Back to Center

Mossy Rock

I’ve always been pretty much of a rock — at least on the outside. This is perhaps more calculated than natural, since holding steady comes more easily when you don’t give in to drama. I’ve rarely been a shrieker, if you don’t count the child who likes to jump out of closets, or a flinger, if you overlook that carton of Chinese food that sailed across the kitchen. And after all, that was only once. I used to be a door slammer, but someone-I-can’t-quite-remember guilted that out of me. So yeah, pretty much of a rock.

Lately I feel less rockish and more like, oh . . . seaweed maybe. Stringy, riding whatever wave heads this way, unable to keep all of my tendrils pointed in the same direction, but still afloat, still green, still vital. It’s a nice image I think, and serves me well in uncharted waters, but lately I feel the need for a little more control. For feet, if you will. Feet to plant, to walk, to run. Feet that allow me to choose a path.

This isn’t altogether surprising, of course.

It’s a funny thing about finding your feet, your heart, your center. I sometimes feel like I am least myself when I’m in my “element” (read home/job/loves/routines/chosenactivities). I tend to fall into patterns of behavior that work in Situation A or Dilemma B. Don’t we all? I find that I most closely resemble myself, my center, when I am far from home in novel situations with strangers and unfamiliar sights and sounds. I am most myself when I have to look, to see, to hear, to discern, to think in new ways about new concepts, to grow.

Essentially, I have a yearning to get lost. Scrape some moss off. Let some sun in. Let that wild hair reign a bit.

Is Change a 4-Letter Word?

I’m sitting at the new desk my son and I made over the weekend (“Mom, you need a desk. You can’t keep working in the kitchen.”), which means that instead of watching the Southern light stream in just above the row of Italian cypress that Sweetest and I are patiently watching inch up toward the sky, I’m gazing over the Northern vista toward the English garden he designed and planted surrounding a stately and spreading elm.

Tree HaulOr, more precisely, I’m watching a trampling of the English garden as five neon-yellow-chested workers carry the centerpiece off in huge slices hoisted on their shoulders.

We knew she was on her last leg when we moved here, but despite the hollow cubbies here and there and the massive cable linking her three largest branches, still she stood, day after day, happy to hold a swing and a bee skep, willing to shade the hostas and hydrangeas that wouldn’t survive without her leafy sun-shield. Our Tree Guy said, “She’s gonna hit the ground one day, but she won’t come near the house, so I’d leave her up as long as she wants to stay.” And so we did, hoping that would be Forever.

TreefallForever came this weekend. Vernon heard the crack as one of the cables snapped and a third of the trunk broke away, filling the yard with branches fifteen feet above the ground. When Jason and I returned from Desk Materials Central, aka IKEA, we drove right into that dead-tree-jungle of twigs, branches, leaves, and barkness everywhere. Oh. Welcome Home, Change.

Tree Garden 2012And so my new work vista that would have looked like this:

Tree Garden 2012 After

now looks like this:

There are worse places to be, of course.

When I get pissy about this or that, I try to fall back on the mantra: Embrace Change, Embrace Change. And still I wonder, my mental rambling accompanied by the harbinger chant of a chainsaw, where’s the upside here? Change, I’m not a total hardass. Show me the upside and I will meet you halfway. Maybe a nod today; maybe a handshake in a couple of weeks.

So far, no response, just a peculiar morning watching the yellow guys pulling elm branches out of the fifty-foot redwoods, and it’s all very Magritte. I need tea.

Magritte, Carte Blanche


Matrix, Photo

I can’t stop the numbers. They trill down my field of vision — awake, asleep, involved or staring into space, alone or with the ones I love. I’m not even certain if I’m seeing real numbers spewed like actuary tables of my years left on the planet, or colors like I’ll use to paint the remaining days, or simply a disconnect, as if all the trains are leaving the station at once and I can’t read the numbers fast enough to know which handle to grab for hoisting myself onto this ride.

Even though I love a metaphor, and this one certainly fits, I hate the numbers. I’m not given to panic attacks, but even in the heart of my quiet moments, I find myself not breathing, or breathing too much, or stopped in my tracks wondering how to breathe, and of course I blame this all on the numbers.

I am awash with numbers. Statistics, probabilities, centimeters, directions, weights and measurements, years, months, days, recovery times, usable hours in a day, fractions for dividing available time into necessary tasks, blueprints for the time I have left. I’m not a numbers girl, and I want them to go away.

As days go, I’ve been a little better lately — more time with family and a few friends, more emails answered and a more manageable pile of things left undone. And I’ve been a little worse — more in need of two bodies that will pin me between them on the sofa in the evenings, laughing at nothing and making sure I stay upright and intact. For every bit of normal-ness I wear in a day, I carry three times the weight of embryonic panic.

And so I stare a lot more now, looking for that steady place in my soul that keeps me still. Trying to find the balance in breath, which is shockingly difficult when you’re off kilter. Trying to live the truth that what’s “important” will vary on a daily (hourly) basis, and that it doesn’t matter if others don’t understand.

In a former life a coworker said, “Every time I look over, she’s just staring out the window,” and another said, “She’s not just staring, she’s designing — that’s how they do it.” And I hope (and believe, in a very small way just now) that I’m designing. I hope that my staring and breathing is giving (new) life to the balance of my days. I hope soon the numbers will stop and the design will begin to make sense in a way that I can recognize and welcome and begin to play with like fingerpaints, when everything is possible and there are no lines or graphs to fit into.

But for now, there are still the running, screaming numbers. Surgery in nine days. Anticipated one week recovery. Anticipated three to four weeks healing. Hoped-for one week balloon radiation; otherwise five – seven weeks of daily radiation. Five years (1,825 days) taking an estrogen-sucking drug (“If you want to live,” said doctor #1) or (“Your choice,” said doctor #2).

And Poof! Over. Done with. On with your life.

But I will never be the same. And it will take a lot of staring and holding and breathing to get me to the next place.

Happy . . . Something

RascalIt’s my favorite season of the year, and I’m speechless. I used to carry on in December with a twinkly grin and a ready, “Merry Christmas!”, one of the few times of the year when I didn’t have to depend on faulty hearing to know what people were saying, because everyone was simply wishing you happiness, family, and sharing. Now, older certainly and wiser mostly, I just smile and nod. I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel good. Continue reading

Bears Do It

The house is de-frocked and the champagne chugged, with leftovers picked apart,  floors de-needled, the last family member waved off, and even the cat has lost interest in the sole remaining pile of boa-fluffed stockings. I celebrated the official end of this holiday season by wearing my pajamas until 4:00 and then, finally bra-ed and tee-shirted, curled into the Big Leather Sofa with my blankie for three hours of CSI Las Vegas. Hibernation Season is upon me.

If January is synonymous with Beginnings, why is it so cold, so drear, so wet, so gray, so solitary, so comfortless? The only reason I can imagine is that the universe conspires to bring us into ourselves to create an internal nest that will warm us, heal us, reinforce us for the year ahead.

I don’t see abundant evidence that the human race is so universally evolved as to view the new year as a time of introspection. Sure we make resolutions, but 90% seem to involve diet and exercise, and a look in any direction provides ample evidence that the healthy eating promise is rarely kept. On New Year’s Eve we’re all eager to ring in a new annum that “can’t be any worse than this year,” and yet we’ll almost certainly be aping the same refrain at the close of 2010. Hope springs eternal, and yet how do we actively intend to put away the old and bring forth the better?

Maybe in the case of new beginnings, we take action through inaction, by curling up like bears turning our bundled backs on the world we’ve known and diving within to seek new possibilities, new paths, new nuts, new berries. I can spend hours staring at a pattern in the carpet, the steam from my tea, or colored chunks of glass awaiting an adhesive. And oddly, it feels good, and it feels good in the same way that finally cleaning the house feels good, or throwing out half of an uneaten sugary candy bar. It feels healthy. And holy.

Here’s wishing you an extra layer of fleece, a log on the fire, and a week’s worth of stew in the crock pot. I’ll be dancing in the streets with the first spring thaw, but for a few more days, bring on the holy. I won’t be answering the phone.

But I Loved that Man . . . .

Mark-Sanford-Piglets expI hate politics. Always have. There isn’t a sentence you could utter about any politician on earth that I wouldn’t believe, no matter how bizarre, how far outside the bounds of credible human behavior. Except Mark Sanford. I loved that man.

I uttered as much to the father of my children last week, and he replied, “I feel the same. He was my Tar Tudent. Character matters, and I hope he has boatloads. He’ll need it.” Indeed.

When the kids were 3 and 4, they attended Happy Time School in Georgetown, SC, run by the our local Teacher/Goddess/ Dispenser of Love and Emotional Health, Peggy Wheeler. Miss Peggy had a bulletin board placed at kid level as you walked in the door, with Star Student spelled across it. Each week, one of the kidlets was chosen to be the Star Student — not based on any accomplishments, but simply as a rotating honor. The children brought in photos of themselves, family, pets, vacations, drawings — whatever they wanted — and they were posted for that week surrounded by stars. When it was daughter Ashley’s turn, she excitedly reported that she would be the next Tar Tudent. We’ve used the phrase for Special People ever since.

Mike Sanford was one of those, a true Tar Tudent, and I knew it from the first time he was introduced to us by a mutual friend. Sanford was not your garden variety politician. In fact, it seemed he wasn’t a politician at all. A proponent of limited terms, tough love and straight talk, it seemed he was one of those lovely men of character who have better sense than to dally near the political arena. It seemed he was a candidate no party would support, because he refused to be a pretty face with a big smile and a push button for regurgitating party agendas. Mark Sanford was his own man and nobody’s mouthpiece. Dangerous? Only for the status quo, I thought.

When Hubby first mentioned the news last week, I immediately refuted the claim — didn’t even give the possibility a split second in my psyche before spitting the ludicrosity right back out. “No,” I said. “He would never.” And then my daughter, who, at 22, has grown a CNN appendage with a hearty Economist diet. “It’s true.” I stared at them blankly. But I loved that man!

A week ago, I scoured the news. I read transcripts of the curious press conference, Jenny’s boldly gracious response, and emails that made my teeth hurt. I tried to understand. Surely there was some emotional breakdown that obliterated his judgment, erased his memory of a wife so supportive that she served by his side as campaign manager, shrouded his dedication to four strapping sons.

After a good day cutting tile and shaping the colors into a glorious red as red heart, I walked up the front steps this afternoon with newspaper in hand, uncharacteristically glancing down through the bluish plastic rain cover. “Sanford Admits to More Liaisons,” read the headline. My jaw dropped. And then the caption beneath his chagrinned face, “SC Gov. Mark Sanford says he’s trying to fall back in love with his wife, Jenny.” Only the sight of our 13-year-old by the door kept the sound from my fury.


Well fuck you, Mark Sanford. Fuck you. It isn’t enough that you’re whining about love instead of sharing it with your spouse and your children, it isn’t enough that you’re whining about the fishbowl of politics instead of governing the state, it isn’t enough that you’re flying your “trusted spiritual advisor” to New York for dinner with your curvy-hipped lovedrop, but you have the gall to say, publicly, as if this scandal isn’t pain enough, that you’re trying to fall back in love with your wife, Jenny. Just fuck you. I hope she douses you with gasoline and gives you one last kiss so electric that you burst into the flames of hell. And I’m not given to that sort of talk.

So there were others. I no longer care. I will no longer try to understand. I dump you into the scum pond of politicians who feel they are not only above the law, but above any notion of human character. American politicians have become the laughingstock of the nation, if not the world. The concept of service is dead. We could let them finish out their terms on I Survived a Japanese Game Show and get as much out of them as we do in Washington and our state capitals. I am ashamed. So very ashamed.

I loved this guy, and I’m not the naive type. I’m so not-the-naive type that trust is excruciatingly slow for me. I look, I listen, I wait, and maybe in five or ten years, I trust. But I trusted you Mark Sanford. And you are not a Tar Tudent. Turns out your character was somewhat less than boatloads. Too bad for both of us; for all of us. And now I’m done. Continue reading

The Menopause Diet

The Menopause Diet

My name is Pam, and I am in a Bad Mood.

If you’ve read Sex in the Fifties, you’re probably aware that I’ve been in a Bad Mood since that first hot flash in June 2006. I’ve heard that hot flashes can continue for 10 years. A very bad mood indeed. Continue reading

Oddly Passionate

I was waxing my way through Summer Pierre’s fab blog called An Accident of Hope (gotta love it), when I mired down in the post “30 Things I Feel Oddly Passionate About.” Of course that got me to wondering, what would be tops on my own list of odd passions? Of course I’m passionate about my family, art, respect, and a crucial pair of gladiator sandals from Anthropologie, but those hardly qualify as odd. And I’m passionate about things like open cabinet doors, spiders skittering towards my legs, and combing my hair before answering the phone, but I’m just going to go ahead and file those under OCD. When it comes to the quirkiness that makes me me and makes you you, what are the defining idiosyncrises? Shall we give it a look? Continue reading