Toothpaste and Survival

Sheep Rock, OR. photo by Mary Dessein
Most people would throw it away.
I take the seemingly empty toothpaste tube, cut it open, and get every bit of toothpaste out of it, easily five more uses before I throw the absolutely 100% empty tube away. The stick of deodorant is seemingly empty, the container is flat across the top of the stick. No… I scoop out the remainder inside the stick, clearly a couple weeks more deodorant still in there.
And the lipstick tube? Why it has a good 1/8th of an inch of usable lipstick in the bottom. I thought these were normal practices, until it was brought to my attention that not everyone does these things.
We won’t go into Christmas bags and bows…

I was born a good twenty-five years after the Great Depression. Yet my parents were raised during those years.
It appears my, shall we say intense, frugality was carried forward from them.

Another belief that I have struggled with since I was a teen is ‘men are authority figures and are to be obeyed.’ The struggle was that the belief was firmly implanted, yet my intuition resisted all the time. Looking back as I recognize this falsehood, I am lucky to be alive as being obedient included backseats of cars, saying yes when all my insides shouted No, getting in a VW bus and driving to Yugoslavia with a stranger from the Venice train station, not asking questions when dicey situations were presented, allowing abusive behavior to go on yet saying nothing.

Here’s one for you: food is solace and comfort for whatever troubles you. Oh my. I have dealt with overweight since I was young. Something that tastes good will make the problem and uneasy feelings go away, right? Related to that, here is another recipe for life-long eating issues: “There are starving children in China – you must eat every morsel on your plate whether you are hungry or not.” These over-rode a child’s natural response. Kids are truth-tellers and instinct-followers: they make candid reports (“You smell funny. You have a big nose. I don’t like that.”) to avoiding people and situations they are uneasy about.

So who’s stories were those? Old stories happening through me? If they are not my stories, what are mine? I have a right to my own stories don’t I?

In thinking about my parents this morning – my mom, Josette, gone three and a half years and my dad, Kenney, gone thirty-three and a half, I wonder what they would tell me now that they’ve had a long distance view.
Then a mental shazaam followed: what would my sister tell me? She died fourteen and a half years ago at the age of forty-nine and four days of “undetermined causes” as there was no clear explanation for why her heart stopped. What would Rosie tell me? Was she living her own story, or someone else’s? I have often wondered since that difficult time, was she looking for her own path, what was her dream? She had drifted along, trying various occupations such as working on fishing boats in Alaska, photography, office work, and was in optician school when she died.

Virtuoso pianist in Montreal playing Bohemian Rhapsody

What I am learning about my own story and my own path is that I create it, albeit standing on the shoulders of those before me. I watch the magnificent thousands of geese arching above me and the hummingbirds flitting about my porch at the feeders even as it is snowing. True to one’s self, true to one’s heart really is survival. The ‘shoulds’ are falling away as I recognize them. Byron Katie’s work is reflected here on being with what is.

Being true to myself and true to my heart’s calling is my survival and the path to writing my own story.

Who’s Garden?

Kenney & Josette 1944
Last Thursday would have been my parents’ 74th wedding anniversary. This coming February will be my grandparents, Marguerite and Alfred’s, 96th wedding anniversary. My mother has only been gone three years; her dad, Alfred, died eighty-one years ago.

My, oh my, where is my place in time? Now, for sure. At least I like to think so. This is an abundant time in my life as I reach out to friends, new friends step into my life, my creativity has moved to the forefront of my priorities. It was a luxury before, now that I admit how quickly my earthly clock is ticking, I realize it is now or never to write that novel (and the ones in the idea pipeline), ruminate and publish these blogs, choose the gigs I want to accept, and get my next award-winning CD done!

I am learning to release the things I wish I had done: been more present for my Mom when my dad was dying, then later when she herself was dealing with a cancer. When I did not follow up with a friend, who died before I got out to visit her. Talk about my, oh my: the times I did not protect my children. My son at a young age had to do many things on his own, including as a first-grader to ride a bus to daycare with older, mean-to-little-kids kids, and later, catch the bus way early a quarter mile down the country road we lived on.

Actually, that ‘what I failed at’ list is getting pretty long, so the things I did right is the list I’m thinking about now. And even better, the above to-do list. If I had known then to be more attentive, to ask more questions, to be more compassionate… famous last words.

“Commitments that are broken are those where there is non-alignment among mind, heart, and action, when one or more of these parts are not willing to participate fully,” Angeles Arrien.

I have come close to that understanding by saying when someone, including myself, didn’t follow through, it was because they were not ‘invested’ in whatever the project or commitment was. Dr. Arrien gave me a deeper understanding of this. And my commitment to others has often taken precedence over a commitment to myself.
This path of finding my place in time interests me more all the time. This is a path most of us revisit over and over at different stages in our lives.

Alfred & Marguerite 1923

The 74 year anniversary got me thinking. I have kept so many things, linens of my great-grandparents’, paintings of my grandmother’s, and keepsakes of my mom’s that I have no specific attachment to, however I think I am obligated to keep them because of my attachment to the people who were precious to me.

Surprise! Guess who was keeping all these things before me? Bonus prize: you’re right, it was my mom.
I am coming to realize what is mine and what is not. Big light-bulb for me. The precious part of those people is within me, which I can’t lose. It seemed the cardinal sin was to forget someone. God forbid I do something I am not supposed to do. Mary always does what she is supposed to do.

Sure, I have done well at lots of those things: my boss, Marcia, thought I’d do well in Drug Court. She was right, I did great. I also was a good optician, a good receptionist, a good office manager, a good counselor and advocate. I enjoyed doing those things, and know I did my best to help others; every now and then, a voice from those times will find me. I love that. Yet, those jobs were usually someone else’s idea. Even as I bloomed like a rose, which helped me learn and develop, it now seems I had been planted in someone else’s garden. If that was my apprenticeship – I’m good with that. Where is my place now?

In my own garden – of friends, stories, music, novels, CDs, and blooming again as my true self. The richness of all those previous experiences will deepen my creativities. I am learning to say Yes or No without worrying what others will think. I am learning to take nothing others do personally (oh yeah, this is ongoing!) I am learning to listen more deeply. I am learning to release judgments (okay, this is ongoing, too.) I am learning to trust and follow my heart’s calling.

Where is my place now? I’m not sure, however, I am delighted to follow the path. You are so welcome to come along~

A Mysterious Thread

Peninsula College photo by Mary Dessein
It is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.
Now that could mean this is the only fall I can remember. It could mean I am truly amazed by the flamboyant oranges, golds, yellows, russets, ambers, corals, titians, hennas, coppers, and saffrons I see across the park in the one hundred foot tall cottonwoods and maples.

It could mean I have been so focused on going, doing, finishing, scheduling, herding, supervising, parenting, balancing, cleaning, and meeting that I did not take time to look around me. No matter how the wind blew or how high the tawny maple leaves piled up in the corners of my carport, I had tasks to complete, dawdling in wonder was not on that list.

In the fall that I started first grade, I could hardly wait for the first day of school. My mother bought me a dress. It came in a plastic bag, was folded neatly and flatly like the shirts on tables at Penney’s. She probably got it there actually. I clearly recall the pale steel blue background with little gold and dark blue pinwheel designs in an orderly pattern of rows, similar to a chain link fence. I kicked through the leaves as Mom walked me the nine blocks to Central Elementary School, delivered me to Miss Winan’s first grade classroom, then took my little sister’s hand and walked back home.

In driving southeast on I-90 through Sammamish, by Preston, over Snoqualmie Pass, alongside Keechelus Lake, and past Cle Elum a few days ago, I again thought, “This is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.”

How much have I skimmed by without taking the time to really see? Oh my, I don’t think I want to start a list. What I do want to do is start anew. Hear the Canadian geese flying over head and stop to listen to their honking.

Ritter Ridge, OR photo by Mary Dessein

See the jagged edges of ice along Camas Creek, white against the dark creek bed; watch the fuchsia leaf dangling below the hanging basket on my porch by a mysterious thread twisting in the breeze; watch a toddler pulling at the handles of a paper grocery bag and laughing in delight while she sits in the shopping cart; pull my car off to the side of the road of Ritter Ridge and gaze into the forever distance over the hills at the gathering soft pink and orange dusk; play fetch-the-stick with my grand-puppies and be in their joy, not my to-do list.

Indeed, this is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.

A Harp and a Stone

Harp Camp photo by Mary Dessein
Harp Camp. Can you imagine such a divine experience – to be with twenty other harpists over a weekend to play together, to learn, to be supported in your music wherever your expertise is, without competition?

The event’s official name is the Puget Sound Folk Harp Society Annual Summer Harp Retreat. It was Harp Camp to me. Not only were my companions of kindred spirit, we were at Camp Casey on the west side of Whidbey Island, right on the beach, where I could wander and see the Port Townsend ferry going back and forth as I skipped rocks. Smooth, flat rocks like my dad showed me were the best to propel across the water.

Of the total twenty-four people there, I knew one person. And she knew one person there: me. So, compatriots.

This Harp Retreat has been going on for over twenty years, I was encouraged to attend it by my harp teacher a few times. I always had a reason I couldn’t go: timing, work, finances, kids – I was not very creative. The real reason being, of course, that I was afraid I wasn’t good enough and in such a situation, everyone would know!

The event was planned so well: we had two-hour breaks for meals which allowed us time for wandering, socializing, walking to the Admiral Head lighthouse, and/or jamming together. As I walked the beach, I kept a vigilant eye out for the flat, round, palm-of-my-hand sized skipping stones. I also saw tangles of cola-colored kelp, empty tan and orange crab shells with green algae growing on them, long strands of green quarter-inch wide seaweed all carried up onto the rocky beach in the calming soosh of the waves.

I was skipping along in my life, doing things I enjoyed, with a rather whimsical approach, not really knowing or planning where the skip would take me, yet enjoying the hopping along.

Certainly I had heard the various guides to success: make a five and ten year plan; focus on your goal; Action Changes Things. I read and enjoyed Steven Pressfield’s books on artistic endeavors, including ‘The War of Art’ and ‘Do the Work.’ I am a walking, talking example of the power of Resistance, Steven’s embodiment of the things that combine to sway us from our creativity.

Harp Camp got over late morning on Sunday. I visited with others, helped clean up, made a last walk to the nearby beach. Then launched toward home. My intuition guided me to the longest route; going straight home was not an option. I returned to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, then walked on the beach at Ebey’s Landing a couple hours, at Deception Pass Park another hour, and stopped on the Deception Pass Bridge for a while. The beauty, wonder, energy, insight, and honesty were swirling around inside me, forming words so I could understand the swirl.

I knew what I felt: wonder, excitement, connection to new friends, hope, humility and … a clearer knowing.

Smack-a-roo right in my face: I could be a better harpist and better musician. Why wasn’t I doing it? I knew clearly what I wanted: to make music, write books, teach along the way, and perform.

My friend Greg D., richly experienced and skilled guitar player and performer, has gotten on my case about using more harmony and options with my left hand. I processed this a few ways, including telling him once that I am a harpist not a guitarist. Yet, what I now see, one of the things he was pressing me to do was be better. And that he believed I could be.

Marianne Williamson’s words come back to me, words I have used often in teaching, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? …Your playing small does not serve the world.”

I can coast along and do fine. There are many things I am good at, thank you very much. Is fine good enough?

As my earthly clock is ticking much faster now, my mortality has become more real. Health concerns? Not significant ones, but I’ll never see 50 again. So…I must now dispel my denial that I will actually really die one day as well as my tendency to procrastinate doing creative things in order to do a myriad of other ‘important’ things. Yes, for other people or entities, hence the shadow.

Steven Pressfield identifies the ‘shadow career’ or ‘shadow life,’ as something I am good at, may even excel at, yet is not my passion or my talent, nor does it fulfill me the same way engaging in my creativity does. It is a shadow in that because I am successful doing the shadow activity, it fools me away from my passion; my ego may join forces with the shadow, “You’re good at this, don’t rock the boat.”

As I look back on Arthur Storch’s comment to Aaron Sorkin, “You have the capacity to be so much better than you are,” I admit I wanted to shine but have been afraid to shine too much. Some is okay but too many people noticing me? Nope, uh-uh, no way.

I am now seeing the limitations I have put on myself. The allowing myself to chase nearly every shiny thing I see has certainly brought me some interesting experiences (walking on the Great Wall of China, putting my hand on the pyramids at Chichen Itza, paddling a gondola in Venice, climbing the 284 stairs to the top of L’Arc de Triomphe to view the vista of Paris) and there is value there. Yet, I need to find the balance.

Yup, it is time to be honor my talents and step out. I will up my game. “… playing small does not serve the world” or me. As a child on the beach with my dad, there were times when I had just the right stooped-over-to-the-side posture, my stone hit the water at just the right angle, and I sailed a stone so that it skipped seven times in its dance across the water.

My skipping stones are now stepping stones.

Truth & Dare …

My mom & her sister, Jackie 1929

Did I mention the signals my foot has been receiving from outer space? Maybe I didn’t, thinking you might not understand.

I, too, thought they were something else.
The first one came as I was sitting in my living room reading when I felt the outer side of my right foot vibrate, like my phone does when I receive a text. Hhhm, the stereo must be louder than I realized as I figured it was the music vibrating through the floor. Then it happened again a few minutes later. I got up and turned the stereo down. Soon my foot vibrated again. This time, I turned the stereo off.

A little while later, the same unmistakable vibration buzzed my foot. Was this some weird kind of stroke? I had no other symptoms, no discomfort; nada niente nothing to indicate I was having a physical issue.

That scenario was repeated in other rooms of my home, at various times. It became clear to me these vibrations were messages meant to get my attention. Where could they be originating? It had to be from space. I wasn’t standing on my cell phone. Or on my stereo. Or my microwave. Or my portable heater. It had to be outer space.

I grew up with Rod Serling, Isaac Assimov, and Madeleine L’Engle. I learned long ago that the truth often comes packaged as fantasy. Truth is easier to accept that way when it seems to be someone else’s made-up story.

Reminds me of the movie, ‘A Few Good Men,’ when Jack Nicholson shouted, “You can’t handle the truth!”
A Few Good Men‘ was written by Aaron Sorkin. Ah, the truth.

In dealing with one person I am on a volunteer committee with, I am frequently frustrated by her ‘little white lies,’ her denials, her positioning herself to look important and be the boss. When I gently called this out recently from a side angle about members making decisions for the committee yet without committee input, she again lied, denied, and huffed. I got no support from the other members, yet their silence also contained no defense of her. I so wanted to holler, “You can’t handle the truth!”
I didn’t. Yet later I did wonder, are there times when that applies to me?

As to Aaron Sorkin, he knows alot about alot of things. He reports a pivotal impact in his life was from one of his teachers at Syracuse University, Arthur Storch, who repeatedly said to Aaron, “You have the capacity to be so much better than you are.” Finally, Aaron asked the famous director and alumnus of the Actors Studio, “How?”
Storch answered, “Dare to fail.”

Truth. Failure. Growth. Ask questions. Follow the thread of intuition – trust it will lead somewhere valuable. Or, it will protect.

What was the message from outer space? Perhaps to pay attention. Trust. Watch small things, as everything has importance. Learn to prioritize.
Let whimsy lead me to the truth? Or… I have the capacity to be so much better than I am?

We shall see.