Me, A While Back

reservations

small stone #26
I did not look up
once today.

Today I wasn’t so hot. I got up, stretched and worked through my yoga, sat meditation, prepared my shrine and took refuge in the Three Jewels. Then I got on my knees and made a private and earnest prayer, all of my own. I made up my medicinal herbal remedy for my kidney. I spoke with civility to my children (mostly) and I brought my husband coffee. I pet the animals in my home. I put forth some correspondence, writing the ones I love.

My mind raced most of the day and I had to breathe deep many times to return to myself.

Ralph, the children and I visited the newest restaurant in Aberdeen where, as promised, we selected from a very limited opening-night menu. I was very tired and my daughter, across from me, seemed the same. Tall and willowy and her coarse-honey hair in two sprigs of pigtail.

My son sat next to me, smiling up at me, smelling good and warm in his flannel shirt. He chattered along near-incessantly, cupping a ludicrously-blue beverage in a white wine glass and freely discussing the food. He looks a lot like I did at his age. But he smiles more than I did. He’s tough. He has this wolfpup-thin little body but he’s tough.

And it feels like a long time ago I was his age. A lifetime ago.

Me, A While Back

tired tired tired

small stone #27
fresh bread
a plate, with olives

shit is all emotional up in this biatch

Tomorrow morning I have a minor surgical procedure and I’ll be bruised and bleeding, no that’s actually pissing blood, for a couple days afterwards. That’s best-case scenario as they may find they need to add a few things into the deep recesses of my body. And homegirl isn’t too excited about that.

I’ve been working rather intensely with a new-to-sobriety alcoholic. She is the real deal, young but a pretty-far-gone alcoholic with an astonishing story (but, spoiler alert, we all have amazing stories if we survive!). She is so inspiring I simply don’t have words. I’ve never seen someone so busted-down, let alone worked so closely with someone in that state… although I suspect that’s where I was at, not so very long ago. And her lowness is not humility or anything good, it’s the disease trying to straight-up murder someone. I’ve done my best to help her on a daily basis for a little while, and then – once she’s left my home or I’ve hung up the phone – move on to the rest of my life, where I am also needed. But I must admit, her struggles have me in a tender spot. She is (re-)instructing me how very important it is to surrender everything precious to me, to the dharma. To pray, meditate, and keep faithful no matter my fears.

So today about three miles into my evening’s bike ride I stopped trying to not feel fear about the surgery. It seems I am afraid of such procedures and I can do little about it, really. I can only pray, meditate, and keep faithful.

I had more than one friend call with kind words of support; one friend tells me his sister’s church is praying for me. This kind of support is so very meaningful, as is the kind caring my husband and children give me. I am a very grateful woman.

Tomorrow pain and suffering may come, maybe less than I imagine, maybe more. But today I am still here, and I can Be Here Now.

the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation

Today I took care of my mind, soul, and body. Most notably, and at times exhausting, I worked intensively with other alcoholics. And it was a special day for a number of reasons. One woman, under two weeks sober, came to my home and we we shared our experiences. Side by side. I am honored, as ever, to be a part of another’s Recovery. When I work with another alcoholic in this way I’m reminded of my early sobriety – a precious memory to me, today.

Today was also my mother’s natal birthday, and my sponsor’s sobriety birthday. Both these women are so incredibly important in my life. I have a different relationship with each, and I have different ways of honoring them. Each friendship has its own tenor, but they are each a source for me.

My mother is one of the largest influences in my life. If there is any quality you find in me and admire, I could tell you a bit about where it came from, and I have a conscious contact with roots in what I’ve learned from my mother. Whether a quality she brought, or one she lacked, all paths lead back to her. I found her failings so distressing as to lead me through painful journies, and today I bless the memory of those more difficult times. Her assets, however, eased my path and in turn bless all those in my life. From my mother, I learned a steadfast loyalty, a wicked sense of humor, a joy in sensual pleasures, an appreciation for the lovelier things in life, and a genuine trust of and love for other women.

My sponsor – thinking on her brings tears to my eyes. I have had so much help and from many quarters, but it was she who taught me the meaning of dignity after catastrophic lowness. She taught me about Forgiveness; and I watched her for quite some time to see if it was real. But, it was – she had forgiven things I did not think were possible to forgive. She has taught me about patience, kindness, and honesty. If you have ever thought I had a modicum of empathy and compassion, she is one of my greatest teachers. Our friendship is entirely reciprocated in equal measure and with a great deal of warmth. In many ways she is a mother to me where no other mother quite rang true, and she has been a steady friend in ways practical and spiritual. She is truly a blessing in my life.

***

This morning I took a bike ride to the track stadium and steadily climbed up and down stairs; I am attempting to strengthen and heal my knees. I took my time and rested between flights, and listened to a Buddhist podcast. I laughed aloud in recognition many times by the simple truths I heard, and I sat on a humid little wooden bench and looked out on green fields. “Life is not so serious as the mind makes it out to be,” I remembered. I felt a gladness I could touch something calm, and real, with my mind, which still needs much healing.

Home after my outing I cooked, and cooked, and cooked some more: dishes for my children, for my friends, for my mother, for my husband, for myself. Cooking, washing dishes, patience and persistence and service. Sliced ripe mango; perfectly over-easy eggs for my son. Butter-fried jalepeño slices over pressure-cooked beans with fresh garlic – warmed wheat and corn tortillas. Sharp grated cheese, fresh lettuce. Cooking itself a meditation, if I let it be one. As I sliced garlic I thought, “I am slicing garlic now so I can pay attention to you when the time comes.”

A mindfulness practice. So I can be here for you.

access to gratitude on a daily basis

I heard a fellow a while back talking about what it is like to “be in his head” all the time. He said he kept busy in order to feel less discomfort and to distract himself. But then he said that was no real solution, as it ran him the risk of “being a human Doing instead of a human being.”

I knew what he meant. I think many if not most of us end up in that place. To that end, Fatigue is a great teacher. I can rail against it, analyze it, complain about it, tell you stories about it, take drugs for it, go see specialists about it, but in the end Fatigue continues and continues (well, in this case) until I finally, like a cornered rat, say You’ve Won, you got me. And even after a bit it is no longer a battle but a peaceable co-existence. I am no longer even interested in rehearsing my own Fatigue / Illness story (pretending I am special as if all human beings aren’t subject to illness and aging!) – I merely become curious, finally, I am ready to be teachable. In its way the Fatigue becomes beautiful because it exists, inexorable and mute and of a quality impossible to articulate, it is patient and waits for me to learn when I am ready to learn.

Fatigue remains mute and keeps company, bright-eyed and calm and loving and needing nothing, while other chapters in my life change before my eyes. My children grow more independent and find their own places in the world. I am still pretending as if our lives together haven’t changed, pretending all I’d have to do is round these children up and they’d spend the day with me all day on errands, even though it has been a very long time since that was a regular part of our lives. I am still pretending I am needed in the way I used to be needed. Even as I write here I know I am no longer really pretending, I am instead saying the words Aloud and getting used to the changes life brings. “I am learning to tolerate life’s changes” – instead of, “I can’t tolerate life’s changes.” This helps me a great deal.

Now I know that there is nothing I can do to stop or start anything in particular, things have changed. I rely entirely on my faith, on helping others when I can, and on expressing a simple and profound gratitude. In moments of conversation I can be animated and talkative, as stories flow through me and, I hope, help others. When I am quiet, though (which I wish were more often!) I have become “the wooden puppet and the iron man”. I give the gift of No Fear. I no longer look for the point in my suffering or that of others because I cannot understand it, I merely respect it a great deal.

I ask my daughter, “Did anything special happen for you today?” She says, “Not really.” Then: “Just my mama is still living and still alive.”

what’s that i’m looking for, oh right it’s Dignity

I’m prone on the table and a technician fiddles with me, fiddles with the machine, talks me through the procedure which is a simple and painless one. The vast number of medical practitioners I’ve worked with in my life have been so very kind. He prods my hip and touches my body here and there in a direct, firm yet kind manner, apologizing for any discomfort I feel. Practitioners are often so gentle with their hands I almost want to cry. How they can handle hundreds if not thousands of bodies but be so circumspect as if you were their only patient today, or Ever. It is a really beautiful thing.

Tomorrow I find out more about further interventions for my condition. I am expecting some not-so-awesome news. Someone dear to me the other day said, Well at least you don’t have to go through such-and-such. I’ve found “at least” comments very unsupportive and very unhelpful (I heard them from friends and family after miscarriage, after being beaten, et cetera) – especially from those who haven’t gone through these difficulties, these illnesses.

And then there are those who keep saying, Hope you get better. It’s a wonderful wish, but I notice it is also delivered, often, by people who have forgotten what I told them last time they asked. I have a chronic condition from birth so… getting better? It may never happen. It seems like many people keep someone chronically ill at a mental and emotional distance; they aren’t willing to engage with the illness, nor take the time to remember where their friend or family member might be coming from. (It only takes a moment, when you see them take a breath and reflect – promise! It’s good for you!) Anyway, I very likely will not get better. It’s like my friend S. who just lost the use of her legs. Those fuckers are gone, there are no more legs, and that is a hell of a thing to get used to no matter your age or what you’ve been through. She is not to be pitied or Othered but to be fully engaged with and to be respected – because she is a living, breathing human being going through The Shit.

Despite this and half a dozen other unplanned events (my dog went to the doggie ER today and we got to get a new credit card to cover that) I am surprisingly well. Gratitude practice, gratitude practice – helping others. Volunteer work. Sorting and rinsing beans and washing dishes and picking up fresh produce for the kids and dropping donations off at the Salvation Army.

No matter what and if we can’t afford food I still get flowers for my shrine every Monday. This practice has become very grounding. I spent much of my life being wrapped up in my own problems and I couldn’t be there for other people, but today I know most time I can be there for others. It just takes mindfulness and patience and persistence. I can’t do much but I can do a little.

but they’ll never find that cure

“You are the diamond of my world,” my 11 year old daughter says to me as we get ready for bed.

I’m quiet at first because my children are often saying such niceties. Just as I’m thinking how wonderful it is to live with such demonstrative children she says,

“But you are not polished – yet.”

I ask her, “What do you mean by that?” – genuinely curious.

She pauses for so long I think she’s ignoring me. But then she responds. “Think of it like Buddhism. Like a flower that’s going to open. You are beautiful but you have not awakened the Buddha within – yet.”

I hold her close and kiss her forehead. I feel suddenly that little gap, that moment of acceptance and peace and a little bit of fatigue. I am tired and only a little bit sad but I am utterly teachable. I hold her and I ask her simply, “When will that happen for me?”

She looks at me with her tiger eyes and says slowly, as if explaining a very simple concept for the second time, “It will happen… when… it happens.”

There is not one small bit of doubt in her countenance.

zen mamahood

My children are so genuine in their expression and so grateful in their demeanor, it does me good to spend time with them. Today before I drive to Aberdeen for a commitment, I make them breakfast: two rashers of bacon, hardboiled eggs, slices of ripe plum. They thank me warmly as if I’d made them a feast. Later, I come home to a series of polite notes on my dining room table, letting me know of their whereabouts. I am in a minor agony over all this because they keep growing older and I keep thinking I’m supposed to be doing more than I’m doing. A warning: worry becomes habitual if you do it too much. I did my fair share for years and it’s a hard habit to loosen.

A large package arrives in the mail; Nels co-opts the sturdy cardboard box and makes a den and thus labels it: “Resting: Sandcat.” With his large mane of blonde hair and his button nose and freckles and his delicious breath (Sandcats give many kisses) I am in a small private heaven every time he climbs up near before running off again. Later, we have an argument and he retreats to his den. I put my hand in the door and he pulls it to him and purrs.

As the children grow older it seems it takes more work to feed them and a little more money to clothe them, but then again they do more of the work involved in these things. Phoenix especially is quite helpful in household work, pet care, and cooking, enough so that her father and I have to devote a little concentration to make sure Nels gets the opportunity to learn.

Yes, the children are older and I’m more settled as a mother than ten years ago – but I’m still Me, easily distracted, often unfocussed. I will suddenly realize they don’t know how to do something that I could have taught them months or years ago – not that it bothers them much; they ask to learn something when they think it will be useful to them. In this way they teach me a great deal, and I am impressed by their steadfastness.

Phoenix brings home a few new friends today and proudly gives a tour of our home and my sewing studio. The children ask after homesewn garments and Phoenix runs to me with pricing requests. I think on these and voice them aloud and Phoenix nods judiciously: “That’s a good price.” One girl, upon hearing how much I’d charge to sew up an Adventure Time Finn backpack, moans aloud, “Do you know how poor I am?” Later, I take the opportunity to talk to the children about one of the precepts in my faith tradition – “do not take what is not offered” – touched on more than once today, including how my son had opened the package delivered us even though it did not have his name on it.

It is odd to think of teaching, or leading, or imparting lessons to my children; on a daily basis I rediscover how little I know.

the sun, the moon, & the truth

Phoenix and I cut eyes at one another as Nels heads back into the kitchen – he’s happily chirping something-or-other, picking up a glass of milk to accompany his lunch of homemade matzoh ball soup. While we wait for him to return she and I turn back to the newest member of the family, “Jumpkin”. Jumpkin is a cheap plastic Halloween jack-o-lantern candy bucket, inexplicably “dressed” in a pair of Nels’ underwear and old flip flops and sitting at the table in mute (to us) reproach. An hour before, as I sat stitching away in my sewing room, Nels had emerged from a morning bath talking tenderly to this creature while briskly brushing her plastic smile with his toothbrush (he brings this up later: “My, how clean your teeth are, Jumpkin!”). And now I’ve got an extra place to set at the table.

The afternoon develops. After I clean up lunch and while I sew, Jumpkin is ministered to alternatively with tender loving care – Nels asks Jumpkin her preferences about afternoon activities and pauses while listening to her responses – and then sly pranks (“Such filthy language, Jumpkin!” Pheonix retorts in a shocked tone, after a bit of silence at the table). I arrive home later in the evening and Jumpkin is stacked with party accoutrement for tonight’s meteor shower party: pretzels, honey sticks, a flashlight.

Today was beautiful. The sun breaks out and the children are delighted – and I mean like, four-star delighted – when I unpack their warm weather sandals. They walk the dog down to the grocery store to buy their choice of breakfast cereal, a baffling product named SMORZ that is even more sugary and shabby and ridiculous than I could have guessed (later, Nels refers to the day’s repasts as “a sugar montage”).

Tonight: a fire burns in my mother’s backyard pit but it can’t keep the chill quite out of my coat. I huddle and watch the flames, content but not sleepily so for the cold. My daughter says to us, serenely: “Everything is for sale – but you can’t buy happiness”. My mother fetches coats and blankets and offers to cut up apples and cheese for the kids. They are the centerpiece of our gathering, happily picking through yard waste and bits of scrap lumber and raffia ties and feeding these into the flames. Two of our cats duck past on fences and through the greenhouse, watching with night-bright eyes. Nels beams from his grandmother’s old corduroy coat and talks near non-stop and hauls Jumpkin from chair to chair; he finds a rock in the shape of a heart and triumphantly plunks it in Jumpkin’s recesses. Hutch, excited, pants and drinks from ceramic plant holders and trots here and there and ducks and smiles and finally settles on an old afghan. Ralph fiddles with the telescope and shows me the moon’s craters; later, like a ghost he spirits across the wet grass of the dark yard and sets up the telescope first here then there, and now to see Jupiter. I look in the eyepiece and my own breath causes the watery vision to tremble: Jupiter, faint atmospheric stripes the colors of creamsicle ice cream; and distant moons at precise orientation to the planet.

Nels cradles Jumpkin, safe from the fire, offering aloud her opinions on a variety of subjects and her thoughts on the various members of the family. He holds her in his arms and turns to her and says, “Jumpkin? Don’t get mad. Can I tell you something?” then he brings her close to his bright cheek and whispers, “You’re really just a soulless husk of plastic.”

it’s late.

N.

My son has been having a rough go of it today. His friend texted him nasty things using even nastier words. The tension you see here, will be remedied with warm milk, hot bath, and so many cuddles.

***

Flowers, Candle, Incense, Shrine

 

Fresh flowers. Candle.

R.

 

Ralph.

N.The Boy, again.

 

painting [him] to the senses

I’ve been sober almost two years and I’ve probably had a drinking dream a half dozen times. These episodes have a similar pattern; gradually I realize I’ve been drinking, having no idea how I started. I discover a glass in my hand and realize I’ve only had a little. I know I must stop, but I feel I’ve made a grave mistake. The sudden onset of hopelessness and shame is profound.

In last night’s dream, I was drinking some form of moonshine – undoubtably this was influenced by the episode of “Archer” we were watching last night. But in the dream this moonshine tasted far better than any liquor really tastes – it tasted of what we imagine these libations to taste like. Something out of this world, intoxicating yet poison, delicious poison. It’s the mouth-feel of that first drink, the one we chase. That first hit at the end of the day, before that moment when the futility strikes like a tuning fork in our heart. That sense, however slight, however we try to push our knowledge away: the sameness, the chase, the craving and the revulsion, that sense of drowning. The cycle of grasping and flight and gasping for air and succumbing.

Just because I don’t have to live that way doesn’t mean I don’t remember how it works.

But: it is, in this case, after all, just a dream. An illusion. I wake up and know I’m still clean and sober and I feel such a calm gratitude. I make an offering at my little shrine and get on my knees and thank the Universe and submit myself to its care, once again.

***

My son is getting fitted for braces on the 10th of next month. I have feels about this. I like his messed-up teeth and I think he looks wonderful with them. As a young person I didn’t receive orthodontia, nor my husband, so braces are a new territory for us. The bill, well all I can say is this first round of treatment will be paid off before he needs more. What else can I do? It is satisfying to have priorities. I simply care for the children as best I can, no matter what.

But: my son isn’t worried. While we wait for the technician to prepare the equipment to take a tooth mold, Nels looks at me. “So I need braces?” he asks in surprise. I nod and his eyes darken and his brows knit, and he says, “Bring it on.”

Nels, Initial Consultation For Orthodontia

Nels, Initial Consultation For Orthodontia

Nels, Initial Consultation For Orthodontia