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Notes from the Laundry Pile. Written a year ago. Published 2 days ago.

http://depts.washington.edu/stratus1/

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Sitting in a cafe – the cafe of my-so called life of dates & divorce & goodbyes to dear friends – with good music playing, hot coffee on a sun-filled morning, researching the favorite songs of my three parents, thinking about what this means to me. To who I am and how I am in the world.

An autobiography of sorts, vis-a-vis the hearts of three people I know so well and, yet, know nothing about. And I wonder what OWL will think, when he is 33 and looking at his own life, at the strange fact that me + then-husband = him. What will he make of being soothed through newborn cranky spells by Leonard Cohen records, danced to stillness to the White Album, sung to sleep by Sleater-Kinney’s Duck Song (The Fox). Will he remember dancing on my feet to Saturday night swing music? Or that the 1st song he sang was the theme to JAWS, followed, more appropriately, by Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? Not to mention the album that, in pretty plain language, documented the impending descent of me+then-husband while he waited in darkness for birth.

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NOVEMBER 11th

Time moves slow.  The ache of the heart a long slow cracking after the initial break.  Thousands of aftershocks that travel across a year, add months, count the days.  New mistakes stream in and stretch out inside the ravines, touch the canyon walls, and flow on top of the scars.

Take stock of the present.  Orange lamp hangs overhead and casts its familiar glow on the pillow and couch, on my fingers as they move over keys and trace lines in my journal.  Silent apartment, save the passing the planes and occasional scuffing of boots on the sidewalk or wheels turning over wet leaves.  Yesterday’s breakfast pan soaks in the sink.  A cold beer on the windowsill.

From my ledge I see other people in the open sky.  The vast space around them as they touch hands, unwrap gifts from tissue paper, smile in ways that communicate the complexity of joy and sadness and living.  I see what I hoped for in my life and my family and my love, and know that it didn’t complete me the way I thought it would, the way I wanted and needed, because I wouldn’t let myself be whole.  I cannot imagine building a new life, although I know I’m doing it everyday.  Dish by dish, word by word, moment to moment.

2010 harvest moon photographed by chris updegrave

Notice that my body marks its own time, with signals that fall outside the calendar of dates and anniversaries.  Another harvest moon rises and pins me to the spot, to the moment.  Memories stored in the quality of light, released by the Fall chill settling in the air.  The memory of organs swell the body.  The well of sadness opened by the senses and the body’s recollections.  But this time there is a quiet joy marching alongside.  It’s new and weak at times, but gaining strength and momentum.  I stand on this edge and my lungs clench.  I see the size of my wounds, so long in the making and don’t know if I can cross to the other shore.  If the scars can soften and stretch and let in the light and air.  I hear another bottle break on the sidewalk outside through the closed window and know there will be something to clean up in the morning.

Time moves fast.  OWL’s growth, so ordinary and so exceptional, impossible to track.  Loose notes on the calendars waiting to be transcribed into a baby book.  The feel of those moments so vivid at the time hardly seem describable now.  Watch as baby C, now 4 months old, gorillas sits with his fists on the floor as he slumps forward, and marvel as he pops up.

NOVEMBER 7th

In the morning after a previously amazing day and an evening spent writing in tears, I lay across my bed and mark what is right.  What is going well.  A two page list in columns, turquoise ink.

OWL is healthy.
He talks & talks & signs.
Trots around with little stroller.
Sleeps clutching books like The Secret Life of Plants and Crime & Punishment.
We have heat.
The cat snuggled me through last night’s sadness.
I can read.
I have a practice.
I write.
I walk and run, and sometimes cartwheel.
OWL stomps through puddles in frog rain boots.
OWL & baby A hold hands.
He kicks a ball.
I laugh, cry & feel.
Sweep the floors that ground us.
Cook the food that nourishes us.
We ride buses.
Have teeth to brush.
Bodies to wash.

On the cushion later that morning, the sangha shoulder to shoulder in staggered rows, I open without cracking.  I carry myself back up to that eye-level view of Mt Rainier, and sense my presence among the other mountains, my icy peaks rising above the blankets of green.  The sky passes and mingles, the clouds appear and dissipate.  And I think, I could do this anywhere.  On my feet.  In a courtroom.  At breakfast.  I can be this mountain among mountains anytime.  Struck by the sheer confidence of the open sky.

By nightfall, I slip back down.  Self-arresting, I land not at the bottom, but catch myself in a point of utter aloneness that is sad but not sorry.  It carries me a ways outside the room.  To a place without walls.  All I want is OWL in my arms, in this room, among these friends.  Wait anxiously as the openness battles the rising fear of seeing the ex in the coming exchange.  The fear of directly seeing the embodiments of my failures and success from the open sky where my heart beats raw and tender.  I feel exposed by the moment where everyone around me seems transformed and held by something that I’m not even sure I get.  I feel quiet.  OWL arrives and my world tumbles together and in to pieces all at once.

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It’s been a day.  A good one, mind you.  But short short short naps.  Wailing, screaming, pillow-over-the-rail-of-the-crib tantrums & tears.  At least 47 minutes of it, from when I started tracking the time.  And this surprising rage welling up from somewhere deep inside me.  Mind travels a million miles an hour over that talk that I must have immediately with his father, who, I think, should maybe even come and pick him up for the night.  Because if OWL had a bed over there, if he napped OWL when he was supposed to nap and didn’t feed him to sleep and so on….  Well, my little prince would be sleeping soundly on his own.  All bullshit, I know.  At least 93% of it.  Truth is, I was unable to maintain our boundaries around sleep.  I chose comforting the achey mouth with 4 new teeth and molars pushing the pink gums to white and the runny nose.  In my bed.  Instead of letting him cry it out.  Alone.  In the dark.  In the walk-in-closet-turned-bedroom with no window or heater (not that my heat is on either).

All struggle.  Can’t get a word in edgewise.  No calming.  My requests for him to lay down so I can rub his quivering back unheard.  Rage seeping up from top of my rib cage and the bottom of my lungs.  And I look and see this glow in the dark skeleton, with an enormous head in proportion to its green glowing bones, throwing fits and weaving and stomping.  Laugh and cry, hand over mouth.  Another example of farce disguised as tragedy, although in my laughter I still feel the seething rage.  That forever feeling saying I cannot handle these moments.  The humor and anger holding the space, each looking at the other.  Not competing, but not giving way either.  Each holds its presence.

Meditate my way through the anger.  Put on water to boil and steep the tea.  Light evening blessing incense, thinking that the night could use any sort of offering.  And I sit.  The rage emerges so strong it burns and radiates from my chest.  Like throwing a rock through a window.  But only for a moment, and it quickly dissolves into a sadness.  A deep sobbing sadness that reaches back through the years, the decades even, and finds me as a frightened child.  An unworthy daughter.  An untrustworthy friend.  A never-to-be artist.  An unloveable lover.  An average student.  A failed wife.  A struggling single mama.  This moment so alive and far-reaching.

I desperately need to do my homework, which I’ve been trying to do all weekend.  A last-minute drop opened my wait list space in a UW program – great news.  But I missed the first class, and I have that wrong side of the bed feeling about that.  Quite a task just getting the books that evening, hauling a sleepy OWL out in the cold in the big stroller after dinner.  Next night he won’t sleep until I lay down with him, lights off, my book away.  Mr. Short naps these past 3 days.  No time no time no time.

In sitting, this is what I see.  This program is the first thing I am doing for me, just me, in a very long time.  It’s new.  Going through with it, I am committing to the discipline of learning, to working on my work.  Honing my craft that means so much to me I spent years ignoring it out of fear.  Not just first thought best thought not good enough stop trying.  I’m stepping out of my OWL bubble and in to a world where there are – imagine this – people.  Which means opening myself up to who knows what.  Our world treats the homeless shopping cart radio man the same way we treat our friends and the co-op employees we see everyday.  OWL embraces each leaf and rock and tree stump and utility vault cover as spectacular.  He babbles and I endlessly explain the world.  The difference between trees and bushes.  Why we don’t run in the street.  He makes his own version of signs for meat, butterfly, cracker, cookie, and juice.  I reinforce with praise, and make the sign properly but without correcting him.  It is so sweet, so humbling, so tender a place to inhabit.  But in my recent glimpses of the so-called real world, I experienced such hostility.  Degrading chatter disguised as humor.  Possessive body language slamming the doors of connection.  And now I see my task ahead.  To carry out the simplicity of knocking letter magnets off the refrigerator.  Maintain that openness.  Hold the space for the tantrums and wonder.  Remain awake.

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First pumpkin ale of the season.  Car ride home discussing autumn soundtracks. The poetry of being left recorded and imprinted, a map of notes and newsprint and digital information.  Span of our history.  San Diego Times.  New York Times. Pitchfork. Background music on a home loan commercial as our house sits empty, winterized by a stranger’s hands.  Hands that never sliced bread or made love or pulled stumps from the ground or swooped up a crying baby at 4 am in that house. Hands that never held on under that roof during hard times.  Seasons of asking questions only to be reassured only to become a living-breathing-sad-generic-pop-song. Honeymoons and camping trips.  An unborn & unknown baby OWL.  Ghosts. Outside, behind garage doors, the 8-track records.  In heated and dimly lit space I sit, immerse in the act of breast-feeding, give my body again & again.  Sustain and nourish this new life, this life that I grew & carried & birthed.  Terrified.  Sore. Elated. Depressed.  Layers peel among laundry piles and wet diapers and more time sitting on the couch then seems humanly possible.  The act of being present.  Being one with another human being.  The depth of lies reflected, apparently, by the number of stars in the sky.     

In one month I turn 33.  Recall hostessing then-husband’s 30th birthday party, OWL a full on swimming being inside my low abdomen.  Body swells with rising organs.  Fall asleep among jackets & purses & scarves strewn across my bed.  Scent of cigarettes and perfume and cold air mixing with the dirty pillowcases.  Cat curled warmly among the layers.  Love’s Forever Changes skips on the turntable in the next room as friends chatter over the sounds.  Carrot cake forgotten & stiff in the freezer.  People like waves wash over me.  Sleeping, I imagine bringing OWL into this world of friends & food & great neighbors & music.  Relief.  Anticipation.  Joy. Remember the year before, walking into the basement and hearing that first new song.  Water.  Desire to hold so strong it had a taste.  Letting go again & again.

Everything these days is touchy ground.  Everything a memory.  A place or a drive or a wedding dance or a laugh.  A gesture.  Whisper in the dark.  An offering.  My new autumn soundtrack needs to be the antidote.  Falling leaves carry introspection. Calls for redemption.  A need to set things right & prepare to start anew.  Sow seeds that emerge strong in spring.  Reconnect with the basic ground.  Redefine home. Family.  Work.  Cats and dogs and rooster calls….

Try as I might, I cannot pick myself out of the past, out of our shared life, out of the years at that house.  Out of who I was before we met.  Before we fell in love.  Moved in.  Bought a house.  Got married.  Had a baby.  And autumn has me reaching for Nico.  Leonard Cohen.  Devendra Banhart.  Bob Dylan.  At least Bruce Springsteen was always mine….  And there is the sound of my scarf wrapping around & around my neck.  The sound of sweaters fresh from the dryer.  Leaves crunching under OWL’s eager feet shrouded in little yellow rubber boots.  His breathing from behind the pink animal-print curtain.  The sound of his hair as he turns clockwise over & over again on my pillow in the morning as he settles in to finish sleeping.  Wind through changing & drying trees.  Times for coffee with the ex, with papaOWL. Random texting about Sesame Street, how everyone other than Big Bird is a puppy. About making OWL faces & making OWL sounds.  Reports on lullabies.  The smell of heat turned on for the first time.  Pumpkin ale and baking pies.  Afternoon sun.

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