The Wonky Tree of Possibility

They say that we are primed to notice what’s wrong, to anticipate danger, and to remember bad things and disasters. Life as a new stepmom is full of hard moments. I could fill pages with stories of rejection and misunderstanding and on some days it seems that my jealousy and insecurity in relation to my role in this new family knows no end. In light of all that, it has become especially important to stop and notice, and even look for, what is good, what is funny, what is kind and thoughtful, and something like love. This here is me carving out a space for all of that. I like to think of what I’m doing as cultivating the ground for possibility.

Last Sunday morning —at my husband’s suggestion— I offered to take M to the store to buy his Christmas present. (Step family experts say that shoulder to shoulder activities between stepmom and child are good ways to cultivate relationship that otherwise, by default, would always favor the bio-parent, often to the exclusion of the step-parent.) I felt very shy about asking, not wanting a rejection, but in the spirit of the first rule of improv — to always say YES, even if it’s a YES AND… — I went with it and asked. She said OK and I went ahead with that as a yes. 

On the drive to the store I said a few things but then did my best to let silences be there and not fill them in too quickly with questions or nervous chatter. At one point M filled in a silence all on her own and it took us down a lovely path wherein she told me about a short story they had read in school (she’s in 7th grade)— it was all about an earth family that moves to Mars. From what she said, I figured that the story is all about identity and labels and names, a subject of much interest to me, especially in relation to how my definitions and assumptions about something can limit me from seeing things as they actually are, or could be. Anyway, I let her keep telling me the story, every now and then making little interested sounds but all the while trying not to be too eager — know what I mean? Then she pointed out a shift in the narrating voice from the beginning to the end of the story and something about”third person omniscient”… Even though this had likely been a whole lesson in her language arts class she talked about third person omniscient so la-de-da and nonchalantly, I did my best to remain cool but could not help telling her how much I loved noticing the perspective in which a story is told, especially when there are shifts in perspective!, because it can let you in on so many subtle things without the writer ever having to spell them out for you. I asked her the name and author of the story, which she didn’t remember, and which she reminded me she never remembers, but after a couple beats she went on to tell me that she had the story in her backpack at our place. 

Later, at home, at some point she remembered(!) and brought it to me. And then we sat on the love seat together, she doing her science homework and I reading the short story, which happens, it turns out, to be by none other than Ray Bradbury. (I didn’t know this until the very end and kept thinking, as I read, Wow! This is one well-written story!)

So, that happened. And whoa but now I’m on a roll to remember what else not to forget! Here’s another that!

wonkychristmastree2016The night before, after picking M up from girl scouts, my husband, M and I went to buy a Christmas tree. We wanted the smallest one possible seeing as we will only be enjoying it for a few days and will then be away from Christmas through New Years, and so we picked, indeed, the smallest one, which also happened to be a little wonky in shape. But it was the one M liked and we happily went with it. Then Jeffrey bungey chorded it to the bike rack on the back of the car and we laughed and laughed about how funny it looked. And then we came home and WE(!)-in-caps-and-exclamation  made cookies and decorated the wonky tree. We didn’t have a star for the top so M made a snowflake star.

So that’s the story of our wonky tree.

Last night M and her big sister R (home from college) came over and we celebrated Christmas. Here is that tree. Not bad, huh?


But quite possibly my favorite tree this year happened on a lark when M misunderstood her dad’s suggestion and staked a bunch of old books on top of each other. Like this. And I added a string of wee battery powered LED lights. It’s possibly my favorite tree ever and I don’t think I’ll take it down when Christmas leaves. Don’t you love it?


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All the Dresses

A huge attic with all-the-dressesdresses and dresses and more dresses, all free for the taking, provided, only and simply, that they fit and I like them. So I try them. Dresses I thought wouldn’t look good, do, and dresses I would have been drawn to in my past, don’t. There are belts and accessories too, lots and lots. Everything is draped —at once beautifully and effortlessly— over wrought iron rods, hanging in old bureaus, or folded in dressers with drawers out and about in a stack or lazily left open.

I am not alone in this attic. There is this sense of women coming and going all the time trying on dresses. There are enough for everyone. The dresses are beautiful and one-of-a-kind in an odd —irreverent, maybe?!— and thrifted way. It’s about a new way of looking at things, with other women, warm and stylish and sparkly-eyed, to say: “no that’s not so great, but what about this here?” It’s like the style sisterhood of abundance and kindness, there simply for the trying and for the taking.

And how do I feel in this attic of All the Dresses? Worthy, dammit, I feel worthy. The kind of worthy you get to take for granted. The kind of worthy you can hang your hat on. Worthy without question. Worthy without doubt. THAT worthy.

It’s only now, as I write this dream out loud, I realize how often in real life I haven’t actually felt worthy. That makes me cry, but cry in the way of the words of that old timey song my husband and I heard on the AM radio in the car yesterday: “it’s so gay but in a melancholy way.” Happy-sad: happy that it happened and that somewhere inside me I must know it to be possible, and sad that it has felt so out of the ordinary. But there it is, Worthy, and there they are, All the Dresses(!), pointing my way home by way of this dream of plenty and of sisterhood and of belonging.

And then, channeling Stasia Savasuk (whose style school I recently finished and whose next school starts tomorrow) I ask:

“How do you feel when you wear Worthy?”

To which now, having been to the attic, I can say: Me, me, I know! Worthy is an old and spacious attic filled with beautiful and funky and one-of-a-kind dresses, there for the taking, provided, only, that they fit and that I like them. When I wear Worthy I hold my head high. I don’t hide. My voice is brave and proud. And my swagger is sassy. I belong.

And then there is me melting chocolate last night to make a mini fondue to dip all the things into —the potato chip, the almond, the… “whatelse?” I say it like one word, nonchalantly and out loud: “Whatelse?” And then, before I can take my next breath, there she is, unreachable before but next to me now with her 12-year-old eyes eager to find all the little things.

And that is how, somewhere between the length of a breath and the width of a wish, it starts: the chocolate-dipping of all the things: the potato chip, the plantain chip, the almond, the strawberry, the raspberry… Then she thinks of the fresh ginger in the freezer and I say we’d give your dad the surprise of his life and then we go ahead of course and make not one, not two, but three knock-your-eyes-out spicy chocolate-covered gingers to go with the cherry-coconut milk ice cream that is churning as we speak. And sure enough, he would yelp and sure enough he would jump up for a tissue to spit into because hot damn but ginger sure is a spicy wolf even when it comes dressed up in a chocolate dress. And then we would sit, the threesome of us in which I so often feel the odd-one-out, the one who doesn’t belong, but not tonight, we three on the couch we would eat our cherry ice cream with all the wee chocolate-covered things. And then she would say she is cold and then I would offer her a blanket and hotdamn but this time she would say yes —?YES!— to my offer and then she would even go on to say that it is soft. The blanket, that is, though who knows…

That happened. And after that I would fall asleep and dream of All the Dresses.

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The cat is my witness

Dear My Love’s 11-year-old Daughter,

You came to be with us for a week last night. You seemed happy, excited even, when you arrived, and I sensed you to be more comfortable and yourself around me. After supper –pizza!– your dad was in the kitchen cutting watermelon and you were in that little middle room by the huge chat noir poster. Right there, under the big cat’s watchful eye, I went to pass you and with barely the hint of something only possibly and distantly related to a thought, I let my hand touch your shoulder and then your hair as I kept walking, letting my arm and then my hand and then my finger linger as long as possible but only while still moving so as not to draw anyone’s attention –certainly not yours and probably not mine either– and then you, oh my god, you came along, the tippy tips of our fingers connected by some kind of wish-glue going on a year in the making until we were both in the kitchen standing by your dad. Hi!

That happened. The cat is my witness.

Later, in bed, I would start to tell your dad about it, and then stop short. (How he hates when I do that, and who can blame him.) Did it embarrass me that I would feel so moved by such a small tenderness, surely unnoticeable to anyone but me? Did it embarrass me like it had embarrassed me the countless times before when I’d reached toward you and you’d unmistakably pulled away? All The Literature would tell me that all of that is understandable, expected even, but The Literature had done nothing to comfort the something in me wanting more than anything to be family even while never ever wanting to force it.

This is me not forgetting. And this is me making space on the blanket of this cobbled-together mutty family, right next to all the missed connections, and just to the side of all my longings, and next to the bowl of a thousand tears, this: a touch, so come-and-go quick you might say it never happened, and the beat my heart skipped in spite of my best efforts at nonchalance.

You have no idea how much I think of you.


Not Your Mother

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Smooth back my hair, I want to stay soft.

We took the canoe out on the pond last night. I had gotten off the bus just before Rosewood so I could walk down Belknap, our cross-fingers soon-to-be street. When I got to the pond, you were there already, as were several people on the banks just hanging out doing that pensive nothing one tends to do when sitting at the side of a pond in the evening.

I called out, though not too loudly, “hey there, can I have a ride?”

You’d seen me. You were already paddling toward me. Then you stepped into the pond to stable the canoe so I could get in and I threw in my bag and jumped in after. And you kissed me.

The air was warm and moist and smelled of summer. The light was low. You paddled and I sat facing headward, then turned so I could face you. In the background I saw that people had been watching us. Maybe they’d seen you carrying and setting down the canoe, strong and alone. Maybe they’d seen you go back for the paddles and life vests. Maybe they’d watched you put in and paddle out a bit to wait for me. And maybe then they’d seen me arrive and wave and you paddle back for me… One guy was smiling ever so softly, maybe wistfully. In any case, that’s how I’d have felt –sweetly wistful– watching us in the evening light on the pond in the air that smelled of summer.

Later, coming back close to dark, the just-waxing moon, the early-night air, the quiet water smelling of lake and of life… Most people who’d been on the banks of the pond earlier, gone home, or gone to wherever it is that people go when they leave a pensive pond. But on the island, on our island, on the island where you and I claimed a spot as our own last week in the clearing in the sun, on the island where M had, earlier that day, spotted a deer that you’d then named Otto, on that island last night it was hard.

Your eyes had kept darting to and fro and to and fro, supposedly looking for Otto, but in a restless kind of anxious energy. The whole time we ate you didn’t look at me, at least not with anything that felt like the lingering soft gaze of seeing, really seeing something, and I found myself feeling more and more lonesome and far away.

It’s hard for me when you’re not present and I sense you far away and distract-y… In those moments, it’s hard for me to find presence for myself within myself. That’s my challenge. I tend to want to go chasing after your presence. To get you back. I get tight. What people call “controlling,” but what is, more accurately, “scared.” Then I tend to withdraw in a hurt way and get hard and closed off, not only toward you but also, inevitably, toward me. After all, we do onto ourselves what we do onto others.

We definitely do onto ourselves what we maybe do onto others.

When I close off and harden protectively toward you, I close off to myself.

I’m still feeling the sting about what you told me Sunday about your conversation with M a couple months ago.

You’d told me in response to my saying, “We should go camping this summer with M!” I’d been excited hearing about the deer, about the unexpected visit to our island (your second trip in a day!), the sunbathing turtles, the red-winged swath-of-joy blackbirds… I’d been hopeful: hopeful about our new place together, hopeful about family, hopeful about the sweet and good moments and exchanges I’d recently had —and, truth be told, been collecting like stones in my pocket (I now had a little handful of them)— with M… Moments that felt tender, like wee shoots barely just popping out of the ground. Delicate, yet full of possibility. A sense of possibility to which I couldn’t help but adding happy stories and soundtracks.


You: Want to go camping this summer?

She: Mm-hmm!

You: The two of us or the three of us?

She: The two of us.

On Sunday night you said to me, “That must have felt like a gut punch.”

Sort of.

You’d noticed right away. I tried not to show it, but I could feel my heart sink the moment you said it. Like a tiny bubble had just burst. Ow. And just like that I felt a shell draw over my heart and watched myself retreat into myself even while I tried not to… Then throughout the evening I went from being somewhat alright and enjoying the game and our show, to feeling the sting, to thinking I shouldn’t feel hurt, always putting on the brave-face pretending it wasn’t such a big deal, telling myself I should be past this already.

That night, a nightmare. A tall bus with a new-in-town couple (who is looking for an apartment) tips over and I scrape my face on the pavement. I wake up with a cry. You are asleep.

“Go ahead, the two of you. Go without me. I’m fine.” I rehearse in my head.

Then, “Nah, I don’t need you anyway,” still in my head.

And then, from that place, I take the bus to work. “I don’t need your car anyway,” I think, again in my head.

“I walked everywhere before I knew you.” I think some more.

And then, “Your car is at your place,” I text, no longer just in my head, wondering if my text sounds as hurt as this part of me feels. Hoping it doesn’t, and hoping it does.

And then, as minds tend to do, my mind starts scanning for evidence of rejection related to family, showing me pictures of how M had turned and pulled away when you’d suggested I have a look at her hand, her sensitive skin, the eczema. And how, again, she’d turned away and brushed her long hair, her mouth set in determination to do it alone, when you’d suggested that I might help with her pig tails.

I see how innocent your telling me what M said was. How, sure, the conversation could have been handled differently, like how maybe it’d have been better not to set it up in that either-or kind of way, and how, maybe, given what the last month or so has brought us, it’d have been better not to tell me what she’d said…

You’re learning and I’m learning and we’re all learning, but it all feels so big and hard, especially to the part of me so much wanting family, including brushing a girl’s hair and kissing away the bits that hurt…

Is it possible to keep showing each other our softness?

Is it possible to show the tender or ugly or hurt or angry underbelly places? Not in a blaming way, but in an here-I-am-this-is-who-I-am-right-now kind of way?

Is it possible to bring the softness and trust intrinsic to the act of smoothing back and brushing hair to a girl who won’t let me brush hers?

Is it possible to stay soft when life feels hard?

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Wasn’t made for these times?

My love,

You asked for unfiltered… Here, the things I couldn’t say last night:

I feel bitter. I feel brittle. Resentful. Jealous. Paranoid. Probably I feel afraid, but it’s harder to get to that base layer of afraid. Bitter, on the other hand? Bitter is right there on the surface, the hard, hard surface. And I feel ashamed. Good people don’t go around owning up to bitter.

I want to smash beautiful things.

Last night, on the bathroom floor on your old comforters next to the lone pipe of heat, I noticed my thoughts. I knew they weren’t really true, but I was believing them anyway. I didn’t have it in me to do the inquiry I often find helpful (plus I find it hard to ask myself the questions in my head without losing track when I am upset ) but Byron Katie was there. In my mind’s eye she was sitting in a chair, calm as could be, near me. She was very much present but very much not in my face about it. She wasn’t even asking me the questions. She just sat there, with those kind and piercing eyes, not going anywhere. As if I was it. No one else, nothing else, mattered.

I said to Byron Katie in my mind: “Who will take care of me?”

She nodded ever so slightly and then, very slowly, said back to me: “Who will take care of you?”

I think the conversation about your finances had brought that thought right out to the front, although it had been hidden to me when we were sitting on your bed trying to talk, defensive and take-this-bull-by-the-horns-hard that I was.

Who will take care of me?

And then, still on the bathroom floor, “I messed up.” And right on cue, the mind brought what it calls its proof of failures:

Your Honor, members of the jury, I present you with Exhibit A: 45 years old and just making it. Exhibit B: 45 and no kids. Not even a one. Exhibit C: 45 and her monthly cycles doing sometimes-odd things the implication of which she doesn’t want to think about. Basically, your honor and dear jurors in the case of This Woman v.–

Versus what? This Woman v. her life? This woman’s actual life v. her thoughts about it? Thoughts that can be summed up as 45 and living, pretty much, month-to-month with short-numbered monthly cycles? This woman with a man she loves who is going through his very own endings and fears and insecurities, this man who loves her but can give her no guarantees of security?

Scared. Nothing to show for my life. “I messed up.”

I must sound like a broken record to you about so many of these things, and the fact that I must sound like a broken record to you makes me try to keep these orphaned and childless thoughts to myself most of the times they come up, but on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night, there they were.

decoupage creation

Shh. I put an ornament I made on the tree. (But don’t tell me!)

This morning I walked into my house. My housemates had already left and the house was empty. They had put up the Christmas tree last night, the Christmas tree I had told them, “OK, but do it without me.” I hardened at the sight of it this morning and then walked around choked up, then crying. Probably because I secretly loved it. Probably because I had, myself, been the one who had left me out of it.

When I stop trying to distract myself, when I stop getting or checking just one more whatever, when I stop from putting (or thinking of putting) one more thing in my mouth, when I stop from playing one more round of Solitaire, when I stop–

I could cry and cry and cry. Because I secretly love so many of the things I want to smash.

Sometimes I feel very sad.” When Kat Edmonson sings it, the record isn’t broken.


This Woman

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On this harvest moon.

You stopped by, asking for me, and I wasn’t here. You and May. Last night. Saffron told me. And tonight I could cry and cry.

You must be tired of hearing me go on and on about family. What a broken record I must sound like with all that wanting… All my forever wanting to hear someone say, with arms pulled around, “Ah, this one? She’s spoken for. She’s mine. She’s ours.”

“Are you my family?” I ask. “No.”

“Are you?”

“How about you. Are you my family?”

Something smarts about next weekend.

There’s a young girl, chin jutted out. (Probably the one you call Brave.) She says, “I don’t care. Go ahead. It don’t matter. Anyway, I have plans, yuh-unh. So anyway, I couldn’t have come with you anyway. It don’t matter to me. Nuh-unh. Go on. I’ve got my own. My family is coming to pick me up any minute now. Yuh-uh. So I couldn’t go with you anyway. It don’t matter to me. Go on.”

She likes to imagine that next week she’ll be able to disappear. Nothing drastic, just for a few days. Just to be gone. Not anywhere in particular, because surely the hollowness would go along if she were actually going to someplace in particular. This disappearing would be magical: not for permanent, not forever, just a few days.

She’s kickin’ dirt. Scabbed knee. Pig tails. Dusty shoes. Stopping now to pull up a knee sock.

Then comes now. How she’d climb the stairs to the top of the dorm roof. That’s where she’d go. Sometimes to get away from people upon people upon people who weren’t family. And bells. Wakeup bells. Breakfast bells. Lunch bells. Rest bells. Dinner. Bells and bells and bells. Hell bells. Sometimes she’d climb up there to look at the sky. The sky seemed so much closer than it ever had at home. Odd, that. Not that she’d ever really noticed the sky at home. But homesick makes you notice. And remember. Things you never thought you noticed, suddenly now they are a memory. Like the moon. This very same moon then, there, now, here. Would they be seeing it? Would you? This moon, maybe now, right now? Nah. They weren’t homesick, they were home. It’s homesick makes you notice.

Darkness would come on the roof, and with it, sometimes, stars. Sometimes she tried to speak, as if words would help her be, but air has a way of eating words. Such thin words, they all were, anyway, flimsy and gone before they even had a chance. Besides, it didn’t matter. There wasn’t anyone to hear and, anyway, there weren’t any right words for what was there. Not a single word in a single language she knew to say what the pit in her stomach, the lump in her throat, the hollow in her chest, were. Stupid, useless, good-for-nothing words, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of them, yet not a one that could say how it was.

This here is my try, for her, for me, for then, for now. On this harvest moon.

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Drool with me?

This morning, Alison Natasi’s piece “20 Poets on the Meaning of Poetry” in Flavorwire had me drooling.

It’s hard to pick a favorite from among such an abundance of riches, but number 9 from Carl Sandburg’s Tentative (First Model): Definitions of Poetry, did, pretty much, do what Emily Dickinson said poetry would: it made me feel as if the top of my head had been taken off!

9. Poetry is an echo asking a shadow dancer to be a partner.


Speaking of Carl Sandburg, here’s one of my favorite poems of his:

Wilderness (by Carl Sandburg)

THERE is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me … a silver-gray fox … I sniff and guess … I pick things out of the wind and air … I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers … I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me … a snout and a belly … a machinery for eating and grunting … a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me … I know I came from saltblue water-gates … I scurried with shoals of herring … I blew waterspouts with porpoises … before land was … before the water went down … before Noah … before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me … clambering-clawed … dog-faced … yawping a galoot’s hunger … hairy under the armpits … here are the hawk-eyed hankering men … here are the blond and blue-eyed women … here they hide curled asleep waiting … ready to snarl and kill … ready to sing and give milk … waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird … and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want … and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

I feel, paradoxically, more whole when I see the universe inside me in all its faces: now fierce, then gentle; now voracious, then soft; now violent, now yielding; now this, now that, and eventually somehow, always all. Something about recognizing everything inside me makes me gentler, more patient, and softer, somehow, when I see it —even the ugly bits— out there. Maybe in you.

Today, I am at once curious and frightened by what seems to be warbling “in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope.” Also, I am in love with the word “warble,” which I am rolling around like a marble in my mouth. Because, like a 2-year-old, my favorite place to put favorite things still seems to be in my mouth.

Thanks for stopping by!


P.S. Drool with me over at Flavorwire?

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Repotting panic

Panic. Yesterday I caught its scent. Unchecked, this is how panic could go down…

The equation of doom

Stressful, scary thought + spinning of related, old and broken thought-records + automatic body reaction (e.g., tight chest + fast breath + light head + throwuppy belly) = Panic

Years ago, at its worst, this equation could, eventually, result in a full-blown panic attack. Not, shall we say, fun. Over the years, though, I’ve studied this panic monster as if my life depended on it, and these days I usually catch things in the stressful thought or anxiety stage, before things get to code red. Also, rather than trying to push the panic monster away, I’ve learned to turn toward him and get, even if just a little to start with, curious.

For me the trigger for an equation of doom is pretty much always related to loss.

Enter, new factor

Awareness is, hands down, the factor with the most potential to change everything. Awareness —which can look like curiosity, noticing, presence, being mindful— is the super-est of all personal(ity) superheros. With awareness as a new factor, a different outcome for the old equation is not only possible but inevitable.

Yesterday, in the grand scheme, I did pretty darned well: Nothing close to what used to happen years and years ago did. I was triggered, and sure enough, responded with fear. I could tell on account of the obsessive thoughts, the checking, the replaying of scenarios, and a sinking feeling in the belly. But as I went about my day I held it and watched it all with kind attention and then last night I went out with my friend and her cousin. We went to a comedy show and laughed. A lot. Which means that the anxiety was not so great that I couldn’t enjoy funny things. Over the course of the evening I took a few pictures to send to the love factor (who, yesterday, was doubling as the possible loss factor) in the equation of me. I wanted to connect. I wanted to include him. I wanted to be included. I got no reply (for whatever reason) and then watched another wave of anxiety, tending toward panic, arise, exacerbated by memories from long ago.

Anxiety/panic is like a fucked up game of mad libs wherein the blank lines get filled in by a mind whose neural pathways have all been primed with fear. Naturally, then, the blank lines (what I don’t know) end up looking like all sorts of doom and gloom.

For example: “He hasn’t texted me because I told him some things the lady who says she sees things said and it scared him.” Or, “He’s pulling away because I mentioned that she’d mentioned the m-word and now he is freaking the hell out.” Or, “He thinks that the little rain package I made for them was the dorkiest thing ever.” If I traced these mad libs a bit further to find the underlying fear, I’d complete the final line: “…and it means that ____.”

Yesterday, all of my mad libs meant that I would lose him.

Yep. Like I said, scared.

Same old triggers, plus awareness

“Oh, Sweetheart, there there. Shhhhh… Everything’s going to be OK. C’mere…”

First order of business when panic is in the house of me is to calm the disturbance, and those simple words —cliché though they may be— have the effect of dialing the scary down at least a notch. Hearing those words is just enough to then be able to proceed to the next bit wherein I remind myself that I don’t actually know what is going on for him. Not really. Other than that he and his 9-year-old are camping. And I wish I were there.

Actual bit (not fear-primed)

She is adorable. I didn’t meet her till yesterday but I’d seen lots of pictures and pretty much I had already made a nesty pillowy blanket fort for her in my heart.

Enter, fear

But yesterday, after they picked up the rain package, I obsessed.

I’d been sitting in the chair by the back door reading when they arrived, hair messily pulled up, un-showered and dirty from having my arms and hands in the dirt… None of that would usually matter too much to me, except for how panic can turn the most inane of proverbial molehills into mountains. I replayed the scene: The car pulling into the driveway. They getting out. Waves. Shy smiles. Quick introduction, just names. Hey’s. Me walking down the driveway slowly, nonchalantly. (As if!) La la la… More slightly-awkward smiles, a few words about shiners, about fishing, about the rain and the sun and about how camping would be great anyway. Canoe secured to car roof. Touching a knot. Not touching him. (I am, after all, just dad’s friend la la la. Too early to introduce full out.) Inside, my heart is warm and full and beating quickly, my senses on high alert, but on the outside I am —I like to think, at least— calm.

La la la.

Afterwards I don’t hear from him. A couple of hours later I text, “She’s adorable… twinkly-eyed like you.” A few hours later I get a picture of cherries: “Ate a whole bag. Thought of you.”

OK. Interesting bit: A picture of cherries with a note like that, without panic? Love! A picture of cherries with a note like that, with panic? Oh noes!

So yeah, so not about the cherries. So not about the note. Fear is the only factor that changed.

This morning I wake up and write. I sift out the most insistent stressful thought: I messed up. And then I do what I know to do with stressful thoughts.

Inquiry to the rescue! (Or, Awareness dons a superhero cape)

“You messed up.” Is it true?

I don’t know. I sure do believe it.

Yes, Sweetheart, that’s why we’re inquiring. Can you absolutely know that it’s true that you messed up? 


How do you react when you believe this thought, that you messed up?

I obsess. I feel ashamed. I want to jump in to try to fix and tidy everything up. And if that’s not possible, then I want to pretend none of it matters to me anyway. I think about being cold, aloof, even though I couldn’t be even if I tried. I think about trying to ignore him to make up for “too much” yesterday. To feign nonchalance. Ha. As if. (Very young part of me, obviously.)

How is all of that working for you, Sweetheart?

Not well.

Who would you be without this thought that you messed up?

Woman sitting on porch sipping her early morning tea. Enjoying my time with Saffron, whom I’ve not seen much lately because I’ve been so much with him. Enjoying the house. Its spaciousness. Its rooms. Its porch. The plants I repotted. Caring for things I care about, things that are here, things that are now… Ahhh, the plants—

They were too big for the pots they were in. The Easter cactus kept hanging in there even though parts of it were struggling: it was leaning way over to one side of the pot and the soil looked way too tight and hardened. Yesterday I replanted it. I see it there now in its new and roomier, blue, ceramic pot with plenty of soil and space to grow its previously jammed-up roots into. The jade, too. The one I rescued from sure demise in the basement of my last apartment building. Now it has a larger and lovely, sage green, ceramic pot-home.

I imagine the relief the plants must feel: like a person finally able to stretch limbs out wide after being cramped for far too long in a tight place. A person, come to think, like me, stuck in ancient thoughts that no longer, really, fit but that I keep believing. Thoughts like, “I don’t get enough of him.” Thoughts, like, this morning: “I messed up.” There they are, these thought-children, these thought-orphans, coming to me from long ago, looking for home. There they are cascading down the familiar neural pathways they have always followed. They’ve gone down those mental grooves so often they’ve carved gullies into rockface. Except that now there are other options, other places, other ways the water could flow. Awareness helps.

I’ve changed. The triggers still smart (sometimes like hell), but the actions are different. With awareness, then does not have to be now. The roots of me have grown. And in a new pot they could get stronger.  Grow freely. More space. More creativity. More expression. More juice. More me-ness. More he-ness. Love. Our very own we-ness. I’m getting to see, freshly, how old ways no longer feel comfortable. How I am, now, in a much roomier pot. What is happening this weekend is just acting the trigger for an old, outmoded dynamic that used to set in motion that ancient and very painful attachment thing. It no longer has to go down the way it went before. And whether or not I have actually “messed up,” I am different. I have made room for other possibilities. I have repotted the pot-bound plant of me. Whew!

Oh oh oh. Something in me tightens. Don’t want to lose him. The sweetness of him. The playfulness. The eyes. The softness. The strength. The sensitivity. The laughter. The butt and cock of him, too, shhh! The books we share. And the book, being written, of us. Ahhhh. It’s OK. If I do end up losing him, then those things weren’t mine. Or rather, only for the time they were and only for what they brought in me, for, regardless of what happens next, he has and keeps showing me me.

I am OK without him while he and she are camping. I am.

Bringing orphan-thoughts home

Turnaround (for “I messed up”):

I didn’t mess up.

Examples, please, of how, in this situation, you didn’t mess up:

1. I was perfectly me. I had such a good time making that little in-the-event-of-rain gift for them. One I’d have appreciated getting if I were going camping and I were he, or she, 9 years old, stuck in a tent in the rain.

2. I went out last night. And laughed. A lot.

3. I repotted several plants.

4. I made myself a gorgeous kale salad last night.

5. I noticed my thoughts, my reactions, and as I fell asleep last night I spoke out loud into the darkness to something, to someone, who, I imagined, cared. I said it like it was —“I’m afraid I messed up”— and the darkness was kind. She started bringing to my mind’s eye all the people to whom I matter. Including him. And this morning I woke up to re-pot the plant of me. And maybe tonight I will fall asleep thinking of all the people who matter to me, including him, including them, happy and comfy in their tent.

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That thing that the other night I almost told you

We were doing that thing where we whispered things we love and it was your turn to ask and it was my turn to tell and my truest biggest answer was pounding in my chest so hard I thought surely YOU YOU YOU could hear–

But I got shy: what if you didn’t and what if you DID and then you went away and then you came back and then you went all Adam on me on my table and I went all Eve on you at the pond and then you needed to be alone and then you needed just to sleep and sleep and sleep and then I got scared

And today I am just one big long run on sentence with a loud-ass Greek chorus chiming in my ear for me to get my heart back on leash and reign it in in in so I don’t scare you away he doesn’t have time and he doesn’t have space and probably he doesn’t want you that way and anyway he probably only wanted you when you were hot and new and shiny

All of that is what is pounding in my chest and still the only thing I want to tell you is that thing that the other night I almost said

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Some Neruda for some sadness

Sadness is knocking on my door this morning. It is the house of me she has come to looking for company.

The mind does its mind-y thing, and, mind’s job is to know. The mind, especially in the throes of anxiety, jumps to conclusions, no matter how unreliable and incomplete the data set might be. And then it looks around all eagle-eyed for evidence, for proof to support its biases: this happened and it means that ___, which means ___,  (wherein, of course, all thisses and thats are scary and sad). And then, right on cue, body follows mind: belly sinks, chest tightens, and a huge lump lodges itself in my throat.

When I open the door for Sad, she is not alone. Worry, like a Greek chorus, is right on her heels, chanting a dirge: “What’s going on, going on, going on? Girl, get your heart back on leash, back on leash, back on leash…”

Oh, what the hell, come in, come in, the motley crew of you. Make yourselves comfy. Can I get you anything? Cup of tea? Shot of bourbon? Crayons? Silk handkerchiefs? Buffy?

[Sad and GreekWorryChorus look at each another, mumble a few things I can’t quite make out, then]: “Neruda,” they say, “we want Pablo Neruda.”

Anything specific in mind?

“Yup,” pipes up Sadness, “the one that starts with ‘Puedo escribir los versos más tristes…'”

Oh, my darling, that one will make me cry.

“How do you think I feel?”

Alright. Here it is: 

And here for you, dear reader, my translation:

Poem XX (by Pablo Neruda)
Translation copyright © 2013, Elisabeth Withaness

I can write the saddest lines tonight.

Write, for example, “It’s a clear night, and in the distance
stars tremble, blue.”

The night wind circles in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest lines tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she also loved me.

On nights like tonight I had her in my arms.
I kissed and kissed her under an infinite sky.

She loved me, and sometimes I also loved her.
How could I not have loved her large, fixed eyes.

I can write the saddest lines tonight.
To think that I don’t have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And this line falls on the soul like dew falls on grass.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

That is all. In the distance someone sings. In the distance.
My soul is not quiet about having lost her.

As if to bring her near, my gaze searches for her.
My heart seeks her, and she is not with me.

The very same night that whitens the very same trees.
We, we of then, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, it is true, but oh how I loved her.
My voice would search for wind with which to touch her ear.

Another’s. Surely she is another’s. As before she was my kisses’.
Her voice, her clear body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, it’s true, but maybe I do.
Love is so short and forgetting so long.

Because on nights like this I had her in my arms,
my soul is not quiet about having lost her.

Even if this were the last pain she brings me,
and these were the last lines I write her.

Even though I know, roughly, what this Sad-Scared visit is related to, I really don’t know what anything, really, means. I’ve been at this —watching the mind, being present with whatever arises in me— for long enough to have noticed that freaking the hell out and jumping to conclusions is most unhelpful. Everything is calmed when I can “just” be present with whatever sensations and feelings arise in my body… (“Just” being with things is a Practice. A capital-P Practice that I keep practicing.)

Today, can I let come, let be, what is here? Can I be with it just as it is, so that it can change in whatever way is best?

Copyright © 2013, Elisabeth Withaness. (Don’t steal! But DO feel free to share this post, or the poem translation, with attribution and link. Thank you.)

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