Three Things, Issue Forty-Five

ONE: JUNE

It’s the third of June, issue 45. Nearly halfway through 2018. So many words written in just under a year. Far more words than I wrote in the previous three years. But no submissions. Zero.

It was back in January when I published this post and publicly proclaimed that 2018 was going to be my year of submission. I had steeled myself to receive a litany of rejections throughout the year, knowing rejections are inevitable on the path to acceptance in a writer’s world. And yet.

I haven’t submitted a thing. I entered a writing contest and then didn’t win, if that counts. Does that count? I have several essays that are waiting in the wings to be nipped and tucked and embellished into something worthy of submission. I have ideas for two books that are just chomping at the bit to be fleshed out and proposed. And yet.

Writing my Three Things blog has been fantastic for honing the discipline of my craft. It’s made me write, which is exactly what it was intended for. But it takes up a lot of my time and takes me away from focusing on other stuff.

Like submissions. And book proposals. I’ve even been conjuring up ideas for another yoga retreat.

My original intention was to take Three Things out for a full year–52 weeks–and then reduce it down to either twice a month or a once-monthly installment. I still need the discipline of a looming deadline to keep me moving forward, so I’m not throwing in the towel completely. Three Things has become a part of me, one that I would miss and mourn if it died. So, this isn’t goodbye, but I may be scaling it down a bit in the weeks to come. Rest assured, I’m still knee-deep in recipes that I’ll be posting once I’ve got them developed to delicious perfection. Music, too, as we dive into the festivals and concerts and new releases of summer.

My yoga practice has taught me the importance of living life intentionally. It’s so easy to get swept up in the clatter and din of the world and lose focus of the kind of life I’m hoping to build. June is a terrific time to press pause, take inventory and readjust the trajectory of our energy if we’ve drifted off course.

How ’bout you? Does your life GPS need a bit of recalculation?

TWO: TRIGGERS

There’s this thing I do whenever I’m in a big group setting and things are being handed out–it could be papers or pencils or slices of birthday cake at a party–and I’m the only one who didn’t get one. I start to spiral downward. I feel my face get hot as I try to swallow my embarrassment and look blithely around the room in an attempt to masquerade my reaction. It’s usually an innocent oversight, with no personal attack intended. But it doesn’t matter.

Being overlooked and forgotten is a trigger of mine.

I know it stems, in part, from my place in my family of origin. The youngest by far in a family of seven. I cried a lot when I was a little girl, always needing my mother’s attention. Her exasperated sighs and tired eyes and wishing I wasn’t so clingy. My neediness embarrassed her and me. Youngest child, middle child, oldest of the pack–we all carry with us emotional baggage from our youth. And this is just one of mine–I have a whole cast of triggers from life with my violent brother, years of disordered eating, body dysmorphia and compulsive exercise.

What’s yours?

Being forgotten is the trigger of mine that happened to raise its ugly head recently when I was inadvertently left off a group email for an upcoming event. There was no malice intended, no ulterior motive, just simple forgetfulness. I laughed it off at first, but then noticed the familiar sink of my heart and the sharp sting of feeling less than. Unseen. I sat with my sad soup of emotion for a bit, stirred it around and let it simmer. And then I put it in its place and moved on. No one needed to manage my trigger but me.

I belong to a very active Facebook group for fans of a particular podcast and several times a week, someone within the group will post a story with what seems to be a mile of cautionary “trigger warning!” preamble.

Trigger warning: talking about doctor appointments! Trigger warning: lost kittens! Trigger warning: visits with the in-laws! Trigger warning: thunder and lightning! Trigger warning: spiders!

I’m not even kidding. I roll my eyes and scroll on past.

It makes me sad to think we’ve all become so hypersensitive that we look to others to curate a trigger-free world for us. I’d like to believe that we’re self-aware and responsible enough to know and deal with the tough stuff that comes our way. Because it will. Because that’s life. We don’t have control over what anyone else says or does, but we always have control over our reactions.

I can control my reactions. And if I can’t, that’s my issue, not yours.

Expecting trigger warnings for every little thing that holds potential for upsetting someone diminishes the importance of recognizing those who struggle with serious issues of trauma and PTSD. Victims of violent crime, combat veterans, abuse survivors. If my innocuous Facebook post about my dog reminded you of Buster the bulldog from your childhood and propelled you into a tailspin of pent-up grief and mourning, I’m sorry. But your reaction is yours to deal with.

Becoming more self-aware and accountable for our actions and reactions makes everyone’s life a bit easier. And yeah, it takes time and effort, maybe a bit of counseling or therapy. Develop a meditation practice or another mode of self-inquiry. Get quiet and painfully honest with yourself.

Take your finger off the trigger.

THREE: NO APOLOGY NECESSARY

She was a petite woman in my chair-based yoga class, asking where some of the older chairs had disappeared to. We had recently updated our stash of chairs and the shiny, new ones had seats that were at least an inch or two higher. It’s important that the yogis are able to easily place their feet on the floor while seated all the way back in the chair. The woman lowered her voice and whispered, “I’m sorry I’m so short. I’m embarrassed to have to ask.”

“First of all,” I replied, looking her squarely in the eyes, “don’t ever, ever, ever apologize for your body! Secondly, I’ll find you those chairs and finally, you’re not the only one who has asked me about them.” A look of relief washed across her face as she flashed a shy smile and sighed.

Don’t apologize for your body.

I was nearing the end of a first-aid training at a local YMCA when the instructor had us take a break before the final exam. The private, single-use bathroom nearby was occupied, so I stood in the hallway, waiting my turn. Soon, the door swung open and a young woman in her early twenties emerged. She saw me waiting in the hallway and sheepishly gasped, “Oh, sorry!” as she slipped out of the bathroom.

What are you apologizing for? I wanted to ask her. For using the bathroom and making me wait? For taking up space? Or are you apologizing out of habit because this is what you’ve learned to do as a woman?

Don’t apologize for taking up space. Ever. Ever, ever, ever.

My friend was telling me about her trip to Disneyland, grousing about the distracted crowds, faces in phones, everyone so unaware of their bodies in space. I loved how she talked about making herself bigger to withstand the bumper-car-barrage of clueless bodies constantly coming her way. Shoulders back, elbows out, chin high. I loved how she showed her daughter how to do it, too.

How many women do you see striding confidently through a crowd? How many men do you see trying to shrink and become less-than? It’s a man’s world–or at least it has been, historically. I think it’s time we begin to change that up.

For so long, I strived to make myself as small as possible. To take up less space, be less of a bother to anyone. It was as if I walked through my days apologizing for my existence. Oh, sorry I’m herewhoops.

I’m happy to say I don’t do that anymore and neither should you. Take up space. Make some noise. Turn some heads with your loud, infectious laugh. Tell the yoga teacher you’re gonna need a different chair to better fit your remarkable body. Make your way through the weight room at the gym, shoulder-to-shoulder with all the muscle-y, preening men and high school boys and take your rightful place with the barbells and deadlifts.

Apologies are great and necessary for lots of things: stealing, betraying trust, lying, deliberately hurting someone, making a mistake. But your existence, your body and what you need requires no apology at all.

“I ain’t sorry.” ~ Beyoncé

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Four

ONE:SUMMER

It’s still officially spring, but isn’t Memorial Day the unofficial start of summer? I guess we can start wearing white now. Just kidding–you know you can wear white wherever and whenever the hell you want to, right? And anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest knows that summer doesn’t truly begin until sometime in late July. (Thankfully.)

I hate the heat, but I love the warmth and promise that arrives between late May and early July. Before the firecrackers are launched and the dog days set in, when the grass is still green and the gardens lush with blooms. It is a heady time, the air full of fragrance–warm dirt and berries, barbecue and cocoa butter.

It wasn’t long ago that I had been searching for a photo that had been downloaded onto our desktop’s library and got swept up in a wave of memories as I scrolled into the summer of 2016. A kaleidoscopic photo diary of that summer–beaches and cities and sunsets and art fairs stretched out before me. A summer rich with experiences. I grew nostalgic and even a bit envious of the summer I had that year. Last summer–2017–had felt different and I wondered why.

A torn meniscus and the resulting pain and limited mobility. A crushed spirit. Lost mojo. Energy drained. I told my friend I didn’t want to go to the drag races last summer because it would be “too hot and too loud” and then regretted missing the heat and roar and the dusty parking lot where we’d wait out the lengthy line of exiting race fans, sitting on the open hatch of my Prius with cool drinks, limp sandwiches and deep conversation.

I closed my photo library on the desktop and immediately messaged my friend, instructing him to write up a wish list of things to do this summer. Concerts, fairs, day trips, restaurants, hikes–bring it on. I told him I would be doing the same and we’d meet up and commit to a calendar of events. We made plans to meet for brunch on a rainy Sunday in March and hatch our summer agenda.

We never made it to brunch that day because I spent the afternoon with the Mister and my daughter in a hospital room in Tacoma, holding the warm hand of an unconscious young woman on life support. A brilliant young woman whom we loved, who–for whatever reason–couldn’t face the future. Her sister, bustling about, taking care of everyone and their sadness, her plans for the future immediately paused and altered in the chaos of life and death.

It is such a privilege to be able to plan. It is a gift to be able to look forward.

This summer, I am not taking that privilege for granted. I now have two knees sporting torn meniscus but my spirit is strong and my mojo is back in town. There will be concerts outdoors and crowded art fairs where I will grouse about the “too many people” and then laugh at my crabby, judgmental self. Ferry rides, just because. Sunsets over water and back fences and forests. Sunrises on those early Thursday mornings when I rise before dawn to teach yoga. Sunrises that I will pause for and notice how very sweet the early morning summer air smells. Snakes on trails. A chorus of frogs at dusk. Showing more skin and caring less. Sunscreen.

Next summer is not guaranteed. Living fully through this summer–through tomorrow and the next day–is a privilege I will not take for granted.

Now, tell me your plans for this one wild and precious summer.

TWO: LETTERS

Twenty years from now, will you hold that heartfelt text from your best friend in your hands and smile at their handwriting and feel their presence?

Probably not. That makes me sad.

I hold the same nostalgic romanticism about letter writing as I do about baking one’s own bread or the musty bouquet between the pages of an old book or bellying up to the bar in the diviest watering hole in town, if you can still find one.

When people tell stories about finding a stack of letters bound by string or elastic, I feel a tingle down my spine. Words and paper, handwriting and emotion, all bundled together for someone to hold up to their nose and inhale. Tangible and real, an exchange of communication between humans that you can touch and feel and hold in your hands. I love it so much.

I’ve always been a letter-writer. I juggled a constant stream of pen pals as I was growing up and still keep in touch with a few via social media. I keep a ziplock bag of cards in an office drawer that I pull out when I think of someone and scrawl out a greeting and slide it into the mail. Whose heart doesn’t leap a little at the sight of a real postage stamp on the top right corner of a hand-addressed card or letter tucked into the monotonous stack of bills and solicitations found in most mailboxes these days?

The Mister and I met through a letter I wrote to the management company of the rock and roll band he worked with. Even then, letter writing was beginning to fade and few twenty-somethings took the time and effort to do so. I like to think it was the novelty of it that got the Mister’s attention, or perhaps it was my witty way with words or clever ideas. I wish he had kept that letter, but when you’re young and immortal you throw things away without much thought to the future.

I don’t save every birthday and Christmas card, but I do have a file folder where I stuff the ones that are covered with handwritten sentiments and love. I have a letter from my mom, sent to me when I was living on my own for the first time in Portland. She writes about going to The Sizzler with my dad and what TV shows she’s watching and how the house is too quiet without me. The sight of her meticulous, small handwriting fills me with love. I have a little note from my father, his rangy script thanking me for helping him grade a stack of college finals when he was overwhelmed with work. And if you’ve ever handed me a note or letter or a card expressing how yoga has impacted your life, that’s tucked in there, too. I take those out and read them again on days that feel hard and dark, those times when I wonder if I’m doing anything right.

I love the immediacy and efficiency of texting. I love how it keeps us in touch with each other, even with a simple kissy-face emoji when we’re too busy or tired to write more. Email is great to make plans and do business with. But you can’t hold any of it in your hands. You can’t see the familiar handwriting of your loved ones. It’s not the same and it shouldn’t replace the art and intimacy of letter writing.

So, write someone a letter today. It doesn’t have to be pages long. Tell them what they mean to you. Bring up a memory that makes you smile and write it down and share it with them. Send a birthday card, a thank-you note, a love letter. Doodle in the margins and sign your name with a flourish that feels right.

I’ll send you one, too, if you want. Message me your mailing address and I promise to put something in the mail for you.

A little something, a happy surprise for you to find in your stack of bills, to hold in your hands and maybe tuck away in a file to pull out again on your darkest days.

THREE: FLOW

I’ve been watching you lately.

You who come to my class with your head tangled up in your worries and fears. I see you.

For the first eternity after beginning to teach yoga, I never looked up. I practiced in the front of the class, on my mat, breathing and cueing and moving and sweating just like the rest of you. My need to prove myself to you. Like you wouldn’t believe me or take me seriously as a yoga teacher if I didn’t show you that I could do everything I was asking you to.

I missed out on a lot.

I missed your triumphs when you caught your first millisecond of balance in Crow Pose. I missed seeing half the class drop to their knees because I was so intent on challenging everyone–on proving something to someone, mostly myself–that I forgot about who was actually in the class and what they came for. I missed seeing your cheeky t-shirts as you rose up into that first Mountain Pose that read “mama needs a cocktail” or “made of star stuff” that would have made me smile, or even laugh and get to know you a bit better.

In teacher training, my teacher would often cue us through Sun Salutation after Sun Salutation until my shoulders burned with the fire of effort and rivers of sweat streamed down my legs. She was looking for something from us. Not grit, not endurance, not mettle.

But flow. Dropping. Releasing. Getting out of our own way. Flow, baby, flow.

That moment–that magical moment when a class collectively drops into the rhythm of their breath and gets out of themselves is stunning. You stop tugging at your top, so worried that your beautiful belly which bears the evidence of the human you built there might show. You rise to standing at the top of your mat, strands of hair plastered willy-nilly across your face with an expression of utter peace and contentment. You don’t bother to wipe the hair out of your eyes because you don’t care and your lack of caring makes me smile. There’s no hurry up or keep up or fuck up because you are being far more than doing.

It gives me chills every single time. It makes me remember why I love my job.

Recently, I had read an article about Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga yoga, which made a claim about Jois prescribing twelve Sun Salutations a day as a cure for insanity. First of all, Pattabhi Jois was not a doctor and probably should not have been prescribing anything for anybody. Secondly, I was never able to locate that article again, so I cannot vouch for its validity. But I can vouch for the medicine that yoga has the potential to be. Yoga, in its purest sense, not yoga in its commercialized and commodified form. Not the perfected postures in color coordinated outfits Photoshopped to highlight the young, thin, white model’s muscle definition. But yoga as a means of dropping ego and self and diving into the depths of breath and presence. Getting out of your manic mind and into something greater.

Meditation in motion.

I see it during Locust when you gather energy into your core and allow your breath to lift you up, almost effortlessly. I see it as you pause, taking time to find your roots and stability and then kick back and stretch forward into the balance of Dancer’s Pose. I see it in your soft, steady gaze as we hold Warrior 2 and you realize how fierce and grounded you truly are. I see it as you lower to your knees and bow to the floor in Child’s Pose, honoring the reality and truth of your body today.

In my second eternity of teaching yoga, my practice is paying attention. Watching, guiding and reminding until I see you drop the noise of yourself and flow into something greater.

I see you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Three

It’s back to basics this week, dear readers. I have a bit of Seattle music to share with you, a brand-new yoga streaming site that is wonderfully inclusive and long-overdue in the yoga world, PLUS the absolute best thing I’ve cooked in recent memory. Music, yoga and tacos. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

ONE: LA LUZ 

How tired was I Thursday night? After two consecutive nights filled with dystopian nightmares, I was tired enough to threaten to leave early from the La Luz show at The Crocodile before it even started. But something wonderful happens when you put a bit of intention, a dash of energy, a smidgen of forward momentum and your best friend waiting for you downtown that propels even the weariest of bodies into action.

You just do it.

It was nearly three years ago that I first caught La Luz at The Sunset in Ballard. Born in Seattle in 2012, this quartet led by lead singer and guitarist Shana Cleveland had been stirring up a buzz of excitement ever since their inception. The show at The Sunset was a celebration of their 2015 release, Weirdo Shrine, and I floated out of that sold-out show, their catchy melodies ear-wormed into my brain and me, a confirmed La Luz fan. Earlier this year when they announced an international tour to support their newest release, my ticket was promptly purchased.

Surf rock meets doo-wap meets fuzzy-wuzzy reverb harmonies. Welcome to La Luz.

I had been listening to their newest release, Floating Features, all week and although I love their signature happy-woozy-dreamlike sound, I worried that I’d be wishing I was barefoot and swinging in my hammock in the sun rather than standing in my Fluevogs until midnight at The Croc. Apparently, this is what getting older feels like.

Turns out, I had nothing to be worried about. In addition to the capacity crowd, La Luz hit the stage with energy to spare, thank you very much. Although leaning heavily on tracks from their most recent release, La Luz also brought out earlier material for their diehard, hometown Seattle fans. Complete with a Soul Train-esque dance-off down the middle of the venue and a bit of good-natured crowd surfing at the end, I walked out of The Croc feeling surprisingly energized and so grateful that I had dragged my sad, sleepy self downtown to see them.

These formidable four women call Los Angeles home now, but Seattle has claimed them for life. Summer’s just around the corner, kids, and I can’t think of a better musical backdrop to your lazy, hazy poolside afternoons in the sun than Floating Features.

And maybe it’s just a happy coincidence, but I haven’t had a single nightmare since.

TWO: DANA FALSETTI

It was 2005 and I had just bought my first Prius, the Seahawks were playing in their first Super Bowl, Yoga Journal was still a respected yoga publication and Lululemon was barely a blip on the yoga pants screen. I took my first yoga teacher training that year, too, and didn’t see anyone in the class who looked like me.

Matter of fact, nearly every class I took during my initial whirlwind love affair with yoga was filled with not me’s. Slender, lithe women, able to effortlessly wrap their foot behind their head and always–always–that one show-offy dude with a ponytail sticking handstands before class in the front row of every workshop I took.

I pretended not to care.

I loved yoga and my body did, too. I became stronger and more flexible and most importantly, more confident and comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. I became a yoga teacher but I always knew I didn’t fit the “norm” of what people expected a yoga teacher to look like.

Enter Dana Falsetti.

I had the pleasure of taking a restorative class with Dana last summer in Seattle and will admit to being a bit skeptical of this Instagram “yogalebrity”. Decades younger than me, I was curious to experience what she had to offer as a teacher. What I discovered was a woman whose wisdom belied her age–an old soul in every sense of the word–and I left the two-hour practice blissfully relaxed and duly impressed. The studio was full of women of all ages, bodies and ethnicities engaged in a body-positive practice that connected them to themselves in the most affirming way. I felt excited to see where her vision would take her. And lest you think that Dana only teaches restorative and beginner yoga, you only need one glimpse of her Instagram page to see that she is the queen of inversions and arm balances as well.

The yoga world desperately needs this vibrant, young woman who is blazing her trail on her own terms and creating a world where yoga is an inclusive practice, rather than one reserved for bendy, skinny women willing and able to afford a wardrobe of $100 yoga pants. After a tenuous legal battle with an yoga apparel company, Dana has gathered her resources together and launched her first streaming website. Although the content is still a bit limited after its debut just a week ago, the production quality is excellent and the focus of the classes is promising. Presently, Dana features a nice selection of beginner yoga tutorials, as well as several classes on philosophy and much more to come very soon. With a sliding, pay-what-you-can subscription rate, the value is unparalleled.

Dana Falsetti is one remarkable, bad-ass yogi who is leading the charge of showing the world that yoga is for every body. I suggest you subscribe to her website today.

I already have.

THREE: TACOS

I cook a lot but every once in awhile, I blow my own mind.

With Cinco de Mayo just in my rearview mirror, I had been craving tacos. I threw together my trusty fish tacos with a cabbage salsa and zingy chipotle sauce that were respectable, but didn’t quite quench my taco thirst. One week later, I stumbled across this recipe for Spicy Chorizo and Potato Tacos and knew I needed to give it a try.

First off–who knew I could make my own chorizo? Okay, so maybe you did, but making my own chorizo had never, ever crossed my mind. I am lucky enough to be close to several grocery stores with a good selection of respectable chorizo, but I couldn’t resist the urge to experiment with making my own. You must make your own. Just do it and thank me later.

The aroma of the melange of spices being toasted together in a bit of olive oil is enough to send the whole house swooning. You do not want to miss out on that. And it’s relatively simple, providing you already have most of the spices on hand. Once the spice blend has bloomed in the oil, the sausage is added along with some already steamed Yukon Gold potatoes.

It is exquisite.

You might want to stop there, but I’m going to insist you go one step further and make the delicious and piquant green sauce from tomatillos and avocado. It’s super duper easy–all whirled together in your blender or food processor into the dreamiest shade of green. It is the perfect, tangy foil to the decadent, rich filling of chorizo and potatoes. You can find the recipe for this necessary green sauce right here.

Go pick yourself up some of the very best corn tortillas you can buy, dice up a bit of white onion, a few sprigs of cilantro, take a bite and watch the eyes roll back in your head. Okay, so that’s probably not actually physically possible, but you’ll definitely feel it. And then say a few prayers of thanksgiving to the taco gods and goddesses.

Happy vigésimo de mayo, friends!

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Two

ONE: MOTHER

My mother was my first reader. Standing in the doorway of her bedroom, I’d clear my throat, take a deep breath and read to her my latest writing with all the necessary vocal inflection and emphasis. She would sit, appropriately attentive and listen, smiling and nodding and often give a happy clap at the end.

My mother was an artist and her favored medium was paint. Watercolors and oils, some hung on the walls of our home but most stuffed in closets and portfolios from her days as an art major at the University of Washington. Later on, she created bowls and mugs and vases from coiled and patterned clay, each one glazed and fired in a kiln kept in a musty furnace room in our house. During her pottery days, the entire house seemed to be covered in a thin film of clay dust. Jars upon jars of milky glaze lined up along her work space–a spare bedroom converted as her studio–just waiting to be painted onto these gray clay creations. I loved how the nondescript, matte glazes would magically transform into shiny, colorful shades of blue and green and yellow with a little time spent in the intense heat of the kiln. I never minded the dust, because when my mother was immersed in her art, she was happy.

It always amazed me what beauty would be born from the union of desire, vision, passion and heat.

I knew better than to choose an art form that my mother was already proficient at. She could be a blunt and ruthless critic of many things. As a young girl, I drew and doodled, too, but could never match my mother’s talent. Timidly, I would share my drawings with her and she would cock her head to the left while studying my work, instinctively pick up a pencil or piece of charcoal and with a few well-placed strokes, add dimension and depth to my simple lines. Like magic.

So I wrote.

I wrote prolifically as a young girl. Poems and essays and short stories, then earnest starts of novels filled with girls named Kimberly and Lindsey who rode horses and had the names and lives I dreamed of having. I’d spend entire summers lost in my writing, my stories like an imaginary friend. Once adolescence descended, I turned to the privacy of my personal journals and stopped reading aloud to my mother. Whatever essays I wrote were for school, rather than myself. I’ve always felt like a writer, but the self-consciousness of growing up and the dysfunction in my home pulled me away from my words and into brooding musicians and backstage passes and the distraction of desire.

Why did you stop painting? I’d ask my mother. Oh, I just wasn’t good enough, she’d say.

My siblings and I unearthed her university portfolios in the storage locker we had moved her furniture into when she was no longer able to live on her own. We gathered around, each clutching our number that we had drawn to see who got to choose first, gasping over and in awe of the talent our mother had as my brother pulled out sketch after sketch, canvas after canvas. Her work like an illustrated diary of her progression as an artist. As a woman. It was breathtaking.

Why did she stop? we wondered wistfully.

Through a long and circuitous route, I found my way back to writing. It was hard to begin again, awkwardly laying down words and paragraphs, thoughts and feelings. It was scary to be honest and bare and vulnerable. As I write, I often remember my mother and how her demeanor transformed when she would immerse herself in her art. It was as if somewhere deep within she became shades lighter, her eyes brighter. I think of her as I finish a piece of writing and feel a palpable change of energy and find a deeper, easier exhale.

I still read aloud everything I write before posting it for public consumption. It’s important for me to hear myself say the words I write, to feel their cadence and rhythm. My words need to sound and feel natural, as if they were coming from me in conversation with whomever is reading.

And more often than not, I imagine myself standing in the doorway of my mother’s bedroom, reading and sharing my words with just the right inflection, waiting for her delighted clap and bravo at the end.

TWO: IN-LAW

My mother-in-law, Dorothy, is one hundred years old.

One of the things The Mister and I shared was older parents. His mom was in the same generation as mine and there was a camaraderie formed that came from an understanding of what it felt like to have grown up with parents that were older than everyone else’s. But the similarities stopped there.

Dorothy was spry and lively when I met her on Mother’s Day in 1985, a stark contrast to my own parents whose health had already begun to decline. Closing in on seventy years old at the time, she was still planning adventurous backpacking trips around Europe and practiced yoga with her daughter. The Mister had invited his mother and his sister for a Mother’s Day brunch that year, the table set with a pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice and a platter of sourdough pancakes. And me.

I was a nervous wreck when I met my boyfriend’s family and barely said a word. His sister, opinionated and loud, overshadowed everyone. I went mute and then worried about what everyone thought of me.

Over the ensuing years, I managed to find my voice again and Dorothy and I forged a warm friendship. The relationship between mothers and daughters-in-law is one of the trickiest ones around and I was grateful to Dorothy for making it less so.

Once my kids were born, Dorothy became the grandparent that my own parents were unable to be. She saved my sanity countless times as I struggled as a new mom, taking care of my son for an hour or two while I enjoyed the quiet luxury of a haircut alone. She was the grandparent showing up for baseball games and gymnastic meets, the one at Grandparent’s Day at the elementary school, the one who got down on the rug and played My Little Pony and Thomas The Tank Engine for hours on end. It’s often said that being a grandparent gives us the opportunity for a do-over, to be better than the parent we were on the first go-round. Having lived a messy, imperfect life, I always sensed Dorothy knew this.

She is the grandparent that my children remember and with whom they share the most meaningful relationship.

Today, Dorothy is one hundred years old and although she is still in this world physically, she is rarely with us in the here and now. Unlike my own mother, who became unfiltered and bitter as her mental acuity declined, Dorothy has remained kind and good-natured. She still recognizes us as her family, even though she might confuse us with others from her past.

And today–even at one hundred years old–Dorothy is still a remarkable role model for me, showing me what grace and grit, unconditional love and a life of beautiful imperfection looks like.

Happy Mother’s Day, Dorothy.

THREE: ME

I didn’t think you even wanted kids my friend commented when I told him the news of my first pregnancy. Wait. What? Did I really say that? Or was that just the impression I gave off?

I grew up as the youngest in a family of seven siblings, an appropriately chubby caboose of a child. My oldest sister had her first baby when I was only ten years old and I remember her tentativeness around my holding her precious cargo. So I didn’t.

Babies were weird, foreign beings. They still are, in a way.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want kids. It was just that domestication and all it entailed was never on my radar. Until suddenly it was.

I got pregnant right away, the swiftness of conception leaving me stunned and unprepared. I had assumed I would have months–maybe a year or more–to get comfortable with the idea of becoming a parent. Instead, I had nine short months to prepare for the reality of it. I read books and took classes. I did all the right things, made sure I had all the right gear. Two weeks before my due date, my sister hosted a barbecue-slash-babyshower for me at her home. Her neighbor had just given birth and she wanted me to have at least one experience of holding a real, live baby before I was holding my own.

Squirmy and soft but startlingly strong. Warm and gurgly. Like a little pink alien without an instruction book. Her head smelled nice. I was happy to hand her back when she started to fuss.

I went home that night more scared than ever.

I cried when I had to leave the hospital after delivering my son. We had stayed an extra night due to him turning blue and not breathing when I nursed him. The worry that I would kill my baby doing the one thing that was supposed to keep him alive didn’t do much for my confidence. How could they allow us to leave? There would be no nurse at our house to reassure me that I was doing things right. No one to help us stop him from crying. No one to help me stop me from crying.

Nothing prepares you for motherhood but motherhood. Into the fire. Sink and swim.

The Mister had changed every diaper on our son for the first ten days until he had to leave and go out of town for work. I cried as he drove away, leaving me framed in our living room window, clutching this squirmy, gurgly alien of an infant. Later that evening, my brother’s wife called me to see how things were going. Oh, fine I reassured her and then hung up and burst into tears. My sister came to visit and insisted I leave the house for some time by myself. I drove off in my sporty, white Acura with the carseat now strapped in the back and wondered if I’d ever come back. I stopped at RiteAid and stumbled around the aisles, not looking for anything but searching for something.

I parked in an empty lot and cried some more and came back.

I came back and one day at a time I figured it out. Two months into my son’s life, the depression began to lift and I managed to get both of us out of the house in time to attend a support group for new moms and their babies at the hospital where I had delivered. All forty of us and our babies, sitting in a large oval on the floor of a hospital conference room, each of us with the same, withered expression on our face. The facilitator had us introduce ourselves and our baby, encouraging us to check in and share with the group how things were going. One after another, the moms started talking and one after another they’d dissolve into tears. Through the snot and sniffle, each one choked out familiar stories of sore nipples and leaking milk, of not sleeping or showering for days, of how hard–so very hard–it all was. And how much they loved these little, strange alien baby beings, more than they thought was humanly possible.

Dumbstruck and suddenly comforted by the unity of us all, I gazed around the group and saw every woman sitting and nodding in empathy. Some crying, just because. Because sometimes you do that.

Everyone tells you it will be the hardest job you will ever have, but nothing will prepare you. Sink and swim, sink and swim, sink and swim.

Messy, breathtaking, heartbreaking, transformational motherhood.

It is amazing what stunning beauty can be born from the union of desire, vision, passion and heat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-One

“Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

ONE: MONDAY MORNINGS AT LA PUSH

There was a way I behaved for the first decade I visited La Push: I would rise early before everyone else, pull on my running tights, lace up my sneakers and tumble out onto the empty beach and run.

I used to be a runner.

I’d negotiate up, over and around any driftwood in my way, plod awkwardly through the soft, dry sand and get as close to the water as possible so I’d have a firmer surface to run on. The beach at La Push isn’t steep, but it’s not exactly level either. I’d head off towards the south end of the shore first, the whirring wind and crashing waves creating my own noise-canceling headphones with their constant, ambient drone. Closing off and going within, eyes barely open, ignoring the sharp ache in my left hip from running on the lopsided sand. I’d arrive at the towering cliffside just long enough to touch the sacred stones as if handing off the baton in a relay and turn and head north. With the wind at my back now and fully warmed up, in this direction I felt stronger and faster and withdrew even deeper. Numb. More numb. Numbest. As the other end of the beach approached, a feeling of victory emerged. Validation. Proven. Earned. Pausing just long enough to tap one of the black boulders that line the jetty on the north side, I’d cool down with a slow jog back towards the cabin and slog through the deep, soft sand and feel sensation returning to my lungs and hips. Familiar ache replacing the comfort of numb.

Now, I wonder what I missed all those years.

Last Monday morning at La Push I didn’t rise early to run but I rose early to venture out at low tide to see what I could see. It was damp and chilly–47 degrees–and overcast with the clouds so low they appeared to touch the sand. My feet were strapped into my Teva sandals, rather than sneakers, so that I could readily splash through the creek that dissects the beach and empties into the ocean. I met my friend and we set off, uncaffeinated and groggy. Soon, my toes were frozen icy pink with smooth, tiny pebbles lodged under my heel and instep. I didn’t ignore the discomfort but instead stopped to shake the rocks from my soles and rub my toes before continuing on. One, singular other human graced the shoreline that Monday morning–a fisherwoman, her line in the water, patiently waiting for a bite. She smiled and said hello.

As we approached the majestic rock face, I slowed down even more and took in a long, deep breath of salty air. Feel that? I asked my friend. That’s spirit. There’s a heaviness that exists on that end of the shore that is palpable and real, at least to me. My friend nodded in an effort to appease me and scampered off to climb the rocks, looking for tide pools and starfish. I stayed back and looked up, as I often do at this end of the beach, to gaze at the cliffside lined with ancient, tall trees draped in fringy moss. I imagined bear and cougar perched at the edge, surveying the shore. Circling high above the tree tops, four eagles emerged. I watched as they soared and glided with grace and power and felt their sharp eyes on me. My friend came back from the rocks and I told him how I believed the eagles were tribal elders and chiefs, making sure all was well on their sacred land. He told me he thought the eagles were looking for food. I like to think we both were right.

Later that Monday, toes thawed and warm, I ventured out to the beach again. It was early afternoon and the sun had burned off the gray, leaving an expanse of blue sky streaked with pulled-cotton clouds. I looked left, then right and not another soul was on the sand. Mondays at La Push are often like that. The standard bustle of Sunday afternoons as cabin dwellers pack up and head back to civilization before the start of another work week always makes me feel privileged to stay another day. This Monday afternoon the ocean had taken on a complex shade of turquoise that morphed from green-blue to blue-green depending on its depth and churn. Driftwood logs and roots created picture-perfect frames of James Island and the surf, so I paused time and time again to snap a photo here and then there. I found a worn, rough stick, just right for an improvised hiking pole and made my way higher up on the beach, exploring nooks and crannies. Impromptu forts fashioned from weathered logs, long tossed from hefty waves in a storm. Cairns of smooth, flat stones, precisely built and balanced, hidden in open knotholes. I looked for water spouts in the nearby surf, signs of a whale friend I had watched just offshore the previous day.

Looking up. Looking down. Heaven and earth. Horizon and beyond.

My friend joined me after awhile and together we sat on smooth driftwood and marveled at our good fortune to be the only ones at this place on this day at this time.

Not numb, but fully feeling. No hurry, but slowing down. Not missing a thing, but paying wide-eyed attention, filled with wonder. No running away or even towards, but instead sitting in stillness. Here and now. Peace–real peace–abides in the present.

I used to be a runner. But now I’ve slowed down.

I don’t want to miss a thing.

TWO: DRAG QUEENS

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ~ Rumi

I really love drag queens.

I can’t tell you exactly how it came about, but sometime after my last birthday, I declared that I wanted to go to a drag show for my next.

It was my college-aged daughter who had just regaled me with a story of her and her pals going to a Seattle nightclub that had an 18+ college night that included a weekly drag show. When I realized my birthday landed on that very night of the week, my birthday celebration was planned.

A sushi dinner with close friends and The Mister, birthday cupcakes from Cupcake Royale, drinks at The Comet and then on to Neighbours Nightclub for the queens. I love Capitol Hill in Seattle. Even on a Wednesday evening the neighborhood is alive and bursting with color and sound. Urban vibrancy. There is an ease I feel in the city, especially in this neck of the woods where tolerance reigns. We enter from a back alleyway, get scanned with a metal detector and walk into a nearly-empty club. My daughter and her pals aren’t there yet, so we head upstairs for drinks and a game of pool. Music pulses with urban house beats and I dance and twirl my pool stick, sipping my whiskey, so happy to be in this place at this time.

Once my daughter and her squad arrive, we move downstairs. A couple of scantily-clad male go-go dancers gyrate on a platform and move through the growing crowd. My friend, a self-proclaimed dancing queen herself, smiles with pure contentment as one of the dancers shimmies up behind her and together they dance, in sync and immersed in the music. Soon, the queens begin to arrive and anticipation is thick and buzzes through the room.

I’ve grown to understand my need to witness and be around artists who are unabashedly and authentically real. As a writer, I need that regular reminder that walls and pretense have no place in the creation of art and self-expression. It’s a lesson I came late to learn and one that bears repeating.

This is why I love drag queens.

Adorned in a glamorous, pink chiffon floor-length gown that I imagined Eartha Kitt once wore, our mistress of ceremonies took the stage. Appropriately cheeky and irreverent, she entertained as she introduced each queen. Each one, impeccably costumed and rehearsed, strode onto the stage in stilettos I could only dream of teetering in. Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and Marina and the Diamonds were all represented in their lip sync routines that were meticulously choreographed and executed. Fans in the crowd cheered and applauded each one as they interacted with the audience, gathering dollar bills as they made their way back to the stage for their grand finish and bow.

And me, the entire time, grinning ear-to-ear, asking my friends over and over again, why do I love this so much?

Drag queens are not clowns or freaks, nor are they there to be laughed at. They are true entertainers, artists and individuals in the most beautiful, stunning and inspirational way.

There is real magic when you surround yourself with others who are comfortable in their own skin. This year, this birthday, I needed a bit of that magic.

THREE: TOUCH ME

“Maybe you’ve had skin next to your skin, but when was the last time you let yourself be touched?” ~ Tom Spanbauer, In the City of Shy Hunters

I love having my face stroked. If you want something from me, massage my head. For my birthday, I booked myself a facial.

Mariposa Day Spa is a gem of place, tucked downstairs on a lower level from the busy, antique-filled First Street in downtown Snohomish. I’ve lived here for over twenty years and just stumbled upon this spot last year. Apparently, I wasn’t paying attention.

Everyone at the spa speaks in hushed, whispered voices. With all the treatment rooms separated only by curtains, it is as much of a courtesy to the other clients as it is a draw for me and my ASMR tendencies.

ASMR is an acronym for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. In short, I get full-body shivers and tingles from certain sounds and colors. I’ve had it all my life, but it wasn’t until I heard this episode of This American Life that I realized I was not alone.

China teacups clinking on saucers.

Horse’s teeth chewing their bridle bit.

The squeak of a leather English saddle when riding.

Car wheels on a gravel road.

All these sounds give me the most wonderful shivers down my spine. Some colors, too–the combination of pink and yellow, the deepest, richest purple, the sky-blue shade of my best friend’s Schwinn Varsity 10-speed bike when we were teenagers.

I lay on the warm treatment table under a cozy blanket. Soft, soothing, ambient music pipes in. I close my eyes and the esthetician arrives, waving lavender oil under my nose and tells me to inhale. From that point on, I am putty. Warm towels wrap my face, the satisfying clink of jar tops being screwed and unscrewed and lovely, creamy potions spread over my skin. Steam then mist then the clatter of hot stones taken from their water bath and spread over my shoulders. More creams, more strokes, the flick of a towel, hand massage, foot massage and a final, swoon-worthy scalp massage.

It’s so important to allow ourselves to receive the healing power of touch the esthetician whispers to me as she finishes and leaves me to absorb the final moments of bliss. Tears pool in the corners of my eyes.

Yes, it is.