Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Navigating the ups and downs of being an artist

“I feel like less of a writer than when I arrived,” I whimpered on the phone to my sweetie. I was returning from a writer’s retreat a few hours away from home, and checking in with him before my departure.

I admit to predisposing the weekend to some trouble when I fretted a bit about 2 friends who would be there. I covet my anonymity, especially when I’m creating. Everything and everyone is potentially a distraction for an extrovert. My friends’ presence was a bit of a distraction.

The teacher was a lovely seasoned writer who uses a specific method to inspire students that includes guided meditation, writing, reading, critiquing. When I discovered how the process worked, I would admit I panicked remembering previous workshop experiences where I had a pattern of freezing when required to perform on demand. I smelled fear, wondered if it is just a lovable quirk about me, or a flaw I should do something about.

Sure enough I froze, couldn’t relax and settle in and truly let go. I felt pressured and defensive and then I panicked. The method didn’t work for me all weekend. I had nothing.

So there I sat in the lobby of my Victorian hotel, waiting for the safety of daylight to wheel my luggage the 8 blocks to the station, surrounded by the sound of pre-dawn shift change. With extra time on my hands, it was easy to succumb to the trance of the lighted rectangle and I entered password information to get onto where the user activity is recorded for my blogs. “Hello .  . . anybody out there?”  is the question answered by user activity software. It tracks whether or not people are reading what you write. I scrolled down the miniature screen, made more tedious by its size. Holy moly, my visitors had tripled while I was away. When I texted my sweetie of my finding he said he thought it was a sign.

Still I sulked the entire trip home, justifying temporary self-pity because I felt horrible; and I knew I’d eventually get over it. I looked out the window at the landscape mostly whizzing by, a tapestry of old towns and plain people like me. I wrote nothing. All the ponds and shallow waterways were sealed in ice, barren, much like my muse.

I told my story to one of university students the other day, tough weekend, hurt feelings and then low and behold I discovered my blog activity had tripled. Come to find out, he had been reading my blog posts. I asked if he was the one responsible for increased traffic.

“I did share your blog link on facebook,” he apologized.

“Are you kidding? I owe you a huge thanks.”

I know this stuff, but every once in a while I need to be reminded. For every person that doesn’t “get” me, there is at least one who does. If I focus on the ones that don’t get me, I’ll never take risks and I'll lose momentum and feel sorry for myself. If I focus on the ones that do get me, it inspires me to write more.

And it feels good.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Loyalty to the absent: how gossip keeps us from being the person we want to be

"Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people." 

I grew up in a family of gossips. The elders’ conversations were filled with trash talk about other sisters and brothers who were never there to defend themselves. Worse yet, they intermingled and gossiped about the ones they were gossiping with on a rotating basis. Sadly I developed distaste for one of my aunts to a large extent because my mom and another aunt spent their lives degrading her. Even sadder I grew ever dissatisfied with my own mom as a result of the ongoing gossip instigated by Mom’s closest sister.   

I married into a family where my mother-in-law went from household to household talking bad about the other siblings and their families. It didn't take me long to figure out when she wasn’t at my house she was talking about me. At a certain point in my life I realized this behavior didn’t fit for me. It made me feel awful and I took an unpopular stand with my family, affecting forever my relationship with both my mom and one aunt.

Over time I have worked on loyalty to the absent (that is, not speaking badly about others when they were absent). I raised my awareness to situations rife with gossip, refused to partake in gossiping conversations, distanced myself from those who practice such disloyalty, finding it a forever journey to stay on track. I work to keep the intimate details of my relationships and my judgments to myself, preferring to go direct when I’m ready. I’ve swallowed a lot of blood biting my tongue. It takes a lifetime to build clarity, and lessons rise and fall through the years.

To continue my quest, I found myself recently in a retreat where the leader who hired me spoke badly about two people who were absent (one was her boss). I cringed and made a note, then set a date to debrief our meeting. In our face-to-face I gently confronted her about the unintended consequences of her gossiping  with her team. She took it gracefully. We parted with a hug. And as we were leaving I opened my big mouth and said something inappropriate about a fellow colleague. Sigh. I felt awful and apologized.

I went to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in Enough Said and emerged a bit puzzled about the story and its affect on me. It’s pegged as an insightful comedy that humorously explores the mess that often comes with getting involved in romance. But I finally figured out it’s a movie about gossip. Julia is a massage therapist who simultaneously begins a romance and takes on a new client that turns out to be the ex-wife of her new love. The poisonous trash talk the ex-wife inserts into Julia’s relationship almost kills it as she grows to look at her new love through the eyes of the ex-wife. No wonder it was unsettling.

In my own divorced family there is ample opportunity to practice loyalty to the absent. There are relationships that are broken that must fix themselves, and I have chosen not to fuel their causes with gossip. There are misunderstandings and cruelties that erupt, and it's exhausting to keep up with everyone's version, so I don't.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

I choose fearlessness

"As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

I've been thinking a lot about the impact I have on others since I read John Daido Loori's words in The Zen of Creativity. Because I teach public university classes I meet as many as 100 new students/month; I am sensitive to what I leave behind. Loori's words have been lingering for some time.

My own fear as a teacher might sound something like
  • "will people like me,
  • will what I say be worthwhile,
  • will I appear stupid,
  • will I be enough"
Showing up with fear could convince me to
  • say what people like to hear
  • be careful what I say, withhold 
  • try to exert some authority or demand some respect
Showing up with fear might create
  • a vanilla classroom where people fall asleep
  • an audience where learners read between the lines of my hesitation and write me off as phony or untrustworthy
Showing up fearless might have me
  • be totally honest
  • take risks
  • be vulnerable
Showing up fearless would likely cause others to
  • be totally honest
  • take risks
  • be vulnerable
Of course I want to be without fear. My best classroom experiences happen when we're all fearless. Then we can talk about what's really important, and perhaps all learn something. The training I am currently doing with manufacturing leaders requires fearlessness because they work in an environment traditionally paralyzed by fear. All of the improvements they need to make to meet tomorrow's demand will require some fearlessness--willing to take a risk, try something new, challenge yesterday's performance. If they are fearful, their disappointing results will tell. When I model fearlessness in the classroom they learn tips for being fearless on the job.

But what about showing up without fear everyday, in every opportunity, every conversation. Lester Bangs (Almost Famous) said "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." We show up trying hard to be cool, afraid that somehow we aren't enough (smart, talented, attractive); filled with fear that someone will figure out our closely held secret. Or we're afraid we aren't safe, or we're afraid that we'll lose something. Like it or not, that guarded fear gets in the way of truly connecting with other people and getting what we want and need. 

People who are fearful perpetuate fear in the world. Fear creates hate and hate creates suffering.

In our own change efforts, fear shows up as the monkey mind that taunts us with our inadequacies. These compelling voices can blind us to the great opportunity right in front of us, and cause us to show up to the next one in a state of fear. It's difficult to sell our ideas when the presentation is laced with our anxiety. It's difficult to move forward when we're looking over our shoulder at what scares us.

And so seekers, I am working on fearlessness with a new mantra:
  • I am enough.
  • Based on my experience, what I know is uniquely me.
  • What I bring has the ability to make a difference in someone else's life.
  • I am enough.
  • I am fearless.
  • I will rejoice when my fearlessness entices others to be fearless.
Fear breeds fear and hate. Fearlessness breeds fearlessness and hope. For me there's only one choice.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Universal emotional connections

"Everything is connected" takes on a new meaning if we assume that our toughest emotional times are connected to emotions every other person has experienced. The emotions connected with losing a parent to Alzheimer's are overwhelming partly because it’s the same emotions felt by every other child dealing with an aging parent. In all of history. The sadness with losing time with the kids as they build lives of their own is a universal sadness we share with every other parent. The profound sadness of losing a loved one, something we share across the generations. All of which are experienced by most people. Make us feel UBER awful.

One of the most painful times is when we have only ourselves to blame for a predicament (tripping down the stairs while texting). Knowing we had the power to change the outcome and didn’t is extremely disappointing. We resist joining every dope in history that made a similar mistake and wish we could take it back.

When we are changing and it is very painful, its because some of the pain is pain others have felt when they followed this same path. We shoulder the sorrows of our predecessors and the weight is oppressive.

When we are trying to change, if we are pain-averse, it’s easy to buckle instead of proceed. When we pursue our dreams we join an epic community of anxious passion and share all their anxiety. If we recognize the pain for what it is, rather than react, one day, with practice we can teach ourselves to respond with thoughtfulness instead of shutting down the change.

I can only imagine the euphoria associated with success of whatever you are trying to change multiplied by all those who have been successful before you. Victory + victory + victory is sweet.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Everything I know about change I learned from yoga

Yoga is a practice meant to make me strong, flexible and balanced. Every breath I take, every twist I make is meant to build a habit of focused mind/body work. Since I started almost a decade ago I have learned something in every class, about yoga or myself. Yoga itself is a change-making ritual. Anything we might practice with love and kindness every day is likely to stick, and to creep in to other parts of our lives. What I know about change I really learned from yoga.

Show up—unless I show up on my yoga mat all of my desires about being strong, flexible and balanced are vaporware. It’s the same with change. Change requires showing up to work on the change. Wishing and hoping while maintaining status quo doesn’t work.

Breathe—the fundamental practice of yoga is breathing. Breathing connects me to my body during each pose. Breathing adds oxygen to my exerting muscles. Breathing helps me let go (of judgment and pain and control). Breathing helps build stamina. When we are making change it’s easy for us to freak out and forget to breathe. More oxygen helps us think instead of getting caught up in old and limiting ways. When change feels overwhelming I do a lot of sighing. It helps me sit with and move through the anxiety that fills my chest.  

Focus--on what I can control. I can control whether or not I show up. I can control how I dress to be comfortable. I can control whether or not I bring my self fully into the room, on the mat, toes spread and sturdy. Being in my body is the best grounding for me to make all life’s decisions; and I make better decisions when I listen to what my body tells me. When making change it’s easy to get distracted and land in our heads that are trying desperately to tell us the 87 reasons we can’t make the change. Change requires us to focus and get clarity on what we seek, have a plan for how to get there and work the plan.

Persist—I’m grateful that every time I end and then restart a pose it’s a whole new pose. I get to explore yet one more way to fit my body into its own version. I think it was Thomas Edison who made 10,000 unsuccessful attempts before finally inventing the light bulb. With yoga even after 10,000 versions of a pose, the next would still be a whole new pose. After 10,000 repetitions of anything though I am decidedly better than I was without them, and all of a sudden one day I can do a pose easily that eluded me the day before. In making change it is persistence that eventually wins.

Rest—all yoga sessions are intermixed with poses that insert a moment of rest and renewal for energy channels to reboot. Downward facing dog and child’s pose are both rest poses. It’s the rest that rejuvenates the body. When we are changing, sometimes we find ourselves panicked about making things happen and forget to slow down and rest. Peace and calm are fuel for sustainable change.

Bop to the Beat—my unconventional yoga instructor plays music through the entire 1 ½ hour class, breaking rank with serious yogis I’m sure. But the music is part of the reason I like doing yoga with him. The music causes my body to sway. It feels better when I bop to the beat. In change too, a little rhythm and swaying can only make the change journey that much more enjoyable.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Inside out

Using your internal "knowing" to figure out where to go and what to do

Some revelations are a long time coming, though the word itself connotes a sort of sky-opening-angel-singing moment of brilliance. Mine started at the University of Oregon with one of my favorite faculty members and accomplished writer, Robert Sylwester. As a writing coach he urged me to “Write about what you know.” I knew then it was a nugget meant to direct my craft, but I assumed at that point it was my job to go out and learn stuff so I could know enough to write. It’s taken me decades to figure out what a profound piece of advice he proposed.

In my quest to learn and accumulate knowledge (which I do for sport) my students have benefited from the synthesis, but I often become overwhelmed with the amount of information available. Overwhelmed with the number of people out there researching and writing. So while I can teach using all that knowing, it doesn't do much for my writing. I can increase what I know, but it leaves me working from what I've grown to call “outside in.” Gathering intellectual capital and then trying to figure out what to write about it, and many times if I even care enough to go beyond first draft. Lots of ideas, not lots of completion. I have even noticed lately because of the social and economic crisis in this country I find myself overwhelmed with the options about what I spend my time pursuing—my own personal information overload.

And it’s not just me. People I teach and coach who are trying to make changes in their lives report this kind of overload of callings, options, opportunities and a defeatist feeling that creeps in and leaves them paralyzed.

Over the last year I finally figured out what Dr. Sylwester was trying to tell me.

Deepok Chopra defines intuition as a form of intelligence beyond the rational mind. When intuition is engaged the pre-frontal cortex lights up and gathers the contextual, relational and holistic information in the brain and offers up the connected dots as a “gut feeling,” a “knowing” that is outside the realm of rational thought (outside the research). For me it’s a voice from my core. When I listen and follow I am always glad. When I don’t I wish I had. When Dr. Sylwester told me to write about what I know, instead of some kind of accumulation of knowledge he meant my internal knowing.

As a gift to further my understanding the universe sent me an herbalist/healer dude who I was told had a certain magic that accompanied his herbs. So I gathered up my hankies and my writer’s angst and headed to see if he could help. In a single treatment he rid me of the sneezing, but he was just as interested in what I told him was a longing to find my writer’s voice. This was a topic close to his heart, because he has been working to craft his own pen for some time. He described for me the process he uses to get quiet and listen, and then he does what his intuition tells him to do. Previously he too had worked outside in trying to take topics and put them in words. Now he writes what he knows from inside out.

There certainly is a little magic in his space where I seem to spew out random thoughts trying to explain what is happening for me, and my epiphanies. He looked at me the other day as if it was so clear, “All of these random thoughts are connected. You just connected them. This is not an accident. Your job as writer is to connect them for your reader. And when you go inside and find that place within that has something to say and is connected to your passion, the space between the letters will be filled with joy that your readers will detect.”

Deepok Chopra in his quiet and unassuming (but oh so revered) way speaks about the process for tapping into this intuitive knowing. “Still the mind, ask a question, feel the body and it will guide you in making evolutionary choices.”

And for me this is a gift, a new way to look at sitting (or if you prefer the term meditating). When it was an outside in thing—others’ imposed, good for me, good for my health—I struggled to make it relevant (though I have been known to enjoy community meditation and I regularly do yoga). But meditation has a whole new context for me when I am sitting with an idea, getting quiet (that is disregarding all that chatter and information overload) and waiting for my internal knowing to speak, and knowing now I am there to interpret—the substance of my writing.
If you are attempting to make change, is it possible your life is moving so fast and there are so many options you are feeling overloaded, and this is the reason you feel immobilized? Are you trying to work from outside in? Is this a good enough reason for you to sit (in meditation) with your question and figure out what you know? Can you be patient with yourself as you cultivate this knowing into your own personal road map for where to go and what to do next?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Learning to cry

"The body remembers what the mind forgets."
Jacob Levy Moreno

I’m learning to cry after decades of holding back. Until recently I didn't know I didn't cry, or I guess I thought my ability to suck it up and figure things out was some kind of Medal of Honor. What I found out is my ability to move forward on the changes I’m trying to make in my life was arrested by old stuff lodged in my heart because I harbored old pain.

There are books written in recent years about sensitive kids and people. Looking back I was one. My hypersensitivity was likely exacerbated by the death of my father when I was five and the expectation from the adults in my life that one moves on. But I cried. A lot. I cried when the kids ran too fast and I cried when I couldn't play in the grass because of allergies. I cried when kids made fun of me because my dad was gone. I cried when people looked at me cross ways.

My ill-equipped elders—a mom, aunt and uncle that called me “cry baby”— didn't understand that you can’t cajole a kid out of being overly sensitive. I even remember their exasperation when they finally got to the I’ll-give-you-something-to-cry-about end of their rope. They inadvertently sent me underground. This is not blame. It is just the story of a child who became an expert at holding back or minimizing tears.

Then I practiced for decades. I held up through two marriages, raising two kids by myself and leaving corporate America to start my own business. I have been the guardian for my declining Mom for six years. Who had time to cry?

In recent years as I watch the demise of my Mom who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, when someone asks, “How do you feel about all this?” I have been known to say on numerous occasions, “No sense crying about it, you just figure it out.”

We have all heard about the benefits of laughing. So goes crying. Tear expert Dr. William Frey discovered that stress hormones and other toxins are released, “feel-good” hormones are produced and the heart is healed by emotional tears. Good stuff. What Dr. Frey doesn’t talk about is the emotions (and potentially actions) that get stuck when we lack outlet for the emotions that are released by crying.
Things started adding up for me with a little observation.
First, I have hyperventilated since I was a kid under certain kinds of stress. One can only imagine it began when I learned how to stuff sadness and anger early on. More recently I have noticed a tendency when I have reserved writing time (I’m working on being a writer) to notice myself hyperventilating. My heart would be heavy and I struggled to catch my breath.  
Next I have a pretty accomplished massage therapist who teaches Hakomi, a body-mind practice that helps patients connect physical ailments with psychological disturbances. When he inserts a bit of Hakomi in my massage and has me envision connections between body parts to help me integrate fully (most specifically my head and my heart), I struggle to make a connection, like there is an impenetrable wall around my heart.
Add the herbalist/healer for my seasonal allergies who has been talking with me about what feels like a lack of clarity and direction for my writing, and the revelation the other day when I mentioned the pain in my shoulder and his suggestion we pause long enough to sit with it and ask about its origin. Sure enough it only took a split second of sitting with that pain to be struck by the sadness and anger lodged there by the demise of my mother and the responsibility it incurs. Seven tissues later the shoulder pain was gone. My breathing had cleared and my heart felt lighter.
Ignited by the insight I agreed to talk to a psychic. I was intrigued by the work another friend has been doing with this particular psychic and couldn't help myself take advantage of a birthday special offer. I've never talked to a reader before but I believe in my friend’s clairvoyant abilities and her psychic has been working with her to perfect them. Sure enough in the session this psychic could read the disconnect between my head and heart without me saying anything. She recommended releasing the stress that makes my heart heavy in order to get unstuck with my writing.
Once I tasted the sweet salt of tears, there was no going back. As I revealed my experiences and my Sweetie asked me questions (only a slight I told you so in his demeanor) I cried on his shoulder. I cried when I told my best friends my story. I cried when an eagle showed up in the green way that surrounds my house. And I cried when I walked out on the deck and saw the violets my more able Mom planted in pots years ago.

It wasn't a surprise that almost immediately a poem rolled out of my gel point pen like the tears rolling down my face. Look out world, the Cry Baby is back.

Have you stuffed things that are holding you back from making the change you desire?  Are they showing up as body quirks or little ailments? What might you accomplish if you were to let them go? 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Speak your truth

with kindness and respect.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Who am I now?

Who am I now you are gone and I must live without your love and support? 
Who am I now the kids are gone and no one needs my help?
Who am I without my job and too much time on my hands?
Who am I now I cannot run or jump or ride a horse? 
Who am I now that things have changed?
Who am I now that nothing is the same?
Who am I now?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Start a revolution?

A decade ago a high school friend sent me a t-shirt with "Stop bitching, start a revolution" printed in white on black. It terrified me. I love the idea of taking action, especially when that action is driven by passion and gift. But the shirt leaves an acrid in-your-face taste in my mouth. The shirt finds its way to the bottom of the drawer year after year, but I truly want to be the kind of person that wears that shirt. So I found myself cleaning out drawers and closets as part of my new year creativity plan and found this shirt. I folded it on top of the stack and had to decide whether to keep it or be counted among the re-purposed clothes and goods or if I would wear it. 

The shirt truly is a presence in the room, perched a little higher, a little better than the underlings. It dared me to put it on. No wonder I am afraid of the thing.

"Do I have to start a revolution in order to be enough?" I asked no one in particular.

I wondered if the shirt somehow had made me feel lesser so I couldn't wear it. I laughed at the thought.And then it came to me. The shirt doesn't judge me because I haven't yet found a way to establish world peace or open a women's health clinic in Tanzania. The shirt reminds me to take action. Taking action counter to any status quo by definition is revolution. Revolution is a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something. If I choose to engage only in nonviolent communication no matter what or if I find a way to balance my life or help others create their best lives, I create a revolution that not only changes me but everyone that engages with me. Sigh of relief. I am the kind of person who wears the shirt.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Changing vicariously through K

There is one kind of resistance to change that gets under my skin, especially when I see it in myself. Enter student “K” (smart, loving, responsible) who still haunts me. I know everyone finds their own answers—actually the only answers that work. And no one can possibly represent K’s viewpoint but K, but it was difficult to grasp her lack of will to alter her life. I hugged her while she streamed silent tears of resign. She is blinded by her own reality and too tired to make a move. I wasn't surprised when she opted out of group meetings dwarfed by work and home responsibilities. For the present and immediate future she steadied herself in the life she knows. I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed.

(If we pay attention the lessons will come.) I met S, a spiritual guide type who makes her living partly by leading tours and selling the photos captured in the moment in Hawaii. We dug deeply into conversation from our meeting. She planted a thought about K that has been composting ever since. She wondered if I was able to search my own life and find a corollary way I am stuck, and by working on my own stuckness increase K’s ability to get unstuck--a kind of karmic energy inserted into my interconnected community.

A quick examination of my own life pretty quickly uncovered my similarities to K. I tend to feel overwhelmed with outside events (aging parent, people, deadlines, sometimes money, the long list of responsibilities and paperwork) and use that as my excuse not to write (or write everyday). It feels a lot like being a victim of my own choices. “Victim” has it roots in the early religious notions of suffering, sacrifice and death in the ancient civilizations, especially in Babylonia, Palestine, Greece, and Rome. When it comes to making changes, I occasionally and quietly assume the victim stance. A-a-r-g-h.

But I’m in the mood for transformation and the promise of a new year adds motivation. I can make a change in my own behavior, and if it somehow helps K so be it. For me change means scheduling and guarding regular time for thinking, writing, and editing. In my life, what gets scheduled gets done. So I went through my fresh, clean calendar and committed in ink large blocks of creative time through June (a good time for a progress check). Send me good thoughts for making it stick. I’m off to a good start. K wherever you are and whatever you are doing I hope you are benefiting somehow. 

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.