Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Jumped in the river and what did I see?

a band of angels swam at me..."

-Radiohead, Pyramid Song (off Amnesiac)

I am grateful for glasses of water, half full or half empty. It's winter coming on now, despite the 50 something degree weather, and nights at either D's or my place are dry, hot and hard on the lungs and skin. I have just gotten through a few days of massive coffee consumption (it's not much, by most standards, but large for me) and last night I suffered from serious acid in guts from drinking it mid-day (ah, recovering from Thanksgiving meals!). Over the last couple of days, D and I have figured out that we have to slow down a bit - spend some nights apart (or at least one!) go to bed at 5:30pm to allow time for all the chatting and cuddling we seem to need to do before we can snuggle up and sleep. Practicality kicks in, suddenly, luckily - mutually.

So I am home today, cleaning my office, working on my poetry manuscript, my novel. I have developed a fair amount of new material on the novel over the last 24 hours, mostly thanks to a trip to "see my family" on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving night, after being at Erika's sister's joint in Zion, Illinois, D, Erika and I stopped at Hickory Point, the name for our family's cabin (acquired 11/7/47) in Lake Geneva WI. I haven't been there in a couple of years now, but our parents are buried there, and we were very, very close on the drive and it just felt like the right thing to do. We didn't even have a flashlight, and although the mostly-new moon gave off some ambient light, we were all grateful for D's cell phone, which sports a very bright and useful flashlight on its tip. Because my brother Alex was going to be doing the same thing over the weekend (visiting their graves) I called him to let him know we were there, spontaneously. He called back not 5 minutes later to tell me he was 5 miles away, and almost to us.


In the dark, we uncovered my family - the generations before:
Alberta McClurkin Hall (paternal grandmother)
Betty and Glenn Reilly (maternal grandparents)
Chuck Riley (maternal great uncle)(family story is that grandparents had to be given up as kids to different families because of a freak lightning storm killing their parents - somehow they all kept Reilly, but it got spelled different ways?! Ah, family fables...)
Miriam Knaupf ("Big Mimi" - my namesake, maternal great aunt)
Tricia and Michael Hall (mom and dad)

I cried once, a single, sharp cry that I referred to in a later writing as being how sadness really is, "so quick, a bandaid pulled off a wound, healing more quickly than one would think. Like air is the only antibiotic that sadness needs." It felt clean, and it felt like the right thing to do on Thanksgiving.

I joked with D. that meeting dead parents is easier than live ones, since there's less to worry about with impressions. Alex and I stood there, unafraid of all the death we've seen, and waited until the air got too cold and our hearts were warmed enough by our own courage to go home.

Here's to enough water to keep us all hydrated, whether in the form of tears or sweat or glasses half-empty or full. Frankly, we are not in the ground yet, badly laid concrete or half-frozen earth. Today, typing, that's enough gratitude for me. And then, to Erika and D., gratitude that they found meeting my dead relatives as non-intimidating as D and I found meeting Erika's living ones.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"I will dream with you

If you need me to."
-Valley of the Minds Eye, Thomas Dolby

Tonight, my body chose its own cycle, claimed back from the anxieties over last weeks' WCATY class preparations, claimed back from the hormones my birth control is attempting to use to control my body. It's an interesting battle - the moon versus a little latex ring near my cervix. All the women close to me are on the same cycle I used to be on - the one my body is still fighting to be on; it's like my uterus is anxious to stay on track with everyone.

Last Thursday, I stood in front of 20 12-13 year olds and told them it is not only acceptable but benefitting to lie in their writing, only if they are noble about it. Teaching the kids was both draining in a way the adults are, and also so much more subtly inspiring - they bent over their pen and paper again and again, and I stood there while they opened to their own magic. I am stunned, again, this time the same form, new situation, that we need teachers to lead us to our own creativity. This is what the surprise is, I guess, the surprise I have had since I have begun to teach - that it feels so inspiring, so deathly simple and yet, so essential, to sit by anyone's elbow and breath for them, convince them that they should abide their mind for 10, 20 minutes and let themselves create. It's not that I don't know that I have needed it my whole life, that I still need it, and often. It's not even that I don't know that others don't need it. It's just that - we don't need people to tell us to eat. To sleep. To breath. To breath! And it feels that essential - Natalie says again and again, "Write like your life depends on it". Now it does to me, and yet what do I do instead sometimes? I watch tv. I go for a run. I wash dishes. I worry. Any of these instead of writing.

To my students, 12-60, I give the offer that I will dream with them. Just for 2, maybe 4 hours, tops. And now that I have romance in my life, this offer is intimate again. It has an added texture to it. Added dimension. I mentioned to D. the other night that I don't feel any urgency when we are together. What I get from D. both feels essential and calm. I am not panicked, like I often was in past relationships. It feels a lot like a dream, it feels like when D. woke this morning, and had had a nightmare about Aliens and high school, and needed to just mention it. Sometimes we need to just mention it. I can't dream for my students, I can't even be in the dream with them, but I can listen when they are done. And that is a very close, worthy second for me. I know that creative writing is essential. I am grateful someone out there, many someones, know that it is, too, and take them to my classes, bus them in, make their lunches, ask to hear the results. And for my adult students, that they even allow me to take them out onto the edge of the pier, close their eyes and tell me about the stars. What a wonder. What an honor.

And for D., who will lay there with me, hands held even in sleep, tight like two children near a lake, letting the breeze fill our lungs with dreams.

Friday, November 10, 2006

How easy it is to be honest

(Not a lyric that I know of, just true.)

I had problems with compulsive lying in Junior High School. After my dad died (I was 12), I went through a phase of milking sympathy from people for completely untrue things, as when he died I discovered sympathy got me some serious affection and attention. In the years between, say, 16 and last year, I still waffled with this a lot. I pretty much stopped lying when I left the born again Christian church at 16 (yes I know that is ironic, Our God is an Awesome God), but I still had ambivalence about sympathy leading to affection, mainly, that it worked, but I was unwilling to lie. Luckily enough, playing victim wasn't hard, as they were difficult years.

But as of the last year, with the last of the biggest true skeletons out of the closet, any need to receive attention for or in anything other than the present moment has dissipated a lot. And last night and today really emblazoned this change onto my little path. D. and I had a lovely evening watching Ren and Stimpy with the housemates ("Space Madness" *is* the best episode, by far), then up late, late talking (remember it's high school all over again!) - about love lives, sexuality - about the kinds of things people do when they are getting to know one another in "this kind of situation". "Figuring out the cast of characters", is one way D. put it. I was able to talk about the big trauma stuff, which is a huge step as it's the first time I've shared those specs with someone I am sexually/romantically engaged with ever. We talked about boundaries on sex a lot, from *both* our perspectives (this is big - I am realizing I have believed it is solely up to me - with women or men - for years now, somehow, probably because of victimhood).

Then, this morning, and into the afternoon, we talked about things that actually work for us in sexual engagement, and it was so easy to be honest, to be clear. To be complete - its not that I was *dishonest* in previous situations, rather, incomplete. I was able to say things to D. that now seem so simple, no cause for shame, yet I had never told anyone, and clearly I had been scared to do so before. I don't know why I am so surprised, maybe more surprised that I have chosen the harder, complex and cruddy path over the years, being less clear, less direct. Maybe I didn't know for myself. Maybe I never trusted most of those lovers, which certainly could be the case.

It helps that the affection is already there. For once, and for what it is so far, I am with someone who needs, craves and is comfortable with the level of affection I have in all the above forms. I am amazed what this takes care of for me. In the Markova/ Open Mind model, I carry physical experiences very, very deeply and intimately, and all I can think is that in the past, being with these folks who wouldn't hold my hand, look at me lovingly, even, I was cramming sex into the void that sex can't fill, because sex is only sex. Now, I feel full a lot of the time, and it's a nice feeling. I didn't know it existed, actually.

How easy it is to even be honest about that. And what a pleasure.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Listen, honey, there is nothing you could say to astound me,

Listen, honey, there is nothing you could do to offend me.
Because you don't send me anymore..."

Belle and Sebastian, from "You Don't Send Me", Dear Catastrophe Waitress

I feel horrible today. I have some kind of therapy hangover, some sort of relief now turned into spiralling release, probably with the momentum of samsara nausea, one of my favorite concepts to discuss, and least favorite things to experience. CTR says in numerous texts, and is quoted in endless interviews with his students, as saying that one has to actually become sick over samsara, our endless cycle of suffering, literally pukeably sick over it, before we can move on from our habits and forge new openness. Before we can let go. I know this is true for addicts of all ilk - I've watched friends try to quit smoking while they were still gaining from it, still enjoying the high, but that's nothing compared with the motivation of hating the smell, taste and worn out lung feeling of smoking. You have to really want something to be done in order to move on.

Yesterday, I uncovered a huge world, a world I had thought was simpler than it is, and my therapist and I rooted around in there, in the dark, hands out and eyes closed. He encouraged me to treat this world with tremendous tenderness, and to *not* assume I know what is in this room, though at first glance it seems as familiar as my own bedroom. How well, after all, do we really know the back of our own hands? How well do I really know my own mind? I am amazed, truly amazed, that nothing in there astounds me, and yet, that I was totally, consciously unaware of the workings until now. I had to want to see it, to see it. And now that I am seeing it, I'm not so sure I don't want to push it all back in and close the door.

How many times I have blamed others for pain I cause myself? I am not ashamed. Practice has taught me that this is the way we shut ourselves away from life and into the cocoon of suffering. I am nauseated by it, though, not at myself, but at the repetition, the seeming endless variation my ego entertains itself with. Last night, D. said he feels like he's in high school, staying up with me until 1am only go get up at 6am. Only now he can't recover as well, being 29, not 16. I laughed, but what I didn't fully recognize at that moment is how much *I've* been feeling like I'm in high school, only due to different reasons. Teaching these younger kids, going to What's Your Damage (the open mic where you bring JHS and HS notes and the like to read outloud at a bar!), being with him, and discovering, seemingly for the first time, patterns I set *then*, at 12, at 16, at 21, makes me feel like I am in some strange retro zone. Yesterday I even put on a t-shirt over a long-sleeved shirt, and a skirt with stripey socks. This was my uniform for most of high school.

It's not exactly retrogression, or regression of any sort. It's some kind of reconciliation, and not all of it is with "negative" things. In my first appointment with my therapist, he asked if I was popular in High School, was I socially successful? I surprised myself to discover I was. Yes, yes I was, I said, in the group I was in - the theater group. I was well-liked, I dated often, etc. What about in college, he asked. College. The void. The post-mom's death world of being lost. Of dropping out. Of being from nowhere. Constant travel, good grades, few friends. It was horrible. You certainly won't catch me getting any kind of interest in dressing that way again, a weird sort of nostalgia.

Last week, at Planned Parenthood, getting my annual, I was weighed for the first time since I went last year. I don't weigh myself otherwise, as I get into numbers games. I have lost thirty pounds since this time last year. I was amazed, least of which because it confirmed all the math - I am now the weight and size I was in High School (my freshman 10 was 30 and lasted my whole 20's). I can wear those clothes again - though, now I see how large they were, how I never wore fitted clothes in High School.

The world I discovered, this underground zone of people living in the subway, riding on the fumes of my external presence (I am back to remembering how much I have ridden, both for me and others, in the past on my sheer force of nature, driven personality, and not on true connections, though I feel this has healed up a lot in the last year alone), are not resentful, nor am I of them. In fact, it is almost as if I am no longer receiving messages from the underground. I practically stumbled into that dark, familiar but not oft-visited room. I was as surprised as they were, which is to say, not much. I am nauseous, and so are they. So far, we all want to work this out, and we feel safe doing it. Doesn't mean it isn't sickening, though.

I sat tonglen and did something I hadn't done since retreat this summer - sent out into the world compassion for folk who commit sexual crimes and for survivors, both. It is hard, but it really clears my head. Anger turns into molasses, and slowly eeks out of all of my pores. It doesn't mean I am ready to do any confrontation yet, but it helps me let air into my own little dark rooms.

I dreamt last night of my mother and my brother David at our old cabin in Lake Geneva, WI. My mother was lost, didn't know what to make us for dinner, and I offered to make chile. As David picked out kidney beans and I asked her if we had ground beef, I realized that there seemed to only be us three in the whole world. Why only us three? My semi-awake mind (this dream came right before waking) noted that there were only us three in the cabin, but not in the whole world. It was so simple, breaking that assumption I had made for so many years. But that simple, simple act made me hungry enough to cook dinner and eat it, and not puke it all back up again. After dinner, I left for a walk, and saw the stars, alone, and didn't worry about creatures or strangers in the forests around me. It was very healing to keep it all in, not try to get rid of any of it, but let myself see the sky at the same time. That way, none of what was happening astounded or offended me.

I feel less nauseous now, recounting this all. Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Density and Black Hole Happiness

"The work you do is dense". - my old/new again boss from the Overture Center.

Erika and I have been having a discourse lately about the guilt and issues involved in self-employment. One of her mentors and friends, a local photographer named Jim Wildeman (such a wonderful guy) pointed out to her a couple of weeks ago that the kind of work she does isn't something one does 40 hours a week, but then that supportive comment was counteracted nearly immediately by a friend with a brutal sense of humor who claimed she "doesn't have a job". I have been struggling with structure - in fact, working *too* hard, not taking enough breaks, etc. Today, one of my old mentors and a good friend called and we talked for a bit, and he said "How's the whole self-employment schtick going?" and I said "Great. So long as I don't stay in my pyjamas." My only real distraction is either a)internet (hello blog and flickr!) or b)doing other "work" - cleaning the house (Erika and I keep a clean house!) or taking care of the demi-business that fills in the rest of my life - maintaining discussion groups, working on my novel and poetry, etc. Stuff that is important but doesn't pay.

Then again, a new person in my life noted to me today that he doesn't think he'd have the discipline to be self-employed, which made me realize that even over-applied discipline (eg working *too* hard) does count for a lot. I have watched both my brothers attempt to be self-employed, and I learned from them that it is *hard* work. There are no customers (or bosses, more likely) waiting for you to show up. There are less people. And something about just leaving the house can really help a lot.

I joke that EVP, around the corner from my house, is my office.
; )

I like the Overture boss, Jacquie's statement the best. It feels very respectful, and matches how Dharma teachers discuss the teachings, as small seeds that appear tiny and/or empty on receiving, but unpack over time and expand, and in fact are quite dense. Erika and I related her statement to a program on black holes I saw last week on Public Television. The main gist, so far as 20 experts could barely express, is that black holes are both incredibly spacious and incredibly dense. That sounds like no big deal, until you realize those two things are never seen as the same in "ordinary physics". Einstein didn't even think that black holes could exist, so direly do they break all the freaking rules of physics.

Jacquie made the density statement yesterday, while we were on the phone, arranging to get me back at the Overture ushering part time until my Marquette University job kicks in in a year. She said it with such understanding and so matter of factly that it nearly knocked me off my seat. She said that anyone who can't see that isn't looking very deep, and that's true, of course. But why would anyone bother to look deeply at a structure so unlike what is familiar to them? Really, I am not being sarcastic. Not only is it incomprehensible to a lot of folks I know (though not most of my close friends, quite a few of whom are self-employed and/or artists!) that I can work at home and call it work, but that choosing to cut my pay - in half! - is a preferable option. I am not being a hippie snot here - I won't tell you all to quit yer day jobs (though I have influenced a few to do so!), but I *too* am amazed at how well it is working for me, and that in itself shows how biased I was, and often still am, against the idea.

In other news, I began my online class with 7+8th graders yesterday and I am having a BALL. I have kids asking what creative writing is (it is a creative writing class themed on immigration and family and culture), and show some serious insight and compassion about slavery, for instance. The whole gamut. The class is online, so the forum is open all the time. So far, the feedback from the employer is great - I emailed my supervisor there that I am having a ball, and she replied that that much is obvious, because I am already doing such a kick ass job. I meet the kids next week for the first time (the first "real week" of the class), and for three more times in person during the nine week class. It's a gifted and talented course, and the chances to get really deep into issues are endless, literally. It's a riot - I was, and still am a bit petrified about educating a population my last major contact with was *being* that age, but teaching really is teaching, and I have a great support base of middle school educators who are sweetly ensuring I don't reinvent the wheel. And these kids are very no b-s, even more than my adult students.

Off to Milwaukee this weekend to pick up the first of Shambhala sacred texts to study, preparing myself for seminary next year (I am hoping for summer, but may need to go off in February to VT, immediately after the online class is done). I, again, am intimidated by the process, but enlivened. It is becoming clearer and clearer by the moment (I can't even watch a freaking film without pulling out major dharmic elements, which reminds me that you all should see the Princess and the Warrior if you haven't already) that dharma teachings reach me in a way that nothing else, save life itself, does. In fact, working with them so intimately on a daily basis helps me to touch life itself much deeper, and vice versa.

It is amazing to me how much I am still packing into my life, but how not being at Rainbow in between all these bits not only makes my life feel more spacious, but makes me somehow crave "things" (objects and also distractions of any kind), less.
Something about the black hole of self-employment (and I cannot express enough how Erika and I love this analogy for its truth and complexity in physics, not because it depresses us!) really leaves me open, even if its to my own issues, sometimes...

Last but not least, a shout out to D, who's made the last couple of weeks' adjustment to winter much warmer. : )