On the day of my sorrow

I think ahead to the time when I won’t have my mother and I won’t have my father and I feel a deep sorrow. I can try, with flowery language to express it, but I can not. Losing my father was a hard thing, but not unexpected. Losing my mother is expected, but also a hard thing.

I think of all the things over the years that I resented in my mother, and then, I look deeply at myself and see I am like her. I am her. But I am also not her.

The single minded focus. Determination. Stubbornness. Not giving a damn what anyone else thinks. But my choices of how to apply those qualities are different because I am different. And I have made different choices. Maybe not better. But different. My own.

Like my own children. Maybe one day my daughter will struggle when I am beholden and hidden in the inevitable arms of old age and wonder at our life together and resent the mistakes I have made. And my humanness. And to her I would say, I was alive, I was real. I made my mistakes. I made you. And I love you. Please forgive me for my humanness. I can not take it away. I won’t take it away. I want to feel. I want to touch. I want to sense and taste. Don’t lock yourself in a tower of what you think you are supposed to do and neglect to be alive. Resent me, resent my choices, but make your own. And own them. And grow. Grow into the life you’ve been given. That I’ve given you. I loved you into existence, from the deep beating in my heart.

And in the winter evening of my mother’s life I want to understand her, to forgive her. To help her although I feel unable to do so. She said recently sometimes she’s happier in her dreams. Then she followed up with, “but that’s not reality.” Then she said some people grow old and question why they had children at all.

She had different choices to make then, then now. She had different responsibilities then, then now. This time left between us, is like a pregnant pause. Filled with words left unsaid. But maybe she thinks, like I do, I hope my daughter will forgive me for being human. And sometimes inhabiting the space of being unloveable, because I gave her the gift of life, and all the magic it entails, from the deepness in my heart.

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Letting go

There comes a time when you come to the horrible, sinking realization that your parents are fallible. Even when you grow up as the kid of weird 1970s doomsday hippies, that the inevitable does eventually reach it’s logical conclusion. That all those times where your own parents said the end was coming and it never did, and you thought, we are just infallible and we will never die. That is a falsehood. And then you find yourself as a byproduct of a traumatic childhood, suddenly shouldered with the responsibility of caring for the person who told you all those times, the end was coming and it never did. That you have some choices.

In therapy I learned that the usual choice in my situation was to abandon the parent that caused so much suffering.

But I couldn’t do that.

So instead I’ve spent the past seven months on many many airplane rides and many car rentals and many many hours spent together, struggling with acceptance, that there is more math behind her than there is ahead of her. And I’m able to offer forgiveness and help her. But it’s cyclical. Sometimes I’m okay with it, the fact that death robs us all of our parents, no matter how perfect they were or weren’t and my forgiveness of my imperfect childhood. And sometimes I’m full of anger and hurt and betrayal that the one person on earth who was supposed to teach me mothering, didn’t. That the strong, invincible woman in my life that physically intimidated me and her other children, that that strength declines, erodes. And that despite all the times she wasn’t perfect, that she was breakable, human, flawed, and yet still my mother, I steadfastly don’t want her to go. I want to be locked eternally at odds with her, rebuked and sanctioned by her physical strength as the weaker one.

But no one can remain the ill-treated child forever. Even if that position feels warm and as comfortable and familiar as well worn leather.

In a way our roles have reversed and somehow I am the strong one now. And I look back at all the time over the past seven months, and all the varied things I did, searching for understanding. And acceptance. That’s a lot of history between now and then. Not as much history as between my mother and myself but a lot even so. Eventually, after many months I opted not to slide so easily back into our predefined roles. Trying to view my mother and myself with compassion. Instead of anxiety, worry and fear.

Sometimes I look at my empty hands. Sometimes I transform my empty hands with knitting. Or my phone, when I call her. When I write out her bills and go through her papers to help her maintain the lifestyle she wants. Or hold her arm as I take her to lunch and hug her. And sometimes I transform my empty hands and heart with wine. Or martial arts. Or the warm bodies of my children who I hold close, and look deeply into their eyes, searching for contentment and happiness, hoping to hold onto it for myself, greedy. In a way I want to hold onto all the good things in life that way. Clenching them with white knuckles. But that’s not the timing, pacing, and reality of the universe. So I take some deep breaths and tell myself it’s okay to let go. And sometimes, it is. Even with all that’s passed between us. I don’t have to control it or make it perfect in the eyes of others. Some days I can just accept it as it is and continue doing the best I can. Making my new mistakes and going my own way. Looking forward and looking back, and finally downward at my empty hands.

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multidimensional me

That thing where you read some Roxanne Gay and she talks about how we as a society don’t allow women to be unlikeable, multidimensional human beings. In films. In books. In porn. In art. But no one is just any one thing. We don’t fit into boxes. I’ve never fit into any box. My children will certainly never fit into any one box. My mother and father didn’t have any boxes.

Also, that thing where you realize your parent, your mother, knocked down from her pedestal, is human. After many years of anger and resentment. One day you simply realize. She is a person. She made her mistakes. And she’s entitled to do so. The world keeps turning. Think of all the artists and people who fucked up yet also did something really great that deeply touched us all. They had someone at home, and maybe they didn’t do it all right either.

My mom put herself around people and in situations where women weren’t equal. Yet she worked to take care of her family when her husband could not. The messages all around us were, cover yourself, don’t attract attention to yourself, follow the rules. And she was able to disregard it all. I’m very grateful for that. I’m grateful for the times we went outside for long walks and she knew all the names of the plants and how she was never afraid of snakes. The time she took me to see Halley’s comet. Her love for geology and astronomy, and birds. How we would watch star trek together. All of these things were subversive to her sex and her station. And yet she did it anyway. I’m grateful for how she said one thing but did something else, and how that something else shaped me into the person I became.

I think of how I struggled to break out of the box and the role of someone’s mother. And even more confining, the mother of someone with special needs. And most difficult of all, how I struggled to change my life, upending it, rending and cutting and setting fire to my sense of security and my perceived place in the world, to search for my own happiness. We still have human needs and desires and all of the other experiences and wants of a person.

I think of my mother and my father and their struggles and all the things they did and decisions they made that I didn’t agree with, and the things they did that caused me hurt. And finally after 40 years of wondering why, maybe I’m done with that. I can just say, they were human beings, making the decisions they needed to make at that time in their lives. They were multidimensional and fucked up and complex and undefined. And maybe, maybe that’s okay.

When I look in my heart and feel good about the lives of my children, or I do something for myself that feels good. Yes, I created my current life and my trajectory, but that wouldn’t have been possible without my parents. They breathed that magic of life into my body, and despite all else, I’m here and alive and happy because of that act.

Alan Watts says in one of his books that the purpose of life is simply for the universe to see itself. And the full realm of human behavior is life, death, good, bad, hurt, pleasure, all of that existence is legitimate because that’s what it means to be alive. So, perhaps even when it hurts others or is unlikeable or you can’t understand it, it’s okay to be multidimensional. Those dualities of good and bad in people that we can’t seem to understand, maybe you just have to suck it up and accept it because it’s part of being alive.

Acceptance feels like a fair trade off for being alive, if you ask me.

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Happy dreaming

I found myself with a seat at the hotel bar after the Women’s March on Washington, surrounded by three fellow WVU alumni. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go when I said where I had been the entire day. Much to my relief my answer, “I’ve been at the Women’s March on Washington” was met with warm smiles and questions about how it went. Kind of reminiscent of how attending WVU was my personal salvation. On my roughest, toughest, hardest days in California I would go to sleep at night covered in hives from stress and dream of being in my small apartment in Morgantown, working hard and feeling happy. I would wake up calmer. Living in West Virginia changed everything for me.

Jessica Diamond Film Show, reminding myself of my roots #mastersinphysics

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My decision to study physics was the ultimate rebellion from an upbringing based on feelings, not facts. I was constantly exposed to the idea that the end of the world was imminent but somehow that date was always changing, that the ground beneath our feet was solid as so many bits of sand. My mother was always preparing for the end of the world. I remember the first incident, when I was four, which coincided with my father’s first nervous breakdown. There was never any reason or logic to it, she simply couldn’t be dissuaded from her harmful idea. Again and again we would find ourselves around people who deepened her resolve that the demise of earth was coming and she had better be prepared with 50 pound sacks of rice, expensive products only available to the select rapture-worthy, and a 22 that would maybe maim a squirrel and even then only if you shot it in the eye.

Science and fact was a slap in the face for her, I presume. She was not impressed or assuaged with my choice of profession. I fled from places and spaces where I was forced to pretend to speak in tongues, I fled from that time my mom sold the family home to buy up sacks of flour and rice and moved into a sketchy ramshackle home, owned by even sketchier people who knew Pat Buchannon. I remember standing in the garage there, at the dilapidated home, finding a photo of the home owners with Pat thinking, these people are really weird. This is so weird. I fled from my sister, angrily coming in to my work in Virginia, spouting off to my coworkers that West Virginia was a terrible mistake. For some reason she felt I would be better off at MIT. Which is a lovely, kind thing for her to have thought, that I was smart enough and mentally tough enough to be at such an institution. West Virginia University is THE state school. I was surrounded by great minds, taught by professors from every ivy league school. One of my classmates won the physics prize for the ENTIRE COUNTRY of Serbia when he was in the sixth grade. I was dwarfed by greatness there. I worked three jobs to pay rent and eat and learn there. Taking a job at McDonalds one semester, working there 40 hours a week so I would have one guaranteed meal each day. Working so hard and so long and getting the same grades in physics as everyone else. I’m proud of that.

The professors would say things like, “I can’t write you a letter of recommendation because you’re only in the top third of the class” in a field of 200 students. They would say “Stop working, you’re only going to hurt yourself.” But if I didn’t work, I didn’t eat, nor have a place to live. The students would say, “why don’t you just quit working so you can only go to school” or “how come your parents don’t just pay for your college” or “why can’t you give $20 for a going away gift for this professor.” Money was so tight that an extra $8 expense could throw me into ruin. I parked my car and canceled my insurance and walked everywhere for a full year. Including a many-stories-tall staircase cut into the mountainside with temps outside at negative five degrees. I had roommate after roommate, and a couple precious semesters where I had my apartment to myself. Sometimes I would have to pay my rent late, and I would tell my landlord with my deepest apologies. He was understanding of my situation, for which I’m very thankful. He knew I was working hard. That was a kindness I’ll never forget.

What possessed me to work so hard? A life of being in spaces where the world was going to end. A life of being in places where I feared my mother would try and marry me off to one terrible, ill-suited angry and controlling man after another. Where I was forced to wear a skirt down to my ankles and was rebuked for wearing makeup and earrings. Where the only opinion that mattered was hers, or the people she had thrown herself in with, this time.

She and Dad would visit my precious apartment and passive aggressively leave books about the debate between creationism and science. I would beg her “please do not spend your money on these books” but those pleas fell on deaf ears. Most of the professors were avowed christians rendering her argument invalid. Not that it mattered anyway to this atheist. How many times can you hear ‘the world is ending in 6 weeks’ before you don’t believe in empty words anymore, or faith, or god. How do you trust a parent, who tells you they hold the keys to your life or death, over and over until you flee at 17. How do you accept that helplessness to cruelty, that inability to steer your life in whatever direction you please, to do what you wish?

For me, the seeds of my rebellion started in the second grade. I was placed in a summer program taught by a wonderful woman who changed my life by teaching me computer programming on a TRS 80, put a camera into my hands, and had a beautiful, polished loom with as many pedals as a church pipe organ that she let us children work. Soon after that summer I began reading every book I could get my hands on, and my reading choices went uncensored, thanks to my father. These experiences gave me resilience, they laid the foundation to what I love to do most in life. Creation, and the search for truth and beauty. That next summer a close relative put a camera in my hands and my brother came to visit, exposing me to art on a level few get to experience.

Those experiences, those adults who cared enough to show me my escape route from religion and dysfunctional upbringing, they changed me, they shaped me. They gave me my own voice. So when the time came, I left my family behind, my upbringing behind, and I moved to Morgantown to attend WVU and study numbers, and figures, and facts in my search for a higher power. Physics was my personal endeavor to find god. I was not successful. My search included high pressure criticism, the expectation to perform, the need to work to provide for myself, meaning less time to study. It built my character, it built my strength, it shaped my anxiety. And, to be frank and honest, when I got my first B in a course, I gave up the need to be perfect. I probably worked less hard than I needed to, because the shining ideal of my perfection developed a patina and had a bad attitude. When I learned that all of Quantum Mechanics was based on an approximation of the hydrogen atom, I wanted to take to my bed for a week. That answers are something you approached with sequences and series of data and calculations to get closer and closer to an answer, and that sometimes there was more than one answer, that did not appeal to my idealistic view of “how everything should be.” That people could use computers to work calculus problems that are so tough I wanted to cry, that those problems could be solved literally in one instant. That people cheated and looked up answers on the internet, just like in real life. That groups of foreign nationals worked together to do homework so everyone got their answers perfect, except for you, who did your homework by yourself, as specified and you got a bad grade. Then the lens of disillusionment became scratched and worn, it was almost like being in physics was like you were living your life, day by day, just like everyone else. With the same damn problems as everyone else. Like there was no escaping the realities of life. When I heard men say things like “women just aren’t genetically meant to do physics.” It felt a lot like “women should wear skirts that cover their ankles and shouldn’t wear makeup or earrings.” Funny how real life finds a way to creep in, even when you’re fooling yourself with the idea of what is the pursuit of perfection. How there isn’t one real path to solving every problem. Personal, interpersonal, and mathematical. I began to sense that there just isn’t a perfect anything to solve anything.

So I specialized in sensing equipment to see if I couldn’t get close to some answers. For my undergraduate senior project I used a 14″ Celestron scope with a ccd camera slapped on the end which I manually adjusted to half second of arc to study the spectra of 7 different stars. For graduate school I used an atomic force microscope to study proteins in a fluid environment. Both pieces of equipment divvied up data in to buckets, kind of like how a camera has millions of tiny buckets of light. It’s no coincidence that I used types of cameras for my undergraduate and graduate work because I had been accustomed to them since the age of 7. I used a camera to see the world at that instant in time, like I almost always have, kind of like how I’ve always used writing to see inside myself. Sometimes I look at old photos of myself and I can see what I couldn’t see then, and that’s how I was feeling at the time. The chaos of my spiritual upbringing had me caring for everyone else’s needs and neglecting my own. Even in my time in physics, the woman becomes the group mom. But fiber saved me. Photography saved me. Programming saved me. These seeds planted when I was only 7, they saved me from a life of dysfunction, unhappiness, and fear and shame passed down in my family. Somehow, through all of it, I saved myself.

Finally I can look in the mirror and in a photograph and see how I’m feeling right now. Or I can ask myself how I’m feeling and get a precise answer. Not something approaching an answer or an approximation of an answer. A discrete, actual answer. These dreams I have, where I’m in Morgantown, unpacking the hurts of the past, working my ass off, leaving perfection behind, accepting my realities, these are my dreams of happiness. I haltingly play the piano in these dreams. I stretch out the quilt that is my life and look at the pieces. I look out the window and assess the mountains. I look at the small place that is my very own and I feel content, relaxed, at ease, even though it was a time where I worked harder than I ever had to before. Those difficult and uncertain times, upon reflection, were challenging and beautiful and happy, and that’s why I go there in my dreams.

Got my hat on, I'm marching ??????

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But today, finally, after working so hard on myself, learning to take care of my own needs before I take care of everyone else, and even with all of the huge, troubling things we have to unpack to deal with in our current reality, I can look at myself, awake, and sense that I’m happy NOW even though I must work really hard and have a lot on my plate and go through the same shit everyone else is going through. And I don’t have to wait for the refuge of sleep to sense and feel it. And I am thankful. For all of it.

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The 9:30

We called it the 9:30, like we say the 405 out here in California. It was a club in DC, and there was both the old 9:30 and the new 9:30 and I was lucky enough to have visited both. I saw GWAR at the original 9:30 club. I don’t know why we ended up in DC so early that day, but I remember walking across the Key Bridge, irritated, cold, hungry, and angry with my three companions. It was a good show. Tristan, my boyfriend, pinned me with my back against the mosh crowd unable to move out of their path, and I got pummeled by the not-so-good-natured moshing, and sprayed like water torture, with kool aid colored water for the duration of the show. I remember having blue, pink, and purple skin for days. Eventually I wandered off from the crowd, down to the basement, which was covered in patina: writing, paint, old band flyers, and sharpie. My memory isn’t as reliable but I swear even the industrial garbage can and the floor had something scrawled on it. History. That room felt great. I sat down there, for god knows how long until someone I was with came down to check on me. He used to hang out with GWAR in Richmond before they were banned from being seen in public in their costumes. While we were downstairs he pointed out one of the band members. I was disappointed because the band member was in regular street clothes and did not at all look spectacular. “He just looks like a regular guy,” I complained. We left the club, with the metro shut down for the night, and accepted a ride with sketchy strangers, 6 of us crammed into the backseat of a small gas efficient piece of shit on our way back to our car.

Eventually, the 9:30 club outgrew it’s space and bought a bigger, shinier building, but without the charm/horror of the downstairs room with years of ephemera of rough showgoers. The second time I saw GWAR it was at the new 9:30. I remember sitting in an ante room watching this strange film from the 1940s or 1950s with a beautiful blonde and an unending stage coach scene. I watched transfixed while everyone else was off doing something else. Eventually I made my way out to the show floor to watch the first band end their set in a fist fight. I remember my second Gwar show being more of a spectacle. There was a huge boxing ring. I remember that they “beheaded” OJ and colored water shot 10 feet up into the air out of the beheaded OJ costume. And some other people. Maybe Monica Lewinsky was there in character, and I’m sure B Clinton. It was chaos. There was more and more and more colored water sprayed into the crowd. Social commentary. But less history since it was a new location and a new building.

I’ve been involved in music in some way since childhood. I played my instrument at church, I learned the piano from a very talented musician who taught four presidents how to play. He quickly realized I could memorize music and had me play at one recital blindfolded. For fun. I played for weddings. I played in school. I played in one forced church setting, which in retrospect was likely a cult. I fought with my mom over it, she pushed me into the car and threw my flute in behind me before slamming the door. She would tell people I would play for them without asking me, then take the money. She’d stand over me at the piano, forcing me to practice although I had memorized the piece already, with a belt, hitting me, until she was satisfied. So in my middle to late teen years when I found out how upsetting it was for her when I visited a local, shitty dive apartment called the band room, where they played something like heavy metal and something like noise, and I was hooked, both to horrify her and myself. Soon after I left home for good, moving in with an artist, and we would go to shows together. Having grown up in a sanitized, church environment I spent more time watching than listening. “This is how regular people are,” I told myself. “This is how I will be too.” I saw Gwar, Danzig, the Ramones, White Zombie, Pantera, Type O Negative, Primus, L7, the Melvins. I crowd surfed and smoked pot. I got tattoos. Trying to cover up my history, give myself a patina of something I liked better, something that hurt me less than loving the lord. I never understood how there could be so much pain in loving God. But the music didn’t hurt. Music didn’t hurt like love did.

This weekend I’m returning to DC for the Women’s March on Washington. I don’t know if I’ll have time to walk the Key Bridge. If I can sneak off to the 9:30 for a retrospective tour. I’ve knit 6 hats. I’ve taught and coached my 10 year old little girl about women’s rights. I want her to see me do this thing, this thing I’m scared to do. “This is who I am,” “this is what activists do,” even when they’re scared. Scared of crowds, scared of law enforcement over reaction. I read somewhere this week to take a sharpie and write your name and number on your body for the march. To stay toward the edges of the crowd. I’ve been at the edge before, and that’s where I got pummeled. I don’t have the answers. I don’t have any answers. But I will go. For my little girl. For myself. For her children. This is who I am.

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Vulnerability is

Vulnerability is that moment directly after you hit “send.”

Vulnerability is that moment when you’re in the air after nage throws you, but before the moment when you hit the ground.

Vulnerability is that moment after you hit the ground, hard, while you wait to take the first breath after all the air has been knocked out.

Vulnerability is letting someone see you cry.

Vulnerability is letting someone see that you don’t have your shit together.

Vulnerability is falling apart.

Vulnerability is not knowing how to do something.

Vulnerability is showing someone you admire your first book, having them take it, knowing they’ll read it.

Vulnerability is writing.

Vulnerability is opening up an artery and pouring it on the page.

Vulnerability is creating.

Vulnerability is asking even when you know the answer is no.

Vulnerability is asking even when you know the answer is yes.

Vulnerability is not people pleasing.

Vulnerability is not control.

Vulnerability is inhabiting a body that someone else does not like.

Vulnerability is being yourself.

Vulnerability is saying no.

Vulnerability is saying yes.

Vulnerability is taking that first step.

Vulnerability is taking that last step.

Vulnerability is being real.

Vulnerability is accepting that sometimes the answer is no.

Vulnerability is giving people room to make their own mistakes.

Vulnerability is giving myself room to make my own mistakes.

Vulnerability is stepping over the side of the bridge, waiting on my turn to jump.

In these moments, this is who I truly am. If I want to truly know my character and tell my ego to go for a fucking hike, I choose vulnerability.

Vulnerability is time.

Vulnerability is patience.

Vulnerability is space.

Vulnerability is waiting for the right moment.

Vulnerability is waiting for the wrong moment.

Patience is highly overrated.

Comfort is highly overrated.

Achievement is highly overrated.

Reputation is highly overrated.

Vulnerability is the space between.

Vulnerability is deciding to take a risk.

I didn’t choose vulnerability, it chose me. Again and again and again and again. Vulnerability can go suck a rock. Vulnerability can go jump off of a cliff, vulnerability can go jump out of an airplane.  Vulnerability can go jump in the ocean. Vulnerability can go, but wherever it goes, I will follow. This is the space, my space, between.

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Scared of Thunder and Lightening

This was my other favorite

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I discovered this painting in the Molaa in a special dia de los muertos exhibit a couple days after I turned forty and absolutely fell in love with it.

It says
She wasn’t sure what would happen next, she hadn’t shown up to be seen before
all the portals of opportunity appeared
there was a shift, she was out there

And with that, I decided to be seen.

_____

I was awake last night between 2 and 4am. The flash of lightening woke me up, followed by the thunder. The storm helped me remember. When I was young and we were living on the farm and my dad was sick in the hospital we had a very powerful thunder storm, the whole valley was alight with lightening and the sky was the strangest color. Previously I had been terrified of the thunder and lightening storms. But during that three hour storm my mom sat with me and talked to me until I was no longer afraid.

A happy memory.

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Self actualization means to me…

After a year of therapy my therapist, who is one of the most wonderful people to ever help me in my life, told me I was self actualized and released from therapy. That was terrific. It also meant the burden of handling the full scope of my emotions fell upon me. And jesus, is that a responsibility.

Self actualization to me means, I make a lot of mistakes, and fuck up many many times. But that’s okay. Sometimes you get thrown on the mat. Sometimes you throw yourself. Sometimes you get a push you didn’t expect. So I get back up from the mat after I make a mistake and try again. I have more confidence now, on how I’ll handle situations. Which is a giant shift in thinking for me because before I thought somehow I could control the situations I found myself in. But the reality is I can only control how I react to things. That’s it. Let’s let the rest go. Right fucking now. Let it go.

Before I turned 37 and changed my life I was afraid of looking deeply within, at my own darkness. However I was a worldwide expert at pointing at the darkness in everyone else. The strange thing is, what I was zeroing in on in everyone else was the darkness in myself that was invisible to me. When you refuse to see your own darkness you separate from yourself. You’re separated from your power. From your wisdom. Your heart. Your instinct. Your art. You can’t let people inside or out. You can’t tell what is the end of you and the beginning of someone else. And boundaries are everything. Control is about boundaries. The more you try to control the more likely you are to crush exactly the thing you desire. Controlling your boundaries too much can keep you from beautiful experiences and people. Controlling your boundaries too little will let in more darkness. Somehow it’s got to be about balance.

I’ve been on this journey in martial arts that began when I was in college and I first set foot on the mat over 20 years ago. In Aikido the more rigidly you hold your body, the more you fight falling, the easier it is to throw you. When you are too rigid and resist change it’s easier to manipulate you, and you’ll you find yourself going in exactly the opposite direction you intended. It’s fear and lack of trust that causes this response. In reality you’re much less likely to get hurt if you’re relaxed, trusting, and unafraid. So I tell myself, be relaxed. Don’t forget to breathe.

Somehow in all of this, all these mistakes I’m making, all these times I’ve fallen down all these times I’ve thrown myself down, the process I’m in of finding myself, there is a lot of pain. A lot of overwhelming emotions, but generally I’m okay with it. Writing connects me to myself. It connects me to my creative force inside and is a bellwether for what I’m feeling and experiencing. Sometimes I have to write it out to understand what is happening in my life. A lot of the time I have to write it out to understand what is happening in my life. Most of the time I have to write it out to understand what is happening in my life. ALL of the time I have to write it out to understand what is happening in my life.

For nearly three years, I couldn’t write. I could do a lot of other things, like watch great white egrets take one slow step after another on the watershed. I could run until I wanted to collapse. I could do aikido and do tai chi until my tendons hurt so badly it felt like I was being stung by 10,000 bees. I could hike 13.5 miles and go bungee jumping and indoor skydiving and take a lot of new risks I was unwilling to try in the past. Because before, I was holding myself to this unreachable standard, this unattainable goal, a quest for a perfect, breakable object that is me. And I thought that once I finally reached perfection, then I would be dashed into 10,000 tiny parts and each piece would shriek and melt, making me unable to be whole again. Fuck that. Break me. And after you’ve broken me once, break me again. I’ll put myself back together again. I don’t need perfection and I can exist in this space and be breakable at the same time.

And so, my creativity has returned and my ability to write has returned, and I can look inside myself and see and feel my creative energy again after a lot of fear and pain and hard work and picking myself up again and again and again. I have so many wonderful ideas for my business. As soon as possible I’m going to rent a studio and create a space for myself to get the fuck back to where I was creatively and professionally when I left my marriage. I intend to surround myself with knitting and my art and artists and that kinetic, energetic, artful and rarely perfect experience that is living. Even if I have to break sometimes to get there. I will get there again. I am there now. In some ways, I was always there. I have my sister’s favorite waterman, my favorite lamy, my old laptop, my newer broken laptop. I have duct tape. I have martial arts. If there’s not a way, I will make a fucking way. I have fear and yet I am unafraid. I have pain. I have happiness. I am whole because I no longer hate the pieces that make me, me. I have everything I need, right here, inside me, already. And I’m ready.

Maybe that’s what it means to be self actualized. It’s what it means to me, and that makes all the difference, and it’s the only difference and it’s all different and yet not different at all. It’s all of those things. All at the same time.

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I believe in gratitude

I still believe in gratitude. My life has changed dramatically since August, when my Mom’s best friend died and I had to step in and help my mom with her needs. The bottom line is, my mom wants to stay where she lives, with her neighbors and friends and church, and her wish is to die peacefully in her home. I’m trying to help her with her final wishes. It’s hard. I get angry sometimes. With her. With myself. With the situation. Maybe I even get really mad at our very imperfect and very fraught past. I think it’s probably unfair for me to post my deepest thoughts about it all online, but I also think I’m probably not the only one struggling to help a parent who wasn’t picture perfect, who fucked up a lot, who caused drama and hurt. When I think about how much my mom would hurt if she read what I wrote, that hurts me. She asked me sometime last fall, what was a happy memory of her in my childhood. I couldn’t think of a single memory with the two of us that was happy.

I’ve made a point to give my children happy memories with me in them. Maybe that makes me sound superior? I’m not sure. I remember how much I suffered, and that not all of it is my mother’s fault. But I also keep in my heart that my children are humans and if I hurt them too badly they will choose not to be around me when we’re all older. That’s one way I try to keep myself in check. I try to use empathy with my kids and let them know that other people’s actions are not their responsibility. Including mine. If mom’s upset about something, it’s not your fault, unless I say “this is your fault,” and even then.

I’m sure my mom did not intend to wound me so deeply. I wonder how I’ve unintentionally wounded my own children. I try to stay aware. There just aren’t any simple answers.

I am grateful for a few things stemming from having new responsibilities with my mom. Somewhere in the morass I realized I had to stop waiting to have my own life, outside my kids. I make more of an effort to step outside my comfort zone, take risks and make new mistakes and do things for me. I had some dark back and forth with my mom and I got to ask her if she only felt loved if she sowed chaos in my life. Sure, that sounds terrible, but it was an important moment between us. We have had some lovely, quiet, special times together since I’ve been visiting her once a month. She’s talked about her regrets. We’ve talked about death. We’ve talked about my Dad. She tells me not to neglect my family in order to help her. This is a terrible position for all of us to be in. But it is reality and unavoidable. I’m willing to go out of my way to help her as much as I can. I have a lot of responsibility in my own life to take care of family, and I take it very seriously. So I take care of myself now. Which means letting myself get angry and feel anger and BE anger and maybe share too much online. Fuck, I’m not really sorry that I do that. I’ve been doing it in some form or another for 12 years.

If I lose my memory like she has, I’ll have my writing and my photos to look back upon to help me remember. I’m more vigilant about existing in my photos and on videos, so I can look back.

I’m not afraid of anger or shame or guilt. I’ve worked very hard to be able to allow myself to feel a full range of emotions after a very long period of feeling numb. And you know, you can’t feel great happiness if you don’t feel great pain.

I’ve been reading Golda Meir in search of feminine leadership. She has a beautiful quote, that touches me.

Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart, don’t know how to laugh either.

So I’m ready to laugh and to cry and speak to my experience, even though I know that my truth will be painful to others. Authenticity is everything. So today, I’m grateful for authenticity.

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Advance Directives and other miscellaneous shit

We used to argue over who was going to take care of our Mother in old age. I would tell Miriam up front, it ain’t fucking going to be me. If you know me or my family in my real life, maybe this won’t be a surprise to you, or maybe it will. At times I was the only one who would say it out loud, and this blog, being my own personal space since 2004, is a place where I’m going to say it again. My mother helped a lot of people in her lifetime. She has also caused a cloud of constant chaos and drama in mine. So much so that when I feel people with her type of frenzied energy in my personal space that I do not hesitate in turning on my heel and walking in the other direction. Or being rude, even. That’s quite a reaction in a southern woman raised to “bless people’s hearts” and drink tea in the shade of my own creation. So, anyway, the past month I’ve been poking myself in all the most hurtful places. Looking and touching my sister’s art, finding her iPod full of her music, her art supplies, her journals, where she wrote her dreams.

I’ve been raging against her, Miriam, for being gone while I have to field phone calls from nurses who want to “send me information on advance directives” for my mother. This should be Miriam’s job and I should be woefully helping HER as little as humanly possible. Because I am the youngest. The weakest. The most spoiled.

I’ve already spoken to my mother about death. She says she is ready for the afterlife, and not at all afraid. I wrote down the lyrics of the southern church hymns she sings. She sings them nearly all the time now, under her breath, when she forgets where we’re going in the car or what we’re doing next, or why. When I see her tapping her knee I know she is singing to herself. Comforting herself in a way she never comforted me.

But then, she asks me if she can have $70 bottles of fish oil and I think, she is not ready. She is not ready for death. Because she thinks these fish oil pills advertised on tv will somehow reverse the tape and she won’t be 76, with a failing memory and a host of health problems, nearing the end of her life. She tells me, “I wish I had more time.” “I wish I could bungee jump, like you.” She looks at me and says “I think you have more freedom than I had.” Then she says she wishes she never returned home from Austria last time she visited.

She never did have a filter. Or the sense to know what is appropriate talk.

And probably why I don’t have a filter, either. Or give a shit about appropriate talk.

I’ve spent the past 10 years as a mother looking at myself, looking inside, choosing to walk a different parental path than she took. Not hitting. Not abusing. Not neglecting. I may not be the best mother on the block, but I love my children and they know it. I tell them I’m not perfect. That I’m sorry. I let them see me cry. My hurt. I discuss with Maya important life lessons and how my one and only goal is to teach her how to make good decisions. Because when she’s old enough for college she’s going to be on her own and I won’t be there and she needs to know how to survive. And daily I try to help Dmitri make decisions and god knows, I have lots of empirical evidence that that has worked. That what I’m doing is “right.” I have two beautiful children whose beating hearts every day beat “this is right, you did right, we are family.” My heart beats in the same rhythm.

I spent my youth saying “this isn’t right.” I would try to tell people the bad things that went on in our house. And people would just pretend I hadn’t spoken. That those terrible words describing terrible events hadn’t been spoken. A heavy, dead silence of denial. Even Miriam. And she knew I was fucking right because she experienced it herself. People would come up to me at church and tell me how “lucky I was to have parents like mine.” Which, truly, was a mindfuck because what was going on in our house was not luck.

I sat weekly in therapy for a year after my separation and before my divorce was final. At first I was really truly angry at the mere idea that I would have to forgive my mother. But eventually that anger mellowed, just enough for some empathy to sneak in. As a single mother I can see her fear and all her hurts and anger when she was alone, caring for me and my dad was in the hospital, ill. I can look objectively of how we probably didn’t have normal attachment because I was born so early and whisked away to live out my early days in whatever incubator existed at the time. I did wonder though, why my sister and brother who didn’t experience a premature birth had the same lack of attachment with our mother. My therapist and I wrote down once the events surrounding my birth and early childhood and I could see for the first time all the drama and chaos swirling around us and our family, and that mom was likely very depressed. But also. The only time in approximately 520 hours that I saw my therapist with visible anger on her face is when I repeated something awful my mom would say to me throughout my life. Something really cruel and hateful and how she would repeat it with glee and supreme self satisfaction.

Somewhere in there, somewhere inside me is forgiveness. For a while after I forgave my mother it meant that she was showing me more empathy too. She apologized once. For some of the harm she did. I cried. Profusely. I hugged Maya and told her what my mother apologized for and some of the things she did in order to owe me that apology, and I told Maya that if she hurt someone it is never too late to apologize. It really is never too late.

The first few months after I started visiting my mother cross country, things were okay. But recently she’s lapsed into her old chaos soft shoe routine and that’s when it got sticky for me. Dirty. Painful. A reminder of how I was the only one saying “this is not right.” A reminder of the promise I made to myself that I wouldn’t help someone who had been so cruel, to me and others. A reminder of how my therapist told me that most children of parents like mine don’t help them in old age. They leave them to flounder.

So I rage on at my sister, and look at her art with angry, sad eyes, that I have to do this awful thing on my own. That I give up my time and money and my heart and to fly to see our mother, and be away from my kids and I feel like she cares more about a $70 bottle of fish oil pills than me. And cares more about causing drama and chaos than me.

And I look inside, for all the ways I’m like her. I kill the buddha. I hold my ego in my mind’s eye and forgive the parts that are hard to look at. Hateful. Angry. Mean. Cruel. Cold. Chaotic. Other worldly energy driven. And then I try to determine how can this be good. How can it be positive. How can it be alright. Maybe it isn’t really. Maybe as my brother in law said to me that one time, it will never be okay.

Maybe I don’t have to go see her and help her and write her checks and take her to lunches that she never bothered to take me to. To listen to her sing her hymns and hear her talk about how “maybe” her behavior shortened my father’s life. How maybe, she was too hard on him and just never gave him enough time.

And I think about my kids and how I never give them enough time. And that I don’t know how to give them more time. Except sometimes I say “I’m sorry I don’t give you more time, when you’re a kid you need more time to do things. I’ll work on it.” But I’m still shitty at it. I know the thing that deep down makes me me is the same thing that makes her her. I can’t tell you what the difference is between us. I can’t see the difference. I don’t know that difference. I don’t know how to be different.

Today I booked my flight to take her to her next doctor’s appointment after a full month of not wanting to do it. Since she asked me for the $70 pills. Since she bragged to someone just how much “she loves it when I wait on her.” And it would come to me that I’ve been “waiting on her” since I was at least four.

At first, after this summer, when I would accidentally remind her that she had forgotten something she would taunt me over and over with how she was going to go drive her car around the neighborhood. Until I took her keys away. I’m not even sure she remembers how to drive a car.

I cried and touched Miriam’s things today because the reality is, I don’t want to fucking fly back to Norfolk again to help someone I’ve felt never loved me. Miriam should be here to do this thing, for me, for us, for our mother. But she isn’t here. And my mom needs help. And I’m going to be the one to do it. Even when it hurts. Maybe I can be different from her but also the same. In a way our children are our Advance Directive. Maybe I can help other people like she has her whole life, but also help my own family. Then I could be her and be me together, and heal us both.

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