“Could I please take your photo?”

I was heading back from the bathroom when a woman stopped me to ask about my forehead. The bartender leaned in to listen too.

I had just returned from Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and I’d asked my husband to meet me in town for a drink, and I had forgotten about the tattoo until I noticed people staring at me (particularly this couple at the end of the bar, and especially the guy she was with.)

They were quite a bit younger than us and didn’t appear to be the Kripalu-type, but I sensed their kindness, and so when she asked, I asked:

“Do you really want to know?”

She nodded enthusiastically, and so I dove in… explaining that I’d wanted a henna tattoo to mark the upcoming 365 days without my menses (ie. MENOPAUSE!), but I had been unsure about how to do it, until I’d spent the weekend with a misogynist.

He brought clarity, just like #45 has done.

“I’d like an emblem of SEEING CLEARLY,” I told the henna artist at Kripalu. “Something that calls out the PATRIARCHY!”

The bartender turned to me and gave me a high five upon hearing this. She had her own bad ass tattoo (a permanent one), while my new friend at the end of the bar responded that she couldn’t have imagined a better answer—it was just what she hoped for!

Suddenly instead of a corny menopausal lady, I felt kind of cool.

After that we talked about everything–women and politics and art and Vermont, and before parting ways, we exchanged contacts; and then her companion who had been talking to my husband fumbled a bit–wishing me well “on this next chapter of my life.”

I was struck by his sincerity, which seemed almost reverant, and also joyful and expectant, and the whole encounter left me feeling hopeful about the world, just as the yoni on my forehead seemed to leave others feeling hopeful too.

(This photo arrived in my in box two weeks later.)


Mother Bear & the 2 Faces of Men

(art: Cathy McClelland)

~In my dream, I return to my neighborhood in Virginia, bringing my sons along with me, to see the small rancher on the cul de sac in which I lived for a single year at the age of 7, an age where I’d lay down in the middle of the road and on the train tracks, a block away, to prove that I wasn’t afraid.

We were on our way to see the tracks when I stopped at the neighbor’s place around the corner.

Somehow I’m not surprised to find that their house, no longer a rancher, is twice as big, with wrap around porch and a wide staircase.

Sloan’s mother steps out the front door and greets us, without recognizing me at first, and when she does, she invites us up, and I too have trouble recognizing anyone–her son (who never existed), her husband, and Sloan, the younger sister of my friend Holly–except for their smiles–I remember their smiles; which I recognize even in the faces of the grown children of the children who had been my friends.

Holly died in labor, her mother tells me–she bled out; and then she confides that she was told to access the spirit realm to come to terms with her loss.

I nod in understanding, and she continues in hushed tones, not wanting her smiling son or her smiling husband (with the perfect smiling teeth, false ones I suppose) to overhear her talking about this “stuff,” because it angers them.

I wake this morning, wondering about this anomaly, about smiling men, like my own husband, and father and father in law (and even my sons), who respond with hostility at times about religion–against it.

What is it about the interface of spirit and body that creates such volatility in men–say at an abortion clinic, or with a tax law, or with planes–filled with loved one–flown into buildings filled with loved ones–all in the name of God–no matter his name–even electing a pedophile and an Assaulter in Chief to govern the very people who they abuse.

Why do those who neither conceive or birth or nourish, claim with one hand to be the protectors of life, while the other destroys life and the planet upon which it relies.

And perhaps more importantly, why, do we, the life bearers–those who are steeped in the mystery of spirit and flesh–allow it?

Where is our fierceness?
Why do we smile and whisper?
Where is Mother Bear!

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:



(Click here for I Told, Part I.)


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.
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.
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.


Days 21 to 12

21 days.
Between me & Menopause.
There’s something to that 21, but I can’t place it.
And then it comes…

In a textbook 28 day menstrual cycle, there are theoretically 21 non-bleeding days. So that by the 21st day, if you’re young & fertile, but not desiring pregnancy–say because you’re much too young, or in school, or you’ve just started a new job, or you’re not financially or emotionally prepared to become a parent, or to have another child, or to have any more or any at all, then it’s about 21 days when you start cupping your breasts to be sure they’re showing signs of your next menses–tender, swollen, sore.

Or conversely, if you’re desperate for a baby, having tried again and again, or having miscarried once or twice or more, or longing to give your child a sibling, it’s about 21 days when you begin looking for signs that your menses isn’t coming–cupping your breasts to be sure they remain soft & supple, just before they double in size with conception.

And then further back in memory–way back–is “the pill.”

Don’t you take it for 21 days, and then skip 7?

Wow, that’s a dusty memory.

And I can’t help thinking that even though I had to travel offshore for birth control, about 20 minutes or so, and then triple that for access to abortion, both were available to me in a climate that said: We’re trying to support you, even while we hide the very things you need so as not to draw too much attention to your pregnancy, your sexual activity, your bleed; even while your bodies are plastered on every movie screen and billboard and magazine, not to mention the Playboys tucked under the bed of your uncles and their friends who will later vote to turn back the tide of your possibilities to your mother’s and grandmother’s time–when your own bodies, and even love, were the enemy, plotting against your dreams and rendering you property of home and husband, and relegating your much needed voices to dinner and diapers, while around the world, those who impregnate continue to rule (and ruin) lives, while claiming to protect them, with the lie that we, the life givers, are the ones who forsake life by desiring full agency over our flesh.

Today’s number is 17. That is–17 days left between me & the Motherhood Archetype on the 365 Day Heroine’s Journey to Menopause. In a textbook menstrual cycle, day #17 is the day when one might wonder if she has conceived during her preceding fertile period, particularly if she is desperate to conceive, as I once was in my late twenties to mid-thirties. Conversely, if avoiding fertile days, day 17 might be the last in the agony of abstention. Alas, this is not a successful form of birth control; something that I learned, the hard way, twice, in the months before I turned 17.

(Also, 17 is the # of new messages in my inbox at this moment.)






The arrival at 13 days before the end my journey holds the sweet symmetry of being the number when I began, 40 years ago.



There are 12 days remaining in this 365 day journey to Menopause, ie. a complete year without a menstrual cycle. The migraines came at the end of my journey as Maiden (first menses); a year or two after I began bleeding, and they increased in my early twenties with birth control pills, and then again with the hormones of pregnancy, and then spiked with the shifts leading out of the fertile years in my late thirties and forties. Lately, I’d almost thought they’d left me entirely, along with the hot flashes (which to be fair were only here for a short stay this past summer) and the night sweats (which took up a much longer residence, say like a bachelor’s degree, with a summer capstone intensive.) Oddly enough the three of them had been companions of sorts, like a relative whose annoyance you’ve come to rely upon. So that when I woke this morning to a migraine, it was a bit of a reunion, as I noted how every sound in the room was heightened–the door latch, the foot steps, the crinkling of paper at the woodstove, and how the morning light was felt more keenly; and it occurred to me then that a migraine and this long journey to menopause (from 37 to 54)–this surrendering of the body’s fertility–is every bit a meditation.



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.

Meditations on Halloween

I arrived late on the morning of Halloween, 1972, and as I crossed the small courtyard between the primary building and the one in which the 5th grade was housed, I passed a classmate with the attendance slip in hand.

“I’m here!” I said, but he looked at me blankly.

“Who are you?” he asked.

And I remember my surprise, and how unsettled I felt–that I could feel so much myself on the inside, yet be so unrecognizable on the outside.

Most of the time, with adults, it’s the opposite–masked in normalcy, while inside something riotous or hopeless or desperate is going on, or even over-joyed and delighted, though those conditions are more easily rendered into places of connection.

~Age 9. Gypsy. Curly-haired, black wig. Virginia Court Elementary, Aurora, Colorado. (I think it snowed that year for Trick or Treat.)

“At Samhain (Halloween), we call the Goddess the Crone. The Crone is the Old One, the aspect of the Goddess that teaches us wisdom, that helps us let go when we need to change and grow.”

I’ve read those words from Starhawk’s, Circle Round to my children, myself, since becoming a mother, two decades ago; and now that Cronehood is on my horizon–23 days–this reading lands differently. Personally. With greater consequence. Understanding. Gravity. Truth.

I have an abiding affection for Halloween. Which confuses me. I don’t much like to dress up; and when I do, I prefer to be more of myself than in disguise.

It may be that I lost the ability to play.
It may be that the fear of masks is a companion of my work with memoir.

So what is it then that makes Halloween bubble up inside?
The children I suppose.
Their joy.
The companionship of their parents.
Especially the ones who arrive in costume!

I admire the theatrical families. The fantasy dwellers. The laughter. The delight. I regret my children were born to someone who spends so much time with non-fiction and so little time in silliness.

I suppose my affection for Halloween may be residue from childhood. The simplicity. Just a pumpkin, a costume & a bag. The generosity of neighbors & strangers. No lavish meals. No hours upon hours of shopping & wrapping. No house guests for which to imperfectly prepare. No way to be–but fast & gracious. I was good at both.

My mother served lunch fair on Halloween–tuna sandwiches & soup. The absence of formality (and my father) said: “Be at ease. Be quick. I understand your enthusiasm.”

Even now, it gets the better of me. In overdrive, I shift from the work of the day to making popcorn at the stove. My mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s bowl. My father’s favorite snack. When I was a kid, we gave out store bought candy because anything homemade was suspect–as cheap, as weird, as dangerous.

But not so the costumes.
My mother never let me buy a single one.
I was Princess, Gypsy, Hobo, Doctor.
I am still.

The older I get, the more I just want to be me.
I’ve worked so hard to find her.