Alyse In Words

A Year of Practicing Contentment


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Doggone

.Days 100-105:  To those who are following this writing, all handful of you, I apologize for the big gap in communication.  But in these few days I’ve been given the opportunity to learn a lot about myself and other things along the way.

Today I learned that if you google ‘grieving the loss of a dog’ you will find 703,000 URLs that will take you to sites selling tombstones, sites selling jewelry, and some insights into loss.  My dog Truman has died.

Every dog in my life, except Truman, has been a rescue dog.  I was a toddler feeding Cheerios to the stray dogs a neighbor rescued.  In Pennsylvania, where I grew up, it’s still legal to shoot your dog for no good reason.  The law says ‘without malice’ but I’m not sure how you shoot a poodle without malice.  Anyway.  The  list is lengthy and includes 6 German shepherd puppies headed for the drowning pool who ended up becoming seeing-eye dogs thanks to my mother’s quick thinking.  There was a neighbor’s beaten, broken dog who I stole with the complicity of a friend. He lived out his life on a farm, guarding the kitchen door.  There was Dugan, who came into my life with his owner’s son in tow.  He opened the door to my heart for dogs after a long, dry spell.  I lived with him in the winter of his life and loved him through his death. After he died, about  6 weeks passed and I had a recurring dream.  (If this is too, woo-woo for you, oh well.)  Dugan ran toward me, would stop, and then run back the way he had come.  One night, in the dream, he ran forward with a yellow puppy.  A month or so passed and for the first time ever, I got a dog, a pure breed dog, who was not lost or abused and had not been named by anyone else.   I thought he was my indulgence.  He was not.  He was a teacher and friend who showed me so much.

The lessons are about optimism, being present, thin skinned/thick skinned, just being and letting go, remembering the future, silence and the importance of weakness.   I’m going to write about this.  I am going to get through it.


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What’s In a Name?

Day 97:  The other day it felt as if the world was deliberately inundating me with Qs. Every license plate in traffic was QQQ-something, There were an unusual number of Qs on my Alpha Bear board.  My son complained because he ran out of Q-tips.  It was bizarre.  Then the same thing started happening with information about authenticity, truth, and compassion.

Over the weekend I met a woman who was bright, funny, artistic and recovering from cancer.  We hit it off and had instant stories to tell one another and ideas to share.  I was able to give her ideas about some things she could do to help herself heal, tools that I had used–visualization, battle statements, paying attention about expending energy.  She seemed eager to do anything that would take her forward and shared some like information with me.  And I could not remember her name.  I struggled with it for days. Her name is a bit unusual and when I was reminded of it yesterday, there was a sharp tug on my heart and memory.  About 10 years ago I called to a close an important friendship with a person by the very same name.  This person was bright, funny, artistic, and suffering from a debilitating condition.  I pulled every tool from my toolbox and offered to help her learn to use them and pull herself from the place she was in. I tried doing things for her, asking, and stupidly, tried to fix issues for her.  It was a hard lesson.  Nobody can fix anybody.  We cannot love someone well or bully someone into a happier place in life.  Love and friendship do not conquer all. We have to want to fix our own stuff. Someone else may lend us tools or a map, but it’s up to us to put one foot in front of the other on the road to Change.  

One of the things Jean Shinoda Bolen writes about in Crones Don’t Whine is the difficulty of balancing truth and compassion.  I don’t know if I balanced those two thing well when I parted ways with this friend. I do know that my word for the year afterward was Compassion and I spent a lot of time developing a better grasp on that.  After writing here last night, I continued my slow read of Crones Don’t Whine and read the following:  Are you polite or cowardly?  Women are inclined to withhold truth from those emotionally most important to them and in doing so nurture and sustain their weakness.  (Well, ouch.)  To not want to embarrass a friend and withhold the truth does not serve her; friends tell one another the truth.  Whoever described truth as a double edged sword had a limited imagination.  Truth has as many facets and perspectives as any gem.  Have you ever noticed that gems are always presented on velvet? We touch the soft surface before the hard stone at the center.

This is the second hard lesson.  We must address our own truths before we can address them with others.  It requires the courage to ask yourself if you are enabling weakness in someone else with your good intentions. It can require hard questions like ‘Do I hold on to this person or relationship as a means to an end in my own life?’ It is not very lovely to consider how disrespectful it is to hold someone back for our own comfort.  The thing to remember is that whether you are facing an unpleasant moment parting with someone else or facing the unpleasant truth in the mirror, both situations require compassion.


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Some Truths

Days 86-92:  It’s been a longer break in writing than I expected but there has been some amazing stuff in the interim.  Here are some truths, because I say it is so (how about that!):

If you begin to take any steps at all, the Universe/Great Whatsis will have your back:  I spent some time breathing and visualizing getting some of the decluttering done rather than telling myself that I need to be organized and pick the correct place to start so that it will all work like clockwork and la de freakin’ dah.  What works is Pick Something.  Pick anything and just start doing it.  I started with my cookbooks.  I have one book case filled with cookbooks.  I used to have an obscene amount of them and in a post-cancer moment gave away 2 large bookcases worth of cookbooks.  What?  I told you it was an obscene amount.  I gave them to a budding chef, a giggling young woman wearing a hijab, and an unemployed man whose wife collects cookbooks.  Some of these are being shared with friends, being shipped off to my daughter, and heading off into the ARC-shaped sunset.  With that in motion, an event popped up that afforded me the opportunity to unload, er, gift in donation all of the purses I’m giving away.  Two stacks of magazines that I was saving to read on Someday Isle are living happily with other people.  Every day I’m doing something to address this–one drawer, one shelf at a time.  This is not a race against the clock (well, it kind of is); it’s a race against my own procrastination and right now I feel stronger somehow.

I began setting aside regular time to breathe, visualize, and play with some herbs.  I used a mix of orange, patchouli and geranium oils to create a happy wake-me-up scent. Which brings me to another truth:  Once things are in motion, in the right direction, don’t be surprised if it starts falling into place like dominoes.  I am finding lightness in simple tasks–monthly bill paying, cancelling my DirecTV, seeing the widening eyes of the paint store clerk as I foraged for paint chips.  All she said was, “Really? What are you painting?”  When I told her I was painting my walls, she was kind of speechless.  And then I said it–“There’s not one f*cking white wall in my house now and there never will be.”  I started laughing at the names of paint colors as I picked them up.  The clerk was SO grateful to go help the guy who wanted white primer.  My paint chips have names like Raucous Orange, Forward Fuchia, Blue Mosque and Glad Yellow.  One of the first gifts I received while recovering from cancer was the epiphany that if I pay the mortgage on this house, it’s mine! I don’t have to have walls painted Apt. 202 White.  People have told me they wish they had the courage to do it.  There is no courage involved, just rollers, brushes, and a visit to Home Depot.

The final truth, and the one I am sitting with, examining carefully, is this:  Sometimes just being yourself is the most awesome feeling of wholeness and a reminder of how frequently we reduce ourselves to fit our surroundings.  I was invited to lunch in the mountains by someone who prefaced the invitation with the words ‘because I want to get to know you better.’  I was incredibly flattered and at the lunch found myself with a mix of friends and strangers.  We laughed and talked and I felt myself relaxing and simply being the person I consider my best self.  I actually had something to say and some things that people really wanted to hear.  I learned some things, too.  It was magical and I came face to face with the person I enjoy being and the way I love most to interact. Later in the day I was reminded of how infrequently I am able to do just that.  It is not the first time this issue has come up but I know that I want to solve this riddle once and for all and just be. An old friend told me a very long time ago that the most difficult things in my life would not be the experiences of leaving one life for another, changing careers, or even raising my kids.  He said the real challenges would be Just Be and Let Go.  And so in my year of wanting to be content and practicing simplicity, Just Be and Let Go appear to be holding hands and skipping toward me at a rather steady pace.

 


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Day 76

Day 76: I have been looking at the computer for about an hour trying to figure out how not to write this.  I could not come up with a viable excuse and I want to honestly journal this journey.

The question becomes do I convince myself that I am content with something, do I visualize what content in a situation would mean for me and then work at shaping that into a reality, or do I just fold?  And into this mixture of questions I must add the additional ingredients of my own belief system:  everything is a choice (I don’t get to blame/credit someone else) and the idea that somewhere, somehow I chose to live this particular life.

Yesterday I chose to address some feelings I had about things going on with my son.  He reminds me of the pines and cedars that grow in Colorado on the face of granite slopes.  No protection from wind and weather, not a water source in sight–growing out of stone in its own fashion.  I have chosen to be his safe place–the person to whom he can express his issues without rejection.  Have you ever seen that old footage of a nuclear explosion at a distance and then the people, homes and lives are leveled by the invisible shock wave that follows?  It’s like that.  I’d like to say that I can just deal with it some aging incarnation of Wonder Woman.  And I do when it’s grenade-sized.  But other times I am reminded that I have PTSD. (Did I mention that?  Yep, I do.)  And when the shock waves hit my surface of contentment and hard-won layers of peace and inner quiet, it feels like they melting and I am left with a puddle of self to rebuild.

And that brings me to the end of this day that I spent wrapped in mental band aids having cheese corn for both lunch and dinner.  I visualized this phase of life and of parenting much differently.  Does the perfect parent make sure they are there indefinitely?  Does it make me the worst parent ever and most selfish person to want to choose my own health and calm and structure ahead of another’s?  I don’t know.


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Visualizing What’s Not

Days 70 & 71:  I continue to revel in what’s not.  I smudged the house and let the wind sweep though the rooms.  Things here feel lighter and changed.  The house is not suddenly, magically organized and simplified.  However, it looks as if I have managed to set up a Spring clean-up for my neighborhood of about 400 homes.  Not my kitchen cupboards.  Not the office/craft space closet.  No.  None of that.  But I spent hours making it possible for our non-HOA’d, unincorporated village to have Spring clean-up.  Someone print me a sign that says, ‘Really?  What were you thinking?’

I have not heard about my car’s transmission issues and I am just not worrying about it.  I do have a sign that says ‘Worry is a misuse of imagination.’  It reminds me that worrying about the future is about as useful as trying to change the past.  It doesn’t get you a step further.  As a former champion worrier, I assure you this is true.  I enjoy visualizations and this is something that works for me.  Did you ever get a song stuck in your head and nothing turns it off.  Close your eyes.  Visualize the person/band performing the song on a stage.  Imagine yourself turning off the spotlight, pulling the plug.  Then say ‘The show’s over’ and visualize the dejected performer(s) exiting stage right.  It works for me.  And I am working on one that has to do with worries that crop up or old memories that don’t do any good.  I bid them farewell and tell them to have a nice trip.  Then I see them stacked onto the deck of a boat (or walking on board with a suitcase).  The boat moves away from the dock and I watch as it sails off into the sunset. Gone. It requires a little faith in yourself and practice but it can work.  If not, there’s always sangria and chocolate chip cookies. Exhale.

 


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Fly By The Seat of Your Spanx

Day 64:  Today there were a few more bumps in the road and a wrench I had to yank from the machinery in my effort to get things back on track.  I spent some time reading Crones Don’t Whine and chewed on a passage for a while:  A crone is herself. She accepts change, appreciates the good in her life, grieves for what dies or loses vitality and goes on.  What she does and who she shares her life with are expressions of who she is–not her identity.  When it’s time to let go of a phase of life, she can.  But the truth is, she does not reinvent herself intentionally; rather by improvising and adapting to change.  

If I am reading that all correctly, what Jean Shinoda Bolen is saying is that wise women live in the present and deal with what’s in the now.  Smart wise women don’t make too many plans and essentially fly by the seat of their Spanx.  Okay.  I can see why my expectation that making changes for myself on my nifty time line is a set up for failure.  No–it’s all a set up for learning.  If nothing ever breaks, how do you learn to deal with broken things or broken dreams?  How else would you learn how to make repairs or seek out a different route to your destination?  By no means am I saying that learning something requires hard times.  I’m a speak-it-into-reality person and I try to choose words carefully.  A while back I started saying things like ‘I want my life lessons to come from positive experiences,’  and ‘I want to learn and grow without experiencing disasters.’  Life eased up.  It all seems to go a lot better when I pay less attention to the billboards and more attention to the highway markers of life, you know?

So, I’m here.  I’m letting go of the idea that it’s disruptive to have my son revolving through the house as needed.  He’s working on his life.  I’m working on my life and my life is good–even if I am not working on it at warp speed right now. The only one setting arbitrary deadlines is me and I am in charge of my life.  I say I can change that.  Letting go feels a whole lot better than the hand-wringing and griping I did last week.  I have been doing fly by your personal ethics living most of my life.  I got through fly by the seat of your blue jeans with no child support single parenting.  Both son and daughter are figuring out their flight plans; nobody is crashing and burning.  I don’t know why I expected crone transitioning to be something I could neatly map out.  It IS yet another chance to improvise and adapt and generally fly by the seat of my Spanx.


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Figure.It.Out.

Days 57-63.  Yikes–a 7-day writing gap.  Not good.  But the past 7 days have not been particularly good either.  Here’s a truth about why I haven’t written:  When things are hard I just get really quiet.  I work things out with words and there haven’t been any words of resolution here so I didn’t write.

The whole idea is to practice contentment with life as a woman on my own, new to empty-nesting, and finding out what makes me whole and happy in this new phase of life.  And I want to do it with positive forward motion and without whining.  The past 7 days have not been a sparkling success.

I spent the weekend like a shadow in my own house–sleeping far too much, feeling the silence wall me in rather than relaxing in the quiet and doing things around the house, running errands and working on something creative.  I had one moment of connection to the things I love to feel–on the way to get tags for the car, a bushy red fox crossed the road in front of me, running to the right.  Moments later, a coyote crossed going in the opposite direction (insert personal superstitions here:  I could have gone happily without seeing the coyote).  Then I pulled off and spent some time with a herd of about 80 elk.  Maybe it sounds foolish to say that elk calm me but they do.  I have a repetitive dream that visits me sometimes.  I am standing in a flat, low-flowing creek bed brushing/grooming an elk and as I do, the dust from his coat becomes tiny butterflies that fly off.  I’ve got no idea what it means but it feels calming.

When I started to work on some things here, I didn’t get much done because I decided to be cranky and whiny.  It came down to two things–1) I am not happy with the details of aging, 2) the impact of my son spending more time here is not what I hoped it might be.

I am pleased to say that I’m not afraid of death.  My family tends to be long-lived and I’ve been to death–that is been present when both of my parents died and once bled nearly to death myself.  This is not the issue.  Being very alive and wanting the energy to accomplish much without assistance is the issue.  I used to be able to lift up the end of a sofa, balance it on my hip and vacuum under it.  I packed 90% of our belongings into a moving van on my own when we moved to Colorado. I survived ovarian cancer.  I used to leap tall buildings…well, maybe not that but I was energized.  Now I work 10 hours in an office, come home and feel lucky if I do a load of laundry.  I want to forget all of the knowledge I have about making choices, creating my own destiny, and envisioning my own success and instead scuff my shoe in the dirt and whine about life not being fair.  Thoughts that come to mind are:  Wine not whine. Do what you can do every day and suck it up.  Figure out how to do things differently.  Figure.It.Out.

Then there’s the whole thing with my son.  He has been around more and kind of moved back in.  I love his company, the life questions he trusts me to answer, and the laughter he brings along. But in these months on my own, I have enjoyed the sink empty of dishes, shopping for one, and the journey of clearing out things.  And just as I feel as if I’m getting into the groove of all this, it’s all rewinding.  It sounds selfish and bad parent-like to say that I’m not happy about it.  The truth is I’ve come to like elements of just being responsible for only myself. Thoughts that come to mind are:  Wine-ing or whining is not an answer.  Do what you can do for yourself every day and create some boundaries.  Figure out how to do this differently.  Suck it up when things don’t go as planned.  Figure.It.Out.