It’s OK. I’m breathing.

It’s OK. I’m breathing.

Anyone alive today is the child of those who survived, and thus survival is in our DNA. Someone, somewhere, kept walking when they could have stopped. Maybe someone reached a hand out to keep them going. Maybe they marshaled their inner reserves to keep going. However they did it,  they walked on.

I lost hope in this country and have been feeling exhausted by our current situation. It’s not that I ever believed this country was without its deep flaws or didn’t recognize that it was built on oppression of others; it’s just that I thought (hoped) for a while that maybe we were finally realizing the potential for this democratic experiment and for a system that cared for the planet and its inhabitants. And then the election happened and all my hope went out the door.

In looking for hope or ways to cope, I started thinking about my own personal resiliency. Resiliency is keeping on when everything is arrayed against you.  I have never been in the worst of the worst for which I am so very grateful. But just living as an aware and engaged person in this society brings up its own need for coping in the ongoing acts of  working for change. Since the election and all the concomitant threats being arrayed against those whom I love, including the planet itself, I, like many others, have looked for and been part of creating the resistance. And it’s amazing. Far from being a small lone flower in the crack in the sidewalk – we are a massive garden in the middle of a concrete jungle! Millions of people are standing up, writing their elected officials and coming together for support and inspiration. New generations are taking to the streets. Eyes are focused on local elections and there is a demanding of accountability to our purported democratic processes.

But these actions haven’t been enough for me to shed my sense of loss, of my despair at a dying planet and troubled nation. I feel I have been moving in a fog of cynicism and despair, devoid of hope. My only prayer has been that people turn away from fear and greed towards loving one another and this beautiful Earth. I have had trouble moving beyond my sadness at the state of the world and the inadequacy of my actions.

So I started thinking about resiliency and the role of resiliency in my own life. I have been so fortunate to have not known despair and trauma; to have had it pretty easy even in my ability to choose to live a more alternative life style in my younger years and follow my passions for working for a better world and being in service to those ideals. And I always had hope that things were getting better – even when Reagan and Bush were elected, even when we went to war (again), even with the anti-abortion backlash in the 80’s, even with the rise of the tea party, I believed that society was moving towards each other, towards caring for each other and the planet.

Now I’m not so sure. My commitment and my actions do not waver but my lack of hope is bringing despair. Our beautiful ocean is choked with plastic, beaches are uninhabitable, water is undrinkable, the air is fouled and people are killing each other in greater numbers it seems than ever before. And these realities combined with our current political situation have me existing on the brink of despair. Where is the recognition of our shared humanity? Where is the recognition that all the jobs and improving economies of the world aren’t worth squat if our environment is so fouled as to be uninhabitable, if some people’s success is built on the backs of others?

So resiliency. All of these questions bring me back to resiliency and to how we are all children of survivors. Of people who kept going day by day even in some of the worst of times. My Irish and Hungarian ancestors fled to the US in search of a better life. My Jewish people kept going in the face of persistent persecution and oppression. I often wonder if I would have been one who survived. But I am determined to move forward. To continually look for the good and renew some modicum of hope – to move beyond just anger at the sad state of the world.

I inadvertently bumped into a woman the other day. When I apologized, she said. “It’s OK. I’m breathing.”

“It’s OK. I’m breathing.” Simple. Profound. To wake up every morning still breathing. Rising to live another day, come what will. My tradition invites us to start each day by saying Modeh ani lefanecha ruach chai vekayam. It means, essentially, “Thank God I’m alive and there is breath in my soul! Her words just reminded me that when it all comes down to it, that is reason enough. To just wake up to fight, to live, to love another day.

And then Shavuot happened. Shavuot commemorates the spring festival and the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai. It is a gathering of celebrating and learning. We gathered to explore the path of pursuing justice and in coming together, we renewed our spirits. We talked and sang about tending our own sacred internal fires and the role of community coming together to build this world from love – Olam chesed yibaneh. And I feel renewed. And grateful. All the desperate action of doing in the world is not enough if there is not a cultivation of the being. Through tending my own internal fire, I am able to rekindle my hope.

There are so many words of comfort and inspiration:

“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Mishna 2:21)”

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
― Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
― Elizabeth Edwards

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
― Maya Angelou

I assemble these words, these songs, these prayers and I weave a tapestry of comfort. I call on the all those who came before me to be strong within my blood. I reach my hand to the one next to me and we walk on together. Walk on. Walk on.

On death

On death

All the hubbub around Planned Parenthood made me start thinking about death. Actually, remembering about death is more accurate.

Death is always present in this crazy world and many people go too soon in unexpected ways and we, the living, are left to figure out how to move on. I don’t think Americans do a really good job of dealing with the reality of death, whether it be of people or of the animals that become the food we eat. We  sanitize our meat in nice tight little hygienic packages so we don’t ever have to think about the fact that the meat was once a living breathing animal (often raised and killed in abysmal conditions.) We take dramatic measures to keep everybody alive at all costs or affect when sometimes we just need to let go. After death, we fill the bodies of our departed loved ones with chemicals and lock them in an air proof container so that they are frozen as static corpses, never returning to dust or Earth and then we ask people to move on, get over it and we are uncomfortable talking about it.

I believe in death. I believe in honoring the cycle of  life and death. To everything there is a season and death brings the opportunity to stand in our deepest connection to self and spirit and pain and loss and love. I believe in bringing an awareness of death more deeply into my daily life, to honor the small ways that death is present and to acknowledge the large ways that death is all around us. I don’t take this sweet life for granted and I tell my family I love them as we head our separate ways.

For me, dealing with death first came to me because of my political beliefs more than from an experience of pain and loss. As a young feminist,  humanist,  liberal,  activist,  I came naturally to believing in a woman’s right to choose – not just in the the case of rape or incest but anytime. No judgement, no questions asked.

So abortion became a big part of my life. I worked at two different clinics where abortions were done. I’d rather focus on prevention and access to contraception, of course. I do believe abortion should be the last resort. I was the education coordinator at a Planned Parenthood in Texas in the early 90’s and I took my bag of contraception to all kinds of people. I talked to wiggly 5th graders, rude 7th graders, tough men in halfway houses, people on the street, at fairs and festivals and I gave away thousands of free condoms.

But condoms break, people forget, methods simply fail to provide 100% coverage and pregnancy happens. So I believe in abortion. Which brings me back to death.

I kill some bugs, I pull weeds, I eat meat, I’ve had relatives and friends who have died, and I worked in abortion care. I was also a midwife. As a midwife, I stood at the doorway of life and death – most of the time new people came through the doorway into life. But I was always aware of the presence of death and a couple of my midwife sisters experienced the gateway that ended in death. Some midwives go to the other door and became end-of-life midwifes who help people transition from this life into the great beyond with the same care and attention that they used to give to new arrivals.

As part of my herbal and midwifery studies, I apprenticed for a summer with wise and wild woman Susun Weed up in Woodstock NY.  Susun had a reputation for pushing her apprentices hard – challenging them to step more deeply into their power. Word on the street was she frequently brought people to tears. As an emotional being and someone quick to tears, I went with some trepidation. Though I certainly cried over the course of the summer, I was not brought to my knees in some of the ways that my sisters were – partially because I was already a gatekeeper. Someone who had already stood at the doorway between life and death. Susun knew this about me and so she went a little easier on me.

Ostensibly I went to Susun to study herbalism. Raw, wild, connected herbalism – not nice clean bottles of capsules but herbalism steeped in myth, dirt, blood, ritual and prayers. Simple descriptions of Susun’s classes are not easy but suffice to say that one of the things I went to study with Susun was death. Specifically giving death.

Susun was, probably still is, a goat keeper. Her goats were a source of food, inspiration and teaching for us. We apprentices were responsible for herding, milking, making cheese, observing their grazing patterns to see how they used plants and, if there was a young billy on the premises, giving it death. Billies grow up to be big aggressive, stinky bucks unless castrated and, according to Susun, bring that strong goaty smell that taints the milk and cheese made on premises. So Susun practiced herd control by culling the young billies and using the act as a major teaching tool.

Susun ascribes several roles to the act of killing the young billy. There is She Who Wields the Knife, She Who Holds the Goat, She Who Stands in Support and She Who Walks in the Woods Wishing This Wasn’t Happening. I didn’t know about this before I arrived but as soon as I understood what was possible, I knew I had to be She Who Wields the Knife.

I didn’t grow up on a farm where death of an animal was a more casual affair. As a meat eater, I had never actually wrung a chicken’s neck though I watched my Danish exchange mom do it. I had never actually killed a deer though I had eaten deer my relatives had killed. So the act of giving death was important to me. If I was to continue to eat meat I knew I had to be able to kill the animal. Which also brings us back to abortion. I had been present at many abortions through the clinic and I had learned how to use homemade, safe, under ground ways of performing abortions should the laws protecting access ever fall and I had had an abortion but I had never performed one. I felt I had to learn a  more about the full spectrum of giving death in order to integrate all of my experiences.

It is no secret to the apprentices (or to the goats though I am not so sure about their grasp on human words and intent) which goats will die. They are given names and the goat my summer was Joe. One fine day close to the end of my apprenticeship it was time to usher Joe out of the land of the living and into being food for humans. We gathered in circle with Joe, we loved him up, we sang to him, we told him what was happening and when it was time, I took the very sharp knife and I slit his throat. Which was way harder than I expected. The energy field plus the hair and muscle are tough and it took all of my physical and emotional strength to make the cut. (Keep in mind, farm people and indigenous folk who live much closer to the Earth than I do, do this all the time. It’s just a matter-of-fact action. You want to eat, you kill the goat. No big deal.)

But for me it was a big deal. At this point in my life, I had not seen death up this close and personal. I had not seen a large being move from life to death, nor seen a newly dead being.

We waited until Joe’s spirit left. We supported him as he died. I saw the very clear moment when his spirit left though his life processes continued for another moment more. The natural pump cycle came to a close. And then we skinned him and we ate him and I tanned the hide and made rattles out of his hooves. Nothing was wasted and everyone who chose to eat meat was fed. She Who Walked in the Woods came back and life went on as normal. Except for me. I was changed inside. I was now a death giver. I knew I could do it again.

I also know that when you do something frequently, it becomes more matter of fact. The Turkana women in Kenya that I visited didn’t make a big deal out of preparing their meat. Neither did my Danish exchange mom – she simply wrung the chicken necks then chopped off their heads.

And now you may be wondering what this has to do with abortion. And here’s where it gets hard for people who have never worked in an abortion clinic. When you do something frequently, it becomes more matter of fact. The first time you sky dive (which I haven’t) it’s a terrifyingly big deal. For the jump instructor who’s jumped hundreds of time, not so much. Same thing with anything. The job of the jump instructor is to remember that it may be the first and only time for the participant and be present and attentive. Which is true for health workers attending a woman through her abortion. (And should be true for any health workers and social workers in any situation but often isn’t!) You are present for her, you support her as she needs to be supported and you are present for this individual having a very difficult day.

But in the lab and behind the doors, that individual is one of many for the day. You won’t remember her, she probably won’t stand out unless there is something particularly unique. Before a woman can be released for the day, the tissue has to be examined. The “product of conception” is the sanitized term. Lab workers (and I did this) have to examine the parts for completeness. No matter how supportive you are of abortion, this part is not that easy. You are examining what was potential for life, what might have become a baby. What some say already is a baby. I don’t agree with that, but there’s no doubt that you are looking at a potential human. But when you do something frequently, it becomes more matter of fact. You have conversations about where you are going to eat, what movies you saw, you laugh and make jokes. You do not remain in a state of reverence. And from what I have read and heard, this is true for morticians, embalmers, forensic pathologists, doctors. In their cases, hopefully they respect the human cadaver who was once a fully actualized person but I imagine they laugh and make jokes and talk about where they are going to eat even as they are cutting through a breast bone.

So I got really pissed off at the folks who went undercover to capture “callous baby killers” talking about sale of fetal tissue. Taking some self righteous, opportunistic, hypocritical tone about something they actually know nothing about. Wouldn’t it make sense that people working in stem cell research need willingly donated fetal tissue to study? Wouldn’t you rather have it benefit science, just like organ donation does? Planned Parenthood is an under funded program because to some people, preventing an abortion is more important than any other aspect of human life. As Sister Joan Chittister said: “…your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.”  Some prefer to force women to be at the mercy of biology when at no other point in Western American life are we forced to “accept what is” and be at the mercy of biology. So if Planned Parenthood and research labs can work together on transacting willingly donated fetal tissue – so be it. Death is around us all the time, increased in the US because of atrocious gun laws and endless war, but let a woman take responsibility for her own reproductive actions and for her own life and give death gracefully and safely in the manner that works for her, and people freak out. I’m not going to deny that it’s death. I’m saying look at this death-giving in the context of many other types of deaths and know that it is way better to support women in being responsible for this choice in this action.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues of our time. It’s never really desirable and should always be last resort but, for me, a woman’s right to not be at the mercy of her biology trumps everything else. Yes, it is giving death. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. Let’s midwife the woman through a difficult moment with whatever prayer, support or jokes she needs. And let’s stop sanitizing death so that those who work in giving death can’t be shamed by people with a political agenda taking a holier-than-thou stance. And maybe, just maybe if we stop sanitizing death then we will actually be affected by the grisly images of our children dying in war, of random gun violence, of the brutality of factory farms, and create something different – a world where we honor the full cycle of life and death, one where people can live and die with dignity.

I don’t believe in war, I don’t believe in trophy hunting. I don’t like first person shooter games that show such disregard for human life. I don’t support factory farming. But not because I don’t believe in “killing.” I do believe in creating a humane and respectful context for death for all of us. And especially for all who are in the presence of death: to the chicken or goat being eaten; to those losing loved ones; to the hunter feeding her family; to those who wish to pass with grace and awareness from this world; or to those making a choice to not bring an unwanted child in the world.

May you be comforted by the strength of your love.

When All That’s Left Is Love by Rabbi Allen S. Maller
When I die 
If you need to weep
Cry for someone  
Walking the street beside you.
You can love me most by letting
Hands touch hands, and Souls touch souls.
You can love me most by
Sharing your Simchas (goodness) and
Multiplying your Mitzvot (acts of kindness).
You can love me most by
Letting me live in your eyes
And not on your mind.
And when you say Kaddish for me
Remember what our
Torah teaches,
Love doesn’t die People do.
So when all that’s left of me is love
Give me away.

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there. 
I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow. 
I am the diamond glints on snow. 
I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. 
I did not die.

An old draft newly posted

First written April 2014

Growth is a spiral of expansion and contraction. Change forces you through the mitzrayim, the narrow place where options are reduced, choices are limited and the walls press close in, constricting and blinding. Having just finished Passover, the awareness of Mitzrayim is high. Each Jew is encouraged to look at their own places of mitzrayim –  the places where we constrict our own energy. We are encouraged to look at self-liberation even as we explore the story of being released from Egypt and the bonds of slavery. Freeing your self is painful, scary, exhilarating, terrifying, maddening, exciting and just plain confusing. It is easier to remain in the narrow strait of comfort and familiarity than to imagine and create something new.

But the internal promptings of the soul,  the still small voice within murmurs of the need for change like the sound of the quiet creek in the thickets. It prickles like sand on skin, irritating until you pay attention; it teases and harries like the mockingbird forcing you away from her nest. The still small voice becomes a clarion, shrieking for change like a bull elephant thundering at you through the bush until you can no more stand still but must heed its warning. And there is terror in the running.

kol-haolam

I  stand on the narrow bridge, in the narrow straits knowing that things must change. Like a lightning bolt that topples the tree, change is upon me. I am in reactive phase; looking at possible destruction of some of the basic structure of my life and the idea that everything could fall apart. I stand trembling and afraid – afraid of making the wrong choice, of misinterpreting signs, of putting my family at risk. It feels like crisis energy – adrenaline, mad impulses to flee, the temptation of the truly unknown. Fortunately teachings come when needed and my wise teacher clued me in to the movements on the larger astrological plane. All of the energies suggest fiery energy, unresolved patterns, an urge for change, for freedom. Rock the boat, break free, ride the wave, be the change!

When crisis energy creeps along the edges of reality, dreams are troubled and energy is chaotic. Thoughts of radical liberation tickle: Buy a camper and hit the road! Sell everything and go to Costa Rica! Leave, just leave and don’t look back.”

All of those messages promise a different path, a path of freedom from care, from worry, from responsibility. The open door beckons and I can visualize stepping through it. Breaking the bonds that tie me here in a second. I see myself sitting in a bar in Mexico watching the sun go down, cold drink in my hand, no thought of those I left behind or what will happen tomorrow.

But at the end of the day, the end of the minute, the next breath in, when a friend offers the prayer of sharing time, the gift of a hug, the solace of inspiration, then thoughts of fleeing subside.  My wise friend who shows up whenever I need him, right where I never expect to find him in the place he always is begins the conversation as he always does, as if it was yesterday’s continuation. “Bless you,” he says. “Bless you.” “Hallelujah” I cry to the green growing world. The wild plant energy cascades a rainbow shimmer across my heart and eyes.

I sink to my knees and turn my face to the sun. I have been running and need to walk. Need to soak my tired soul in essence of change. Or is it essence of stillness? When is sitting in stillness a radical change? When does movement cease so that the whispers of butterflies can be heard and the quiet growth of snap peas can be observed, taken in? When does running not solve the need for change? I learn to stay in place and let the change be of a different sort. Of a trusting sort that looks to the wise universe and sweet friends for support.

And so the contractions of change begin: the dissolution of the caterpillar into primordial ooze, reforming itself into butterfly. The pulsing of the womb sending the child down through the narrow place into the expansion of first breath. The caterpillar and the baby do not fear change, and, like them, on my narrow bridge, I will not either.

Who I Am and Why I am Here!

Who I Am and Why I am Here!

I love prompts like this. Let’s just wrap  the answers to all the hardest questions in the universe into 1 easy paragraph!! I am doing the Blogging 101 course in order to deepen my mad blogging skills and figure out exactly why I am writing and how I will “use it.”  Hineni means “Here I am.” So it’s kind of funny that the first question is “Why are you here?”  On an existential level, I am here because I am here. To be more present is the answer to why am I here. When the universe calls out “Where are you?” I answer “Hineni.” That’s why I’m here.

As to the who I am question, I answer with the phrase Ehyeh asher ehyeh which is “I am that I am” or “I am becoming that which I am becoming.” Or to pull from the wisdom of the spinach eating pirate “I yam what I yam…” So that’s who I am.

But those are the bird’s eye views. For this particular question, I am blogging because I love to write and because I think I have something to say! Things that I think others might want to hear.

I journaled most of my life until I had children and then I stopped. Now I don’t journal because I really don’t want to write into a void. I want to write for an audience! Whew – that is really hard to admit!!

Part of my journey is claiming my wisdom and uncovering the teacher within. Eventually I believe I will create a second blog that is targeted towards the next phase of my work which will revolve around teaching and facilitating on community building, social justice and building the beloved community. For now, I am just writing for the love of words, for the delight of wrapping my mind around a topic and expressing it. This blog explores small acts of creativity, parenting and role of art in my life. I explore how I can be deeply present in my life, find satisfaction and also how do I push to deepen my connections with the natural world, with being Jewish and with being creative. And I might write about chickens too.

Is it enough?

Is it enough?

I am sure folks have seen the Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation floating around  on Facebook:

I muse on that today as I get ready to go back to work. I am the director of a small community center in the heart of the most diverse square mile in the US. We are a gathering place for art, education, recreation and community building serving newly arrived refugees and long time residents. One in three residents is foreign-born and the local high school boasts over 57 languages! Over 40,000 individuals come through each year looking for all kinds of things: for help, for education, for fun; to serve, to grow, to celebrate. We have gardens, art, classes, social services, events, and a variety of programs. Wrapping around it all is a peace-making initiative of community engagement. We believe that if you have a chance to hang out with your neighbors, get to know them a bit, share food, art or sports then there is a good chance you will discover that people are not as “different” as you think they are; that having an opportunity to play or work with someone builds bridges. We find that sometimes simply coming in contact with people who are different from yourself opens up your heart and mind.

So as I get ready to return to work following the winter holidays, I am musing on the work of trying to do good in the world, to find satisfaction in the small scale, huge work of community building in this little town. I often wonder if it is making a difference. If I am making a difference. I have been there nearly five years now and I have seen a lot of things change. I have seen things get better despite some efforts to rip down and hinder any hint of progress. I see how the recession brought people together to bridge silos and to be more open about sharing resources. I see amazing creativity in working with little resources and getting amazing things done. Some days I see this.

Some days it just feels as though nothing is changing, nothing is getting better, People are stuck in their ways. There is ineptitude, rigidity and judgement.  Often I feel like Sisyphus – pushing the rock up the hill only to have it crash back down upon me. If there is a lesson I have learned it is that true change is sloooowwww… Glacially slow… Mind numbingly, frustratingly slow. As an impatient person, I some days have trouble with this! I don’t want to have this conversation again, address this issue again, beat my head against this particular wall again…

Some days it feels not quite as satisfying as  I imagine building a well in a rural village or opening a school where there is none, would be. Things that seem more romantic and more immediate.  But I know deep in my heart that that conception is idealized.  All of my Peace Corps friends talk about wondering  if they are making any difference at all too. In international development work, people discover first hand how truly heavy and hard that rock is to push up the hill.

Some days, however, I see the pay off. I can certainly see the growth in the agency itself – all the incredible growth that has happened over five years. But I can see it in the community as well. Teens getting Gates scholarship, residents stepping up and putting on festivals, community working together, shy children able to speak confidently before their peers. Seeing people feel empowered and gaining confidence in their lives. But change is slow. Long standing social issues don’t change quickly. Generational poverty doesn’t go away overnight. Apartment complexes don’t get better in a month. Schools don’t turn around in a year. The problems are so multi-faceted and often interconnected.

The world is so large and I am so small. Is it enough, this small work that I do? Can I do more? Can I do more and stay sane? Not burn out? I need to pace myself for the long haul. Which sometimes means making personal choice for time out, for self care, for the kind of  indulgence that is a privilege afforded me by virtue of being a middle class American. It might just be operating in mainstream American society for a couple days and not thinking about hungry people or access to health care or medicaid paper work. I have that luxury. I carry the fights within me; the injustices, the world devastation, the discrimination and intolerance but I can also choose to put them on a back burner for a moment and find renewal of spirit by checking out.

People in non-profit service industries tend to burn out and move around a lot. It is hard work being in the trenches. Some feel called by God to serve, others by a sense of moral injustice, others by a desire to give back. I have always been in non-profits – I saw the inequalities and injustices and knew that I couldn’t turn my back. That if I didn’t do it, it might not get done. I also know that I can’t do everything despite my care and awareness about all the issues. So I do what I can do and I seek satisfaction in so doing.

I work to live my life authentically. To model what I teach. To seek satisfaction in the small moments and to build community in all of my life. As I complete my 50th year I know that I have lived well and I believe I am making a difference. It may be small differences but what is life made of if not a collection of small moments and small circles of people reaching towards each other and the sky?

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50 Days of B.I.R.T.H.D.A.Y.

50

Fifty days of B.I.R.T.H.D.A.Y. begin tomorrow! Fifty days of Beauty. Intent. Respect. Thoughtfulness. Happiness. Delight. Attentiveness and (saying) Yes! On February 20, I complete my 50th year. Finish another trip around the sun. Turn 50! It’s a mile stone no matter how much I pretend it’s not. Over this past year I have found myself musing on all sorts of body-, career- and age-related thoughts such as: “I’m almost 50. Can I still wear my hair in pony tails?” or “I figure I have about 20 years for another career – I better get started figuring it out!” and “I feel like I’m invisible right now. Is that for real?” I have also had multiple instances of being the the oldest person in the room. It’s an odd sensation as I am more used to often being one of the youngest in the room…

And then there’s pop media – always problematic in itself. Never a big reader of women’s magazines anyway, they repel me even more with their constant harping on how the best years of life are behind me, even if they’re trying to pretend it’s not: “Living it up after 40!” “How to turn back time in 55 easy steps!” And then there’s casual “age privilege” in the form of phrases in books which  reference such gems as “She was a  woman in her late 40’s, vestiges of her former beauty still evident,”  or the ever popular comment on “fading beauty.”  Unfortunately, some of these words have sent me running to the mirror to peer at my own face. Is the vestige of my beauty still evident? Have I faded!?

The endless array of beauty products pushed on older women is depressing in and of itself. “Fight time!” “Look years younger!” “Miracle worker.” “Choose your favorite for the ultimate antiaging arsenal.” Ugh. (Feminist side thought: Of course, the endless array of beauty products pushed at all women is pretty gross too – that endless message that your natural self is somehow gross and unacceptable and it’s only through the array of products that cover, push up, flatten, enhance etc. make you a “real” woman, i.e. sexy to a man,  is a whole ‘nuther topic of discussion! End feminist side thought!)

The great thing about being 50 is that I really don’t give a shit any more. My fore mothers, those brave feminists, did a lot of trail blazing which provided me permission to have my own relationship to being a woman and how I present  to the world. I’ve always had my own style, my own approach to loving my beautiful, round, hirsute self and I do not intend to diminish that in my elder years. In fact, I intend to expand it! Rumor has it that 50 is the new 30 or something like that. All I know is that it is another day to celebrate, spread love, receive love and enjoy being alive!

Which brings me to B.I.R.T.H.D.A.Y. and how I will honor the run up to my birthday. For the next 50 days, I will apply the principles of Beauty. Intent. Respect. Thoughtfulness. Happiness. Delight. Attentiveness and (saying) Yes. Through poetry, art, friendship, blogging and whatever other tools present, I am indulging in a celebration of Me, of life, and of honoring this particular mile stone, this particular turning of the year of the wheel.

Won’t you join me?

Free form Friday – not imagining the worst

I track your progress through the action in the bank account. Logging on to take care of daily business on the home front, I see the payments and withdrawals made by you on your travels:  A stop in Metter for gas where I know you get out and stretch your legs, possibly buy a diet Coke for the last hours on the road, a visit to CVS suggests some mundane need like batteries or gum. Dinner at a steakhouse in Savannah where you enjoy fried oysters and read your book while eating, enjoying your solitary time.  With perfect trust I observe your progression through the hinterlands of Georgia as reflected in the bank account.

But what if it wasn’t?

In an alternate world of secrets and lies a la Walter White, this bank account map could tell a very different story. What if the stop in Metter was really to meet a contact for a drug exchange? In the innocent parking lot of the QT, you  pull up to pump number three. You start the gas flowing and open your back door, seemingly to rummage around for a jacket or new CD. The car on the other side of the island is a nondescript white car, dented right fender. The driver starts his gas flowing, opens his back door. In your rummaging, you drop a packet on the ground, a brown lunch bag. The guy very graciously picks it up and hands it back to you. You nod your thanks, finish pumping. You get back in your car and drive away, heart pumping like the gas through the hose. On your back seat is now a different brown bag then the one you dropped. This bag now contains meth, oxycontin, heroin, or crack.

The stop at CVS is not for batteries or gum but for condoms.

The dinner at a steakhouse is not a solitary affair at all.

The Air B&B rental  is not owned by a nice elderly lady at all.

The 10 days that I think you are doing shows could be very different. The bank account only shows the form, not the substance. Those deposits coming in could be for anything;  sale of drugs, or your body, or someone else’s body. Or even if you are doing shows, maybe you’re not doing them alone. Twenty days a year in Savannah is enough to build on. The BFF librarian in Midway really could be a BFF. A BFF with benefits. The possibilities for daily betrayals are endless.

Secrets and lies. According to the tabloids they happen all the time. Infidelities, secret lives,double families, hidden addictions. How do we ever really know? 

But with perfect trust I observe your progression through the hinterlands of Georgia as reflected in the bank account. Smiling as I count down the tanks of gas and the diet Cokes in the small towns you pass through until  you come back to me.

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