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.

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.

Wrinkle in Reality

Photo by Mary Dessein
A wrinkle in time. Sure, I’ve had one of those… okay, several of them. One fold happens when I look at the framed photo of my eighteen-month old curly-topped son hanging in my hallway. Then I realize he and I haven’t talked in three weeks. Oh yeah, he lives 2,500 miles from me and is thirty-five years old. My starz.

My wrinkles are not as remarkable as Madeleine L’Engle’s. Even though it was fun to remind my son of when I drove with he and his dad to Portland, Oregon when he was about four years old in order to hear Madeleine speak, he didn’t remember the trip or Madeleine L’Engle. However, it was a lovely reminder for me of the seats we had up in the curved balcony in a huge old church to see her, to hear her talk about her father’s health condition and her spending time as a little girl living in a castle in Europe. Remarkable is barely the beginning to describe her.

Ava DuVernay’s recent movie version of A Wrinkle in Time is worth seeing. It is as much about love, family, loyalty, community, belief in one’s self, and tenacity as it is about science fiction and interplanetary space travel.

In part, what launches A Wrinkle in Time is an inadvertent consequence, an unpredicted result to a pursued goal (Dr. Alex Murry, who is the main character, Meg’s father, achieves his goal of finding the tesseract and successfully tessering, however he gets trapped on a planet far away and cannot escape.) Oh my, I’ve had one or two of those unpredicted results. Haven’t you? Such as getting the promotion then getting transferred and having to leave all the co-workers who helped you get it and whom you trust. Or bringing your spouse with you to volunteer at the Food Bank, who then falls in love with one of the other volunteers, and a year later you find yourself divorced. I know, I know, “one door closes and another one opens;” and the ever popular “life presents us with opportunities for personal growth.” I do endorse those beliefs, it just takes me a little time to get back in the saddle.

In the three deleted pages from A Wrinkle in Time, released by her granddaughter in 2015, pages which the publisher perhaps thought too political or controversial, Ms. L’Engle talks about the dangers of pursuing security, that security is a seductive thing, and that the sick longing for it is a dangerous thing, and … insidious.

How are we manipulated by supervisors, credit card companies, politicians, retailers, spouses, neighbors, perhaps even our children, by their threatening our security or offering to enhance it? By dictators and autocrats? Yee gods, that list is endless and will continue to be so. Fascinating that Ms. L’Engle called this out in a conversation between a father and daughter. The father attempting to show his daughter a larger view, that questioning, exploring, and taking risks are what move us forward.

My regrets in life, the few I have, are related to what I did not do for my children. Sometimes it was that I did not set limits. My most lamentatious ones are when I did not protect them, or did not stand up for them. I was unable to de-stabilize my alleged security. In hindsight, I say alleged as it really wasn’t stable. With their dad, with my employer, with my sense of obligation to others, or that nebulous entity: what I thought others thought of me.

And another wrinkle – security and safety are not the same nor interchangeable.
None of that was within my grasp twenty-five years ago.

“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” Madeleine L’Engle.

Getting in my way

Clouds over Washington
Photo By Mary Dessein

What a concept – things I say and do which sabotage the goals I proclaim to have. Most of the time, I don’t see these obstacles as self-erected: not allowing enough time for traffic; trying to squeeze too many tasks in before I leave; saying yes to others’ requests when I need to say no; procrastinating; minimizing the negative consequences; or the ever useful tactic of blaming people, places or things for my problems.

Another concept: getting out of my own way! I watch amazing fiddler, Geoffrey Castle, go non-stop in perfecting his craft; insightful, compelling writer, Stephanie Kallos, follow her intuition in draft after draft of a novel; master storyteller, Elizabeth Ellis, perform, write, and teach with such generosity while she travels back and forth across the country; and dynamic writer and teacher, Bill Kenower, come alive when talking about writing. Passion. Belief. Determination?

At a luncheon recently, I heard a peer say they didn’t know what else to do besides what they were doing. Is that fear leaning against the door of opportunity? If so, how do I look inside myself to sort out what is really important to me and how to get there? Get there from the safe, known, perhaps mediocre, place of here?
A friend and I were talking about dreams. His was to work at a job he enjoys and is well-trained for in Hawaii. Seemed feasible and fabulous to me. “Oh no, I’ll never get to do that,” he said. His answer to why not was vague and the conversation shifted to something else. Are we back to fear again?                                                                                                                               Do I put things in my own way so I don’t have to even approach failure or disappointment – easily two of life’s more profound teachers. Have I put the illusion of safety between me and what will truly fulfill me?

When I Grow Up

photo 1I want to be like Cleo Kocol or Neil Diamond. Cleo’s recent picture (above) shows her joie de vivre. She gave a presentation, which she does a variety of regularly, about Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson. Cleo’s 88 and I can barely keep up with her. Her novel, The Good Foreigner, was named one of the best books of 2014 by Amazon. I must say I agree with them, I love that book. Cleo always has a project or event she’s engaged with.

Neil Diamond: I still swoon listening to ‘Play Me,’ and sigh when I hear ‘Morningside.’ Neil’s music changed the world, or perhaps more accurately, how we moved through it, for millions of people. He’s 74 and off on a world tour. Mercy, I think I’m all that when I make it to Seattle and back, which is an hour away.

Finding our way in the world is about choices. Another one of those concepts which I understood the words yet the real meaning only settled truly into me within the last few years as I started to connect what I had done ten, and twenty, okay thirty years previously with the circumstances I currently had. The Good Foreigner also showed me the consequences of choices, so many irrevocable. Most of mine have been irrevocable, too. I sure did not think about that at the time I made them.

I want to move through the world with energy and grace. Hope and optimism. Kindness and compassion, and releasing the blame. Rejoicing in the gifts of age, and accepting of it’s limitations.

As Neil sang in 1969, “And the seed, let it be filled with tomorrow.”