Simply Grateful

Today I am grateful for all the things I over look, take for granted, grateful for the ground underneath me staying still and solid, for the sky above me remaining calm, that I am in good health and so is my cat, Velvet. Even though I have zoned out today, letting time skip in a blur, I am letting tomorrow come as I would unfold a new and unexpected gift — because everyday I’m alive, even if I’m sore or lonely or sad, is a day to celebrate! Even if I have no place to go tomorrow, I plan to dance out the door and face any little adventure available to me with great knowing gladness.

This is the conclusion I come to most usually despite the nights I weep over the friends and family who have died, or left, and sometimes in their absence I have to pinch myself to remember to refresh the experiences of joy that they brought into my life. It’s far too easy to beat myself up over the losses. I’m not sure why my body and mind misbehaves like that when I’m most tired, weakest, vulnerable… most usually when I can’t sleep, or haven’t slept, and the days and nights of insomnia blend into a kind of non-existence. There are times when living the Solitary Life can cage me into a shadowy, hidden place, when my introversion doesn’t serve any purpose but prolong depression.

Last week, as part of an independent living community volunteer service, a peer counselor invited me to a house run by people like her. It was a way for me to get out of my shell again, and I have to tell you, I did panic a little! All of the panic immediately faded when I recognized women from downtown. It’s a relief to know I’m not the only woman in town dealing with menopause, grieving, and depression, etc., and the plus side is none of them were the judgmental type. All of them were used to dealing with the same things I deal with, some of them trained nurses and “travel buddies” who assist people like me with communicating with other people. What a relief to discover resources around and about where I live! The only con is we have limited volunteers. But it could be worse. A neighboring city isn’t as open-minded as mine, treating such “club houses” for the mentally ill community as troublesome. *makes frowny face* Whatever.

I once wrote about there needs to be a shrine on every block, or in every neighborhood, well, I want to revise that and say there needs to be places of refuge in every city for people who have emotional and mental distress. In these places we should be able to let ourselves cry, volunteer our time there to be shoulders to cry on, and provide ears to listen to other peoples’ concerns and problems. There should be kitchens and stoves for free that we can stock for anyone who needs a break, or who ever wants to brew a hot beverage or warm up a hot dish for people who need a little home style comfort.

Because not all of us have that kind of social interaction with others. I got through months without it. When I don’t see people so often in that ordinary way, I get all kinds of homesick. I miss my mother. I miss her home cooking. I’ll never get her kind of care ever again. There are no substitutes for her. Just as there are no substitutes for anyone else. Each loved one I’ve lost is a gem!

And I used to shine so brightly when I had more of those gems in my crown.

But as I write that, I cannot ignore the brilliant new gems in my life whom I should polish on a more regular basis instead of neglect while I fall into my darkness. I don’t want anyone to feel like I don’t listen to them more than I do voices who put me down in the past.

However, it’s a slow process to turn off the repetitive memories and words of those whom I could not reach a resolution with.

I will not talk about any one relationship, but there are three people I wish would have talked to me in person, face to face, in order to erase all the assumptions that ultimately severed us. But, then again, to even request contact would mean to them, I’m assuming, that I’m not able to let go, that I’m still unhealthy and manipulative, and whatever. I’m “meh” at this point. I just want my passion back. I don’t know how to get it back. I only know how to go on living… and dancing.

When I get moments of release, I eat them up! Early this morning at 4am, I had this incredible surge of energy and started to just dance, dance, DANCE. My cat, Velvet, chased after me, so I grabbed a ribbon and lashed it around me so we could dance together. Moments turned into an hour. As I got my wiggle out, it was good to just let my cares go, to work myself into exhaustion, and drop into my pillows again, anxious for the evening.

Because I slept all day, and now that night has come, the woods and cool, wet night air is heavy with that wet bark smell, I feel all cares are gone. That there is hope for my passion to creep back. Velvet is a doll, she tilts her head up, prances around me, anxious for me to get off the computer so I can go to being her giant cat toy again. She hasn’t taken the place of Mr. Snuggles, but she does the same thing he used to do: remind me to unplug from all the bad memories and PLAY!

And so I plan, just like I wrote at the end in the first paragraph, even if I have no place to go tomorrow, I plan to dance out the door and face any little adventure available to me with great knowing gladness.

Postcard #49: Getting Lost is Part of Discovering Nothing is Lost

I am wondering and wandering, dreaming of places and people, my mind resetting itself, my moods resettling, hope is resurfacing. I still wish. It’s not a sin to wish. And it’s the wish that pushes me through the woods, out the back door, floats me to the top, the strength that sets me standing on my hands, holds me in the boat, cradles me in sleep, and guides me out of my dreams into a waking that is doing. I do not mind getting lost. It is a loss of time and space that takes me away from all the heaviness of the world — a loss I never mourn — I take time, I take space, I move at my will, have all of the wild at my pleasure, loosen the ribbons, slip off this gown of iron burden, and tramp along the shore to the destinations of all my imaginings. I want to lose being found. Go missing. Be kidnapped by goblins. Fall into rabbit hole. Seduced by faeries. Side-step into a mist, and yet, not be forgotten…

I stumble back into place. I do not want to lose myself. All the dizzy delight of getting lost can only go so far. The winter silence sends me wishing as it always does when there is not enough doing to be done. All there is is white stinging my eyes in the morning, and the afternoon snow is gray-slate-matte-boring.

Getting lost leads to wondering alone into being alone, lost alone, yet everyone’s alone in wandering alone lost. Is being lost mean having something to find? What if there is nothing to seek? I lose myself when I chase after what is missing, only to find myself waiting for me when I discover what was lost was always there inside, waiting, taking a reach into my own heart to pull out all the losing, loser gear I carried around with every sigh I thought I let out.

I don’t let the stranger me be strange anymore. She’s the spirit in flight with a base to land on. I am earth-bound and freedom-soaring, like Hawk-on-the-Wind that is my family name, my people’s crest, both my parents’ totem bird, a thing thought lost I did not know was there, only a thing of whisper, a meaning no one told me. Every time I asked for meaning, I was given questions. Irritating! Why were they forcing me to go on a journey? I don’t want to go anywhere! Give me the answer, NOW. But the meaning would not have the meaning it has now until I stepped away, ignored the path, rejected my purpose, and chased after someone else’s dream…

I am in love with my wishes now. Yet I have a new wish. Just one simple wish: don’t lose me when you decide to get lost.

Postcard #31: Looking for Heart’s Ease

I’m writing in the dark, or more like from out of the darkness, tonight in a lonely place, where I feel like everything I love is disappearing…

For awhile I will forget about it, but the second a shadow falls, a flash of hope or memory caresses my cheek, and it begins again. It is a tired, worn out, annoying love story that clings to me like a coat of mud I can never quite wash completely off. Like the tea stain old age spot under my right eye. In the shape of a horse it is, a stain so strong my dermatologist couldn’t even burn it off with the laser. Stubborn symbol refuses to let go of me — so I accept it — a tattoo the Goddess gave me. Like the other new mark under my generous chin, yet another sign that the Crone is coming, youthful times are getting shorter just as my strands of silver hair are growing longer. I am liking the new hair color, however, but that will soon change, too. I plan on dying my locks a deep crimson soon.

Everyday I am more aware things and people are fading. My loves are leaving. My new neighbors are strangers. I’m not adjusting well to this next set of circumstances. I don’t mind change — if only it could come in small doses! It seems all the things that give me joy are doomed to sink away into places I cannot follow. I want to offer them my life to extend theirs. I’ve already lived forty-one years, that’s more than some people already have, and I need to be free of this constant pain. But, no. Nope. You can’t go walk deep back into the woods to die yet, Valentina. You still belong to this world. You are loved more than you know. But why, oh, WHY aren’t they here?!

I’m also reminded too well that my Aunt Sylette died at an early age, just a few years away now from my age. Although I’m told I have no signs of fatal illness, there are times when my heart hurts like a burning coal and my blood is like fire, everything boiling within me in a tearful rage that forces me to the ground and makes me think I’ll just die! It’s all normal, the doctors say. Just sit back, relax, breathe, accept what’s happening, let it go, it’s only natural…

I look for my heart’s-ease in simple things. The best things. My pillows, tea, poetry, art, reading the blogs of friends, and Mr. Snuggles. His nose pushes into my face a lot these days. He licks at my tears, head-butts me to get up and out of bed, and gives me a look of concern that no human can make, one of innocent longing, pure and sweet and of complete understanding. Unconditional devotion, the kind I give back to him. If it weren’t for him, I would not leave the apartment. I carry him on my shoulder like a baby and sing to him, sing to keep from crying, and laugh in the sunshine to hide my swollen eyes from my neighbors. I’m okay, I say, when I want to tell the entire world, help me out of these feelings!

There is no escape, you know.

So it is best to do what I can with my life and make some use of my time. Once again the summer brings things to do. The trees and wildlife call me to volunteer. Last night I saved a toad from a swift and sure death in the middle of the road…

It peed on me, but I paid it no mind, cupped it in my hand and hummed to it as I carried it back into a deeper, wetter part of the woods closer to my place.  But before I deposited it where the other toads like to hang out, I paused to snap a photo of us together. Every summer the toads and frogs are a common sight here. I get to see them grow bigger as the season grows long, and, yes, I weep when they are gone, too. I weep for every thing that comes and goes by. Why?

I’ve been like this for as long as I’ve been alive. I remember the day when I learned that not every creature likes it when I try to rescue it. When I was four years old, I tried to save a group of army ants from getting crushed on the sidewalk. I picked a handful of them up and a dozen of them all bit into my hand. For a moment I felt more shock than pain. I stood there staring at the ants digging into my skin. The first thought I had: So that’s what those shapes in front of their heads are for! and I ran screaming home because all those little jaws felt like pieces of glass slicing into me. Before an adult could get to me, I tried to pull off a few of the ants and, even in pain, I did not want to harm the creatures. Trying to pull them off made them bite into me deeper! Then when I could not bear the pain, I pulled too hard on some of their bodies, only to discover their heads and jaws still clamped on tightly to my skin.

Before I could get all the way home, a neighbor saw me fall into the grass. He and his wife took one look at me and a series of events happened afterward so fast, I don’t quite remember how it all ended, but the man knew what to do to get those stubborn army ants off me. He stuck my hand into steaming hot water, almost hotter than I could stand. In seconds my mother was there, and we took off to the hospital, yet I needed only a few stitches on my left ring finger. I still have a slight scar to remind me of my misadventure.

Sometimes I still feel that sense of sorrow and betrayal like I did with those army ants. I want to reach out and protect all living things, but some things are not supposed to be within my care.

I just pray that my simple act of caring from a distance is enough, that my tears will buy some future happiness, and my worries repaid by my friends keeping themselves safe. I do not want to imagine life without someone I love. It would be the death of me. Like a part of me dies again right now just thinking about it. I do not want to be all doom and gloom, but… for once I will be a little selfish and say that there are times I feel like my joy was stolen from me all because my emotions are too much, they scare people I love away from me, and I am afraid to see them for fear of breaking down in front of them.

So, from this distance, I breathe slowly and move on. I give my love freely and as much as I would to someone who cannot be here. Every creature, every plant, every person I come across I just give them that love that isn’t accepted by someone faraway. That’s what I have to do. That’s what I’ve been doing for years. It is what I plan on doing for the rest of my life, just so I can stay alive, and not spoil my life on something hopeless. The work — the art — what I’m meant to do and why I’m here — sometimes I feel it is worth more than my own personal happiness.

Like yesterday, after I could not stop myself from crying, I paused to sob underneath a linden tree. The flowers of the tree soon stopped me from weeping. The spirit of the tree itself had a healing power to it, and my instinct was to put my face into the flowers, rub my eyes with its heart-shaped leaves, and hug at the bark. Yes, I’m that kind of person, and I didn’t care who saw me. When I had sufficiently lost my sadness for some time, I thanked the tree and left an offering of strands of my hair.

A few feet away from me I saw another woman crying, no, sobbing loudly. She had just got off the phone talking to whomever, sighed, wiped at her eyes with her sleeve, and was about to put earplugs in to listen to some music. By her accent I could tell she was Thai. I felt the urge to ask her what was wrong, so I did. She immediately, and exaggeratedly, bobbed her head up and down to reassure me that everything was alright, but she was lying. So, boldly, I said, “I know you’re missing someone, just like I am, but I want to tell you it will get better.” I gave her a hug with my eyes, and smiled as I started to cry again. Oh, and the tears gushed out of her, too! I put a hand over my heart as if I were holding it back from bursting out as she squeaked out a meek thank you and I left her to her music.

I surprised myself I had said what I did. I told her what I had wanted to hear myself. I gave her heart ease and that made me feel better for a little while, good enough to weep with a joy in my heavy heart, reminding myself that, yes, it will be okay, somehow, more than okay, it will get better, and I won’t have to say good-bye anymore soon.

Do We Have to Compete?

One thing that has always felt unfair to me, competing against an equally talented artist to win honor, power, prestige, favor and reward. Why? Because someone else has to lose in order for me to win. Or I have to lose in order for someone else to win. Most of the time it is the latter. I am told that losing builds character, will make me strong, but all it has ever done has made me feel not good enough. Losing after spending a great deal of time and energy on a project that is only important to win a contest distracts me away from actually working towards a practical goal of my own. When I should be working to better myself, I am instead doing everything for the approval of someone else whom I have deemed superior to me, usually a person I consider an authority or hero. And how did they get to be in that position? They either worked very hard or…

They beat someone down to get on top.

If we have to fight, no matter what the game, in order to gain a victory, no one really wins, because someone has to lose.  To gain a victory, one has to fight, and most of the time the contest is never really about who is the most skilled, talented, or lucky, it’s more about who is the most ruthless bastard at getting what they want.  In any contest, people duel for approval and attention, hoping to be picked, some put each other down with insults and satire — psychological torture — to weaken their opponents’ confidence to get ahead.  We compete not to prove our honor, we compete to be superior, but are we really proving that we are the best when we have to destroy someone else to do it?  Is it necessary or fair to compete for a prize that only we will benefit from?

When we are pitted against each other we are not working for the common good, nor are we achieving awesomeness by being the best human beings we can be, instead we are displaying our brutality.  It is the basis for all wars — someone beats someone else to gain an unfair advantage — and the reason why men die defending the weak — one power has to stand up for the disadvantaged party.  Competition is not about empowerment, it encourages power-over-others.  The lesson we end up teaching by continuing this social ritual is that it is acceptable to make yourself superior over others.  Weakness is not to be tolerated in others, especially so in ourselves.

When I was in elementary school, public spanking was still tolerated and approved as a way to punish academic weakness.  I had a learning disability that went undiagnosed until I was 19, so you can imagine how I struggled and, out of fear, had to compensate to stay out of trouble.  Not only did I have to fear coming home to getting a whooping from Mom if I got bad grades, I also had to deal with the very real possibility of facing the principal’s wooden paddle, displayed in all its horrible glory, in his office for every kid to see each day as we made our way to class.  One spring semester I came awfully close to getting spanked.  I was about to fail Math, but two other kids did worse than I did, and it was very clear they had some kind of disorder much worse than mine.  I made it to the next grade, just scraping by with a C and escaping summer school as well, yet they were kept behind.

I will never forget the day the entire school was assembled to watch the public spanking of those two boys.  We were told that we were shown this for our own good, to keep us from making the same mistake, and that if we continue to improve we won’t ever be punished like this.  As those boys screamed, we were all shocked silent.  After that, the boys faced further humiliation, ruthlessly picked on at the playground and cafeteria, especially by smarter and more popular kids.  The popular kids were also known to be “favored” in church as well, coddled and treated well by adults as if they were chosen by God.

I hated them.

After I completed sixth grade in 1982,  public spanking was finally against the law, but the fear of humiliation and being beaten for being weak or not being good enough at something never left my mind.  I never allowed myself to simply relax and be myself in school, or at anything, for a long while.  The conditioning to be THE BEST and to push yourself all the time is still hard to unlearn.  Having drive and determination is good, but one should acquire it from a source of kindness, out of a love for your fellow humans, not out of a ruthless urge to be better than everyone else and stay on top by keeping other people down.

This is one of the reasons why I’ve never liked sports or reality television shows where people are faced with outrageous challenges.  Competitions can be entertaining to watch, but it all loses its flavor when I witness the ugly coming out in people.  It is like watching your brother or sister bitching at you during an off moment on a camping trip, it’s not something you want broadcast, let alone photographed and saved to be shared in your photo album!  You want to choose to remember the fun you had on the trip, right?  Yet the drama and the harsh behavior between competitors fuels the gossip on all social networks.  All that bitching encourages dishonor between human beings.  We make heroes out of people who don’t deserve it all because they are famous for nothing.  The famous become public domain, rarely using their fame for causes to better humanity.  They advertise products that promote our vanity and continue to sell tabloids that are not worth the paper they are printed on.

There is another kind of contest-ing that I do not like, one that I have decided to never participate in ever again, and that is submitting artwork or written material to win a celebrated artist’s or writer’s approval in order to be given a gift or win a favor from them.  The results are quite disappointing every time, not because the one who is picked isn’t talented, but because once again, it is more about winning approval and pleasing one person who, no matter how well executed your work is, may not understand or appreciate your perspective.  The judge in these contests (sometimes they are juries of artists or authors) seem to be looking for a “mini-me” that they can take under their wing.  Yet even when I’ve attempted to please a judge, that tactic does not always work.  It is a gamble.  You invest more money and time into something you have a 10% chance of winning.  As with advertising, you only have about 10 seconds to capture an audience’s attention.  If the judge is particularly well-known, they are going to have a ton of submissions, and a large panel of people assisting them in narrowing down the best.  There are more chances of you not making the cut.

Best get used to disappointment… fast.

I have always said that disillusionment has been one of my greatest teachers.  This has been true because I have made many heroes.  Those heroes have shown me they are liars.  Most of my heroes were comic book artists and authors.  The competition in the comic book industry has always been fierce.  My first close and personal hero rose up in the ranks to make his first million by stepping on a lot of toes.  He was my first connection in the business and I must have been like a tag-along little sister with stars in her eyes following him around.  He may have been frustrated with me, but how could someone I looked up to so much treated me so mean in front of his peers?  Not everyone we look up to deserves to be a hero.  I have seen my heroes wear many masks, make fun of the very people who worship them, and take for granted the cool job they have making believe for a living.  We pay them to lie.  That is the truth.  Let us not be blind to the fiction-makers.

I thank my first comic book industry hero for breaking my heart the way he did, because it freed me from falling for the bullshit that so often keeps my head out of the game.  The game?  For fifteen years I competed for jobs in that business and found out that it was not right for me.  Why fight when all I am really great at is to create?  I am no longer as bitter as I was and I am content to be at home producing as much work as I can.  I do not have the aspirations I once did to be the best.  I now have better goals and challenges to meet that involve helping others.

Last year I collaborated with the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to produce a comic book printed entirely in the Ojibwe language.  The goal wasn’t to make money, or even to make history, it was to provide a book that will get the Chippewa people, and others, interested in learning and using the native language that we are trying to preserve.  I want to do more projects like that, ones where I don’t have to compete to prove I am worth a damn, but one where I give hope and help to others.  Especially inspiration to other little girls like I was, the girls who make believe and live for dreams.

Yet still, on occasion, I find myself tempted to step up to the plate and count myself back in the game.  Especially when I want to be as admired as I admire someone else.  The little girl with the stars in her eyes still wants to believe in a hero, still aches for someone to prove to her that they are worthy to be praised, but also she wants to prove she is good enough — no, the BEST — woman worthy of your love.