Here's the thing

Life does not respect plans. Plans are a great coping mechanism for the vagaries of life, but they oblige life's cooperation not at all. Approximately three months ago, I learned this very personally. My husband came home with news that forever and essentially changed my understanding of my life -- where it was going, who the players were, how they operate, how I operate.

Perhaps we are headed for something much better. That remains to be seen. Perhaps we are headed right over a cliff to calamity. That also remains to be seen, but I'm the kind of person who generally tends to suspect the former rather than the latter, on principle. That's another great coping mechanism.

In either case, there is only right now to contend with. It doesn't seem that way. It very much seems like what matters, what requires response/reaction is (a) the already written past or (b) the unwritten future. Which is, as it turns out, another coping mechanism.

What I do not want to do is sit still, here, with the discomfort of not knowing where I am headed, who I am, who my husband is, what will happen to our children. There was this event that underscored how in flux all of these things actually are, but in truth, they have always been, will always be, in flux. Unwritten in the future, despite however they've already been written in the past.

The sensations that go with sitting still and feeling this in-flux-ness are uncomfortable. My chest feels squeezed tight, my heart pounds, I have a slight queasiness, my ears ring slightly, a lump forms in my throat. Hey, how about that future that might be? Even in ten minutes, or less, when I hit "publish"? How long until someone else reads this and what will they think? Or, hey, remember ten minutes ago, when my husband got really upset about something that I don't think deserved that response? Hey wasn't he crazy about that? What a jerk.......?

Nope, not helping. My chest is still tight, my heart pounding, etc. I am still uncomfortable. I am still in flux. The future is still unwritten. The only thing written -- and beyond revision -- is the past. This is all there is that is actually happening: this. Here. Now.

And despite all my coping mechanisms to escape this, here, now -- it is all there is that is happening. If I want to be present to my life, here's the thing.

This tightness, this discomfort, this lump in my throat -- do I believe they will last? No. If I sit here and pay attention, maybe I'll even notice the moment they change into something else. What will come next? Already, again, I am thinking about the future. All that is happening right now: my fingers hitting the keys, the way the lump is moving up my throat, and -- I suspect -- will soon burst out as tears. Yes. Here there are tears. My face warms, my chest heaves, I sob.

The lump in my throat passes. My chest is less squeezed. My heart still pounds. And I am here. Still here. And planning to stay. To the best of my ability.


Repeat until it sticks

On the day they are due to depart for the weekend, the same day her period has started, the mother discovers her daughters have eviscerated a large floor pillow. The stuffing is all over their room -- which she will have to stop packing for their weekend trip away to clean up. As it is, she is not nearly as far along with the packing as she feels she should be so shortly before they are due to depart.

After first denying responsibility, the girls finally confess and show the mother other things they have "trimmed"-- including their bedroom curtains. The mother, trying very hard to be a "good mom," swallows her anger and though she admits to feeling angry with them, tries instead to focus on her gratitude that they would (if not at first, then finally) tell the truth and to remember that someday this will be funny. However, while restuffing the pillow contents into a new case, the zipper to close it breaks when she forces it a little too far; it might as well be the first few water drops heralding the leak in a dam. Then, while muttering to herself as she surveys and cleans up the remaining damage, she hears her daughters screaming bloody murder. She runs to where they are, worried something terrible has happened.

No. The younger girl has thrown water at the elder girl while she is on the toilet--not only the trapped daughter, but also the floor are drenched. The elder daughter is screaming in frustration. When asked why the younger one is screaming, she explains: "I told her not to tell on me, but she did!" The mother feels her own rage well up and her body starts shaking and soon she's yelling in an ugly mean voice. "What's wrong with you?? Are you animals?? What's so hard about treating each other and this house and me with respect for the rules and each other's feelings?? I'm trying to pack so we can go--you WANT to go...Why make it so much harder for me at every turn??"

Their expressions are a mix of amusement, fear, apology, regret, confusion and defiance. The mother tells them they are both on "time out." They both begin whining--the sound like nails scratching against glass at this point--about the injustice of being punished.

The mother's body thrums with the desire to hit something, strangle something, explode. It is terrifying. "I can't handle this! I can't handle this!" she yells and escapes to the back porch, the back door slamming behind her.

She is taking deep breaths. She is ashamed of herself and she is still livid -- as much with herself as with her daughters. A hard heaviness settles in her chest, a fist around her heart. She is fighting the urge to cry, or scream.

Abruptly, as though someone had interrupted her, she notices how blue the sky is.

"Dear one... dear one..." the mother hears -- or imagines, in such cases it is hard to know for sure -- God calling softly.

"Here," she responds as though teacher has called the roll.

"Here I am, with you," she imagines God responding.

She's mad again. "I don't believe you. It sure doesn't feel like it. You're HERE, in THIS??" she gestures back to the house, to her rageful outburst, to children who in just being children are inconvenient and challenging beyond their mother's limits, to a mother with limits that feel simultaneously too short and too lax. Why would God be in THIS?? And WHERE is there even ROOM for God in her anger, in her failures as a mother, in her children's childhood craziness? "I don't believe it," she says aloud, with force.

"Here, I AM here, WITH you," she "hears" again--and again. She allows herself to be consoled even though she really has no idea whether God is talking or she's just talking to herself.

What would that even mean? God, HERE, for this?

After a few moments longer, listening, breathing, noticing for the first time that leaves have started to fill in the overhead tree canopy -- until recently a skeletal cross-hatching of bare limbs, but suddenly alive with color; and their color, a strong green against the bright blue clear sky--the mother lets herself be reassured that life is intact and okay. She is practicing faith.

When she returns to the cleaning up and packing, her heart has room for itself and she is gentler and slower with both herself and her children, at least for a bit.


Growing up

I've been in a bit of a developmental eddy lately.

It's been approximately two and a half years since I ate the foods that, for me, are directly analogous to drugs for a drug addict, or alcohol for an alcoholic. I haven't always eaten perfectly healthfully or moderately, or even uncompulsively, but I have abstained from what I accept is an addiction to the best of of my ability, as made possible through a lot of gut-wrenching honesty, accountability and surrender to the need to learn -- and the need to exercise discipline in the learning -- how to live my life in way that makes staying "present" to it possible.

As a result of these almost two and a half years, I am starting to recognize patterns of behavior and their sources in a way I haven't had the clarity to do before. Just lately, I've been feeling a lot of anger and hurt leftover from my childhood and recognizing where it comes from -- the specific things that happened. None of it is like suddenly realizing you were abducted by aliens or a victim of incest or anything nearly so dramatic or dark. All of it I knew as part of my history, but feelings I never acknowledged -- covering them immediately up with a sugar/chocolate high -- have finally bubbled to the surface and want to be named for what they are and recognized as appropriate to the experiences from which they stem.

And they are.

But they're also -- some of them -- over 35 years late. It's kind of a conundrum. I recognize the need to honor them, but I also recognize the need to frame them as from the past, about events that are over and done with -- facts of my history that sinking into the feelings they spawned, but were buried for so long, will not alter or improve. And which, in fact, expressed and experienced now, interfere with the present moment, delay my experience of what is happening now, and often prompt inappropriate responses to it. Maybe, if I lived alone, that history is a deep dark well I could crawl into and wallow until all the emotional intensity of those events from the past was spent and over. But I don't live alone. I live with a husband I adore and two small kids I also adore who need my attention and engagement. I have commitments -- explicit, implicit, emotional and logistical -- to friends, family and community which I need the wherewithal to honor.

On one hand, I need to be functional and attentive to the here and now, loving to the people I am with, and the moment I am in. But on the other hand, there is a -- justifiably -- very hurt, lonely, and scared little girl inside of me clamoring for reassurance and attention and love, who actually does also need those things in order to release me to be an adult.

There is a medium here, a middle way, and I'm weaving and veering this way and that way across it -- but it's the guideline. I'm trying to use it to keep my bearings, bringing my swerves to one side or the other shallower alongside its course.

Yesterday, the following very clarifying thought came to me:
A child learns love by receiving it; an adult learns love by sharing it. The child in me that needed love she didn't get will always lack it, as a fact of the past she lived through. I am not that child anymore; even if she does still live in me, we are not living in the experience she had. That is over. NOW, the best way to "get" the love "she" and "I" need is to share/show/experience/have/give love to others; we will learn it together, experience it together, and -- I pray -- she will keep us honest about soaking it up as it comes, about letting it sink in until our parched self is lush and juicy with it.

I don't expect myself to do this perfectly. I just pray for the ability and willingness to keep learning how to do it at all.


a drag

Mama's draggin' today. PMS, a cold, and maybe remnants of the predictable annual spell of fall weather melancholy, and I'm completely done. Except that I'm not done by a long shot. I had a few hours this morning to myself -- ordinarily prime writing time. But after seeing Kay and Dee off to their schools (having forgotten Kay's homework and practically bursting into tears when a well-meaning new acquaintance asked with too much concern if I was okay), I came home, crawled back into bed, and listened to This American Life and Fresh Air podcasts. And I drank tea -- no coffee. It literally hurt to get out of bed when I finally had to go collect my brood.

Now the kids are home and a long afternoon ahead of us. Not done. Can't be done. Cannot be done. Must go on. Must figure out a plan. Must pay attention. Must... must... must...

Some aspects of motherhood are grueling.

Thank god for the Sacramento Public Library's stories online which is, at the moment, entertaining them while they eat lunch, and I sit nearby, taking this brief break to type -- though I'd rather be lying under my down comforter, eyes closed, a pot of tea on the bedside table.


Novel development

Wrote something related to my novel for the first time in over four months recently. It doesn't fit with the story as I understand it right now, but it was fun to visit with some of the characters and practice my fiction writing.

Since I really don't know how or if I'd use this in my novel, I thought I'd post it here.

[Backstory: Tallie is the protagonist. She's currently separated from her husband and in the process of recognizing that the marriage is over. She's recently been introduced to Henry by her best friend, who is more eager than Tallie for her to move on with her life, and Henry and Tallie had an immediate rapport, which makes Tallie really uncomfortable since she hasn't reconciled herself yet to the inevitability of her marriage's end. Henry is a supervising veterinarian at a marine mammal rescue clinic, and he proposed, now well over six weeks ago, that Tallie, who by profession is a wedding videographer, come by to take some photos that he could use as promotional materials for the clinic.]

Henry's tour of the facility was quick, perfunctory. It's just his normal workday, she reminded herself. At each of the few enclosures with actual animals, he excused himself to check in with the vet techs, leaving her to explore the photographic opportunities. Her camera hung heavy on her neck the light and the subjects not as inspiring as she'd hoped. She'd need a lot more equipment to get anything really attractive out of the possibilities present, though she thought she'd probably gotten one or two sweet shots of an otter with a bandaged back flipper playing with a vet tech.

After peering into the last, also empty, holding tank, they headed back toward the lobby of the building walking side by side through a sterile hallway. The overhead fluorescent lights had a pinkish cast offset by depression green walls. Even his sun-weathered skin looked sort of sickly she didn't want to think about her own.

"There aren't many animals here right now, which we like to call a good thing. But it doesn't make an interesting tour. There were a lot more a few weeks ago…" His words, as they had been since she arrived, were slightly clipped, and for the first time, Tallie wondered he was irritated with her.

She felt heat rise to her cheeks. "I'm sorry. It was probably over a month ago, when you suggested I come by. I just… I'm sorry."

Henry didn't look at her, and she found the side of his face difficult to see or read. He didn't say anything either and just as it occurred to her to wonder if he was waiting for her to say something more, her contrition evaporated. Was he thinking she somehow owed him more than that, admittedly stupid, apology? She didn't know him well enough for him to have expectations of her. She tried to put together words that would convey what a mistake she'd made to come at all, that clearly she'd misunderstood his invitation, or he'd misunderstood her situation and decision to accept it, or…

He stopped, and she felt in her body the momentum to keep on going, to break into a run, and escape out the door with the illuminated red exit sign overhead just yards away. Already a few steps ahead, she forced herself to stop and turn back to face him.

He was smiling. "I'm really glad you called." His face was open and clear, his light brown eyes lit and happy. She believed him, felt a friendship in him that surprised and confused her.

The pressure in her chest dropped to her stomach. She fumbled for words. "I… wasn't sure."

"Let's walk down to the beach," he said, stepping through the space between them.

Big glinty waves crashed hard on the stony beach, then melted into backlit lush white foam shushing the next waves following as they pulled back out to sea. Henry walked toward a log close to, but safe from, the water's farthest reach. They hadn't said much since leaving the facility.

Tallie asked how many animals the facility could accommodate, how often it was full, how many vets were on staff. Henry's answers weren't brusque, but they were concise. She tried to think of what else to ask. Again, Tallie felt confused about what he wanted from her, why she'd come. A silence fell between them, at first a small thing, a possible wedge, but then as Tallie began listening into it, hearing the waves, and birds, and wind, it seemed to wrap around them, a bundling blanket. She closed her eyes. At some point she sighed, and felt she could almost lean into the comfort of it.

When she opened her eyes and turned to look at Henry, he was watching her, his eyes again so kind, his lips soft in barely a smile.

"When you look out at this," he asked, gesturing back to the ocean. "How do you see it?"

She felt an ease in her body that surprised her how long since she'd felt so at ease? She considered the question, resisted lifting her camera to her eye.

She pointed to the horizon. "That's the emotional center of this view for me if I were going to take a picture, I'd want it solid and formed, just the way we see it right now, the deep slate gray juxtaposed against a light dove sky, naming and focusing the line."

She stood, took a few steps forward and crouched, again avoiding a cliché by framing a shot with her fingers, though she imagined them just so. "But these waves are the story, their brutality collapsing into something so soft and…" She reached forward toward foam that had been tossed onto the beach. She was suddenly self-conscious and glanced back at him. "Is this what you mean?"

He was smiling. "Yeah, exactly."

She smiled back at him, returned to the log. "The real trick of the shot if I were going to take a picture," she paused, and he nodded his agreement of the assumption. "Would be the light. The light, of course, is everything. It controls the whole deal. What you think you see before you take a picture has nothing to do with what you'll get, if you don’t let the light tell you where to stand, where to point, what's possible and what isn't. Some of that you can overcome with the right equipment, but it's all, always, about what the light wants to say."

"What the light wants to say…" Henry's voice held a smile.

Tallie smiled but continued, eager to say it aloud. "When I first started taking pictures, it was a huge surprise to me. It's like a camera gives light a voice to talk, and we suddenly have to listen. Once it's caught on film or, you know, pixels, though they're more easily manipulated it tells you whether the picture was possible. It tells you whether you're looking at the right things."

Henry laughed.

Tallie smiled and shrugged. "I know. It sounds far out."

"No," Henry said, touching her arm. "I love it."

Before she thought about it, she lifted her camera and took his picture. He let her, holding his open smile. She set it back in her lap and felt heat rise to her cheeks. "I… you were... The light was right." She said, then laughed.

"I believe it," he said, his smile deepening. He leaned forward slightly.

Tallie stood up. She was embarrassed. She smiled at him, held out her hand to help him up. "You probably have to get back to work," she said.

He laughed again and took her hand, pulling himself up. "Yeah. Well, I probably do." He let go her hand and brushed off the back of his pants. She immediately missed the warmth of his hand in hers, rubbed her own together, brushed off her own backside.

They turned back toward the hills and began making their way across the sand. "Thanks for coming out here, Tallie," he said.

She grabbed his hand lightly, quickly letting go. "I'm so glad I came, Henry."