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.

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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.)

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.)

I’m leaving.

I wake with a start and a stirring. A tug. A pull.

“I have to go to the ocean,” I tell my husband.

Our bank account disagrees; so I tell it that I will drive there and back in a single day, departing absurdly early and returning late, without the need for an overnight stay.

But a week passes, and still I haven’t recovered enough from that tenacious August respiratory virus to fund the energy needed for this kind of day trip; which is unfair because it is this very virus that no doubt produced this untimely insistence on the ocean. It is already September, the air is cooling, and school has begun.

Rumi’s words echo even as my commitment wanes:

What matters is how quickly you do what your soul directs.

 When a week passes and a string of summer-like days return, I go to the pond–a place where I am stirred, again and again, by beauty and light, but like a toddler, denied a specific spoon, I am unsatisfied.

“I must stay overnight,” I say, and with that, I renew my commitment, and add to it–boldness and creativity, while my efforts are met, without success.

I go to bed on Monday, muddled, and wake the same on Tuesday, and decide to find clarity, inside:

I get on my mat.
I write in my journal.
I take my supplements.
I tend the garden.
I shower outside.
I do what needs doing for work.

All the while, I do something else, slowly, nonchalantly, covertly, just in case, little by little—setting aside, at first, some underwear, and then a bra; and then an outfit or two; a toiletry kit; some beach things; waters and snacks, and finally a meal for lunch and then dinner.

At 11:00 am, I leave a note for my family on the kitchen table:

Heading east.
Be back tonight or tomorrow.
Will message.

Just then, an email comes through–a single night in an Airbnb at a very friendly rate. I update my note to my family.

It is well into the afternoon when I arrive up the coast of Maine, not all ideal, and I have to resist chiding myself so that I can receive what daylight remains–to sit and read and take in the smell of the sea and the sounds of waves, and to walk in the surf, and finally to float and then to submerge myself fully in Her embrace.

Afterward, I rack up a $9 check at an upscale restaurant–a glass of Portuguese wine and a mini lobster roll with fries—Yay, Maine Happy Hour!—and when I arrive back at my room, I receive another email–an unexpected payment from a client—for the exact amount of my stay.

Alas, the angsty restlessness I felt in needing to come, and in deciding to come, and even in the coming and the arriving, continues, even the next morning as I sip coffee at my favorite cafe, and even as I walk along the stunning cliffs at the lighthouse, and even as I sit in the sand and build a sand castle like I did as a child; so that it is a continuous practice, this being with me, with awareness and compassion:

“Of course, you’re restless,” I say. “These are shifting times. Not just summer’s end, and your mother’s anniversary, and a month of coughing, but this heartbreak of an administration, and the fires and floods and shootings, and then, of course–this leaving of motherhood, not to mention hot flashes and a road trip without air condition.”

Exactly 24 hours after I arrive in Maine, I begin driving south, and then west, and three hours later, I cross the Connecticut River from New Hampshire to Vermont, and then turn off the highway to stop at the fish market to soften the separation of the sea and me.

Mothers do, you know.
They leave.
They drop their kids off at daycare or at school and never come back.

I’m leaving.
I’m leaving.
I’m leaving.

These words appeared like a mantra after I’d written the note to my family, ominously hinting at a larger leaving, and continuing, even after I arrived back home.

I’m leaving, I’m leaving, I’m leaving.

I half-thought I might not make it to Maine or home again. That I’d die on the road like my grandmother did just a year older than me. I remind myself, firmly, that I’d like to transform without such drama as she (or my mother) enacted.

And still, my spirit is called into the wild, and as I lean in to listen, I hold back, for fear of going too far.

~

(Related post: Cleavage.)

Summer Solstice. prayer. blessing. dream.

Last night, I woke, as I often do these days,
no longer drenched, but misted,
with a fine release–of attachment, I suppose.
Behind my knees and under my
shoulders and also between my breasts;
and lately even, in the crook of my
arms, as if I’ve been carrying too much;
and just this week, tiny beads of sweat, dripping.
down. my. spine.
Refining, I suppose,
Me.
Only this night,
Solstice Eve,
I remain awake, and feel something
more–a lightening inside–so very light–
my bones–that i think to myself…

So this is what it is be a bird.

(Bird Egg Feather Nest, Maryjo Koch)

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)