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.
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.
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.
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 Nations—opportunities 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.
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.
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.
How too have I had a consumer mentality–online?
Bingeing on content–information, education and even inspiration–
with little regard for digestion,
let alone time to pause and truly honor (hold space for) source–authors, artists, educators, journalists, friends.
I feel the pressure to keep up with the Joneses–particularly as it applies to staying informed, while simultaneously longing to slow down–to notice the effects of my speed and over consumption and to consider how I want to proceed…
With deep respect for my mind’s capacity to understand and synthesize, and my heart’s capacity to connect, as well as my passion to maximize both at such a precious crossroads in history…
~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.
My last day,
You can’t make this stuff up.
(ps. Pumpkin-pecan is my current favorite.)