Cleavage.

I choose my most revealing top for a spontaneous drive to sea, not because I want to reveal, but because–skin, air, a September return of summer and something else–something feminine–not soft or attracting–but essential–FULL–surrendered–MINE.

At 53, I can expose my cleavage, and not because it’s in fashion, though that helps, but because: What does it matter?

My softening, descending breasts no longer belong to a man’s gaze or a babe’s mouth.

And still, as I load my car, passing in and out of my mudroom, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and mutter out loud, something I’ve never heard said (or thought?) by me before:

“Slut.”

I’m struck by this assault.

“Wait, what did you say?” I ask. “Don’t say that.”

But I’m equally intrigued.
Where has this thought been hiding?
How long has it held me back?
Defined me?
Defiled me?

(And yes, I realize that not only am I talking to myself, but arbitratrating between selves, as if there are 3 of me. So what. I am large. I contain multitudes.)

It was an early August wedding (just before the respiratory virus from hell) when I photographed my nieces’ cleavage. I asked first.

“Why?” they said.

“Because of beauty and light and flesh.”

Budding. Ripening. Surrendering.
Maiden. Mother. Crone.
Defining. Life-giving. Fulfilling.

 

I consider changing my top.
(I don’t.)

Breasts are brilliantly placed.
Over the lungs.
And the heart.

My heart has been broken this year.
By this Nation.
By the election of a man who defiles my gender.
Grabs body parts like my junior high classmates at West Point Elementary in the dark halls circling the USMA Academy Football Stadium.
As if we belong. To them.
As if the whole point of us, was their. Pleasure.
As if men can’t bear for women to be both beautiful and sovereign.

I photograph my nieces’ breasts because it is clear–their breasts belong to them.

That’s why I go to the Sea.
That’s why I expose my Cleavage.
That’s why I take the remaining seat on the bench at the top of the beach.
A man on the other end. Decades younger.
A handful of his companions on the next bench–loud, and taking up space, in the way men are always free to do.

I take out a book and read.
A chapter later, the men rise to leave, and I look up to see them pile into a large van.
Work release?
Were they dressed the same?

My mind re-imagines the bench scene:

“You don’t want to sit here,” he says. “I’m a criminal.”

“Are you?” I respond. “I’m 53, on the brink of menopause. I could be a criminal at any moment.”

I’m struck by how often I say  or think “53” to myself, as if it is a thing, this random number, defining nothing in its ambiguity, but somehow something, a year in which I have been radically reshaped from the inside–blood being held instead of released–while polite society dismisses the transformation as nothing, as loss, as problematic.

“Anger,” a male friend said to me. “Is a problem.”

I think anger is appropriate, I say, Useful, instructive. (I’ve only just begun to befriend anger.)

“We don’t have control when we give into anger,” he says.

“Ah,” I say. And then I launch into all the ways that women have to live without control. In the home or the office or the White House. In anticipation of menses, never knowing when we’ll bleed or how inconvenienced we’ll be. The possibility of pregnancy, the radical transformation of body and self, labor and delivery, not to mention–nursing, mothering and letting go–all capped by Menopause. A journey, not of control, but of surrender, again and again.

I remember sitting with my sister at her long wooden kitchen table, our views at opposite ends. Abortion was the topic. Evangelical her lens. Autonomy mine. Both of us loved our babies, those lost or given up, those hanging by our sides. Without changing our minds, without trying to change each other, we hold hands, across the divide, of what it is to be a woman, to be a mother. We weep. Together.

“It is this tender heart that has the power to transform the world,” writes Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a man who must know surrender.

I am writing this piece in a cafe, and like the father of the toddler at the table beside me, I have to remind myself, again and again, I may not shout, even as a shout threatens to explode like a thunder clap:

Turn off this fucking music!
Everyone shut up! I can’t hear my voice.
Open the windows. It’s too stuffy in here!

(I may have been too harsh with my family this morning.)

I’ve spent the past year angry and heartbroken and surrendered. Every year has its companion. Mine was a recommendation from my first born: Jack Kornfield’s, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace. I’ve just finished it. (I think I’ll start again from the beginning.)

It’s taken decades to give up the power that my appearance held, while slowly and all at once claiming the sovereignty of irrelevance.

Of belonging.

To me.

Because a heart broken,

Expands.

~

(Related post: I’m Leaving.)

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the still ones

Holly Sierra
(artist: Holly Sierra)

I realize now that what I saw in my mother—the fixed-ness to one spot—her dining room table—a cup of coffee beside her—was not only a response to a life of over-doing, but also quite possibly, the result of–hormones.

I know this now because I have become fixed.

How else can the wisdom of crones be cultivated?

I have joined the spiral dance of the still ones.

~

(more on stillness: Ripening still)

the deva in the darkness

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me–a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic–or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.

by Denise Levertov

Fuessli, visipix.com

I wonder why we’re so quick to reach toward the Sun on Solstice.

Why do we dismiss the gift of the darkness?

Sipping margaritas under the summer sun is simpler. Much simpler.

I’ve read that the days leading up to Solstice are the most feminine of the year–a time of pause, of rest, of surrender. Winter’s yin to summer’s yang.

I need that.

Why do I fight it then? (Curse it, even!)

Why do I place a higher value on the expression on my yang than on the yin which necessarily conceives it?

This Solstice day is a dark one in New England. I’ve lit my tree and my staircase and my wreath to make Holy the darkness. In this week before Christmas, I’ve opted for extra yoga classes instead of the gym–seeking that which is slow and restorative to anything more invigorating.

My doctor calls, suggesting an upgrade with my progesterone cream–offsetting the havoc inflicted by my shifting hormones.

I’m hesitant to claim the relief.

Do I not deserve it? Wouldn’t I prefer to be my usual, satisfied self?

These are the questions I ponder in my therapist’s chair.

She tells me that some women say that it is their PMS self that is their truest reflection.

Am I an edgy, agitated, easily-irritated woman?

I can be.

Do I want to be?

I’m surprised to discover that, right now, I do. I prefer her. She fits. She has something important to say.

Annie Dillard writes that, How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

This morning I wake in self-love, the first I’ve felt in weeks. Gone is my fractured mind and my ever-present angst. My body is tired, but I feel whole. Still. Contained. Embraced.

I open my computer, and watch as that changes. With each click of the mouse, my mind wakes to the day. My fingers speed over the keys, delighting in the rapid succession of taps. Despite this engaging stimulation, my wellbeing begins to fray.

When I click on my browser, I am at once overwhelmed by how many pages I work at one time. I close all but one, and then suffer the lack of efficiency.

I resist the urge to check email while a page is loading. I don’t scan Facebook. I stay present to the site that is open in front of me. Even though nothing is happening. Even though I am bored. Even though this is impractical.

I witness how my thoughts race ahead of my body. I bring them back. I am gentle.

Slowly my sweet sense of sanity fractures away. The phone rings. An email comes through. A Facebook chat chimes. The Christmas cd skips. I have to pee.

Had there been sun–or hormones–I wouldn’t have noticed any of this…

This is how I live my life.

This is its cost.

This is the darkness illuminating the price tag.

Kelly Salasin, December 21, 2011

To read more on self & the holidays, click here.

To read more about the Sun and Winter Solstice, click here.

Pain Meditation, a message for my mid-life friends

I feel the headache come on suddenly, at my right temple, soon after the dinner guests leave.

I scan the lovely evening for triggers:

vodka, pizza, massage.

Then realize that my vision had been off for hours, which means the migraine was already on its way.

I no longer fret and tense up in fear when they arrive… unless it’s my birthday or something… which has happened twice in the past decade.

Hormones.

Migraines have been hanging around me for thirty years… so if nothing else, they’re familiar.

They were the worse in my teens and early twenties; and then again in my thirties when I was pregnant; and now, in my forties as the mid-life changes are upon me.

But I don’t fight them anymore… which seems to soften them.

I have some new tricks too. My favorite is a lightweight knit cap that I put over my head as soon as I feel the vascular pressure shifting. This helps stabilize the temperature which lessens the constriction.

Green tea is another soother, and I’m sitting down with a fresh cup right now.

I use Arnica cream on my neck as it often tenses up in response to the pain, and then prolongs or intensifies the headache.

I feel like Migraines and I really know each other now, though I try not to take them personally.

I don’t do so well with menstrual symptoms however. It’s only been in the last decade or so that I’ve really suffered serious cramps or mood swings.

Lately it’s been viscous.

I know this means that the fertility party–inside–is almost over… I’m almost 50… so I try to buck up… even when each bleed comes sooner and sooner; and often leaves a migraine in its wake, just as I start to feel better.

My most recent cycle was particularly fascinating. For days I felt like weeping (which is unlike me), and then on the last day I woke in a rage (also unlike me.) “Isn’t this interesting,” I thought, when I wasn’t terrified.

Fortunately for me, there is little in my life upon which to assign blame for this drama…  so I get to see it for what it is:

an Invitation.

I challenge myself to stay with my cramps or my sadness or my fury… without trying to add a story to it.

It’s not because the kitchen is a mess or because my husband forgot the bread or because my boss asked me to do one more thing.

It just is.

And if I don’t run from it, or medicate it, or otherwise distract myself from it, I’ll find something in the pain worth finding.

Fortunately, this month’s round of rage is so strong, it doesn’t lend itself to distraction.  I’m forced to come face to face with it, despite my fear; and here’s what I find:

Leftovers.

Garbage disposal contents.

Unprocessed fury.

25+ years old and rotting.

It is excruciating to revisit this time in my life, but I do… only to let it go.

Of course, it’s not that simple. I have kids. I have a husband. I have a job.

But no worries, because this anger is insistent.

I’ve read that at middle age, a woman must resolve her “issues” or enter the second half of life bitter. It’s this pain that gives me the opportunity to shed yet another layer of hardness that I relied upon for protection.

But no 50 year old woman needs that kind of added armor. We are too powerful a force of nature!

What we need (and the world needs of us) is all the tenderness we can muster.

And to do that,

we must meditate

on our own pain.

With love,

Kelly

June 2011