Alyse In Words

A Year of Practicing Contentment


Leave a comment

My Furry Teacher

Day 138 – This was part of my last entry on April 18th, four days after my 10 year-old golden retriever died very suddenly:

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.

Each time I tried to write something here, I told myself it was too hard, that I wasn’t ready.  So, I will write some details about the lessons my furry teacher brought to me.

  1.  Be optimistic – There will be days when you are carrying a tree limb and no matter how you try, it won’t fit through the kitchen door.  Don’t be upset.  It’s sunny outside and you can enjoy that limb on the deck.  Celebrate the fact that you figured out how to get it up a flight of stairs.
  2. There is no time like the present to do whatever it is you want to do–I mean, really, who is in charge of you but you?  Want to play–play!  Want to nap–nap!  If you just taste the wind and look around you, there are so many things right here and right now that are worth your attention.
  3. If someone wants to get into a fight with you, think about who they are first.  I mean, if you are about 10 times bigger and stronger and mellow as say…a miniature dachshund that’s gnawing on your leg, ask yourself how much damage can it really do?  How long before she wears herself out?  Pay as little attention as possible and eventually she’ll go on her way.  But don’t let her try to bite near your eyes.  You don’t have to fight.  Just show her your teeth and gently remind her that her head fits in your mouth.
  4. You have to just be and let go.  I mean sometimes you get a car ride.  Could be going to the dog park.  Could be going to the vet.  Could be that drive-through place that has ICE CREAM!  Could be a long drive or a short one. The thing is–you’re getting a car ride. Put your face out the window and just be.
  5. Bark when you need to.  We all need to bark sometimes.  The quiet that comes after always feels pretty good.
  6. You know what’s coming.  Everybody knows that there are great times and good people and hard times and hard people.  There’s not much you can do about when and where they come.  Remember who you are.  Remember your pack is with you.
  7. That’s the other thing.  The pack.  You might get older and slower and not able to fetch like you used to do.  But your pack is there.  They will lick your face and share a toy with you.  They will help you figure out how to wriggle out of any cone of shame.

It was so difficult to get him into the car but I managed and the other dogs nearly knocked me down getting into the car.  There was no time for leashes and collars.  I drove with his head in my lap.  Then he moved his head to rest it between the gear shift and the console.  He turned on the radio and kept brushing his face against it, making the channels change and change and change.  He grinned a dog smile for the last time. The pack followed his stretcher in and we learned that there would be no healing.  I know my vet explained it to me but I didn’t hear the words.  Moxie and Baxter got quiet and the vet went about doing his job.  I thought, what would I want to hear in my last moments?  I would want something that filled my mind with good thoughts and good memories.  And so I told him things he loved to hear:  You have the coldest nose ever. Are you wagging? You are the most optimistic dog ever.  I love you.  You are my prince.  You are the best dog.  You can play in the fountain all the time.  Look for Dugan and Honey. Look for my Mom.

I spent the next couple of days thinking about the irony of it all.  A Facebook reminder that two years earlier I had been sitting with a woman whose dog had just been euthanized. How I finally understood Snow White’s ode to perfect, unconditional love.  Someday my Prince will come.  Someday I’ve fine pure love.  Nobody told me he would have floppy ears and drool.  How the next day a small, loud plane got my attention outside as it drew a smile face in the sky over Table Mountain.  I saw it and thought, no. No really? You’re still a comfort to my soul.  You let me know you made it home safely.


2 Comments

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.

 


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

I Get What She’s Saying

Days 83 & 84:  I can’t think of one thing of value I did on Monday.  I mean, I went to work and worked.  I came home and wandered through my evening, got up this morning, and started it all over again.  Days like that feel like there is no life in living, just treading water.

The patient part of me says, Be present. Sit with it. Become aware of your surroundings.  And that is often enough.  Restless me wants to constantly be in forward motion, creating something, breaking down something, getting it in gear to GO.  I was all about GO tonight with plans to box up a few more things heading toward the exit.  Then my phone rang.  It was Mary. She is in her 80’s. We have met 2-3 times over a lifetime and I will spend some time with her in October.  She always talks as if we just stopped speaking to one another 5 minutes ago.  She tells me family stories, asks me probing questions and punctuates important information with Are you getting what I’m saying to you here?  And I do.  She always reminds me how the past, present and future are woven together and that no human story is unique–someone, somewhere has been in a similar spot and made choices too.  We spent a long while on the phone and then she said a quick Don’t forget I love you.  We’ll talk soon. 

I saw how the evening had slipped away along with the likelihood that I would accomplish much more tonight.  The conversation also energized me with an interior eagerness to put some muscle behind my decluttering.  I need/want/am going to have less stuff and need/want/am going to have more people time.  Someone once said that the person with the most toys at the end wins.  Somebody else said, the person who has the most time to play with their toys wins.  I say, the person with any toys that are used up and worn out because they were shared doesn’t care about winning because just living is so enjoyable.