Step back Motherfuckers

(I Told, Part II)

Arriving in Paris was like arriving in a dream, like jumping into one of Bert’s paintings on the sidewalk outside the park, only Mary Poppins wasn’t holding my hand.

It occurs to me that I was living in London at the time, 1984, just after the IRA bombed Harrods at Christmas and just before the explosion at Heathrow Airport ahead of my flight back home to “The States.”

I knew I would love Paris, had imagined it forever, and even though I was arriving in February instead of May, with a few classmates instead of a lover, on a quick weekend instead of a vacation, I was determined to fall in love, even while the Yanks and the Brits were unanimous in insisting the French were rude.

My grandmother studied French at Douglass, dreamed of working at the United Nations, helped me with my homework translations of the Le Petite Prince, and spoke of the trips we would take abroad together, which due to her untimely death were never realized.

As a 20 year college student, my trip to Paris looked something like this—a steep walk with my backpack down the hill from the residence in Hampstead, a Tube ride with a transfer to Charing Cross Road, the train out of London to the White Cliffs of Dover, another steep walk down and a hill to the dock, an all-nighter on the ferry across the northern seas of the English Channel (the Chunnel had yet to exist), and finally another train from the North of France in Calais to Boulogne and from Boulogne to… PARIS!

I arrived in the early morning. It was cold, I hadn’t showered and I was traveling with women I barely knew (while I preferred the company of men for their simplicity), but I was in Paris, with francs in my pocket, having done the exchange of pounds before departing so eager was I to be at ease in this city which had long held so much promise for me.

Upon arrival, we crossed the street from Gare de Nord and my companions entered a bank, while I said that I’d take a little walk instead.

“Are you sure?” they asked.

“I’ll just walk around the block,” I assured them.

It was a dull, gray walk, without any romance at all, except in my mind, until an old man came out from a doorway and said, in a gruff voice, “Bonjour.”

“BONJOUR!” I replied.

So eager was I to practice my French with a real Parisian that I slowed my pace to his as he stepped in beside me, turning one corner, and then another together, when I wanted his company or not.

“Je parle seulement un petit peu de francais,” I explained, as he grew irritable about something I wasn’t quite understanding, something about money; and eager to part, I must have misunderstood or misspoken because before I turned away from him to join my companions, he reached out and grabbed my breast, which was covered by a puffy gray ski jacket that I’ve only just realized–I hate.

I’ve shared this Paris story throughout my life as comical testimony to amateur language skills and to my fervent devotion to this city. Baguettes. Cafe Au Lait. Eclairs. The Rodin. The Jeu de Paume. Le Seine. Vin Chaud. Shakespeare & Company.

“Zut Alors!” I screamed at the old man, retrieving the only expletive I knew in his language.

Now, I might say, “FUCK YOU!” but as a woman of 20, one is more accommodating than at 54, more of who we are “supposed to be” instead of who we are.

It must have been my right breast.

A month shy of 34 years later, I wake in the dark holding it.

I’ve had a dream, a nightmare really.

I am riding in the passenger seat as my husband drives us up Main Street. As we pass the vintage shop, I see a lawyer friend walking three large dogs (one of which isn’t hers.)  I smile when I notice that it is the dogs that are walking her.

I lower the window to holler hello, and when I do, one of the dogs lurches at me from the sidewalk—chomping my right breast.

(Even typing this makes me hold it again. Even editing makes me hold it. And now I recall the hours that the body worker spent circling that breast, asking me what was there, and all I could muster was outrage at her touch which remained silent inside like this memory had until now. )

Upon waking in the dark, the inexplicable sadness with which I went to sleep made sense.

“Sense,” is really important to me. I relied upon it as a child. Alcoholism. Affairs. Divorce. It’s how I digested the world around me. Viet Nam. Nuclear drills. Starving children. Sense is how I avoided being swallowed up by fear or grief or hopelessness.

When did I learn to let thoughts override feelings? My mind flashes over the years in Colorado, the way our father challenged us to stand in the deep snow in our nightgowns, barelegged.

I never lasted.

I so wanted to please him. To warrant his attention and praise.

Becoming less emotional was the route I chose. It turns out that this lent itself well to success Managing at restaurant at 18. Magna Cum Laude at 21. Classrooms. Non-profits. A family.

All along my body persisted, aching like it had in the snow.

Headaches began in my teens, rashes in my twenties, two miscarriages before 30.

I was 36 (and the mother of two) when my own mother died, and I suppose this is when I truly surrendered to the journey back to the feminine.

Baby steps.

Yoga. Bodywork. Women’s circles. Therapy. Singing. Dancing. Art.

Yesterday, two women flew up from my Mid-Atlantic roots to meet me, to interview me, to question me, to write notes on a yellow legal pad in pink ink. There will be no recordings, they said. We all agreed.

The night before I had put myself in a chat queue on the National Sexual Assault Hotline only to close the browser just as my turn came. (1-800-656-4673.)

Next I opened the page to our local crisis center and discovered that I could send an email. (advocates@womensfreedomcenter.net)

It’s easier for me to be vulnerable with my fingers than it is with my voice. It’s what led me to journaling at 18, and to publishing after my mother died.

The Women’s Freedom Center in Brattleboro emailed me back and suggested I put a call into an advocate the next day which I eventually worked myself up to do, just ahead of the interview. (802-254-6954.)

“I’m not in crisis,” I told the kind woman on the other end of the line. “It happened 3 years ago. Mild as far as the range of assault goes. I don’t have a career at stake. But I’m having these really intense feelings, and I can’t shake them.”

Facebook messaging was how I coaxed myself into first reporting the incident to the large organization 300 miles away. Fired up by the #meTOO movement and convicted in my response-ability (as a white, educated, middle-class woman with a platform), I spoke up on behalf of other women.

I wanted to dismiss what happened to me because I was embarrassed by it, ashamed that I had agreed to hug a man who then slid his hands across my ass. Appalled that at 50, I was still vulnerable to accommodating.

“Can you tell us exactly what happened that day?” the Human Resources Officer asked thirty-minutes into the interview. “We don’t want to trigger you, but we’d like to hear it in person.”

“I don’t mind talking about it,” I said. “It’s the reporting part that’s left me feeling oddly vulnerable.”

They nodded. I proceeded.

Was I standing?

Why do I remember standing?

I had spent an inordinate amount of time that morning dressing for this meeting, falling into the cliche, ie. I wanted to look professional, not like someone who wanted her ass rubbed by a stranger, but I also wanted to have an ass that said that someone might want to rub it. (In the end, I just dressed how I wanted to be dressed for the events after the meeting.)

We were all sitting at a long table in a hotel conference room. Of course, I wasn’t standing.

Was I performing?
Why do I feel like I was performing on a stage?

How is it that is it already feels like a dream? It was only 24 hours ago.

As I relayed the incident, time slowed, and I was surprised to find my eyes filling with tears.

“This isn’t a big deal,” I told myself.

My self wouldn’t listen.

When did my emotions get the upper hand on my mind?

Menopause and #45 have definitely played a part in changing me.

I hadn’t thought much about the ass-assaulting incident until his campaign… the video… the debate stalking… Jessica Leeds and more than a dozen other women’s stories of assault.

I should have been pleased that this organization responded so swiftly to my report rather than dismiss it. In fact, they dispatched two administrators on a plane in my direction the very next week.

I wanted to say, NO Thank you, it was enough to do the telling once, but I told myself that this wasn’t fair to other women.

My body had something else to say about my courage: headaches, dizziness, swollen eyes.

I’d met with my therapist the previous week. She immediately noticed my eyes. She sent me a note after our appointment:

“These processes of going public with violating men ask you to be so reasonable and reasoned. Where do the anger and vigorous pushback go? Is it expressed in a safe place for you? Is it getting stuck in the windows of your soul, around your eyes? Such dilemmas–wanting to be of service to move consciousness along but… where does our vigor go? …STOP to the violators or stopped up in us?”

Just before the interview, I began to lose my voice; while after the hour-long session was complete, I felt completely relieved; but then noticed that I was wheezing.

I’m still wheezing today, unable to take a deep breath.

I attended two events after the interview, relieved at the distraction, except in those moments when I stepped into the silence of a restroom, and I felt a great sadness sweep over me.

On the drive home, up Main Street, past the vintage store, I asked my husband, “Why am I feeling so sad?”

This is what woke me at 3:30 this morning, to a dog biting my breast; and this is what brought me to the kitchen table to write about the City of Lights on this dirt road in the woods of the Green Mountains of Vermont on this rainy winter day.

I never knew that I felt sad about the old Frenchman who grabbed my breast when I was 20. I didn’t know that I felt sad about the man who dragged his hands across my 50-year-old yoga butt.

It would be easy to continue grieving today with all this water, threatening floods, but I feel completely sober.

What I can see clearly now, is that even though I didn’t let these assaults define or disempower me, they lived on inside.

They said: Whether you are 20 or 50, you are ours to grab.

They said: You do not possess the dignity of bodily sovereignty.

They said: Your humanity is less than ours.

Until I felt the depth of that injustice–inside my body–I couldn’t claim what needed claiming:

STEP BACK MOTHERFUCKERS!

~

(Click here for I Told, Part I.)

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Incision

8 days. Until the full crossing. The threshold. Mother to Crone.
In my morning practice of oiling the body, my hands find their way to the incision that brought my first born into my arms, 22 years ago.
I move my fingers first up and then down, then left to right and right to left, and finally clockwise and counter clockwise in the way I was shown, hands over mine, over the incision, releasing the adhesions formed inside the body.
Adhesions:
A year earlier it was Deb who again helped release a different kind of holding in the womb–the pain of two miscarriages in my late twenties, two abortions at 16, sexual trauma, heartbreak, childhood terror, pervasive fear.
As I lay on her table, under a soft blanket, with the November sun lighting the room, Deb asked:
Are you ready to let it go?
And tears, held so long inside, streamed down my face.
November:
Both my boys were conceived in this month–my first son just two weeks after Deb placed her hands on my womb.
November also holds the anniversary of the birth and death of my beloved grandfather–11/17/19-11/17/91.
I’ve felt my Poppop’s warm and effervescent presence this week, and he lives on in my sky-eyed youngest. And in recent years he arrives in the warm and loving presence of a new friend, whose company, “coincidentally,” I’ll share this weekend, as she leads a retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, entitled Writing down the Light.
It was decades ago that I began writing down into the deep, dark cavernous loss, but it is only in the last handful of years that I zeroed in on the tragedy that irrevocably rocked my world at 14.
Lila, my paternal grandmother, died two decades before my grandfather, in an accident on a bridge that crushed everything that stood at the center of my life.
My father’s tears are what I recall from that July afternoon when we met on the tarmac where I had been sipping a McDonald’s shake while waiting for his plane to taxi without knowing why he had come or that I’d be leaving. Vanilla.
We flew back in that small plane and arrived at her house–filled with family–but forever vacant to me.
Two summers ago, on the anniversary of the accident, I returned to that airport, and found my hands trembling so badly, as I approached, and my  mind so frantic, that I could have easily crashed the car.
I lost more than my grandmother and my aunties to the Mac Truck. I lost the Matriarchy under whose wings I had been protected and nourished and promised a future.
I lost something else too. I gave it up actually. Spit it out.
My belief in God.
And tears.
I refused to ever cry again, and met that resolve, until a handful of years later, when I received the news that the house would be sold, and then I balled like a baby on my boyfriend’s lap on my last day in my grandmother’s kitchen.
Lila was the age I am now in our last year together, and I am finally writing down the light that meets me here in the last days before becoming Crone–a year in which the wise blood remains inside, offered not to the earth as it has been for 40 years, but to the heavens ever more until I, like her, like each of us, leave this world.
This morning I woke in a spontaneous meditation at the crown. It unfolded, like a warm woolen shawl, once tight with abandonment, now open and unfurling toward the sky.
Lately, I find myself able to weep, easily–at desires once held, and desires still aching to unfold–and at the way the snow releases from an iron sky.

 

November, like me

A November day, like today, with its deep frost–prisms of light illuminating the cold–is a lot like me as I age, or who I aspire to be, say by 60 or 80–all the fruit, the desire, the harmony fallen away–so that what remains–the stone, the empty branch, the fading blade of grass–is immersed in this stark and exquisite offering–of clarity.

I could have danced all night…

10 years ago, after my youngest entered school full-time, I took a major detour in my exploration of new career possibilities.

Rather than enroll in a Masters Program in Organization and Development in New Hampshire, or in a vigorous life-coaching mentorship out of Colorado, and in lieu of resentfully renewing my lapsed teaching license in Vermont, I showed up at a place called Kripalu in the Berkshires of Massachusetts–to dance.

130 accredited hours later, I was a newly minted Let Your Yoga Dance instructor, something I could barely admit to friends when they asked about my unusual time away from home and family.

That single detour set me on a course of detours, so that ten years later, I’m still winging it, flying and fumbling my way forward “from the inside out” as I’ve grown fond of saying.

During this decade of detours, I earned my 200 hour yoga teaching certification, crafted an online writing journey through the chakras, and frequently returned to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I assist leading presenters.

Now’s a good time to admit that all these detours were an attempt to avoid (and covertly bolster) what was truly calling me–a desire to write–which led to a companion desire–to create as much space around the writing as possible–apart from mothering/partnering/homemaking and earning some semblance of an income. Quite a dance!

But as feared, the more I immersed in writing, the less I desired anything else, until this moment when all my desires have whittled down to one: to finish the book that I began in 2012 while assisting a non-profit that took me to Chile and Japan and brings me annually to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nationsopportunities which I’ve let wither on the vine of an increasingly singular focus.

What has also whittled down, in parallel form, is my income.

While I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to increasingly earn in creative and life-giving ways; this is often accompanied by angst around rising household expenses and the fear of not earning/being/doing “enough.”

And yet, after much inner struggle, I came into a place of surrender this summer, softening into my deepening commitment to the book as if it were a daughter, and into the limited income that caring for her affords me.

Out of this clarity came the decision to simplify my income–to two parallel offerings a season–one in writing and one in dance–two wings to support my own journey and that of others.

Ironically, my hard-earned clarity was met by my husband’s who shared that he was ready for me to make more money, three times as much in fact.

We laughed at the synchronicity.

After the laughter, was the nitty-gritty. I zeroed in on the necessity of retiring one role (Motherhood) before landing the next; and so we sat down with the budget and made it work with a commitment to adhering to it more diligently; because after all hadn’t we managed to make ends meet in much leaner times when the kids were little and he was a new teacher.

With this commitment and clarity was met with Autumn’s back-to-school energy, I renewed by daily work on the book, and as a result, I experienced a growing sense of self-trust and possibility, both of which had waned as a result of inner conflict.

Meanwhile, I set to filling my fall sessions, which fortunately are the easiest to fill at this time of year.

After some initial sluggishness, my online writing journey was fully enrolled; while enrollment in the dancing journey stalled; and remained stalled, even as the starting date grew closer and closer; and my anxiety grew larger and larger.

Over the past decade, the dance has become an integral part of my own health, and my commitment and connection to community, not to mention a creative outlet for that part of me who is teacher, crafting  music, movement and chakras in a conscious flow.

But faced with an unsustainable enrollment at a time when sustainability was key, I had to make a choice.

Suddenly, the point of the audio book that I ordered over the summer came into sharper focus. In Let Your Life Speak, author Parker Palmer introduces a form of guidance that reveals itself: When way closes.

Was way closing on dance for me? After ten years? Could I let it? Couldn’t I try harder? Certainly I could bring the dance to one of the surrounding towns who had long asked for me to do the same…

I fretted. I gave one last effort. I meditated.

This morning I refunded the enrollments of a small handful of students who were ready to begin the dance this week.

In doing so, I felt a surprising sense of relief and also a predictable measure of unfolding grief, tinged with old essences of embarrassment and shame.

In the meantime, I’ve crunched the numbers, only to discover that even the simplest of jobs will meet what I’ve earned nourishing consciousness with music and movement and writing.

The absurdity of my past efforts on this account is hard to bear in the black and white of a spreadsheet. But not in the light of the matching absurdity of devoting so much time to a book that no one is waiting to read–at least no one with a check to match the years of effort; not to mention the absurdity of laying down so much promise–professional and financial–to surrender my body and life–as home–to two splendid human beings–twenty-three years ago and counting.

What I realize only now, as I write, is that this letting go brings me back to the yogic principle that guided me as I first set out to lead the dance a decade ago: Ishvara Pranidhana.

So overcome was I with self-doubt and recrimination about my capacity to lead, not to mention the insanity of my detour from serious career pursuits, that each night, before the students arrived, I was forced to bow my head on my mat–in full surrender–Ishvara Pranidhana–offering up my failures and successes.

This same surrender is required now.

I could have danced all night, yes, but instead, I’ll return to the classifieds, seeking a fit for an increasingly un-fittable woman who is ready to accept the ease of income, in devotion to the calling that she cannot refuse.

 

50+


Am I always surprised by the 50+ on the label?

My first thought this morning: I mistakenly purchased the wrong bottle of supplements.

And then I remember: Oh, right, that’s me.

Though apparently I reserve some measure of doubt.

For what?

Self-protection?
Denial?
A refusal to be aged out of society?

I suspect something more elemental–a wonder to have been oneself for so many years.

And now, alas, I can’t remember:

Have I taken the supplement or just marveled over my relationship to the label again?

What is Pi/Pie?

~Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.”

Long before digital clocks attracted attention to and affection for numbers, like 1:11, the Salasin family from which I come was enthralled by them, and not only the bankers and the accountants among us.

Family homes were often referred to numerically, most notably: 6012, but also 1811 & 747.

And even the ministers & scientists among us, marveled at numerical synchronicities:

~How the home at 6012 Pacific, for example, was exchanged for the home at 6201 Park.

~How the beloved Patriarch died and was born on November 17 in 1991 and 1919.

~How the wedding shower for the Matriarch’s namesake–a date which was exceedingly difficult to pin down among a half-dozen bridesmaids from different parts of the country–landed, unbeknownst to any of us, on the anniversary of the accident that took the Matriarch’s life.

This numerically-steeped DNA may explain why my enthusiasm for numbers is rarely matched:

“69 days separate me from Menopause! On the 296th day of my cycle! With my menses 269 days late!”

“My husband and I were both born on the 8th of the month, and that we delivered our first (& second) son in the 8th month of the year, and each of our birth dates is celebrated as a holy day in celebration of the Mother of God–her Immaculate Conception, her Feast Day & her Assumption.”

Throughout childhood, the number 8 was my favorite, while 3 has been my favorite ever since. (That’s all I’ll say about that. I can tell no one is interested.)

Despite this absorption with dates and numerals and time, I’ve always (and increasingly) been better fed by language. While my early adult years were often spent in the role of treasurer or bookkeeper, I now spend my time almost exclusively with words (just ask my bank account.)

Family finances aside, what is even more alarming is the assault I felt on the eve of my 69th day before Menopause when presented with an algebra problem.

Like a donkey, my brain refused, and so I slid the paper away, until I looked up to see all the other mothers earnestly engaged.

I reminded myself that a decade earlier I had been one of two parents to solve the algebra problem at my older son’s back to school night.

But on this 69th day before Menopause, even with assistance from another parent and then the classroom teacher (how embarrassing!), the mathematical drawer in my brain remained stuck.

There is a magic to numbers and to words that I don’t fully understand and don’t know that I ever will, but I’m being invited to deepen the inquiry.

Which explains the mystery of this piece of writing to me, but probably not to you.

I frequently find myself engaged in mysteries–an inexplicable lifetime practice of doodling the letters of the alphabet for instance.

And since the age of 16, there has been a single word that remains my favorite, a reverence which is often mistook for a mathematical or culinary interest, but which actually springs from the pleasure derived from the simple sensation of the sounds at the front of my mouth.

~

A week has passed since I posted this exploratory piece of writing on Facebook, and now it is the first day of Autumn and Day 303 in my cycle.

I love 3’s, Remember?

And it turns out that the last day of my cycle, should I continue toward Menopause, without a setback, will be November 23, 2017.

Thanksgiving Day.

My last day,

of Motherhood.

You can’t make this stuff up.

(ps. Pumpkin-pecan is my current favorite.)

I’m leaving.

I wake with a start and a stirring. A tug. A pull.

“I have to go to the ocean,” I tell my husband.

Our bank account disagrees; so I tell it that I will drive there and back in a single day, departing absurdly early and returning late, without the need for an overnight stay.

But a week passes, and still I haven’t recovered enough from that tenacious August respiratory virus to fund the energy needed for this kind of day trip; which is unfair because it is this very virus that no doubt produced this untimely insistence on the ocean. It is already September, the air is cooling, and school has begun.

Rumi’s words echo even as my commitment wanes:

What matters is how quickly you do what your soul directs.

 When a week passes and a string of summer-like days return, I go to the pond–a place where I am stirred, again and again, by beauty and light, but like a toddler, denied a specific spoon, I am unsatisfied.

“I must stay overnight,” I say, and with that, I renew my commitment, and add to it–boldness and creativity, while my efforts are met, without success.

I go to bed on Monday, muddled, and wake the same on Tuesday, and decide to find clarity, inside:

I get on my mat.
I write in my journal.
I take my supplements.
I tend the garden.
I shower outside.
I do what needs doing for work.

All the while, I do something else, slowly, nonchalantly, covertly, just in case, little by little—setting aside, at first, some underwear, and then a bra; and then an outfit or two; a toiletry kit; some beach things; waters and snacks, and finally a meal for lunch and then dinner.

At 11:00 am, I leave a note for my family on the kitchen table:

Heading east.
Be back tonight or tomorrow.
Will message.

Just then, an email comes through–a single night in an Airbnb at a very friendly rate. I update my note to my family.

It is well into the afternoon when I arrive up the coast of Maine, not all ideal, and I have to resist chiding myself so that I can receive what daylight remains–to sit and read and take in the smell of the sea and the sounds of waves, and to walk in the surf, and finally to float and then to submerge myself fully in Her embrace.

Afterward, I rack up a $9 check at an upscale restaurant–a glass of Portuguese wine and a mini lobster roll with fries—Yay, Maine Happy Hour!—and when I arrive back at my room, I receive another email–an unexpected payment from a client—for the exact amount of my stay.

Alas, the angsty restlessness I felt in needing to come, and in deciding to come, and even in the coming and the arriving, continues, even the next morning as I sip coffee at my favorite cafe, and even as I walk along the stunning cliffs at the lighthouse, and even as I sit in the sand and build a sand castle like I did as a child; so that it is a continuous practice, this being with me, with awareness and compassion:

“Of course, you’re restless,” I say. “These are shifting times. Not just summer’s end, and your mother’s anniversary, and a month of coughing, but this heartbreak of an administration, and the fires and floods and shootings, and then, of course–this leaving of motherhood, not to mention hot flashes and a road trip without air condition.”

Exactly 24 hours after I arrive in Maine, I begin driving south, and then west, and three hours later, I cross the Connecticut River from New Hampshire to Vermont, and then turn off the highway to stop at the fish market to soften the separation of the sea and me.

Mothers do, you know.
They leave.
They drop their kids off at daycare or at school and never come back.

I’m leaving.
I’m leaving.
I’m leaving.

These words appeared like a mantra after I’d written the note to my family, ominously hinting at a larger leaving, and continuing, even after I arrived back home.

I’m leaving, I’m leaving, I’m leaving.

I half-thought I might not make it to Maine or home again. That I’d die on the road like my grandmother did just a year older than me. I remind myself, firmly, that I’d like to transform without such drama as she (or my mother) enacted.

And still, my spirit is called into the wild, and as I lean in to listen, I hold back, for fear of going too far.

~

(Related post: Cleavage.)