An exchange

When my sister died, one of the professors she was close to told me at her funeral that Miriam didn’t leave us, she simply went into another room. I had a hard time. And I had a hard time knowing what in the hell this professor meant by that. Now, tempered by time, it has become a bit easier to see that even when someone leaves us, and leaves all of the unanswered questions, the dark nights of the soul, that they may be gone, but still, they are here.

Temple chimes, then reading the names of Buddha

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I had a moment this weekend, in my taichi class when I looked around, and I saw all the things that the master had taught us. I watched my classmates move their bodies and I thought “that’s just how the master did it.” I was struck by the beauty of how he has gone to another room, but we still have what he taught us.

10 year anniversary and 100 days for our Master #taiji

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And what a beautiful gift to have given. I think about him, when I’m doing my tai chi, when my knees hurt, when it feels great, when I want to finish the form, and when I don’t. I see him in the movements he generously taught us and shared with us, I miss his voice, yelling, (and how did I never know I would miss the sound of someone yelling at me!?), I miss the way he mimicked our forms, perfectly. The few times I saw him laugh. The lessons I learned when I asked him about a movement in one of the forms and he hit me, with the movement, to show me why. And how I stood there and let him hit me a second time.

And this got me thinking, I can see him and his influence in his students. About those lovely memories, carved into us and into time, although he is gone.

Still listening to Superbad #waitingroommusic

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Then I looked at my reflection and saw my dad in the lines in my face. Looking back, I saw my sister in the way that Dmitri carries his shoulders, if only briefly. I think about these gifts from those that I’ve lost, and work on remembering the happy times, along with my sorrow. Traveling back, in time, to those moments that impacted my heart. I tell myself, even though you are no longer with me, you are still here.

Tuesdays are for bow ties

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I look at my children, my biggest teachers, and I am thankful of how they show me the past, and what is to come. I may have lost those that I love, but the sorrow I feel now is worth the love I had then. It is an even exchange.

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Shambhala Pocket Classics, Thich Nhat Hanh

As we sit down next to a stream, we can listen to its laughter and watch its sparkling waters, noticing the pebbles and fresh green plants nearby, and we may be overcome with happiness. We are one with the stream’s freshness, purity, and clarity. But in just an instant we may find we’ve had enough. Our heart is troubled, and we think of other things. We are no longer one with the stream.

Port Ludlow in Puget Sound

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Finnriver Farm

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Mid flight

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What's inside the old wood

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Nearly every surface has barnacles on it. Barnacles.

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I feel like Puget Sound is an alright place to be

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Good totem for taichi #strungalong #portludlow #latergram

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It is of no use to sit in a peaceful forest if our mind is lost in the city. When we live with a child or a friend, their freshness and warmth can relax us. But if our heart is not with them, their precious presence is neglected, and they no longer exist. We must be aware of them to appreciate their value, to allow them to be our happiness. If through carelessness and forgetfulness we become dissatisfied with them, and begin asking too much of them or reprimanding them, we will lose them. Only after they are gone will we realize their preciousness and feel regret. But once they are gone, all our regrets are in vain.
“The Pocket Thich That Hanh”

Here is to creating a life full of love, value, and living without regret.

My mermaid

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We're not much into traditional family portraits

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Forgiveness is a two-step

If you read the article I posted earlier this year with my dad talking about his struggle with mental illness you’ll see that it’s where my desire to share my struggle to forgive my mother (and likely some of my other struggles over the years) originates, an unfettered fearlessness about sharing something that has cut me so deeply, because there are people who read my writing and know us both. I take this risk because I know that I’m not alone in this situation of struggling with a loved one. I do this constant dance between the strong urge to forgive my mom and forget the past so I can enjoy the last years of her life with her, and feeling the anger over her behavior, actions and consequences throughout my life and the lives of my siblings and my father.

I’ve also been contemplating some of our oldest stories, like the Odyssey and the Iliad and the Aeniad and how I really think these stories are allegory and metaphor for how we have to conquer ourselves and our inner demons to live a full life. How we fight Cyclops and Minotaur and Harpy and Siren but in reality we fight the seven deadly sins and incomplete child rearing and fucked up societal ideals and unspoken traumas that we pass down generation by generation. If you look deeply at Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and some of the tenets of Buddhism you can find the key to unlocking those dark, hidden and ugly parts of yourself and revel in forgiveness and acceptance and self love, even if only for two-steps.

Yesterday I gave my kid a new medication and it made him feel weird and not himself. And as a consequence of the new medication and a long wait time at the doctor’s we experienced one of the most challenging behavioral days we’ve ever had together. It made me think about a few things.

1. How very far he has come since all the events of 2011 leading to the loss of both his parents, and the move from cross country to my home.
2. How his behavior triggered me because he was doing shit that could hurt himself or damage expensive equipment at the doctor’s office and I didn’t sit well with either of those options.
3. But that letting him see that his negative attention-seeking behavior get my negative attention falls solely on me. I let him get under my skin.
4. When I am stressed and tired I become scatterbrained and easier to inflame.
5. Ultimately my emotions about an event are up to me.
6. I like to over analyze EVERY emotional event.
7. Sometimes I get stuck analyzing shit that’s long over and not happening in my present and not likely to ever happen again. It’s like back to the future only it’s my past and my brain won’t shut up.
8. I want my mind to be a clear blue sky like Andy Puddicombe describes in Headspace.
9. I like lists.
10. I enjoy central coast wines.
11. I am flying to SEATAC tomorrow for a knitting retreat I haven’t attended since 2010 when I was still married, I still had my sister, her husband, they still had Dmitri, and I possessed a totally different life.
12. But still the most important thing to me is the love of my children, which I earn in part by caring for myself in a way that allows me to provide them with love, stability and security.
13. We say that love should be unconditional but that ideal is not practical or a reflection of reality.
14. In all my reading on pop psychology, meditation, buddhism, and self help, somewhere I read that our first thoughts in reaction to something in our environment come from the programming of our mothers, but that the second thoughts are up to us.
15. I’m really focusing on those second thoughts.
16. That I can trust myself and my decision making.
17. That I can jettison what doesn’t work for me.
18. In general I make the claim that I want to be present in the present moment but I really enjoy daydreaming and lint picking with my head in the clouds.
19. I can meditate the eastern way, but I LOVE to meditate laying down and finding relaxation enough so that I can fall asleep even if only briefly.
20. I don’t like to attempt things I’m not good at yet, but I can attempt them.
21. If something is making me uncomfortable I should lean into what ever it is that I don’t want to do so that the feeling will go the fuck away.
22. I can hold two types of feelings in my heart about a single event and or person.
23. Sometimes I give my kids convenience foods and I’m not perfect (or even close).
24. I think dysfunction that leads to a false self and a need to please is a lot like the Trojan Horse of Troy.
25. Polydorus died from the spears we inflict on ourselves.
26. Odysseus’ greatest sin with the cyclops was pride (ego), and it came back to haunt him.
27. Never try to interfere with fate or destiny.
28. This is a really long list.
29. And I’m not sorry at all.
30. Coffee after 5:30pm is probably a bad idea.
31. But I have to pack for tomorrow.
32. I try to call my Mom every day but sometimes I take a couple days or week off and that makes me feel guilty as hell.
33. I feel sad when she thinks Thursday is Saturday.
34. I feel sad that we’re both in a difficult set of circumstances.
35. My main responsibility is to my two kids and sometimes that hurts like hell.
36. I’m trying to shut out reliving the past again and again so that I can enjoy the wisdom and funny things she says now.
37. I’m glad she embraced humor after a lifetime of being so serious.
38. I’ve seen her change, even just a little.
39. Perfectionism is a dirty rotten liar and will try to ruin your life.
40. So is anxiety.
41. Ultimately it is all up to us. No one else.

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I’m here to learn

This past year since August almost everything in my life has been a teachable moment. In many ways I overcame growing up in a chaotic and unstable, unloving environment and experienced all the trappings of success as a functional member of society. But in some ways I still had to experience growth. Ultimately, if I embrace the concept of love the way I was taught, loving my mom will upend my life and turn it into a maelstrom of churning chaos. Last summer, I sat in my rental car, after working very hard to get her out of a hell of situation of her own making and she turned to me and said “Finally, for the first time I can see that you really do love me.”

I paused a moment, felt my anger well up inside of me like a fountain, and I yelled at her. I asked her, why on earth did she feel the need to put both of our lives in the grips of total chaos in order to feel loved. She sat for a moment, stunned, and said that wasn’t the case. But the reality is, it is the case. Loving her the way she wants means showering her with time, affection, praise, spending money, taking her to lunch, buying her whatever she wants, flying out at great personal expense time and time again, having to stay in a hotel since she won’t get rid of a cat that you’re allergic to, and in the end all you’re going to feel is a lighter wallet and a sense of bewilderment, loss, and confusion about what just happened. Ultimately this is how I’ve witnessed all of her relationships end. With her, you never really know where you stand or what she needs because she can never trust anyone enough to tell the truth of what she wants. In many ways I believe this is because she can’t tell herself the truth of what she wants.

I’ve thought a lot about my obligations as child to the woman that gave me life. But in the end I can’t help her the way she wants. I can only help her the way I’m able. And that means not opening myself up to an endless cycle of drama and exhaustive toll on my personal and financial resources. I’m not saying her position has been easy. She really wants to stay in her home, with her friends and her church. She knows that my obligation is to my children. She knows that she is alone, and she lives with that every day.

When my brother in law was dying, I was living in his home, ferrying him to the oncologist for chemo and the er and taking Dmitri to his own therapy appointments and carrying him up and down the stairs, and learning to mother him. While this was ongoing my mom was dealing with a very complex medical issue, requiring multiple surgeries and wound vacs because she had an out of control staph infection raging in her abdomen. It was very difficult and painful for me not to be there for her when she was going through it. Luckily she did have friends. They worked to not make me feel guilty or worry about her condition when I had so much responsibility of my own. This continued up until her best friend died last August. My mom called me once at 4am, sounding upset. “Is everything okay?” I asked? “No.” she said. “It’s not okay, I am not okay.” “Well if something is the matter you need to press the nurses button, okay Mom? It’s four o’clock in the morning here and I have to get up and start my day soon. Can we talk during regular hours?” Hearing her pain over the phone, a literal continent away was a painful reality in my life. But it was authentic and palpable.

Sometimes avoiding the truth causes more suffering and sometimes by trying to protect someone from the truth without their knowledge, you’re causing them even more hurt. I feel like I always tried, even at my own peril to get my mom to love me in the way that I wanted. But really nothing is ever going to cause that to happen. Sometimes I even spent my time trying to convince unlovable people that these are the reasons why they should love me in search of that maternal love that I lacked. But ultimately that leaves everyone unsatisfied and unsated and me contorted and twisted up inside, still lacking that for which I was searching. Eventually I began feel that if I could just accept the fact that people don’t or can’t or won’t love me in the way that I know I need, that things would get easier. And they did get easier. I learned that it is a beautiful thing to just let people go. It is a loving thing to do to cleanly let someone go. Maybe it is the ultimate loving act. I can’t say for sure. Sometimes you can show love by not doing what people want or being the person that they need. By setting limits. By deciding that you won’t show up for them if they won’t show up for you. Because in the end, we are the gatekeepers of what we allow in our lives and the guarders of our precious energy.

My daughter flew on an airplane without her father or myself today for the first time on her fourth grade school trip to Sacramento. Her dad dropped her off, and there was a small issue and she was crying at the airport. I wasn’t there to see it first hand, but I’ve been thinking about it all day. I’m making a list of important life things I want to tell her when she gets home. I want to tell her that she is capable of getting her needs met. She already does. That sometimes crying is one really helpful way to get your needs met. I want her to look internally and see that she has the strength to get what she needs, to not be afraid to ask for help directly. To tell people what is okay and is not okay with her. I want to tell her that sometimes things don’t go as planned, but those few moments or minutes of uncertainty or fear shouldn’t taint the whole day. And that in the end, we decide how we feel, others don’t make us feel that way. How we interpret events and slights and hard times, that’s on us. I want her to show kindness to people who are sometimes mean, controlling, hard hearted or angry, and to use grace to know when those same people have used up all their goodwill with her.

I want to teach my daughter how to hold onto the bad feelings so that she can appreciate the good. I want her to see that she can affect the outcome and happiness in her life. That she can choose her own way and find her happiness. Childhood is such a beautiful, fleeting, precious time, where someone else can meet all your needs while you spend your time learning and growing. I want her to enjoy these moments, and give her the tools to enjoy her life and to be a strong woman. Like me. This is why I let her see me cry and I talk about losing loved ones, and that the hardest part is they can’t talk to us anymore, but they are still here. I want her to learn to gracefully let go, with her whole heart, so that she can see the beauty in that too. That life is made up of the lightness and the darkness and wouldn’t be the same if it lacked either part. I hope she will see that the beauty of art comes from some things being left unsaid, how silences hold a beauty all of their own. I hope my beautiful daughter will be fearless, even if she has to cry while being fearless. I want her to accept the bad feelings and then set them aside so that she can enjoy the good. If I can just teach her these few things, I will feel like I’ve done an adequate job. And then maybe I can learn to let go with my whole heart too.

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Listening to yourself

One of the most difficult things for me having grown up in a chaotic atmosphere was learning to listen to myself. I mean, I have always been able to sense and utilize my intuition which is a powerful force not to be ignored. But having had the pivotal adults in my life constantly tell me I wasn’t feeling how I was feeling, it’s been hard for me to know what I think and feel at times.

The other day an old post of mine popped up on facebook, and it was about the fear and love I felt regarding adopting my disabled nephew. Truly, at this point he is my son although my sister bore him. And he’s been my son for a while. He lives in my heart. Through his growth and maturation I have discovered myself.

Back to fear. It used to be an emotion I avoided, like anger. But when you avoid something, it grows. Most of my life, even now, I felt paralyzing fear. Over the most mundane things. Granted I was able to leave my parent’s home at a young age. I got a degree. Two degrees. Had a baby. I started a business. Adopted a child. Got divorced. Became a single mother. Flying through a fear of flying. Bungee Jumping. Dissent. Disagreeing. Feeling Anger. Handling my business. Confronting people. I learned to do it all on my own, even the things I ( sometimes unfairly) would ask others to do because I was too afraid to do them myself. I do these things now because there is no one else to do those things anymore.

But eventually I learned that shielding myself from fear wasn’t good for me and it certainly wasn’t good for anyone around me. I serve myself by leaning into my fear. I’m not afraid to feel anymore. I seek out ways to access how I’m feeling. If you listen to yourself in the quiet, you can find out how you feel. Meditation. Exercise. Being in nature. These aren’t tired old tropes people just throw around for no reason. There are ways to connect to yourself inside, even after experiencing the most terrible of circumstances. I listen a lot to Nina Simone, the one artist who truly could represent the pain and joy of being alive in her work. Of course my beloved martial arts. I watch movies. Film. Look at art. Drink tequila. Cry in front of my children. Fuck up in front of my children. Apologize to my children. Talk to my children. Listen to my children. And they bring me so much joy. Looking into their smiling faces makes me feel like that’s why I’ve made the sacrifices I’ve made.

Sometimes I find myself discovering what I really think when people ask me questions. Sometimes I hear myself answering and wonder, so that’s it is it? That’s really what I think? Because it’s completely in opposition with what I’m saying to myself otherwise. The most powerful lies are the ones we tell ourselves. And we can’t lie forever. Eventually the truth comes out and inauthenticity becomes authenticity, for the luckiest of us. Prayer and silence aren’t the only ways to get an answer, sometimes. Sometimes you find out the truth by putting yourself out there, where the fear lives, and royally fucking it all up to hell. Sometimes you find out the truth when you burn and salt the earth behind you. And that’s totally okay.

I like being connected to myself. Even when it hurts. After all I’ve done and been through I know that even when I make a mistake, and it hurts like hell that that pain is impermanent. And I can tell myself the painful truth of my life over and over, and eventually I’ll be on the other side of that pain. I control the things I can, look deeply at the things I can not control, and when I can, I set myself free. And once you taste that type of freedom, you aren’t likely to give it up again.

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When my dad had his first nervous breakdown he was stationed in Fairfield Alabama, a predominantly African American community during the late 1970s. Me and my family were the “other.” We were the odd ones out. I remember my parents talking about advocating for the kids in the neighborhood, how they called Coppertone to get cases of sunscreen for the kids so they didn’t get sunburnt at the summer camp pool. I remember, vaguely, the women who cared for me when my parents were busy. I remember that time it snowed. I remember my best friend, a little boy down the street. My parents were always part of the other. Both coming from dysfunctional families with either mental illness, alcoholism, gambling problems or a combination thereof leading to poverty in their formative years. My father took care of a sibling who died very young of what I believe was epilepsy. My mom recounted a time when she was but a small child, hiding under the table while her five of her six brothers overturned it, arguing, food flying everywhere. So they decided to live a different life than that of their progenitors. They joined the salvation army as teenagers, and got married at 16 and 18. My dad was funneled into leadership, and was a preacher for 20 years. Of course, the preacher’s wife has a job even if it’s not listed on tax forms. The Salvation Army provided a car, a place to live, food, clothing, but minimal money. My parents devoted themselves to charitable works.

After my dad was ousted from the Salvation Army due to his nervous breakdown my parents still sought out similar feeling situations–authoritarianism being a prerequisite because you go with what you know. A group with a clear leader to tell everyone what to do. Being young and dependent on my parents I was thrust into these situations too. As a young adult, I remember the dispassionate feeling inside when my sister told me at least two of these groups my parents associated with were investigated for being cults. I saw firsthand. I pretended I was like them, swept unhappily along, suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Once, at 17, after an ugly fight with my mom where she forced me to go to one of these places, I was totally broken, emotionally unarmed, so I just pretended to be like them, pretended to speak in tongues, pretended to be “saved” again and again, loathing myself for every ugly moment of falsehood, it felt like torture. One of the men, presumably leadership, looked at me at that moment, and told me “you may be wearing a dress with flowers on it, but you are a warrior.”

I am a fighter. A brawler. I like using my swords when I’m working out on the mat. I like swinging them around slowly, in control. I like trying to punch the crap out of other martial artists. Sometimes I don’t miss. They don’t mind. While going through my sisters belongings I came across a cache of photos, of myself, so many photos of my teenaged years, me looking angry. I was angry. I felt living religion was a lie. My mom felt parenting meant breaking children like they were animals. So she tried to break me, and I pretended to be broken. Until I fled at 17, with angry words, her physical threats, full of pain, I left that lie. I don’t want to live in the framework of authoritarianism. Misogyny. Racism. It’s not a comfort to me to relive the painful tropes of my childhood. It’s not a comfort to know that the only way your mom knows to show love is pain.

Last week was tough. I had to attend the funeral of my tai chi teacher. A classmate that I thought a lot of passed away at 42. I nearly broke my ankle April 24, and I’ve been really limited in getting around while it heals. At night, I have a wracking cough. My mom. Jesus. I call her to make sure she remembers to turn on the AC, to help her take care of the daily needs she has, to send her water so she doesn’t get dehydrated again, all the trips last year when she was vulnerable, writing her checks, paying her bills. I swing between wanting to help her and wanting to hate her for all that she did during my vulnerable time as a child. But nevertheless.

She said some things last weekend that were really hard to hear. I was already wounded, physically, spiritually, and mentally from the losses and injuries of the past few weeks. When she was saying them aloud, I felt myself pull away from the conversation, I guess I was hoping to protect myself from hurt. But after I told someone else the things she said, and seeing the horror on that person’s face, I thought “maybe I ought to process this.” And man, it felt like hell. I had a lot of thoughts. I would think about how in the end, I didn’t want to be petty. Yes it was not okay or normal for her to not fit the trope of maternalism. Could I help her although she would forget my birthday after I turned 17? That she couldn’t even offer me a graduation card? A sweet 16 birthday card? So many badges representing what society called caring, and accepting what I never received, the embarrassment I felt when people would ask me why my parents didn’t even get me a birthday gift. Seeing other kids open a pile of presents and feeling shame because no one bothered with that in my house, and if they did, my mom would threaten to return all the gifts, transforming the joy of receiving sour. All the insults, and accusations. All the times the only emotion she showed me was rage? Ultimately I don’t want to be petty. I don’t want to live with regrets. She is 77 today, and nearing the last chapter of her life. I took a moment, during my suffering over what she had said, and tried to put myself in her position. I thought, “She is saying this to me right now because she is angry.” So I decided to give her the space to feel angry. She lashed out, and instead of carrying that emotional burden I decided to let it the fuck go. And so I did, and I felt freedom.

Somehow, despite all that I had been through, I was able to change my framework. Through therapy. Meditation. Music. Martial Arts. Self Care. Motherhood. Wine. I was reluctant to go to therapy, but I also didn’t want to continue repeating the same mistakes for the remainder of my life. Therapy helped me maintain focus on my children as my number one priority with all the other responsibilities of adulthood and divorce swirling around us. It helped me see the pain and suffering of my parents during my fraught childhood. It made a tiny space, for empathy. Most importantly for me, therapy taught me the skills of how to appropriately mother myself, because I didn’t learn those skills previously. The Gottman Institute has been a tremendous help to me. John Gottman’s research taught me so much about emotional intelligence, and about myself. I think it’s really unfair that parents expect their children to act with restraint and behavioral standards that the parents aren’t held to. In my childhood this disconnect was one of the major ideologies I struggled with. Fundamentally it wasn’t right that my mom could rage and rage, yet I couldn’t have any feelings at all or “she’d give me something to cry about,” how she’d regulate my behavior with physical violence when she couldn’t regulate herself and would put our family into chaos, instability, and throw our safety into question. She still can’t regulate herself and in her advanced age she’s less able to hide this fact. The two parts of me, the part that was taught I deserved to be treated like an animal because that’s how my mom treated me and she was perfect, and the part that thought it was wrong for me to have to act a certain way when there were no sanctions or limitations on her expressions of rage eventually settled into quiet acceptance. Motherhood helped a lot. I love myself through loving my children. They teach me every day with their hard work and tireless pursuit of excellence. I don’t keep it secret that Dmitri’s struggle to attain what we take for granted taught me to love myself. Maya’s passion, resilience, empathy, and emotional intuition inspire me to strive to be a loving, helpful mother. And to give them room to feel distress sometimes, and let them solve problems, although I dislike watching them struggle, I want them to work on the skills they need to be functional adults. So that they don’t need me when they are adults, and can choose my company.

Late last week I saw a quote from the Gottman Institute that really struck me, deep down.

“Thinking of your child as behaving badly disposes you to think of punishment. Thinking of your child as struggling to handle something difficult encourages you to help them through their distress.”

And I had a startling thought, I thought, if I stop thinking of my children as behaving badly when they are struggling, maybe I can apply that courtesy to other people too? Including myself.

Recently I had an experience where someone advised me to take the spot in me that has a deep and abiding supply of courage, and send that courage to the other parts of me that need it. And, I think that’s just what I’ll do. I don’t have to be a prisoner of my past, of present circumstance, or to be devastated by what other people say. That’s freedom, and that’s how I want to live my life. Writing is the balm that soothes my soul, and I’m so thankful for this space I’ve created for myself. I’m thankful for the family I’ve created, both genetic and my martial family. I’m grateful for my life and the livelihood of my children. In the end, when I’m nearing the final chapters of my life, as my mother is now, I hope that I’ll remember that.

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in search of a teacher

When you are searching for a teacher you never know who you’re going to get. I had been meditating, a lot, and a friend suggested I try Tai Chi since it is a form of moving meditation. Forever looking for peace and internal quiet, I decided to give the class a try. I had cut off all of my hair, post divorce, was hiking, traveling, meditating, looking for something, anything. And so I showed up to class, broken, in search of putting myself back together again.

Looking back at the teachers who had the biggest impact on my life, I can see how they fundamentally altered what I thought about myself, about my life. How they yelled at me when necessary. To make me grow. Having grown up in a fraught home, with a sick father, many of these teachers were surrogate father figures for me. I didn’t know it was okay for a teacher to get angry with me and that that was okay. I didn’t know anyone could be angry in a safe way. But anger burns away the unnecessary and spurns behavior to make changes. In my search for truth, I had to learn that the hardest part of growth is looking at myself. First I searched for truth in music, then physics. In meditation, and knitting. Martial arts. In anger. In acceptance.

I showed up to tai chi at 7am that first Saturday, I was kind of a sad sack and a jumbled mess. My tai chi teacher showed me the Qi Gong style warm up, as he did to every student no matter their ability, without fail. He slowly, patiently moved his hands around, and I watched, there was magic in his hands, it was meditative. Calming. We worked at the warm up exercises together that cold March morning, sweat dripping down my brow. “Are you okay,” he asked? “I am fine,” I said. I didn’t know that standing still could be as difficult as moving fast. But born stubborn and passionate, I stuck with it. I stuck through sweating until I thought I might pass out. Knee pain. Tendon pain that felt like being stung by 10,000 angry bees. Back pain. Pain in my arm so bad I couldn’t close my hand around a coffee mug. Maybe it was the first sense of freedom and peace and accomplishment that I got from tai chi, I don’t really know what propelled me forward from my sad state. He taught with wisdom. When he taught us the first water form, it got my stagnant water moving again. It was elemental. It was powerful. It was slow. It was difficult.

You can’t pick your parents, but you can pick your teachers. Teachers, much like parents are there to serve a purpose to teach you how to live in the world. Even when they are done teaching, you will still learn even if they are no longer there to teach you. I learned in tai chi to believe in what I’ve been searching for. Truth. Myself. Life. Purpose. Alan Watts said the universe created us so it could look at itself. There are so many types of people. So many changes that happen in nature. How could anyone ever get bored looking at the Universe? Concurrently I worked on acceptance of impermanence. Non attachment. Patience. Quiet. But I’m still as stubborn and passionate and loud as ever. Maybe it’s 10% easier to accept now. I can’t quite tell.

When I was really struggling with my non quiet meditative mind I asked another talented teacher in my tai chi class about how to quiet the mind. She said what our head instructor said was to imagine the green of nature or the face of a loved one when the mind is not quiet. No two more beautiful things than that. Maybe my mind and heart won’t be quiet but I can look at the things I love when it’s happening.

My tai chi teacher pushed me to grow. He actually literally pushed me. When I asked what a movement was for he hit me in the face to demonstrate. And I stood there a second time and let him do it again. I won’t forget the purpose of that strike just as I’ll never forget his lesson. He yelled at me in class for not watching once. Oh the embarrassment. I was standing with my back turned, trying to mimic what his was showing. And as usual, with grace he made everything seem so much easier and clearer than it actually was. When he yelled my name I crumbled inside and hung my head, displeased to have evoked the ire of teacher.

The past few months, when he knew he was dying, but the class didn’t know, he told me a few things he wanted me to work on. To go lower in a pose. Once he came up behind me silently in class to fix my arm. He told me to practice tai chi twice a day. I remember looking at him one cold morning, with no idea of his fate, and him looking back, and how I smiled because I was happy. And he smiled back.

Sometimes although you are not ready for your teacher to go, it is his time anyway. Life has already decided for him. When I think of his courage and acceptance and how he kept going to teach us all, to call out the movements, I am in awe. His greatest wish was that we continue the class without him, even as cancer ravaged his body. He spent his final time with his family.

Sometimes a teacher pushes you and yells at you because you need to learn. But no teacher is forever. Even though I didn’t want him to go, it was his time. In the first few days after his death I was in shock, sort of stumbling around the idea of it, and I saw a video clip of a short teaching session he had given one Sunday. I saw again, his brilliance, I got to hear his voice issuing the commands, to see him perform the movements. I felt a moment of peace. He is never truly gone. Maybe he has moved to another room, but we can still learn from him, even though his voice as we know it is gone. I’ve never been so sad to think of someone not yelling at me again. I remember his taciturn style, serious, focused. I remember the few times his keen sense of humor broke through, how he liked to laugh. He was a perfect mimic. You could tell who he was copying when he was pointing out technique. He was a hell of a guy.

None of us in class were ready for his loss. He was our father. Our teacher. Our friend. I sat in his buddhist funeral, surrounded by the smell of incense and flowers. Tears streamed down my face, although I couldn’t understand what was being said, I could see the pain and heartbreak when his family spoke, their bodies encircled in white. I watched the photos stream by on the slide show, of him doing what he loved, with his family, laughing, riding motorbikes. Hugging children. Teaching new students. I looked at the alter in front of his coffin, with flowers and food. I stood in line to give incense to his family and bow, three times, just like at the temple. I met his beautiful wife, and give her my condolences. Some wounds time never heals, like the loss of a good teacher, or a loved one. But somehow you can still search for peace, for truth. And if you find the strength to look in yourself, you may see something you didn’t know existed, that you can believe in yourself.

I will look for him in the trees. In the faces of loved ones. We all cross to that other room, one day. At forty the list of those who have moved to the other room grows longer and longer. But I know in my passionate, stubborn heart, if I look deeply in myself, I can see those that I’ve loved and lost. My teachers, who left before I was ready, although it was time for me to stand on my own.

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Community Involvement

I spend a lot of time thinking about writing, sometimes feeling really vulnerable and uncomfortable about my words being out there. Lately I’ve been ready to write, with a whole post in organized and laid out in my mind, and then had second thoughts because literally anyone can read it and I’ve often aired out the most intimate difficulties of my own life, online, since 2004. Often I’ll be talking with someone and think, “did they read what I wrote? Is that why we’re having this conversation now?’ It can be…unsettling and causes me discomfort. But ultimately I write because it helps me feel at home in my life, in my skin, it sorts out my thoughts and feelings, and because one day maybe I’ll be like my own mother, and I won’t remember. At that time I can look back at these years of writing, all the years of documentation on instagram and flickr and future platforms that don’t exist yet and say “that was my life. These are the things I did.”

It’s no secret that I’ve felt lost, adrift in the current state of political affairs. So for multiple reasons I started taking Community Emergency Response Team classes with the hope that maybe in some small way I can give back to my community. Maybe I don’t like the way the world is headed, but perhaps I can help my own world in what ever little way I can. Concurrently I’ve been going through the belongings of my sister and her husband. Relics of 20 plus years of marriage, the birth of their son, the meaningful memories of their own lives and childhoods. It has been. It has been painful. Emotional. Gut wrenching. I held my brother in law’s baby photos in my hands and it hurt. It hurt because I have limited space. It hurt because I can not carry their memories around in my heart and my home and continue to carry around my own memories and my own belongings in my home. It feels wretched to know that these photos, these memories, that the person who created them is gone now. That his parents are gone now. That my sister is gone now. A third party could come in and mercilessly toss it out, these memories of another. They hold no emotional attachment, no ties. For me it is harder. You start thinking about things like purpose, and value and what is the mark left on the world.

For so long I felt like a ship, with holes poked in on it from all sides. From all the times loved ones told me I didn’t feel what I felt. Sometimes all it takes is acknowledgement. There’s not much acknowledgement in dysfunction. Every time my sister or my father or my mother told me that what I thought wasn’t what I thought it created another hole. And now that two thirds of them are gone I am left to plug those holes, so I don’t sink.

There are a lot of hours of training when you begin taking entry Community Emergency Response Training classes. The first and foremost fact being, you regard the safety of yourself above all else. So you don’t become an additional victim needing rescuing, an additional burden. You are issued personal protection equipment and you are expected to use it. You train in light search and rescue, you practice fire suppression by fire department sanctioned small fires, you sit through disaster psychology. They tell you, if it’s bigger than this size that we want you to put out today, then it’s too big for you. You rescue mannequins from precarious situations. You learn that the sole purpose of CERT is to regard the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. And sometimes that means the individual is left behind. Triage in disaster training ended up being the most difficult subject for me. Because you organize and categorize people into three groups. Immediate, Delayed and Minor treatment. And a black tarp. Sometimes you might have to say “help is on the way” although you are aware that the individual has something that is going to land them on the black tarp. You absolve yourself of humanity to help the greatest amount of humanity.

There is a lot of stigma, being the child of a mentally ill parent. Or parents. Sometimes I wished I could say something more concrete like “I was the child of drug addled parents” because maybe people would be less likely to judge me for the predicaments of my parents. When I look back on my childhood, sometimes I’m angry that my parents poured their dysfunction right into me at the age when a parent is supposed to teach a child to mother itself. I look back at the trauma, and there was trauma and I wonder why no one ever addressed it with me. Why there was no Monday morning quarterbacking of the sometimes terrible things that happened.

While I was sitting through the disaster psychology segment of CERT training and the teacher was talking about triggering I realized some dark things in my own past that were triggered as a result of my own training. And a few things that were triggering me in my disposal of my sister’s life affects.

I think the stigma of mental illness is really terrifically unfair. If you’ve ever been around someone who is suffering deeply from it it is very unsettling, which is likely part of the stigma. I remember when my father would go off of his medication and that terrible flow of energy issuing from him, which felt like a cold breeze in the middle of a hot summer day, brushing past you and making every hair on my body stand up. Who was he talking to? What was he laughing about? Now that I’m older, although admittedly with no evidence to back it up, I have to think that cold energy was somehow him connecting to his subconscious. That same collective unconscious we all tap into at times. It creates art. Writing. Music. It is the source of many things. Kandinsky and many of the other artists of that period wrote thoughtful pieces on that connection. But that energy also has the power to destroy. Reputations. Dreams. Status Quo. Retirement.

At the very end of my CERT training we did a disaster drill. Throughout the training somehow, I found myself reassuring people who felt insecure about what we had to do. During fire suppression my partner looked at me dead in the eye and said “I’m scared. I can’t do this.” I looked at her, told her to put her hand on my shoulder while I held the fire extinguisher and prepared to walk toward the fire and said “I’m scared too.” We all feel that same fear. Somehow you learn to hold it. In class was this very intelligent young, precocious teenager. Maybe about 16. But damn if he didn’t know almost every fact during every question and answer period during our training. We ended up being partnered up during the disaster drill training exercise. The local high school drama club were our “victims.” They painted elaborate stage make up on their bodies. Taped up their arms as if they had been amputee victims. What I wasn’t prepared for was that they would cry out during our exercise. All the times they would yell “help me,” “I can’t find my brother” or just “Please help” as we had to walk by to complete whatever task we had set out to do. It was deeply unsettling and I was very affected by it, but I said nothing. I just continued with the drill. The young, precocious teenager looked at me, with pain in his eyes and said “I didn’t know the yelling and the sounds would upset me so much.” I told him, “tune it out.” “Tune it out.”

It is hard to describe what it felt like walking by people yelling out for help and not helping them in the moment. When the adrenaline rush wore off of me that evening, I ended up in the fetal position, sobbing. Even though it wasn’t real. Even though it was just a drill. The chaos of the situation deeply affected me.

There were times, obviously that I had to metaphorically walk beside my sister and my father and my mother when their subconscious was yelling “help me” so loudly that it made all the hair on my body stand at attention. But, the first rule of safety is save yourself. I couldn’t save my sister, or my father. Just like I can’t save my mother, or frankly, anyone else. I have to maintain my own self and sense of safety, and love my children. Anything else is voluntary.

Once, I found myself in need of assistance from the police, which they offered. I found myself glued in place, looking into the eyes of one of the officers and it touched me that his eyes had no life in them. I couldn’t understand it. He had compartmentalized so much that he couldn’t reach out to me for reassurance, although he definitely aided me in the way that I needed help. Life is like that. I thought about him and his dead eyes many times. I wondered what had happened to him. I still wonder.

I broke out in hives when I was triggered by sifting through my sister’s personal effects, and I was triggered by sitting through a disaster psychology class. I look down at the hives covering my body like a roadmap and I tell myself this is how I know my subconscious is connected to my nervous system. I tell myself, you don’t have to be hyperaware. There is no disaster right now. I can look back at these times when my sister poked holes in me. I can look back at the times when she poked holes in me and the other part of this triangle is my father. And there he was poking holes too. With my mother. I can look at the holes, which strangely resemble my hives and whisper “you don’t have to be a sinking ship.” Because the truth of my life is, I can rescue myself. Because the trauma I’ve been through has made me very strong, not very weak. And my writing will set me free.

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a few musings on art and a love letter for a friend

I remember standing in the Clyfford Still museum in Denver and feeling the electrified energy of his art wash over me.

Clyfford Still

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And I thought, he is long gone, but what he made still has the energy that he poured into it. It is his legacy, to bequest something that makes us feel, although he has gone away.

Art is seductive. Entrancing. It, like writing, or music, or dance has the power to make you feel. Art is cheeky, subversive, conveys meaning, it’s political, apolitical, respectful, irreverent, it is the collective subconscious. Art is philosophy, art is protest. According to Kandinsky there is an inner resonance, to quote from his wikipedia page:

Colours on the painter’s palette evoke a double effect: a purely physical effect on the eye which is charmed by the beauty of colours, similar to the joyful impression when we eat a delicacy. This effect can be much deeper, however, causing a vibration of the soul or an “inner resonance”—a spiritual effect in which the colour touches the soul itself.[23]

“Inner necessity” is, for Kandinsky, the principle of art and the foundation of forms and the harmony of colours. He defines it as the principle of efficient contact of the form with the human soul.[24] Every form is the delimitation of a surface by another one; it possesses an inner content, the effect it produces on one who looks at it attentively.[25] This inner necessity is the right of the artist to unlimited freedom, but this freedom becomes licence if it is not founded on such a necessity.[26] Art is born from the inner necessity of the artist in an enigmatic, mystical way through which it acquires an autonomous life; it becomes an independent subject, animated by a spiritual breath.[27]

23. Kandinsky, Du spirituel dans l’art, éd. Denoël, 1989, pp. 105-107
24. Kandinsky, Du spirituel dans l’art, éd. Denoël, 1989, p. 112 et 118
25. Kandinsky, Du spirituel dans l’art, éd. Denoël, 1989, p. 118
26. Kandinsky, Du spirituel dans l’art, éd. Denoël, 1989, p. 199
27. Kandinsky, Du spirituel dans l’art, éd. Denoël, 1989, p. 197

In fact I attended a talk at the LA Art Show where MOCA Director Phillipe Vergne discussed Jeff Koons’ famous balloon dogs. He said part of Koons’ intent in creating the balloon dogs is not to capture something so mundane as a relic of a child’s birthday party, but that the balloons themselves are made using air, which contains the magic, the very spark of life.

That time I saw one in the wild in San Francisco the day after Christmas

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That magic, that electricity is something we should embrace in each other. Locally. Spiritually. Ethereally.

It doesn’t meant the artist must belong to you. That you should micromanage things until you choke the very magic out of them.

More art in #2016 #matisse

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L’artiste doit apporter toute son énergie, sa sincérité et la modestie la plus grande pour écarter pendant son travail les vieux clichés qui viennent si facilement à sa main et peuvent étouffer la petite fleur qui ne vient elle, jamais telle qu’on l’attend.

The artist must bring all his energy, his sincerity and the greatest modesty to remove during his work the old clichés that come so easily to his hand and can stifle the little flower that never comes, waits.

Henri Matisse, Écrits et propos sur l’art

But, for a time, you can share that energy, feel that feeling that the artist intended. Much like we don’t truly own the earth, but we have that spark, and we belong to it. Be that person who makes people feel. Step into your darkness and your fear and learn how to sit with it. How do you paint the essence and capture the energy of your subjects? How do you express intent and being and the magic of life? That moment in time is just on loan, for us to borrow. But we should be happy when we borrow it, when it is our turn. Cherish it for the gift that it is.

Si, sur une toile blanche, je disperse des sensations de bleu, de vert, de rouge, à mesure que j’ajoute des touches, chacune de celles que j’ai posées antérieurement perd de son importance. J’ai à peindre un intérieur : j’ai devant moi une armoire, elle me donne une sensation de rouge bien vivant, et je pose un rouge qui me satisfait. Un rapport s’établit de ce rouge au blanc de la toile. Que je pose à côté un vert, que je rende le parquet par un jaune, et il y aura encore, entre ce vert ou ce jaune et le blanc de la toile des rapports qui me satisferont. Mais ces différents tons se diminuent mutuellement Il faut que les signes divers que j’emploie soient équilibrés de telle sorte qu’ils ne se détruisent pas les uns les autres. Pour cela, je dois mettre de l’ordre dans mes idées, la relation entre les tons s’établira de telle sorte qu’elle les soutiendra au lieu de les abattre. Une nouvelle combinaison de couleurs succédera à la première et donnera la totalité de ma représentation. Je suis obligé de transposer, et c’est pour cela qu’on se figure que mon tableau a totalement changé lorsque, après des modifications successives, le rouge y a remplacé le vert comme dominante. Il ne m’est pas possible de copier servilement la nature, que je suis forcé d’interpréter et de soumettre à l’esprit du tableau. Tous mes rapports de tons trouvés, il doit en résulter un accord de couleurs vivant, une harmonie analogue à celle d’une composition musicale

If, on a white canvas, I disperse sensations of blue, green, red, as I add touches, each of those I have previously laid down loses its importance. I have to paint an interior: I have a cabinet in front of me, it gives me a feeling of living red, and I put a red that satisfies me. A relation is established from this red to the white of the canvas. That I put a green on the side, that I turn the parquet into a yellow, and there will still be between these green or yellow and the white of the canvas the reports that will satisfy me. But these different tones diminish each other. The various signs I use must be balanced in such a way that they do not destroy each other. To do this, I must put my ideas in order, the relationship between the tones will be established in such a way that it will support them instead of defeating them. A new combination of colors will succeed the first and give the whole of my representation. I am obliged to transpose, and that is why we imagine that my picture has completely changed when, after successive modifications, red has replaced green as dominant. It is impossible for me to slavishly copy nature, which I am forced to interpret and submit to the spirit of the picture. All my relations of tones found, it must result in a tuning of living colors, a harmony analogous to that of a musical composition.


Look at this almost married bitch @puffmunch

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To Andria, I’m so glad to count you among my dearest friends. May you and Todd have every happiness in your new life, together.

Buy art consume art commission art love art be art breathe art. Art.

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Art carries so much meaning for me. I hope that this painting captures one important moment for the two of you. We are all made up of strokes of the stories of our lives, it shapes us and shapes what we create today. Looking through the lens of life, I love you and Todd very much and I am so happy that you have joined your lives together. May you make much art together, friend.

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The past several months, in photos

Catching air

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Happy Valentine's Day ? #knittersofinstagram #knitting #yarn

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My baby boo boo kitty

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My oldest boo boo kitty

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Making plans

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How we roll #aikido

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Time to dust them off

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I like this doctor's office

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Good mail day

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Hanging with my lady

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Business meeting! @yarnovertruck @mdmpls @barbracabliss

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Taichi dinner with @lbufogirl!

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Car knitting

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Happy lunar new year #luckycat

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That’s it! Bye now!

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