Ode to Snow

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Snow, snow,
so white and bright,
winter cold and deadly blight.
Shoveling madly,
watching more fall,
getting plowed in,
wanting to bawl.
O lovely snow,
you make me so sad,
I just want some warmth,
I want it so bad!
To ride my bike,
to sweat and see green,
alas and alack,
there’s none to be seen,
just white all around,
day after day.
When does it end?
Please take me away!
To sweet summer climes
with flowers abloom,
and trees that have leaves,
and birds that zoom,
and sing summer’s song
of color and life;
instead of this cold
that cuts like a knife,
and snow, snow,
horrid old snow,
that blows and buries
and just won’t go.
Just two more months,
but will I survive?
I have before,
I’ve stayed alive.
It’s awful stuff,
this wretched snow.
It’s time to go, man,
quit, and BLOW!

Spare me the hearts and flowers

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Valerie Reyes.
Kelsey Berreth.
Shanann Watts.
Laci Peterson.
Lori Hacking.
Nicole Simpson.
The list goes on…

You can never really know another person. You may think you know him. He says he loves you. You love him. You’re going to live happily ever after. But…these women know:

You can never really know another person.

In 1989, I dated a man for a couple of months. He was intelligent and good-looking. He was quite a bit older than me, a gifted artist. So sensitive, so giving. Piercing blue eyes. Great sense of humor. Lots of money, but I didn’t care about that. I was a sucker for those eyes, looking straight into my soul; listening, understanding. In that short time we became very close. I thought I had found my soulmate. I was his, heart and soul. And yet, that wasn’t enough.

Several things happened that led me to become uncomfortable. My intuition told me that something wasn’t right. He called 5 or 10 times a day.  Once he locked me in his apartment, cuz “he couldn’t get through the day without me.” He was jealous of the time I spent with friends or family. He’d say it was just because he loved me so much. My dream come true – a man who loved me so much he wanted to be with me every minute.

I rationalized and justified and ignored it all away….for a while, and then I tried to discuss my increasing sense of suffocation with him…for a while. Then finally I said, I’m outta here.

He said NO. I won’t let you go. And that’s when he changed into a person I didn’t know at all. A man I had to hide from and be afraid of. A man who wanted to have me back or kill me. Either way, he said, would be fine. He just wanted to talk, he just wanted to make me see, he just wanted to love me. If he couldn’t do that, then no one else would either.

He rode around my apartment building on a motorcycle for hours one night, just circling around my building. He would call and hang up as many times as I would pick up the phone at home. He called me at work, knowing I would have to answer. He followed me. He sent me letters. He hunted me. If he could just make me see…that I had it all wrong…that this was all my fault. He just wanted to love me.

I began to believe that it was my fault. That I had brought this out in him by not trusting him, not loving him enough…something. I spent nights at friends’ houses, I didn’t drive my car. Sometimes I sat in my apartment at night in the dark and just listened to the phone ring. I didn’t call the police because 1) I didn’t think they would believe me; 2) they wouldn’t help me because it was my fault; 3) I didn’t want to ruin his life.

But he had decided to ruin mine, and in some measure he succeeded. I will never trust another man again. Now I know you can never really know another person; and anyone can change in an instant. You can be drowning before you even realize you’re in the water.

I feel such grief for all the women whose lives have been taken by men–men they trusted, men they loved, men they thought they knew. Men who put themselves first, and decided that their wives or lovers were no longer people, but simply an impediment to their own happiness, or the solution to it. Men who took it upon themselves to decide another person’s fate–a woman whose only mistake was to love and trust someone she thought she knew.

I understand that not all men are like that, and that some women are, too. I know plenty of people in wonderful relationships, and I’m happy for them. For me, however, it’s too scary to take that chance again. The media would have you believe that the most important thing is to have a romantic partner, and for most people that works out great, for others not as great, but okay.

For some, however, love is deadly. There are no fairy tales. They’re not all princes.

Be careful out there.

Patti LaBelle’s got nothin’ on me

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I’ve been making some changes. Internally mostly, but externally also. You may have noticed a new name for the blog, and if you access it via the web (not via WP reader), you’ll notice a new look.

I started this blog over 10 years ago, and I’m not the same person I was at all then. Frankly, I’m not the same person I was 2 months ago, or even two weeks ago, before the snow wall and a couple of other things that have happened recently. I still drink a lot of green tea, and I’m still grateful for my life and all that daily existence on this planet teaches me, but it’s time for a broader view.

The prompt for the 12 Short Stories challenge this month is “New Me” and I’ve been thinking a lot about what my short story is going to be about, and what my story is about: the story of me and my life and how I navigate my path through it.

Non-fiction.

Last week I wrote about my idealism and how it gets me in trouble now and again. I look for the best in people and I’m often disappointed. That has everything to do with me, and my expectations, and almost nothing to do with them, as they are just living their lives, walking their own path as they see fit, and none of that has anything to do with me. None of us knows what another is here to accomplish or learn; we’re all unique and we’re all alone on our particular journey.

There is common ground, certainly, but each of us has a perspective on life that no one else on this planet has. We can tell each other how we see things – about our experience of this life – and sometimes it resonates with someone else’s experience. But we can never really know what another person is thinking or feeling or what it’s really like to walk in their shoes.

That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Two sides of the same coin, as so many things of importance are.

I have a dual nature, in that my astrological sign, Aquarius, has two rulers, unlike most of the other signs in the zodiac – Saturn and Uranus. Saturn rules time and is the taskmaster, the stern schoolmaster teaching difficult lessons. Saturn is all about structure – creating and maintaining – at all costs.

Uranus is more volatile. Uranus is all about surprise and behaves unexpectedly, powerfully, bringing change and new possibility. Uranus crushes structure, if necessary, to free the higher mind and bring about a new era. Uranus is electric.

Saturn is conjunct my natal sun, which essentially means Saturn has been sitting on my head all my life, making sure I followed the rules, towed the line and behaved as expected, i.e. lived up to my responsibilities, of which I’ve had many in my life, from the time I was very young.

Uranus resides in my natal 5th house, hanging out there with my True Node (or North Star/True North in folklore), which lights the way to my soul’s highest purpose and desire in this life. The 5th house is the house of creativity and creative expression.

Boom.

So, I’ve been towing Saturn’s line all my life – reliable, serious, studious, disciplined. I think it’s time to give more attention to the other side of the coin. Now I’m going to try a little less reliability, or more appropriately, predictability, more creativity, and more FUN. I’ll still be reliable, especially where work and my mother are concerned, cuz that’s still very much who I am, but I’m also going to give free rein to some of the other parts of me that haven’t received much attention to this point.

There’s going to be more of what I want, and less of what others expect of me from now on. More going with the flow and reveling in it, rather than dreading it and fighting against it. I’m going to work with my electric nature instead of trying to tame it. Embrace the unexpected in myself and in my daily life, rather than letting it upset me.

More rule-questioning and less rule-following.

I’ve done the dance with Saturn. I’m tired of that old tune. Time to have a go with sexy Uranus. The bad boys are always more fun, if a bit dangerous. Time for a new song and a new step.

Time for a new me.

Dispatch from the other side

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I struggle a lot with my expectations of people. I’ve written about it here before. It’s an ongoing thing; one of the lessons I’ve grappled with since I was very young.

When I was young and people let me down, I assumed it was my fault. I thought there was something about me – I didn’t know what it was – that alienated people and I accepted that as fact. I grew up believing I was unlovable. Again, I didn’t really know why, but I took my cues from the way important people treated me – my mother, other adults, kids, and the reality that my birthmother gave me away. That seemed like proof-positive to me that I was indeed, unlovable, certainly unwanted.

I felt that way well into my 40s. Less so, perhaps, but when people treated me badly or let me down I just chalked it up to me being hard to love. I’ve lost enough friends to populate a small town. It got so it wasn’t really even a surprise anymore, just another loss. My lot in life.

My fault.

Three years of therapy and 10 years on some powerful drugs went a long way to convince me otherwise, and alleviated the depression that went along with those thoughts and feelings. I’m perhaps not the easiest person to love, but I’m not unlovable, either. No one is.

We are all worthy of love.

So now I realize that it’s not just me, but my expectations are still too high. I keep getting tripped up by them, even though I know better. Because people let each other down. That’s just what happens. As the young, mostly unhelpful, but very nice policewoman said to me last weekend:

Most people really only think about themselves.

She’s right. I would like that not to be true – about myself and other people – but I think that’s really it. It isn’t so much that we don’t care about other people – we do. In theory, and sometimes even in practice. It’s just that for the most part – for whatever reason – we don’t go out of our way for others, even people who matter to us.

Mostly.

I can think of a couple of situations in my life in which someone rose to the occasion for me and really tried to make a difference. I’d like to think I’ve done the same for others a few times, at least.

Mostly, though, we just plod along, and try to get through on our own as best we can. At least, that’s been my experience. I can think of quite literally hundreds of situations over the years in which people have let me down so completely that the thud reverberated for weeks in me. It goes the other way, too. I can think of times I let people down, especially when I was deep in the abyss of depression. No one’s perfect, and when it comes right down to it, we are all fundamentally alone.

It’s become increasingly clear to me over the years that being disappointed really has nothing to do with my friends, or co-workers or people in general; it’s all about my expectation that I should matter to anyone other than myself.

That’s the mistake I keep making. And here’s why:

I’m a people-pleaser. Always have been because of the way I grew up, mentioned above – always trying to figure out how to get people to like me/love me. Scanning every word, every movement, every expression for a hint at how to give them what they want so that maybe they’ll like me. A chameleon, changing shape and color to be pleasing to the person I was trying to connect with.

I was astonished as an adult to realize that other people don’t do that, for the most part. Some do, most don’t. No one cares what I want or need, at least not to the extent I’d like them to, even people I’m close to. They’re not trying to please me in the same way that I’m killing myself for them. While I’m knocking myself out to figure out just the right birthday or Christmas gift, or rushing to answer an email or get a card out to someone for an occasion, or worrying myself sick over why I’m not hearing from someone for a while, they’re just getting on with whatever. Not thinking about me, not worrying about me, even if they care about me. They put themselves first.

Imagine that.

I alienate people cuz I expect more than that.  I really think it’s just that simple. I kill friendships by caring too much, trying too hard. I wear people out, and I must have seemed very needy until I finally wised up. Now I think I’ve gone in the other direction, actually.

I’ve been thinking about the metaphor of the snow “wall” in my driveway (I love me a good metaphor!) and I think that’s what it represents to me – the ways in which I’m cut off from other people, mostly through my own choices and life circumstances in the last few years, but not entirely. A few people in my life have had a part in erecting that wall from their side.

Whatever.

I’m doing better at pleasing myself and worrying less about pleasing others, except when it pleases me to please someone I care about. I still get caught up in expectations, and I still get let down when I least expect it, but that’s probably just the way it’s always going to be. That’s just who I am. An idealist. And that’s what being vulnerable is all about, isn’t it? Keeping our hearts open is risky, cuz we can be hurt, but it’s also the only way to connect and heal the rifts caused by life.

It’s the only way to melt the wall. 

It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen. Life goes on. This too shall pass. We’re all just doing the best we can, including me. What’s called for is forgiveness; not blame, not anger, not shame or retribution. Just forgiveness for our broken humanness.

As with everything else, at least for me, it’s a work in progress.

Float like a butterfly

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Sometimes I just need the library. Like having a craving for a specific food, sometimes only the library will do. Occasionally a bookstore, but mostly the library. I love libraries. When I was in college, we had a 4-story library on campus with wide floor-to-ceiling windows in each corner on every floor. I spent hours in those corners when I lived on campus. It soothed my overwhelmed psyche just to be with the books, to feel so close to the sky, and just to be quiet. The dorm was anything but quiet, but that was okay, cuz I could go to the library.

We have a beautiful big library in my little town. It’s quiet and it smells good, and sometimes the sun is streaming in the windows and it’s warm and bright. And of course, there are the books. Rows and rows of them; more than I ever would be able to or would want to read. It humbles me always, to be in the presence of all those thoughts and words.

I am reminded that there’s A LOT I don’t know. I’m reminded that the world is big, and is filled with every kind of thing imaginable. Mostly I think all those precise rows help me to believe that there is order in the world, and that it’s as evident as the Dewey Decimal System. Cuz mostly I don’t feel that way — I’m not sure that anything makes sense sometimes — but look at all these books! People wrote down all kinds of ideas and thoughts about things they wanted to make sense of, and they’re offering their thoughts and their sense of the world to me.

Nearly 150 years ago, Dostoyevsky wrote:

My younger brother asked forgiveness of the birds: it may seem absurd, but it is right nonetheless, for everything, like the ocean, flows and comes into contact with everything else: touch it in one place and it reverberates at the other end of the world.

Nowadays we call that the Butterfly Effect and it is central to chaos theory, which, in effect, comes down to: “simple laws can generate extremely complex behavior, and deterministic systems can behave randomly.” Or, a butterfly flapping her wings in Australia can affect the weather in Canada.

Dostoyevsky apparently thought that if we could just see how everything fits together–that the whole earth and all of its inhabitants are all part of a single whole–that it would change human nature. An optimist. Or maybe he knew that the all-embracing love would not be enough; or that we as a species would not be capable of that kind of love. Perhaps he was heart-broken because he could see the future and he knew we weren’t ready for it.

I don’t know, but to me it is heartbreaking in that I think we’ve moved farther away from that love than ever before in the history of our country, certainly; and in the world as well. That just seems so sad.

We are creatures capable of understanding the beauty and structure of the very smallest things and the mind-bendingly biggest things. We understand our world from the quantum level up to the enormity of the universe.

But we still don’t understand ourselves.

And that renders all the rest of it meaningless.

The time to be slow

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This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes

Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning

John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us

This poem by one of my most beloved poets showed up on a favorite blog yesterday. It brought me to tears. Lie low to the wall until the bitter weather passes. 

This last week has been so, so hard. Not just the weather here in northern Michigan, where we have dealt with ridiculously low temperatures and two feet of new snow in the last 7ish days, but in all areas of my life. All the black boxes have been ticked off at some point: disappointment, discouragement, despair, exhaustion, outrage. I’m all in.

Saturday was the final straw for me. I could feel my tender heart breaking in half, and every part of me screamed, “That’s it!”

After a challenging morning with my mother, I went over to my house to shovel the drive. I was anticipating that it would take a while cuz I hadn’t been over there all week and we have gotten a crapload of snow, as mentioned previously.

What I discovered when I got there, however, could not have been anticipated. Someone had plowed up a 6-foot tall, 3-foot deep wall of snow at the end of my driveway all the way across. I was completely flummoxed. So angry I could hardly breathe, and so distressed and confused I couldn’t think. After 15 minutes of sitting in my car in the road freezing, I finally decided to call the police. I don’t know either of my neighbors and was too angry to speak to either of them about this.

A very young policewoman finally showed up about 45 minutes later. By then I had shoveled the part of the driveway I could – from the wall up to the house. She spoke to one of my neighbors and got the name and phone # of her plow guy, and called him. He said he didn’t think it was his fault, but he’d stop by and take a look later and if he thought one of his employees had done it, he’d plow it out, if not, I was on my own. The policewoman told me this and said there was really nothing more she could do. Good luck. See you later.

Whatever.

I write a lot about community and kindness and about staying in the moment and surrendering to things outside of my control. I believe all those things I write about. This week has put it all to the test, and I still believe those things. But, man, it’s been hard.

There were good things, and they are what I’m hanging on to:

  1. I met one of my new neighbors. It was an unfortunate way to meet, but she was very kind and I’m happy to know she’s there now. Her name is Martha. She’s older, perhaps late 60s, or early 70s. She’s a Mennonite. She was very apologetic, even though in no way was this her fault, obviously. I appreciated her kindness and understanding, and it instantly made me feel better.
  2. An older man in a huge black truck stopped on the road while I was shoveling and asked if I was alright. He offered to help, but by that point I had already shoveled what I could, and the police were there. He didn’t have a plow on that big truck, unfortunately, but just the fact that he took a moment to see if he could help – a complete stranger just passing by – mended a piece of my heart.
  3. I recognized I was too upset and angry to speak to people. So instead of marching up to Martha’s door or to the neighbor on the other side and ranting, which is something I most definitely would have done when I was young, I waited until I could think of something better to do. The policewoman was a disappointment, but she tried, and it was better than confronting people I don’t know with a huge chip (wall of snow) on my shoulder. That’s how people get shot, right? So, good all the way around.
  4. I’m able to realize that in the grand scheme of human suffering none of the crap I was hurt by or upset about this week was very important. I’ve been saying to myself over and over this too shall pass. So true. In this morning’s meditation my focus was on letting go. 
  5. Though I was feeling pretty sorry for myself in the 15 minutes in my car before I decided what to do Saturday, it passed and I got up and did what needed to be done, in the words of Garrison Keillor. (Man, I miss that show. PowderMilk Biscuits – I could use one of those right now!) A friend said to me one time, if no one else will feel sorry for you, sometimes you just have to do it for yourself. I did, and then I let it go.

So, that’s not it. I’m not all in. I’m not done. There’s more to me than that. Good to know.

Still, I’m going to lie low to the wall for awhile. Until I find my feet again on fresh pastures of promise. Lick my wounds, and piece my heart back together. Patch it up, as I’ve done so many times before, and will again, I’m sure. That’s just the way life is. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’m getting stronger and smarter all the time, and that’s a good thing.

Here’s hoping this week is better: where the air will be kind, and blushed with beginning. Monday is a good day to start again.

And again, and again. As many times as necessary.

Mirror, mirror

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Failures abound in my life. When I look back I see plenty of them. The successes are not so easy to identify. They don’t exactly jump right out at you. In fact, there aren’t many of them, and they’re pretty well hidden because they weren’t as big or as public as the failures.

I accept that the mistakes and failures were wholly mine, and the successes, such as they were, have usually been the result of direction and/or assistance of someone a lot wiser than me. I’m not necessarily proud of my life, but I’m not ashamed of it, either. It just is what it has been; I can’t go back and change it. I wouldn’t be who I am if I had made different choices or taken a different path; which, ultimately is kind of circular thinking, cuz I made those choices and have walked this path because of who I was at any given point in my life on the way to becoming the me I am now.

Ow.

I think you have to be high to really get your mind around concepts like that, and I don’t do that anymore. So I’ll just let that sink in a while…

But here I am, and in this moment, everything is as it should be. I believe that. Not perfect, but right. Not that I was destined to end up here in this place, or in these circumstances, but I don’t think you can “miss” the life you need unless you are totally clueless, and I don’t believe I am. A friend from college recently wrote, “You always had a presence of mind and spirit that attracts me to all similar people…and there aren’t that many!” I was really touched by that, and it made me realize that I couldn’t have and shouldn’t have lived my life too much differently. The outer circumstances could have been different, of course, but the “inner” circumstances have been the same for a long time.

For better or worse, I am and have always been, 100% me.

I have needed the particular lessons I have learned presented to me in a particular way, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to walk my path, by myself, without significantly damaging anyone else along the way. Looking ahead, I can see that the journey must continue this way, as well. There will be more failures, more mistakes, and few successes. Maybe none at all. Because I take the successes for granted, but the failures get my attention. Life has humbled me, and that’s a good thing, because I have gained a respect and appreciation for it that I would have lacked otherwise.

I value independence over connection. That has always been true. It was a problem when I was younger, because it was assumed I would get married and have children, and the older I got without ticking those items off the to-do list, the more worried people around me got. But nobody asks me why I’m not married anymore, and lots of people don’t have children in my generation. I was never very good at being young, and now I’m not anymore. I’m a bit past the middle of my life, presumably, and I’m really happy to be here; where most people have the good sense and the courtesy not to second guess my choices.

I’m trying to learn to find some middle ground, and I’m learning to appreciate the connections I have now, though they are fewer than in the past, they are richer. I’ve been a good daughter and a good employee. Sometimes I get everything right, sometimes I miss the mark completely. I keep trying, though; I keep getting up and going on.

Over and over again.

That’s who I am. Someone I can count on. Someone others can count on. A person of integrity. Someone who has not let life defeat her.

And that’s who I need to be. That’s all I need to be. No one else. Not who anyone else thinks I should be.

When you look in the mirror, who do you see? Do you see yourself, as you really are, or do you see someone who falls short of who you think you should be? Are you looking in your own mirror, or someone else’s? Whose reflection is that looking back at you? Your mother? Your grandfather? Your best friend? Someone you follow on Instagram?

Make sure you’re seeing you for who you really are. All of who you really are. Look hard and really see that person. Celebrate yourself, all your trials and successes. All the joy, all the pain. Look in the mirror and congratulate beautiful you for making it this far. For keeping on, despite the setbacks and the pain. Despite what someone else thought or did to try to convince you otherwise.

Again and again and again and again.