Monday, January 31, 2011

Emptying

Most of this week is spent in Sonora, working, working, working, getting the house that I bought ten months ago ready to sell. Three days with my sister (where I would be without her workhorse Capricorn Moon and her Libran generosity I don’t know), then back to the bay area for a night, then back up alone for two more days. Tons of stuff given away—most that I never should have moved with to begin with… or bought in the process… but that provided some misplaced notion of security or happiness; another percentage thrown away, half of what’s left packed and stacked, ever so neatly in the garage, the rest “staged” in a house waiting and eager for its new owners.

I have this crazy idea, hanging out just at the edges of reason: I want to chuck it all. I mean every last bit. Even—or maybe especially—the bits that I’ve thought I could not live without. Really. And truly, except for the two paintings by my oldest daughter, what does it all mean anyway? Except more work, newspapers, boxes, space, muscle.

It’s a thought that won’t let me go. How many plates does one need? Pots? Pans? Bowls? (Oh, and I do love a beautiful bowl…) Mugs, glasses, utensils, baking dishes, serving dishes? And that’s just the kitchen…

Starting over. And I mean really over, sans the three-quart copper-bottomed Revereware pot that my mom cooked popcorn in, the wedding gifts that never leave the hutch, the hutch itself, my mom’s before her death, the shit that I arrange and rearrange and occasionally dust on shelves and mantles and tables.

I love the idea of beginning anew with nothing. Of moving with only the bare essentials. And as a need arises, or as I spy something that I think will fit in my “new” life, that inspires, that will bring meaning or beauty to it, picking it up, a little at a time. (Or not.) Creating consciously rather than loading and unloading, packing and unpacking the past, the illusion, the dream, the agenda.

Clean slate. Bare canvas. Walls, bookshelves, cupboards. Unencumbered. Light. Free. Open.

*******

Lately I seem to be finding myself most often in other people’s words. The current example, David Whyte’s “The Journey”…

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

small, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving
you are arriving.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ready

It’s strange how things happen… and all by themselves, regardless of what we plan or intend or pray or ask for, what we think we choose or want or are ready for…

It’s been months of turmoil about my house and the idea/necessity/questions about moving—again. (If you’re tuned in regularly, you’ve already read it.) It’s been a long, circuitous, depressing, completely confusing, sometimes agonizing, oftentimes overwhelming process that started last July. There’s been some pretty loud moaning and pity-partying, more big rounds of uncertainty, unknown, discouragement, holding on, wondering. Then suddenly, early this past week, I realized, in about the amount of time it takes to draw a breath in and let it out, that I am ready to move on. It was not a decision, it came not through rigorous mental gymnastics or toe-tapping or sweating or laboring, it was just there, like a big ball of light, a clearing in the forest; something had shifted, letting go had happened, acceptance arrived, along with and a readiness to leave this chapter behind and get on with life.

Sometimes, looking back with the ever-clear twenty/twenty hindsight, I wonder what the hell I was thinking. Truly, I don’t just say that. I mean, I do know the things that ran through my mind, the rationale, the thoughts of adventure, the urgency of getting my “new life” started. (Whatever in the world that means…) But could I really have been that out of touch with what I need and want on a primary and fundamental level? Or, has it been this experience that has highlighted and brought more clearly to the surface those things? Is there some invisible, mysterious “purpose”? Lessons to be gleaned? Was it a mistake, a wrong turn, a failure even?

Then I remember when I was learning astrology and I was studying Uranus. One thing that stands out clearly in my mind all these years later was reading how Uranus is the energy of the risk taker. And that to be fully alive, we must incorporate the taking of risks into our lives; the hopping—or crawling—out on a limb, the bolting—or creeping— toward our edge; stir it up, challenge ourselves, get the old adrenalin flowing. And it doesn’t matter the outcome. In fact, the outcome—the idea or notion of success or failure—isn’t even part of the discussion. It’s the act itself that counts. If you put yourself out there, sometimes it will work out, sometimes it won’t. It’s pretty basic, really, the law of averages. The fundamental thing is to act.

So I put myself out there… and I’m bringing myself back in. And through some sort of fortune, I’m no longer berating myself with questions that have no answers. It happened. I moved away. I even bought a house. I found I don’t like it there. In fact, I grew very depressed there. I’m moving back. Where, I don’t know. More questions that as of yet anyway have no answers. And somehow, maybe it’s the anti-depressants, maybe I’m just in a better place, maybe it’s part of what’s been integrated as a result of this experience, whatever, none of it seems to be a problem. Not even the money I’m going to lose by selling the house. A small price to pay, when you really think about it, for a return of peace of mind.

I went up for a night last week with my sister and began the process of getting the house ready to put on the market. I started packing boxes, making phone calls, canceling utilities. I met with my realtor/now-good-friend. It’s one part bittersweet, about a hundred parts eagerness and excitement. And now, because apparently the time is right, I have lots of energy for it. We got what we needed to get done early and decided to spend the day in Yosemite “on the way home” (not really, but close enough… well, not really, but…). It was so beautiful, with snow like a soft white blanket covering the valley, the falls thick and lush, trees both green and bare, reflecting in the lazy Merced, the afternoon sun golden on the huge granite walls. We saw two coyotes in two days… (hmm… going to have to look up coyote medicine). I am going to miss being so close to what, in my opinion and limited travel, has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. But I'll be back closer to the ocean and the bay, to so many more and varied places, people, classes, opportunities, landscapes. I'll be living in my own space close to family and friends once again.

Can't wait.

As if she needs an introduction:  Beautiful Half Dome

The Merced from Sentinel Bridge

Self Portrait at Cascade Falls

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cutting Loose

Cutting Loose

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is and you

can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path -- but that's when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.
     - William Stafford

I love this poem so much. I wonder if there’s another one in existence anywhere that describes so perfectly the place I so often find myself in these days. Or, maybe I should say the place-s; as they vary radically, and nearly as often as there is moments in the day.

This morning I took a drive out Mines Road in the east bay area. The road runs roughly fifty miles between southern Livermore and Mt. Hamilton in San Jose. It’s narrow and windy and hilly, and there’s pretty much nothing out there except the occasional farmhouse or cattle ranch; if you don’t count the creeks, birds, wildlife, beautiful trees. The sun broke through the dense fog, illuminating the oaks that spread out haphazardly at the ridge tops; the grasses are maybe seventy-five percent green from winter rains; birds were chirping, frogs croaking.



It’s not that it’s the most beautiful landscape ever. Yet everywhere I turned I saw beauty. The wonderful sculpture of a bare winter tree, the gorgeous white bark on the grove of giant sycamores, the juxtaposition of cows resting beneath giant electrical towers, the huge bird—I swear it was an eagle, gigantic wingspan, deep brown feathers, white head—that swooped directly in front of my car and then followed me a ways down the road. It’s the gift of photography, this seeing beauty in the everyday; the camera coaching me to open my eyes more fully, teaching me to see “beyond seeing,” challenging me to look beyond the normal boundaries and limitations and expectations, and expanding the very idea of what beauty is. I’m guessing it’s also a gift—in a strange sort of way—of depression, of being lifted out of the black hole, back into the world, where everything has this edge of magnificence, like seeing vibrant color again after having been momentarily—or not so momentarily—blinded to it.




Photography is a big light in the tunnel right now. It gets me up and out many days where there seems no other reason. It’s the only thing that I truly, truly want to be doing, and for hours on end. When doing it, I get "lost" in it; I’m not thinking, I’m not worried, I’m not anxious or hungry or cold. I’m not tired or sad or grieving or alone or lost or confused or depressed, or even Debby. I’m not anything except absorbed in the moment and what is there before me and my Nikon D60. Well, except thoroughly engaged. And inspired. Contented. At peace. Joyful even. It gives meaning and impetus and some much needed structure to my life. No small thing given that I still wake up most every morning chronically—if no longer acutely—depressed, am still overwhelmed with anxiety the moment I open my eyes, am still needing supreme effort and an enormous amount of discipline on some days to just make myself move. It challenges me in other ways too; like being visible and maybe standing out in a crowd; pulling over, walking along the side of a lonely country road, trudging through the sand in my good boots because that’s where the reflection of the bridge in the surf is best. To sign up for—and attend—classes. To be honest about what I don’t know and need to learn, to continue to develop my own personal and unique aesthetic, and to own it as I do. To experiment, take chances, hang in there with Photoshop Elements, even though trying to learn it sometimes makes me want to throw my computer against a wall.

Being back in the Bay Area full time (have I mentioned that here, btw, that I am no longer living in my home in Tuolumne County at all?) I feel like a kid at a carnival (with a camera!), with endless possibilities of places to go, miles to cover, images to capture. Many years ago, when grieving a devastating loss and not beginning to know how I was going to get through it, I walked outside one summer day, sat down on our walkway, and started digging in the dirt. No thought, no plan, just a hand trowel, a small spot of earth, and some unconscious movement inside me toward healing. Out of that grief and desperate need, both a garden and a gardener were born. One of the reasons I bought the home I did was its gardening potential, understandable given what gardening has meant to me, though not being privy to what I know now; that something new and different was waiting to be born, and that that something needs a kind of freedom that the daily tending and loving of a garden doesn’t necessarily allow.

It’s hard to let go of something that has meant so much. And I have fought it. Grieved, too, in a big way, the loss of the sacred, relaxing, nurturing, healing, sensory space that my garden was. I know I wrote about it here way back when I had been away from it for just a few months.There are things I will always miss about that space. The scents, the butterflies, spring, my swing, the very air itself, birds splashing in the birdbaths, the refreshing, soothing sound of water tinkling in the fountain.

Letting go. Even harder when it leaves an empty hole. Easier today when I see what I couldn’t even take on faith during the darkness, that some new seed is indeed sprouting. And here’s the good news - though right now, steeped in the visceral memories of my garden it’s tainted - the world is full of flowers just waiting for a camera. And more good news, I can get lost in a bouquet of flowers, when the colors are perfect, when the light is spilling into through the window just right...







Cutting loose.
A light in the tunnel.
...learning how real it is on earth, again, and again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Luck of the Draw

Today I watched a documentary that broke my heart. It's called What I Want My Words to Do to You, about a writing workshop held inside a high security women's prison. Most of the participants are serving very long terms, some life, and most all the crimes were violent, with many of the women serving their terms for murder or manslaughter.

To a series of prompts, and with breathtaking honesty, the women write about their lives, and about the events and choices that led them to where they are. They share with rare and striking openness about their crimes, taking responsibility for their actions, and coming to anguished terms with what they have done, the pain they have caused victims, victims’ families, their own families, and themselves. Their confusion, regret, guilt, grief, and sorrow were real, palpable, heartbreaking. As was their loving feedback to and support of each other. Walls are penetrated and obstacles shattered, and I watched, amazed and completely moved at their sincerity, their remorse, vulnerability, naked humanity. In the end was a “performance” in the prison, where several well-known actresses read the women’s writings. In the audience among many others, the women themselves, tears streaming down their faces as their own and each other’s words echo through the hall.

I was bowled over with love and compassion for these women. One mistake. One wrong choice. One harrowing turn. Life suddenly going horribly wrong, shattered. Who among us has not made a mistake? Who has not been guilty of a bad choice? Which of us has not lost control or our temper or our way? It’s all degree, is it not? It’s all circumstance. It was agonizingly clear to me that none of these women set out this way, not one of them dreamed of becoming a criminal, or fantasized about taking a life or spending their lives in prison. They didn’t consciously set out to bring such ruin upon themselves and their victims. I’m guessing that in kindergarten or first grade, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up they answered teacher or nurse or doctor or mommy, just like the rest of “us.” That they dreamed of growing up and getting married and having a home, maybe some kids, just like the rest of “us.” That they skipped and ran and sang and cried and loved and played and skinned a knee and had nightmares and hugged their teddy bear and wanted and needed… just like the rest of “us.”

There are so many directions this could take, levels of debate, theories, ideologies, opinions, judgments, dogmas, arrogances. Right now I’m not the least bit interested. I only know how my heart spilled over today seeing their faces, their eyes, hearing their stories, witnessing their pain, watching as something incredible moved and shifted in them. I only know that they are human, as am I. I only know that when life hands out experiences, families, circumstances, sometimes love, sometimes—more often than I like to think about—even basic safety and sustenance, it is anything but fair. I only know, in my heart of hearts, that these are not “bad” women. That they have hearts that have been broken open, too. That through bad luck or bad choice or bad love or bad timing something terrible happened and the price has also been terrible. And I only know that I only have to ask myself once just exactly what I did to be born where I was, who I was, into the family and the circumstance that I was. The answer, of course, is nothing.

Nada.
Not one thing.
Luck of the draw.
Purely random.

Pretty unsettling, really.



Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It's What's Inside that Counts. Right?

The sun has disappeared up here in the Northwest. We had three beautiful, glorious days of it. Not a cloud in the sky. Cold as allgetout, but I’m actually learning to love walking around all bundled up in about three layers, along with lined boots, Smartwool socks, scat (scarf/hat all in one piece - fantastic for keeping warm), cashmere gloves for early morning walks, and then, when it gets above about 25 degrees, great fingerless gloves I got for Christmas. Fingerless gloves? I know… what’s the point, except that my hands can still be a little warm AND I can operate my camera without accidentally setting some function that I then don’t know how to unset (and think it’s broken and almost send it away for repair when some nice camera store person sorts it all out for me in, oh, about 10 seconds). Anyway, the gloves. I love them. I love driving in them, I can get change out of my wallet, use my phone, and iPod, plus they’re so comfortable and cozy, sometimes I’m back inside the house for an hour or two before I realize I still have them on.

Here I am, self-portrait-ing, bundled up for a walk with Lola…



I am half embarrassed, half mortified by this picture. In fact, I am embarrassed/mortified by most every picture I see of myself. Have been for a number of years. A combination weight and age, and just general--I know this because I can remember before weight and age settled in--malcontent with my physical being. But I’m putting it up anyway because one of my hopes for this coming year is to do a long and deep process around my feelings vis-a-vis my physical being. It will be part of my private journaling, possibly spilling over here now and then, to work with self portraits in the hopes of gaining insight, understanding, compassion, acceptance… maybe even some love.

I read something the other day that just inspired the hell out of me. Someone sent Gloria Steinem a postcard with an image of an old Chinese woman singing opera on a hill in a Beijing park. Her face is old, and apple-doll wrinkled, but she totally sparkles and radiates. Steinem wrote about it in her book, Revolution from Within.
I have a new role model for this adventurous new country I’m now entering. She is a very old, smiling, wrinkled, rosy, beautiful woman standing in the morning light of a park in Beijing… . Now she smiles at me every morning from my mantel. I love this woman. I like to think that, walking on the path ahead of me, she looks a lot like my future self.

It was another one of those instances where truth cut itself cleanly straight into my being. I want to be like that. I want to be like that old woman, radiant, alive, sparkling, even as my body grows old around me. I want to stop being ashamed of aging. I want to stop judging my arms, my chin, my hands, my thighs, my upper lip, my sagging eyes, my "grandma" skin. I want to stop being embarrassed by every picture that is taken of me, humiliated when people look at me. Like that woman, I want to radiate some inner something, to hell with what is happening with my physical body.

Of course, this is an uphill battle in this looks-youth-oriented culture we live in, where women are wrecked when it comes to physical self-esteem, where we are objectified, and only okay if we starve ourselves, augment our breasts, where we must be airbrushed and reshaped before we can grace a magazine page, where the standard model size today is a Two, where earlier and earlier we are injecting and nipping and tucking and lifting, where we walk around, our bodies contorted beyond the point of ridiculousness so that we can look sexy in our four-inch Manolo Blahniks.

And in the midst of this absurd craziness, I want to love my body?

Many years ago I recognized that there was something inside me that never aged. Do you know what I mean? It’s in there, some place or being or part of me that still feels 12 or 17 or 25, even as the body that surrounds and holds it grows decades beyond that. Years ago, when I started sitting with teachers that embraced more of an eastern spirituality, I got it that this is the part of me that never dies. It is the spirit maybe, or perhaps consciousness, or awareness, or presence—words are limiting here—and it doesn’t age because it is ageless, because it is beyond this physical life here on earth; it is the flame that will never be extinguished, will be there, in fact, watching, observing, as I pass from this life to the next. I don’t know how I know this but I do. I know it from personal experience. And I’m not even sure it’s “personal." Many years ago, as a volunteer at the bedside of an elderly dying woman, it was there, simply, beautifully present, both inside and outside of me, watching her, watching me, the seer, the seen, it was nearly palpable, this unchanging, eternal, everlasting thing and there was no separation between it and me and her; and it was there, calmly, peacefully unphased, as this woman's spirit passed from her body into the realm that we cannot see or feel or touch.

It is astounding, this dichotomy, and I don't begin to know how to find resolution, how to reconcile between these two such opposing exepriences, the spiritual on one hand, and the struggle I experience with my physical being on the other. Or that I can revere the growth and transformation and wisdom that maturing brings at the same time that I disdain the container it is held within. That I can rejoice that I am still around, that I still have all my parts, that though a little slower and sometimes crankier, they work, they get me where I want to go while at the same time dishonoring them because they no longer look like they used to or should or how I'd like them to. That I understand that I and my body have been through so much, things I tend not to write about or talk about, things that have altered the course of my life from early on, that have driven this healing journey; that I can understand its woundings, and I can still, still, judge it, disparage it, feel humiliated by it.

What it is that radiated through and animated the eyes of that old woman in Gloria Steinem's postcard? Is it love? Life? Joy? Peace? Contentment? Spirit itself? Senility? I have no idea, but I want it. I want to shift focus from the outside to the inside. I want to love the skin, the wrinkles, the hairs now growing in the wrong places, the stiff joints, the whole of it. I want it to be about how I feel, not how I look. It feels huge. It is huge. But as with any big trip or journey, it begins one tiny or big step at a time.

Here's my step and it feels ginormous. And just for the hell of it, here's another one. Taken a couple of months ago on my front porch in Sonora.

And yes, I do realize that one can't tell if one's eyes are sparkling or not under dark glasses but those are my glasses. They turn dark in the sun... What can I say?