Time To Kill

A little while ago, I was swinging on our porch swing while Monty did acrobatics with a stick and ran laps in the yard. I had been down for some time, but I couldn’t place exactly the source of the sadness. All I knew was that I could feel something missing and the result was not a loneliness but a “looked over” kind of feeling. It’s not uncommon for me to feel lost and uncertain about the direction and usefulness of my life, especially when I’m in a crash period. This feeling felt like it had roots in that. As I let my thoughts wander and my mind clear, these words entered my head and seemed to quiet the residual buzz: “I just want to make myself proud again.” It didn’t repeat itself like an incessant thought, rather the words just stood still in bold print, front and center in my mind. And then all at once I knew what that void I’d been feeling was. It wasn’t just a lack of pride, but the lack of pride and purpose that usually comes from working. Uselessness is a terrible feeling, and I know it arises sometimes from the fact that I don’t have a real job anymore. I haven’t in some time. And yet through this whole ordeal, that loss continues to cuts deep. It has me constantly wondering what I’m doing here and where I’m going and how I’m ever going to get there. As a working girl my path felt so clear-cut. I catch myself daydreaming of my desk and my business cards and the “importance” they implied.  But once the crutch of a job was gone, everything inside me felt upside down. Who am I if I don’t “do” anything?

Sitting in my bosses office and having to admit with a quivering voice that I “just physically couldn’t do it anymore” was one of the hardest moments of my life. My whole goal up until then besides getting better, was to find a way to hold onto that job. I knew if I was forced to leave it, it meant everything was irreversibly real. It meant despite what I planned or wanted, the illness was making decisions that I couldn’t change. It meant the scales had tipped and I was no longer in control. (Maybe I never actually was, but the illusion felt good) But now here I had come face to face with the truth that clinging onto the job was only causing me more suffering, besides largely effecting the quality of my work. Were I smarter I would have given in earlier and dedicated myself more seriously to getting well. But I was in a sort of denial up till then. I kept expecting to get better. I didn’t want to believe that this was truly going to be the new state my body. No one really wants to accept something like that, I think out of an inborn fear that doing so means you’re giving into something crappy and letting it take over–That you’re giving up on the possibility of getting well. But it was more just coming to terms with a reality and giving my health the attention it needed. Everyone around me seemed to know the time had come and were just waiting on me to call it, so I finally did.

I can remember solidly a few things from that conversation. I can still see his big sappy eyes as Andrew listened to me speak, and the honest calmness in his voice when he said  “It’s been hard to watch. I just can’t understand why this would happen to you.” I tried very hard not to cry but the tears fell anyway, much like they are now just remembering the whole interaction. We hugged goodbye and I tried to compose myself. I remember, I think in an attempt to lighten the sadness of that goodbye, him saying to please stay in touch and to come back and visit often. I said I would, knowing I probably wouldn’t. Knowing that life at the gallery would go on without me, while my own life was drifting into scary, uncharted waters. I punched out for the last time and felt totally numb. The French Quarter had just turned dark, freezing and damp, but I didn’t feel the cold at all. I paid the nice parking attendant with whom I normally joked around without even looking him in the eye. He made some comment about cheering up or smiling but I couldn’t bring myself to respond. I moved on autopilot like a robot. Once in the car all the terrible questions made their rounds. What would become of my life now? Who would I be now, sick and unemployed? What if I never get better? I tried to drown them out but the noise of the radio bothered me. That 40 minute drive home over the bridge felt like a dream. Once home, Monty ran up to me and my mom was sitting in her chair in the living room. Our eyes met and I lost it. “Well, I guess I don’t have a job anymore.” And that, as they say, was that.

Even though I fought it, leaving work was the right thing to do and in my condition, was just a matter of when and not if.  In the beginning it was a relief– not to have to fake well, to call in sick, to let down coworkers, and to constantly apologize. But not so long after, I began to feel this noticeable hole, like the gap your tongue slides through after you’ve lost a tooth. I had all this new time to kill but couldn’t spend it how I’d like. The adjustment was extremely difficult. Besides giving me purpose and pride, my job had contributed to my identity and livelihood. There was a little space carved out in the world called Mary, and I was useful there; I fit. I did what was expected of me and was paid every two weeks. But now I no longer occupied that space and I couldn’t make sense of what place I held in the world. Without the distraction of work, I also had to learn to just “be” and accept these new circumstances, which was also hard. When you’re sick like that you can’t just leave and go for a drive, or go get drinks with friends to feel better about it. It makes you confront your life head on since there aren’t the typical escapes. I had to begin accepting my experience and not thinking of my days sick in bed as total wastes. I’m still learning to do this, but it is possible. It began with adjusting the expectations I held for myself, and redefining what my definitions of “work” and “purpose” really meant. For so long work was something you did 40 hours a week and got paid for. And our culture nearly defines who we are by what we do. I no longer had a satisfying answer to that question. “Uh, Unpaid blogger I guess?” It took adapting to where I was at that point and not in the past. I was always going to feel shitty comparing my life sick to someone’s who was well. I had to get real about my truth. Still, those adjustments were hard and I am still learning them.

Life with illness means a lot of time on your hands and a lot of solitude. You have to learn how to be still, which I’ve learned very few people know how to do. You’re away from the typical distractions and noise and chaos often, so there is a lot of “being” and not “doing.” It also means getting to know yourself really well. Luckily, I like myself. We seem to get along. But all of this new vast time without a lot of outside expectation took a long time to really understand and warm up to at all. I had to remind myself that being sick is a part of me but not who I am. That took time too. As time went on I would grow more worried that I hadn’t re-entered the workforce. Or I’d feel these waves of inadequacy like I did recently. But sometimes I wonder if it isn’t the purpose of my soul that’s getting carried out because I have a body that doesn’t allow me to be busy and caught up in the regular tasks of life.

This experience has taught me big things and continues to now. It continues to teach me to let go of things, to be still and not be restless, to be OK being alone, and to accept myself as worthy even if I’m not doing anything impressive or achieving BIG things. Most of these were learned because my body wouldn’t let me achieve all I wanted to, and the lesson in humility has actually made me happier in some ways. All of it has made me come to terms with things that I truly find important, things outside of a job where the ultimate goal was money. If I look at this time away from work another way, it feels more like a gift. It’s allowed me to find and develop my voice for writing, which was my passion all along. It’s let me explore many other parts of myself that were not a part of my life when working. Even small things like learning to play my dads guitar and spending more time with my family that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s forced me to find the same joy and fulfillment from the small things that I used to require in the bigger or louder stuff. Today it was just being outside in the sun with monty and appreciating the moment.

I think it’s easy to look back on my life with a “real job” through rose-colored glasses.  I was “bringing home the bacon”and dressing in nice clothes and looked and sounded like someone who had it together. But I can still remember sitting at my desk sometimes and thinking is this it? This is what I do the next 60 years and then I retire? I’d be naive to say things were perfect and always made sense then, too. They didn’t. But it looked better on paper and gave me stuff to talk about when people asked what I was up to. Those conversations are funny now ;)  I was still wondering about my purpose and the meaning of things then too. I was still asking those same questions. The only difference is, I don’t have the disguise anymore. I am clearly not headed in any predictable direction and I truly don’t know what the plan for my life is. But, at least I’ve got some time to figure it out. All kinds of time.

Still I wonder, were I to be better tomorrow, totally healed and ready to emerge back into the quick-paced world, is that what I would do? Go back to work at some job, have office birthday parties again and two-week vacations, and then all my problems would end? I doubt it. What I mean is, I don’t think that’s what this experience is about. There is something more to it than a temporary roadblock for my life. I know it has more to give me than suffering, and my work is to try and bring light to what has felt very dark. I think by learning to navigate any experience the right way, it’s never a total loss. Sometimes it’s the very thing that propels us or makes us better. There is always more meaning and a path to discover if we stay devoted to following the thing that makes us feel alive– this usually leads to finding our purpose, our spot where we fit. I guess it’s the days when I know that who I am is bigger than the things that have happened, that I still have things to offer the world, and I accept the course of my day even in its smallness, that I make myself proud again. It’s often not in what I do anymore, but in how I receive each day and whether I live it out as a gift or not.

Even if all I do is try, that is truly enough.

Health, Happiness, #SickPride

How To Come Home

I’ve just made it home. My suitcase is still lying in the center of the kitchen floor.

It’s crazy how good home feels after you’ve been away from it, even when you’ve completely enjoyed your time away. Somewhere between waiting in line barefoot among rookie fliers who somehow forgot about the jug of water in their carry-on and the captain shouting God knows what into that fuzzy speaker, I start to feel my humanity slip like some kind of sock with lazy elastic hovering at the ankle.

Once upon a time, flying made me feel like a celebrity. The whole experience was a novelty and a privilege.  And somewhere in my jaded depths I know that it still is. The mere idea of humans taking flight on a bus in mid-air is still mesmerizing and I’m lucky to have access to it. And yet somehow,  the only celebrity I ever feel like is Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents. I’m all eye rolls and discouraged sighs, which sometimes emerge as a laugh–the kind of laugh you let out when nothing is actually funny. I try to keep my moans of discontent in, even when the automatic toilet flushes while I’m still on it and I’m sprinkled with fresh public toilet water. I try to breathe through the frustration of then not getting that same toilet to flush when I actually want it to and there I am dancing like some kind of monkey on fire trying to activate the motion detector that says just wave your hand to activate. It lies. I exit, I don’t care. I hate the toilet now. All I want to do is wash the Ebola off my hands and possible STD’s off my thighs, but the faucet requires the motion. And the soap requires a motion. And the dryer requires a motion. And what happened to handles? If I went on Shark Tank I’d reintroduce handles to public bathrooms. Anyway there is more dancing. More erratic behavior from inanimate objects. More laughing when it’s not funny. It’s like the DMV in there; the threat level of a Stage 5 freakout is just one toilet flush away in any given stall. You can sense it.

But not everyone confronts the airport bathroom circus. The old lady next to me doesn’t seem to have problems with her soap. I bet she’s been spared from the toilet water too. What is your secret, old white lady in the brown velour pant suit? What am I doing wrong? But there’s no time for philosophizing, I have to get to my gate. Guess where my gate is? Guess if it’s nearby or at the very far edge of the airport as in it has a separate zip code and everything. Guess.

Is it the tragedy that is modern American air travel that makes home feel this good? Maybe. Probably. I guess this account of flying would suggest I’m a young, old curmudgeon who has lost sight to how lucky I am.  But it’s always temporary. I am either going somewhere great or coming home to relief and love, and it’s just the in-between antics that can get a girl down. Once home nobody shouts the temperature and the toilets flush WHEN YOU WANT THEM TO. Of course, an 80 pound furry beast running around you in circles then through your legs and back, shoving every toy in the box in your lap and wagging his tail with enough vigor to knock over small children and feeble adults, well, that helps too. That’s the best.

I celebrated Thanksgiving with my best friend big brother Nick and Company in Miami for a week. Mostly I felt like death, but I was excited to go and the change in scenery did me good. It’s been a rocky few months. My health declined from mediocre to poor without discernible reason, and that’s just the name of the game with illness like this. I can’t pretend I’m not discouraged by it or tired of feeling really shitty when I didn’t overdo it or change anything, as if a person deserves bad health anyway, but I’m trying not to wallow in it either. I saw the specialist in Miami and there are a few changes we are making, but we won’t know more until the results arrive from the copious amount of blood I gave to test. Aside from that, my progressive boyfriend and I broke up. Ew, breakups.

It’s interesting that a decision you’re sure of it’s the right one to make can be just as painful as the wrong ones you’ve made when you didn’t know any better. And by interesting I mean shitty. We did the adult thing and “called it” at the appropriate time. We saved ourselves the tragedy of letting it slowly burn and die until it ended in hatred. I guess ultimately, even an amicable breakup is still a breakup. It’s an end. You grieve for them and you grieve for who you were with them. I experienced a whole new pain this time around that stemmed from not being my whole self in the endeavor. I pretended and concealed when the truth was ugly or getting a less than desirable response. I don’t think Id ever done that In a relationship before, but I’ve never been under the circumstances I am now and had to introduce someone knew to a world that took so much explaining, and defending in some cases.

It’s weird, I actually wanted to keep my illness out of the whole thing. (I wanted to live in Neverland, is how that sentence should read.) I had this fear it would interfere with things before they ever had a shot to develop. I feared it would be difficult and unbecoming; It would suggest I was someone inferior. I was even afraid it might be the demise of the relationship. And then, it kind of was. The weight of it became too heavy, it’s unrelenting nature became too repetitive and it’s lack of a solution wore out the seams and we broke. There were other reasons, of course. But my being sick was up there, it messed with things, it was a big a part of the end. And for a while that was a really crushing thought. It made me feel small, made my life feel lesser. I push and work to live my life in spite of this invisible force trying to take it away, and yet sometimes, it still comes out on top. It wins.

But hiding it was like doing a monkey dance in a cramped bathroom stall. (Kind of) It was stupid on top of exhausting, and I don’t know how I expected anything authentically good to emerge when I wasn’t being true to myself. I am not my illness, I know that. But it’s there, it’s changed virtually everything in my life the last four years, and nothing good has ever come from denying or dismissing it; from pretending it’s not there. And yet, sometimes I can sense that people want me to pretend it’s not there. They want to hear that I’m better, and no one understands that fantasy more than me. But pretending makes me feel like I have to hide a part of my life that I can’t control, and that’s not a healthy place to be. I don’t want long conversations about my illness. Ive had enough of them for 20 lifetimes. But I do need an honest atmosphere that doesn’t require apology. I need to be able to be sick when I’m sick and well when I’m well and not judged inbetween. It will always take patience, compassion and effort in order for my life to be understood and loved from the outside. It will always be hard in my relationships. But hopefully if I am really seen, my external circumstances won’t take up so much space. And that was half the problem, I never really felt seen. Instead I felt sorry, and that’s because I betrayed myself. By not putting it all out there, I made it nearly impossible for my life to make sense.  I am not jobless and living in my parents pool house writing on a blog called Twenty Five Pills a Day because of lifestyle choices. And that’s an attitude I confront a lot. I’ll work like hell my whole life to turn lemons into lemonade, but I didn’t pick the lemons, so I don’t think I need to apologize for that anymore. The weird thing is that in glossing over and skirting around this small part of me, so much more of who I am was stifled. Good parts! Fun parts! It doesn’t feel good not to bring your whole self to a party. In fact, that hurt the worst, and I did it to myself. I had a need that wasn’t getting met, and instead of accepting that once I knew it was true, I tried to do away with the need. Surprise surprise, that didn’t work. It’s OK to have needs. Love enjoys needs.

Now I am Stella getting my groove back. I see my health in the distance: a ship in flames slowly sinking into the ocean. Haha. That image makes me laugh. But this will pass. I’ll get better. Or I’ll get worse, then I’ll get better. It doesn’t matter, because I’m going to keep trying. I’ll attempt to transform all of this– pain, pleasure, toilet water– into something useful. Something fun. Because despair is boring and I’m seeking a creative life. The world doesn’t need more sad stories so I will find the good ones. I’ll trust what I’ve been given and let it fuel all my endeavors. Mostly I’ll breathe easier because I am who I am and I’ve made it home. I’m back. And I have so much to do.

Stay tuned.

Health, Happiness, Home.

The Opposite of Boredom

A few noteworthy things of late.

I’m completely lost in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. I began reading it Sunday and now I find myself attempting to read only small bits at a time because I’m already dreading it being over. It’s such a good read. The protagonist Jack really resonates with me but also Percy is such a creative and dead-on writer of things large and small. I admit reading his words make me feel like I could never write anything of worth if I tried for it my entire life. But on other pages his complex ideas play out so simply, his writing so accessible that it gives the assuring impression that anyone could do it. The story takes place in New Orleans mostly, among other Louisiana Parishes and the Mississippi coast. I love stories set here, not for reasons of pride but for how perfectly the landscape plays into the story, picking up where plot leaves off. Something huge would inevitably be lost were it to be told from Ohio…or Michigan. All parts of it from the dress, to the houses, to the unnerving racial tension are all intrinsically Southern, and you find yourself loving it whether you hate it or not. Also of note, Percy lived in Covington. He used to drive the bridge to New Orleans. I guess it’s encouraging to know something so inspiring came out of this little town that for so long I hated. Speaking of the bridge..

I had another moment of coherence. This time around mile marker 11. Monty and I were driving home once again, New Orleans to the Northshore, last Monday evening. It was a pretty nondescript Monday, cloudless with little traffic. But my thoughts were floating through me with the rhythm of the bumps per usual. Then I did this thing which I do a lot. A small amount of congested traffic formed from some kind of road repair, and as I slowed my car to a near-halt, I felt myself bracing for impact. Not from me but from a car behind. (No car in particular, I do this no matter who’s behind me) Then I imagined the loud crashing sound it would make and my airbags inflating. Then the last part which is usually the most unnerving for me, I saw my car crashing through the concrete barrier to my right,  and my feeble Toyota corolla with Monty and me inside it, falling slow motion into the water. Down, down we’d go.

like this. but less black and whiteness.
Like this. But less black and whiteness.

And usually the thought doesn’t end with a rescue. Usually it ends with me shuttering at the idea of the lights going out on my life so fast, and then me being jerked back to reality, convincing myself someway that death is nothing to think about. As though I’ll never die! But last Monday was different. I had the thought, I braced for impact, I saw the vision of my falling car. And then out of nowhere…tranquility. My mind felt placid. I may have even smiled. I thought how weightless that moment must be when you finally let go. The grand transition. Finally releasing something you’ve held so tightly onto, whether it was good to you or not. The surrender. The relief! It finally occurred to me that only being lost so deeply in the world garners that sort of fear about death. If we could interview those who have “passed on” (as I hear older religious folk say) I think they’d say it wasn’t that scary. Nothing compared to the rest of their life on earth scared to death imagining it! I’d love to get just one interview. It’s like I know all these dead people and none of them will give me the dirt.

Anyway, I can’t explain how reassuring that moment was on the bridge. I remember in California over a year ago, I was sicker than I’d ever been to the point I actually thought I might be dying. And I hated the idea. I was so overwhelmed by that possibility that often it brought me to tears and I’d have to excuse myself and physically catch my breath. In theory it should have been almost a relief to think about–an end to suffering. But I didn’t want to die. And I certainly didn’t want my last days on earth to be like the ones I was having there. Closed up indoors, lifeless, feeling very alone. It’s just interesting to me that now that I’ve really been living these last few months, and dare I say it, even–happy–my fear of death has lessened. I’ve enjoyed the park and the pool with Monty in the sun. I’ve gone to dinner parties. I’ve said yes to things that in my sick past were a big fat no. I’ve spent quality time with people I love, not doing a whole lot of anything at all but talking about life and people and laughing really, really hard. And there on the bridge, for maybe no more than a second, I didn’t fear death. I felt curious and interested. But I wasn’t tense bracing for impact. I was smiling at how much fun I’ve been having and how at ease with life I feel. You’d think that would make the idea of death more unnerving than ever, because it means an end to happy times. But the opposite occurred. From my perspective over the water, death was just another thing that happens. Maybe after all, it’s not that big a deal? Hah. That moment was the first I’ve had that it didn’t feel like this overwhelming weight baring that comes with the knowledge that one day we’re all going to die. And even though my normal angst about it has at least half returned, that moment has really stuck and it feels readily accessible still. There was something very casual about it, which made me trust it even more. Sometimes I find myself looking for grand answers, spectacles, formal explanations of life and existence..and this was not really that. It was a simple and tranquil instant of acceptance, and those are the moments that persist. I pet Monty’s velvet ears, turned up the music and into the distance we drove. That indistinct Monday turned out to be quite the evening as it were.

Besides my newfound excitement for death! (jk)… the Day Lily’s are back in bloom. I looked at all the colors sprouting up yesterday, noting that by nature’s calendar I’ve officially been in this house for one year. I remember writing about these flowers last year, excited for how life in the pool house might unfold. Funny I hardly remember what’s happened in the time since then. In some way the fact that nothing terrible stands out makes it safe to say it’s been a pretty decent year. I only know that being given the gift of “relative health” the last few months has truly been remarkable for me. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of so many moments– of friends and boys and late nights immensely–and I feel gratefulness overflowing in me. I don’t remember the last time I was bored. I’ve read and written and played Taylor Swift on my guitar ridiculously loud. When I’m sick I rest. When I have energy I go. But most notably is this gratitude and the awareness of this gratitude. It occurred to me recently that this is the opposite of boredom. When I feel gratitude I feel like I’m living with my eyes open. I’m often noticing things that were already there that I’d simply skipped over before. I like this feeling of being in touch with my aliveness, seeing the realm of possibility beyond personal limits, recognizing the awe-inspiring nature of everything alive. Maybe it’s why I love saving the frogs from the pool, or why I don’t get rid of the spider living in the corner of my bathroom. I don’t think you can be in tune to these truths and be also bored. Boredom uses a narrow vision, it sees life as something to happen for us and not from us. Even yesterday, which turned out to be a crash day spent in bed, I lost myself in the enjoyment of a book, completely grateful for the existence of novels and good authors. Then completely grateful for a nice house to read them in. I never got out of my pajamas or brushed my teeth. I didn’t exactly contribute to the world. And all the same, it was really a wonderful day. I know there was a recent time in my life when I wouldn’t have thought that to be so.

Health, Happiness, Opposites.

 

 

Jumping Off.

I’m never up at this hour. But at roughly 6:40 am as I drove across Lake Ponchartrain, one of only a few lonely cars on the 24 mile bridge, it struck me just how sacred the early mornings are. Of course over water, there are no distinct markers of distance traveled besides mile markers on land, but somehow over uninterrupted waves there were these distinct and momentary glimpses into the context of my life where all the working pieces fit together. The sense, however fleeting, had me second guessing my entire history as a bona-fide night person. Maybe there’s something to these early morning hours where people are drifting into the routine of their day or into the hangover of their night, and in the middle is me, not exactly doing either, but finding my place still–stumbling on a whole in lieu of constant and incompatible parts.

Yesterday I attended JazzFest and I remember walking around in no known direction, attempting to find a group of my friends, which is almost a miracle if achieved in such a clusterfuck of a public arena, and this thought kept trying to get a hold of me. “What am I doing? I have no business being here.” Over and over that thought, with every wrong turn and mistaken identity. What a sad thought! I couldn’t pinpoint the origin of it, but it probably had roots in my mostly confined and solitary past over a few years. And now sticking my head out, landing clumsily in the middle of the public world that not only didn’t stop while I was “out sick”, it also didn’t slow down at all either. And that continued, irreverent, incessant flow of time in one direction only all of the sudden felt very real and a little unnerving too. But I walked on. It’d be a lie to say I felt any confidence at all then, taking in every type of person of every age and origin.And even though none of them looked truly happy to me, none of them had a life that I felt cheated by not having, I was still odd man out.  I started to wonder if I had real friends at all that I’d find. Maybe I had imagined them up in a fantasy of my mind, and I’d walk tirelessly never bumping into them because there was no them to bump into. But I walked on. I pretended some of those thoughts didn’t exist. Maybe more, I just didn’t take them very seriously. I’d feel the sun burning my shoulders and I’d affirm that more likely than not I’d find my friends, I’d engage in young adult behavior, and feel a little better about my place in reality.

After 45 minutes of circles and flags and strangers, I watched a really drunk boy hoisted up by his friends, being dragged with his lifeless converse trailing under him leaving shallow lines in the dirt, the unfamiliar sights were piling up, and even I started to feel like a stranger there. But then– something familiar. Emily’s ponytail. Someone. People. Friends. They existed, and I was not yet proven insane. In that moment those thoughts I had didn’t carry any weight at all. Whether I found my friends or not had nothing to do with belonging in all honesty. Separateness is just a construct of ego and I know that, but it can stab you anyway. I knew that afternoon I could’ve really used some friends. And there they were and there I was. I belonged. I knew those thoughts were shit. Time to keep on living. Time to have fun now. Time to participate in the onward direction of time, and  attach to some other thought that experience will most likely prove wrong.

Maybe I should’ve mentioned it earlier, but I’ve never really been a live music person. Which makes me feel incredibly lame mostly. Just like I’m also not really into The Lord of the Rings. True “outsider” feelings emerge in me when this is brought up in public, and I feel like there’s some joke I’m just not getting. What is there to say about it? To each his own. Anyway, at every live music event I’ve attended, I find myself gazing off lost in observational mode of the people enjoying the music, instead of intrinsically enjoying the music myself. I can’t help it. There’s always some woman on the borderline of being “too old to be there” on some drug that’s a little too young for her to be doing, and I can’t help but watch her, dance carelessly, body parts hanging out, not giving a shit about what etiquette she’s breaking. Then I at once sympathize for her but also want to be her, because she is losing herself in something enjoyable, and she’s alone, and I’m the creeper at the concert not dancing but staring wide-eyed and blinking very slowly. I dated one of those music junkie type of guys for two years. He had an impressive collection of bands that you never heard of on his ipod and was always discovering music years before it became popular. (I on the other hand got my music from Apple Product commercials) He flew all over the country to catch his favorite bands at different venues. Sometimes with friends and sometimes alone and it was this small gap between us because this passion he fell off his seat for was somewhere that I just didn’t fit. And this schism in us always interested me, because at concerts we’d share a joint and then even more I’d separate from the setting and lose myself in the detach-and-detect humanity mode. He was good about keeping me down to earth and assuring me that dancing like an idiot was fine and encouraged, and that no, that guy next to me was not about to die from sensory overload regardless of what his face and body movements suggested. But there was always some wall with me at those shindigs. I could never really figure it out. Ultimately the relationship ended, and I wondered how much, if any, this disconnect had to do with it. Maybe nothing at all. Maybe a whole lot.

It’s funny how discovering clarity leaves with you so much to know still. My goal this year has been to find clarity of any kind, certainty of any measure. Because both of these things lack hugely in my personal life and it wares on me daily. It’d be nice to make a decision and know it to be right, or know anything at all for that matter and trust it to be true. But even with this goal in the forefront of my consciousness, it has still been incredibly hard, and so far, I’m yet to find either. I’m guessing the more things I pursue where the end is uncertain and there are no guarantees will help me to eventually get there, or in the general ball park. On the bridge this morning, the unceasing rhythm of a road bump every 1.5 seconds, I glimpsed certainty. I glimpsed knowing something at all, and it felt very good. But I don’t know if it’s possible to exist in this dimension full-time. At least half of life seems to rely on not knowing but jumping off anyway. Maybe love, happiness, success, peace..are all the outcomes of great risk and great faith. All anyone can do is make their best bet and go for it. Maybe once we let go of knowing anything for sure, the way I walked in endless circles yesterday, the way those waves went in no direction this morning, is how we find the happy end, whether we knew we would or could or not.

Health, Happiness, Walking On, Jumping Off.

Colby's Apartment
Colby’s Apartment

Push the Boys Into the Ditch; My Grandma’s Perfect Love Advice.

Do you ever go through something that is both presumably necessary but incredibly hard and subsequently feel the weight of the world baring down on you as if the gravitational pull changed and it was all on account of you doing something possibly stupid but possibly necessary? Me either, life is easy and fun!

While my health has to continued to sustain for reasons I can’t entirely know for sure, I’ve had some personal experiences which are difficult and painful and every time these things wash over me I examine why life has to be hard (as if I actually expected it to only be easy) and then I wonder does life actually have to be this hard or am I just doing it wrong?  I don’t know the answer to that one. I guess we can only learn as we go. I find myself telling Monty to never fall in love because it leaves a mark on every part of your life and ultimately it changes you, whether you wanted to or not. But then I watched the neighbor dog humping his owners leg and considered that obviously the alternative isn’t so much more grand. Though there’s an appeal to that leg–it’s not going to keep you up at night with heartache and strife. Or maybe I’m too quickly assuming here, maybe I should ask the dog.

Yeeeeah Legs!
Yeeeeah Legs!

Of course this fantasy that life would be easier and less painful without this or that is just that: a fantasy, a slight rejection of reality. But maybe more detrimentally, it presumes that somehow as humans we know better, and we know the answer to what would make life easier or more tolerable. As if life isn’t some ridiculous, complex mystery that has an infinite amount of working parts we as finite humans can only momentarily grasp, if ever at all. And I’m not struggling with an idea that every human for thousands of years hasn’t experienced pain from and questioned the value of. We’ve all been through it. Wondered if the pain in the end was worth the utopia in the beginning. I like this quote about it: “Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear.” by e.e. cummings. Would I really choose an option where falling in love wasn’t part of the equation? Duh, no. That’d be insane and cowardly and boring. Love is a remarkable gift, with perhaps its best quality being that of illumination. I like how sometimes it picks us, even when we’ve turned our backs on it or given up on the idea. I like that it takes us places we wouldn’t go on our own. I like that it makes even a worn-down curmudgeon feel giddy and silly and do things he thought he’d never do. I’m thinking of my grandma now, who at 86, has a man named Harold (a few years her senior) who is madly in love with her. I saw it with my own eyes. They would marry if only she’d accept.

Harold had been living at her facility for a few years when she moved in. He has a military haircut I imagine he’s had for 50 years. He speaks concisely and says what he means. There is density to both his physique and his words but a subtle softness you pick up on behind it. Harold had been sitting at the same table in the cafeteria for years, often alone, seeming annoyed by even the thought of socializing and especially at watching others partake in it. Sometimes he looks like he wants to press mute or fast forward on the whole charade; a sentiment I’m familiar with. He eats and drinks the same thing at his meals every day in a very particular order–part of the routine involving peeling his fruit and sharing half of it with my grandma. The ending involves hot tea with a lemon at a very high temperature that if not fulfilled, as sometimes happens with new employees or forgetful old ones, gets sent back. He waits. Sometimes he scoffs, others he sits in silence. I ate with them a few times last summer and couldn’t help but think of Jack Nicholson ala As Good As It Gets, with a little less show but just as much intensity.

Harold would be the last guy you’d expect to get all doughy-eyed and follow a girl around like a love-sick puppy. And yet, here he is. Three years in to my grandma’s stay at The Atrium, Grand Junction’s finest assisted living home, and Harold has fallen over in love with her. I’d like to say I’m exaggerating for literary purpose but truly I am not. I saw it with my own eyes. It started as a joke in the family– OOooooh Grandma! Hanging out with Harold again?! Grandma has a boyfriend! Hehehehe! And then slowly it was revealed to all of us that for him it wasn’t some crush, he’d truly fallen for her. He switched tables to sit with her. Even thought that meant there’d be a certain amount of socializing. He comes over all the time to watch Westerns at her apartment. He on the couch, she on the recliner. Of course half the time they fall asleep 10 minutes in, but no matter. The man has it bad. And something about it completely excites and inspires me. It turned the tables on rules I had stupidly self-made on love and life and age. Very stupidly. I am constantly discovering how much I don’t know. But I love this story. I love that the employees there asked my grandma what she had done to Harold. What happened to the old crotchety man rolling his eyes in the corner? Now he was partaking in group activities? Calling her on the phone? Feeding the ducks? Switching tables?!! While my grandma tries to insist they’re only friends, (oh my God life never changes) and that she finished that phase of her life after my grandpa died, it’s clear she’s enjoying the time with him as she should.  Albeit rejecting his proposals and insisting he partake in more bridge games. I love it all. They’re is something truly hopeful in all of it. Anything that flips our predefined notions on their head can only be a good. It’s illuminating. I imagine it’s that way for Harold, too.

Harold, My Grandma, and her best friend Myrtle, playing cards on a wild Friday night last summer.
Harold, My Grandma, and her best friend Myrtle, playing cards on a wild Friday night last summer.

Maybe it’s different for her. She clearly likes him being her friend and enjoys the companionship. Perhaps in this last stage of their lives, my grandma’s old stoic German ways will prevail and she’ll reject the romantic advances and they truly will be just friends. At 90. And that’s fine too. Of course I’m secretly hoping that one day she’ll weaken, she’ll let him sneak a kiss. Maybe she already has. I don’t know. But watching this all unfold fills my heart up with something good. Something hopeful. My grandma’s advice to me has always been that boys like girls who are mean to them; that she hardly ever let a boy get too close or too much from her. To work on your own life and don’t design it around some boy. And I knew as a young woman she had a lot of interested suitors and broke her share of hearts. In fact she pushed her first boyfriend into a ditch when he tried to kiss her, which she said of course, only made him try harder. And that’s been her advice to me; to push the boys into the ditch and watch what happens. Honestly I take her advice to heart. I love listening to her old stories. Her simplicity about life. She is a very happy person who loves her life, and so for me her advice carries a lot of water. I know they don’t have the internet at the Atrium, but Grandma, if you’re reading, give Harold a kiss for me. (I mean you can’t push the man into the ditch–he’s 90!!) For whatever reason watching the two of you, and specifically him, has been a very good thing for me, and I’ll probably always carry it with me.

Health, Happiness, and Boys In the Ditch

Grandma Selfie Yeah!
Grandma Selfie Yeah!

Don’t Forget to Do Nothing.

Two things happen when I start feeling better: My house gets really, down-to-the-baseboards clean, and my writing takes a hiatus.

For whatever reason, the last two weeks have been comparatively healthy ones. My energy is up and my pain level medium and manageable. Like most people with the illness, I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s changed. And if the past is any indicator, I could just as easily land on my ass tomorrow and be in a bed for a week. Of course, I’m not expecting that, and I’m enjoying the hell out of the newfound energy. My mom says it’s obvious when you start feeling better because suddenly you see all these little things that need tending too that you hadn’t noticed before. I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism of the body. You can’t exactly worry about dusty baseboards when your arms are too weak for teeth-brushing.

As I’ve enjoyed this accelerated momentum and stamina, I noticed I was forgetting to write. It’s easy to see why–often the trigger for me to write is either some sort of pain (physical or mental) that leads to enlightenment or offers some lesson, or it’s diverted attention to some very small detail that I usually notice when the pace of my life is slow, ie when I’m sick. It’s not that the requirement for noticing these deeper observations is sickness, it’s that when I am in fact sick, everything slows down. Out of necessity, I don’t really have a choice. The tasks on a to-do list, the chores, the logistics of physical life are put on hold while whatever broken part of me is on the mend. When I’m in this state, it’s almost as if some parts of my brain are turned up while others turn down. Like the static and noise of everyday life are quieted, and in that absence come the more powerful details and ideas. In other words, I’m tuned in to a different frequency. I’m looking for and sometimes finding answers and meaning maybe because it’s a way to feel alive and happy while waiting on my physical body to “catch up”. But I’ve discovered something in the last two weeks that now I’ll be paying attention to:

I shouldn’t have to be sick in order to be tuned in to that frequency.

The modern world is fast. The to-do lists are bottomless. And even when we die there will be unread emails in our in-boxes. This is why that conscious awareness I have while I am sick, the kind that the mystics speak of,  will have to be a choice on my part. (If I am to be well) If the last three years have shown me anything, it’s been the importance of that tuned in consciousness. Of living my life awake, not numbed or on autopilot. These things are easy to forget. Hell, I’ve been healthy a week and half and seemed to have forgotten just as quickly. But it certainly makes me examine the thought that all sick people have– could this be the reason I was sick at all? It’s not a theory anymore, I know with absolute certainty that without illness me and my life would be very, very different. I was a type-A personality; A competitive gymnast to whom school and other things came easy. Would I have ever slowed down? Would I ever have found Wisdom in the Day Lillies or saved the all those baby frogs from the pool everyday while examining the largeness and smallness of life that surrounds me? Would I stop to photograph plants like this just because it struck me as beautiful and that was reason enough for pause?

The Pink!
The Pink!

Well, probably not. And it’s not to say that me noticing the beauty of flowers or the fragility of life is so important or better than what I’d be doing otherwise. But I have to trust in the specific experience I’m having. Things could have been different, but of course, we can’t re-write our pasts. I’ll never know who I would’ve been. On bad days (on unconscious moments)  I fantasize that I would have been better. That my life would be a glamorous one and there would be little suffering and I would be the president blah blah blah. But that kind of thinking is mostly ego of course, and all fantasy. Projecting that all my happiness lies somewhere over there, if only things were different is textbook ego. And all that contributes to is a lack of attention to the present. It takes away my power and ability to see and navigate where I am with what I have. If our power is in the present and it’s indeed all we have like Tolle and his peers suggest, then the “if only” thought doesn’t get us very far. It’s rare that we stop to consider that without illness or without our painful experience, we might have been someone worse. Someone very unlike who we are today. Now when I consider why maybe this illness is a part of my path, it makes a little more sense. It’s what I needed to become awake. And clearly I’m still trying to get there.

Of course maybe you’re a student of the chaos theory, in which case all of this is just randomness unraveling in a one-time deal called life on earth. Some people are sick and other people aren’t. Life is good or life is bad and then you die.  I’ve considered this hypothesis but it just doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t further my vision or deepen my understanding of life and its complexity. In fact it seems to cut off at the very best part–the why. That’s a question I wonder if I’ll ever stop asking. Most of this experience only begins to make sense when I get down to details like a scientist would, and so that’s where my understanding is. Or where it begins. I am still searching for more answers, for more mentors and schools of thought to point me toward them. But I find it hard to accept a conclusion that appears to stop at the tip of the iceberg in terms of depth and understanding of all the elements of life that we cannot see. Love. Suffering. Belief. Surrender. Grief. Grace. Of course maybe I’m wrong in which case we’re all going to die anyway and I’ll never see you again. So, ya know, whateva.

There was only one day in the last week where I felt bad enough to spend the afternoon horizontal. As I write that I’m containing my excitement at how “good” I’ve felt that only one day this week I was on supine. Anyway, that morning I’d caught the eye of a tree frog on my kitchen door. For whatever reason I watched him a while and then took a picture. On my downtime that afternoon I kept thinking of that frog and the surplus of details on his little tiny body. So I wrote- a poem- for the next two hours. I don’t know whether it was good or not and maybe that doesn’t matter. But I do know for whatever reason, it had me feeling good to write it. I noticed then too, I’ve got to slow down. Even when I feel good, let some tasks lie. Let some calls go unanswered. Sit in stillness and quiet and let the questions come. Even if for ten minutes, I always feel better. Lately I’ve caught myself stuck on the guide channel of my TV, incessantly searching for a show that I feel will entertain or gratify me. I play one show in the window but continue to seek the magic program, while ads about Lipitor blare at unconscionable volumes. Suddenly, I’ll hit the power button, and the subsequent silence feels so. incredibly. good. That was the program I was looking for; silence! Life is noisy, and fast, and always non-stop. Sometimes it’s OK to stop and do nothing. Notice what happens in the stillness. It’s as if a whole other world exists right beyond the busy.

Health, Happiness, and Something Beyond the Nothing.

details.
details.

 

10 Books You Should Read With Me

Going to the bookstore is one of my favorite mid-day activities. I’ve been under the weather lately so it was nice to get out and see real life. I felt like Bell from Beauty and the Beast in that library singing. Sadly there’s no ladders at Barnes and Noble but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I left with my next TEN books to submerge in for however long it takes. I’m watching ice-skating and that Olympic music they play when they cut to the commercials is so inspiring it makes me feel like I could become the president. Which is even more reason to read. So here’s the list! Cue the music.

1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? -Maria Semple

I remember picking this book up and flipping through it at my last bookstore outing and for some reason didn’t end up buying it. When I spotted those big black fly-type eyes on the cover I grabbed it immediately before I could back out. Shameful fact: I really love this books cover and that played a big part. I know the cardinal rule, but it’s also sustained positive reviews for a very long while, and Jonathan Franzen loved it and so in the pile it went. Mostly though, I loved the cover.

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Ding Ding

2. Dance Dance Dance -Haruki Murakami

So the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles was one of my favorite and most adventurous reads last year and discovering the many other “Masterpiece Novels” he’s authored I was way excited to dive into another one. I like that his books keep your imagination and consciousness running. I’ve got high hopes. I know it will be good.

3. Why Sh*t Happens (The Science of a Really Bad Day) -Peter J Bentley

I liked the title. And the subtitle. Also it was on the bargain rack. It’s probably stupid.

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Ugh, birdshit

4.Oneness With All Life -Eckhart Tolle

This is a bite-sized version of A New Earth, which I’ve read and re-read and loved. But I forget the teachings often. I go back and reread passages that I’ve felt I’ve never read before. I think it’s one of those that stay on your bed stand for life and by the time you die the entire book is highlighted. Anyway this smaller dosed version is made of “inspirational selections” to be read maybe one or two pages per day and to reflect on. Think of it more as a daily meditation. Since it’s so easy to forget the big stuff, I like to have something in the morning or before sleep that gets my head right. It’ll go on the nightstand.

 

5. The Illuminaries -Eleanor Catton

Do you ever feel like the Universe is talking to you? Well this book came up three times in three days and I took it as a sign that I gotta get in on it. It’s also a gargantuan read (over 800 pages) so it will be my friend for a long time. Or enemy.

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Also I have no idea what it’s about.

6. Proof of Heaven -Mary Curran Hackett

I’m unfamiliar with this author but crudely, I fell for the optimism implied in the title. Even though it’s a novel among hundreds of actual accounts of Heaven, the back summary drew me in as well as the first two pages and I was like “Cool, I’m IN!” and now that I’m reflecting on that I really hope I didn’t say it out loud because that happens sometimes. Anyway, this is not to be confused with Proof of Heaven the memoir by a neurologist who died, went to heaven, and returned. I’ve heard really good things and watched his account in interviews. Pretty amazing stuff. That read is next in this Heavenly genre. (Mom, you said you have it. Give it to me!) But this one was on the bargain rack. Girls gotta eat.

7. Born Under a Lucky Moon -Dana Precious

Complete blind buy. Liked the cover. Like the summary. And the price. It’s Olympic Season so I’m really going for things.

8. The Almost Moon -Alice Sebold

Moons are so #trendy! I hadn’t heard of this one either but it was a #1 National Bestseller and the author also wrote The Lovely Bones which I read long ago and really loved. And it was on the bargain rack. OK you know what? I’ll just tell you when it wasn’t. 

...

9. The Four Agreements -Don Miguel Ruiz

I have been hearing about this book for a long time now. It was published in 1997 but stayed on The New York Times Bestseller list for 7 years and sold 4 million copies. The premise of the book is simple but beautiful– in lieu of agreements and rigid beliefs we try to adhere to but often end up limiting our happiness, Ruiz suggests a personal code of conduct he calls The Four Agreements. Wanna hear em? Sure you do.

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally.
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions.
  4. Always Do Your Best.

I don’t really love “gimmicks” for life type of books, but this one seems much deeper and substantial while sustaining its worth for years. Furthermore, it just sounds like a refreshing and happy way to live. Can you imagine never taking anything personally? Sounds awesome. I want to know more, so it’s going on the night stand. And it was FULL PRICE!

10. The Leftovers -Tom Perrotta

OK yes it was on the bargain rack again and no I’ve never heard of it or the author. But it’s a post-apocalyptic thriller type of novel which I don’t read often (like never) and I wanted to mix it up. I threw it in the bag because while the subject matter is dark, it’s also wrough with dark humor (my other best friend). It follows the survivors in the wake of the “Sudden Departure” as they try to go on with life keeping normalcy in mind but, you know, people are missing and the world is all messy. In my small confined life, it felt good to take a risk.

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artwork via NYT book review

Health, Happiness, and 10 New Friends.

Join me won’t you?