The Multi-Colored Womb

A Thousand Voices – Donald Saaf – 2011

Winter brings the return of the dream state, or maybe it’s too much or not enough or my broken-up sleep that explains the day to day watery-immersion of otherworldliness.

Last week, I dreamt of a womb-like container, belonging to another. She placed it on the shelf beside my single bed and then she turned to leave the dormitory-like space as it began to fill with others claiming beds and counters.

I never saw her face, but I continued to marvel at what she left behind–a multi-colored, beautifully-beaded container which served as a water bottle.

Each time I left my bed, however, I was consumed with frustration, because yet another new arrival made claims on the bed that was already mine.

One man, in fact, went so far as to lift my mattress off the frame and take it to the other side of the room–the men’s side, I suppose.

I crossed the space between us and protested. “This isn’t how it works,” I explained. “My things were already there.”

Apparently, the unspoken rules of the Kripalu assistant dormitory (of which I was readily practiced) didn’t apply here.

But where was here anyway? I looked around at rows and rows of beds that I hadn’t noticed before as the space approached full occupancy.

Were we some type of refugee?

I retrieved my mattress, but then wondered if perhaps others needed it more, and then I caught sight of the beautiful container again and smiled, making a mental note to find one for myself.

Days later, that beaded womb bled through my waking hours, speaking a language that I couldn’t quite understand.

Waking between the worlds like this, especially in the dark, wintry months, is welcome, even while it is disorienting (or perhaps because it is), leaving me bobbing in a soupy sea–reality flooded with dreams—where the constellation upon which I’ve relied no longer directs the course, forcing me to find new markers, inside and in other realms, obscured from reality’s view.

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Epiphany

 

Without a single resolution or plan, I find some surprising changes afoot for 2019:

1. After 7 years, I’ve changed daybooks.

2. After storing the same old wrinkled & ragged sheets in a large bin, I splurged on a handful of new packs of tissue paper for next year’s holiday wrapping.

3. After putting so many things on the diagonal when our nest emptied this past August–bookshelves, cabinets and even the kitchen island–I’ve reoriented the house back to perpendicular lines while simultaneously opening up the entryway.

4. After asking my husband to sleep elsewhere for the first time in 30+ years, perhaps to better fill the empty nest throughout the fall, I haven’t asked in weeks. (Of course, the house has been full for the holidays.)

5. After an absence of several years that boded badly for our finances, I’ve re-engaged in household budgeting.

6. After serving as the chief travel-lover/cheerleader/insistent-persistor in our partnership, my husband has signed on to chaperone a highschool trip to ITALY entirely of his own accord.

7. After suffering through the fall with Giardia (and the ensuing recovery), dropping an entire clothes size, I feel weary, but also born again.

Christmas Heartbreak

If not the sobriety of Menopause (2 years this past Thanksgiving), then the house guest for whom the holiday was a foreigner, or perhaps the alchemy of both together accounted for the way Christmas was tilted, like a snow globe, and shook loose of all of its accoutrements–gifts & food & music & ritual–until it was seen, if not for the first time, then at least anew.

The build-up.
The expectations.
The arbitrariness.
The absurdity.
The excess.
The holy?

One could say, as many do, that it’s the absence of the Christ Child that hollows out the holiday like a cheap, chocolate Easter Bunny.

But what of our rich personal traditions, steeped in soul and meaning?

Each Christmas Eve we read aloud the Nativity story, and each Christmas Morning, we read this stunning excerpt from Little Women:

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother’s promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

“While the east grew rosy with the coming day!” Gush!!! And each and every Day in December we read from the National WIldlife Treasury…

December may be the last page on our calendar, but it belongs to no single year… ruled less by time than by age-old traditions…

But is reading meaning?
What of the heart?

My late mother’s birthday is Christmas Day, as was my great Aunt Doll’s.
Certainly, that’s enough heart for a single day.

Let your heart be light…

My youngest, and his maternal and paternal grandfathers before him, dismiss the traditions of faith as if religion is a personal affront to their God-given, white-male sovereignty, and at least in my son’s defense, this is accompanied by an abiding passion for all things scientific.

Lesser beings, like myself, of smaller minds and opportunity, oftentimes rely upon magic and soul. Alas, my capacity for the former, carefully attended since childhood, is almost extinguished, for which I can barely muster concern which in itself is alarming.

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them…(Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express) 

First thing Christmas morning, my youngest led his older brother in a brief yoga practice, sounding through the chakras, the two of them flanking me on my mat in front of my bedroom balcony doors as the sun rose above the trees in the East–their Warrior Threes on each side of my Balanced Tree–a morning practice to better prepare ourselves for the extraordinary self-connection required of the day’s togetherness; which on sons’ part was no doubt an effort to humor their mother so that the gift-giving could commence sooner.

Having sped through the chakras with a pose for each one, they left the room, encouraging me along, while moments later my youngest returned with his old, golden & gem clad, Egyptology book in hand.

“Eylem pulled this off the shelf,” he explained, “Look at this,” he said, pointing to an excerpt from the Book of the Dead, beneath an illustration of Horus which read:

My heart, my mother, my heart, my mother, my heart, my coming into being! May there be nothing to resist me at my judgment… may there be no parting of thee from me in the presence of him who keeps the scales!

He went on to explain that at death the heart is weighed. And only if it is lighter than a feather may the dead pass on to “heaven.”

Let your heart be light…

It’s not just the heartbreak of my mother’s absence, or the Christmas Eve fire that destroyed a neighbor’s home, or the tsunami on the Sundra Straits of Indonesia sweeping away a pop band while it performed for concert goers on the beach, or even the impending separation between two lovers in my livingroom, star-crossed by timing and culture and place of birth (not to mention visas) or the heartbreak of disappointing yourself, like my youngest, in your first semester away at school, it was the revelation that came with the lightening of my own heart as we sat around the fire on Christmas Eve, while the Gospel of Luke was read aloud with a Turkish accent, followed by the spontaneous singing of carols, giving rise to bouts of laughter, particularly my own, which led my oldest to posit that his mother must be very, very tired, or the moment earlier in the day just before we left to skate on the Retreat Meadows when I stepped toward my husband’s in an embrace, not weary, but full of love, which is how I realized how very tight and parsimonious I’ve let my heart become.

ps: best ever illustrated book of the Gospel of Luke/nativity story, Julie Vivas (of Australia):

Christmas Anger

Because anger never came easy to me, or because I’d never seen it expressed by my mother and so I too learned to hold it in, I suddenly find myself attuned to it, in all its subtleties, and as such, it’s blossomed, especially after Menopause, which deftly set it (and other such vicissitudes of nice, sweet & pretty) free.

“Anger is sad’s bodyguard,” I’ve heard said, or: “Fear is the root of all anger,” but doesn’t that imply that anger has no value in and of itself?

I recall the beauty of a pure encounter. I was 37, with a new infant, a dead mother, a physically present but otherwise absent spouse, and a dilapidated farmhouse atop a mountain filled with in-laws.

The anger arose spontaneously (following a grievous transgression) was almost blissful, uncontaminated as it was by thought which is not to say that it was expressed mindlessly, like outrage, but instead, it burned clean, and was received, and something else, just as potent—it was released—without the festering of anger swallowed or anger dealt cuttingly on the sly.

“Choose discomfort over resentment.”

This is from Brené Brown best said with her Texas twang.
It was my motto last year, and it is also the intention I hold in relationship to my grown children.

“Parenting without resentment may be too ambitious a goal,” my therapist cautions.

In recent years, as the onslaught of hormones rocked me further and further from the shore of self-containment, I began to notice the very moment anger appeared.

Turns out it comes a lot at Christmastime, that time of year when I’m supposed to be all cookies and aprons and good cheer.

Tired is a huge trigger for me, and is a very close friend to overextended. Sick is another trigger, especially once I’m on the mend.

“If you don’t meet your expectations, lower them.”

A teacher of mine, Megha Nancy Buttenheim, spoke these words, and I suppose I’ve been at this lowering for the better half of my life while spending the first half (and apparently previous lifetimes) unconsciously driven.

Like any recovery, it’s one day at a time.

I am so ANGRY.
I am glad no one is home.

At 55 (wow, that’s such a huge number all of the sudden), anger is compounded by the awareness and understanding that arises with age and awakening (and with the election of a misogynist and the electrification of the #metoo movement, so very necessary and centuries too late.)

Nowhere is the gender differential experienced more acutely than during the holidays as our invisible work–caring for homes and families and communities and corporations–is exponentially magnified by the season of giving.

I love giving. I truly do. I enjoy the exchange of energy that gifts bring. That baking provides. That volunteering offers.

“Whenever we reach within and ask how we can delight each other physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, we are on Holy ground,” wrote my friend Michele Morgan Doucette.

But I am so angry. I am so tired. Not just angry and tired in this moment (recovering from the effects of a particularly protracted recovery), but angry for all the ways my mother was tired—she, who would bake cookies for every floor of the hospital (cut-out cookies and fudge and almond bark) while continuing to do the books for my dad’s practice, and caring for our home, and their six children, while Christmas shopping for all of us, including her 7 younger siblings and their families, and my father’s four younger siblings and their families, not to mention neighbors and friends and my father’s colleagues, along with hand-written (and addressed) Christmas cards sent far and wide to all the places we’d lived before.

My dark-haired, dark-eyed mother would arrive on Christmas Day, totally spent, a shell of herself, an absence glaringly magnified by the fact that it was her birthday.

WHERE ARE YOU? I wanted to scream.

Instead, I learned how to make a turkey dinner with all the fixings, her favorite. I bought her flowers, not just on her birthday, but year round. And breakfast in bed too. Eggs Benedict was her favorite. I wrote her cards–from every place I traveled, brought her presents. On Christmas Eve, I would stop by after Midnight Mass to be the first to wish her a Happy Birthday, catching her at that sacred hour when all the kids (and my father) were asleep, and she was most alive, on her knes in the livingroom wrappin.

Sometimes, I stayed on to help. Once, I let her continue alone after my boyfriend and I finished putting together the multi-storied Barbie Dream House at 2 am.

The Magic of Christmas.

I judged my mother for everything. For her vacancy. For not speaking up to my father. For not demanding help. For not claiming some time for indulgence on her own fucking birthday. For not taking time to at least buy something nice for herself. For being so disorganized that she’d save wrapping for Christmas Eve. For disappearing. For being tired. For drinking so much coffee and eating so much sugar. For never reaching her dreams. For never wanting anything.

I judged her and I carried her, and even though I did it all differently, her burdens became mine.

(Here come the tears.

“Anger is sad’s bodyguard.”)

On our very last Christmas together before our family imploded (and reconfigured), and just afater I finished exams, I took my father’s credit card and squeezed in a shopping spree so that my mother might have new things on Christmas Day, too. That silk blouse. Those velours pants. The hair clip. The gold chain. Right down to the stockings and boots.

It wasn’t enough. Or it was too late. Or it was too much and my claiming awakened her own.

Relatives blamed me, blamed her for listening to me.

“Tell Dad you need time for yourself,” I demanded as I watched her disappear.

She left my father in the New Year, but not directly. She went out the side door. With another man. Barely a man. 20. The best friend of my boyfriend. (I expect she wanted the youth she never had. The youth I had.)

Later she left all of us with the bottle.

Finally, after ten years sober, her departure was final. Cancer. Just 2 years older than I am now. Her body riddled with guilt and regret.

My mother was a kind, gentle soul caught in the crossfire of what it is to be female, to grow up poor, to want more but not know how to claim it, to never know that you are deserving/worthy, just as you are.

I appreciated my mother and always told her so. But now I’d like to tell her something else. I’d like to gather her in my arms and say:

None of this was your fault.

~

(Note: For the longest time, I loved this photo, holding onto it and “the way we were,” and then one Christmas, I dropped it, and the glass shattered, and I realized then that I’d hated it, hated it for the way it made me feel sad.

Just now, I’m beginning to see it differently, something new creeping around the edges, two women, one 18, the other 39, saying, however imperfectly:

We’re here too.)

Christmas at the sea


You know how a certain cup of caffeine can provide just the right buzz?

It’s the same with yoga, though the feeling is different.

Sometimes, however, the right cup of tea or espresso can leave me edgy or angsty, wondering, “Maybe I need another?”

This is how it was yesterday after my Saturday morning time on the mat.

The discrepancy was further pronounced at breakfast, seated as I was, between my husband and our son, both of who received the effects that I had intended.

“It’s as if we’re all high,” Lloyd said, as we waited for our eggs after the morning class.

“Not me,” I countered. “I’m even crankier.”

I’ve practiced long enough to know that this is how it goes.

After the blush of my first few classes way back in 1994, something else began to emerge.

When I explained the tightness and irritability (and anger), my yoga teacher suggested someone who provided something called “bodywork.”

My healing journey began then or picked up speed. But alas, it wasn’t as I expected, ie. a journey with a beginning and an end.

“Healing” simply meant that I “met” myself in my body, as is, without abandoning it. Sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. Sometimes blissed, sometimes pissed.

“Damn yoga,” my younger sister says, and I feel that now, even if she was referring to the way yoga continues to maintain that eighth of an inch height in my favor, leaving her forever the shortest among our 8 siblings, while she continues to wait on the age differential of almost a decade to shrink me.

I keep thinking of the ocean. Of how nice it would be to spend Christmas beside it.

Alone.

Maybe I could take the drive today to fulfill that urge.

But what explains it?

My boys just arrived home on Friday night, and today is the first day that everyone is free from work.

Plus leaving today would pile up the to-do list on Christmas Eve.

Still…

I woke often through the night, wondering if the boys had arrived back home from their late shifts and their stop at the tail end of my shorter sister’s Solstice Party, her 14th in a row.

Or maybe it was the Moon, already waning, but ever-bright above the snow.

Or it could be my Mother, celebrating her 76th Christmas birthday, these 19 years from the grave.

There’s a star in the East on Christmas morn…

Do you know that spiritual?

I meditated on that unfathomably bright star this morning, shimmering through the trees, thinking it a plane or a satellite.

And then I got up and fixed myself some tea. Without caffeine. And sipped it in the ocean of dark.

At the moment of most abundance

My son calls about once a week, typically on his walk home from work or on his way home from class (sometimes sustainable design, sometimes women’s studies); and his brain at 9 pm is on fire, and the possibilities in front of him unlimited, and his capacity to ponder and purpose and pursue lines of thinking is exponentially expansive while my world steadily shrinks in the dark.

“I bought a new spice rack and a Q-tip holder today,” I tell him. “And I found a chai frosted pumpkin loaf at Trader Joes!”

Which is to say, I’m tired, and not just at 9 pm, but in 2018 and 2017 and 2016.

Has it been this long?

It won’t always be this way.

Once my guys (and the country) are set, I’ll rise up again, right? Just as soon as I dismantle all the photo albums and the bins and the boxes in the basement and the attic, 25 years of home-nourishing that in this empty nest weigh me down.

It’s just around the corner.

57 is apparently the peak of women’s happiness, not 18 or 21 as suspected. My mother died at that peak and my grandmother just before it, like the leaves who let go at the height of their beauty.

What is that poem? I have it somewhere. What’s her name? It’s something unusual.

Monza Naff, that’s it!

Wait, aren’t I FB friends with someone named Monza Naff? Did she write the verse that I’ve turned toward every September when the anniversary of my mother’s passing comes along? (Is that how we became friends. Memory!)

AUTUMN

~Urge me to drop every leaf I don’t need
Every task or habit I repeat past its season
Every sorrow I rehearse
Each unfulfilled hope I recall
Every person or possession
to which I cling-
Until my branches are bare,
until I hold fast
to Nothing

Blow me about
in your wild iron sky,
crush
all that’s puffed up,
fluff
all that in me needs
to go to seed,
send my shadows to sleep.

Tutor me
through straining night winds
In the passion of moan and pant
The gift of letting go
At the moment of most abundance
In the way of
falling apples, figs, maple leaves, pecans.

Open my eyes
to your languid light,
let me stare in your face
until I see no difference
between soar and fall

until I recognize
eternity
in single breaths,
faint whispers of cool air
through lungs.

Show me the way of dying
in glorious boldness
Yellow,gold, orange, rust, red, burgundy.

~

“At the moment of most abundance.”

Yesterday, I woke with the runs, today I woke angry. “Anger is sad’s bodyguard.” This is sometimes true about anger, especially if it is stuck. But I needn’t fear. She is coming. We saw her yesterday.

Dr. Ford–vulnerable, poised, transparent in terror and anxiety, clear, considerate, accomplished, tender, fierce.

What is leaving is just as certain.

We saw that yesterday afternoon too.

Petulant. Entitled. Blaming.

Kavanaugh and Trump are emblematic of the Patriarchy unhinged; and day after day this creaking of the archaic contraction that has long oppressed so many wakes more and more of us, especially the women–from our illusion that strength and purpose and understanding is outside of us–finally realizing that we can lead–through tenderness, strength and purpose matched with commitment to voicing what is true, while loving husbands and brothers and uncles and sons.

“I can’t think of anything but Kavanaugh and chai-frosted pumpkin cake,” I might have said to my son when he called home last night, but instead I marveled at his capacities, and how I helped bring them to bear, and how if I’m fortunate, they will help make life better for others, and for himself, long after I’m gone.

Whose dream? (College Drop off, Part II.)


Friday is the day of detachment. Today we tell our children: Enjoy the journey.

I spoke those words to my youngest just before we took him to college last Friday (and every Friday before that for most of his life.)

But the body doesn’t care.
The body is unapologetically attached.
The age of the “child” irrelevant.

“He’s seeing someone from Istanbul,” I tell another mother about my oldest. “I’m afraid he’ll move there.”

“My daughter lives abroad,” she says. “We have such interesting conversations. Isn’t that what we wanted? To raise interesting children?”

“I want close children,” I say with a smile, before pushing my shopping cart in the opposite direction.

My oldest and I share a passion for conversation. He studies philosophy and economics. When he visited home in the first months away or after his return from a semester abroad or a winter living on a horse farm in Spain, he liked to engage in our well-worn dance of the mind.

I wanted to put my nose to his skin and keep it there, wishing I was a cat and he a kitten so that I could lift him by the soft folds at the back of his neck.

But back to my second born, our baby. The engineer. No matter how “interesting” he is, it’s irrelevant. I’m incapable of understanding so many of the thoughts in his head.

Both boys are brilliant and more importantly kind. “Why don’t you get better grades,” I often asked them.

“I had a stable childhood,” my oldest said, “I don’t need to overachieve like you.”

I applied the same pressure on myself as a parent which for me meant giving up a career.

“Aren’t your worried that he won’t get into a good school?” the other mothers asked after I announced that I’d settled on a play-centered preschool in the next town.

“I just want him to be happy,” I said. “To be kind. To like learning. To stay curious.”

I may have gone too far.
Both boys are comfortable going too far.

“My dream is California,” my youngest says.

My mind reproaches this resistance: This is normal. This is good. This is even welcome. (Or at the very least: This is how it goes.)

But the body… my body is horrified, trapped in a nightmare, looking for signs that she is not the only one that recognizes the tragedy being enacted on campuses across the country.

A family passes me in the parking lot of Vermont Tech. The mother didn’t think to wear sunglasses. (I wore mine inside which is a good thing because I cried as soon as the President of the college said, Hello, and pointed us to the coffee table.) The mother without sunglasses wipes her eyes with the side of her hand while her other arm embraces the shoulder of a younger teen as they head to their car without a body part.

“THIS IS WRONG!” I want to scream right there in the middle of the campus. (Where is the bell tower!)

But this is how it goes. It must be normal. Everyone is doing it. All around the world. Every day another post. Another drop-off.

Entire families accompanied freshman to their dorm rooms at Vermont Tech last Friday. I hadn’t seen that before. And I don’t mean both parents and all the siblings. I mean grandparents and aunts and uncles and exes and new spouses.

“We should have brought more people,” I said. “I didn’t know.”

(I made my father drop me off on the road outside the campus after he took me grocery shopping.)

“Don’t forget to drink water and eat vegetables,” I told my son.

It’s not that that I want something else. I miss my own rhythms of sleep and focus and food. I’m eager to place myself at the center of my life again. I may need to leave home to do that. Sell the house. Take a job abroad.

I’m reminded of the old adage about not cutting your hair right after… delivery? a breakup? I can’t remember. I tell myself to wait before doing anything radical. I cringe when I think back to dropping off my firstborn. Right away, I posted to my friends: Is it too soon to make his room my office?

I wasn’t getting on with my life. I was protecting myself from the gaping hole in the fuselage.

“I’m signed up to volunteer at the shelter,” another mother tells me. Her youngest and mine were at the same preschool. “What else will I do with this extra time?”

SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF!! I want to holler at this self-sacrificing mother, but we’re all just trying to cope.

I’m more inclined to empty than fill. “I want less!” I holler at my husband who wants to raise a pole barn this fall. “I want less house. Less responsibility. Less community.”

Divorce?

I think the greater risk is going on as if nothing has changed. As if laying down your life for decades is something tidily completed. “Well done, Me. What’s next?”

I want to feel into all the space, even if it means more fighting.

There’s so much space for fighting now. And movies.

The newly released film “Puzzle” is as subtle as early lung cancer, no signs of any impact until you’re too far gone.

There was a moment when the main character was alone, at the table, dying several dozen eggs for the annual family Easter Party, when it hit him.

“I’m so sorry I left you alone to do all that… all the holidays, everything,” my husband whispered, as I ate popcorn.

I couldn’t reply.

“That’s not me, that’s my mother,” I wanted to say.

I had been so sure I’d avoided her footsteps.

I wasn’t surprised when those a generation older than me, all women, laughed heartily at the scene where the wife intentionally leaves behind the item her husband expects from the store.

“Where is my Manchego cheese?” he asks. “Did you forget it again?”

I cringed as they laughed, knowing that they had spent too long in a supportive role.

The preview for “Puzzle” was “The Wife,” and it wasn’t like lung cancer at all.

Think: Glenn Close “Fatal Attraction,” but instead of a woman scorned, see the fierce, post-menopausal spouse who has revolved around your life for too long.

We drove home in the dark.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more films made like these,” I said. “Thanks to the Great Awakener in the White House.”

In the morning, I said what I couldn’t say aloud the night before, the cancer realized:

“I think I’ve been living all this time inside your dream instead of mine.”

~

(Demeter, College Drop-off, Part II.)

(The Edge of Now, College Drop-off, Prequel.)