Rose-Gold Solstice Tears

 

I am typing this morning on a rose-gold laptop, meant to be unboxed ritualistically with Solstice. 

But when my husband arrived home last night with the new purchase, I took it in my arms and said:

“Where is my old computer?”

Stunned, he said nothing at first, and then sensing my distress, replied: “They told me that it was on its last legs.”

He then proceeded to list all its ailments; of which, I was intimately aware.

Still, upon grasping this finality, I sat down on the stairs, with the box on my lap, and surprised us both.

I cried. I cried out loud as I had (or had wanted to) once when I watched from the curb outside our apartment as the tow truck pulled away with my friend.

That silver Mercury Lynx, a relatively unattractive car, without a single upgrade, did its best to transport me and my belongings to college and back home on weekends and vacations; and soon after, between homes with my younger siblings after our parents’ marriage came to a reckless end.

Sometimes I drove them to school, or to birthday parties, or to Easter egg hunts or out Trick or Treating. Later, when addiction split the 8 of us in half between parents, the Lynx provided for long-awaited reunions and adventures, near and far–the beach, the boardwalk, the Chinese restaurant, the pizza parlor, the historical village, the science center, the art museum, the zoo, the ballpark, the Berkshires.

That car accompanied me on solo trips too, riding the ferry across the Delaware Bay where my great-grandparents lived, and years later it brought me back to sit with my Nana in the hospital in her final days. (Or maybe that was the Honda.)

That little lemon of a vehicle from Ford took Casey and me across the country and back during our first winter together, spent in the Rockies, and the next winter, it went with me to my first teaching job; while long before that, it traversed the island and over to the mainland with friends on roadtrips to the mall or to concerts or back and forth to the waterside restaurant that I’d managed in the summertime.

I’d sobbed inside that car, after hours, to and from the restaurant in early July my first love proposed to another.

I sang at the top of lungs, “Somewhere over the rainbow,” on my drive home after graduation to which my mother, inebriated, never arrived.

I talked myself through difficulties and decisions; and from time to time, I thought about veering off my path to head somewhere unknown without telling a soul.

Despite the sputtering of its faulty carburetor, I learned to drive in that car with its manual transmission, and it became a part of me and my agency, of who I was, and who I wanted to be.

I can still see the Kermit the Frog decal on my back window on the morning my little brother helped me attach it. I can hear my little sister begging for some of my pizza goldfish from the back seat. I remember the tin of cookies between Casey and me that were baked for our two-thousand-mile journey to the Rockies, but which we opened before we’d left town. There was the cassette tape that I made for that trip, introducing him, to his dismay, to my childhood icon, John Denver, whom by the drive home, several months later, he loved too.

I began wearing glasses in that car, just at night.

Casey crossed the room and took a seat beside me on the stairs and patted my back as I wept.

“I started my book on that computer,” I said, and with that added realization, I cried even harder, leaving him a bit perplexed about the absence of joy given the expensive purchase on my lap, or maybe he understood completely, having loved me for so long.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m more attached to places and things than I am to people. Most of my photos, even the ones that I took when I was a youthful traveler, are of light and angles and objects, rather than familiar faces.

Maybe the experience of so much loss, so young, made me withdraw from the transient nature of human relationships.

“This new computer is a stranger,” I said, putting the box down beside me so that I could tuck my head under the railing of the stairs and lean my head against the wall while tears trickled down my cheeks.

I find myself there often of late, under the railing, shrinking life’s uncertainties I suppose, as I open into all the unknowns, no longer needing to be strong or clear or directed in this empty nest of ours.

I’ve felt deeply into this emptiness since August. I’ve grieved and been ill and wondered what the point–of me–was.

My entire life has been defined by care. In large part because I was born female. And because I was born the oldest. And because everything around me fell apart and someone needed to pay attention. And finally, because I chose occupations and careers that centered around the capacities cultivated in the face of tragedy and loss.

Even yesterday, while skating alone out across the frozen Retreat Meadows, I watched to be sure another skater returned from beyond the grassy mounds before I took another pass myself.

And still, I sense that I’ve reached some turning point, some great letting go, some tentative acceptance of an invitation–to lift my head out from under the railing and claim the space which was always meant to be mine.

This costly, rose-gold laptop is a necessity, I tell myself, much like a car. It’s how I get to work and back (even if I earn less now than I did when I was in school.)

My very first laptop was delivered much like this one, at the door, but unexpectedly so by a friend who had refurbished it, and thrusting into my arms, said:

“You’re a writer. Write.”

I left the classroom to do just that.

But Writing and I began our affair, decades earlier, just after my first year at college when my family fell apart, and I needed someone to turn toward too.

In journal after journal, I wrote to myself or to some larger aspect of myself, or to consciousness itself–through college and backpacking across Europe, to marriage and moving to Vermont, to becoming a mother and leaving the classroom.

Together we transcended relationships, locations, identities, vehicles, and even computers.

At first by accident, and then tentatively, I began submitting articles and essays until I felt the stirrings of a book.

“What will I write about?” I asked Casey. And in the absence of subject, and so ever-practical (and ever-so prematurely), I investigated the ins and outs of publishing, which pointed me toward something called “a platform,” ie. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging which fortunately or unfortunately better suited my need for self-direction until I was no longer submitting, in favor of writing what I wanted, when I wanted, in live-partnership with readers, ie. fellow soul seekers (but without a paycheck.)

You could say I’ve wasted many years here on Facebook, a decade, in fact, come 2019.

Or you could say that I’ve honed my voice and found new avenues of full-hearted participation.

Though I haven’t attempted to publish, I have written through three memoirs since that nascent stirring. The first in a single summer. The second during a school year. (Both shelved until my capacity for the craft matched my vision.) The third, written through again and again, over the course of what is now several years—the lifespan of a laptop that has lived past its time.

“They called it vintage,” Casey said, explaining how it wasn’t worth repair.

Earlier this month, he drove me to the sea, and there, at the hour of my birth, the largest or deepest essence of my book was revealed, like the small, but solid figure at the center of a set of nesting dolls.

“The beings that were un-manifest want to help,” an intuitive said just yesterday of the babies that I miscarried long ago.

And for the first time, since holding my newborn son in my arms, I felt the grief of those losses return, and something else–the gift of reconnection–and the space to occupy it.

And now, I discover that I have christened this laptop along with whoever is inclined to read something this long in the season with so much to do.

May this rose-gold light shine the way forward with all the accoutrements that accompany success.

Greedily, or better yet, full-heartedly, I want Everything—meaning, purpose, healing, publication, outreach, travel, income and wellbeing.

Thank you to each set of eyes and each heart and mind that helped me better understand my place in what amounts to a decade of live-journaling in this shared constellation of LOVE. Your light nourishes my own.

May your wishes rise in the dark in the certain embrace of Light’s return.

May it be so.

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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.)

Fox Den

On Saturday nights at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, there is almost always a musical offering of some kind, and over the years (first as a participant, and later as an assistant), I’ve enjoyed performances with Krishna Das, HuDost, Linda Worster, Bernice Lewis, Ajeet Kaur, Tanglewood Music Festival & many more.

At the end of August, Karen Drucker was the Saturday night concert and she offered a program inspired by the Taizé gatherings originating in France. Karen threaded contemplation, chanting & silent meditation through 5 potent themes to lend solace and inspiration for these challenging national and global times.

I had the honor of joining her on stage for the theme of”Silence,” for which I selected a Wendell Berry poem which has long been such a comfort to me:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

At home, when the world is too much with me, I turn from my computer, and step to my office door, and look out to the rock cropping, and remember the fox cubs there in June, and just like that, all the weight vanishes.

I know that you have moments like this too, and what a difference they must make, inside us, between us, among us, everywhere.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

William Wordsworth

Bring your vagina to church

Though I’d already been back once, I could feel the sea tugging at me, calling me home. And then the call came. The one that spoke of loss. Of exodus.

http://www.sandplay.org/symbols/mandorla.htm
Sheela Na Gigs (usually found on Romanesque churches.)

And so, I returned. To the empty house of my childhood friend. Filled with mourners.

The butcher block island in the center of Mrs. O’s kitchen was filled too–with aluminum pans of pasta, which I ignored, because for me it was always ice cream. Cartons greedily opened after school; not one, but two, and sometimes three; especially before or after General Hospital, or in the wee hours of the morning, after a night of drinking. Three of us. Three spoons. Laughter.

“You girls smell like a brewery!” Mrs. O. once said.

“Do you still have the fabric shop?” I asked, attempting to change the subject, exposing my drunkenness.

…Who were we now without these parents?

…Do our childhoods still exist without this landmark of home?

The truth is that our days together in this kitchen eating ice cream around the butcher block were long gone. None of us could tolerate dairy much any more, and didn’t want to. We preferred salt and chardonnay and Italian funeral cookies.

On this day, however, we avoided the kitchen and the butcher block, and gathered on the couch in the narrow slanted sun porch, where we rarely, if ever, sat as young women. We talked with the older sisters who had already been off to college (or to their grown up lives) all those years ago. We worried about the children we left at home. We worried about the children who were grown.

We were 50, or approaching 50, or just past 50, but also 14 and 16 and 18. Time folded onto itself like waves in the sea.

There we were in the pews again. Where we had been 2 years earlier for the death of the same friend’s mother. The same grandchildren filed in, weeping. The same grand-daughter sang stunningly. The same son stood and spoke so naturally of his love; this time for his father.

On this morning, I was met in the vestibule by someone who spoke my name. I looked up from my purse and recognized a highschool classmate who I hadn’t seen since… highschool? And two more class of ’81 alumni, beside her. We all whispered too loud, and laughed too hard, and shared contraband (chewing gum) and “You look great,” and then took seats altogether in one pew, so that suddenly I was on a bench in P.E., being chosen (or not) for a team, or running a relay, or hearing them call out, “Be careful or you’ll get a black eye.”

I hadn’t known that my breasts were “large.” Until someone translated the meaning of that cat call. I’d hoped for “real” breasts for so long. (I had forgotten to stop hoping.)

  Madonna Della Vagina, Gianluca Costantini It wasn’t just breasts that were on my mind during the funeral Mass, but vaginas.

Not my 14 year-old vagina, which I rarely thought about, and certainly never spoke about, especially during Mass (even if ( wasn’t Catholic), but my approaching 50 year old private parts, which was all I could think about this summer.

In June I had gotten some type of rash in the folds of my legs, and it had become infected, tenaciously so, so that 6 weeks later, I still couldn’t wear underwear or it would spread from the friction of contact.

Spread. Without underwear. In a skirt. My vagina open to the altar. Like Madonna. (Not that one. The one from the eighties.)

But why not the original Madonna? She had a vagina too.

In fact, Jesus, up there on the cross, was delivered through it.

It suddenly occurs that my altar-facing vagina is less of a sacrilege and more of a blessing, a rightness.

What if every woman exposed her vagina to the altar?

(A scene from Mama Mia II came to mind.)

Vaginas belonged in church.

Why should I feel ashamed or embarrassed or inappropriate?8739107444_ed224fdea3_z

All of these weeping grandchildren, who once didn’t exist, came to being through the vagina.

Even this priest, in his white robes with the gold embroidery, matching the blanket that covered the coffin in front of him, came into being through the vagina.

In fact, without the Vagina, there would be no “Church.”

Vagina. Vagina. Vagina.

When the Mass was over, we followed the casket out the door to the Hurst, and stood around sharing weak smiles and tears and hugs and renewed promises to visit (beyond funerals.)

Before leaving town, I stopped see my aunt and uncle who offered pastries and fresh brewed ice tea with lemon slices, and lamps–two of them, Tiffany-like, from the garage, where they had been stowed; but only after they told me what they were called, and why they were called what they were called:

C” and “FC.”

(Cunt and Fucking Cunt)

A tale of marital discord and resolution followed: Name calling by the husband; retail therapy/revenge by the wife.

Cunt.

That’s the one I chose to bring home. I’d never said that word out loud before. Never felt it as something familiar, let alone friendly; but after spending an entire summer staring at my ownassessing the rash, treating it, diagnosing it, worrying about it, icing it, thinking about it, sharing its healing and its regression with my husband–the Tiffany lamp, named “C”, smiled at me, from the back seat of her car, as I left behind the salty sea for the fresh, mountain air.

While driving, I thought of the pews where I kneeled with friends, and of the grief I felt in the loss of this friend’s father; not the kind of grief that came crashing in waves, like it had when I’d lost her own mother, but a steady undertow of sorrow–of loss and change–taking me (and my friends) further and further from the shore of safety, of parents, of home.

8739107444_ed224fdea3_zI remembered the olive oil in the decanters, the ones in the glass case above the priest’s head, something I’d never noticed before. Three shelves. Three grades. The middle one–a rich, dark green.

Moist.

Wet.

I had expected my return to the sea to miraculously heal the rash, but perhaps it was the Virgin* in my vulva which I truly needed most. A homecoming that transcended parents and place. A turning in, a turning toward, a welcome home.

(Kelly Salasin, August 2013)

*The pre-patriarchal goddess, Hera, would return for a ritual bath to the Spring of Kanathus every year to renew her virginity–her quality of belonging to herself.

(The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd, 1996.)

Madonna art photography:  Gianluca Costantini

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