Alyse In Words

A Year of Practicing Contentment


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Just Calm

Days 98 & 99:  There has been calm.  It makes it sound as if this should be a rather boring piece of writing.  Scribbling about the placid.  When did we learn to think that drama-free equals boring?  I have been to drama.  It is not an experience that I need.  Today has a very small tale to tell:  I drove to work talking to the full moon and reciting things for which I am grateful.  I drove home talking to by daughter on nifty new earphone thingies that were an unexpected gift from a friend.  I listened to my daughter’s hard day and some of her drama.  And the thought that brought tears to my eyes was that she has a lover who understands her and cares deeply for her.  I can release some of that mommy-fear about my adult daughter’s unhappy day 1500 miles from home.  I can trust her, her girlfriend, and myself and release it. And keep my own calm.  Tonight I didn’t eat dinner.  I didn’t work on anything.  I re-filled the bird feeder and passed out dog treats.  And I did something I wouldn’t have done a while back–identified myself.  There was an email from our neighborhood chat board.  Folks were asking about the free libraries by the park, talking about what a treat they are and that they could use a paint job.  And they wanted to know who put them there.  I confessed.  It felt good and it felt connected.  No fireworks.  Just calm.


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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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Not What If

Day 85:  I noticed something today.  I have gotten rather good at not worrying about ‘what if.’  It’s that part of being that rises up when things are going well and reminds you of what happened the last time or ten years ago.

In the past I had one of those life-altering events that leaves, as a friend of mine says, scorched earth.  Not just everything upset but everything destroyed.  While I carry some scars from those events, I can tell you that I foolishly spent time creating my own chaos when things began to become good again.  I have a theory about this that is part medical, part psychological and part me having a bit of an epiphany.  When we are faced with crisis or life-altering issues, our bodies produce a big push of adrenaline and our brains tell us to use it for fight or flight. If the crisis is ongoing, we get used to that constant feeling of being energized and on the edge.  Then things begin to settle down.  And here is where the choice comes in.  If we want to continue on that adrenaline high, we need to create new chaos, stir up new drama, fuel some tiny problem until it’s raging.  Otherwise the spotlight disappears and life change must occur. I’m not sure which is more difficult, looking yourself in the mirror and telling yourself to stop or having someone else pointing out that you are doing it.  It requires some thoughtful determination to stop the drama wheel from churning and discovering what your new norm can be.   I do know that when we stop creating our own drama, it becomes easier to believe that there can be no more pianos falling from the sky to squish us or be haunted by the ghosts of past failure.   If I am going to imagine my future and conjure some ‘what ifs’ then I choose to imagine that all the drama in life is on HBO and that my problems are short-lived, minuscule critters who are highly allergic to my breath of calm.


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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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Broken Goddesses

Day 75 – I’m baaack.  Geez, I detest being ill.  More so, I really don’t like feeling ill.  I learned something about myself in the midst of it though.  I shall raise my right hand and admit to being judgmental of women who whine about their diets and health and greying hair and fading beauty and boo hoo.  And while I don’t whine about those things and try not to whine aloud in general, wow is my interior voice great at whining and complaining.  Well, as long as nobody knows but me, it doesn’t count right?  Wrong.  So wrong.  The good part is that it’s becoming pretty clear what my barrier is to daily, DIY contentment.  (More on that tomorrow when I’ve had a little time to process.)

My vehicle is back from its’ second week-long visit with Miracle Keith.  I don’t know what all he did to it but the transmission is working nicely and it no longer sounds like there is a toilet flushing beneath my dashboard.  It happened at no cost and I am willing to admit I could be the new poster crone for buying that extended warranty on the engine/transmission.  Sometimes the feeling of safety and contentment is worth the extra $9.00 per month added to the car payment.

I did push through and get some work done on decluttering and spring cleaning yesterday. I had no problem giving away a whole series of Spanish glass heads that I collected.  Not easily come by, worth some money and nearly all gone.  It’s the broken goddesses that I plan to keep.  I have been collecting them for a while.  There is some part of me that is indignant on their behalf.  One moment a revered deity and the next off to the thrift store because someone knocked her from her perch.  I have Quan Yin and Quan Am, each missing fingers or toes.  Themis with a broken sword.  A straw goddess with an uneven base, Mara.  A carved wooden one that has been scorched in fire. I have absolutely no proof that it is an image of Teresita Urrea (a Mexican/American folk healer written about in The Hummingbird’s Daughter) but I would like to think it is.  Everyone was cleaned and dusted and they are all chatting in a circle right now, perhaps comparing wounds or maybe just healing one another.


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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.