Friday, July 31, 2009

A Love Story

Yesterday for the first time I saw the house that my not-quite-yet Ex is buying. It’s in a different city, about fifteen miles from our “home,” and a great little place; clean and well cared for, with remodeled kitchen and baths, fresh paint throughout, and beautifully refinished hardwood floors. A cozy space that will be perfect for him.

While he was talking with the inspectors and working on paperwork with his realtor, I sat in the bright, sunlit living room, and felt the hollow emptiness that I've come to recognize as the first signs of sadness. I didn’t expect it. I am so happy for him. Happy that he found a place he likes. Happy that they accepted his offer. Happy that his stresses about where he is going to live were finally being put to rest. And happy that for an older tract home, there is not one depressing thing about it—which didn't just make me happy, it thrilled me.

Still, I was—I am—incredibly sad. Again; and of course. It’s another big step in the coming apart process. Not only do we no longer live together, but he will no longer be living in our house. He will have his own house, one that has nothing to do with me… wow… we really are separated. We really are going our separate ways.

I’ve always thought that when a heart broke, it just broke… one time, fell wide open, spilled all the yucky and awful feelings, then began to mend again; either quickly, or not so quickly, depending on how severe the break. I didn’t know that a heart could split apart again and again at the same event. Every step along the way; at the big things—the shattered dream, the breaking of daughters’ hearts, the packing up, the moving—as well as the thousand little everyday things. I didn’t know that the idea of facing the world alone could break it again on a daily basis. Or that how scattered our family has suddenly become could wipe it—me—out on the level that it sometimes does.

I’ve been resistant to writing about being sad. Who wants to read that? Yet in this moment, it’s the truest thing—the only thing—that I know. Ending a life together is gut wrenchingly heart breakingly hard. As is breaking apart a family. Starting a new life equally so. Everything, simply everything is unknown, including the burning question of late: whether I’ll ever feel right again, whether or not I’ll ever truly feel good, whole, and happy again. And that’s the thing about grief—we never know when the next wave will break over us, how completely it will flatten us, how long it will take to get up, dry ourselves off, and continue on. Nor do we know how long we will remain upright before the next one rolls in; and on and on.

Yet we are lucky, he and I. We’ve come through this in a way that astonishes people, closer in many ways than we’ve ever been. And in a weird sort of way, that makes it even harder. Going through it consciously, aware of how much I still loved and cared for him, I understood for the first time, why people do it in anger, in blame, in hatred. Yet I knew that was the last thing I wanted to experience with this man who has been my mate, my friend, my partner, my rock, for over three decades, and who I feel more comfortable with than anyone else in the world. Who has given so much, and taken such good care of us. Somehow I knew that going out that way would be infinitely more heart-smashing. And not just for me, but for all of us.

I have read that a heart can only truly feel once it’s been broken open. What I’d wanted more than anything as he and I walked through the shadow of uncertainty and decision-making, was to stop defending my heart and open to him more completely, more fully than I ever had, no matter what our decision. And I got my wish. After what we’ve been through, the stormy seas, the quiet hours of talking, daily walks where we processed and then processed some more, being with this as brutally honestly and as truly as we knew how, I now love him more and deeper, more unselfishly, and unconditionally than I ever dreamed I could; out of the shattering open of this particular heart has come a truer love for him than I ever knew was possible.

It is an enormous gift, one that I am constantly amazed by and grateful for; a single, bright blossom of joy in the midst of this vast field of challenge and uncertainty. Somehow we each found the courage, and the stamina to hang in when the going got more than just a little difficult. And here's what I really want to say: he is the kindest, fairest person I may ever know. A gentle soul in a world overcrowded with the other kind. Our marriage may have ended, but our love, our trust, our respect for each other have not just remained, but have grown.

As have I. I still have no idea where life will take me, but no matter where, and no matter what, he travels with me, deeply imbedded, like a pearl, snug within the confines of my living, breathing, often times aching heart.

And that is a true gem.

MAUI - MAY, 2007

Until next time...

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Garden of Life

I’m trying something different today. I’m attempting to get my oldest daughter to read my blog, which she insists—because she’s developed internet attention disorder—is just too long. I’m going to entice her with a nice, short, to-the-point post. No waxing philosophical. No long drawn out essay. No emotional/spiritual wanderings and wonderings. Just some nice, compact musings about what’s going on.

Here goes.

Our house—the one I moved out of six months ago, that’s been our family home for nineteen years—has sold. Two days ago, the buyers lifted all their contingencies, plus their loan has been approved, making it as close to a sure thing as it can be before actual close of escrow.

I’ve spent a lot of time there this week. Our dog, Jasper, got a bad eye injury which got horribly infected which involved nine different medications, three of which had to be given every hour round the clock. My almost-ex and I, along with our fantastic animal ophthalmologist, made it a joint effort to get him well and avoid a costly and painful surgery. As of yesterday, mission accomplished—though he still has a lot of healing to do. Here he is in his dreaded Elizabethan Collar. And yes, it really is called that, at least that’s what it says on our invoice. E Collar for short.

Being back “home” for days on end, some nights overnight, has been tricky. It’s taken a huge shift in thinking over the last year to get it that I don’t and won’t be living there any longer. Our home is your basic tract, manicured-lawn suburban house where every third or fourth one is exactly the same save color, type of tree shading the lawn, number of kids inside, make and model car in the driveway. But to me it was everything. Something I never dreamed I’d have, yet I did. And once I did, never dreamed I wouldn't have. Chock full of memories; brimming with love, challenges, joy, heartache, more love. I didn’t realize until I moved out of it (how could I have been so ignorant), that it had been the very ground beneath me.

Of the actual physical place, I’ll miss my garden the most. By a long shot. Whereas the family is no longer a living, breathing entity in that space, the garden continues to grow, bloom, and thrive there. Roses, sages, lavenders, daylilies, thymes, all spilling out of their beds. And whereas I didn’t build our house, I did create the garden. From scratch. One tiny little plant at a time. I learned the hard way, through trial and error; burning shade plants in the sun and depriving sun-loving plants in the shade; having all cool colors except for the one hot orange calendula that stuck out like a sore thumb; cutting back too much, then not enough; trying to live with picky floribunda roses; until I began to get it, learning again and again, season after season, until I developed a nicely hued green thumb, and became a pretty damned fine gardener.

It became my favorite place to be, a true sanctuary. And I learned so much from it, far beyond which plant to place where, when and where to deadhead, which mulch was the best. I saw way back in the beginning that a garden is the perfect model for life. Watching as summers turned to fall, and the true perennials began to die back, then in winter, disappear altogether. It was an act of blind faith the first couple of years, not quite believing, in spite of what the books insisted, that they could lie hidden in the dark, wet earth and survive. Yet they did, and they didn't just survive, they thrived, growing bigger, stronger, more glorious than the year before. Year after year as the earth turned, they’d send up their tiny, tender shoots for their first taste of the light, warmth, and promise of spring. Every year was joyous, and taught me more about trust than I could otherwise have learned in two or three different lifetimes. And about life.

I’ll stop right here for a minute and state the obvious. I’m apparently not capable of a short, sweet post, the kind that I envy, the ones that get picked as notable blogs, that are colorful and fresh and upbeat, with pictures of cupcakes and bicycles with baskets, and lovely self-portraits taken at arms length – a skill, an art really, that I’m pretty sure I’ll never master, either because my face it too big or my arm not long enough, or most likely, some acute combination of both.

The truth is, I’m not one of those adorable, bright, perky, quirky, oh-so-creative women of the younger generation. That I admire. Especially the really creative ones. I never will be. No matter how I try to twist or turn myself, I am who I am: a woman in her 50’s, going through a big life transition that has both flattened and resuscitated her, that writing about helps her process, integrate, understand, and come to terms with. Who's had a lot of experiences in life, all types, the good, the bad, the ugly. Who has done much seeking and searching, all of which is now part of the schema. She—I—am a woman on the threshold, excited so see where life is taking her or where she's taking life – whatever, it’s all semantics anyway. Long story pretty darned long, I have much to say and I’ve finally started saying it. Yes, there are a lot of words. I am a double-Gemini with a Virgo Moon, which pretty much makes Mercury, the god of communication, the only thing really going on in my chart. Which means, pretty much, that I’m never at a loss for words. Just ask anyone who knows me. (You should see me on caffeine...) And the truth is, I enjoy my writing style, verbose as it is. I get to the point, though we may meander off the path a bit, circle around for a while, possibly even get lost before heading back. And there are people out there who like it, others, I’m sure, who wouldn’t give it the time of day.

And rightly so. And which brings me back to gardening. (See?) Early on I also realized there were flowers I loved and flowers I loathed. Gladiolas, for example, will always be the “funeral” flower, I have no idea why, but I wouldn’t dream of giving even one bulb soil space. As the years went by, I refined my taste in roses and they began to take over. Along with salvias, a species I hadn’t even known existed, yet am wildly in love with. It’s all a matter of taste, and differences, which, thank god, make our world not just go 'round, but far richer, and infinitely more beautiful.

Awesome antique rose that smells heavenly

I still hope my daughter will become a regular reader. But it’s okay if she doesn’t. I’ll survive, and so will the blog.

And just for the record, I think this is my longest post yet. Which wasn't by design. Honest. Yet here it is.

The creative process at work.

Trust the flow.

Until next time...
Be well.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Path Unknown

I've heard it said that we notice the things we're interested in. It makes sense. I always see butterflies and birds. I can tell you if there is a hawk, especially a red tail, soaring anywhere in my vicinity. I notice gardens, white picket fences, flowers, especially roses (pink ones!) and irises. I pay attention to convertibles, red mustangs, men, anything baseball. All things I’m interested in.

But sometimes, what I notice surprises me. Walking around two weeks ago in my sister’s neighborhood in Portland, I kept seeing stairs. All the concrete, rock, and brick steps that led from the sidewalk up to people’s porches. Like this one, my favorite. I loved how these stairs came up from the street corner, how they were dappled in shade, plus all the different lines, angles, and curves in the shot. It was interesting, the obsession with stairs, since I hadn't noticed even one set the day before.

Today, walking in the redwoods in the Oakland hills, the path ahead of me kept grabbing and holding my attention. I was facinated by how ever-changing it was, how it was sometimes straight, but more often twisted and turning, how it wound in and out of the sun, close to and then away from the creek, how it narrowed at certain points, how the sides, and the canopy overhead changed. How I could never see very far ahead.

Yet because I’ve walked there before, I knew where the path led. But not being able to see beyond a certain point in front of me made me think of the path my life has taken, and how I truly have no idea where it is heading. Of course, we never really know where our life is heading, but we don’t generally think in those terms. Anything can happen, at any time that would alter the course, but most often we remain blissfully unaware, in denial even about the possibilities.

For me, the path is wide open. The only thing that I know for “sure” (god willin’ and the crick don’t rise, as my mom used to say) is that I will be heading for Molokai on September 1 (forty-six days!), and that I’ll be there for almost three full months. And even that, those three months, are as un-agenda’d as possible, and as wide open as the beautiful Pacific that surrounds the tiny island.

But after that, I have absolutely no idea. I have a lease on my apartment, so I’ll be back here at least until January 1. After that, I am unencumbered. Truly. No more marriage, mortgage, or kids in the home. One daughter is in Seattle, the other in San Francisco, but eager to return again to France. I have no big career, no need of a job if I live carefully. There’s no essential community that keeps me tied in place. I can say, with every true bone in my body, that I never saw this coming. And it depends on the day, sometimes the hour, even the moment, how I am able to be with it. At times, it is as liberating as hell, and I practically float with the possibilities, and at others, it is downright terrifying, and I feel like a ship cut loose from its moorings, drifting alone in the middle of a vast sea. At night. In bad weather. The GPS overboard.

I think a lot about moving, though there are people here that I really love, and am reluctant to move away from. Who I enjoy, and who have been shelters in the storm. My almost-legally-separated-from husband, for one, whom I remain very close to. Also my sister, and a few good friends. But I also have this intense longing to live somewhere more natural. Somewhere where there are more trees than people, where birds sing all day long, not just first thing in the morning, where crickets harmonize at night, and seasons actually turn. Where the breeze holds the scent of dirt and leaves and honeysuckle, and maybe, in my wildest dreams, salt from a nearby ocean. Where I can put my hands in the soil and garden again, grow roses and irises and salvias, lots of salvias, which hummingbirds love. Where I can not only have my dog, but he can run off leash, where I can have a cat again, maybe even two, and an outdoor fountain—oh, how I miss the sound of water, and where my upstairs neighbors don’t wake me, screaming at each other, at 2am, and then again at seven, when I’m trying to catch up on the sleep lost.

Is the path laid out unseen but perfect before us, or is it created in each moment, hacked out from the previous one, and the one before that? Is there such a thing as fate, or predestination, or is everything random, chance, happenstance? Or maybe this thing we call life is a combo of all of these things. I truly don’t know. But what I have seen in this past year, is how things unfold; how out of a great, sometimes very dark and challenging void, one single thought pops, somehow, from somewhere, into awareness, a match at midnight, a single firework—like Molokai—and wala, the path is not just cleared, but illuminated.

There have been other moments like these, less brilliant maybe, but no less real. I am beginning almost to see a pattern. Let go, and let life take me. Though maybe it’s less a path, and more a river, and our job is to strip naked, plunge in, and simply enjoy the ride. Yes, there will be obstacles; unseen rocks, rapids, high spring runoffs, drought years, the occasional fork. Some will be greater than others--like this year has been for me. Winters will be frigid, summers more languid. Still, it’s how life is, and it’s how we learn, grow, transform, become more fully who we came here to be.

Right now, I'm thinking about Santa Cruz. It hit me "out of the blue" a few days ago that it would be a great place to live. Natural, not too far from "home", lots of trees, the ocean, maybe, maybe even some like-minded people.

Hmmm. I guess I'll just have to wait and see if that's where the river of this particular life will be flowing.

Until next time...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The New Selfish


Here’s one of my favorite pictures of me, the one I use for the blog (duh!), but that is so little you can’t really see me. I’m on a portion of the rampart walk of the walled port city of St. Malo, in Brittany, France. Beyond the wall is the English Channel; the tide is out, the water calm and a beautiful deep shade of blue. It’s mid-May, and the air is clear and cool.

My daughter and I spent part of a day in St. Malo. We learned that eighty-percent of the city was destroyed in one single day of fighting near the end of World War II. You can see it, walking the perimeter of the town, the old up against the new up against the old. Weathered, centuries-old mossy stones connecting like puzzle pieces with modern concrete. Though I’ve read that some of it was repaired immediately, using the original stones. A gallant effort to preserve not just history, but their very homes.


For me, it’s just the opposite. Tearing down history, but with no interest in rebuilding with the same materials. Case in point, putting up this picture of me, which is causing no small amount of internal strife. But, really, I keep telling myself, if Oprah can put herself on the front of her magazine every single month, surely I can, on occasion, start my post with a pix of myself. Why not?

Because as far back as I can remember, it was never okay to put myself out there, never okay to look vain in any way, or to like myself; not to mention shameful and downright sinful to be seen as self-centered, self-interested, self-absorbed, selfish in any way.

I’ll say right off the bat that vanity has never been a problem of mine. Just the opposite in fact (though I’m wondering right now if maybe it isn’t actually vain to write that I’m not vain… hmm). Nor had selfishness been part of my make up. Early on I learned to accommodate everyone; not only to put my own wants, needs and desires after every one else’s, but to flat out exorcise them. And I did a good job, I put them so far away, that most often I no longer knew I even had any. I dated, and had relationships and friendships with people because that’s what they wanted, and had no idea if it was what I wanted or not.

My sister, too. She married two different men because they asked her. She was young, she figured if they asked, she was supposed to say yes. In my early twenties, I had my heart broken by a man who pursued me until I fell in love. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized I didn’t even know if I had liked this person. When we talk about these things, my sister and I, we stare at each other speechless, and in amazement. We are, after all, smart, well-educated, worldly-ish women.

So how is it that some of us come into this world proudly displaying our peacock plumes while others of us are constantly busy either tucking the feathers neatly inside, or worse, plucking the colorful array lest we offend someone by being too vivid and vibrant, too brightly hued? How come some of us stand tall and assured, while others cower, afraid to look the world directly in the eye? And why is it that some of us slide from the womb singing me, me, me in every octave and range, while again, others blanch and cringe at the very notion, possibly shamed early on into silence?

One of the greatest gifts to come out of all the turmoil of the last year has been that I’ve had to begin to learn—after fifty-some years—to put myself first. I’ve had no choice. I’ve been so overwhelmed, and often in so much pain, that there was simply no way that I could do anything other than to be self-centered, and care for myself first and foremost. And in the necessity to be selfish, I’ve also become more visible than I’ve ever dared be, plus made more waves some days than a jet ski on a calm alpine lake. An antonym I’ve seen for selfishness is altruism. What I want to know is why it isn’t considered not just altruistic, but the height of altruism to put oneself first, to care for oneself, to want oneself to be seen and appreciated, to want the same for ourselves that we want for others?

I am not talking here about narcissism. And I am not talking about this new personal obsessiveness brought on by social networking, where people think other people want to read about every second of their lives, about their every mundane move. Where they are the center of some imagined universe. That’s another post altogether. What I’m talking about is something as different as night and day, and quite healthy… more akin maybe to self love, where we honor, care for, recognize, and nurture ourselves in the very same manner that we would others. Where we have every right to show up, and spread and flaunt our feathers, big, bright, colorful; maybe even looking not too bad on the French coast, softly content, the breeze blowing gently through the hair. Where we have not just the right, but the will to say no thank you, that doesn't work for me today, it might not work tomorrow, maybe it won't even work the following day. Or conversely, to say YES, definitely, I want that! Where we are just as important, not more so, not less so, but every bit as significant as the next person.

All I can say is amen, and right on.

And just for good measure, and to up the ante even more on my personal discomfort, here's another one...


Until next time...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

All that I am


I have much to learn—not to mention unlearn—if I’m serious about this blog. Especially if I’m going to stay true to the whole musings from the moment spirit, and to my great desire to write not just what is true and real, but to do it while it’s still alive and breathing, its heart still pumping away. It’s not my propensity, which seriously leans first toward procrastination, then to beating words unconscious once I get started. It’s a lesson not just for writing, but for living. Relax into the moment, really be in it, and then let it flow on when it’s over. Maybe even gracefully. How much simpler life would be; no more crying over spilled milk. Not after the fact anyway.

Living in the moment. The trouble is, I’ve had a lot of spilled milk this last year. More than I've ever had. Gallons of it, pouring off the table, puddling all over the floor. My marriage of thirty-one years ended, and I moved out of our family home into a small apartment in Oakland. Our nest emptied… our fabulous, brave now-grown birds flying high, and to long distances. I’ve had to leave my dog, and just this past week, our house sold. Pretty much everything I considered sacrosanct cut loose. As I’ve watched it all float away, I’ve witnessed myself react to each moment in every conceivable way. I’ve denied it, wrestled, argued, and plead with it, run with it, kicked and screamed at it, railed against it, sobbed through it. And sometimes, remarkably, relaxed into it with a surrender and a peace that startled me.

I know I want to be as free with my writing as I’ve been with my emotions over this past year. Rather than editing, rewriting, and attempting to craft to the point of the ridiculous, I want to seize each moment and spontaneously run with it. Like the woman in the statue in the photo; raw, naked, improper, inappropriate, untamed. I want to stop judging, let go, and let it all hang out. Sign up, show up, sing off key, mix my metaphors, maybe even misspell a word or miss a point. In short, I want to be—long to be—crave being—joyously and unapologetically everything that I am.

I met her while on a spontaneous trip to Keukenhof and fell immediately in love. Standing there, on a gorgeous May day a week past the tulip's peak, while I was supposed to be still cloistered on spiritual retreat a long train ride away, I was mesmerized. I looked her up and down and all around. Again, and again. So bold as to be hard to look at. Yet unable to look away.

So hats off to this awesome new muse, whose photo I’m going to enlarge, frame, and hang. Who inspires me not just in writing, but, obviously, in life also. For any line dividing the two is an illusion. This bronze goddess who is so apparently in the moment that the moment is quite simply all there is.

Which is actually more true than we can ever really know.