HOW WE TELL OUR OWN STORY

All my life I’ve been startled or shocked or violently shaken into realizing I’m not whom I’ve been telling a story about. Starting with the tale itself…

I was born into a happy family in America The Beautiful, loved and nurtured by all around me, bound for my own happy future as a successful complaisant wife and mother. Soon, another child entered the picture and we loved each other. She looked up to me. As I grew I found the need to keep this rosy picture in sight, as pieces of it needed editing along the way.

I noticed my parents react differently to each of us: impatient with my loud expressions of any emotion that dawned on me; more comfortable with the quiet (read obedient) one. “Think before you speak” became a repeated wish from my often embarrassed mother.

As I chose my own path forward I was cautioned by my 1950s parents to stay in the “safe zone” of good manners and conformity. I did understand that these same parents had seen the ravages of both the Great Depression and World War II, who were now middle aged adults living under the threats of the Cold War. So I excused them and kept going.

My story still celebrated my happy place in The Great American Family.

BAM!In a small town where everyone knew everything about everyone, my father left us. The Emperor was losing some of his clothes.

My mother made me proud. She got a job, looked to me like she could survive anything, and kept her head up amidst all the roiling gossip. I thought there was nothing she could not do. My sister withdrew further into a quiet background.

Things settled into a routine as I edited and patched my story.

I succeeded in school. Anything I set my mind to and worked hard for came to pass. Good grades were easy because I loved to learn. Parts in school plays, a place on the cheerleading squad, earning the Honor Society, were all within my grasp because I was determined. I felt some resentment from my sister, but just thought that was natural.

PINCH! Off to college, remembering that my father had questioned my need for it. I don’t know where that came from, but it sure didn’t stop me. At this point, the emperor had moved a different family into the sweet spot anyway.

Got married at 19 and was back in the safe zone. Finished college as a married student, had two adorable children in the very changed world of the 1960s. Began to feel a bit like an orphan. I was definitely outside the Emperor’s realm, and my sister’s little family, still in the same small town I had fled, was now the center of my mother’s world.

Not bereft, I began to feel my strengths. But the story in my head kept writing over any slights, while I still thought all was good.

LITTLE ELECTRIC SHOCKS! When I told each of my parents I was getting divorced, my mother asked me what I had done. My father asked me if I was having an affair! I absorbed the insults and just went on.

NUCLEAR BAM! My first son Jeff drowned on a camping trip at age 20. Surrounded by friends, family, and my destroyed ex-husband, I still went forward. My second son Drew, at 18, was the source of my strength. There were many days when he was the adult in the house. It was because of him, I began to see myself as whole.

Editing my “story,” I redefined myself. Neither of my parents attended Jeff’s funeral, and my sister and her daughters went there and sat by themselves. That strange day did leave a permanent rent in my imagined family fabric. Still, I excused them all.

In the subsequent 30 years I’ve had a mostly successful career in university public relations in three different states, owned and run a bed and breakfast, written a novel, and have a cottage baking business at farmers markets. I have friends still in each place I’ve lived; Drew lives and thrives with his own business an hour away from me. We are truly good friends.

During that time, I recaptured a wonderful relationship with my father and gave him some of his clothes back. That appears to have damaged my relationship with my mother. Unknowingly, I was also cementing a black spot reserved for me in my sister’s heart.

CONFIRMING BLAST! The morning after our father died, my sister exploded. Standing together in his house, she screamed every lifelong real or imagined slight back at me. I had no defense because, even with more and more evidence that I had no part messing in her life, I had continued to hope we could be OK. This would take more than editing, I realized.

That was the last time I saw her. Evidence of her manipulations behind the scenes with my father still didn’t prepare me for what came a couple of years later. My mother was dying. I was forbidden hospital information. My niece hung up on me beside the hospital bed; I had been written out of my mother’s will; and every penny and piece of property was scooped away thanks to misused legalities she had learned when taking care of my father.

QUIET REALIZATION. I am happier than I’ve ever been, sure now that I really know myself. I am thankful every day for the pleasures I find just looking out my window. I am satisfied just standing amidst trees at a river’s edge. I ignore naked emperors completely and listen to birds. I’ve learned to concentrate on the very simplest pleasures like baking breads and things that make people happy and comfortable.

NO MORE EDITING! I no longer reach back to rewrite myself and I regret nothing. I have only today and the maybe-perhaps tomorrows, so I refuse to waste any more time in the past. Story exposed as unreliable fiction, interesting but irrelevant.

TO BE HAPPILY CONTINUED!

————————————

I wrote this first in mid-November, but decided to tuck it away because it was too personal. Reading it again today, I realize the important lesson it tells deserves some light. Facing whatever comes leads to really knowing ourselves and our strengths. In re-reading this, I noticed that I have only used two names. My sons, Jeff and Drew, are what make me thankful to be on this earth. Everyone else in this essay is on the sidelines, wishing they could be me.

Really Being There

Dedicated to all the children who have made me notice how everything they see is a discovery to be wondered at.

Think about the word “still.” One can be still as in making as little noise as possible. Similarly, one can sit still as in not fidgeting. But still is also related to continuity and permanence, as in the old post office building is still standing after the earthquake. Or he has managed to still believe in himself despite all the doubters around him.

In all its applications, still carries a kind of strength, whether asking you to tamp down behaviors or to recognize how something manages to continue even following negative happenings.

This small word also carries a heap of nonchalance and the innocence of a toddler. As adults, we almost have to sneak up on stillness. However, unless they are hurt or hungry or uncomfortable, children between about six months and two years are constantly discovering. Their world is a brand new version of things we have been taking for granted for years. If we pay attention we can look at things as fresh and intriguing and share their joy and wonder.

There is possibly no other sound as pure as the uncontrolled laugh of a little child whose delight at something explodes in cascading giggles. If we could bottle that sound, it might become the best treatment for depression.

Maybe it’s because the ocean has always been a healing place for me that I find the sounds of seagulls a call to peace and stillness. The ocean is a noisy place with crashing waves, rushing winds, all the people sharing the beach, and the calls of sea birds. But for me each of these can be either a jumble of different instruments tuning up against each other or a symphony of high drama and calming intervals. In this music, the seagulls act as the conductor whose tap for attention guides the listeners to join with the practiced sounds and form a new unity. The ocean is my calm scene.

Try this. Shed the skin of what you just came from and sit still somewhere. Turn off thinking about what you’ve been doing and what you are going to do. Concentrate on senses and ask yourself:

– what do I see?

– what do I hear

– what do I smell?

– how do I feel?

Then close your eyes and ask the same questions. Chances are, you will hear and smell more. You might see things you’ve just noticed in your imagination. You might be surprised at the new sounds that have joined those before you closed your eyes.

Outcome: If you are lucky and able to turn off the rest of your day, prior and coming, you will find before you a richer environment than you thought possible. A walk in the woods becomes a mindful adventure. A pause in a field becomes an aviary. And chances are, you will really smell the sea air or the musty floor of a forest or even nearby flowers you don’t need to stick your nose into.

But there is another layer of paying attention. You begin to notice with your seeing and hearing and feeling the way things appear in these moments. Instead of “seeing” a few birds, you might notice their interactions and imagine their communication.

When you hear a group of children playing, you begin to pay attention to the changes in tone, volume, and expressions, especially if you close your eyes. You might have been annoyed at the “noise,” but now you notice play, friendship, happiness, or sadness and anger. It’s clear to you there is lots more going on around you…layers.

One layer I can get to if I’m really lucky is what I call the focus layer. Since I’ve been a little girl I’ve been able to intensify how I see.

I will never forget stopping to stare at a dragonfly. I began to focus down on it to blur everything around it. I saw the delicate cells in its wings and then noticed that the colorful body looked like an armored war vehicle. I saw how the different body parts were cleverly engineered to move independently. Then I looked at the creature’s eyes and was sure he was looking back at me. I swear I felt something. Whether or not I did connect, I recall thinking that was possible. And if you think about it, why not?

Have you ever seen your heart beat? I do almost any time I’m sitting quietly. It’s almost like my eyes are looking in that “focused down” way I think about, and I can see the beats as movement. I find it interesting that I can’t make myself do it. Gotta think about that. I still smile at his reaction when I said this to my doctor.

As the Northwest enters the rainy season, this little essay is my second commitment to spending a part of everyday outdoors, exercising my body as little as I can and really being wherever I land.

Come with me. Let me know what happens, because things will happen.

Or, Just Plain Stuck?

Just four days after I pledged to spend the next month seeking peace and finding room for my imagination to spread out, I got poison oak! Never had it as a child. I’ve got to say it is a real barricade to an easy mind. I can’t meditate; you know how they tell you to “just let idle thoughts pass through”? That doesn’t mean you can ignore that steady itch. I know there are far worse things I could be dealing with, but this one has put full stop to my ability to just think.

So I’ve let the challenge go for now. I will get better. In the four days before the attack, I came up with an outline for my next book, which I will reveal soon. For now, I’m just trying not to scare small children with how I look.

Back soon. Don’t give up on me, friends.

Stuck in the Middle Again

Stuck in the middle again

I’m somewhere between home and where I’m going, and it’s an uncomfortable place to be. Essentially, I’m nowhere. Having done really extensive editing and rewriting of my novel in the past year, I’m just dribbling out submissions to likely agents and publishers. This doesn’t feel purposeful or smart. 

My mind lies fallow, and it walks endlessly within itself looking for something to write. I am spending far too much time in this chair at my computer, where I grow sluggish and dull. 

So I’m challenging myself. Today is August 14, and I pledge to spend part of each day through September 15 following wherever I lead myself. That will mean stretching myself physically and emotionally and just letting myself pay attention to anything that passes by. I will meditate, listen, let my mind drift, and just BE.

Aside from just wandering, my quest will take me to delicious solitude at the ocean, in a forest, at a waterfall, drinking a glass of wine by myself in a quaint cafe, at a picnic table in a park, and other places that come to mind.

And I will have my journal with me. What happens, will happen, and I will be accutely aware. You’ll be hearing from me here frequently. I ask you to come with me on this journey.

In fact, if you would like to take my challenge, try this yourself. Think of it as our converstation in solitude. Please leave a comment so I know you are “on board.”

On Expectations and Disappointment

I watched the final episode of “Game of Thrones,” excited to see how such a mammoth undertaking could stop. I found it quite satisfying, nodding internally throughout. The next morning, I read angry, disappointed, horrified, upset reviews. Some had expected neatly tied plot themes or some cheaply found “happily ever after.”

As a story teller and writer, I usually let stories come at me.

Of course, it doesn’t end! I re-watched the last episode last night, having read all the dashed expectations of many who felt insulted, let down, left out, and more levels of disappointment. They lamented the rapid tying up of loose ends, while a fantastically sad dragon melted the meaningless symbol. So many bashed the endless walking of Tyrion as a waste of time.

But wait a minute. With all the killing, shuffling of thrones, vivid examples of how power corrupts, Tyrion reminds us that there are/were millions of unknown people living and struggling under that power. Dinklage’s remarkable acting reminds us of the people. He can still grieve for his flawed brother and sister, after viewing the real point of the stories. He cries for everyone.

It was not about the throne(s). It was about the unsullied, who were seemingly infinitely replacable. It was about using a whole population as a lure — or dare — to destroy a kingdom. It was about dynasties determining what happens next. Only Sam has continued to represent “the people,” although there have been a few others who tried, and he was laughed off the podium.

Jon, with his blank, miserable boo-boo face, returns to “the people.” Aryia leaves civilization to find something better. Sansa rules an untidy society somewhere between Westeros and the wildness of the far north. No one knows what The Broken King will do.

If I were to want more story, it would be about Jon and the other two Starks. It’s all about the people.

 

Over My Back Fence — 2

So still and clear following a week of weird weather. It’s dawn, the sun still below the horizon. My favorite part because it’s like a preview of the day to come.

Today, to the right, I see a sliver of new moon with its bright planet in attendance…travelers together though light years apart. How canny.

My view straight ahead to the fence and over is a dusty light rose illuminating branches just starting to pop the tiniest budlets of spring to come.

This all looks like hope to me, the silent promise that Nature will demand to be. This, despite a world trying to bring it down by ignorance or greed. Doesn’t matter which, does it?

I can only imagine what would happen if deniers and ruiners sat quietly gazing out their eastern windows each morning. Sadly, they won’t.

While I write, the moon’s friendly planet begins to disappear. Only because it’s harder to send sparkles across light years. Like all of Nature, it’s still there.

Believe it’s there; use hope.

 

Moments

Sparkling with morning freshness, drops of dew pick up rays as the sun peeks over my back fence. I’m struck by bold shots of light, and realize this is a fleeting beauty.

IMG_1162.JPG

I think about how every moment — whether beautiful, ugly, horrifying, uplifting, or unnoticed — is fleeting. The sun behind a cloud takes the sparkle away.

I wonder where these moments fleet. Can a moment be more?

If it hits you just right, a moment can get into your mind and look around for something to grab onto. Or, it can whirl aimlessly in there until it turns into something that matters.

We all have them: moments of clarity that teach, moments that startle you and make you think, moments that will affect the rest of your life.

I keep mine in my head in a “photograph album” full of snapshots that matter.

• an inchworm on a picket fence

• a chameleon changing color

• a tear on my son’s cheek at his brother’s funeral

• an injured baby rabbit in my son’s hand as his eyes beg me to fix it

• the look of shock when my sick little boy finds me checking into a book called What to Do till the Doctor Comes

• watching a pig give birth on my grandfather’s farm

Sadly, I know some who look at me strangely when I talk about things like this. It just doesn’t make sense to them. All I know is that my whole life I have paid attention to things that move me. This is distracting when, for example, I turn my head towards a bird song or notice a whiff of fresh breeze while engaged in a conversation. I am paying attention; it just doesn’t look like it. It’s not multi-tasking; it’s storage.

I just don’t want to miss anything. Call it curiousity or imagination or restlessness. It’s where I find what feeds and guides me.

 

 

Idle Hearing

Amid the confusion of random sounds,

I rest my eyes and let the din recede.

Single sounds emerge.

A child cries: “look Mommy.”

A dog barks sharply.

Birds’ wings rustle.

A car door slams.

A cell phone rings.

An angry discussion approaches and fades..

A baby’s rattle falls, jingling.

A customer exclaims over tomatoes.

Someone comments on the weather.

I drift, as a

Police siren knocks me off my chair.

Choosing Hope

I’ve been watching a live nest camera streaming night and day from an osprey nest in Maine for the past five years. I was so moved by what I saw that I attended a camp at the Audubon site of the nest a few years ago.

Things have changed since the first year I watched the osprey pair raise three nestlings to migration. We were devastated the following year when, watching from computers across the world, we witnessed eagles take all three of the chicks. Since then, we have witnessed more eagle attacks, midnight Great Horned Owl attacks, and even a chick chased off the nest by a colony of wasps!

While this stark evidence of Nature’s ways shocked me, I was dismayed to read the numerous demands for intervention and expressions of despair from some on the chat group. One year, a nightly prayer vigil formed to exhort heavenly intervention!

“It’s just not right that all this work and nurturing [referring to the pair of ospreys] takes place only to be a snack for the owl who will be back like he was last year till there were none left…”

OK, that one did it for me. This thoughtless person forgets that we are privileged to have a view into this nest. We are watching one piece of the enormous puzzle that is Nature. Sad as it may be to watch, the owl is feeding its own young. No one seems to criticize the ospreys as they bring live fish after live fish to feed their chicks.

I am saddened by the frequent reminders that humans think we are superior to all life. Obviously, wildlife cameras do have a downside: the very ability to see inside the wild gives some the misguided feeling of ownership. We must realize that human intervention is only rarely permitted, and prayers won’t change the natural inevitability we see here. If I were to stop watching any camera, it would be to avoid the human behavior, not nature’s.

When I see cries for intervention that span from the absurd to the ridiculous, I grow weary of those who don’t see the bigger picture: much of what we see in Nature that distresses us is the very behavior that keeps the balance. Intervention to save a weak chick tips that balance in future generations. Many are horrified to see an animal parent let an offspring starve without realizing that the female parent must survive to keep the species going.

To the person on the chat who dismissed the “work and nurturing” of the ospreys to create a “snack for the owl,” I would ask her if she can apply that premise to the family of a fallen serviceman or a couple whose young child dies of cancer.

Years ago my father, exasperated by whatever was happening in the world at that time,  told me “you have no business bringing children into this world.” I quickly replied “that is my business because if we don’t have children, then that is the end of the world.” I was much younger then, but I knew what I believed in.

The natural urge to procreate is an act of hope; a belief that there will be a future; a willingness to “plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” *

When I read apocolyptic novels such as The Stand or Lucifer’s Hammer, I always see myself as a survivor. I choose hope.

*Anonoymous Greek proverb

 

 

 

 

My Kilter is Missing

 

I can’t sit still inside my head. Has the world lost its tilt?

Things feel either fuzzy around the edges or sharply sparkling with demanding auras, like night-driving that has me searching for the real center.

Curiosity bumps into daily schedules, spinning my brain off after unfettered wonders.

The havetas fight with the wantas, causing some part of my left brain to stamp its feet.

Persisting for days, this chaos has beckoned my kilter to return.

I resist the persistence, wishing to pursue whimsey when I most need to plant myself to figure this out. There are, after all, real problems needing my attention; commitments I must attend to.

How can I answer duty amidst summer breezes, bird songs, and conflicting calls to play?

Like a pendulum, incapable of perpetual motion, the arc lessens with each swing, and clarity arises on my horizon.

Silence, contemplation, calm whisper comfort and peace. “Attend to yourself; back off; and sort this out” arrive from inside me. I wait and think, losing sleep, petting cats, drinking wine.

Every concession is a compromise; every step toward fixing this drags one foot. But I push through to some big changes that promise to turn chaos to kilter, with just a few flicks of the pendulum that won’t let it stop. Kilter-light, not stasis, is what I need.

I proceed:

  • one foot in front of the other sporting mis-matched socks;
  • taking the shortest path from here to there with only one skitter around that tree back there;
  • avoiding pitfalls but pausing to look into each pit;
  • tempering every “must” with a dash of “need.”

And there it is. Once again, I have balanced myself. A couple good nights’ sleep restore my strength, and I hit the ground ambling. After all, running is bad for my joints.