Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Taking Time



         As I stood in the backyard at 7:00 this morning waiting for my puppy and senior dog to finish their playing, I realized how much I have been standing around the backyard in the past three weeks.  Sometimes in the rain, often, like this morning, bundled up and waiting as the sun rose over the mountains to the east.  I looked at the sky, at the houses, at the large concrete empty building behind me, and at the dogs playing.  I exhaled to watch a trail of condensation into the cool morning air.  I watched the dogs, Sadie, the elder, allowing Cali, the puppy, to climb on top of her as she lay on her tummy and their muzzles do an open-mouthed dance back and forth.  Sadie, 40 pounds and many inches taller and heavier, could have pinned and beaten Cali, but instead, Sadie played.  I thought about the times I have forsaken play, forsaken enjoying the moment in my haste to go through my to do list, to assuage my anxiety that always bubbled beneath the surface, waiting to leak out in small movements of shaking foot or scratching my head or biting my cheek.  Then I realized a subtle shift in the nearly three weeks my focus has been on my new puppy, now 11 weeks old.  My to do list gets done, but I spend a lot of time watching and waiting.  This is a forced slower pace as I focus outside of myself.  This is somehow what I knew I needed when I decided to buy a puppy.  Trusting my intuitive self is something I do, but don't often know why until I stop to reflect.  Until the time is right to do so.
      The first two weeks were a lesson in losing control and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and abandonment.  The first two weeks were depressing.  But now there is a kind of rhythm and I follow along.  Today I see the rhythm as having brought me to a place of understanding.  I am learning to slow my pace, to be.  I'm taking time to see, to listen.  I'm observing.  All of this is a rebuilding of a foundation that will, I think, allow me to change in ways I do not yet know, but somehow think will be positive.  That I am writing a blog again informs me that my writer self is merely dormant, not absent, not lost, not tossed out.  Citing Maslow's theory of the hierarchy of needs, I am moving up from survival, inch by inch.  I did not know, really, how much time a puppy can consume, until I brought Cali home.  But now I do know and as of now, I'm okay with that.  She's taught me to take time and live it puppy style...in the moment, in short bursts of craziness, with curiosity. I don't know if I will feel so lovingly tomorrow, but I'll see what tomorrow brings.  I have time.  I am grateful to have time.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Challenges

   



 Throughout my life I both choose and am handed challenges.  When I get too set in my ways, something seems to come up, or I stir something up.  I never run from a challenge, even though I don't sometimes embrace them tightly.  Often when I'm in their midst I falter, feel not up to the curves thrown, but somehow I power my way through, even on low, and when the challenge is over, I look back and reflect, noting how the challenge has strengthened me and, in many cases, changed my perceptions. This is so even if I have gone through the challenge on survival mode.
      Retired now for ten years, part time job teaching online, writing novels, playing in many ways, teaching creative writing, so much else, enjoying life and me being with me.  But something is missing, I know.  I am not in love.  I am ready for a relationship, but one is not forthcoming, where do I meet someone?  I've been patient, but so far, nothing has arisen.  No hints, no possibilities.  Life is not bringing me that piece.  So, I need a challenge.  I'll find my own sentient being to love.
      I set up a new aquarium, but the fish only care that I feed them.  I am not a cat person really, although I have had cats.  I am a dog person.  My dog is 12 and she and I had settled into a comfortable routine.  She didn't demand much, except to be near me, and I didn't demand much of her.
     This year I'll celebrate my 70th birthday.  I am energetic still and decide that my challenge will be a new puppy.  By the time I get her all trained, she'll be a great dog when my energy may not be as high as it is at this point.  The inevitable loss of my senior dog will be tragic, but my new dog will be at my side.  I romanticize this notion.  I decide to get on a list for a golden retriever puppy.  The puppy is born, I'm excited, I look forward to when I can bring her home at 8 weeks.  The time passes and I bring my cute puppy, Cali, (aka California Sunshine Cali) home.
     And then I realize I am alone.  With Cali.  All day.  All night.  She doesn't know not to pee in the kitchen or on the way out to the backyard to pause in the living room.  She doesn't know that sleeping through the night is a great way to honor her keeper.  And so, here I am, not enjoying the runs out to the backyard every half hour or hour or maybe two.  I am not enjoying waking up in the (relative) California cold in the wee hours, sometimes more than one wee hour, to pick her up and race outside into a backyard where I have seen raccoons, skunks, squirrels, snakes, opossums, feral cats, owls, hawks and other critters I know are there but have not seen.  I take my older dog and my flashlight as I slip on my shoes and coat.  I muster, "Good girl, Cali, get busy" at every squirt and squat.  I carry her back inside and slip back to sleep myself.
     What was I thinking?  I feel sorry for myself, but what are my options?  Power through, girl, power through.  I think back to when my children were babies and I was up in the middle of the night and so tired during the day.  I am sure this time is never going to end.  I asked for the challenge of raising a puppy, but I got a challenge I didn't think through.
     And then, about ten days in, something flipped.  I could see incremental change.  She was beginning to learn a few commands, not perfectly, but enough to give me hope.  She played with my senior dog, as well as me.  I tried to establish a rhythm to our days.  She slept more during the day and a little more at night.  And for me, I began to enjoy her more.  I accepted the responsibility of being for her.
     As I enjoyed her more, she became more enjoyable.  She allowed me to cuddle.  We played games.  And my heart opened more.
     Cali has been here two and a half weeks and it seems like she's been here forever.  In my acceptance of our building and future relationship I've had to cancel a play, change a vacation, and rearrange what I take for a good night's sleep.  But all this is temporary.  I am in the forest and I'm beginning to make out the trees and that is a positive to any challenge.  In this case, it bodes well for our future together.  But I still wonder...what was I thinking?

   

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Expiration Date

     Once a month I teach a class at the Senior Center called Conscious Aging.  I volunteer my time doing this because I believe it is important to view aging in a positive way, not as what we've lost, but as what we can find.  There's a different topic every month designed to provide some psychology underpinnings to some common sense ideas and to give some thought provoking grounding.  Each topic has a positive tone, a you can do it tone.  I prepare the day before, going over my notes, deciding how I will present the class to leave room for lecture, groups, individual comments.  I am usually enthusiastic about the topic.  Not so the topic of today.
    The first time I presented this topic, Death, I glossed over and sanitized it as much as I could.  I was uncomfortable as I didn't really know how to view death in a positive light.  I still felt in a bit of disbelief that it's going to come to me one day.  Somehow I'm going to be the one person who will not have to face that deep unknown.  Oh, I know it's so, but I don't want to die.  I'm not afraid of death, I much prefer, however, living.  This time when I faced preparation for the class, I wanted to not shy away but present it fully and see what would come of it.
   I looked at the full title of the class, "Death Makes Living Possible" and I couldn't initially (as in the first time I gave the class and the beginning of my preparations for this class) understand the connection in any other sense that I can only die because I am living.  But then, the word living took on a different meaning somewhere in my preparations this time.  Living in this sense doesn't mean only breathing in and out and paying bills and figuring out what to have for dinner.  Living means the fullness of life.  Paying attention.  Being Conscious.  Coming to a moment and being in the moment and then going to the next moment.  A lightbulb!  Death makes LIVING possible.  If I know death can happen at any time, that nothing is promised, I can view life in a different way.  I can LIVE.
    The rest of the preparation for the class centered on this positive idea.  Live.  In my relationships, with others, with myself, with the world.  Live. In the sunrise and the sunset and in all the times in between.  Live.  In kindness to myself, to others, to the world.  Live.  LIVE.
     Some day I will no longer live, in either the sense of breathing in and breathing out, or in the sense of being present.  What will happen to my other-than-body, I do not know.  I do not want to know my particular expiration date, but if I had a glimpse of my best used by date, well, I wouldn't mind that.  Knowing neither, I will focus on death as the idea that makes my LIVING possible.
 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Flower Stories



 

Flowers in a garden.  Even the same varieties at different stages have uniqueness.  Some mature, some buds, some with tightly wound florettes. All perky, facing the sun, a mirror of it's color, with traces of fiery red over an orange ball.  Circles within the circles.  A light dusting of fallen petals lay beneath, caught by the undercarriage of leaves.   And then there's the interloper flower, the bloom nearly gone, petals pointing up, down, contrasting color, an early sunrise, a sunset.   Scruffy array standing with the order of the coifed, providing a break from the tension.  This flower, time of bloom and blossom nearly spent, offers a mindful visual of the importance of being and beauty at all times in life.  Flowers needn't speak to provide their stories, but oh if they only could.  What stories would they tell of accepting and appreciating, of living life together, of understanding difference is transitory, and part of life.  Alive is alive. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Wisdom Speak, Elder Wisdom, Elder Stories


         The convergence of this and that often leads me along a path not yet fully visualized, but a path that feels at once possible, exciting, and comforting.  And here I am now.  I drove, a couple of weeks ago, to the Mendocino Coast to attend a writers conference.  As is often the case for me, processing takes a bit of time and I allow myself the unconscious doing before I tiptoe into the conscious part.  The conscious part means wrangling with how to do what I want to do, and often leaves me feeling whelmed (can I be?),  if not overwhelmed to some degree.
        Before I left for Mendocino I became part of an online class to collect required continuing education units for a clinical license.  The online class had to do with activism and deep storytelling.  Not the rah, rah kind of activism that makes my palms sweat when I think of making cold calls or knocking on doors, but a kind I can make my own by championing an idea that can be helpful in the world.  I can do this in my own way, which, to me, means starting small, and writing.  At the end of the class the challenge was to pick an area.  I left it to marinate before I began to work with it.
      The convergence led me to write about wisdom speak, which I defined as ways of knowing, ways of understanding, ways of being when open to the knowledge of the world and gathering it in and sifting through those inner workings of self.  This is the experience of wisdom, and the speak comes through putting the wisdom into the world through stories.  I most particularly want to focus on wisdom speak when it comes to elder wisdom.  The story is the vehicle.
     Elders in many parts of the world are valued for their wisdom.  In the United States the voices of elders are often overlooked.  The culture of youth and the idea of obsolescence in general underpins this disregard.  Elder stories provide a myriad of experience to connect generation to generation through feelings and subtext, through commonality of life's struggles.  Elder wisdom through stories provides the circularity of life, interweaving the hope from the past to the hope for the future, providing and verifying the interconnectedness of life.
     I take the small steps along the path, uncertain of where I'm going, of where to go.  What will I do to enlarge the idea?  Who will listen?  Who will join?  And yet, here is the path.  I take a step.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Happy Shoes

         Visiting my friend a couple of years ago we decided to go to a local mall.  I'm not much of a shopping person, but I am the kind of person that enjoys spending time with my friend.  She's a shopping person.  As is my daughter.  I think it must be a recessive gene.  Somehow my friend and I ended up in a shoe store and as we wandered up and down the aisles, I saw this pair of shoes.  Not only did I see them, they captivated me.  Pinks and purples and I felt happy when I looked at them.  Even now, I have to leave the computer, walk upstairs and make sure I still have them.  I hope I didn't throw them out, which means donate them.  Somewhere, I hear my children chuckling...mom you never throw ANYTHING out.  It's a fairly accurate statement.  I keep the important things, even though they might not think they are so important.  (And yes, I still do have the shoes).  Calmed, I return to the essay, still not understanding where it is going but recording the thoughts as they come to mind.  This is how I mostly write.  I don't often know where it's going, but I'll sit here and be its fingers along the road.  Not that this is some magical, mystical writing, as if I'm channeling.  I do pause.  Sometimes just to wonder, where is this going?  As I just did.  And in this case I then remember about the happy shoes and the happy times with my friend.  Things bring memories, maybe that's why I keep them, to somehow hold on to the good feelings when I look at them.  If I look around at what I've kept, wow, that's a lot of good feelings.  If I hold this notion as a grounding (i.e. that I keep things for the good feelings), it helps me understand myself, and understand why I don't want to get rid of things.  Things is not just stuff.  Things are good feelings.  When I see the thing, I see the story behind it, the where I got it, the who I was with, the connection.  In a time not quite filled with good feelings, I see a purpose for the anxiety that I feel when I think of getting rid of this or that.  Once I find more good feelings, filling up the well, likely the sorting through may be easier.  I hope.  I bought a sweatshirt at a writers' conference last year and on the back is the quote "I write to learn what I know".  Somewhere in that part of me that compels me to write, and to take the leap to start and see where it goes, I am walking in those happy shoes.  For where this piece ends is not where it started, nor where I thought it would go.  Other than to connect to something and someone and to have good feelings.  And that is a lot. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Here's Looking at You, Kid : )

       Yesterday I attended a 50 year reunion of my high school class.  Before I left I sent a pic to my daughter, she wanted to see what I was wearing.  She told me, kindly, that I looked beautiful.  I told her that I felt old.  She reminded me I was going to be with my contemporaries.  I chuckled.  I had attended reunions in the past and found them mixed, but always I was glad that I went.  This one was no exception.  The setting, at a Country Club, was an immediate reminder of the difference in the financial holdings of the parents who sent us to this girls high school, and the difference that no doubt still existed.  The subcontext, success is measured in money.  I don't think this a conscious choice, perhaps even a sharing of the privilege of money, and yet, I wondered. 
      As I reconnected with the women, some of whom I hadn't seen literally in 50 years, I asked about their lives, listened to their stories, and encouraged them to record their lives in story.  This is my current passion.  Everyone has a story and it is the stories that reunite us.  But what stories, in 3 hours, could serve to make us a cohesive group?  Initially, our high school stories.  What fun it would have been to remember our teachers and those awkward adolescents that we were.  That is our foundation.  What little we knew about each other then, too focused on our own insecurities. Yet this lack of knowledge of ourselves and others bonded us, imprinting us in some life-long commitment way. 
     I somehow hoped that when I returned to this group these 50 years later that we could once again quickly find that comraderie that went beyond the type of cars we drove or where we lived or the traveling we had done.  And in some moments, especially when we watched the tribute to the 15 women who were not able to attend our celebration because death had claimed them, the comraderie entered and swirled around us, and we were back to the basics.  No longer the awkward adolescents, women of some accomplishment, women of our own power.  Interesting women who, given more time to separate from the cliques of the past, the comfort of sitting around a specific table, might have seen a way both to relive those years and to move into extended conversations regarding who we are today--not what we have achieved or where we live.   For who we are today includes that part of us who is the awkward adolescent, who questions ourselves, who wonders what is important in life to focus on, who knows that it is not what is on the surface that matters most, it is matters of the mind, matters of the heart, matters of the soul. 
    The introductory question most asked of me was, "where do you live now?".  I found that an interesting entry into conversation.  Not, what do you do, or even, how are you, but where I live, as if that will tell the most.  It won't.  I had few more in depth conversations, save one about writing, and one about the incredible events of the week past and a brief discussion of the politics of the future.  Each ended too quickly before back to "where do you live now?".  People stayed within their comfort zones, and some of the zones were narrow. 
    Life, I think, is about accepting all the parts of us that blend into the who we are today.  When we learn about others, we learn about ourselves if we take the time to ponder.  Tell me your stories, I will tell you mine, and we will meet in the common ground of our humanity.