Alyse In Words

A Year of Practicing Contentment


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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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Authentic

Days 93-96:  There are a number of things I could say about the past few days.  It’s easy enough to say that I spent most of the week thinking about last weekend and being in a space and with people around whom I could simply be myself.  It felt freeing and powerful and all week I felt like I was testing the limits of my skin wanting to just be more myself every day.  It felt untruthful and weak because I realized how much time I spend all week being unable to be myself.  I know I am not unique in this.  I’m pretty sure that most of us have the various faces we wear for the benefit of the workplace or the professional situation, the casual setting.  We work so hard at pleasing others that being ourselves becomes a guilty pleasure, a hobby, or worse–something we hide.

I am not content about this.

Am I ready to face the possible outcomes of expressing my authentic self and authentic thoughts here?  There is the excitement of stepping off into the unknown to figure out where it is fall or fly.  There’s the fear that it will be met with silence.   No, that’s not right. If people read what I have to say and say ‘pbfffft’ to it, I’m good with that.  I wonder what the reaction of people who have known me in other places and times in life will be.  Nonetheless, if the choices are backward, forward, or stagnate; I must choose forward. Doing 63 looking in the rear view mirror doesn’t work.


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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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Bittersweet

Days 80,81,82: Well, it was a weekend of more doing that writing.  More reading than writing.  More community than writing.  The whole weekend had crisp air with hints and smatterings of rain.  The past and present spent a lot of time kissing one another.

Truman went for his doggie spa day.  When I went to retrieve my golden retriever, they had trimmed him into a puppy cut.  In his eyes I could see the light and love of the fuzzy yellow puppy that he was 9 years ago.  He put his head on my shoulder in the car and I thought of the long days he spent at my side when I was recovering from cancer.  I thought of how little he expects of me and how much he gives. And I noticed the white mask forming on his face and the white patches on his haunches. The dogs are 9,10, and 11 years old.  Looking at the wagging trio,  I decided not do the dishes. I didn’t do much other stuff for the rest of the day.  I threw the ball, tugged the toy, scratched ears and bellies, massaged some aging joints and we all fell asleep while I was reading.

A couple of years ago, I gave away a huge portion of my collection of cookbooks.  I had an obscene amount of cookbooks.  I collected most of them as a young mom and some of my best memories with my own mother involve hot cups of coffee and buttered toast shared while leafing through recipes –improving, mocking, marking to make, and wondering who could afford the ingredients for some of them.  I kept collecting them after she died and looking for her handwritten notes among the old ones.  My daughter and I carried on the tradition but it never felt like it ‘clicked.’ I was reminded more than once this weekend that she learns by doing.  She grew up with me having Saturday or Sunday community dinners.  Usually fresh bread and soup or chili and lots of philosophical conversation, some music and musings.  And anyone could come.  As I sorted through more of the cookbooks (and decided to give away 3 boxes), I thought about how much I miss those meals and what it would take to revive that in some way.  Later that night, my daughter called to share her pasta sauce happiness.  She started serving community dinners a few months ago for protesters on their way to the DAPL stand-off.  It has since evolved into community dinners of her own.  Fifteen hundred miles was unable to contain the savory and sweet of that conversation–how much I miss my mother and my daughter and yet how close to me they both are.

Tonight as I finished boxing and sorting, I thought about my morning and early afternoon spent with an excellent friend cooking up ideas for the fairy house we are making from a tree stump in my front yard and plotting what to cook for an event we are both attending next weekend.  I thought how good it is to have a co conspirator.  I also stumbled on a copy of The Subject Tonight is Love a translation of Hafiz’s poetry by Daniel Ladinsky.  It was a gift to a paramour from whom I separated several years ago.  Until tonight, it was pristine and unread. The heartfelt note tucked inside it reads, These words are for you and say to you from across time and truths that you are beloved in the heart of the Mystery and in the heart of the one who asks you to stretch yourself and crack open the dusty doors. Read them and speak to me about what you know, what you are learning and what you hope for.  We never had that conversation; but, after tonight, the book will no longer be unread.


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Growling Hope

Days 78 & 79: It’s raining big, splattering drops here and I am mulling things over.  I am nearly 80 days in and I’m not sure if knowledge and progress are weighing evenly with failures and unbridled whimpering.  At this point, here’s what I think:

Compassion and anger are able to be partners–even if they make me uncomfortable.  In Chapter 6 of Crones Don’t Whine, the author talks about how even the meekest among us finds and voices her outrage more easily as an older woman. She adds that the choice to go down one path ultimately means we have chosen not to take a different route.  (I am not sure I wholly agree with her about this.)   I have notes that say compassionate anger, well-intended outrage, growling hope and radical empathy–can you make your self-interest the center of this decision-making or will this always work by putting others first and self last?  This becomes a pretty important point as I go forward because I have apparently been living some of it backwards. So much of what I have read about contentment and fulfillment in this part of life is about becoming an activist, a volunteer, a voice for those who cannot always speak for themselves.  And evidently in our 60’s is when all of this is supposed to flourish.  For me, my first interaction with rescue dogs was feeding strays as a pre-schooler. I was 12 when I hid a neighbor boy in our basement because his father was intent on killing him. For years I spent every waking moment of every day being an advocate for my son, abused children, families with mental health crises, as well as women battling social and educational illiteracy.  I am finding no guidelines to say what a person who has done this from youth to 60 does from 60 on.  I don’t think there will ever be a time when I am not somehow involved. But there has to be balance. And there has to be something to do when I do choose self.

I must get some sleep.  I have to be up early to take my golden retriever for his Spring spa day at the groomers where he will be bathed, clipped, and have a chance to romp and play with his friends. Maybe I need to take a cue from my dog.

 


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Semi-colon

Day 77:  There is such power in words.  A practiced speech may sound important but simply be well-rehearsed.  Those words that are spoken in staccato rhythms that sound like hail on a tin roof and pile up on the ground, causing you to look for ways to step around and over them.  Those words have unrestrained power.

I heard so many of them today.

I’m tired of dealing with this. I’m tired of dealing with the complaints and all of it. How about you take it over completely?  All of my practice saying yes to things I want and no to things I don’t want to do stuck in my throat.  This is a friend with his head in his hands.  I replied with something that got him smiling and nearly tap danced my way out of the conversation.  He was able to clearly express his needs and desires and I managed a flimsy maybe.

My son told me he was going to go live with his step-dad and get rich selling drugs with him. I told him he’d just end up in jail.  And I told this person they won–my employed son who pays his bills and goes to counselling and is struggling toward a life is a prize by comparison.  When I asked them if they believed parenting ever eases up when you have a struggling young adult, they looked me straight in the eye and said No. I don’t think it does. But we’re built to endure more, too.  I told them that sometimes I wish truth could always be served with a side of wine and chocolate.  They nodded and we hugged one another for a while. I mentioned a couple of resources she might use and we both went back to work.

Why do we feel like we need to pull people back from the edge when they say they want to commit suicide?  This world is nothing but a pile of shit. What are we pulling them back to?  The shit?  Or just so we have company in the shit?  I felt like he sideswiped me.  It was the first time all day I remembered to really breathe.  It’s nearly noon and I’m in a meeting room with these words clanging in the air.  I told him this: Not all of the world is shit.  The world that I work to create for myself every day is not shit.  It’s a good place.  And if I pull someone back, it’s to that good place–even if only for a while and I remind them of something I learned long ago–good things grow with only a little nurturing and the layer of shit is just fertilizer.  I am unapologetic about this. Anyone is worth the effort and ultimately everyone sooner or later makes their own choice.

It was exhausting.  At the end of the day I came home and showered off the grit but saved what I believe may be the beginning of a map.

 


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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.