the book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day

This was the first New Year’s Eve I remember in my life, where I didn’t count down like everyone else usually does. I’d planned on, after our dinner guests left, taking a friend and my family to a Buddhist meditation at midnight. Instead I was sitting with these folks in the Emergency Room, waiting to visit a friend who’d been trucked in after a collapse. My kids, husband, and my girl H. played some kind of Twister knock-off on a carpet a few feet away. Next time I looked at my watch it was thirty-four minutes past midnight.

The fireworks from the hospital’s hill were lovely. It was cold. Nels had about three girlfriends by the time we left the parking lot. A social child. Also, earlier, a grouchy child who’d disrupted our earlier dinner a bit.

My friend at the hospital seems out of the woods. I am very grateful. I gave him my number as he’s staying overnight, and told him to call if I could bring him anything at all.

***

We had a good day today; the kids and I accompanied another family to adopt a kitty for little E. It was pretty choice, getting to visit with and pet the kitties.

My Lovely Daughter

Phoenix was a very kind little girl at the shelter, taking stock of each kitty and remembering their names and tempraments. There was another Phoenix working there as a volunteer, a teen boy. He and my daughter got along great, although I think like many he didn’t, at first, think a younger child could conduct themselves with aplomb at a kitty shelter.

E. & Her Daddy, Talk Kitties

E. and her father discuss adoption plans.

Raider

Raider. A favorite of J.’s. He was a handsome kitty. But E. was intent on adopting a lady kitty.

I LOVE YOU NOEL AND I KNOW YOU FEEL THE SAME ABOUT ME

Here’s a kitty I like to call Noel, MY NEW BOYFRIEND. HE LOVED ME SO MUCH AND IMMEDIATELY CLIMBED IN MY ARMS right after I snapped this. He is the handsomest thing I have ever seen. Not convinced? Would you like a closeup?

NOEL IS MY NEW BOYFRIEND

I am going to get a tattoo of Noel and his likeness. His green-blue eyes are the inspiration of many sonnets. I’m sure he will be adopted out in no time and it just kills me.

Nels + Noel + Erin

E. + Nels + Noel. You can click through for like eighteen adorable pictures of them all looking at a “flashing light” they saw outside.

Nels + Noel

Nels reacts to something Noel said, probably something very suave and witty.

Erm... No Thanks, Panther

Panther may have trouble getting adopted.

Happy New Year. Anyone reading here with any regularity knows how grateful I am for my life. How blessed. I don’t mean “blessed” because so much good shit has happened to me or because God is super into me, I mean “blessed” because I’m very glad for the gifts I have. It is the gladness, the awareness, the awakenedness, when I have it, that is the gift.

Here’s Ralph taking a picture of me tonight just before tacos, because I wanted a new photo for Twitter. Thank you, husband, for taking a picture and making it of my ENORMOUS FACE.

New Years', Pre-Tacos

nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt

I am supine on the cold table and something is beamed at me and takes pictures of my insides. The technician is very friendly and conversational, quite professional. I am subdued because I have been enduring medications and procedures that are not especially fun, although I am struggling not to retain a poor attitude. My children are in the hallway, clean and neatly dressed, reading to themselves. After I get my pictures taken I dress again, gather the kids up and get them a bubble tea to share before we head to the specialist’s.

After review of my results they tell me a series of little reports, mundane to their field of expertise, but each one a blow which threatens me into a smaller and smaller corner of myself. They recommend a procedure that will involve general anesthesia and intubation, have a device installed within my body, and then wait two weeks where I must rest while likely enduring chronic pain that cannot be corrected by medication, during this time which among other restrictions I am recommended to not lift more than ten pounds. Two weeks of very likely chronic pain. This sticks with me and the fear threatens to consume me. Then after this time, the removal of the device, a procedure which also hurts, lots. When a doctor tells me it hurts, I know it hurts more than they say.

Today I am not in much pain, but I am in some. I am not in as much pain as I will be, so I take that time and enjoy it. But what to say when people say, “I hope you’re feeling better”, and things aren’t better? We assume those sick improve, but not always so. I should know this acutely watching my father go through cancer (and, worse, cancer treatment). Sometimes there is no “better”, or better takes time.

Attending me I have a loving family, competent (as far as I can tell) medical personnel, some medical insurance, and most of all, my sobriety and spiritual practice. Indeed these last two are the only things I can rely on, these practices. I can tell you without them I would be consumed, eaten alive by fear and misery.

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”

what you think you become

Yesterday I spoke to a group about my sobriety. I said, “Every day I make a decision… and not the decision not to drink. I make a decision to have a good day. And I say thank you to God, to whatever, for the day. I’ve heard it said that an alcoholic who isn’t grateful, will drink. I know this is true for me.

This practice has only been with me a little while but it has reaped intense and immediate benefits. This practice does not mean only “good” things happen to me. This practice also has little to do with alcohol, and is not unique to addicts – but it has everything to do with Recovery. This practice will sustain me when all other measures fail.

For me, gratitude is a choice and right effort; it is a practice… but it is also something each of us can atrophy to the point of disability. We do this destructive work with our minds until soon we believe we are our minds, and we live in anxiety, stress, fear, and a perpetual cycle of avoidance and greed. Living this way is why I now know the importance of strengthening my spiritual and ethical practice. As I heard a few friends say over the last few days, “We only have control over two things… our actions, and our thoughts.”

I’ve weighed that sentence a bit over the last few days and realized it’s stunningly true. Many people have very little mastery over their thoughts; their thoughts have control over them. They are overrun with judgment and suffering, at the mercy of feelings and judgments that cause them, and others around them, to suffer.

Living without gratitude was a living death. Like most all persons on the planet, I’ve experienced attraction and giddiness, sentimentality and enslavement. These I mistook for gratitude, but gratitude is more of a decision than a high, more of a practice than a virtue. Faking gratitude or mouthing gratitude is pointless, may fool others but does not fool me, is likely harmful – and I won’t do it.

I’ve written about gratitude before, and very recently. It is a lifeblood to me like food and air and rest.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.

Today, I truly am thankful.

an apologist for lurve

I have to be so careful not to sound like I’m fetishizing the child-raising and family experience because, to tell the truth, it often seems to sound like I am.

What’s cool is that I do not promote my writings for readership nor take ad money or try to get picked up or join a web ring or in any way try to make a cash living out of the whole bit. It’s not that I have a judgment on those courses of action, it’s that I don’t want to do things that way with my writing (it is, um, mine after all). What the purity of my desire to merely communicate boils down to for me is a certain lack of pressure on my writings, whether they be Good or Ass. I can know that truly if I am boring anyone reading it’s not like I have in any way tried to say this journal is worthy of large readership or Everyone Should Listen. I talk so much on familiar subjects I’m sure I’ve scared may off, yawning. Secretly I’m happy to kind of Not Really Know About the many who’ve found me distasteful and fled. I am happy when I hear my writings mean something to others, I am. I am sad when my writings cause others distress, although I can’t always know when, how, or why this happens. I endeavor to communicate my experiences as clearly as I can, with little other goal.

Writing about my family and children is really writing about my expansion of experience. I find myself daily amazed at the lessons I learned in childhood and how I merely assimilated them even when they were hurtful or twisted. My life with kids and family has been quite healing as there are so many things I suffered as a kid, not huge travesties of justice mind you, but a series of Wrongs so subtle yet linked together such that my worldview used to be a sadder, more cramped one. For years I was angry or depressed that that world was The Way It Was and there was Nothing One Could Do About It. Today I know neither of those things are completely true; it is my children who’ve been my greatest teachers in this regard.

My family continues to afford me the opportunity to not only provide them with a gentleness and respect I was not always afforded, but to provide it to others as well. Today while my husband and I had breakfast out an older couple with their two young grandchildren shuffled in and sat behind us. The kids were enthusiastic about the venue (an airport cafe) and talked and babbled excitedly. Two things occurred to me: one that I was glad my husband and I were alone and did not have to “mind” squirrelly kids who get glares from grownups, and two that their voices, “raised” as they were, were so much sweeter and smaller than their carers likely heard them.

In another moment this observation was tested. The older child, a boy of four or so, became angry with his grandmother. He put his hands on her face and shouted to get her attention: “Grandma, you need to stop! You were wiggling! You are not supposed to wiggle!” Ralph and I carefully and successfully managed not to laugh aloud. The two adults at the table responded with a muffled and unified fury. I heard the grandfather (sitting so close to me our backs were almost touching) speak very sternly and angrily to the children: that was enough of that or they’d have to go home. The “disruptive” child seemed to have already lost focus in the moment, likely as he had assured his grandmother’s full attention on the grievance he wanted aired. The tiny ruckus had passed, leaving a slight air of tension in their corner of the diner.

I turned around to the subdued table and said quietly, “Grandma, I’m watching you. I saw you wiggling.”

At this the grandfather burst into deep and hearty laughter and the grandmother’s face relaxed. “Yes, I was. I was wiggling while I was moving this chair,” she affirmed. Ralph and I laughed because (we hardly needed to verbally share) the child’s outburst reminded us very much of one of our own. I can’t know if my joshing had any good affect on these fellow-diners (although it seemed to), but I can remember the times a kind stranger has smiled at me to let me know hey, it’s okay, we’re all human, and your children are human too. It has meant so much to me in a microcosm that often seems to wish my children to be silent and required a perfection of mother-care (these “perfections” often at odds with one another) and an unpleasant series of Disapproval hand-slappers. I thought how sad if parents, grandparents and carers can’t hear the “ruckus” of these small children, their voices so much smaller than the adult conversations happening all around the crowded restaurant, without feeling a tension to respond according to the cultural pressures in the room.

My father was a person with a resevoir of memory. He could bring forth a previously-unheard anecdote or Buddhist story or even a (usually funny) joke, always (it seemed to me) in moments when they most applied. I remember a story he told me once or twice. It is a part of the education he gave me that I savor.

One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice.

As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. His situation was growing more dire.

Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He stretched his arm out, reached, plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

Since the day my father told me this story it has meant a great deal to me. It is like something tender that swims in my heart. The slings and arrows of life and the blows and defeats; the inevitability of death and the lack of security in this flesh – none of these things can take away the meaning this story has for me right now.

8 AM
Phoenix, Nels, and Ralph this morning. The children sleep holding hands.