Monday, October 7, 2013

Hello All,

          It's been a long time since I've posted.  It's  complicated but then it seems like lots of things about life are complicated.  My head is spinning these days and I am not sure when any of it will stop.  Maybe never.  What I know is that I go to work every day and, in that place and time, I function well.  I have clearly defined roles and expectations.  I have a purpose.  I am on strong footing and solid ground there.

         Away from work, I still function well.  I do what I am supposed to be doing but, in the same moment,  I am questioning everything.  Well, not everything.  I have a family that gives me all that I need (both family of origin and family I created).  We do have our moments but really?  Really, I couldn't ask for better companions on this journey.  Beyond family, I am lost.  That sounds dramatic but I don't have other words right now.  For the past couple of months I have been unwilling to write or paint anything.  I have been unwilling to socialize beyond family obligations.  I have very nearly been unwilling even to read.  And that's what tells me I am in big trouble.  Reading is my go to for any pain. And I can't even go there.

     I go no where but into silence.  Okay, occasionally I get myself over to the ocean and watch the waves.  I go to the dreamscape.  Mostly I go to night dreams but sometimes those night dreams invade my day dreams  and that is an interesting adventure.  I am investigating, touching, feeling the places in my head that I never saw before.  I am also experimenting with going to places that are NOT in my head.  That's an unfamiliar experience for sure.

    The whole thing sounds so weirdly cosmic.  Yeah, I don't have words for it.

    I'll see what happens next.

Yours for new and better times,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Some Days


     Okay, if you are not naturally inclined to poetry (or even if you are), just do yourself a favor and try reading this short poem out loud.  Try reading it at a measured pace (meaning not racing to get through it).  See what pictures come into your head.  Just try it.  It won't kill you.

    Some Days    

       by Billy Collins

Some days I put the people in their places at the table,
bend their legs at the knees,
if they come with that feature,
and fix them into tiny wooden chairs.

All afternoon they face one another,
the man in the brown suit,
the woman in the blue dress,
perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved.

But other days, I am the one
who is lifted up by the ribs,
then lowered into the dining room of a dollhouse
to sit with the others at the long table.

Very funny,
but how would you like it
if you never knew from one day to the next
if you were going to spend it

striding around like a vivid god,
your shoulders in the clouds,
or sitting down there amidst the wallpaper,
staring straight ahead with your little plastic face?

      What do you think?  Is this not cool?  Do you get what he's talking about?  Some days I am on top of the world.  I have life nailed and I am doing it well and I am loving it.  And then there are all those other days.......with my little plastic face staring straight ahead.

    For another taste of Billy, go here

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Implied Contract

    In a previous blog post, I introduced my readers to Dr. Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist and writer.  I had enjoyed his recent book The Thing You Think You Cannot Do and wanted to pass along some of his observations of the psychotherapeutic process.

    One of the essays in this collection is entitled "Old Age Is the Revenge of the Ugly".  My family (immediate and extended) works hard to support our aging matriarch and so we are all familiar with the issues of the elderly.  Pauline will be 91 in a few months.  She is determined to live alone and that can be worrisome for all of us.  She would be willing to move in with one of her children but, at this time, the obstacles for that are many.  So we do the best we can with the situation as it is.

    In this essay, Dr Livingston brings his focus to the fear that may of us have about the aging process.  He notes that our date of birth is likely the most important aspect of our identities.  As we move past middle age, we are aware of the generation ahead of us and most often do not see a vast number of vibrant and optimistic folks on the road in front of us.  Instead, we see lots of examples of aging people who complain of the physical consequences of growing older.  They are surprised at their declining vitality and disturbed by the difficulties they encounter in daily life.  Livingston proposes that "the old have lost most of what we celebrate in this culture: energy,  sexual adventure, a sense of possibilities, and the capacity to change the future."

   Livingston suggests that perhaps there is an implied contract that governs our lives but maybe it was never properly explained to us. Here's the fine print in that contract:

   "If you are lucky enough to grow old, you will be stereotyped and marginalized by society, even by your own children.  You will become slow of thought and movement and have to cope with unexplained pains.  You will experience unspeakable losses that, finally, will include the loss of yourself.  This is the bargain."

    So, go ahead and have your long life but be prepared for a very different existence than the one you experienced as a younger person.  Be prepared for marginalization and the feeling that you are being left behind.  Be prepared for limited mobility, pain, and heartbreak.  I don't quite know what to make of this at the moment.  In my current days of relative health and well being, I don't want to imagine a life as limited and dark as my mother's appears to be.  But who can say how I might feel at 90 years of age?  And what choice do I have anyway?

     What do you think?  Does the implied contract about sound familiar to you?  Is it one you would take as is?  Is there room for negotiation there?

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

     Gordon Livingston is a psychiatrist and writer who lives in Maryland.  I stumbled across this book of his recently and was intrigued enough by the title to read more.  I would not call this a self help book but rather a collection of essays that might give a thoughtful reader something to ponder.  Among the Amazon reviews,  there are some commenters who slam the author for being political.  I think that is part of the author's point. He takes some of the psychology behind personal fear and applies it to the national scene.  He talks about fear and vulnerability and the impact those have on individuals but he also occasionally segues into how fear can dominate a culture and its leaders.

     I am well acquainted with his political perspective but that wasn't what got my attention.  What got my attention was simply that he is an older guy who appears to have lived a rich life.  He has met tragedy face to face in his life.  His 22 year old son Andrew killed himself while under the grip of a bipolar illness.  Seven months later, his six year old son Lucas was diagnosed with acute form of leukemia.  Lucas died six months later.  Reading a bit about his professional approach to psychiatry and some of his experiences as a psychiatrist made me think I might have something to learn from him.  I'm not sure I learned anything new from his book but it did make me ask a few questions and it reminded me of some answers that I already had within me.

     Dr. Livingston gives a nod to the pharmaceutical industry, acknowledging that there are some medications that can be effective for some forms of mental illness  What I like, however, is that he also very strongly supports the therapeutic model.  He makes a lot of room for courage and resilience to take their places in our lives.  Anxiety is high on the list for those seeking psychotherapy.  There are so many fears:  fear of dying, fear of change, fear of intimacy, fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of time, fear of loneliness, fear of the unknown, and on and on.  There may be a biological component to anxiety but that doesn't mean the antidote needs to be pharmacological.  I, frankly, don't understand the psychotherapy process but that doesn't matter.  What matters is that he apparently does and his work with patients involves developing relationships that foster such virtues as courage and resiliency.

    The author talks about depressed people as people who are fresh out of future dreams.  His job, as a psychiatrist, is "to sell hope in individual doses".  He listens to people, he questions their fundamental beliefs about themselves, and he works to help them identify and change those parts of themselves that are holding them back from a more satisfying life.  It's not a fast track process.  Some people come to him seeking advice (and maybe prescriptions for medications) because he is seen as "the expert".  He considers it among his harder tasks to convince his patients that the answers must come from within.  It is his job to ask the questions that will help the seeker find their own answers.  The obstacles come when patients aren't willing to be patient, when they aren't willing to give the process time to come to fruition.  Many people are also resistant to this approach because it requires them to take responsibility for themselves.  They just want him to fix them.  What he has to offer them is hope.  And the thing they need in order to accept his offer is courage.  I think it must be a complicated dance.  And a scary one.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fast and Slow

      On my professional path to where I am now, I spent a chunk of time as the orchestrator (aka teacher)  in a K - 2 classroom.  I had the pleasure of guiding children for their first three years of public school education.  Unless their sibling was in the class, I generally first met my new students as eyes wide open five year olds.  I got to hold them for three years, taking them from that pre-literate place to thriving chapter book readers. From September to June, we had wonderful days together.  There was a daily rhythm in our world complete with songs, art, outside play, tons of books, math stuff, writers' workshop, hands on science exploration and lots of (what I thought of as) the social curriculum.  That was simply time devoted to learning who we each were and how to get along with each other.  I don't know what it is about little kids but their observations, their reality, their freshness completely capture me.  I enjoyed planning our days together and I loved watching their faces and their reactions to what unfolded in our world.

    Parents were an integral part of that world.  I needed them in order to make everything happen that I wanted to have happen.  I needed parents who would sit on the rug and explore tangrams with children or guide a lesson about ladybugs or take a small group outside and play with jump ropes while I sat at the reading table helping children learn to make sense out of letters and words.  I loved the additional adults in the room too just for the shared adult perspective and humor,  Most parents trusted me to guide their children but sometimes there was some anxiety about a child's academic progress in the class.  I completely got that.  After all, these parents were turning over their most precious jewels to me for six hours a day.  Parents wanted to know that their child's time was well used.

    One thing I did know clearly was that children cannot be rushed.  They will come to places in their own time.  That didn't mean that I wasn't alert to possible obstacles that the school could assist with (a referral for special ed services, for example) but my professional eye often could sense when a child simply needed a slower time frame.  She was going to get there (reading chapter books, for example) but she was taking the scenic route.  Somewhere I came across this phrase and it fit perfectly:

   Recently I had cause to return to this notion of taking slow to grow.  Oddly, what occurred to me is that it isn't just kids who need slow in order to grow.  We adults often need the same thing to reach new places in our lives.  The current culture is jammed with activity and expectations.  Days go by fast.  How many balls can we juggle?  How many things can we check off our to do lists?  How fast can we go?  The flip side is what happens when we slow it way down.  What can we see and what can we hear when we meander instead of sprint?  It's no earth shatteringly new idea.  But it is one worth considering.  I, for one, plan to experiment with more slow and less fast.

    How about you?  Where do you find slow in your life?  Are you drawn to fast or to slow?  Would you like more of one or the other?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

In Your Own Skin

       Skin - interesting stuff.  It's the largest organ in the body.  It has several essential functions, including protecting the muscles, bones, ligaments and other organs.  Skin serves as a barrier, preventing pathogens from getting in and excessive fluids from escaping.  It separates the inner and the outer world.

     I never gave much thought to skin when I was a kid or even a teenager.  It got scraped, black and blued, and even chopped open from time to time.  One of my charming older brothers who shall remain nameless even smashed open the skin on my head with a baseball bat once.  It was an accident.  Really, it was!  I remember from time to time examining my skin for some reason or another and actually liking it.  I remember being 15 and being thrilled to return from the beach with the classic and cool bronze tan.   As a 20 something, I remember liking my skin a lot.  I was spared much of the agony of acne and my skin really was relatively flawless.  No makeup applied.  Self respecting hippie girls didn't do that. That was then.

    Here's the shocking part:  I don't like it so much now.  You knew that was coming.  It no longer meets the cultural standard for attractive.  It still does an awesome job of protecting and containing stuff but it is multi toned and, yeah, not so smooth.  There's no bronze now, only stupid patches of brown pigment.  I've got some scars here and there and some veins that might scare little kids.  These days I do apply a little of this and a little of that (emphasis on little) but am not interested in expensive skin care products or procedures.  My skin continues to serve me well and I deal with its changing landscape.

   What caught my attention recently was the phrase "comfortable in your own skin". Back in those days when I liked it, I can't say that I felt comfortable in my own skin.  Those teen and early adult years were about figuring how who it was who really lived in that skin.   I needed time to get to know her.  I was awfully busy checking to see if she made the grade.  Was her school and work performance of the highest quality?  Did she dress and look right (whatever the current "right" was)?  Did she say the right things and laugh the right way and blah blah blah?  I don't think I was a whole lot different than most younger people.  I know there are a few people who grow up feeling comfortable in their own skin and I think they are very fortunate.  But I wasn't one of them.

    I guess it comes to mind because I finally feel as if I am comfortable in my own skin.  Yeah, it's not so pretty maybe but it finally fits really well.  I have an ease now that took some serious years of living to acquire.  I still have lots of expectations of myself and I am no where near ready to turn into a frumpy   woman, but, on my good days I can also be much more accepting of me in the present moment.  I am doing the best I can with whatever comes my way.  My skin might be a bit lumpy or crinkled but my eyes are pretty damn shiny and I can sparkle just as much as I did when I was 21.

    How about you?  How's your skin fit you these days?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Got It!

    Guess what?  There IS one thing on my bucket list!  Ha!  I fooled you (although not intentionally).  I have always wanted to live at the beach and, before I die, I would like to make good on that.  

      The ocean is a powerful draw for me and always has been. As children, we went on day trips to the California beach often and every summer there was at least one beach camping trip.  My college years were spent close to Santa Cruz and the Monterey area.  I went to the beach all the time.  Sometimes it was to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk or the Monterey/Carmel beaches.  But just as often, I trekked out to the more remote beaches between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.  Those days were always renewing. sometimes adventurous, always enjoyable.  Later I ended up living north of the Golden Gate and still spend plenty of days during all seasons of the year at the beach.

     Maybe twenty years ago, I seriously considered relocating permanently to a beach locale.   In order to be affordable, I would likely need to move to a fairly remote beach area.  Fairly remote means few jobs and that leads to no money for rent and food for the family.  Best to set that idea way over there to the side until kids are launched.

     Fast forward twenty years.  Kids are launched.  I'm still working but I can think about some other options.  Here's the thing.  I like my house.  I like my neighborhood.  I don't really want to deal with buying and selling property and I am not sure I want to be in the beach climate 24/7.  Anyone who knows me knows my thoughts on fog and gray.  

    But, here's the creative part.  Who says "living at the beach" has to mean relocating and living all day every day at the beach?  How about this?  How about if I were to really live at the beach for, say, one month a year?  How about I keep my house in my neighborhood but I go live at the beach for intervals?  Maybe one year I live on a NorCal beach for the month of January (one of the best times to visit NorCal beaches, I might add).  Maybe the next year, I find a place to stay on the big island of Hawaii for the month of February.  Perhaps the next year in March, I try Cape Hatteras in North Carolina.  And the pattern continues:  Gold Beach, Oregon, the Jersey shore, Cape Cod, San Diego, Key West, Florida, Acadia, Maine, you get the idea.

    Do you have a favorite beach?  Give me some words about it, please.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Tastes the Same

"The sea is nothing but a library of all the tears in history."
                                                                     Lemony Snicket

      Okay, I'm putting it right out there.  All of my life I have been afraid of tears.  They say I am weak.  They say there is something wrong with me.  Buck up, baby.  Show nothing lest you be seen.

     Here's the rule:  you can cry.  Just not in front of anyone.  Okay, maybe in front of your best friend but that's it.  Cry at any other time and you are less than.  My parents did not cry, my older brothers did not cry.  As a matter of fact, if you did cry, the response was, "Stop crying, young lady, or I will give you something to cry about."

      One exception to the rule is death.  Death is too big to hide from.  I even saw my dad tear up when his mother was buried. Tears are, indeed, a surrender to the power of death. Tears are sadness, anger, frustration, happiness made real.  Made visible.  Tears connect us humans in all of our deepest places.  Exposing those places?  What a risk!

     Lately I've been thinking that I might want to change the rule.  Maybe tears actually signal strength?  Maybe they say "Yes, yes, I know my pain.  And, yes, I know your pain.  You are not alone.  Nor am I."

     After all, let's get real.  Pain is a link for all humans.  For me to go inside and then deliver to the public my  heart and soul?  That takes strength.  Maybe even courage.  My tears connect me and I can be known.  Scary.

You're not alone
I'm with you, I'm lonely too
What's that song
can't be sung by two?

A broken home, a broken heart
isolated and afraid
Open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
You're not alone

You're not alone, every night
I stand in your place
Every tear on every face
Tastes the same

A broken home, a broken heart
isolated and afraid
Open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
You're not alone

A broken home, a broken heart
there's no need to be afraid
Open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
You're not alone

I wanna get it through to you
You're not alone

Saturday, June 29, 2013

On the Bench Again

If loneliness is the disease, the story is the cure.   
- Richard Ford

    There are lots of folks who sit on the bench in my neighborhood but the quietest one, and one I highly favor,  is the observer.  He generally straddles the end of the bench, chin in hand, eyes covered in RayBans.  His curly dark hair is always bunched under a hat, often a fedora but occasionally he sports the black and orange of the home team.  This dude just watches.  He's not above a chuckle and a high five when a passerby or someone else on the bench makes a remark but his primary goal in life appears to be contemplating the world.  He notices the details:  the cop waving to the little kid, the punk on the bike chomping his gum, the sexy lady singing to herself while walking downtown .  He hears that rat dog whining, the engine on that 1990 silver Toyota knocking, the blender in the kitchen across the street making margaritas.  It's all there.  Recorded for future reference.

     Yes, what isn't obvious from the bench is that the observer is also a recorder.  What he reckons is that everyone has a story.  Everyone.  Sometimes people know their story and sometimes they don't.  Not yet, anyway.  And maybe never.  He is curious about  their stories but he knows enough to realize that you can't force the telling of the story.  So he watches.  He lets people tell their own details, even if they can't hear their story.  He waits for the unfolding.  And records what he knows.  In the stillness of 4:00 in the morning,  the stories fall out of the observer and onto the keyboard.  And he feels connected.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Bucket Lists

    I don't have one.  A bucket list, that is.  You know,  like in that movie The Bucket List?  Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman?  Old guys trying to do the things they want to do before they "kick the bucket"?

    I don't quite get it.  I get lists and sometimes I even make lists but I don't have any check off list of what needs to be accomplished before I fold into the mystic.  That seems so huge and so transient to me.  What I want right now is, in all probability, not going to be what I want in six months or a year, let alone in ten years.  I guess you can make the list and change it a lot but what exactly is the point of the bucket list?  Do you make one because you might forget what it is you want to do?  Or is there some internal satisfaction in checking off the old list.  Just wondering.

   Do you have a bucket list?  Tell me one thing that's on it.  Make it something that doesn't have to do with travel, if you can.