Noe Valley is a sweet, sleepy San Francisco neighborhood with lots of dogs, babies and boys on bikes. Three of my favorite things. I go there most Tuesdays to see my
friend therapist Elaine for coffee therapy.
We’ll need to stop now. See you next week.
I’m thinking all my Deep Thoughts as I walk to my car. This one place where I’m not charming, not funny, not pretending that I don’t care when I desperately do. Not elevating the mood, not reading the room, the face, the voice. Not counseling. Counseled. Letting go of the protective layer if only for an hour. Things unravel there, the walk to my car always a fight to let it stay that way. I pass the bakery, the restaurant, the bar where they play Trivia, the friends who scream as they win are like the sounds of my parents having a party while I was supposed to be sleeping downstairs. Summer sounds.
There’s a new place. The door is beautiful wood, decor simple and lit up with twinkly lights. Summer lights. Frozen yogurt? Unexpected. And so was walking in, for all my counting calories – getting fit, getting skinny – this wasn’t part of my plan. Two parts tart and one swirl of vanilla with a handful of blueberries. I’m in, I’m all in.
I sit at the bar by the window because I want to sit by them. They were giggling. Then laughing. She wore dark sunglasses and he smiled when he made her laugh. I’m not one to chat strangers up, for all the talking I do all day long both online and off for work – dodge, deflect – I prefer the quiet side.
I asked how long they’d been married. 35 years.
I’m wearing these sunglasses because I’m famous, she said. Deadpan. Quietly nodding, I asked him if he was her agent or just using her to get some airtime on TMZ. She giggled. We giggled. I felt myself pass his sassy test and was allowed into their secret clubhouse. Funny people are like elephants, we recognize and remember our own. We all settled in awkwardly like funny people do.
He was a college professor. She’s a playwright, he said. She’s had several plays performed. She’s also a musician, she’s quite good.
If you keep flirting with my husband like this, I’m going to take you out to the sidewalk and punch you.
We talked about Kids These Days. How nobody reads real books anymore and the election. I’m going to vote for Obama while plugging my nose. He was from the Bronx and insists New York is the greatest city in the world. She was born here and won’t ever leave. She hates New York and we bonded in our dislike of big cities and our love of open spaces. Three adopted kids, a mix of brown, black and white. They didn’t care then, nor do they now.
I feel like we’re on one of those cruise ships and we’re telling you our whole goddamned life story. I told him I’d never be caught dead on a cruise ship so that was impossible. He looked at her each time he spoke then whispered something lovely that wasn’t meant for me. I didn’t hear the words, I just saw her face.
She’s always got us going over to the Bliss Bar. We go there every week. She’s going to do a reading there! She’s a very accomplished writer. You should read her work sometime, she’s very good. You are smart, you’d get her point of view. When you’re married like us, you are one another’s mirror. Sometimes you see the ugly and it’s hard, but she and I know that’s when we have to stay. The hard is good. Good is painful. No one is ok being uncomfortable anymore, coffee on one side of the street, yogurt on another. Sex everywhere, no one has to stay to face the mirror. But you get old like we do and you know you can’t live without it.
She told me about fracking, how we’re destroying the earth with our obsessive need of oil. Like all good Liberals, we lamented the size of our carbon footprint. He watched her explain what the word fracking meant (I didn’t know).
This stool is cutting into my goddamn ass. He got up and moved to another seat. I asked if he was ok. Yes, he’s just moved on. She smiled as she said it, knowing it was just his way. She’d been done apologizing for that kind of thing years ago.
Time to go. We said our goodbyes. I was invited to Bliss Bar every Tuesday at 6. I don’t know what it is or even where that is, all I know is they’re there. Awkward – just a little. It was one of those sweet things you say to end a sweet moment. Proclamations: We all love each other now. Diane is our new friend. We will have a weekly yogurt date, don’t be late next week.
Most Tuesday nights, I’m thinking about what love isn’t. This Tuesday night I’m thinking more about what it is. It’s someone who’s proud of you and who you laugh with after 30 years.
What is bad, won’t be. What is good, already is. What is hopeful will be.
The perfect laughter
between the hours of 2AM and 5AM
deserves its own special term,
or perhaps just a ranking
or a symbol-
to keep it sorted
from the rest of the everyday snickering
we freely toss about,
shoveled upon some such sitcoms
and half-hearted knock knock jokes.
The perfect laughter
between 2am and 5am
warrants an epithet
and commonly recognized
as the gold standard.
A word or phrase
which is not so much spoken out loud
as it is gasped through an opened mouth smile
hurried into the air, tumbling and dancing,
like the all-to-perfect sounds of a baby
dreaming up her very own language -
unburdened by the rules of grammar
of the ever-looming conditions of life.
It’s been four years since I had my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory “golden ticket” moment, the offer that brought me to San Francisco. The Buddhists say that a litany is the regular rhythm of one’s gratefulness for the Truth that we’ve allowed to penetrate our illusion. This is my litany to what I’ve learned and who has helped.
I’m grateful for what I’ve been given and the Grace to see it. For the confusion, loss, uncertainty. For the Silence that challenges me to go beyond how those feel, to greet them as essential guests to my personal growth party (which has horrible, angsty music). For the ability to grieve. For the unexpected teachers who’ve helped me understand that hiding doesn’t really work. That hiding who we are – particularly from ourselves – makes us crazy. Isolated. Miserable. That Seattle wasn’t what I left behind because Seattle wasn’t the problem. The life I had designed around me to feel like I had a life – the self I’d designed around me to feel like I had a self- was the problem.
The job is more than a job. If I could turn it inside out, all you’d see is the tangled new growth of a head, heart, spirit and ego that have fought one another for center stage. And while there’s serious smoke on the battle field, each is recovering from their wounds and learning how to work together as they were designed to do.
I work with people who care about the experience of others as though it was their own. They’ve not just taught me, they’ve purified me. As our beloved Steve said, A players want to play with A players. They’ve brought out the “A” in me and let me grow into that standard. I’m not there yet but I’m getting better everyday.
I’ve learned the importance of discretion. The power of the pause and how lovely it is to be around those that are quiet. That a mature mind is often still and very simple. That a good idea is instinctively recognized. The confidence it takes in owning up to mistakes before they’re realized. That being right – being smart – is less important than being good. That tolerating bad behavior isn’t tolerance, it’s a fear of being alone. It’s the illusion that having someone is better than having no one. That we’re all so terribly anxious. Some of us just know it more than most. I have miles and miles to go before any of this sinks deeply into my bones but to even have the words means I have the beginnings of awareness.
I have a small group of friends who are teaching me that honesty isn’t just telling someone the truth, it’s the willingness be seen in ways I don’t control. I’m selecting the people I reveal things to so being known doesn’t just happen upon impulse, those crazy “too much too soon” spurts. It takes practice. So I’m practicing.
I watched with rather miraculous eyes, a broken heart mend when I never thought it could, even finding moments of “could this be my soul mate?” again. The weary, yet inevitable dance of being chased and chasing at an age where it all seems so surreal. The patience it takes to let something special unfold instead of trying to peek behind the curtain after the opening act to see how it all ends, to see if the Wizard is there, fearful that he’s not. That love has its own set of early warning indicators that a put-together heart will help me hear a bit more clearly (they’re awfully easy to make up). I’m learning the mantra of the confident;
“Love the things, the faces, the places you have now. Put together the broken pieces of you everyday, bit by bit, so you give as you much as you receive. And hope. Hope is good. Hear the sounds of cycles breaking, chains unloosing, strength emerging. Live your life and let love come to you.”
I ran a marathon that showed me how silly it was to stay fit because of a race that when you finish, harms you to the point that you can’t run anymore. That health is the quiet, early morning run along the pier while the sun rises. That has no cheering except the sea lions that bark at me as I go by. That health is being outside in the nature that I’ve come to love and needs my action to protect. It’s being close to ocean, petting all the dogs around me. It’s good, simple food, not eaten out of sadness or fear. It’s a deep, dreamless sleep that comes from knowing I’ve done the best I can that day and tomorrow will have to take care of itself. It’s clean lines. Strong boundaries around a strengthening heart and mind. It’s a curiosity about my career. Designing things. Writing things. It’s bad TV, lots of it because fuck I can’t be perfect and I’m really sick of trying, so bring me your Kardashians. Bring me all your Housewives. Your Men are never Mad enough for me. I’ll fit the documentary in when I have time (which is never).
What I believe doesn’t come in any kind of formula anymore. What I do know is I will fight for “good” in ways I never had the courage to do before – there was too much to lose. But when I lost my religion, it’s possible that I found the beginnings of faith. So much remains to be seen.
In the last four years, I’ve found more of myself than I ever expected I’d have the ability to know. So much is the same – same job, same apartment, same friends, same car, same fears, same quirks, same struggles, same neuroses. But different. Slowly, slowly, as the places and faces that I’ve now chosen have their way and help me become what I’m meant to.
I’m grateful, I’m grateful.
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.
I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief–
so this darkness makes me feel small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
“I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.”
— Adrienne Rich, “From an Atlas of the Difficult World”
“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.”
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another; who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Today was an excellent day. It’s probably 50% coffee and 50% confidence but I’m making my way through this new life in my new(ish) city by way of nooks and crannies inside my mind, within my heart. Who knew, these weird little roads that led to quirky little joints outside of lonely little towns were just the long way around to an exhilarating life.
So many metaphors of roads. How about shadowed woods and misty landscapes next? I’d go on, but that would make me – as the fellows say – a proper douche.
So let’s just say that San Francisco’s been the rebellious teen years I never had and while I grimace at a few of these memories, I’m trusting myself more than ever before. I’ve not made any fatal errors. I’m making my way up and through, and it’s good. The end.
I’m not home a lot on Saturday nights, but after a long day that involved some unexpected work and a long commute I usually save for the week, I’m tucking in with myself. The quiet is lovely. Phone calls to my sister and my brother, mom and dad rounded it down to soft and mellow. I’ve made soup, now I’m roasting a chicken. I love the fragrance of the lemon and the garlic and everything in-between.
Much earlier today, I got to snuggle a colleague’s newish baby and smell her little Charlie Brown head. Women I work with are so fantastic, dedicated and creative, designing things while nursing their babies. Then our co-worker came in with his beautiful little girl who loves her daddy so much. Watching them together was the best thing ever.
She was fussy. They were busy. So the baby and I, we took a little walk, She snuggled in so close like snuggly babies do. I kissed her little neck and whispered,
You are beautiful. Life is beautiful. There are so many good people for you to meet. You will know them, some for a season and others will become the ones you walk with for a good long while. Some will break your heart but even that will be ok, even that can turn up good things if you let it. And you will. You are safe and loved and you live in a beautiful place. You will be happy. You will always be enough. You will always be ok.
I was saying it to her. I was saying it to me.
Life is beautiful. It is a gift, even the painful. We are all enough. And now we’re moving into days with even more sun, more time in light, metaphorically and otherwise. I may not be a mommy. Sometimes that hurts my heart in that quiet, unspoken place that certainly, no words on the Internet will honor. But there is nurturing to offer, to create. To give and receive. There are ways to offer the mother inside of me. I do. I will.
Courage comes from the Latin word “Cour” which is heart. Its original meaning was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.
My pace car is “the right thing to say/feel/do”. I lead with these which is an interesting strategy that sometimes works, right? Sometimes you say what you know should be true but isn’t and you hope that by saying it, the actually feeling it part that’s a 1000 miles away will just catch up. But if I were honest, that’s not particularly honest. There’s fear in the reveal and wisdom is the shroud.
I’m not going to get my Primal Scream on (just yet) online but this is definitely the stuff of revelation for this little heart of mine. The lack of risk I take to just say exactly what I feel is a lack of respect, a deficit of trust for the people around me to hold it, to hold me. A lack of both for myself to just be. “I understand” can be a pass I give, a step into doormat instead of compassion. We all need one another to hold us and speak up when a too-sharp edge dug in unexpectedly
This courage business requires Vitamin Water and a lot of love. But I’m shooting a little straighter these days. I’m making my way. My doormat days are dwindling. This is hard work and I’m used to that. I’m getting better. Unearthing this stuff really sucks but you have to dig in tough places to find a little treasure and there’s a lot to discover. In the process, in me. It’s not like I’m going to find what I need watching Hard Core Pawn.
Where is Bob Newhart when you really need him? Maybe I’m doing alright on my own.
“The problem – often not discovered until late in life – is when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.
For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson
When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.
When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.
When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.
When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.
When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.
When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.
Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.
Two things that are true.
My sister is one of the best friends I have. Lots of people will come and go, but I’ll have her forever. Family is who you make it and I think you choose to make your family your family over and over again.
When people tell you who they are, believe them. If you don’t, they will prove it over and over again until you do. No one knows the fullness of who they are – of who we are, I should say, or why. Or what we will become for that matter. But all we really have is who we are today, that’s all we have to offer. That’s what we have to receive. I can often spin illusion around myself, I want to be someone different instead of who I am. I speak about what I should feel as though I do feel it. I often don’t. I convince myself that people are different than what they do because I need them to be how I need them. These are the choices of relief, not peace. I’m beginning to see the Grand Canyon of difference between the two and I’m grateful though peace as a destination is an arduous journey and I kind of hate it. What a thing.
Speaking of the Grand Canyon, I need to get there.
A bonus truth? How much I love my Almond Joy coffee creamer. If I were on the TV show “Hoarders” (sadly, I’m probably a contender) you’d see tons of it in my refrigerator.
What is this blog anyway? Coffee creamer and self-reflection? I’m just writing here because it’s the weekend which means plenty of sleep (most of the time), it’s beautiful outside and I’m learning how to let go of some control that’s hard. I’m waiting for something to reach out to me instead of me reaching out to bring it close. It is actually probable that it won’t. I think this is where I say that it was never mine to begin which inevitably leads me to that poem about footsteps in the sand with God. I’m tired of that poem, it’s like 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon.
I’m also quite convinced that no one reads this which makes it a proper place to make a home for my candor.
“I have learned silence from the talkative,
tolerance from the intolerant,
and kindness from the unkind.
I should not be ungrateful to these teachers.”