To move or be moved…

After 2 winter nights in a room crammed with two dozen aging and restless women, rolling back and forth in a narrow, fragmented, fraudulent sleep on metal-framed bunks, my husband gave up his spot in our Queen back home and I took up all 360 delicious degrees, like da Vinci’s L’Uomo Vitruviano.

Kripalu.

Similarly, but like a pinball, I expanded at Kripalu in 360-degrees, multi-dimensionally, dropping down under the fault line of my marriage, beneath the lush hills and clear pools of Love.

Established, 1986.

Simultaneously, I moved across and down and around a carpeted floor with high ceilings, 4 microphones, 109 guests, 5 fellow assistants and 1 NY Times bestselling author whose program I’ve tended from Still Writing to Hourglass to Inheritance while continuing to plug along on a single work of memoir of my own.

Devotion.

Sometimes, too close to the light, hers and other luminaries, like a moth to a flame of conflicted desire, I overheat and arrive or depart with a migraine, so afraid am I of surrender.

Dharma.

Afterward, I fling myself as far out as possible, repelling from consciousness to—caffeine or chardonnay or shopping—or as was the surprising overshot this time–to all of that, one upon another—followed by a margarita served while sitting on a swing.

La Casita.

~Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I don’t know…
Maybe this life of mine is too small.
Always was.
Or has become.

~Well, I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m gettin’ older, too.

While in the bright lights, big city, of Kripalu, in sharp contrast to my hermitage on 8-wooded acres in Vermont beside a woodstove, I move my bowels and brush my teeth and bathe in the dark basement beneath the hum of yoga mats and healers and seekers.

~I’m getting older too.

“Tender,” I said, on Friday night as the mic moved through 116 hands and arrived in my own.

The Stories We Carry.

“Questioning,” I said on Sunday morning as the mic moved around once again.

~I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down.

Though I departed the Berkshires in the early afternoon for the two-hour return north, it wasn’t until the sky grew dark that I found myself rolling up a dirt and snowbound road in the Green Mountains that I have these 14 years called home.

~Well, I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m gettin’ older, too.

Mother. Wife. Teacher.

~And if you see my reflection in the snow covered hills,
Well, maybe, the landslide will bring it down, down.

~

I can trace the lineage as far back as my great-great-grandfather and his daughter and her husband, followed by their son and his son, both surgeons.

“Born to Cut,” says the t-shirt in the old photograph of my father on his 40th birthday.

Like them, sometimes I think of myself as a healer, wielding the pen instead of the knife, but this month, instead of crafting, I find myself dissecting each of the previous drafts of the body of work I began 7 winters ago.

More than a dozen casualties are lined up, and I’ve heard that this many is a sure sign that the work is fatal.

Like the organs stored in separate containers on the shelves of the morgue where I worked the summer I was 16, I continue to sort parts by date or theme or person or place, like the plane accident that resulted in the largest jars that I looked at each afternoon, while I rinsed formaldehyde from surgical tissue, occasionally coming across a thyroid or a prostate, a fetus or a breast.

Cutting into the work like this makes me uncertain. Am I a murderer, a madman, a mortician? Or am I a doctor, an artist?

After the surgeon cuts, the lab tech dissects, preparing a specimen for testing–benign or malignant?

I’d like to think that no such test exists for art, but I’d also like to think that I might find myself, as my ancestors did, mastering craft in service to a higher calling.

 

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M is for Motherhood & Menopause & Mystery

Yesterday, while holding an infant, I simultaneously experienced a heat wave—2 currents crossing in the same body—Motherhood meets Menopause.

By my age both my grandmothers had a dozen grandbabies around them, and deep into their own Change, I’m no longer surprised that they were grumpy, particularly in the morning, or drunk, particularly in the evening.

I understand their proclivities, resentments, depressions even while I abstain from more than a few ounces of spirit, not wanting to stoke the fire inside, particularly in sleep; and neither wanting to anesthetize it, so necessary is heat to Transformation.

We are such a mystery even to ourselves. Mystery with a capital M and mystery with a sad face, taking up so little space beyond our bodies—these objects of attention, adoration, derision & violation.

There is much to talk about and we have waited long enough.

These Currents Rising are directing the Change, not just within us, but among us, and Around the World.

on belonging

One of the hardest parts of being born female is this matter of belonging.

As a girl, I saw that my mother–for good or for bad–belonged to her tribe of sisters; and to all of us children; and most demandingly of all–to my father.

HE, on the other hand, (like all he’s) seemed to belong to himself, to his work in the world.

And so, I set my sights on his horizon, only to discover, ever so slowly, that his choice wasn’t available to me…

At 15, I fell in love, and at 16, I offered up the gift of my body, and then it became my lover’s, increasingly so, demandingly so, guiltingly so, not only sexually, but also with regard to appearance, just as my father had evaluated my mother’s appearance and mine until the very last remark I can recall, just after I became a mother myself, the second time:

“You look good babe, but you need to lose some weight and get some sun.”

We were standing outside the hospital where he worked.
My mother, his ex, lay riddled with cancer inside.
The baby in my arms was 3 weeks old.
I was still bleeding.
I smiled.

I so wanted to “look good” to my father, but I felt pulled to surrender my body to these babies, this fleshy/messy/earthy life of womanhood, and so I did, until one day, my husband asked, when I passed him on the path to the outside shower:

“Would you mind shaving there?”

He explained his awkward request, recalling the sight of a much older cousin at the beach with hair poking out of her bikini bottom and down her legs when he had been a teen.

At thirty-five, he still recoiled at the memory.

I said: No.

If not for the pimples and the pain and how quickly the hair grew back and rubbed between my legs, I might have accommodated his discomfort.

It’s a risk this saying, No, isn’t it? At home. In the office. On a date. Among sisters.And specifically in a romantic relationship.

It’s always risk this being less beautiful than you are able, less attractive than those around you, less willing, less accommodating…

The threat of rejection is woven into our landscape, unspoken.

“Never let yourself go,” my father told me as a young woman. “When your husband arrives home from work, you want to look good.”

“…And don’t be too smart, or too demanding, or too (fill-in-the-blank)…”

And so, I was afraid.
I am still afraid
Only the voice of belonging to self grows louder and louder, overiding the other voices, the ones who still shout:

You are mine.

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll have an affair?” a friend asks when I admit how many weeks we’ve gone without sex.

Like winter into spring, the hormonal changes rock back and forth, so that sometimes it’s less painful and more pleasurable, and I could be sure to “keep” my husband, until the crescendo of Menopause, when the pain became unbearable like it had that first time–at 16–my head arched back, biting my lip, so that I might be desirable first and foremost.

It’s been more than 2 months now, and not without desire, but desire doused with fear. Not fear of pain. I was a home birther. Fear of despair, of no longer being… what?… I’m not sure…

I could take hormones, fool my body into thinking I was younger, like those who dye away the gray, but just like labor and menstrual cramps, I want to be present to what it is to be me in each moment, even aging, and isn’t this physical separation from the man I love and long for offering me something too?

I was never much for foreplay. I preferred it hard and fast, but as I’ve aged, I’ve opened myself up to more and more surrender, less forcing, more delight and awakening and slower unfoldings—in every part of my life.

He is exceedingly patient and kind and without demands, like those I once tolerated from him, back when I was nursing babies all night long, afraid of being left alone, afraid of being one of those wives.

In this new space between us, I am afraid that we will dissolve, and yet I am also finding something precious, recovering something precious, claiming something precious.

Belonging.

To myself.

When I listen and tend, my body is such a friend.

He draws me a bath afterward to soak my tender tissues.

I soften in the water, less anxious about the changes wreaking havoc in me; and when the water drains, I look down to see my pubic hair, full and bushy with the humidity, a dark crescent moon, smiling over creamy fleshy rising toward my belly.

“Remember when you asked me to shave?”

He shakes his heads, disappointed in the man he once was.

“I think it looks so pretty now,” I say, mostly to myself, remembering how I once took scissors to the hair between my legs because it wasn’t supposed to be there. Even men do it now I hear. (I should feel vindicated; Instead, I’m sad.)

After a week of vacation, I am softening into his arms again, but I am also pulling back, uncertain if I was ready to share my body.

When his fingers graze the side of my breast with the permission renewed after love-making, I see myself flip him over and press both my hands around his throat.

I am shocked by this violent vision, and curious too, and even amused–I am half his size.

I’m not sure if it’s Menopause or #45 or #metoo or Climate Change that has unearthed so much anger inside, not only for all the ways my body was claimed by others but for all the ways the body feminine–including Earth Mother–is raped, pillaged, sold, purchased, scorned.

It will be some time before he can touch me so freely again, maybe after these wild bodily transformations have subsided, or maybe never again, unless I have explicitly invited him in, an access pass which must be renewed, and is always, in all ways, worth the wait because a woman sovereign is desirable beyond praise.

“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.)

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.

What is Pi/Pie?

~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.

Thanksgiving Day.

My last day,

of Motherhood.

You can’t make this stuff up.

(ps. Pumpkin-pecan is my current favorite.)