Thursday, December 15, 2016

Pic and a Poem, Desire

sometimes i dream
i am trapped
in a small space
with no doors or windows

an opening is revealed

across a threshold

wade through water
out to the forest

deep in the night
i visit creatures
with fangs and claws

piercing eyes
that are galaxies

i am a creature
clawing my way
towards my own skin

once i dreamt
i devoured
something magical

dark and holy

mostly i
open doors
and leap into the mouth
of hunger

oh what a blessing
this life
of desire

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pic and a Poem, In Plain Sight

   we are housed in a life
   a body
   a mind
   some say a spirit
   we are many
   but singular
   together but alone

   conditioned to be

   from the perch
   of our particular circumstance
   we look out at the world
   through a dirty window
   thinking we see clearly
   that we understand the nature
   of things

   beliefs are chiseled and carved
   what we think the world is
   solid as stone
   locking us into
   and loneliness

   the misperception of
   separation is the darkest force
   from it rise

   but if we would step out
   and look back from the true vast universe
   we would have eyes so wide
   vision so expansive
   to witness at last our soul nature

   that all our brothers
   and all our sisters
   are nothing less than infinite, limitless
   and the great force of conscious
   universal love is not outside our world

   for finally

   looking back upon ourselves
   we will find the divine right there
   hidden in plain sight
   among us
   within us

   bringing us together again

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Brokenness and a Waterfall

Donald Trump has been elected President.

Chaos has erupted. Anger, hate, and fear have risen, from both sides, and every direction. People are divided; a country, communities, families, friendships...none safe from the chopping block. Millions of fingers pointing, blaming, shaming. Millions of hearts breaking.

My heart is broken. If you could shake it you would hear the pieces rattling in there, but you can't see what exactly has come apart inside. You can't fix it. People are angry. Some of them are angry with me. I wonder if I have lost them. The pain is deep, throbbing...sadness, grief, despair, rage, guilt, shame. Loss.

I am fractured.

My son broke his femur when he was two years old. He tried to kick a ball, but instead fell over the top and twisted his tiny leg. I wasn't looking. He screamed, a wailing siren scream, the kind that sends a mother running at super human speed. His father and I scooped him up, and rushed away to get help. We couldn't see what was broken, but we heard his cry of agony. We knew what to do. We knew where to go.

It seems that none of us know where to go or what to do now. We can hear the screams. But they are coming from everywhere. Some of them are coming from me. I feel the rattling of my heart. I reach out,wanting to save others, but I also cry out to be saved myself. I want to move, to run at that superhuman speed, but I feel stuck. I feel bound. I feel powerless.

The supermoon arrived just days after the election. A full moon that would be so close, so large, so bright. Powerful. Full moon has a spiritual significance of manifestation, creation, and completion, and is associated with the divine feminine and water. So, on the day of the supermoon I wanted to be out in nature and near that healing water. I hoped to find some clarity alone in the wilds, to pray for healing, for myself, and all my hurting brothers and sisters. I hiked a treacherous and slippery path down through the thick forest to a waterfall. I almost fell several times. I considered broken bones; femur, tibia, radius, ribs. I would be out there alone, no one would hear my screams.

At the hospital, they had to cut off his pants. His leg was so swollen.

They said the x ray had revealed a spiral fracture of the femur. They had to transfer him to the children's hospital. He would require special care that they couldn't provide there. At the children's hospital a nurse explained he would need to be in traction for a number of days, and then a cast. She said an orthopedic doctor would be in soon to explain the cast to us. I thought, a broken leg, sure, a cast from thigh to ankle, little crutches, nothing too extraordinary. No problem.

The doctor came in with a doll. The doll was encased in plaster from chest to ankle, both legs casted, spread wide, with a bar in between. A body cast. A two year old. I pleaded that there must be something else, something...he said no. This was the only option for healing. Complete immobilization from the chest down.

These days post election I have felt a great heaviness in my chest, it radiates out from there. It feels tight and drawing in on me. It's hard to breathe. I am usually a person of action, but in this I feel bound. I feel immobilized. There is no easy fix, not for me, our families, our communities, or our country. A little cast, a bandage, a bit of plaster won't do. The way to healing is going to be long and hard, and it's going to hurt, for quite awhile.

When I made it to the waterfall, I cried and heaved, I looked to the sky above and to the earth under my feet. As the water poured over the cliff, hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I reached down and scooped up cool water and mingled it with those tears. I prayed with all I had, in the ways I know how. I did moon salutation, from yoga, that honors the moon and the feminine. Praying with my body. I prayed with song, chanting. I uttered words of request, asking for help. Praying with my voice. I sat on a rock in stillness and opened to feeling, receiving, listening. Praying with my heart.
I listened to the natural world around me. Praying with my soul.

My son endured traction, painful, boring. He was medicated for the pain, only to have other pains from the medication. Weights pulled on his already broken leg. All I could do was sit at his side and do my best to comfort him, to bring him some measure of relief by holding his hand, kissing his face, reading him a book, watching his favorite shows with him.

He went in the cast for a week, an x ray check up then revealed improper healing...out of the cast, back in traction for two more weeks, back in the cast for two months. My poor guy, I call him bud, suffered in so many ways. When he came out of the cast, he couldn't walk.  His muscles had weakened too much, he would have to crawl first.

I asked the waterfall what to do. I looked to the water for some inspired answer. Her response was to simply continue pouring down, letting the water flow. The pool below receiving it, the stream it feeds flowing along. The wind blowing gently, the birds singing, insects flying. Out here nothing was wrong. Out in the wild there is just being. There is no resistance, all things simply doing what they do with no judgment, doubt, or hesitation.  The waterfall doesn't hold anything back, not a drop. She is wide open and letting go.

My son did crawl, and then he stood, he walked again. Healing did happen. It required patience, care, courage, support, willingness to go through the hard parts, and love.

I left the peaceful oasis of the waterfall after a long sit. I found a new challenge on the ascent. The muddy and steep mountain trail offered only jagged rock steps as footholds. There were stretches that I had to put my hands down on the rocks in front of me, dig into the dirty surface with my fingers, and crawl up. It took some effort, strength, will. I got there. And at the top I stepped onto the flat path and walked. I felt my heart more steady, less rattled, beating stronger.

I will think of the waterfall when the tightening comes, when I want to run away, or hold things in. I will try to make myself more like her, not holding back, wide open, letting go.

I know healing happens. It will happen now too, but the way ahead is clearly long and painful. The first thing is to fully acknowledge the injury, really look at it, inside and out and from every angle. We must look at all the ugliness, the blood and guts of it, with eyes wide open. We each must do our best to show up now, attend to ourselves, lend a hand to others, protect the people around us, especially those who are vulnerable and deeply afraid. The wounded world needs us. It needs us to be people brave of heart and bold of truth. It needs deeply grounded warriors, medicine people.

Healing will happen. It may take a very long time, we will have to crawl before we walk. It will be trying, it will challenge us on every level, but we must not lose hope, or harden into hate and resentment. In our fight against dark forces, we must not forget the light. This healing will require courage, fire, will, relentless and vigilant action, but also patience, steadfastness, support, compassion, and love. This great challenge is before us, and we will meet it, but may we keep our intentions centered in our hearts. Open, in flow, powerful, goodness will prevail.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Out of the Ash

Perhaps to arrive in the purity of truth we must risk standing in the middle of the fire, looking destruction and death in the eyes. As long as we fear that we can be destroyed, we remain blind to our essential nature. The vital truth is as simple as observing the partnership of a single breath; inhale, exhale. The antidote for fear and chaos is there, in our center, inviolable, whole.

On a recent trip to China I was reminded of the importance of magical, celestial animals in Chinese culture. They figure prominently in their art, architecture, literature, feng shui and ultimately the way life is seen and lived. They are the bearers of good fortune, hope, health, and wealth.

Two of these animals are particularly sacred. The dragon and the phoenix. Dragon is yang or masculine and phoenix is yin or feminine. Together they create balance and harmony, the perfect marriage.

Dragon has the force of life, chi, in his breath, he is the bringer of strength, good fortune and hope. Phoenix is the goddess of all the winged creatures. She is ultimately male and female. She can transform bad luck into good. She is rebirth and continuation. She can not be killed by any flame. She rises from the ash of destruction.

Dragon and Phoenix, yang and yin, masculine and feminine forces, both are needed to have balance and flow on this earth.

I am not an expert on the system of feng shui, nor am I deeply schooled in the history and culture of China, but these symbols are familiar. When I sense into them I feel a bone truth. There is an intimate knowing that these energies are more than myth, more than story or superstition, they are alive and integral in our world. They are the forces of nature, day and night, sun and moon, life and and sky, water and fire.

The breath of the universe. Inhale. Exhale.

We are part of this cosmic rhythm, though we have entered a dream, one where we imagine ourselves outside of these forces, and so we have become estranged from our own truth and put out of balance. This imbalance is reflected in our culture, our politics, our relationships, the way we show up in the world.

The dragons of Western mythology are destroyers, monsters. Perhaps we have mistaken them for such, when all they are is heartbroken in their separation. Maybe they are in grief over the absence of the beloved phoenix. Without her the marriage is empty, love is lost.

We have a conspicuous absence of the powerful feminine in our consciousness at this time. Patriarchy dominates and so we have fire upon fire, burning things to the ground. We hear about scorched earth, we see it, smell it. There is fear, panic, roiling us in the wake of this destructive fire. We long for the phoenix to rise, but we have forgotten that she is what we are searching for. And so we stumble around in the dark, reaching out madly for something, but essentially all we need to do is open our eyes and see.

Much of Eastern spirituality centers around seeing through illusion. We are lost in a deceit, wrong seeing, both of ourselves and the world, which brings suffering. We believe a separation has occurred, between ourselves and divinity, when in reality it has not, and so we fight an endless battle against an enemy that lives in that dream, an enemy born in our minds and egos.

Right now it seems that all is burning, and complete destruction may be imminent. Fear and hate are making a stand. We are at each other's throats, it is epidemic, we see it all around the world.
All of it may end in ruins. But the phoenix is ready to rise.

The question is not an if, but a when.

The moment our inner eyes open, we see clearly, we reclaim our true nature. The dragon and phoenix that live in each of us are there waiting to be awakened, and we need them both. We must not forsake one for the other, either. We need the powerful masculine, and the powerful feminine, only together, united, can they bring the peace of love back to us. They are the inhale and exhale of the inner and outer spiritual world. Without an inhale, or without an exhale, we can't function. We are stuck, paralyzed, stagnant. Asleep.

We begin to undo the sleep state by embracing ourselves, by owning our power, and learning how to step into the world as peaceful warriors. Peaceful warriors have their dragon and phoenix at the ready, balanced in the yang and yin, fierce and wise, guided by great courage, armed with compassion. A peaceful warrior is engaged and active, ready to fight the good fight, but equally adept at forgiveness. When we step out of the dream, we step out of fear, because the dragon brings us the life breath, and the phoenix reminds us that we can not be destroyed. When we are out of the shadow of fear, we will create a culture of partnership and dynamic growth.

It may take a long time for us to awaken, to bring dragon and phoenix back into harmony. It may take many lifetimes. But each time a person is pierced by the light, whenever there is a flash or a glimpse of clear seeing, the shift gains momentum. I myself know this is what I am trying to live into. I think I have glimpses, and then I stumble back into fear - the illusion. The best I can do is try to return, practice, breathe, practice, open my heart, attempt to be as present as possible in any given moment.

The truth is. Truth may be obscured, buried, burnt to the ground, but it still is. My truth is...
I am fierce. I am loving. I am here, full of life force. I will go through deaths in life and beyond it. I will rise from the ash. So will you. This is who we really are.

Friday, October 28, 2016

After the Gauntlet, Ice Cream

tables arranged
into a grid
neat aisles
for passages
of hopes and fears
parents running a gauntlet
of blood, sweat, and tears
the heart of our hearts
broken down
into feedback

assessments and averages
percentages and pop quizzes
letters and numbers
tattoos on a future
permanent records
marks never erased

i listen attentively
to the good and bad news

tears rise from within
a truer voice

of joy
of sadness
steeped in love

those kind of tears

i reach for a tissue

when i close my eyes
to wipe
potent droplets
an image of us

we sit under
a tree near the ocean
salt and sand
sun on our freckled faces
our toes dipped in
dancing water

we are eating ice cream
and laughing

simple, free
not a mark in the world
in the natural state of things

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Midlife, Destruction, Creation and Game On

I just turned 45.

It's hard to believe. I don't feel 45 or at least not the way people led me to believe I would feel.
I don't feel tired, I don't feel settled, I don't have things figured out. I also don't feel like I actually know who I am. I don't think we ever become a set person, a solid identity, we evolve. We are constantly changing and growing. Shift happens within us, as it happens all around us. Change and transformation is the nature of things.

I think of butterflies, babies and how dawn comes after night. The forces of creation, constantly birthing. I also think of floods and fire, volcanoes and glaciers. The powers of destruction that paint new landscapes and clear spaces for what creation will bring next. Darkness and light. Yin and yang.

Joan Didion said, "I have already lost touch with a couple people I used to be." I get that quote. As I think back on these 45 years of life, I am astounded by how events have come and gone and how some of them were like brush fires, unforgiving, brutal and cataclysmic, but clearing a path. Others the moment of arising, flowers blooming, sun shining, the butterfly emerges.

There are times that have split me into before and after.

When I was twenty I was arrested on felony drug charges. I was confused, traumatized, angry, but underneath it all a sad and very scared girl. I pretended to be all punk, all I don't give a fuck, so tough. When they walked me into the cell block, the women laughed. I looked about twelve, red eyed, wearing a university sweat shirt. One actually said to me, "What are you in here for?".

The DEA said my best friend and I were drug dealers. They knew one when they saw one. The women in the jail saw a little girl with no business on the block. The women were right, but they sure couldn't save me. They were in the same fucked and powerless position as me. Loser scum of the earth, criminal wastes. I only spent a day and a half in the county lock up, but I saw where it could take me. I was released to await a preliminary hearing. My public defender said the evidence was strong, I would probably do hard time.

A couple months and a plea bargain later, my lead counselor in court ordered rehab would throw a box of tissues and a teddy bear at my head, and tell me that it takes the same muscles to smile as it does to cry. I was talking about how much I hated myself and my life, all with a big smile on my face. Emotionally disconnected, torn from my own heart, in so much pain.

In rehab for criminal offenders, no bullshit got by. They had my number and I was not getting off the hook just because I was a college kid. Tough love epitomized. It worked. I have often wondered what the outcome would have been had I gone to state prison. I doubt it would have been positive, I got lucky.

Getting arrested had seemed sure to destroy me, in the end it saved me.

My future husband and I got back together at that same time. We had dated and split up before. He was there for me and supported me. He picked me up when I was at the lowest of lows. The emptiness started to take on new form. Destruction shifting toward creation.

We got married two years later. embarking on a new life. College graduates, so much hope and excitement. We got jobs and an apartment, we went out after work, we had fun and friends. We had ups and downs, young and still immature, breaking the cocoon, wet winged, clumsy. But headed in a good direction, together. It felt good to have a together to lean into and rely upon.

Married with children. A show we liked to watch, but an idea that terrified me. I felt that I should never have children. I feared I would be unable to love them enough, what with my heart, patched up and sewn together, but far from whole or completely healed. I had visions of how they would crumble in my arms, how I would turn cold and cruel when they came to me. I couldn't bear the idea, but when our son arrived, I arrived with him. He gave me the gift of my true heart, full of love.

Four children that I hold in my arms and my heart are the very best of me. They are the jewels of my life. My family is the greatest blessing I could ever have asked for. When I go to the dark places that still live in me, it is my family, just the thought of them saves me. I love them so fully and faithfully, that I am restored to knowing the light that I am, and that I have always carried in my heart.

45 years and it has been many things, but never boring. I have lived on three continents and have been to four. I have studied photography, become a yoga teacher, a dancer, a writer. I have run marathons and done triathlons. I say yes when opportunity arises, and I take risks, I put myself out there, beyond my comfort zone. I strive to stay in growth, to maintain forward momentum.

I still make mistakes too, and I struggle with my shadow side, depression, anxiety, trauma recovery. One day at a time.

I may be at midlife, but I am a force to be reckoned with and the first 45 was only a warm up. I am just getting started.

Life always has challenges. I say bring it. Game on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Heart of Devotion

I live a half mile up the side of a mountain overlooking Tianmu, an area of Taipei. Every morning I walk my dog on a mile loop on that mountainside. It is quite steep. I am fit and relatively young, and yet I almost always break a sweat. No one would call it a particularly easy walk.

Besides the beautiful views of the nature all around, and vistas of the city below, one of my favorite things about the walk is it takes me past two temples. The temples are situated very close to one another. One is large and sits above a smaller one, like a parent watching over a child. Some days there will be a ceremony going on at the large one. As I walk past, I hear chanting and bells. It fills me with a sense of the sacred, reminds me to open my heart to devotion. The small one sometimes has incense lit, the scent flows out to the street. I breathe it in like medicine. There is a powerful healing agent in ceremonies and all the elements involved. The senses are awakened to their own divine and holy nature, a deep knowing, open channels to heart and soul.

Another staple of my walks is a man. I pass by him nearly every day. We say "zao" (good morning) and smile at each other, and that sums up our interaction. The language barrier keeps locals at an arms distance or more from me. Although I have never spoken more than that one word to him, he has had a significant impact on me.

Every morning, there he is walking, slowly, and it often appears, painfully. He walks with a cane, the kind with four small legs at the bottom, in one hand. He uses the other hand to grip a stick of incense. The incense is held right up close to him, at heart level. Over time I have surmised that he walks down the steep downhill stretch to the temple, he gets the incense there, and then he ascends back to where he lives, and burns it at a family altar on the side of the road.

I can tell that this daily regimen must take all his strength. There is a look of will, his furrowed brow, a quality of determination. What strikes me though is the clear dedication, the insistence in this action, committed, faithful. I don't need to know a single thread of his story, or detail of his life to know that it is centered in disciplined devotion. I don't need to know the words of the prayers, or what god, goddess, or divine force they are spoken to. I am inspired in the mere witnessing of his action.

I see him, and I think about willful action. I believe in the power of such action, though I have not nearly achieved a practice of it in the ways I imagine I could. And he reminds me to hone it down, potent action can be singular, simple.

He takes one step at a time, slowly, he holds his incense, makes an offering of it. I am probably one of very few people who know anything about this act of earnest devotion he does, loyally each day, and yet, I know even when I am gone, even if no one passes him on the road, he will be there, doing what he feels called to do. He does this in the midst of pain, in the midst of suffering. There is suffering that can be seen, one hand gripping a cane, shuffling, but I am sure there is much more being carried, held close with the incense, clutched at the heart.

Human suffering. We all carry it.

I have been down lately. I have spells like that, some life events are pulling me there. I feel heavy. I slump toward immobility, a broody lethargy. I drop the ball on my practices and prayers, and then I am weighed down by guilt and shame, that I am in this state again. I always hope this time will be the last, but that has never been the case to date. Brightness always fades to grey, and back again. Moods like the weather on the mountain.

Clouds roll in around the mountain, sometimes a fierce storm, clouds roll out again. The mountain simply stands. The mountain does the action of being, it holds the space for all expression without judgment. It asks nothing of us, of me. I find that idea peaceful.

The earth is always underneath us. It is one of the few reliable things. Such a powerful and strong container, it bears all things. That is the comfort to be realized, to lean back into, soften, release, deeply receive. This truth. Everything that happens is held, all of the doing or not doing, all of the cycles, each change of season, the bright and the grey, day and night, life and death and every single thing that occurs in between. All of it perfect, to the earth.

The life that happens on this patch of mountain may seem of little importance in the larger world, but I find it profound. I am so deeply touched by the man who walks and prays, and the chanting and drums in the temple, the smell of incense, sweat and tears, struggle and mercy mingled. I honor myself in that as well. I am equally included, and I need do nothing to be whole and healed. The heart of devotion is like the mountain, the earth that supports us all, embracing the dedicated action, the weighted inaction, all of it taken, equally sacred, the smoke of prayers and incense, things being burned away. All of it a beautiful offering.

We are here. That is enough.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Life at an Airport

I was trying to get from my home country to my host country, from one home to another. Sometimes getting from point A to point B gets complicated. It is easy for the way to become encumbered, disrupted, or just plain blocked. Such is life. It is mostly curves, with only the occasional simple straight line.

My way was impeded by a pack of typhoons threatening Tokyo. Gale force winds, torrential rain, powerful forces of nature blowing a hole right through my route home. My flight from Tokyo to Taipei was canceled and this left me committed, by force, to a meandering course, including an all day lay over at Minneapolis International Airport.

I happened to be traveling alone as my husband and kids had already returned to Taiwan for the start of school. I was missing them intensely, and I knew they needed me. My husband was right then readying for his own trip, going away on business, leaving our children solo on the other side of the world. I pictured my children, two teens and one tween, there, alone, waiting for my curvy path to arrive back in Taipei. I started to panic as the check in agent informed me of my new and very long itinerary. I became extremely frustrated by this delay. I was short with her, my irritation spilling onto the messenger of things that are beyond anyone's control. I can be reactive at times and I wanted her to fix it, make it to my liking, dial up the weather gods and get it right. It didn't work. No shit. I had to concede defeat and apologize to the poor woman just doing her job.

I am only human, and we do have claws and fangs. Mine occasionally get brought out a bit hastily, especially when mama is on a mission for her kiddos. I walked away from that interaction feeling bad for her, bad for myself, wincing at the sharp dagger of my inner critic. I should be better than this. Sometimes being human tastes bitter to me, a blend of tears and blood. I wonder if people notice my claws and fangs. Suddenly mine felt sharper and bloodier than others. Perhaps I am more beast than beauty. I often wonder if people are looking at me, pretending not to see my ugliness, my scars. I get an intense impulse to hide. I turn to run toward exile. My ideas of separation and unworthiness rise within me, relentless and brutal. I don't belong. I'm not worthy. I so intensely long to be seen, to be included and understood, but I equally want to hide. Pulled apart by paradox, as we tend to be.

I spent ten hours at the Minneapolis Airport. I had a lot of sitting ahead of me on the two flights to come, so I decided to walk. I followed signs for Terminals A,B,C and Terminals D,E,F.  I determined to connect all those dots, cover all the terrain. As I walked I began to relax, and my attention shifted from being self absorbed, frustrated, and guilt ridden, spinning in my inner story, to the buzz of activity all around me.

Airports are truly a microcosm of the larger world. For a moment, a few hours, or occasionally even days, people end up at this hub of exchange, randomly thrown together as they travel straight lines or curvy meandering paths in a shared quest to get from point A to point B. As I walked I observed all these people. There were young people and older people. Babies in strollers alongside elders in wheelchairs. Beginnings and endings. There were people of all different colors, speaking varied languages. There were people from all backgrounds and walks of life.There was a business man sitting next to a teen aged girl with pink streaks in her hair. He was wearing a suit and tie, she had on ripped jeans and combat boots. He had a briefcase, she had a violin. Only at an airport would it be likely that these two would end up side by side.

I saw a Catholic nun, and then later a Buddhist monk. I saw a guy decked out in cowboy wear and a woman dressed to the nines in couture. Buttoned up people and buttoned down people.

We may seem so far from each other, so different, so distinct. But spend a little time at an airport and you will observe all of us engaged in what we do in common. We journey. We endeavor to get from point A to point B. I watched in wonder as I walked. So many people, so many stories to be told. Sometimes I guessed where people might be headed, and other times I overheard.  Some of those people were going to weddings and others to funerals. I saw people crying and saying hello, and I saw people crying and saying goodbye. There were families heading out on vacation, and families going home. A young man off to college, another in uniform returning to his military station after a visit with his family. I saw parents hugging their children and parents scolding their children. Newlyweds going on their honeymoon with big dreams of a life ahead, and an elderly couple sitting quietly, at ease and still holding hands.

In an airport you will witness all of human expression and experience. In ten hours I saw people happy, sad, elated, frustrated, exhausted, angry, anxious, relaxed, distressed, engaged, connected, disconnected. I witnessed people being generous, people being selfish, people in love and people enraged. Airports are epicenters of emotion, shift, and change. They are a constant gathering flow of people in the fire of transition. Going from point A to point B guarantees at least a change of location and scenery. It includes people in the midst of a multitude of different situations, emotions and transformational events. Observing people on their journeys reveals so much about the human heart, and our common ground of feeling. Under one roof we can see love, grief, celebration, loss, industry, leisure, community, and isolation. In an airport we can openly observe the things that bring us together and the things that tear us apart.

I have traveled many places, and right now I live across the world from where I began. And yet, I realize one only needs to go as far as the airport to learn all there is to know about people. We are all here to evolve, moving from where we are, towards where we need to be. We are all just human and we do have claws and fangs, but we also have warm arms to embrace each other, tears for both our joys and our sorrows, hearts that can be both delicate and courageous. Most of all, we are all capable of noble and amazing things as well as brutal and destructive things. But we are all born of love, that is the most powerful force I saw. At an airport you will see many people holding each other tenderly, for many reasons. Love lives. It is the most powerful part of us. If we have fangs and claws, then love surely gives us wings to rise above. On our seemingly separate paths we walk, or fly, going from our point As to our point Bs, whether we realize it or not, we are all in this thing called life, together, following a curvy path home.

Saturday, August 6, 2016


gather 'round people
make me a village
raise me now
like you couldn't before
place your hands on me
my holy places
or any torn fragment
what you can reach

hoist me towards heaven
or in the general direction
i trust
that you know
which way that
may be

once i'm high
over the rainbow
i'll get my wings
and return to you
stage dive
from a starry night
into your ready hands


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

We Remain

hate crashed the dance floor
turning revelry to slaughter
joy to despair
life to death

gone too soon
taken viciously

on a dance floor
meant for sweaty celebration
the occasional spilled drink
pouring out
expressions of ecstasy
sometimes tears
jubilant kisses
moving free
breathing heavy

until breath was stopped

and blood was spilled
over sweat and drinks
now torrents of gutteral tears
flooding us now

tsunami of heartbreak

today we grieve
others celebrate
but we are all broken

broken hearts every one
our powerful pitiful humanness

our best and worst
our light and shadow
is shown

on a dance floor
love met hate
guns blazing
so many fallen
early angels made

but we remain

and in the midst of our terror
our anger
in the depth of our despair
we reach out
to each other
moving forward
step by step
hand in hand
we return

to our dance floor

we will sweat and celebrate
move wildy
kiss sweetly
we will raise glasses
and each other
and sing out

we sing out

love is still here

we are the face of love
we are the light not vanquished
by any darkness

we take back our dance floor
our revelry
our joy
our life

we will not forget or forsake
we still choose love not hate
and no matter what may be taken
no matter what

we will remain

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Hike

you complain of the heat
i agree
but what do you expect from a jungle?

at the bottom you sigh
how many steps is it again?
i say smiling

you start up stomping
a soldier
going into battle

not pleased
not motivated
heavy like the air

i mention the stomping

you pause

a lightening

i catch a sideways glance
corner of a smile
one side
slight rise
on steep steps

one at a time
the climb

you point out the dragonflies
how there are so many here
they are your favorite
of all the insects

in the heat they are resting
at the edge of the steps
or waiting for us
standing sentinels
sacred guides

you tell me how they fly
using different muscles
wings that rotate

i think of dancing

i tell you movement is life
absence of movement is death

you are a scientist
walled up to the mystical
but you marvel at dragonflies
and agree about movement

movement is life

we step and step

i think about how
you are moving away from me

you talk about gravity
how a larger
more dense object
draws another in

if a larger object comes into the field
everything is pulled away

i sense a bigger world
pulling you away

you mention how you
will be twenty soon
how odd it is to you

two decades
how you have doubled your age
four times


you are much taller than me now
legs grown
over nearly two decades

you stride ahead
i can't keep up

i hear you call out
to me

hurry up and look

i find you bent over
considering a beetle
pushing it back towards
the earth

we admire its colors
the pattern on its back
two kids for a moment
transfixed by a small thing
a wonder
a moment of grace

then you are off

i keep pace
until we collide with
a school group

small children
like you once were

all in blue shirts
like a sudden ocean
of innocence

i stand back and watch you
wade through them
until i can't see
you anymore

Monday, May 23, 2016


to do things
drop a boat of acceptance
into the water
not a ripple
not a sound
satisfied to take the journey
and leave the rest buried
on the shore
push off
drift faithful
trusting wind, currents, stars
finally understanding
place, time, purpose
nowhere and everywhere
no one yet everyone
momentary and infinite
become lost to be found

i dream of such freedom
behind my closed eyes
softly fluttering
at the ocean's edge
the sun landing
warm on my face

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

night visitor

in the darkest hours
of night
peaceful rest gets stolen
a sharp dread
heavy and wet
bulleting sweat on my skin
i am fevered with it
strokes of sickness
rolling under covers
a writhing mind
turning and turning
death roll
over the least thing
grocery shopping
a dirty floor
the meeting at school
these minutiae of life
creep in rising
until such small things
become crushing
typhoon waves
i can't swim away
pulled under
waiting and praying
for sleep
sweet sleep
to dissolve into
to take me
under the waves
but the buzzer rings
end round
i roll out and on
i do the small things
the groceries
school meetings
i know i am strong
but in those dark hours
a monster comes calling
loyalty is not only for
the good

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Motherhood my Saving Grace

I was truly terrified to be a mother. I was convinced I would mess it up, and badly.

I was sure this perfect, soft, innocent being would be crushed under the weight of the baggage I brought with me. Baggage I had been carrying for such a long time, I knew how it could break a heart in two. I could not even bear the thought of it. I cried many times during my first pregnancy, wept for what might be, grieved for horrible mistakes I felt I was destined to make.

I felt fated. I could not see myself. I was wounded, applying pressure to a ruptured heart, stumbling in the dark trying to find some light. My self image was projected through a warped fun house mirror in the deep layers of consciousness, distorted, a self seen through a dark lens, a prism of pain, a filter of fear.

How could someone like me, such a mess, possibly care for a child?

 I was married, my husband saw me through a loving lens. I had stability and security. He did his best to soothe my fear. He assured me that I would be a great mom, being the kind and loving person he knew me to be. And yes, I could sense a well of love and care, maybe even the loud roar of an ocean of it somewhere in me, like a hidden kingdom in my heart, waiting.

We had a beautiful baby boy.

Seventeen years have come and gone since then. I have four children now, they are my saving grace. Each one has come, unique and perfect. I have given my best to them, and they have no less than rescued me. They awakened that ocean of love that lives in me, they delivered me to the kingdom of my own powerful heart. I see my true self, my best self, when I look in their eyes.

It's like in fairy tales, when a curse can only be broken by true love's kiss. My husband and children, this tribe of family, breathed life back into me. I was only half alive, in my inner darkness, reaching out, and they crashed through dungeon walls, light came flooding in.

When I talk about my belief in the power of love, and the reality of grace, I am not just waxing poetic. I know it is true, because it happened to me.

Even now, when I get to feeling lost, with no direction, or when my spirit is bruised by the world, at the edge of breaking, I look at my children's faces and I am restored to hope. In them I see clearly what is real and true, what stands any test, what prevails no matter the difficulty, and it is love.

We have our ups and downs. We fight, we are not always kind, we make mistakes, but there is always forgiveness in the end. We stand up and alongside each other, we stay the course, we never leave anyone behind or out in the cold. My kids brought out a fierce love in me, a strong protectress, a warrior of the heart. I see their warrior nature too. They all are willing to fight the good fight, that makes me proud. We are in this life together come hell or high water. We rescue each other when trouble comes. We celebrate together, milestones, achievements, and often just because...we have each other and that is cause for celebration.

These children, this family, are the greatest gift, and as much as I have guided, nurtured and supported their becoming, they also opened the door for my becoming. With them I am more than I ever thought I could possibly be.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I am One of "Those" People, an Immigrant Who Doesn't Speak the Language

 I wanted to run away, far away.

 I went to Spain for the first time on a high school exchange trip. I fell head over heels in love. I drank in the warmth of the place, like a magical healing tonic. I adored the way the sun glowed across the facades of centuries old buildings, the way people kissed my cheeks on first meeting, and every meeting after that, and I delighted in strolling arm in arm down the busy sidewalks with my new friends. I thrived on the person to person touch connection of the culture. I needed to be touched. It felt like my heart home, a place I had always belonged to and had finally found. From then on, I dreamt of moving there. I returned several times in the proceeding years. I majored in Spanish in college and attended one year of university there. I had built a bridge to cross over, to take my place where I believed my future happiness waited to welcome me.

It turns out I would get away eventually, but not to Spain, and not for many years. I write this sitting in my study in Taipei, Taiwan. I live here with my husband and three children. We have been married for more than twenty years and lived most of that time in the United States. I had planned to make my break for the land that first fed my heart, and instead found a venture into a new phase of life and happiness with the man I love.

Stephen is Australian and American, but despite an international upbringing, he did not speak Spanish at all, and so the best laid plans changed directions and I embraced new beginnings of a different kind.

We got married and started our life together in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I couldn't find a good job using my Spanish language skills, so I spent some time as a volunteer teaching English to people in a Latino neighborhood. It was clear to me that these were men and women who earnestly wanted to learn the language of their new country. They were enthusiastic and dedicated, and it was often very difficult for them. These were people struggling to get by, and trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Sometimes they would not show up for awhile, they would get a job or move away and no longer be able to attend. I found it an honor to get to know them, to be of service for the time we had together. I always wished them well.

 I grew up in a very white, middle class, suburban neighborhood. Diversity itself was the most foreign thing you might find there, and it offered little to no opportunity to interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures. My travels to Spain, the years of dedicated study I put in to gain fluency in the Spanish language, and my time volunteering with wonderful, bright individuals planting roots of a life without the benefit of the kind of language education I had received, filled my heart with respect and admiration for immigrants. I gained deep insight into being a foreigner in a foreign land, the courage and faith it requires. Immigrants are people just like you and me doing the best they can. I was lucky to have these experiences, at home and abroad, that strengthened my empathy muscle around language, and the challenge it is to master a foreign tongue.

It infuriates me when people denigrate immigrants who can't speak the language. I cringe at the very thought of the recrimination, "If you are in America speak English." America, a country founded and populated by immigrants from all over the world, whose first generation of any given family may not have been English speaking. Today people arrive here, in many, if not most cases, fleeing poverty, persecution, social or religious peril, many come with nothing but desperation and a flicker of hope, a dream. Isn't this our great story, our collective jewel, the American dream? Or do we really wish to stomp that dream into oblivion so we don't have to share it with others? When I hear someone say "speak English or go home", I want to shake them into memory of what this home means, what we are supposed to stand for. This nation was formed, a land of hope and possibility for those who wanted something more, something better, those who were thirsty for freedom. " Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." How can we forget, where we came from, who we are?

It hadn't occurred to me, that when I least expected it, I would become the person moving to a foreign land, and not the warm sunny Spain of my dreams. My husband got an amazing job opportunity and we packed up and moved to China with three of our four children (we have an older adopted daughter who is in The Untied States).

We have been living in Mandarin speaking countries for three years and counting. I have learned very little Mandarin, just enough to be polite and get by. I know other people who have not even bothered to get that level of skill. We live in our new country and we make connections with other people like us, we don't integrate. We are not called immigrants, we are called expats. The difference being that we generally are not planning to stay permanently, and the second being we have money and privilege. The vast majority of us are here because of a job, we are either working, or here as a "trailing spouse". The typical expat jobs are fairly high level and high paying. We are people who come to our new country with ample resources and advantages. Many of us have drivers and domestic helpers, what seems very upper crust at home is fairly common here.

The truth of the matter is I have status, privilege, and that allows me to easily ignore my deficit of language. I took lessons the first two years and gained enough skill to function, but I find Mandarin exceedingly difficult and when we moved to Taiwan I let my studies go. It had not occurred to me that this might be a problem. However, one day I was in the car listening to the English speaking radio morning show, and the host started talking about the local Taiwanese frustration and poor regard for expats. He said there is a sentiment among quite a few Taiwanese that "if you are in Taiwan, speak Chinese".

If you are in Taiwan speak Chinese.

It dawned on me that I am one of "those" people. I am one of those people seen by some as rude and ignorant, one of those who saunters in and takes what they need, but has not bothered to assimilate, doesn't care enough to learn to communicate. I felt bruised and a bit guilty as I thought about this. I felt sad that there are people in the place I currently call home, who see me as an intruder, or at least an annoyance, an unwanted presence. I wanted to defend myself, but who could I tell? I don't speak Chinese after all. And that left me in the uncomfortable territory of helplessness,  powerless to change a condition of my life. People are probably judging me, assuming to know my character, thinking badly of me, and I have no present moment avenue to change that, or to demonstrate otherwise.

 Sometimes I want to run home to America where it's safe and familiar. But I am here for the immediate future, and all I can do is learn, adapt, and do the best I can with what I know right now.

The reality is I am here because it provides for my family, we followed opportunity. We are here because we want the best for our kids. It is such an exciting journey, full of rich eye opening experience, travel, culture, fun and expanded horizons. It is also challenging, disorienting, and scary at times to be a stranger in a strange land. Even with the many resources we have available to us we are confronted with a loss of what is safe and familiar, there are so many unknowns to contend with. We have had to adapt and learn to function within this new environment. It is important to be aware of the perceptions of the community we are living in, and to understand how we are being seen. I don't know much Chinese but I can say hello, I can smile, I can make small gestures of kindness. Shouldn't we all commit to that on a daily basis wherever we are?

When we step out our front doors and into the world, it would make for a much better place if we did so with an attitude of inclusion and positivity. We make an active choice after all, to go out assuming the best of people we pass on the street or in the coffee shop, wherever we go, or to assume the worst. If we walk around in life and invest in suspicion, judgment and preemptive dislike for our fellow human beings then that is the environment we will manifest. We have the ability to choose kindness, compassion and generosity as our foundation of being, and we would do well to give of those qualities freely until a person gives us a reason not to. There are bad people in the world of course, people we have every right to defend ourselves against, or at the very least establish firm boundaries. Some immigrants will be bad people, some people in any given group, or in any community or on any particular street, may not have good intentions in their hearts, but all over the world the good people far outnumber the bad. I know this is true. I have traveled many places, walked down many streets and every place I go I find good, kind, generous people. They are there, you just have to be looking. What we look for is often what we find.

In the current charged climate around immigration and the divide that is evident, the anger that is bubbling up, the hostility and increasingly violent words and actions, it is essential that narratives that increase understanding and compassion get written, spoken, demonstrated and acted upon. My experiences are my own, but I believe they hold truth. I believe what I have learned is deeply relevant. My best gesture into that uncomfortable territory of powerlessness is to maintain an open mind and heart and to speak out in the name of unity and love. These are forces that bring us together no matter our native tongue, no matter where we may travel, or where we make our home.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Greater Good

forget the lesser evil
i want the greater good
i want truth that shines so damn bright
it burns away the stale necrotic status quo
the roll over and take it
cuz what else can you do?

what else can we do?

forget the lesser evil
i want the greater good
let's claw and cut through
layers of lies
rip the mask right off
the sinister system
stare it in the face and say
no more

no more

and that small phrase will
ring like a shot
heard round the world
and rise to the sweet note
of new freedom
that we create

together we stand
we will not fall

forget the lesser evil
we want the greater good

good rooted in respect
good that heals not harms
good that doesn't sell us one thing
and hand us another
good that doesn't steal the
life and liberty out from under us
or question any single person's
right to be

good that doesn't play on our
fears and frustrations
turning us on each other
good that doesn't tolerate violent
institutional injustice
sweep it out the back door or
hide it under the rug
good that doesn't rape, kill or enslave
our bodies, minds or spirits

good that wants to give us all
a hand up
instead of a push down
to keep us in line
and tear us apart

forget the lesser evil
demand a greater good
gather us all

separation can't stand
in the presence of truth
bondage is broken
by the fire of family

we the people
stand in the light
eyes wide open
hand in hand
we claim
our world

 and in it we will know ourselves
 infinitely greater than good

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Tug of War of 2E

"Parenthood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you'd have.It's about understanding your child is exactly the person they are supposed to be. And, if you're lucky, they might be the teacher who turns you into the person you're supposed to be."

~ from The Water Giver by Joan Ryan

My son Mason is 17 years old, a Junior in high school. He is bright, caring, independent, strong willed, funny, compassionate, off beat, introverted, deep thinking, and he is twice exceptional or 2E.

What is 2E? I am sure you are probably asking that right now.

2E is a designation for people who are both of high intelligence and also have some form of learning disability. Mason is both gifted and talented and he has ADD and a written language learning deficit. These diagnosis were determined over time. It has taken considerable effort, and several experts, most importantly a board certified neuropsychologist who performed extensive testing, to identify the specific issues at play. It is a constantly changing endeavor to advocate for, support, and make forward progress in the best interest of Mason. In fact, he needs multiple people on board to ensure positive outcomes at school. He has an outstanding academic coach who he has worked with for years now, a support teacher at school and a psychiatrist. It is important to note that "as it not a common diagnosis it is important that teachers and school personnel are fully informed about best practices in relation to 2E students".

As his mother, his first source of nurturing and support, the road has been rugged, breathtaking and deeply transformational. His potential is immense. Drawing that potential out of him, motivating him to pursue areas of strength, and assisting him in managing expectations and tasks, as they are, in an educational environment, has taken steadfast and diligent effort, along with loads of support, encouragement and most of all love.

Parenting a 2E kid has felt like a tug of war at times, between encouraging and focusing on his incredible gifts and abilities, and additionally, addressing the obstacles to utilizing those abilities. Frustration happens on both sides. Stephen, my husband and Mason's father, and I, experience frustration, but Mason does too, even more than we do, so much more, and intensely.

If we, his parents, and I would add his teachers, feel stuck, spinning our wheels around the knowledge of Mason's gifts and abilities in contrast to his outcomes, or ability to perform within the constructs and design of the educational institution, we must dare to imagine how he feels. His coach says of her experience working with him, "Being Mason's academic coach is both a privilege and a challenge. Like most 2E students, he is simultaneously frustrated by the confines of school and ravenous for knowledge." It pains me to think of this conflict he must face every day at school; the pressure, the feeling of being wrong, of being outside the norm, an other, and so thirsty for education at the same time. It breaks my heart. I know it crushes his heart too, because he tends to self deprecate, he bursts out angrily at times, he screams about hating us, hating the world, hating himself. I know this means I must love him more, I must tell him what he means to me, and often.

To understand the kind of opposing forces a 2E kid and his parents contend with, I will share the events of one afternoon that illustrate it beautifully. As a junior in high school, Mason was administered the PSAT along with his entire class. This particular afternoon I received the paper copy of his test scores. Mason scored in the top category of mastery. He achieved a near perfect score on the math portion and was also very strong on the language portions. He nailed it.

This very same afternoon I received an email from Mason's resource support teacher, who assists him due to his learning disability, informing me that Mason's grades had taken a serious downturn due to lack of homework and task completion, and a couple low test scores. He was in jeopardy of not making the grades he would need for credit at semester end, and would have to do some really hard work to get it back on track.

I had, within hours of each other, received fantastic news about Mason's intellectual abilities and equally difficult news about his continuing lack of follow through and achievement at school. I was there in the kitchen feeling paralyzed, frozen in my not knowing. The most painful experience in parenting for me is when I simply do not have a clue what to do. I begged myself the questions, "When he walks in the door from school, how do I handle this? What is the right approach? What is the best thing to focus on, to say?" I would later tell a friend, jokingly, "I didn't know if I should hug him or hit him." (I am not in favor of hitting or spanking, to be clear.) The familiar tug of war came full on, a great pulling in my head, strategies and outcomes erupting in a great confusion.

Then I felt beyond my mind and into my heart. I often return to a conversation I had at a ladies lunch once. I had been describing some of the behaviors I had to contend with in dealing with Mason's ADD, specifically his inattention to tasks, his frequent flat disinterest, the great challenge of getting him to do the things he was expected to do, so that he would not fail his classes. One mom asked outright, "I cannot imagine how you deal with that! How do you handle it?" My response came easily and immediately. "I love him."

Of course I do other things too. I hold him accountable for his choices and actions. I make sure he has support at home, at school, and beyond. I talk to him all the time about how things are going, how he is feeling, I set limits, I instate or illustrate for him the consequences of his choices, good choices as well as the not so good ones. But the most important thing I do, by far, is love him, unconditionally, unfalteringly. I show him that, though I may have to go fierce mama bear on him sometimes, it is always rooted in love. That love is not going anywhere, ever.

So that afternoon, when he walked in the door, I greeted him like I usually do, asked about his day, and then I opened up a calm, conscious conversation with him about the good and bad news I had received. I celebrated the good with him, and helped him decide on some steps he could take to resolve the not so good. We talked about what had gone wrong, how he was feeling about it, we agreed on a path forward, it went really smoothly. It does not always happen that way, but I think on this day, because I had paused to make my connection to my heart, instead of staying fully in my head and the story of the situation, I came to it engaged from that place of  love, and he felt it.

We determine, day by day, how to move through the difficulties that ADD and learning challenges present, including the unique qualities of 2E. I am becoming more skilled at it, and so is Mason. The great learning of life happens through experience and awareness, and through mistakes and reconciliations. I am invested in establishing ways to support and assist my son who has particular needs and struggles. It is rich soil for growth.

I know labels like ADD, and new designations like 2E, perhaps even more so, come under fire in regards to their overuse and the perception that they are simply making more and more kids "special cases". I can only say, it is impossible to know what it is like to deal with these kinds of issues, unless you have dealt with them. Collectively we need more empathy and far less judgment. Every kid is thirsty for that, to be known and validated. Every kid is also confronted with the demands of an educational system built of benchmarks and boxes to check. That system does not often take into consideration the need for individuation, critical thinking and creativity, which is what grows minds, hearts and spirits. It is up to us to forge an understanding of how to nurture our children in a way that brings them to their full and unique potential.

I hope sharing my experience here helps foster this in some way. If it helps even one person better understand themselves, or their child, more deeply or with greater consideration and care, it is well worth it.

Parenting Mason is a great joy and privilege. As much as I have taught and guided him, I have equally learned so much about relationship, love and family by being his mother. This ever winding road of discovering him, receiving the gift of my son, has helped me also to discover myself and the depths of my heart, the power of love. He truly is exceptional to me, beyond any labels or expectations.

 Perfectly imperfect, just as all of us are. Doing our best, learning and loving all the way.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sister Christian and the Bully Days

"Sister Christian
 Oh the time has come
 And you know that you're the only one
 To say

The song came on, after a flash of premonition. It popped into my head, just as the DJ said the theme for the morning was songs related to family. Goosebumps rose on my skin as the first familiar notes played and internally I shivered.

I had just been thinking of the song the previous night. It came out in the summer of 1984, the summer before I started 8th grade, I was twelve going on thirteen, and it spoke to me. It spoke to my pain and struggle in my emerging adolescence, my tender-hearted confusion, but most of all my loneliness.

I was reminiscing about that time purposefully after a couple close friends had suggested I do some writing about my experience being bullied in middle school. I was lying in bed, drifting there, letting flashes of feeling, smells, sounds, sights emerge, bone deep memory rising to the surface, and that song came playing from the depths of memory, almost haunting. My heart dripped with something close to longing for it. I felt the old familiar belly ache, like being punched squarely in the gut, breathless and penetrating.

"Where you going?
  What you looking for?
  You know those boys
  Don't want to play
  No more with you
  It's true."

It's true. Those boys did not want to play with me, nor did the girls. I was a loser, a geek, a reject. I didn't have the right clothes, the right hair, the right anything. I was picked on ruthlessly most days, other days mostly ignored, nonexistent, a nobody. I had a couple friends in the same boat as me. We clung to each other like girls overboard, in a cold and punishing sea.

What I went through in those middle school years we now call bullying, back then it was called teasing. Whatever you call it, it hurt like hell and ripped my young confidence to shreds, buried it alive, screaming. And honestly, at that time, there was no intervention to be had, it just didn't happen.
Even today it seems like a nearly impossible problem to overcome, adults can step in and attempt to intervene, it can help or hurt, but the damage is often already done. The damage goes deep.

I was teased about my clothes even though we wore uniforms, Catholic school. I didn't have brand names, and I sported K-Mart tennis shoes not Nikes. My face and body took constant hits, my hair, my teeth, how I smelled. I was called a dog, ugly, flat chested, freak. I always had to worry about getting a seat on the afternoon bus, as everyone piled in, usually no one would let me sit with them. I was consumed with anxiety every single day. My heart would race, jaw clenched, biting back tears or shrieks, stuffing things down into a widening chasm of ache and razor sharp pain, buried in flesh. Some events blaze in my memory, but the whole of it seems blurred, like a dirty smear on my own reflection. It is hard for me to fill in all the details, who said exactly what and when. Like many traumatized people, I tried to block it out, had to block out what I could, or perhaps I would not have survived.

"Babe you know you're growing up so fast
 And mama's worrying that you won't last
 To say let's play
 Sister Christian there's so much in life
 Don't you give it up
 Before your time is due"

Every time a kid commits suicide and it is attributed to bullying we all collectively gasp in horror. We wonder how such an awful thing could happen. People question why no one did anything, why no one knew? The bullying often goes unseen. It happens when people aren't looking. It happens in the bathroom, in the hallway, on the playground, in quietly passed notes and whispers, in sideways glances, in isolation tactics, and now, under cover of social media.

The victim of bullying is silenced by shame and humiliation, not only from the perpetrators, but also by not being seen, and when the problem is seen, it is often minimized. I think people may have noticed that I was being "teased", but the conventional wisdom was to scold the teasers, tell the victim, me, to brush it off, or toughen up, and that was that. Problem solved.

It did not solve my problem. The pain I endured was excruciating, and I did think about death, about running away. I just wanted to escape somehow. My favorite part of my days was sleep, and each night it seemed I had just closed my eyes, barely rested, and the alarm would throttle me to the beginning of another round. Another insult laden punch in the gut, or waiting for one, at any moment, around any corner. So much fear and pain, and brewing underneath that, anger, rage.

I was torn between hating my classmates intensely, violently, and on the other hand wanting desperately to win them over, somehow.

The summer of 1984, I loved the song Sister Christian and the video pulled at my heartstrings, it struck every lonely chord. The video featured a beautiful girl who seemed like me, a bit lost and lonely, apart from the crowd, trying to catch up. She had blonde hair cut in a bob, she wore a school uniform quite like mine. At the end of the video, she jumps in a car with the cool kids she has been wistfully watching, and is laughing and happy as they drive off into the sunset.

The summer of 1984 I cut my long, and very uncool hair, one of the objects of my taunting, into a Sister Christian bob. I managed to procure a pair of Nikes and some cheap make up. I thought this could be just the thing to save me from yet another year of dejection and wounding. I was wrong.

I got crushed.

"You're motoring
  What's your price for flight
  In finding mister right
  You'll be alright tonight"

Body shaming and sexual degradation are among the most punishing and cruel things that can be done to a young teenage girl. I was a late bloomer. I am small chested. That became the aim of a lot of cruel jokes, jokes that are abuse. I remember one day we had indoor recess and someone decided to draw depictions of my body and my best friend's body on the board. She was very tall and big chested, I was short and flat. They shot two birds with one stone of insult and shame. One person drew it, but everyone laughed. I wanted to disappear.

I remember, another time, a popular boy feigned asking me out in front of a bunch of kids. I told him to shut up, no way I was falling for that shit. He proceeded to laugh and say he had thought about tossing a dog a bone, but on second thought...gross.

The final insult, among so very many, happened at an eighth grade graduation party held in the school gym. Some of the kids, I don't even know who, or don't remember, made up these fortunes, like who we would be in the future. There on stage it was announced that I would be named "most shapely woman" in some year or another. I didn't register the minute detail. It was a dagger in my underdeveloped chest. They thought it was all in good fun. I wanted to go "Carrie" on all their asses. I wanted to crush them under a concrete wall of insult and injury, I wanted to bust jaws so no more words would come out. I wished they would hurt deep in their chests, bellies and bones the way I did. I wanted to hurl objects right out of my inner storehouse of injury and anger, now bloated and pressurized, explosive, if I had had the power of telekinesis I would have, but I did not.

Instead I turned it inward. I hated myself. I shut down. I became sullen, withdrawn, depressed, and oh so very angry. The impact of this bullying would continue to ripple through my life, and contribute to years of addiction and self destructive behavior. I spent high school and most of college stewing in self hate and hate for the world. I nurtured a contempt for life and those who seemed to skip happily through it. I was so fractured and emotionally hobbled that I longed to either escape or lash out. I tested limits with increasingly risky behavior. I wanted to spit in the eye of the world, because the world did not have a use for people like me. I clutched onto resentment and fell headlong into the darkness of despair. I alternated between numbing out and exploding in rage, other times crying uncontrollably, grief stricken, fixed in a straight-jacket of  unstoppable pain. Depression and anxiety tossed me deep into a suffocating undertow.  Yet there was a part of me that wanted life, that refused to be destroyed. I put my toe right up to the edge of the cliff, but never went past the tipping point, never fully opened to the impulse to jump. For that I am grateful.

I have continued to struggle with depression and anxiety my entire life, in part because of those years of torment. The bullying is not entirely to blame, but it was a major factor. It wounded me terribly. It contributed to my descent into years of deeply damaging behavior, and vicious self sabotage.

At the age of twenty I began the arduous work of healing and recovery. I decided I would fight for myself, that I would lay claim to my truth and my value. I put my feet on the path of the warrior, and I have taken a journey out of the darkness and toward my own light. It is really hard work, to this very moment. I slip and fall regularly. More importantly I have learned how to get back up.

"Sister Christian
  Oh the time has come
  And you know that you're
  The only one to say
  But you're motoring
  You're motoring"

Years after that final humiliation in the gym, I got an invitation to a class reunion. I was married to my loving husband for several years by then, we had our son Mason, and I was early in my second pregnancy. I wanted to go, but I was terrified. I didn't know if I could handle seeing them again, to be near them, to let them see me, and give them a chance to hurt me again. Stephen said I should go, so they could see how good my life had turned out, how awesome I am, and to prove that they did not get the best of me. He thought it would be an opportunity to finally get closure, and he would be right by my side.

As we crossed the street to the bar, it was cold and rainy, the wind whipped sharp and biting. It echoed the atmosphere of my emotions. I was scared, I recoiled at the thought of their faces and voices, part of me wanted desperately to turn and run. But the warrior part of me was dying to step into the room tall and strong, shining in my vitality, in my pretty dress with my strong legs, and my warrior heart. My mere presence would be my testimony to the strength of me, and it was.

I chatted and smiled, I spoke confidently about my life, what I had accomplished. I bragged on my husband and our growing family and showed off pictures of our beautiful baby boy.

One classmate actually apologized to me for the horrible way I had been treated, and for the part she had played in it. That was powerful medicine, the acknowledgement, even more than the apology. It was like finally hearing that I was not invisible after all, she saw me. It is something to have someone bear witness to experience, even over a decade after it happened.

That night I faced demons; demons in the forms of people I once knew, demons in the form of feelings and fears, demons of a girl deeply wounded. I faced it, and by doing so, another level of healing could happen.

After getting through the small talk I felt somewhat avenged, set free. So I took my perfect as it is body, baby bump and all, to the dance floor and I let it fly.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Getting Past the Gag Order

the moth in the dark
flutters like the lost dew drops
and then goes away

~haiku I wrote in third grade

Our words are our most potent tools. Language is the most transformational force in human experience, and it deeply informs our relationships with each other. Words have the power to create or destroy, to foster peace or ignite war, to heal or harm on every level. I have always felt a great kinship with words and writing in particular. Writing gave me my first truly impactful experience of feeling seen, of having talent, of being an intelligent artist. Words, for me, have always been rooted in a desire to express feeling and to create beauty. I have been writing poetry since I was a child. My poems, whether expressing joy, sorrow, anger, or despair, whether rising from my light or my shadow, have always had this quest for truth and beauty at the heart of them. I have evolved over the years as a writer. I write both prose and poetry now. I write to heal, I write to understand, I write to reach out. It is a quest for authenticity, truth, vulnerability and connection.

Sadly, I see, and have experienced, all too often, words, both spoken and written, being used to harm, to control, and to abuse. Bullying, gossiping, and all aggressive and passive aggressive misuses of the power of language are hugely destructive. This is a degradation of our most powerful possibility, it devalues our human gift, it puts us in the bondage of hurt and shame. It has driven me to continue writing, pushing my edges, and risk creating and expressing from my heart.

One of the most challenging things about writing with the intention of sharing publicly is what I would call gag orders. These are not orders of the official kind, but ones that come from, often subtle and implied, social conventions, statements of judgment around vulnerability and transparency, advisements to not rock the boat, the threat of outright bullying, and the often abusive intrusion of trolls. I have actually experienced only parts of this personally, I have never been trolled, but I know it is out there, I know it can happen. It does, and the mere chance of it occurring, often causes me to hesitate, to consider and reconsider, and to be honest, it affects my writing. Knowing that a wrong word, idea or opinion could result in rejection, judgment, and even brutal verbal assault, has kept me from saying things full on, it has kept my writing smaller than it wants to be. I know I am not the only writer who lives in that fear, it takes great courage to go beyond it.

These external forces and implied gag orders contribute to another silencing force, this one even harder to break through, the binding strictness and doubt that comes from within. My inner struggle is a choke hold that goes right into core wounds. Those places of inner hurt and self doubt that are sensitive and raw, my feelings of unworthiness, stories I carry about my lack of ability and intelligence, my fear of being wrong, my fear of being rejected. Ultimately, my fear of finding out that after all this questing for truth and revelation, that I will finally be confronted with my inadequacy, that I am just not good enough.

As a child I often felt like the moth of my haiku, fluttering, a bit lost in the darkness. I didn't fit in. I was awkward, different. I never won at the math fact games or geography quizzes. I got my first ++ grade on that haiku, with two gold stars to boot. I was surprised to hear I was really good at something. I often spent recess time on my own, not unhappy, in my own world. A moth searching for something in the dark, searching for myself. Then, as a young teen, I was verbally bullied at school, my sense of safety was shattered and fear became overwhelming. I flew into the darkness, I made myself hard and untouchable. I shut off parts of my heart, and became angry and numb. External and internal gag orders issued. Command received.

Over time, and with a lot of hard work, healing has happened. I have come out of that shell and found my voice again. I am finding more and more courage to speak, and to come back to my writing. I have received support and guidance from fellow travelers on this path to truth. I am reclaiming myself. I forge ahead, learning about skillful communication and potent expression, the medicine of words.

Words can be used to heal and they can be used to cause harm. I want to be a healer, a medicine woman.

I have given people some genuine and solid advice about their struggles with their own gag orders and choke holds, both the external and internal kind, as they are intimately related. We have all grown up and been conditioned to self censor, to be polite, to hide our truth, to some degree or another, and then we take that into all our relationships and interactions. This is not just writers or artists I realize. We all deal with these gag orders every day. We end up becoming both enforcers and victims of these rules and regulations, and they keep us from true intimacy and deep understanding. I have advised others to be bold, to be vulnerable, because the only way to change this is if people start taking the risk to speak their truth. That advice is correct and I stand by it, but I also understand the fear that rises up when I stand in front of the potential consequences myself.

If I reject these gag orders and allow my writing and my way of being to evolve, if I allow my voice to grow, if  I commit to that journey of vulnerability and truth, if  I show myself and allow myself full expression of who I am...if I do that...I do risk rejection, judgment, insult, trolling...I may upset people, I may lose friends, but in my heart I know what there is to be gained as well.

If I do it, I get freedom.

It is that simple, and that powerful. When we step out of the shadows, and reject the gag orders, then and only then, can we learn, together, about right relationship with ourselves and each other, about a life of action and sincerity. Powerful communication is transparent and vulnerable, it is not ruthless or violent. Freedom of expression is not a license to harm others. In fact, it is about sharing our own experiences and feelings, and taking responsibility for them. It has no room for scapegoating, blaming or shaming. We will make messes of course, no doubt, we will make all kinds of mistakes, but mistakes, when we are living and speaking in truth, can be opportunities to grow and evolve.

If we unshackle ourselves, and claim our right to speak and be heard, and also commit to listening to each other, we all win. We get freedom. We will know about compassion and love. We will be empowered and safe in each others company. We will stand in truth and honesty. What could be better than that? I know it is a long road ahead to get there. It is a dream. But, if one by one we begin, and grab the hand of those near us, we can get there. I am sure we can.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

good ol' days

  your good ol' days
  don't seem so good
  with stretchers for broken bodies
  and your boot heel crushing the heart
  of a dream

 you'll say i'm too young
 too young to see
 the real world
 the cold world
 the world you call home

in my soft middle age
you see weakness
i have my battle scars
and i refuse to fall

in my feminine form
you see frailty
you see difference as
the rungs beneath you
to step on

but we are gathering before you

women and men
of every color
every background
a multitude

you can have your good ol' days
we are marching on

your good ol' days
don't seem so good
cuz you froth at the mouth
at their memory
and seethe all the way
to the angry skin
of your screaming face

are you afraid?

i glimpse a scared child
hiding there in the crease
of your furrowed brow
a little boy

you told that girl
standing her ground
so courageously
to go home to her mommy

do you need yours?

in the dark night
of your good ol' days
did you cry out
for her arms?

have you been on that stretcher, broken?
who put their heel on your heart?

if you take us back
to your good ol' days
when the walls are built
and the bodies are broken
when the stretchers have taken out
all of the casualties
of your so called righteous battle

you say we will be great again
i wonder what we will remain

when the destructive dust settles

and we do rise
from those ashes
still a people
but torn at the seams
of our very souls

who will hold you then?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Change of Momentum

I have been struggling for a number of weeks now with a fairly intense flare up of depression. The weather had been dark and rainy for many days, causing me to feel heavy and unmotivated. I took to my couch whenever I had a chance, and soothed myself with excessive portions of Netflix, binging and numbing at its finest. I became increasingly unhappy with myself, feelings of self doubt and inadequacy occupied my mind, my body wracked with a profuse ache, so the cycle goes. Depression had the momentum.

Fortunately, I have been through this enough to know that I am stronger and more resilient than depression is. I have discovered over the years a skill set that works to assuage the crushing force of a depressive cycle. Depression comes and depression always goes, and I know how to push against it and take back my life force. The momentum always turns back to me in the end. I win.

Today I can say the momentum has fully shifted, and the fog is lifting. I got through the dark days by giving myself permission to be, and at the same time, digging into my disciplined will to do the things I know I must to create a pathway out. First I told my support people, my husband and a few close friends who understand and have my back. Second, even though I spent a lot of time couch bound I also moved my body. I went for runs, danced to a song or two, did my yoga practice. I also kept my commitments to yoga classes I teach, and the immensely important work of being a mom. These are the things that get me through.

And then, the clouds parted, the sun returned, literally and figuratively. My mood began to lift and shift, but some heaviness was holding on. Then over the weekend my patient and persistent husband got me out, on a beautiful day, to do something I used to love to do, but had not done in a long time, and was now afraid of trying anew, getting on my road bike. The last time I rode my bike was over three years ago, and the last time I got on my bike was to participate in a triathlon. My loss of cycling touches a greater nerve, that being, feelings of loss of self I have experienced in moving abroad, a loss of ground, cycling being one thing among many that seemed to have become an, "I used to...".

We drove to a riverside bike path, traffic free and flat. Even there, I told Stephen about how nervous I felt, afraid in reality. What was that fear? Fear of falling, fear of failing, those are fears that stalk me, and here they were again. But I got on my bike and I began, first with great hesitation and over the ten mile jaunt with a blossoming renewal of confidence. Moving through fear to reclaim joy. Moving steadily through the dark patch knowing that the light is returning. Momentum shifts.

Today the rain and dark have returned, and knowing where that can take me I put on my running shoes and went seven strong miles. It felt invigorating, I felt powerful. I am keeping the momentum on my side. I know that another challenging time will surely come, and I will be ready to take it on.

But for now, in the present moment I know who I am, a strong and vital woman with so much to give, that is the truth. It is the truth of each and every one of us, even though sometimes we can't see it, the essence of us can never be lost. That is what I have learned, what I know in my heart, and I extend it to you.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

a call to courage

where there is breath
life reigns victorious
a heart yet beating
drums a call
to step into the circle
and dance

the soil of the heart may grow despair
but also births deep roots of joy
dig out the stones from the field
a bounty of color will flower
that is the richness of life

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Wilds

shatter me with grace
destroy me with beauty
hearken the world i long for
on the winds of intrepid breath
sweet loneliness
a wolf in the wilds of my heart
deep in the emerald forest
of souls becoming
i surrender to truth

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

under the surface

there are things that slip under the surface
aching from skin that works down to bone
while others plunge like
weighted worlds
charging down so swiftly
to the very bottom
where there is finally
a chance to let go
of light and darkness
burdens heavy or slight

it is sometimes
that will bear us to rise
bubbles of breath
that dance next to death
bring back the life

both gratitude and despair
depths of feeling
are the air
of the heart and soul

there are things that slip under the surface
a flash of light
a glimpse of something
a ghost
whispered secrets of the inner chambers
only awakened in dreams

i touch the surface of the water
and i see myself
a mere illusion
rippling out

Monday, January 11, 2016

every single thing

i saw it as
i came around the bend
of that moment

sharp chill of sunrise
slanted angle of light

morning magic
sleight of hand
the way it deceives the eyes

but perhaps it tells the truth
in its way of slow reveal

i could barely make the shape
my attention took the bait

drew me close
right down to ground

i looked so as to see

this broken thing
before me

beaded slipper
torn open at the toe


beautiful as any broken piece
of my own being

i have cast away

seeing it i wept
for what i left behind
around the certain bends
that have come and gone in life

and perhaps that is all
worn out and laid to waste

a pilgrim seeking myself
having traveled so far

ripped and ragged now

i searched for some reason
for such a cruel reality

that perhaps loss is a sacrament
and what remains is enough

 what is broken is still sacred

a little further on
the temple kept its vigil

there standing firm
sparkling in new born sun

i walked to its gate
breathing in incense

the chiming of a bell
a lone voice chanting

a language i do not know
but i understand

it sings
every single thing is holy