Half a Smile
I have often wished I was one of those people who doesn't care. One of those people who doesn't read into things, or analyze a phrase or a moment in time to its bitter end. I am not. I am the person who thinks everything means something. This can be a good or a bad thing. Mostly it just gets me into trouble.
This is my issue with having Bell's Palsy. When I smile or laugh, only half of my face is smiling or laughing. It is a shock to me every time it happens. I am starting to feel like a pirate, as it looks like I am snarling when I laugh, and it looks like I am giving a sarcastic look when I smile.
This might sound ridiculous, but I really had no idea how much I relied on my face to convey my personality. I don't think I appreciated it enough, now that I don't have it. Now, when I smile or laugh, I look down or cover my mouth. It's like I'm in junior high again, embarrassed of my braces, and trying to keep all the food caught between them my own little secret.
It is a bit of a nightmare that on top of this painful and slightly embarrassing illness, I am also not in control of my ability to drink, eat, drool, yawn, or whistle. I already have a problem with drooling, actually, but I think that is just a matter of focus.
My doctor and nurse told me that mine is only a very slight case, which frankly scares the crap out of me. I would hate to have it come back where the entire right side of my face droops and I can't keep anything in my mouth at all. Also, the pain. It is as if someone has been hitting me in the head with the claw end of a hammer all around my right ear. Thankfully that didn't last too long. Just a week or so.
That it happened in May is the most frightening aspect of this horrible virus. May is my anniversary month. I was so sad this month about my break up that I got a virus that keeps me from looking truly happy. Not too hard to find a hidden meaning that, is it?
My body, for whatever else it does, keeps me honest. I was trying to distract myself this month from the pain I was feeling around the loss of my relationship, but my body literally kept me from my distraction by creating a situation so painful and strangely comedic that there was no way I could really be in denial any longer about this sadness.
I am just going to have to feel it. And hope that in the future I don't try and distract myself to the extent that my body reminds me that no matter what, it's in my best interest to feel my feelings.
I have been laying low for a bit. The pain in my head, hot flashes, pulsing at the back corners of my skull, has kept me in bed. I thought it was a head cold coming on, but nothing came, really.
The weakness that has set into my bones is familiar and it comes with a frustration that I have to manage in order to get well. Yesterday I went back to my garden for a bit. All of my herbs and vegetables seemed to have grown almost out of control in just a few days. I have done no tending, no watering, nothing. It all just keeps on growing.
I wish I were like that, beyond the physical. But growth, the personal kind, takes work. That might be why I find gardening so satisfying. It's simple; you prepare the soil, you put stuff in it, and with very little work, things grow. Especially with the kind of weather we have been having in Beeham. So my garden, now that it has been planted, is growing faster than I could have hoped for.
But personal growth is different. The more I do, the harder it seems to get. The deeper truths I discover about myself, the darker the depths I reach, the further I can see into my darkness, the more my pain expands. I think back to the time I was trying to lose five/ten/twenty pounds, and while it was frustrating, it was much easier to think about than how awful I can be, how jealous, how petty. Extra weight is nothing compared to how horrible I sometimes feel about myself. There are many days I would much rather look at the numbers on a scale than into a mirror.
When I was writing about body positive stuff, that was always the meaning of my writings; that it is so easy to be distracted by what we look like. We are taught in our culture to suppress our weaknesses, hide our imperfections, and strive for an ideal that is so unattainable that at worst, it steals our happiness, and at best, distracts from the harder, more terribly painful work.
But the one thing I have when I am sick is time. Time to watch how my mind works, time to watch my fears slowly take over until I am battling non-existent demons that I have perfected over the many years I have carried my heartbreak. They grow like the plants in my garden if I do not tend to them. So I do what I can to put my heartbreak aside and forgive those who have caused it.
I try to plant other things now; hope, compassion, humor, anything that brings a lightness back in. Anything else that might grow and create enough shade so the other will eventually wither away and die. Enough so that when my mind starts to create the demons in the emptiness, I have something else on which to cling.
So that's how it is for now, for me; trying to keep my demons from getting too big and unmanageable while planting small seeds of joy in the hopes that some day that is the only thing that grows in my garden.
Memory and Love
Today I woke up and remembered the smell of things. I looked outside and decided to say good-bye, again, to the lilacs for one more year. As I walked among them this morning I thanked them for every lilac memory they brought back to me, for every soft purple experience I threw myself into.
Love is like this. As I say good-bye to this relationship, I also say good-bye to so many others. I measure this loss against the others in my life and this one feels like it has instructed me on how to handle it when grief arrives at my doorstep. This loss, in all its brutality, has shown a light onto what I can still hold, and what I must let go.
As I carry the grief with me from this loss, I also carry the lessons, the growth, and the grueling breakthroughs that always happen when you are with someone who challenges you to be yourself.
It occurred to me after my walk that I barely remember the details of my marriage or my wasband; as if that whole series of events took place in another life to another person, and I could feel the relief of it wash over me as I realized that relationship was the one that almost put me to sleep; endless hours in front of the TV, smoking pot, eating ice cream, and avoiding any real conversation that might lead to intimacy.
It is a comfort to know that I did not spend this last relationship sleeping. Though it was challenging, it was a constant call to myself, a song in my bones reminding me every morning and every night who I wanted to be. There was so much effort towards acceptance in the relationship. So much about appreciating the present and examining my role in it.
I started to fear that I might forget him, forget us after a number of years the way I have forgotten my wasband, but I know this is not possible, because though the relationship could not go on, it did prepare me to move forward into a life I could not have imagined before hand. This relationship has been pivotal in that it showed me who I am, and more importantly, who I might one day be.
The pace of my life has been rapid. It has been a heartbeat, a half-breath, a quickened pulse of a rhythm that I have been keeping. And it has worn me out.
So I have decided to slow. Now, I rest. I consider. I walk in my big rubber boots in a thoughtful rhythm, mindful of the birds around me, singing their way through the day, keeping their own time while I keep mine. It is something I am not yet good at, this pace. I have to focus on noticing. It is the only way to go slow.
If I take the time to notice the smell of the flowers on the air, the sound of the bees in their work, the look of the clouds gathering in the blue, I can do it. I can slow down and take a measured approach to my life. But when my days are filled with "should's and "have to"s, accidents happen, and I miss a lot of what I have come to enjoy about my life.
But there is more. I have learned a new way to be around people. I have recently noticed that I am not reacting to people's behaviors because it is such a fast rhythm, reaction. It happens so fast I often make mistakes and hurt people, and in extension, myself. The slow way is to consider. The slow way is to think what future me wants to have, and how she wants to feel. This takes a while because I don't know her yet.
But when someone does something that is inconsiderate, or does something that hurts me, instead of reacting to that incident, I go about thinking how to move forward without resentment; how to live my life so this behavior no longer bothers me. It is a process. It is not an in-the-moment thing, so I don't rush. I give myself the time to go forward so I don't subject myself to the behavior that causes me pain. Instead of arguing over what someone did or didn't do that hurt me, I just alter my behavior so I no longer put myself in those situations. Additionally, the pain from the original event dissipates because I am not focusing on what hurt me, or what they did, but on how I can ensure that I won't be hurt again.
It isn't my responsibility to correct the behavior of others. It is my responsibility to go through my life in love, in joy, and in the knowledge that I have control over how I can feel about things, I just need to be methodical and somewhat reserved in what I share of my emotions.
This has been a bit shocking. I suddenly feel an increased sense of comfort around people because I have realized I don't have to trust them, I have to trust myself to do the right thing so I don't end up saying or doing something that is hurtful. I must trust myself to take good care of my heart while not damaging the hearts of others. This is a slow and careful thing to do, but it is one of the most important things I have been able to change.
I look back on my life and see how I have hurt people, and how badly that has always made me feel about myself. I have decided I don't want to carry that with me anymore. It is too much of a load, and I have been the one packing the heavy bags.
After I practiced this a few times, with a couple different people, I felt transformed. I have struggled with feeling taken care of, feeling loved, all my life. It seems obvious now, but I was putting the responsibility on other people when I should have been the one taking the wheel. I have come to see that most people aren't really all that good at taking care of themselves, so expecting them to take good care of me, well...it isn't really logical.
And all of this because I decide to go slow. I know it will be a while before I can do this without thinking, before it is second nature, but the fact that I am able to do it at all feels a little bit like a miracle. It's almost embarrassing to admit that I am past mid-life and I have just discovered how to really take care of myself.
All I have to do is go slow.
There is so much in endings. So much that feels like death and sounds like doors slamming shut. The life, now in the body of death, hums to a close and everything that began, everything that was fresh surprise ceases to be. The future that I thought I saw in the hills of the city has crumbled to dust and everything has fallen through the fabric of what I was expecting would be.
These were the racing, mewling thoughts I tried to manage as I came upon the art work I had made more than twenty years ago. Evidently, the lot of it, about ten pieces in all, had been in storage in some back room of my old school, and in that time, had become the property of that institution, even as it planned to shut its doors for good. Forever. I came to the school's final sale hoping to buy a piece of OCAC (Oregon College of Art and Craft). I wasn't planning on coming across these old pieces of who I used to be.
I picked up a piece from one of the tables I used to wait on when I worked in the school's beloved Hands On Cafe. A smooth, shiny black and purple sphere with the words, "shake it baby" on it, I shook, and the thin rattle that came from within the ball reminded me of the person I was in art school, or maybe, the person I was trying to be. That me seems lifetimes old, but I can still feel her in my bones. She was bold. Maybe too bold. Maybe too mean. She said things without thinking, sometimes triggering tears, arguments, or inconvenient relationships. She tried so hard to shake her demons, so hard to rise above the rage in her veins. She never could quite do it, and she never stopped trying.
I'm still trying. I look at the work I used to make and I can see what I was hoping to become. I don't want to be her anymore, that person. So much has shifted within me, so much of what I used to suppress is now the stuff I celebrate. I love how stiff my old work is, how safe. It is easy work. Functional art that is attractive, but in the end, unsatisfying. I couldn't bring myself to buy one. I couldn't bring myself to buy the person I was trying to be.
There is a heartbreak in my old work. Even in its safety, there is a striving, a yearning to be loved, to be accepted, to be seen that feels so familiar and so desperate. I see how obvious it is now, but then I thought I was being secretive. I thought my ardent desire to be loved was well-concealed and only whispered on my long bike rides to or from school. I never considered that it was so obvious.
I wonder what I will think of the work I am making now in twenty years. Will I see my heartbreak? Will I see something that I am blind to now? Will I even be around to see it? What I will be making in twenty years? Will I still be struggling with my desperate need to both grasp at and push away love? Will I still be trying to rise above my rage, or will something happen between then and now that will save me from it?
These are the things I have come to, after being confronted with my old work and another anchor diminished.
I used to do all these little things for him. When we were first dating, and he would go out on fires, I would research new beers and buy him some to put in his fridge to greet him when he got back. I would leave him little notes telling him I was thinking about him. I would make little objects and put them in his wallet or his bag so he would find them at some point during the day and know I was thinking of him. Later on, I would record me singing love songs while he was out on fires and send them to him.
I did big things for him too, but I so enjoyed doing the little things. I don't know why but they felt more meaningful.
It's fire season again and I saw on social media that he is going. My heart ached for the days where I would prepare surprises for him. I am sad that this summer, I will not be looking forward to his return, and savoring every moment of the time he is here. I will not be working in his garden, or on his house. I will not be doing anything for him to let him know how special he is to me.
I woke up feeling this loss acutely today. I don't know if it was the bird song, or the sun, or cloudless sky, but this morning, the ache from the loss of him brought me back to all the things I used to do for him, all of the ways I could express my love.
But I will move on with my day and build my own garden, work on my own house, create a space for myself that is comfort, love and healing all in one. I will spend my creative energy, as I have these past months, on myself. I have been doing just fine with this since January, doing special little things, making little objects for my home, planting herbs and fruit along what will be a garden path to my front door.
As I work to make my tiny house a home, I wonder if this is what was missing all along. If my efforts to make him feel special took too much of my attention away from caring for myself. I suspect it might be the case. I have a habit of doing this, and for him, I fell so deeply in love that I might have lost myself in it a bit. I do not blame him and I don't regret it. I am happy to have loved him so deeply.
I am also happy that I am now showing myself this love. Happy that my tiny house is not even finished yet it is full of the care I have always brought to my personalized living spaces. I am eager to sit in my garden among the flowers and the herbs and the fruits of my labor and drink in the love I have poured into my new life.
How lovely it is to feel this, how lucky he must have felt to have it. How sad it is that it had to end in order for me to provide this for myself. I feel this as my own failing, and the hard lesson in it grates on the tender edges of my life and points to the work still to be done. This is not the satisfying work of the garden or the home; it is the grueling work of the heart. It is the work that must be done if I am to move on and into any type of new relationship in the future.
But for now I won't worry about that. For now I will work in my garden and for now, that will be enough.
There are days that wake me from my sound body. They get going before I do and call back to me to shake a leg and move into the bright. I ramble in and bump around between the hours, hands in the deep pockets of my overalls, feeling my way through the flowers and the herbs, the house, the work. On these days, I don't know if I am in a waking slumber or a sleeping consciousness, but as I move through and within this dream, I feel out my life.
I have been quietly counting minutes, raindrops, and clicks of the key board. I count steps. I count bags of tea. I count the birds that visit me in my places and immediately forget the numbers, because after all, they don't really add up, not to anything of substance but a life passing by.
As I go through my days, I consider whether I am spending my time or passing it. I engage as actively as I can, then release the engagement within a terrified wonder. Am I deciding to die or to live? Have I brought the life I have always wanted to me, or just thrown it away? I am in between everything that is this and that, and as I move through, I carry an ache within me that is almost unbearable.
There is great joy too, but this is always tied to events, accomplishments, and experiences. I am striving for a sustain. I am reaching for something that is not dependent upon an action, but on an awareness. I am looking for more than a safe place to keep my things, I am looking for a container for a life of value.
As I plan for the lock for my front door, I bask in the irony of keeping safe all of that which for so long lived comfortably packed away in a basement. I consider tossing it all to keep my home sparse, or at least, free of things that for so long have not mattered enough to consider. I ruminate on the objects I want to live with and around, and at how much joy I will feel at being in a home that feels exactly like me. I used to believe that I could know myself through all the things I use to fill space in my life, but this proved to be a hollow knowledge. Later, I thought, I could better understand myself through interactions and reactions within stressful situations, but this whittled me down to my bones.
In the end, I hope I to recognize myself over and over, within the experiences and events that will make up my life. I will float on within the days that pull or push me through and open myself up to what might come my way. I will listen to the breath rattling within me, feel the heart pumping the blood that rushes, and smell the stink of furious engagement.
And I will continue to ask, "how can I know myself?"
Even in my dreams, the ones filled with light and love and unending acceptance, did I not see how much this would mean to me.
After a few years of not really having a proper home of my own, the one I have been building with my own two hands is just about ready to receive me. I guess I didn't realize just how important it is for me to feel like I belong. But it matters, and the fact that I have provided it for myself, with little help from anyone, is a gift I didn't see coming.
I have been going through my belongings, the ones that I have been keeping in a distant basement, and holding them again has helped me to remember my fire. All of the stuff, which is not much in the grand scheme of things, that has filled the edges and corners of my life with comfort are finally coming out of their boxes and into the light.
I have set up my house with a few bird feeders so that the birds will greet me every morning, and I have a window from which to view their antics. This will be a house of my healing, the realization that all I had to give up for a little while was well worth the sacrifice.
It is tiny, my new home, the size of a small bedroom, but what will reverberate within its walls, a life of love and generosity and reflection, will exponentially increase its physical boundaries.
I have lived in many large rooms, many lovely rooms. But with all their beauty and richness, there was hollowness without the fullness of me within them. For no matter how large the room, if you cannot expand within it, then what good is it?
My Aunt had a house of stunning, cold rooms. I remember the smaller me amidst the beautiful art on the walls and the tables, all surrounded by cream and beige furniture. In all that beauty, I was afraid to breathe or even move too much, less I puncture the air surrounding the beautiful things. I would not dare touch them, or even sit without an invite. My Wranglers were always muddy from play, my Zips always caked with the grass and the gravel of my childhood. I could not help but dirty those rooms no matter how small I made myself.
My childhood house was different. Everything touchable, nothing too precious to sacrifice to the fire of youth. My parents loved things, but did not love them more than their small children. For a few years, it was a safe place to play. I can feel myself recreating something like that, something like a place where I am allowed to be.
My house welcomes all evidence of a life well-lived, of my life, no matter how messy, or how inconvenient, I will always be welcome within the walls of my new home. This thought brings me to the edge of tears, where the fullness of my breath rushes into my body and cleans away the sorrow of holding back.
I don't have to hold back any longer, not in my new home.
I'm moving in next week. I'm so excited and surprised by how much this means to me that I almost can't believe it. Thanks for reading and thanks for the messages I get in the replies to my newsletter. They help me get through the dark days. If you are not a newsletter receiver and want to be, just sign up there to the right. If you don't want one more dumb thing in your inbox, I don't blame you. I don't either. It's all I can do to keep up with the 100+ unnecessary emails I get every day.
Prometheus and Truth
I got home late tonight. It was dark and the stars were out and as I shut the door to my truck, I heard a voice call out to me. The stranger wished me a good night. Standing across the street on the corner, wearing all black and looking intently into his phone, I wondered if I had near-missed him, and when I asked, he chuckled and said, "no, but I did find a _______." I had no idea what he said. The word did not sound at all familiar to my ear, one which has heard all manner of speech and phrasing.
"Huh?" I asked, wondering at the sound of it, a little afraid, a little cautious at his strangeness, and he replied, "Poke Man-Go!" I realized he was looking at the world through an app, so I instantly stopped worrying for my safety, and shouted over my shoulder, "beautiful stars tonight!"
As I walked off I heard him abruptly reply, "huh......oh yeah!"
He had not seen the stars. He had not even looked up yet this evening, this lovely night, the air crisp and the wind a light dance across the street, and the stars...the stars clear and bright and as true as anything I had ever felt. As true as love. As true as peace. As true as desire.
So I walk on and gaze up and remember how different we always end up being, and what I thought it meant and what he thought it meant and how those two meanings would always be separate. Equal. But separate. I would not know his truth and he would not know mine, but I finally understood it, and so I was able to release him for being responsible for what I believed. I didn't need him to understand anymore.
Under the bridge, alone, warming myself by the fire built with my own two hands and happy for the cover and happy for the heat. This fire, my truth, has kept me in comfort, and though the storm rages just beyond the edges of the bridge I am under, I can't feel the rain fall. This understanding comes to me only because I am content to not be threatened by the storm. I am sound where I am. I whistle and hum and hop up and down to stay electric and alive. Happy to make the effort to feel the blood rushing through my body and the hair on the surface of my skin dance in the lovely winds that blow the flames higher.
I dwell in the myth of Prometheus, his gift to us and the torture he suffered. All the meanings and all the ways I could feel that flame. What is fire after all but love? What is fire, if it is not desire? What is fire, if it is not wisdom?
So many things fire can be, even when it is keeping you warm under a bridge at 2 am. Even when it is the fire in the driveway that almost blows up into disaster. even when it is the flame that never quite caught in the wood stove, even as the last bit of it burns out of the relationship.
Fire lives in all things, and while I cannot always start it, I have always known when it is smoldering on the edge of cinder. I see it coming and I do what I can to tamp it down. I do what I can to mitigate the damage. I do what I can, before the fire has burnt out to nothing, to salvage.....something.
Because even the memory of the fire is more than the cinder it leaves behind. The warmth of love, of desire, of wisdom do not come as easily as fire, and I think that was his secret, Prometheus.
He gave us the foreshadowing event of what we might be. What we might know. What we might feel.
And for that, he suffered a lifetime of torture.
And I in return put myself through it, but for who? For what? It is just beyond the surface of my skin. It is just out of reach of my shadow, stretching long in the early morning hours as I emerge from under the bridge and greet the eastern horizon. The storm has passed and I am out of it all. I grip my coat tight around me and head into town.
I hope to meet a stranger's eye, but will not.
I hope to meet the heart of another, but cannot.
It is all me and only me in the dance of another brilliant close, and I am lucky enough to be alone enough to know it.
I hope you enjoyed reading this, or that at least, you understand enough to connect with it a bit. It came through me, so I am not quite sure what it all means. I have literally never been under a bridge warming myself by a fire, but I had the impulse to write it, so I did. Don't worry, and don't give up. Everything that burns down will live again.
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