topless

the author, fifty years ago

After walking the dirt half-mile from the highway, he arrives in the house, drops his backpack and removes his shirt, saying that the temperature was higher today than it was supposed to be. (In the chill of the early June morning, he chose to wear a long sleeve shirt to school.)

“Lately, I resent men going topless,” I say.

“Do you want me to put it back on,” he asks.

I don’t.

I remember my mother’s scoldings as a girl: “Put a shirt on!”

And later, about the age my son is now: “Put a bra on!”

The accumulation of shame.

As the temperatures rise in these Green Mountains, I feel anger rise in me when I see men walking the road–aged men and young men like my son–each one topless–as if all the space in the world is theirs, without a care for who might rape them.

the author, 30 years ago
Advertisements

that photo you once hated

2017

My husband took this photo of me when we were out at a cafe last summer which is a rare feat. Not the cafe, which is a regular feature of our weekends now that the kids are aging out of our lives, but the photo. He rarely thinks of photography and so we have albums filled with family photos relatively absent of my existence, except for the annual  shot of me lighting the birthday cake for one of my boys.

“You look so pretty today,” he said, “Can I have your phone?”

I always believe him, but then I look in the mirror or at a photo and it’s just me. Nothing special. Or more often worse than I imagined or hoped for, like this one.

I really didn’t like this photo, and I still don’t like it, but you know what, I don’t mind it now like I did before, and it’s only been a year.

I take this as a good sign because typically it’s like a decade before I appreciate a photo that I really didn’t like at first.

Soon I may like myself almost right away.

Which brings me to this letter that I wrote as part of a writing assignment with the women who journey through the chakras with me. We had to write directly to ourselves which turns out is kind of hard…

Dear Kelly, 

(Boy, it’s hard to begin that way.)

Dear Kelly,

(So much more at stake.)

Dear Kelly,

(No place to hide.)

Dear Kelly,
Dear Kelly,
Dear Kelly,

For all the times that name was used as a curse,   
I am so sorry.
Let it go.

For all the times you’ve found yourself occupying the ugliness of another’s version of you,
I am so sorry.
Let it go.

For all the times you assumed that ugliness as a safe haven from feeling the deeper pain of loss and separation,
I am so sorry.
Let it go.

Let it go, Kelly,
Not because it doesn’t matter,
But because you do.

Precious.
Always.
Now.

~Kelly

I bow to the mothers

I’ve experienced Motherhood–from desire to conception, to pregnancy (and miscarriage), to labor, to nursing & sick bed tending & to the never-ending-letting go–as a fierce initiator into the feminine mysteries–surrender and sovereignty and something else, equally potent: raw, messy, earthy wildness–all of which radically reshaped/reshapes my life–from the inside out.

I wouldn’t wish it on everyone.
I wish all those who wanted it would have it.
I wish those who didn’t wouldn’t.
Body, mind, spirit transformed.
Unimaginable from the other side.
Never, ever complete.

I bow to the mothers.
To the earth.
To the life givers before and after me.

Love, Part IV: The 2018 GREAT SpRiNg LOVE TOUR.

Three days. Three states. Three traveling companions.

300 miles one way.

30+ relatives, ages 3 to 91 (plus 3 four-legged friends) in 2 dozen+ towns.

3 breweries. 2 pizza parlors. 1 steak sandwich shop. 1 Wawas. 2 best friends. Tons of traffic. Some snow. Lots of rain. Rare appearances of the sun. 6 to 8 foot swells.

A choppy ferry crossing. 2 cemeteries. 2 beaches. 2 public gardens. 1 open mic. 1 family yoga class. A handful of laser tag games. A sunset-walk around the lake.

Several car-ride karaokes. A handful of Turkish words, particularly the one for “junk food,” which despite countless repetition, I can’t remember, but definitely feel–in my belly.

2 recitations & one application of Frost’s, The Road Not Taken.

1 eventually successful attempt to locate the wooded 38-acre parcel on Long Neck Point that once belonged to my family and is almost unrecognizably (and thus, achingly) over-developed, but still bears the family name and looks out over the Indian River Bay which was my foundational experience of silence.

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!

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.)

~

15

CRONE

Compassionate
Revolutionary
Offering
New
Energy

~

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

#maiden#mother#crone

~

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.

 

 

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.