Monday, September 5, 2016

Blatnik Bridge

I took my fears with me on vacation. In June, I rented a lovely cottage on the shores of Lake Superior, in Bayfield, Wisconsin; only to find it was on the cliffs. I have a fear of heights. I had two of my grandchildren with me, the younger two. Even when my own children were young, if they got too close to any railings that overlooked anything, my heart would choke, and my knees go weak. I had this feeling on and off while we stayed there. I worried that I’d rented a place that was ‘dangerous’. We were all fine, there were fences around the property, with beautiful overlooks. Never mind that there was a huge drop and cliffs and rocks below. 

Before we even arrived in Bayfield; I had a panic attack going over the Blatnik Bridge in Duluth, this bridge takes you from Duluth towards Superior, on the way to Bayfield. I was driving and I just kept going even though I wanted to just stop the car. Once over the bridge, we realized we were going the wrong way, and guess what? To get to where we needed to go, we had to go back over the bridge. Right, I can do this. Both being lost and having to cross the bridge were difficult for me. My daughter turned on her navigation on her phone, and then realized, oh--we have to go back over the bridge again. She offered to drive but we were on the freeway system in Duluth, without any easy exits to switch seats. 

I drove over the bridge again. Three times all together. Why does my body do this to me? Why do some people get a thrill at things that totally turn me into jelly? I was angry too, and wanted to problem solve. There should be a warning, or a lane that goes 20 miles per hour for those of us who not only don’t want to be up that high, in the wind, but also going so fast. Don’t the people who build these bridges and set the speed limits on them understand that some of us have fears, phobias? It seemed insensitive. My heart still tightens thinking about it. I white knuckled it and talked myself through it. 

Taking all this in stride, I did kayak Lake Superior. The whole family went. This was excitement I could handle. We had two amazing guides and when the water was too rough by the cliffs we turned back. The views were stunning and keeping the kayaks going in the right direction was a fun challenge. I’d been doing yoga for over a year now, trying to build my strength to kayak, and so this was a huge personal success, even though my daughter Megan (in the back of the two seater kayak) did most of the heavy paddling work.

All in all, the vacation was wonderful and too short. I did not pull over on the bridge; that seemed even more scary that to just keep going. I want to trust my body, know that it can do amazing things, even if it tells me it was not created for such heights. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Meloncholy Baby

I’ve been reading Patti Smith’s M Train. Erin gave it to me for Christmas. I’d read passages of it and the writing was so beautiful I put it on my Christmas list. It is a gift, and yet in reading it, it takes me into a place of words that twist and beguile in a way that I feel lost in my own past, the way the author gets lost in her past. And it makes me worry about aging, about getting old. The way even thinking about Patti Smith when she was young makes me feel, somehow musty, dusty. I become afraid, and I have to tell myself, to just shake it off, move on, life is good, vibrant. 

What does young mean anyway? For me it was unfettered, before children, before being accountable for someone’s life. When I traveled, as Smith recounts traveling. When I was in Paris, London, Rome, even Berlin, before the wall came down. A busload of college students traveling through Europe. Before I got married, making a note of the places I’d return to: Hydra, Prague, Saas-Almagell in Switzerland. I have memories of walking the beach on the French Riviera, dark narrow streets in Venice. On our honeymoon we went to Paris, London, and Stratford on Avon, but once the babies started coming, I was home, and Steve traveled the world not with me, but with Prince. 

I’m accustomed to women writers, hip mamas, whose lives are about mothering. I’m surprised that Smith doesn’t talk much about her children, she wishes she could see them as they were when they were little again. I’ve thought of this, of how my babies would run to me, how they were bursting with newness about everything, and now they are adults, so different, and yet, the same. I envy her this detachment, at least in her writing. I measure it masculine against feminine, how cool ‘girls’ were the ones more like the boys, detached. I also worry that this is what happens in aging, that the important times, the immersion in the mess of parenting or relationship, is what really counts, and nothing else counts, now. 

Like a shadow life. I’m afraid of a shadow life. I was pulled back into the past just yesterday by Kathleen. Trying to make sense of her own beliefs about herself, about life. Remembering the horrible therapist I took her to when she was so little, who encouraged I punish her. I colluded against my beautiful daughter, I did not understand what I know now. And all I can say, is I’m sorry. I’d wish I’d known better, I wish I could go back and hold your beautiful child self and offer understanding for all of it. Winnicott* says that a child needs to believe that their emotions will not annihilate their mother. I did not let you believe that. I believed that your emotions were too potent, too powerful, and I didn’t know what to do with them, or with you when you were overcome with your own beautiful feelings. 

Feel them all, let their beautiful messages about life and love and everything in the world inform you more than MSN, more than Facebook, more than Tolle or Smith or anyone else. I have not been the perfect mother, I have placed some things as more valuable than others and sought after these. But Nature Boy spoke the truth; The greatest thing you'll ever learn, Is just to love and be loved in return. I’ll finish M Train, it’s a beautiful read, but then I need to move on out of this melancholia that began in the fall. Return to bright colors, scents of spring, the past few months too dark. 

*With the care that it receives from its mother each infant is able to have a personal existence, and so begins to build up what might be called a continuity of being. On the basis of this continuity of being the inherited potential gradually develops into an individual infant. If maternal care is not good enough then the infant does not really come into existence, since there is no continuity of being; instead the personality becomes built on the basis of reactions to environmental impingement.(Winnicott, 1960)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Hail Mary Pass

Our first teachings are our real religion-- they are what guide us on our way. Jesus loves me this I know but what love feels like I’ve come to feel as fear, as judgment, as not good enough, ever. Would you die for your fellow man? So I make myself small. We are all dressed up complete with lacy veil upon my head, as my mom’s head is covered, too. We are women and not allowed to be in the church with our heads uncovered. My dad’s head is uncovered, his words unfiltered as we drive to and from mass. He is swearing, and I am scared and wonder how his mind throws so much anger about. The car is full of anger, and again, I am full of fear. If I can’t sit still in church my mom will give me a dirty look. I want to cry, again, to overflow with the things that I have no words for. 

Just last night, when my sister spoke back, he struck her and I lay in my bed, in the room I shared with my sister, too scared to intervene. In my head I want to run down the stairs and scream at him to stop it, but I don’t. I stay small quiet. Pretending to be asleep has come to be part of my survival repertoire. Would you die for your sister? Would you be able to spare her life? I would not pass the test, I may not get into heaven, anyway. But still I try to be good, be quiet, not have any needs that might exasperate anyone.  

Who is in charge here? My mom feels confident that my dad will never strike her, and he doesn’t, yet us children are at his mercy, and at times, at her mercy, too. She yells and hits and threatens, too; but sometimes hums and talks about better times. She talks with her sister on the phone, maybe she’ll come for a visit and the yelling and hitting will subside. Hail Mary full of grace, where are you really, when I need you? You are holding baby Jesus in a way I’ve longed to be held, cradled, safe. 

Look at the pictures of the Holy Family, Joseph, teaching Jesus at his carpenter’s bench, so peaceful, so loving, before Jesus goes off to his gruesome death. I go down the basement to my dad’s workbench and get out my paints. I feel safe down here, connected to dad stuff, work stuff, important stuff, my dad shows me how to clean my brushes with turpentine. My mom hangs my still life of rose in a vase on the wall on the staircase landing. I am a good girl; smart and talented. 

I want to be like Jesus and travel around, making friends, making statements, being controversial, but I don’t want to die a horrible death. I want to be happy. By the time I am only 11 years old, my oldest sister has become pregnant and married to her boyfriend. She used to tell me that our parents should get divorced, this just confused me too. The fighting starts to end. It is only me and my younger brothers in the house. My dad isn’t angry enough to hit us anymore. The older siblings tell us how lucky we are. My dad still scares me, my mom still confuses me. I try harder to be smarter, better, a good girl, waiting for Mary’s embrace, approval from my lord Jesus, a smile from Joseph. 

Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
To whom God's love
commits me here,
Ever this day,
be at my side,
To light and guard,
Rule and guide.

I am never alone. God, and his angels, see every, every, little thing I do. I need to be guided, because I on my own know no good thing. Every day there is something that confuses me. Dodging slings and arrows. I secretly start to disbelieve or believe that perhaps I am crazy. Just a little bit crazy. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year

"They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold. I deem them mad because they think my days have a price."   Kahlil Gibran

Since I’ve been on the other side of 50, I have this feeling that I’ll never quite have time to do all the things in life that I’d like to do. If at 20, I had no clue of all the things that were possible, I now see possibilities everywhere, and know that I mostly just have to choose. I used to see so many obstacles; gender, class, money, location. I now know that those things are entirely constructed and therefore, can be deconstructed, and moved through or around. That I did not know at 20. 

So, how do I structure my days, “spend” my time? I am learning the opposite of what I believed to be true about money and the arts. It is that not only can you make money in the arts, you can make money doing what you like to do, and create more time to do what you love to do. It is actually less risky than I’d come to believe, in that you learn to trust yourself and the universe to support you, rather than a hierarchical institution. As I write these words, I almost can sense the pushback, there must still be some vestiges inside of me, of the belief that we can’t actually have what we want. Like it is wrong of me to even tell myself and others that. But I know we can, because I continue to get more and more of what I want in life all the time. Now, it's just choosing how I want to spend my time. 

I’ve been asking myself, then what do I want to do the most going forward? There have been a few projects on my mind. 1) Getting my memoir, Mother Love, polished and published. I wrote this around 10 years ago, in response to people asking how it was that Kathleen was able to be such a young mom, and still go on to get a graduate degree; and also as an encouragement (manifesto?) that young parenthood is not really that different than parenthood at any other age.  2) Creating and teaching courses for other therapists for continuing education, and/or creating courses for people in general. 3) Finishing the Etsy site I started nearly 2 years ago and build a website to sell my handcrafted jewelry. 

Instead of focusing on one of these things, I just keep kicking about all three of them in my head, and end up not doing any of them. I haven’t even really been writing much this past year. I didn’t realize that being a full-time therapist is actually very time and energy consuming, and even though I love it, I also have other things I want to do, too. So, if I own my time, and if I can do what I want, how do I choose? Well, somehow, crafting my memoir has become my priority. I have gotten enough feedback from people to know that I need to start the rewrites, and I’ve started to think more about it, and soon, soon, I will just open up the pages and start the process of editing and visioning the whole project. As I write this even, I find it a bit daunting.

The daunting part is quieting the voices that tell me it's too late, that I'm too old, that ask how much do I think I can have in life. That tell me a quiet life is ok, that I don't need to imagine book tours and speaking about being supportive of our kids, no matter what. It's a trip I started on years ago, and I've had a chance to rest a bit. It's now time to get back on that road, and just see where it takes me. I want a chance to say, in my own voice, that when we love each other, imperfectly, of course, it still makes a difference. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

You Can't Always Get

What you want, what’s that about? Seriously, what is what we want about? I’m been thinking about this lately. Thinking about what I want and how do I get what I want, and how important is this. I think it is important, and I’m not quite sure why, but it has something to do with efficacy. Efficacy literally means; the ability to produce a desired or intended result. If we don’t know what we want, how to we produce a life we desire, a life that is meaningful, intentional? 

Yet how many of us were told as we were growing up that we could indeed, have what we wanted? I know I wasn’t. I don’t even know if it was something that was possible. I rarely, if ever got what I wanted, and the one time I remember getting what I wanted, I was ridiculed over it. What I was taught, indoctrinated into really, was the idea of sacrifice. That this was the meaning of life. 

The Red Plaid Dress

When I was about 7 or maybe 8, I took the bus downtown with my mom to shop at Dayton’s department store. This was a big deal, shopping with mom was a treat, as one of eight kids, we rarely got one on one time with her. Dressing well was really important to my mom. When she was out of high school, she worked at both Donaldson's and Dayton's department stores, and knew what better dresses were. She told me often of the beautiful dresses she and her sister would buy when they were young. This was the 60's and looking well-dressed was probably the most important thing in her world. This was what the hippies soon rebelled against, and we may never again see the well-heeled world that I, as a youngster grew up in. 

I don’t remember the occasion, or much else about it, but I do remember trying on dresses; and then my mom asking what dress I wanted. I wanted the red plaid dress. My mom didn’t think it suited me, but I remember really wanting that dress, and so my mom broke down and bought it for me. On the bus ride home, my mother was upset that she’d let me have my way, and she let me know that she thought it was a bad choice. I’d chosen the wrong dress. 

I don’t remember the actual event as much as I remember my mom telling this story about it, many times over. She was upset that she’d bought the dress for me; and then I never wanted to wear the dress, since it was associated with such bad feelings. And then, me not wanting to wear the dress, prompted the story that my mom would even tell to strangers on the bus. It seemed like that year, every time we went somewhere together, my mother would tell this story. The story about how I made such a bad choice, and how my mother bought this dress for me and then I never wore it. She would tell this story in front of me, and I would feel the pain and embarrassment, over and over again with each telling. 

So, now that my children are mostly grown, and I don’t have to devote almost all my energy to taking care of them, and I’ve worked toward a career that suits and supports me, what do I want? I feel a little trepidation even asking myself that, as if to want in and of itself is not cool. “Who me, no, I’m fine, I don’t want anything.” Cool as a cucumber in my not wanting anything. Yet this story haunts me lately, I think it has something to tell me. 

I don’t have the answers yet, on how this wanting is an important part of being human, but it’s on my mind. And I think if we let ourselves want what we want, we can be powerful in our lives. Which is yet another whole piece of the puzzle-- another emotion that we mostly don’t want children to feel: powerful. I'm relearning to let myself want what I want, to know what I want, and to feel powerful enough to believe I can have it, and then get it. We'll see where this goes. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lost October

It’s October 26, nearly the end of the month and the sky this morning, at 7:00 am was still dark, dark, dark. It lightened slowly by degrees until at 7:30 it was light enough to tell that the sky was overcast. Good, it somehow feels better that way. Today is Mary’s birthday, my friend from Catholic grade school who got kicked out of seventh grade with me. Even though it was acknowledged that I was the ringleader of the underground newspaper, because she had helped, (and was my best friend), she too was suspended. It was both of my sisters’ birthdays on October 11 (not twins, one was born on the other one’s birthday); and I have cards for all three of them around here somewhere. 

In September, I’d come down with some hellish cold or something, and was not feeling very well for weeks, along with my daughter. So, things weren’t really being very well kept up. At the end of September, I closed my private practice office in St. Louis Park, in preparation to be full-time with the group practice at Catalyst that I’d been part-time with. I was very excited for this move, but it meant that I had to get rid of my living room furniture to make room for the office furniture that was now going to go in my living room, and so in preparation for this we painted my living room and dining room. I had a lot going on. 

On October 5, our new Catalyst offices opened in Bloomington and I was excited for this new part of my career, no longer on my own, but fully part of a supportive group practice.  On Wednesday, October 7, as I was happily driving to Bloomington, trying to figure out how to configure my new office space, I got a phone call from my oldest daughter, Kathleen. “Mom, are you driving? Will you please pull over?” Fortunately there was a grocery store just there and I pulled into the parking lot. It was then that my daughter told me that her two sons’ dad, Jay, had been found dead in Iowa. The saddest news I think I’ve ever heard. Jay and Kathleen weren’t together, but they were friends, and continued to parent together. They had known each other since Junior High. 

I continued to my office, while my middle daughter Erin made her way to Kathleen’s. I cancelled all my clients and then drove to Kathleen’s to wait while she and Erin went to pick up Max, 13, at his school, to tell him that his dad had died. I then drove Max and Kathleen to Medford, to Jay’s parent’s home, outside of Owatonna, where Kathleen’s oldest son, Elliot, 18, had been living. We mourned and wondered what had happened. The days before the service were a blur. That next Saturday was the funeral, closed casket, so not much closure, especially for the boys. So sad to bury a young man, so many mourning a young dad, a son, a brother, a friend, an uncle, a bereaved girlfriend. 

Somehow, weeks before, in the midst of the painting and the moving, I had convinced my family to plan for a weekend in Wisconsin, and I’d reserved a cabin in the woods in Bayfield, Wisconsin. And so, a week after burying Jay, we drove the 4-5 hours to Bayfield and were able to just spend time together. It was a beautiful weekend, only slightly marred by Kathleen and I fighting briefly on the way home. We were both tired and hungry and grieving, figuring out how to be there for each other in the midst of pain and loss. Kathleen was at times overcome by the weariness of it. 

And now, now it is the end of October, plans are being made for dinner out for Thanksgiving. I am grateful for this. I want to settle back into the day to day, the gratitude for little things, the taking for granted of everyone in my life, knowing that really-- we can take nothing, nothing, for granted, and each breath we breathe is precious. I want to move past dreams of my dad, who died nearly 14 years ago, the sam year Max was born. Dreams that he is still alive, but just in the other room. Dreams of my parents still together in the same house I grew up in, even though my mom is in an assisted care apartment, way up North, where my sister lives. I want to dream of Bayfield, of hot tea with Kathleen and Elliot, after a long walk on a trail with Andy and Audrey, overlooking Lake Superior. Kathleen, Erin and Megan all doing yoga on the screen porch surrounded by trees. The colors of leaves reminding me of the upbeat Boy George song, Karma Chameleon, because the beautiful autumn leaves are red, gold and green. 

Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon
You come and go
You come and go
Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dream
Red, gold and green
Red, gold and green

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reverse Engineering Your Life

We are a culture that values working and productivity. We start our wee little ones out in kindergarten now with a full day ahead of them. Just last week my granddaughter started kindergarten and when she didn’t get off the bus when my daughter was there to pick her up, the bus driver found her asleep on the bus seat. I will admit I am ambivalent in many ways about our values and our systems. 

Just recently, I read an article that questioned if following our passion is really a good idea; is this really a way to make our way in life? The author was critical of this idea and skeptical. Maybe rightly so. We have so many messages that we are bombarded with these days, especially now with social media, it’s confusing. And with the style of writing that is becoming the norm, the quick, witty, everybody’s an expert 2 minute read, it’s hard to know really, what the person’s expertise really is.

Without really wanting to be an expert, with trusting the wisdom that I have from my emotions, from my body, this in a way, has become my expertise. I have learned that what we do does not necessarily generate the feelings that we want to feel, unless we are doing things that we are passionate about. It doesn’t even have to be doing something that we are passionate about in the short term as long as it aligns with something that we are passionate about (the outcome). 

But what our culture does, from the time we are very very young, is train us to perform. This is what our schools do, and this is the subtle value that creep into children’s minds: you are only as good as your performance. This value is within the overarching value that your time is no longer your own. You need a hug from mom, too bad, you are at school until the school day ends. Your time is not your own. Your teacher has power over you, and the power to discredit you to your parents and your peers. Your voice is small. 

And so, in the structure of school, what happens to our emotions, the way we feel? And at home, what happens to our emotions, the way we feel? Do we learn that our feelings matter, or do we continue to try to figure out how to perform in ways that will get us promoted? From one grade to the next, from one school to the next, and on and on from high school to college to the working world. And in between these transitions, how are we feeling? Good enough, smart enough, loved enough, seen, heard? 

What if we as a culture, focused more on how we felt, and less on how we think? And what if we believed that if we just left children to their curiosity and passion for learning that they would grow up just fine? Until we do that, how can we as adults change the values we've internalized about how life works, and create lives that have meaning, that support us, and that we feel passionate about?

I have become a firm believer in reverse engineering your life, this means, you decide how you want to feel, the values that are important to you, and then you let the universe fill in the blanks. I’ve done this off and on in my life and it works. I have no magic formula other than figuring out what has felt good, and what you want to feel more of. When I was newly divorced, and hadn’t worked in years and had to get a job, I had just finished my undergraduate degree at Augsburg weekend college. I had been commuting weekends from Owatonna to Minneapolis, and I loved being back in the city. And so, when I had to get a job back in Owatonna, I imagined to myself, “I want a job that feels like I did while I was at Augsburg.” I did this more wistfully than willfully, not quite knowing the power of creating how we feel. 

After a couple of terrible temp jobs, I ended up working (through the temp agency) at the front desk of a conference center owned by the University of St. Thomas, right down the road, in Owatonna. I hadn’t even known this center existed in the little town I lived in. The job was a good fit, I liked how I felt being there, even though being a receptionist was not what I envisioned. I was hired full-time and eventually promoted to the sales and marketing assistant. It was a job that I loved for most of the time I was there. 

It was actually that job, that fueled my interest in being a therapist. While there, we had life coaches and teachers come in and present seminars and teach. I was intrigued by a profession in which you could study and learn and share what you’d learned; either one on one, or in a group. That you could connect with people on a level that was not about their performance, but about their passion. 

And so, I wonder how each of us can become more connected with how we feel, and if we can conjure up in our imaginations not just where we want to be, not just a professional fit, but a professional feeling? How do you want to feel every day, how do you want to spend your days? How does someone come to believe that when they are a child and they love the sea, that they can play in the sea every day and become a marine biologist, instead of an engineer in an office? Is it ok to love your life, to value your time, to not mark your days by the time clock, but by the sunrise and sunset? How do you reverse engineer your life, to create a life that feels so good, your vacations melt right into your schedule? I believe it’s possible when we connect to our emotions, use our imaginations and trust that we can do what we want in life, being real, not performing. 

I also believe in the power of writing down the things that we want in life, and so rather than writing out the profession you want, or the things you want to accomplish, make a list of what you value and how you want to feel: 

I am in a place where the people are supportive and I feel accepted. 
The days are going by peacefully as I hear the sound of the ocean nearby. 
The people I work with are happy to be there and we combine ingenuity with collaboration. 

What's on your list?