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.

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty

ONE: LA PUSH

Going to the ocean when I was a kid meant a day trip to the perpetually socked-in-like-pea-soup Ocean Shores. I’ve loved the ocean’s energy for as long as I can remember, but I never recall there being sunshine at Ocean Shores.

We’d pile into our green Chevy van with an ice chest full of homemade tuna fish sandwiches, breathless with excitement over the adventures sure to be had. It was summer and we’d leave the warm sunshine of suburbia and sure enough, as we made our way west, the sky turned to shades of steel and concrete and our moods quickly soured.

The ocean beach itself was fifty shades of gray. The lack of rain didn’t make it any less dismal. An uninterrupted swath of gray sand kissed by gray waves butted up to a slightly lighter gray sky. Bundled up, we dug with plastic shovels and made sad attempts at flying cheap kites and ate our gritty tuna sandwiches with stale off-brand potato chips. We’d wade into the surf up to our ankles and feel the sand give way beneath our feet as my sister told me I’d be eaten up by quicksand if I wasn’t careful.

By the time I was 21, I was living in Portland and dating a model named Doug when he drove us out to Cannon Beach in his vintage Volvo sports car. It was September and the beach shimmered in the sunlight. The gray sand was bathed in warm light and the water was topaz blue and glistened with every crest of the waves. I marveled at the stately sea stacks and the quaint shops and restaurants that didn’t serve gritty tuna sandwiches. Doug and I held hands and sipped expensive wine and I felt like a grown-up and dreamed of the life we’d have with beautiful tow-headed model children who we’d take to the beautiful, sunny ocean beach our in fancy sports cars that we’d collect.

Doug eventually came out of the closet and we broke up, but not long after I met The Mister. He and I spent years stealing away for romantic weekends in Cannon Beach and trips to California and Hawaii. The beaches there were clean and sunny and we’d sleep in fancy inns and hotels with room service where we’d eat our eggs benedict in bathrobes sitting on balconies overlooking the sea.

I’ve always loved the ocean.

The Mister and I married and had a couple kids and our fancy beach vacations evaporated as quickly as our lazy Sunday morning brunches spiked with mimosas followed by naps. I missed the ocean but The Mister’s work schedule made summer vacations tough. A couple of my siblings and their older kids had a tradition of summers out on the Olympic Pennisula and encouraged me to join them.

This might be a good time to mention that, apparently, over the previous years I had developed into something that is best described as “high maintenance”.

A bit fussy. Maybe a touch tightly-wound. Particular about things. A lot of things.

My sister knew this, so she spent an inordinate amount of time describing the beach they loved, the accommodations and what it would be like. I was still a new mom and not an easygoing one, so I listened carefully before finally agreeing to give it a whirl. My kids, now 18 months and six years old, needed a family vacation tradition and this was going to be it.

Let’s just say the first few years were rough.

The cabins at La Push were basic, one notch up from rustic, and not at all what I was used to. Traveling with young kids was exhausting–the gear, the food, the unfamiliar sleeping arrangements. The Mister often wasn’t able to join us, so I was on my own. I cried in the shower that was barely big enough for me to turn around in, grimacing as the thin, plastic curtain stuck to my wet skin.

But I still remember the first time speeding down the road towards La Push, gazing into the thick rows of trees in the dark forests of Olympic National Park. Amidst those tall firs, I imagined myself as Max from my favorite childhood book, “Where The Wild Things Are” and felt as if I’d come home.

There were the nightly beach fires with s’mores and sangria and fire questions and answers. The delicious family dinners and the community of cousins and sandcastles and sunsets over James Island. And yeah, the meltdowns and fights and misunderstandings that go along with any family endeavor. Through it all, a tradition was born.

And something else happened, too. I grew up a little bit. Loosened up. Relaxed my grip on how things always had to be “just so”. And I fell in love.

I fell in love with this place way up north on the wild and wooly Washington coast. A place that is often rainy but just as quickly turns to surprisingly warm, brilliant sunshine. A place that even on the stormiest days is not monochrome and dull, but alive with the surrounding forests that stretch down to touch the waves. Multicolored driftwood, in abstract shapes of whales, ravens and spears line the slim crescent of coastline. La Push is sacred ground, located on the Quileute Indian Reservation, with no casino in sight.

The cabins have been upgraded, although I’m happy to say I don’t care as much anymore. This is where I come to breathe. Here is where I come to grieve and come to remember how to live. I come here to stand at the ocean’s edge and to gaze into the night sky and feel so very small. The ocean and sky, each full of secrets and wonder.

I still think of Max and his wild rumpus as I speed towards La Push each year. I’m grateful to my siblings for inviting me to join them at this magical place nearly 20 years ago, and to my ancestors from whom we inherited this fierce love and awe of nature.

More than anything though, I come to La Push to listen.

TWO: BIRTHDAYS

I’ve often wondered why it is that my birthday is such a big deal to me. But it has been, ever since I can remember.

My love of my birthday must have been born from the fact that I grew up in a family where I was just one of many. Seven, to be exact, not counting the grandparents who took turns living with us. But on your birthday, you got to pick whatever you wanted to have for dinner and that was a very big deal, indeed. Kentucky Fried Chicken was my go-to birthday dinner for years until I became old enough to know better. My mom (or one of my sisters) would bake a 13 x 9 chocolate cake with homemade chocolate frosting, topped with brightly-colored sprinkles and candles. Someone would sing the happy birthday song to me, I’d make a wish, blow and then, presents.

I have all that I need, but I still love presents. I even still love having someone sing that song to me. And I still love my birthday.

I’ve thrown myself big parties and small ones. I’ve had quiet birthdays with my closest family and louder ones with more. It’s never felt strange to take a day to feel special. I’ve never felt the need to apologize for it, although others have insinuated that perhaps I should.

When are we too old to be happy about and celebrate living another year?

As May draws near, I take time to think about how I’d like to commemorate my trip around the sun. A plan is hatched, invites extended, reservations made. This year, my birthday falls during the week the Y is closed for maintenance, so I took myself to La Push to write and walk and grieve and listen.

The act of valuing yourself enough to give yourself exactly what you need and desire is a powerful one. If he truly loved me, he’d know exactly what I want, was a conversation I overheard recently. I’m not sure in whose life that mythology works, but in my life, love has nothing to do with mind reading.

So, happy birthday. I’m so very happy you were born and I hope you are, too.

I don’t take this life for granted. Might as well celebrate.

THREE: AGE

When I tell you that I’ve spent the better part of my life worrying about and trying to make people like me, it’s not a badge of honor.

Matter of fact, it’s kind of embarrassing.

Maybe you are the type of person who has never cared one way or another. If so, I’d say you’re a rare and lucky soul and I’d also think to myself that you’re probably lying just a little bit. I think it’s a natural part of the human condition to want others to like us. To be part of the gang, to get along, to be popular.

A funny thing happened along my way to getting older–I stopped worrying about whether or not people liked me and instead, I hoped that I’d like them.

My overwhelming desire to be liked has impacted every single relationship in my life, and not always in the most positive ways. From family to friends to my professional relationships and into my yoga teaching and writing–it’s been there. Often too much there.

Until now. Full stop. Pivot.

What a gift it is to be comfortable in my own skin. To be able to see those whom I so desperately needed approval from as just as flawed–and sometimes more so–as I am. How freeing it is to be less concerned with how I am perceived and instead far more interested in others without the heavy baggage of self-absorbed anxiety.

Watch me pull my gaze out of my navel.

The years I spent abdicating my own authenticity to better suit the needs of others were not without valuable lessons and the sum of them all have created who I am today. I gather around me a small clan of souls I like to call my “ride or dies” and that’s more than enough.

What a gift it is to grow older.

Happy birthday, everybody.

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty-Nine

ONE: DEATH

I was thirty-five years old before I ever attended a funeral or memorial service.

Both sets of my grandparents had died during my lifetime and yet I never attended their funerals. Granted, I was young when most of them passed away, but my parents never seemed to press the issue of my attendance. I was a clingy, emotional child and imagine it was simply easier for me to stay home with my sister. It was as if one day my grandparents were in my life and the next day I never saw them again. My parents didn’t talk about it much. The concept of death was confusing and mysterious.

My mother’s best friend, Betty, passed away from complications of lupus not long after her retirement. By this time I was at the end of my teenage years and I loved the rarely-seen playful nature that Betty coaxed out of my mom. I hold images of the two of them curled around mugs of thick coffee and a plate of store-bought taffy cookies, planning and conspiring day trips here and there, mapping out adventures to be had. Betty’s eyes always sparkled with the hint of inside jokes that made my mother blush. She’d compliment my long, smooth legs, making me feel beautiful and confident while she questioned my choice of boyfriends like a protective aunt.

Her illness and death came far too soon.

I was at my boyfriend’s apartment when out of the blue, I sat up abruptly and insisted I had to go home. I felt an urgency to get to my mother and be with her. I couldn’t explain it, but when I walked in the door, she was in tears and told me that Betty had passed away that afternoon.

Knowing without knowing.

Betty’s family planned a memorial service–a celebration of her life–rather than a funeral. It was a warm summer day full of sunshine, the event held in the lush gardens at Betty’s daughter’s home. My mom and dad and a sibling or two attended, but I did not. I couldn’t face the inevitable avalanche of emotion.

I used to worry if I started crying, I’d never stop.

My mom was never the same after Betty’s death. And death remained a strange, abstract concept to me. Betty didn’t seem dead and I found myself expecting her to arrive at the door to whisk my sad mother away to points unknown and bring her back breathless and happy again.

A tightly-knotted boulder of emotion sat low in my belly the day I prepared to attend my father’s memorial service. Please, God, don’t let me cry, was my impassioned plea. I was thirty-five and still worried that if I started crying, I’d never stop. It was months after his actual passing and I had seen his dead body and confirmed that my father was no longer in the building. But this was my first experience with real grief.

At the service, I started crying and I felt like I’d never stop. At first, I was ashamed of such unbridled emotion and tried to choke back the sobs which only resulted in strange, snorting sounds. But then, as abruptly as a flick of a switch, something changed. My dad just died! I should be crying if my dad just died! The less I tried to rein in my natural emotion, the more everything became bathed in a soft, gentle energy of mourning. My uncontrolled hiccuping sobs relaxed. I was so, so sad and it was just as it should be.

My daughter and I walked into the cavernous auditorium of the church where Ellie’s service was held yesterday. A familiar knot in my belly, I recognized the fear that I would never be able to stop the tears once they began to flow. Photos of Ellie, emblazoned across the stage, as tall as a movie screen. Please don’t let me cry rose up in my subconscious again, afraid of looking foolish amidst these hundreds of mourners. If you need to cry, cry spoke the pastor leading the service. If you need to laugh, laugh he gently reminded us.

And we did, the whole mess of us. Remembering, honoring, crying, laughing, mourning. The reality of death, the finality and unfairness of it all. The celebration of a brilliant young woman who packed more love and life in her 17 years than most of us ever will. The full spectrum of grief to joy and back again, shared in community in its untidy entirety.

Death, not so much an abstract concept anymore, but death as a part of life.

TWO: APRIL

“April is the cruelest month…” ~ T.S. Eliot

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln (April 14, 1865)

Adolph Hitler’s birthday (April 20, 1889)

The sinking of the Titanic (April 15, 1912)

The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4, 1968)

Chernobyl disaster (April 26, 1986)

Oklahoma City bombing (April 19, 1995)

Columbine (April 20, 1999)

Virginia Tech shooting (April 16, 2007)

Deepwater Horizon explosion (April 20, 2010)

The Boston Marathon Bombing (April 15, 2013)

Prince died (April 21, 2016)

We’re in the homestretch, friends. Hang on. Care for each other. Pay attention. Love each other.

THREE: HEALING

The human body has always fascinated me. When I was young, I’d put my face up close to cuts and abrasions and study their progress of transformation. I’d watch as the inner tissue would begin to knit itself back together again and marvel at the way the body healed itself from the inside out. I wasn’t a scab picker, but I loved the moment the crusty lid of a wound would release to reveal the baby-pink skin beneath. I’d watch as the soft pink took on more color and after a week or two it took a bit of searching to find the spot of injury again. Bruises were cool, too. Such an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors and healing just beneath the skin.

I love my scars.

The bumpy, keloid scar on my shoulder from a scald of spilled hot tomato soup. The lump of a scar on my right cheek where my brother clocked me with a ceramic mug of hot coffee and another scar on my nose from the sharp slice of the broken mug. The numb, white line of a sliver in my thumb from a slip of an Exacto knife while trying to get the very last bits of an expensive hair gel out a bottle. The straight slice of a laparoscopic scar from my appendectomy that sometimes gets mistaken for a bellybutton piercing. My right ankle, a multifaceted roadmap of scars from a broken and dislocated joint and slow-to-heal incision. If you tap the outside of my ankle, you can feel the metal plate and screws that live there.

A story for every imperfection. Each wound creating the complexity of a human life, each one a unique journey of pain and healing.

My surgeon warned me that the incisions on my ankle might be slower to heal because of it being further from my heart. Less circulation. He was right. Even once I was cleared to walk again, the surgical sites stayed open and sometimes angry. I cared for them meticulously, but worried about my upcoming trip to the coast where I’d be tempted to put my feet in the ocean. Just be careful, the surgeon advised. My eyes rolled. I was over three months post-op and weary of my limitations.

I’m not sure I know how to be at the ocean’s edge and not let the icy Northwest coast salt water wash up over my feet and ankles. It always seems like a necessary baptism.

Each night, I’d make sure any sand and grit was rinsed free before applying antibiotic cream and bandages. I was careful.

Home again after five days at the coast, I bent over to inspect my wounds. I looked closer and was amazed to see the sure signs of healing. The incisions, less red and angry, no longer bearing a constant, sore ache. Edges beginning to knit together, the soft pink of new skin.

Holy water.

Heart wounds are deep and tricky. There’s often talk of healing after loss, but I don’t believe that. At least not in the way our tissues heal and over time we have to search for that place of injury again. Each loss I’ve suffered leaves a hole, a chasm, a fissure that always remains. No amount of stitches or time or carefully applied cream will close that space. But instead, a new normal. A beating heart, riddled with a tapestry of tender holes where love has lived. Unseen, but those holes forever filled with a soft ache of sadness.

Soon, my feet will be at the edge of that very same Northwest coastline again. The expected, sharp gasp of breath as I let the frigid waves lap and splash at my feet and ankles, toes curling into soft sand. Ebb and flow, wild and messy, an offering of tears and grief.

A necessary baptism.

Holy water.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

~ Leonard Cohen