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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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.


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I Didn’t Do It

Day 69:  There were a number of things that I didn’t do today that were rather fabulous as far as I’m concerned.  I got up at what would have been 4 AM last week and didn’t whine or give in to a big urge to consume coffee.  Caffeine is not my friend.  I chose plain tea and some Michael Franti on Spotify to jolt me awake.

I did not spend time telling myself how bored I am at work.  I thought about how much energy I would have this evening (and I did!) to begin work on my office/craft space.

I did not flip out and begin imagining the horrors to come when I determined that the new(ish) car needed to make a trip back to the warranty garage and Magical Keith because now the transmission is having petit mal seizures.  There was a calm, rational conversation and I am driving another loaner car.  Inhale:  The car is going to be fine.  Exhale: I am so grateful for warranties.

Sometimes it’s what we don’t do that’s the real accomplishment.  Who knew?


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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.