Sunday, September 11, 2016

On Leaping and Landing

When I was seeing Cameron-the-Counselor for grief counseling after Jeff died, we spent time talking about the fact that grief and loss is a change that makes everyone uncomfortable. He reminded me that pretty much everyone else is invested in those who are grieving getting back to "normal." I treasured the people in my life who were not invested in that, who let me just be who I was and let me feel how I felt. We talked a lot about how "back to normal" is not normal and would never again be normal, how we never are the same people again after a major loss.  

What has been apparent to me recently is that I forgot to count me among the people who wanted to see me back to "normal."  For a while I remembered this, and guarded against it.  Then I forgot.  And pretty soon I was back to some semblance of normal, but a normal that was sometimes like an ill-fitting garment. There are still elements of my life that do not quite fit, that chafe tender places.  

Two weeks ago, a woman I know on Facebook, the director of a dog rescue in Seattle, sent me a note. I had been considering fostering to adopt some small dogs, rescues who had become bonded to one another in the rescue foster home. I'd decided it was the wrong time for me to add those little creatures to my life. To my life with Eric in the small house and the pretty gardens, to my life with a demanding job, to my life where I was still grieving the loss of Jessie (and Ella, to be honest, who died last year). Jessie was the last of my trio of felines, the most challenging of the three in personality, and beloved. Her death was the end of something, something I'm still working through.  

Then I received this message from the rescue director, sent very late one night, that these sweet dogs would have to be split up, because no one wanted them both. And so, uncharacteristically, I leapt. Yep, we'll try it, is what I said. 

Years ago, I was in a work meeting and one of my coworkers presented a very compelling model for envisioning your life plan, your daily commitments, as a written document. Be careful, was the advice, to leave enough margin on those pages. Make sure to put both life and work on your plan. Leave margins so that you have room to squeeze in the unexpected, the unplanned. It was good advice, a good life strategy. It felt like it was better advice for other people than for me.

My own experience is that I couldn't ever leave enough margin. My experience is that a life plan is more like a hazy outline of things that you might do. My experience is that things will happen in your life that splat all over your life plan and splash coffee on that bad boy. While I never really realized it, thinking of my life that way has contributed to a habit of thinking that says "no" to what I want too often. Sometimes before I even let myself admit what I want. Some of the decisions I'd like to get back, the choices I'd like to re-choose, or more actively choose, were made with knee-jerk-no thinking. And then, too, I'm pretty big on commitment. When I commit, I am in. Through fire, flood, hurricane, illness, money troubles--I'm in.  

Those habits and that thinking is part of the reason I am not usually a leaper. I am usually a person who has minded my limits about those things I can choose because my life has had a bunch of hand grenades thrown into it, and I have too often let my work take up too much page space. And when I commit, it's for reals. In my confused (and busy) brain, I think I developed these habits because I am trying to leave a LOT of margin. It doesn't work, by the way.  

This is a very long wind-up to explain why and how it was very out of character for me to just try this dog foster thing. It will seem silly, I'm sure, to many of you who have complicated home lives. Or children. But it was out of character for me that with very little planning, we climbed into the car. We drove to Seattle, saw a friend, saw Eric's mom, picked up two little dogs, and drove home. 

What I have to keep remembering is that commitments come in stages.  

These little foster to adopt dogs have dragged me out of my routine, mostly in a very good way. I'm out before sunrise and after moonrise, wandering about with them while they sniff *everything* and relieve themselves. I've been humbled by poop bags (mine are lavender-scented--I am not kidding). They have cheerfully jingling collars and tags, they are zoom-y, they are sweet as sugar most of the time. They greet me like I'm a rockstar when I come into the room. Balance all of that against the fact that they deserve more of my time than I have to give (I know we all wrestle that one), and they have some habits that will take work and focus to change. I'm trying to discern what they need and what I can give and see if it's a close-enough match. I'm trying to weigh how this leap impacts my marriage, because I don't live alone in the small house on Roosevelt Street.  

So far, I have this:
  1. If this can't be their permanent home, I will know that I tried (and that they had a great Idaho vacation).
  2. I don't have to travel to spend time outside looking at stars and moons and sunrises.
  3. Even if this leap doesn't lead down the path I expected, leaping isn't all bad. Stick the landing, that's the trick.
  4. I spend way too much time glancing into the lives of people I know and care for on social media, sharing snippets of my life with them.  Too much Facebook, too little face time.  
This life thing is a journey, y'all.  My best, as ever, to all who wander this way.  


Saturday, August 13, 2016

This Corporeal World

In the church of St. John the Divine in ManhattanKedar Photography

I'm so stubborn, y'all.  Seriously.  I'm especially stubborn, it turns out, when it comes to thinking I can keep doing what I'm doing and get a different result. I'm stubborn about not giving up on people, even when they hurt me. I'm stubborn about saying "yes, but" (or even, "yes, and...") when I should sometimes just say "no."

So why am I not stubborn about demanding boundaries on my time, my gifts of love or money or support? Why am I not stubborn about honoring my needs for self care? I think it's partly because I was raised not to be selfish, and this can sometimes feel selfish.  But I think it's also the fact that, until very recently, I have never admitted in my heart of hearts that time is finite. We only get to spend each one of our minutes once. There is no compounding interest on time. Once a moment is gone, it's spent. That.Is.That.

This refusal to accept the limits of time lets me drift along, sometimes for years, without correcting behaviors or situations that need to be corrected. It's the reason I can gain a lot of weight before hearing big alarm bells. It's the reason I can spend years in a job that I've long outgrown. It's the reason that I can let unhealthy relationships and friendships go on for far too long without being corrected.

I've recently been thinking a lot about faith. I'm not a churchgoer. I left the Catholic church on a hot afternoon in 1983 after my parish priest felt it necessary to scold me for my mother's refusal to attend mass after her stroke. I've been unable to return to a church because so few are accepting of people in all their variations. I do not, as a result, think of myself as having a lot of faith. I've known faithfully religious people. I've admired them, envied them. I've categorized them into "the real deal" and "the kind who mostly just attend a lot of services." A very faith-filled friend recently told me that he thinks of me as one of the most faithful people he knows.  "You," he said, "have more faith that the world is unfolding as it should, as you often say, than most of the pastors I've known."

And I do.  Not because I feel that there is a divine hand guiding all things. No, I can't, and don't, believe that there is a divine hand guiding the things that we must face each day. I would be embittered if I believed that a divine hand dealt the losses in my life, at the times I faced them. I couldn't make sense of the world if I believed that. Instead, I believe we are making our way through a minefield of experiences and that all we really have is our free will, our connection to others, our kindness, and our grace.  I can't imagine that the divine can be called down to football fields, or even to hospital beds. Not to change the realities of this corporeal world. No, I believe the divine is only available to us in the ways that we must deal with our fears and our losses, our joys, and our disappointments.

And I believe firmly that I can communicate with the people I've lost who loved me. My atheist friends call this a coping mechanism. I respect, but don't agree, with that opinion. So maybe my friend is right. Maybe that's faith. And maybe it is this belief, this habit of stubborn trust in the unfolding of the universe, that has allowed me to stay in tough situations through thick and thin and pain and tears and laughter and death. Maybe it's this habit of thinking that has enabled me to stay, to be unflinching when things are awful, which has rewarded me with moments of such exquisite grace that I am sometimes overcome with gratitude. I know with certainty that at the core of my gratitude are these experiences of grace, of bearing witness to such tremendous beauty and such humbling courage.

I can be both if I am mindful, both the steadfast and giving person I like to be, and the self-protective person who will draw better boundaries and limits. I'm winding up for another trip around the sun, and I'm hoping some of this in-my-head wisdom starts translating to in-my-schedule wisdom soon.

Thanks to those of you who tarry here, and my best as ever to all who pass this way!


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Of Course I Can

Since I was in high school, I've been a morning person.  In my 20's, I developed the habit of getting out of bed very early to fit important but easy-to-skip things into my morning, before heading to work.  For years, even decades, I got up at 4:30 AM so I could work out and write before launching my work day.  I lost some of that habit when I had a job that required me to get out of bed for on-call responsibilities, or when I was a caregiver. But those things have changed, and still I struggle to get out of bed some mornings. I've lost the rhythm in my days, and I miss it.

Here's the thing--I'm stubborn. And that means I'm just as stubborn when I'm sure I've failed as I am when I believe in myself. Here's another thing--I'm tough to discourage, but it can be done. And, lastly, like a lot of the most results-driven people I know, one of the worst things to hear or know is that I've disappointed someone.  I'll dive across pavement to avoid disappointing someone I care about.  I'll work myself stupid to avoid failure of my team.

This is not news. I've been this way since I was a little girl. I've gotten myself into unhealthy situations on any number of occasions because of this. Tell me I'm wrong or I screwed up and I'll debate you.  Tell me I disappointed you and I fold.  This is a good thing to know if you're in my inner circle and you want to quickly win a conflict with me.  (Ha!)

I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately, especially as it relates to changing parts of my life that I want to change.  It seems this is all tangled up with my ongoing (and now life-long) struggle with my weight.  It seems it is all tangled up with my ongoing struggle to balance work and life.  It is all tangled up with my inability to satisfy my need for time and mental space to write, and read, and create.  This is maybe "interesting" behavior, if you're a person studying behavior.  But if you're a person who wants what's best for me, or if you read this and commiserate, and you're trying to stop talking about these things and get doing/finding/achieving them, it's a baaaaad deal.

In the last two years, I've had a series of disappointments. A shuffle at work prevented me from finishing something I'd started and very much wanted to finish. My whole team was laid off, including me. I gained a lot of weight, and that has been a disappointment to me and to some others. My writing habits, and my reading habits, are abysmal. And I've had some wins, too--I found a great new job doing something that matters for someone I believe in. I handled all of that corporate work junk with grace. But there have been two times in the last two weeks where I had flashbulb moments of realizing that despite my wins, I was disappointed in me. And in those situations, the shock I felt was the realization that I had simply folded. I had given up, walked off. When I scold myself and berate myself and beat myself up, I never come out of that with a big motivation to never do again. Nope, I just feel like hell. Which is not very helpful in finding energy to regroup, to change course.

I lost my faith and my certainty that I could be a writer, a fit person, and an effective leader in a chaotic job all at the same time. Whew. That's pretty hard to admit.  So, y'all, of course I can be. I've done all of this in the past, sometimes while also being a caregiver. I'm going dust myself off and get back to it.

I can't change what I feel, but I can change what I do.

When people make me feel I've disappointed them, I'm going to try to call them on it. I'm also going to try to call me on it, because sometimes that is not at all what they intended and it's that anxious little voice in my head getting in my way. When I hear that little voice in my head beating me up, I'm going to try to silence that bullying biatch.  It will be difficult. The voice in my head knows all my soft spots. She aims flying jujitsu kicks at all my most tender places.  She nods with a smug look when I feel self-doubt. You probably have one of these voices, too. 

And, lastly, I'm going to do the thing I always advise others to do--try every day to see yourself through the eyes of those people you know love you most purely, who see your flaws, your strength, beauty, and your worth every single second.

Here we go, one more time, with feeling.  Let's do this.

Best to all who happen this way!


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Precisely As You Are

I've missed writing this blog. I've missed writing, period.  I'm going to try to be back.

I am a very lucky woman in many ways. My life has been sprinkled with experiences that I know are not typical, and many times when I have needed help in my life I've encountered generosity and kindness in people who might just as easily (more easily) not lifted a hand to help. One of the ways that I've been most lucky has been in my personal life experience of being a heavy woman in a country that equates fat with unhealthy, unsexy, lazy, ugly, undisciplined, shameful--a whole pile of assumptions and baggage all wrapped up in a person's size.

This has been on my mind lately, as I look at the numbers on my scale and wish for an undo button. It's been on my mind as I read posts and memes and essays and news stories that urge body acceptance, fat acceptance, human acceptance. It's been on my mind as I unfriended a few Facebook friends who were a bit too mean-spirited or self-satisfied in their dismissal of fat people. It's been on my mind as I witness the lives of friends and acquaintances wrestling with their body acceptance, health, food addictions.

And through all of this witnessing, as I try to find my own path through this life I'm leading, I am simply lifted up by memories of those people who helped me see my beauty and worth past all the judgmental voices in my head, in my life, and in the media. So few people have those voices in their lives, and are left only with the clamoring of those voices of self-doubt, the voices of the media, the ignorant, sometimes unmeaning, sometimes casual cruelty of loved ones and strangers and acquaintances. I know these things are true. And I know that I'm lucky. I remember a good friend, urging me to spend less energy thinking about how I looked on a bike and more energy mastering hill-climbs. I remember another friend who was shocked, truly shocked, when I told him that I have always avoided photos because I was heavy. "But you're so beautiful," he said, and his voice was so honestly incredulous and confused that I was ashamed of myself for being an idjit.

Many of you know that I am a belly-dancer. As is the case for me with almost every kind of physical art form or sport, my skill is greatly enhanced by my enthusiasm. Which is to say that I'm not all that great, but I'm enthusiastic enough to carry me through. I started dancing at my heaviest weight ever. Me, the person who avoids both mirrors and photographs, decided to take a swing for the fence and dance with other women in a studio. With mirrors, mind you. I was never going to perform, of course. And then, dazzled by the sparkly costumes, warmed by the women of my group, I did decide to perform. Outside, at a festival, in public.

I will always remember from that day the camaraderie of the women I dance with, the women I still think of as dance-sisters. I will remember that I learned wind is like a Russian-roulette factor for dancing with veils. I remember that we finished our dance, laughing. My husband, Jeff, was standing on the hillside in the crowd dressed in tie-dye and clapping his hands over his head with the biggest smile on his face. His was the loudest voice that day. Jeff had myasthenia gravis, and it had been quite a process to get his energy level up to attend the festival and the performance. Myasthenia gravis made it difficult for him to lift his arms. And there we were. He knew what it cost me in bravery points to get on that stage, and I knew what it cost him in sheer will to raise his arms above his head and applaud. And that is my best memory of that day, one of the best memories of my life.

That day was a long time ago now. I'm still proud of us both. I'm talking kick ass and take names proud. So today, I'm holding on to that memory to buoy me up as I chart my course back to strength and health.  I hope that if you are reading this and you're also charting a new course for your life, that you remember to be gentle with yourself, that you remember to see all your beauty and strength just as you are this moment.  I hope that this choice gives you joy.

Best to all who happen this way.