Mind the Dash

“The Space Between Events” was an essay read to us last week in an evening yoga class; and as you might surmise by the title it was about the parts of your life that are the day-to-day minutiae that, over time, are life. The events are what they are, and they are but minutes in the big picture of all the years that become the life we have lived.  For a week I’ve been thinking about the space between events, so it was rather rattling last night while reading a book called “A Walk On The Beach: tales of wisdom from an unconventional woman”  when one of the two main characters, the unconventional woman, was in a cemetery, and she tapped her cane on a headstone and said, mind the dash, explaining the little dash on a tombstone that is that space between the date of birth and the date of death, that this is where the living goes, mind the dash…   Born – Died   …and it struck me, as words oh so often do, that mind the dash is expressing very much the same idea as the space between events and I felt really enriched by both the words and my actions of these last 18 months of my life from when I began my experiment of my year of ‘yes.’

When I was invited to share in a friend’s 50th birthday celebration on a cruise ship in the spring of 2017, my initial response was no.  No because of work or no because of money or no because of time…but then my smarter side of my brain said to me, you are self-employed, you can borrow the money from your parents, and you no longer have a child to care for and you don’t have a spouse to answer to and you can make all the time you want to do all the things you want…she is very smart, that smarter side of me, and so I changed my answer to yes.  I also decided at that time that yes would be my answer to anything that I really wanted to do for a year, and it has now been a year and a half and I find that yes, and no, have become full, and fulfilling, sentences in and of themselves.

These months of purposefully changing the way I think about, well, most everything, have been eye-opening.  I often forget how hard my life was, when I was young, and raising my baby, and working, and college and blah-blah-blah…I have written it all before, it was hard…and now my life is, for the most part, while not easy, it’s not hard…I work hard and I play when I want to.  I love and care for myself in the ways that make me happy; I clean, I organize, I plant flowers, I read and I crochet, I am learning yoga, I get pedicures, I am making my  -dash-  as happy as I have the power to make it, and I believe that initiating a ‘year of yes’ was the start of living a much happier life.

Sure, stuff makes me mad…mean people, aggressive drivers, bad bicyclists, the horrifically inelegant way the president speaks, weeds in my stones, miscounting an entire crochet row, items ringing up incorrectly at Acme…I could go on and on about stuff that annoys me, but I find that I don’t really pay as much attention anymore to what makes me mad as much as I pause to recognize what makes me glad…perfectly folded sheets and towels in the linen cupboard might seem silly to you, but that sort of thing makes me happy.  A great conversation with a granddaughter on our way to the bus stop as we notice the sun rise behind the cedars makes me happy.   Seeing how happy my mom and dad are with their new little puppy makes me happy.  Remembering that I have a mom and dad who are healthy and have a happy life makes me happy.  Even the unexpected BOOM of a bass drum when my boyfriend, out of the blue decides to go upstairs to the loft and play with his drums makes me happy.  My daughter, wandering down the driveway to my house just to chat, that grows into laughter over rich red wine, makes me happy.  One of the social media groups I follow asked last night, “what do you do for self-care?” and it made me recognize that I do a lot.  I am much better at caring for my very own self at this age, at this point in my  -dash- than I ever imagined was possible!  What a revelation!!

I am learning and practicing that finding the good, seeking the joy, laughing at the funny, dreaming in the sunny, recognizing the happy, IS the way to love the space between events, it IS the minding of the dash.  Events are births, jobs, marriages, moves, deaths, break-ups, you know, the BIG stuff that happens over time, but the little things are what makes a life.  I hope you, gentle reader, think about your dash today…whatever you find you might be doing; working, playing, reading, chores, games, laughter, crying, exercising, napping, WHATEVER you do today, let it be a choice, let it be a “yes,” and if you don’t want to do some thing, then say “no,” and let that be your full sentence.  We only get one dash. Be mindful of it.


Due for doing

When you are building a crib and sewing burp cloths, or when you are picking out flowers and centerpieces, or organizing your flight and shuttle services, you are doing these things in preparation for a new baby, a wedding, and a vacation, and you have a due date for these events…you have an idea for when something is happening and you are planning for it.  Life it seems has, as we are all well aware, no known dates.  We can plan for things but some things just simply unexpectedly happen.

In the last two years I have experienced the deaths of several dear people; two in their early 60’s, two in their late nineties, one in her thirties, one in her forties, and one just had turned 52.  Some of these relationships were from my past and some were in my present and all of them made me sad for different reasons.  I have been thinking about all of these people quite a bit the last several days.  I recently saw a t-shirt that read “have the cake- take the vacation- life is short” and I thought, well, for some it’s very long and very well lived, and for others it is shockingly short, and I am thinking about all that I have to do and all that I want to do and wondering, each day in this present, am I any nearer to any of these things?

Do you have a To-Do list?  Do you ever make them, or think of them?  My notebook for work is very full and messy with notes of  tasks and jobs, chores to be done and phone calls to make, errands to be run and lists of things that need to be purchased…I write it all down so I don’t make any customers mad, and to keep my small business running big enough to keep afloat.  My lists in my brain however, they are not written anywhere, words and ideas and wishes and plans, just floating and swirling about, and honestly, the person I should most want to please in the world, and should have the least interest in making mad, is me.

I know quite a few pregnant women at the moment, and I am thinking about how much devotion it takes to want to have a baby…they cost so much money and take so much time and then it continues to cost a lot of money and take a lot of time until you have completed your task of raising a child to adulthood, and I thought, Wow!  These women know this and still choose to do this.  I applaud their commitment.  A woman I know well just got married, and a woman I know a little is getting married soon, and I am thinking about how much devotion it takes to want to bind yourself legally to another person, and we all know that divorce is so common, and separating one shared life back into two single lives is expensive and sad and stressful, and these women know this and still choose to do this.  I applaud their commitment.

I’m thinking about what I want to do and that these things are due for doing.  My list is, compared to many people I know, rather small.  I have friends with teenagers who are faced with many obligations that are far behind me.  I have some friends with very young children who are faced with many obligations that are far behind me.  I am deliciously aware right now that I have more freedom than most of the people I know and that I must do the things that bring me comfort and joy, that satisfy my wants and my needs, and make them happen however best that I can…I have been feeling sorry for myself these last few weeks with a painful wrist injury and ridiculously long work days and unending work weeks and when I stopped to think about it the other day, when I saw this t-shirt, I thought, it is so true…life is short and my things I want to do are my own…they just don’t have the formality of due dates, but they should be planned for and joyfully anticipated nonetheless.

I feel like in honor of these people who I knew and cared about, and who now are not on this earth, I should focus on my lists and really strive to achieve some of these goals, and complete some of these tasks, and while it is in complete disagreement with one of my goals, eat more cake.

Night Ride Home

When you suffer a heartbreak, your heart feels like it is shattered into innumerable pieces and everything hurts, and it can sometimes feel like nothing will ever be right again…However, when you experience a heart-breaking-open, all those little pieces, too many to count, move to new and different parts of your brain and your body, and they multiply, and they morph, and they become more kinds of love.   You become filled with a depth and breadth of love that is impossible to describe, and bigger than you could ever have imagined would live inside of you, but there it is, helping you to find joy and beauty and goodness in your day, and pushing you, urging you really, to try to make any day of your life more loving…and then you love so many more things than you did before, and differently…and you experience both the good and the bad in completely new ways, and when things are bad and feel bad and seem bad, they all turn around, eventually, into love.  Love from a broken open heart has turned out, for me, to be the biggest gift, and I can tell you I know the moment it happened…13 years ago an explosion of love came into me and nothing has been the same since. A seven character text message, after midnight, changed my life.  Really.

The ride home that night, thirteen years ago, was the beginning of the better version of me, my living life with a wide open heart, filled, or so I thought, to capacity…my first granddaughter, my daughter’s first baby, begins her next chapter of life today with ages ending in the word “teen.”  I can still remember that feeling, my legs kind of felt numb for a minute, when I read the text message, when I learned that she was now on this earth, and although she was hours away in North Carolina, my heart felt like she was right beside me, that is how much I loved her, even before I knew her.

That late night, as my friend, who was performing at a local outdoor tiki bar, finished his set, his songs sounded better, the moon looked brighter, the annoying drunk young people seemed less annoying and less drunk, the palm trees along the water seemed to sway more elegantly…everything began that night to feel different and to seem different and, 13 years later I can now affirm, became different.  That kind of love changes a person.  That kind of love changed me.

She is changing so fast now, this girl child who today is a teenager…every week, or so it seems, she is a bit different from how she was the week before.  I barely have to nod my head now to kiss the top of hers.  She doesn’t need me very much anymore for any one thing, but when she sends me random text messages, it feels good just to know that she is thinking of me…I can’t ever describe how it is, that I think of her, and her sister, in almost all the empty moments of almost all of my days when I’m not occupied with other thoughts.

I know, from my own experience of raising a girl child into a woman, that there are going to be some stressful times ahead, for both this girl I so love and her mother, the girl who I loved first…it’s strange how I can love my daughter so much but love her children so much more, and in such a different way…I love both of the children with an intensity that is sometimes a little scary really, but there is something indescribably special about the first grandchild that I can neither articulate nor explain.  It doesn’t diminish the love I have for the second child, it is not better than, or bigger than, just different than…It’s like she occupies a part of my heart that I never knew existed until she existed, and it, my heart, can never go back to how it was before…it is simply a bigger and better heart since she took her first breath.

I think about that night ride home today, her birthday, and remember that I was in awe…gobsmacked that I could feel THIS MUCH FEELING…even before I saw her face and touched her little fingers…just knowing she was on the earth was enough for me to know that if I never loved anything again in my life, the love I had inside of me that night, was enough.

Behind Closed Doors

I am pretty sure at some point in my teenage years I must have muttered, or wailed in some sort of adolescent angst ridden sorrow, that I wish I were dead, but I never entertained a thought of suicide.  I have been, I think for all of my life, a person who always had a hopeful outlook and a level of optimism that things would, whatever those “things” were, somehow work out…SO this week to have two seemingly “have it all” celebrities die of suicide has shaken me a bit, because I feel like it’s a perfect example of how we simply do not know what goes on behind closed doors, and behind closed eyes, and more importantly that what we think will make our lives “happier” or “better,” probably won’t.

My Instagram tag line, since I joined, was that I “love to cook and long to travel.”  These are the two things I would most want to do if I had all the time I wanted to do what I wanted.  I can’t count the number of times my boyfriend and I have watched a show that involved travel and food, cooking and eating, and said to each other “I want that job!” or “that’s the life of our dreams!” or a similar expression, so to have a famous person we enjoyed watching, who was doing THOSE EXACT THINGS, die by suicide, really shook us both yesterday.

I read Kitchen Confidential not long after it was first published, which was around the same time I started my Sunday morning love affair with the BBC television program Nigella Bites, and the Food channel’s Barefoot Contessa, shows that took me from being a person who liked to eat and cook, to becoming a person who LOVED to cook and eat.  The early aughts were the years I really started to become, or tried to become, a “foodie.”

We’ve watched MANY episodes of Parts Unknown, probably have seen most if not all of them, and I  follow Anthony Bourdain on Instagram, and it feels a little like the super cool guy at school who was your friend, even though you were not nearly as cool as he, suddenly dumped you and didn’t want to be your friend anymore.  We watched a tribute to him on CNN last night and clearly I was not alone in my thinking…he seemed a person who was really great to know.  Everyone who spoke had something to say about what a creative and smart man he was and what a loss they were feeling.  I never owned a Kate Spade anything but I felt sad earlier this week when I heard about her suicide too.  From what I read about her, she too was a creative person filled with exciting ideas and big visions.  All the means to do whatever one wishes to do, and all the means to have whatever one wishes to have, and still…not enough to want to live…it breaks my heart for someone to suffer so…

The thought that two little girls, just 13 and 11, left by these two famous suicides this week, now without a mom and a dad, both who appeared to be having “the life” breaks my heart into pieces…I think about my granddaughters and how heartbroken and utterly devastated they were when their little dog died, I can’t imagine how crushed and inconsolable they would be to lose a parent…and that the parent “did it on purpose” is the thought that keeps making me ache…how a person could be in so much mental anguish and personal pain that they could cause that level of devastation and loss to their own daughter just crushes me.

I made a strange meal last night for dinner; totally modified a recipe for salmon rice bowls, used chicken and had no mirin so I used vinegar, and it came out fabulously, which made me immensely joyful.  I have yoga today, and this afternoon my granddaughter’s dance recital, two things that make me immensely joyful.  I watched two humming birds at the feeder this morning while I poured my coffee, three things that make me immensely joyful.  I feel like I want to note details of the simple things that make me happy.  Two famous people, who seeming had all the things that COULD make a person happy, obviously weren’t made happy by any of it…

I have been surrounded by wealthy people for all of my adult life, all of my jobs have been those where I worked for, or waited on, wealthy people, and the older I get the more I know this much is true; they have more money than I do, and can do more fun things that cost money than I can, and they can buy more stuff than I can, but none of that really has a thing to do with finding happiness… the joy in a strong hot cup of coffee, the beauty of spying two hummingbirds at the feeder, the positive energy flow through the body in 75 minutes of yoga, the excitement and anticipation of watching your incredibly talented granddaughter up on stage…or any of the “little things” that can make life happy.

Nothing “outside” of yourself has anything at all to do with happiness, or joy, or gratitude, or success.  When you close your eyes, if all the things in your mind are dark, it really doesn’t matter what you project on the surface.  When you close your door, if all the energy in your space is filled with negativity, it really doesn’t matter how big or fancy it is.  Recognizing that a happy life starts in your own mind and in your own space, is, I think, a start…


Memories of deer, a lake, and a park

I suspect that every one of you who reads this has a similar memory from childhood; zooming, ZOOMING down Any Street USA on your bike, feeling the air tickle your skin, the hair flying up off the back of your neck, and then braking, and the brakes either squeezing the tire too tight, or not at all, or hitting a pebble, and the pebble and the tire connecting at such an angle and in such a way that the only thing there is to happen next is the BIG FALL…the over-the-handlebars fall, the bleeding elbows and bleeding knees fall, the chain coming off fall, the crying your eyes out limping home or trying to pedal home fall, the standing in the tub crying while your mom gently tries to get the dirt and flecks of gravel and asphalt out of your elbows and knees fall…Mine was on a street called Temple Avenue in a neighborhood where I lived as a child called Deer Lake Park.  I remember what I had on the day of THE FALL…it was a white halter top with “rope” through the neckline that tied behind my neck and it had an embroidered sailboat on the front of it and I wore it with dark blue and white gingham shorts and it was a “belly shirt” of sorts, which made me feel much more cool and hip than my bookish little girl self was.

After work last night I had to drive to this neighborhood of my childhood to move a piece of furniture for a friend.  While I currently only live about six miles from said neighborhood I have only driven through it a handful of times in all of my adult life, and when I pulled up to the house where I was to retrieve this antique armoire I looked to my right and realized in a moment of such clarity and memory where I was; I was at the base of the hill where I took the BIG FALL.  In a split second I felt like I had traveled through 42 years…in my mind’s eye I saw my sun-kissed brown hair, my summer tan skin, my rope necked halter top, and that blue bike my dad had brought home from work, trash picked and lubed up, and THE HILL that tremendous hill where I was ZOOMING, going much too fast, oh no! too too fast-must brake…when it happened, the BIG FALL.  Until that moment that summer day I always had a bike where to brake you just pushed the pedals back, like you were about to pedal backwards, but this bike, this exciting just picked from the trash totally different bike than my own had a hand brake, which I squeezed, hard, as I left the top of the hill because I felt I was going way too fast and would not be able to turn left onto the street below…and that brake squeezed that front tire like nothing I ever had felt in my entire life and that front tire stopped.  STOPPED just like that…but I alas did not…That tire stopped and I flew…flew from that banana seat right over the handlebars and down that giant hill…in my mind I slid on belly, elbows, and knees ALL the way down that hill…I remember my toes were split open, it’s likely I was in bare feet as I so often was, my knees were skinned all the way down to my bones, or so it felt, as were my elbows and I seem to remember both my belly and my chin were bleeding too…but what I also remember was that I thought it too far to try to walk home, and I did not want to leave the bike so I have a memory of getting back on said bike and reluctantly pedaling home, sobbing, shakily trying to balance my way back to my house…

BUT last night sitting in my ridiculously big truck on the side of the road, looking out the passenger window at that HILL, it looked so small…so not at all steep, so not at all big, in fact, nothing looked as big as I remembered it…it suddenly seemed so small; the hill, the neighborhood, the houses…

On my way home out of the neighborhood, I drove by my old street, my old house…I looked at the grass out front where I learned to do a cartwheel.  I looked up at “my” bedroom window, wallpaper white with little purple flowers, a lavender quilted bedspread under which I often read well past my bedtime, where I first read The Secret Garden and The Outsiders… the giant field that was behind my old house was still a field, but it was not giant at all…in my memory it was an expanse of grass and open space that went on for a mile…our dad cut a path through the woods in our backyard to it where we drove our little tractor, played tag and Simon Says, laughed & giggled under the hot sun and twirled and spun when we wore spinny skirts or dresses…in reality it was grass that went on for about 200 feet!  I stopped at the field, SO MANY memories of that field and I just sat in my truck feeling so strange, looking at that giant field of playtime memories that now looked so small…

I’ve often thought about that house over the years of my life.   Mostly I think about my dad, working full-time with a wife and two little girls and going after work every single night to work on that house that he built for us…that my parents were able to afford to live with us in the first house that they bought when they were married, while building the house we were going to move to less than five years later, and that they were not even 30!!!!  There are 30 year-olds now who still live with their parents!!!  My parents were not even 30 and were able to afford to live in their home, with two little kids, and able to buy a piece of land, and then build a house on the land at the SAME TIME!!!  Sitting in my truck, it all seemed unfathomable.

While I felt happy to deliver the furniture to my friend I felt a bit sad driving home, what had been so big in my mind was so small now in real life.  I wondered, could it really be that I had not driven by that Temple Avenue hill in four decades??  I wondered, did I ever remember seeing any deer in our yard as a child there??  The lake is still there but the park was always on the other side of the lake anyway, it wasn’t like we could walk there!  Sitting in Deer Lake Park for those minutes was like unlocking a time capsule that’d been buried for 40 years.

The Shape of Opinions

Over the winter, in December I guess, I listened to an interview on Fresh Air on NPR as I so often do on my way home from work.  Terry Gross was interviewing the director Guillermo Del Toro and he was speaking about his new movie called The Shape of Water.  The story he was describing intrigued me so much that as soon as I got home I added the name of the film to my library list; a list I keep by my office computer that has titles to books or movies or records that I have heard of and want to borrow when they are available from my local library.  Truth be told almost all of the titles are from NPR interviews.  The story sounded like a mix between something I would find late at night on the Sci Fi channel and The Princess Bride, meaning it sounded like something of a quirky fairy tale which is anything I would love to watch or to read. I did not watch The Academy Awards in March but did see on the news the next morning that he won for best director, and became even more excited for my library request to finally arrive.

A month later it did, when I was away in Florida for a few days with my daughter and granddaughters, so my dvd request was cancelled when I did not retrieve my order in time…SO when I arrived home from my mini-vacation and went through my email I immediately reordered the dvd which arrived, sadly for me, right before Memorial Day, which, as I have a small seasonal business, is literally my busiest time of the entire year, so much so that I often don’t get home until dark and I fall asleep in utter exhaustion within seconds of my head hitting my pillow, and don’t read or watch much during those last two weeks of May!  Fortunately I arrived at the library after the holiday weekend to retrieve the dvd the day the hold was to be cancelled and I planned to watch it that night, Thursday May 31st.  And then I didn’t.   And then I didn’t watch it on Friday night, or Saturday night.  I did not work on Sunday, and it was a rainy crap day so I thought I would watch it Sunday afternoon after yoga or Sunday night after dinner.

Sunday evening as my tired eyes grew more heavy I realized that I likely had only a couple of hours of alertness left in me and was deciding whether or not I would read at bedtime or watch this movie.  I made, what turned out to be a terrible choice, to go on the IMBD web site and read the reviews of the movie.  The reviews were terrible.  Really bad.  Two Thumbs Down was pretty much the consensus!  I read a few, and then a few more, and they were so dreadful that I just jumped ahead to the synopsis and decided to save myself two hours of a bad movie and read in bed instead.  I felt disappointed.  Disappointed that this movie seemed so awful to so many even though I had been so excited to see it for many months.  I “said” as much in a social media post that night and discovered in the morning MANY of my cyber friends thoroughly disagreed with both the bad reviews, and my post stating that reading would be a better choice and to return the movie unwatched.  Monday morning I thought to myself, how could I have wanted so badly to see this film and then been so easily swayed by online reviews when for most of my life things that are odd, strange, or unpopular are, more often than not, very appealing to me??!!  I realized that my cyber friends are so like-minded, and all of them suggested I watch this movie and form my own opinion rather than giving up on it before I even pressed >Play.

I am very glad that I both took their advice and rethought my thoughts.  I found the film quirky, magical, fantastical, and charming.  I loved the soundtrack, I loved the colors, the way the color green was a significant piece of every scene, the narration, the dialog, the character development, the whole thing was a joy for me!  I am so glad that the interview with the director started me on the path to seeing the movie and my friends encouragement to do so made it happen.  This morning I was reminded that what is popular; for example shows involving bachelors, dancing stars, rich housewives, pawn shop owners, or unknown singers are seldom, IF EVER, at all interesting to me…I was reminded last night while watching The Shape of Water that I must always let my own experience shape my opinion.


my own kind of A. A.

My life was terrible, and scary, and sad until I decided I could not live one more day of a terrible, scary, sad life.  I called one of my two best friends and said, “please come get me and don’t ask any questions.”  Awakening Anniversary is what I sometimes call it, my own version of A.A.  On June 1st every year I say “prayers” of sorts…I give thanks to that friend who came with no questions, but knew to bring her husband’s pick-up truck, and I give thanks to “god,” or the universe or whatever/whoever helped me to gather the strength I needed to finally ask for help, and I give thanks to my parents who opened their door to me, and I give thanks to me for finally accepting that my life was terrible, scary, and sad, and I did not want any sort of life like that for me or my 17 month-old big bald baby girl.

I have known people who say that their AA saved their lives, and my A.A. saved mine too.  31 years is a long time ago, but my phone call that day freed me from so much awfulness that I remember it like it was last week.  Three decades and a year is a long time to remember a bad time, but I think it is important to remember some bad things because those things make one much more grateful for all that is good.  I feel like if only one woman reads this blog and understands that she does not have to hide her secret anymore, and should ask somebody to help her, it will be a very positive blog.  This day used to choke me up, and I would find myself crying at some random point during the day but now I feel so blessed and happy and thankful, that the tears that may come out of nowhere later, will be tears of joy.

I finished a book last night with a character in it who behaved much like the man who made my life terrible and scary and sad; and when I finished the book I thought how funny it was that it was on the EVE of my A.A., and how I totally related with the wife of said character in that book…The wife in the book kept telling her daughter, “he loves us he is sorry” and the man in the book kept crying after each rage filled night of violence and said “I am so sorry, you know how I get, it won’t happen again I promise” and I realized that my greatest gift to MY daughter might be that I got away in time…before she ever saw her mother’s head bash into the wall behind her, or hold a cold washcloth to her forehead to keep the swelling down, or had to wear a long-sleeved t-shirt on a hot May day to cover the bruises on the top of her arm…the daughter in the book looked at her mother with pity and I am so glad, so grateful, that my daughter never saw any of that kind of life.

If I had not had that friend who came without question because she loved me and wanted me to be happy, if I had not had parents who loved me and forgave me for being so stupid and making such dreadful choices, if I had not loved that sweet 17 month-old big bald baby girl so much maybe I would not have had the courage to finally “tell.”  Each year I think about how embarrassing it was; when you hide a secret for a long time and the only one who suffers is you, you finally realize that it’s a stupid secret to hide.

If anybody had told me that morning, the hours before I made the call, that 31 years later I would be living in a house I designed and built, right next door to my grown-up daughter and her daughters, with a handsome drummer whose smile makes my knees weak, and that I would be happy every day, and find joy in every day, I would have thought they were insane…BUT all of it, all of the glorious bits of good that are my life really did happen, and I think that my life would have been very much different had I not had the strength to say, “please help me.”  The anniversary of my awakening is a very special day for me and I am crying now, as I finish typing, looking for a last line, and none is coming to me, as it is just sometimes impossible to imagine this is real…this real life filled with so much goodness and how much love I have in my life now, knowing how little love there was, then, but remembering the discovering… that I loved myself enough to ask for help was the first step, all the steps that came after, only came from taking the first…