fail at a subject in school.  Remember the light they were and the love you beamed back at them.  Remember that life is short and goodbyes are difficult and loss is devastating.  Remember that no matter who they become or what they do or how they succeed or fail that they are that bundle, placed in your arms when all there was between the two of you was love.  Hold that love close, and speak of it often, and share it with your child and share it with the world.  Because all of us want to be remembered in the end as the one who is loving and generous and kind.

Let love be the thing that is remembered, from the beginning to the very end.

Lovely

You don’t know how lovely you are…

A lyric from a song I love, and a reminder for every day.

I don’t know how lovely I am.  I’ve not been shown that often.  I’ve been shown all of the dark and terrible things over and over.  And the loveliness that did exist got shoved deep below shame and struggle.

Today I spent myself completely on showing up for a person I love.  And I didn’t need to.  She loves me and I love her, regardless of my attendance at her milestones and events.  But I wanted to, because she is lovely.  And beyond that, she is one of the few in my life who is constantly speaking to me and showing up for me in ways that help me know how lovely I am.  And I needed to give that back.

And then I needed painkillers and a long nap.

But it was worth spending myself in this way.

I think that it is difficult for many of us to spend ourselves on others, and to show up and speak in ways that present to others their best selves.  I’m not completely certain why that difficulty exists, but I am guessing it has something to do with broken trust and ended relationships and hurts and headaches and harm that have come from spending all and receiving nothing in return.  But one of us needs to spend in order for another to do so.

I need to love and trust in order to receive love and be considered trustworthy.

And that is a challenge for me, because of the broken trust and ended relationships and hurts and headaches and harm that have come to me from spending all and receiving nothing in return.  But I am starting to see that none of that history gets to dictate my relating from this point forward, and that the lovely things offered can be received or returned or rejected without my offering being less good or true or beautiful or helpful or kind.  It is the one who cannot receive and return who is struggling and suffering, not the one who offers love and trust.  I know it doesn’t always feel that way, but if you think on it for a moment you will recognize it is true.  Deep down you know that love begets love, and the people who can’t show it or accept it are the ones who are most broken.

So, I am going to encourage myself and all of you to spend yourself, show others how lovely they are, and embrace how lovely you are.  And don’t worry about the outcomes.  Just worry about offering the best and most to the world that you can offer.  See what happens.

Will your heart break?  Will someone mistreat you?  Maybe.  But maybe your heart will heal and be filled, and maybe someone will thank you and love you in return.

It is a chance worth taking.  And it will likely make the whole world more lovely.

 

Diet

I think that this title is somewhat of a “dirty” word.  Most of us think of it in terms of restrictions and frustrations and defeats.  I know that is how I often view dieting.

This is also a somewhat new concern for me.  I am one of those people who was born fit and stayed fit for most of my life.  I ate all the carbs and all the candy and still kept my 120 pound perfect figure.  When you look at pictures of me in my youth, I am bronzed and buff and looking like a tiny body builder.  And then, in my teens, I had that great T and A with a tiny waist that was apparently super desirable.  And that figure stayed well into my 20’s, though a couple of pounds more T and A were added.

But then, I got sick.

I didn’t even know that I was sick.  I just knew that I was tired, and I was gaining weight.  I decided to take up running.  I would make it about a half mile and then be in pain and walk back.  Then it would be four to six days before I could summon the energy to run again, with similar results.  I started spending more and more time on the sofa and less and less out trying to run.  And I kept gaining, slow but sure.  140.  145.  And then I had three or four rounds of steroids.  160.  Trying to run again.  158.  162.  And then the dreaded diagnosis happened.  The reason I had been so tired all those years, and complaining of fatigue came to light—fibromyalgia.  I started on Neurontin and kept on gaining.  I went through a really bad year, where almost all of my time was spent sleeping or lying on the sofa depressed and in pain, and I gained even more.  170. 180. 198.  And then the horrible moment when I hit that mark I was struggling against: 200.

I’m currently 208.  And my BMI is 35, which puts me in the category of the “obese”.

And I found the bright side in that by saying, “at least I am not morbidly obese!”  But inside something was cracking and a fissure that could swallow my obese butt was opening.

For the past several years we have been trying all sorts of things to keep my weight from climbing.  Switching up medications, sending me to physical therapy regularly, getting me into the pool to swim, increasing my calories, then decreasing them after new studies showed my low calorie diet actually made sense given the way that fibro bodies metabolize in comparison with “normal” bodies.  And nothing has been helping.  And it is ridiculously difficult to cope with this, after a life of great bodiness.

I know that I shouldn’t be saying some of these things in this manner.  I know that there are men and women who have struggled for an entire lifetime to manage their weight—kids who were “husky” from childhood and who were constantly challenged by body image and weight control.  And I don’t mean to deny their experience or trivialize that struggle.  But I didn’t know that early struggle, so becoming acclimated to a big body has been really difficult for me.

I used to be able to put my foot behind my head, or do the splits, and now I can’t touch my toes without a blob of belly fat getting in the way.  It is quite the transition, and not in a “good” way, according to most.

But in some ways I have learned good lessons from this experience.  I have learned that I only judge myself by societal standards of beauty and size, and not my friends.  I have learned that I don’t accept or love myself well at any size.  I have learned that bodies aren’t all made to appear the same, but we are very diverse.  I have learned that health and size are not necessarily linked in the ways society teaches us they are.  I have learned that bodies are still amazing, complex, beautiful, and fantastic at any and every size.  And I have learned that all of the things that I was taught about “calories in/calories out” can be thrown out the fucking window, because it just isn’t always true.

One lesson that I haven’t quite learned is to love my own body in this state, and not to shame myself for being larger than I once was, or being larger than society and the media and whatever other influences dictate as appropriate or beautiful or “healthy”.   I’m working on that.  I have this fabulous yoga sequence I do from yogaglo where I get naked and jiggle my parts and offer love and thanks to all the parts of myself that I struggle to accept.  I have a list of things I love and am grateful for about my body.  I work on dissecting my illness from my personhood, and instead of saying things like “I’m so dumb today” I correct and say “my fibromyalgia and PTSD are really affecting my cognition today”.   And I am far from perfecting these strategies and loving my jiggling parts wholeheartedly, but I am on the road to accepting who I am as I am.

And I think that is the space we all need to start from before we seek to make any changes, ever.

I spend a lot of time using mindfulness exercises to stay in the present moment, and to accept that moment as it is.  This is a coping strategy that is basically saving my life.  Chronic pain and chronic mental illness are really difficult to manage, and learning to accept the present moment, and to sit in it without reacting to it in any way helps.  Separating pain from suffering, letting go of thoughts, noticing my environment, and being more aware have all helped me in myriad ways.

And this way of being aware and of accepting are transformative.  So, when I think about transforming my body, I can’t begin without finding an awareness and acceptance of my body now.

Getting naked and letting all the parts wiggle and flop and whatever else they may do is part of that, but so is looking at the ways that food and I interact, and noticing the ways that I am influenced by outside media and standards, and looking honestly at how healthy or unhealthy parts of me are, and being able to recognize and embrace all of the amazing things my body can and does do.  I mean, have you ever stopped for a moment and considered the process that happened in order for you to pee?  It is kind of amazing.

My body has lots of flaws—dissociated parts of the brain, pain where there should not be pain, benign tumors hanging out in a few places, a pelvic floor that can’t figure out when to hold tight and when to release, weak quadriceps, ruptured bursa sacs, a CMC joint that can’t seem to get its shit together, and the list goes on.  But it also has lots of amazing power and strength and goodness and health.  The fat bits are just one part of the whole.  And the whole is actually pretty fabulous.

I am scheduled for a visit with a nutritionist the end of next week.  And I suppose you were not expecting to hear that, after all of this loving the fat bits talk.  But I want to choose my best self, so even though I have tried many ways of eating and exercising in the past, and even though I think that diet should refer to an abundance of good foods, and not refer to restrictive and uncomfortable programs that usually fail us, I want to make certain that I am actually doing what is most healthy for my body, and for my life.

Choosing my best self includes ensuring that I am eating well, and not allergic, and not suffering from some metabolic issue, and being certain that there isn’t a disconnect between what I think is healthy behavior and what science says is healthy behavior.  And that doesn’t mean that I am going to “go on a diet”.  It does mean that I am going to work toward my best body.  If I don’t lose an ounce, but I find that I would be healthier with less sugar and more fat in my diet, I will still be pleased with the experience. Because awareness and acceptance create change.  I don’t fully understand why or how they do, but they do create change.  Being aware of myself and being accepting of my body as it is moves me toward changing myself and my body in positive ways.

People often use a saying that the Buddhist gains nothing from meditation, but then goes on to list all of the negative things that have been removed or lost.  This is what I think needs to be kept close when I think about diet and body image and size and health.  I gain nothing from accepting my body, but I lose the tendency to criticize or compare myself to others, I lose an unhealthy connection with food, I lose the need to prove my beauty or strength to myself or others, I lose the need to force my body into a mold made by unrealistic normative standards, and I lose the habit of speaking negatively about this amazing body that offers me life.  And losing all of that is more important than losing pounds.

My body might always be this size.  The nutritionist might say that all the medications I am taking and all the ways my diseases harm my cells are not things that I can overcome with dietary changes.  The verdict may be that I remain above that 200 mark, that I am always hoping to get below, and that I need to set more realistic goals for my body and my life.  Or, conversely, I might learn that I have terrible habits that are contributing to the ever-increasing waistline, and be taught ways to eliminate or manage such habits to reduce my weight.

Either way, I intend to remain committed to the jiggling of the naked parts and the offering love to my body.  No matter my size, I still know that awareness and acceptance are the tools that bring me the most good, and the least struggle, in every part of my life.  Skinny or fat, frail or fit, tall or short, dark or light, broad or petite, stout or lanky … none of that matters more than the awareness and acceptance of the self.  And, really, none of that matters at all.   I won’t love you any less because you are short and wide than I would were you tall and thin.  And anyone who would offer love and compassion and kindness only to the thin or the tall or the light or the petite or the whatever is just an asshole.  Because the point of this post may be that we are all human.  And all humans are equal.  And all humans deserve to be treated with respect and kindness and compassion and love.  Just because.

So, I encourage each of you to go get naked (probably in private, given the laws against public nudity in some areas) and shake out all those parts, and offer them love, and thank them for being, and start being aware and accepting of your body and self.  Bask in the glow of the beauty of being.  Revel in humanity. Love existing in space and time.  Love your body. Love yourself.