Closer Than You Think

I’ve been thinking about my father a lot lately.  Which I know is kind of a normal thing to do for most people – to think about their parents, whether they are living or deceased.  While it may be normal for most, I’ve never made a lot of space in my heart/brain for thoughts about my dad, minus the times when I absolutely had to – when he was sick; when he was dying; when and immediately after he died.  See, we didn’t have what you would call a close relationship.  He was a hard man, born in 1931 and somewhere in the middle of eight children in Red House, West Virginia.  He dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force at a very young age.  He was in the Korean War and Vietnam.  He retired from active duty when I was little and spent much of the rest of his working life travelling as a field engineer for an aerospace manufacturer, away from us, away from being able to really know him.  He was stoic, and not forthcoming with feelings – pretty much ever.  There were usually parts of fucked up F-16 gearboxes or fuel pumps or what-have-you in his company car trunk.  He would try to teach me what they were and what they did.  I was more interested in the magic of dance at age 13 – unsure of how to learn from a man who was kind of a stranger to me.  A mean stranger, sometimes.  As a child, my father was the brooding orange glow of a cigarette tip early in the dark of morning, or late in the night after the news was over and children should be in bed.  There was just an ethereal body behind that smoke, a man I couldn’t make out in either the dark or the light, really.  And as I grew up, he was just not really…there.

But when he was home, he was the disciplinarian.  Clearly exhausted from the effort it took to parent me (since my sister had long fled the depression and repression that was our happy family home), my mom was in give-up mode by the time my dad would come home from being away for 2 weeks at a time.  We were constantly moving for his job, and yet he still had to travel.  It sounds like I’m knocking my dad for trying to always go for the better position in order to provide for us.  I probably am.  It was fucking hard.  I had lived in 10 different houses and neighborhoods in 4 different states by the time I graduated high school.  It sucked.  I was forever starting a new school, forever not fitting in, forever not making friends.  I was a fucked up, lonely child.  I’m deeply grateful for many of the traits I now possess because of (and despite) my childhood – but there’s no denying that it was hard, hard, hard.  YES I AM AWARE it could have been harder, but I am not playing the comparison game that is ever so popular.  He was The Enforcer, not in a physically abusive way but in a disappointing-look/glare kind of way.  I mean, I was a pretty good kid and tried to stay out of trouble.  It didn’t mean I didn’t get punished, though.  My parents were old-school and strict.  No closed door to your bedroom EVER.  No boys in your bedroom, EVER.  Shit, I didn’t even have a TV in my bedroom until I had to move back in at 22 for a hot minute.  No going out past 10 on a school night as a teen, and they knew where you were as best they could without cell phones or GPS…if I would have been a different child, I would have tested those limits a whole lot more.  I am a rule-follower though, and never sneaked out.  Lied a bit about exact whereabouts, sure.  Never tried anything besides drink a little in high school.  I was a good student.  None of it was ever enough.  Or at least, enough to win his approval, to get his attention, to feel…loved.

Look, I know he loved me in whatever way he could.  But knowing it in your head is not the same as feeling it in your heart.  Here was a man who was never really taught what that meant, was never given a model for what that should look like – his own parents were close-mouthed people who didn’t emote.  Whenever we would travel to see my grandparents in California, the visit was full of kids and cousins and aunts and uncles, but Grandma and Grandpa barely spoke.  Maybe it was just me.  Shit.  I don’t know.  My Grandma was an expert baker, and I am pretty sure that is how I inherited the cakes-and-pies gene.  I digress.  I am saying that my father came from somewhat abusive, stoic people and he learned how to be from them.  It was not close.  It was not loving.  It was not enough either.

So, through generations of alcoholism on my mother’s side and too many kids and a restrained depression-era love on my father’s, I grew up resentful.  A demonstrative child trapped in a sad, frustrated house with zero authentic emotions.  I started working at 16 part time.  I worked full time, all the time, from 18 on.  It’s just what you did then.  I did what I could to survive – I built strong AF walls, I built a fantastic Mind Palace, and I got the fuck out as soon as humanly possible.  Many mistakes were made.  Oh, and I also started drinking righteously at about 18.  Like mother, like daughter.  Anything to feel more loved.  Anything to feel more accepted, to feel cooler, to feel like I belonged somewhere.  Eventually, I thought that moving away to college would be the answer, and the necessary step in order to make college a thing in which I did more than dabble after spending 3 years out of high school starting classes and just dropping out eventually.  I remember that my father was always the one from whom I would ask to borrow money, with the admonition of “don’t tell your mother” – which is clearly fucked up in its own right.  I worked all through school, but still spent way out of my means.  I graduated.  I moved even farther away from my parents.  I got married.  I got divorced.  I then spent the next 10-odd years living within driving distance of them and basically doing whatever they needed me to do, whenever they asked.  Which led to what Brené Brown would call a small breakdown.  Which really looked more like

BREAKDOWN.

But what it led to was a few years of therapy (which, you know, never end really), and tough introspective work, and getting rid of shit that just did not serve me any longer.  What THAT led to was realizing that it is not just okay but fucking necessary to have boundaries.  Maybe sometimes what you or I might think as extreme boundaries.  I don’t know.  I just know that I didn’t want to wake up and be 60 and wonder what the fuck I had done, spending 20+ years of my life taking care of my aging parents.  For some, I know that it is in the blood.  For some, I know that it is duty.  For me, it doesn’t work.  And I had already spent 10 of those 20+ years doing a thing I didn’t want to do.  He died after suffering 6 months with a growing brain tumor, and I cried at the ceremony at the National Cemetery – but mostly because a 21-gun salute was a symbolic event that produced a visceral reaction.  At least it did for me.  None of this means (I must keep telling myself) that I am devoid of compassion for my parents.  I am not.  I was not.  But I am also not a bottomless well from which to draw, leaving nothing left for myself.

I don’t really know how to wrap this up.  My feelings about my father – his life and his death and my intersection with those events – are complicated.  I loved him out of duty.  I am jealous when I talk to other friends who have lost their fathers.  They feel a gaping hole in their lives that they cannot fill, not with all the soil on this earth or all the other earths.  I don’t have this hole.  I have a weird, smoke-like vapor passing through.  But I will say that I think he watches me.  In Texas, he was a blue jay.  Here, he is jets.  Fucking loud, all-the-time Marine training jets up by where I work.  They rattle the windows and shake the ground, letting me know he’s here.  I look up to the deafening sky when they pass over and say out loud, “thanks Dad.”

I don’t know how I mean it when I say it.

Dogs, Man.

Dogs are the best part of us.  We love dogs with our whole hearts – we give them the unconditional love and support we as humans wish we had, and wish we could give to other humans.  But in my many years of living, I have found that no love is like the love we have for this wide-eyed, cold-nosed, beyond loyal companion.  And I am a cat person.  Don’t mistake – I love my cats very, very much and of course have in the past lost my mind when they died, and will lose my mind again when the two I have now shuffle off their mortal coil.  But dogs, man.  It’s a level of love that is just…different.  At least for me.  They comfort.  They WANT to comfort.  They are just…like looking at the better part of your soul, without judgment, without any kind of expectation.  Well, maybe the expectation of treats.

I’m thinking about a lot of awesome canine friends today, and just thought this was a good enough space to put down these thoughts.  So for Nutters, DJ, Maggie, Quest, Bailey, Belle, Sarge, Snuffy, Wallace, and Reggie – especially Reggie – I hope you get all the cheeseburgers and whatever else your beautiful dog heart ever desired in this life.  Because we sure as fuck don’t really deserve you.

Hug your friends, human and otherwise.

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Journey

I am instantly thrown onto the rough, concrete seawall.  It is dark.  The waves are crashing over me.  I am soaked through, I can’t move, my clothes are heavy and wet.  The sea rages.

I stop and breathe, and tell myself:  Wait.  Start at the beginning place.  Start at the tree.  Your tree.  Breathe.  Tree is there, I feel it.  I am still wet from the waves, though.  I go into the tree-heart.  I fall so long, so long only to be…dumped back exactly where I was when I started.  The seawall.  The waves.  The crashing.  The dark night.

Except now, I am actually paralyzed.  I can’t move; I can only crawl along the seawall.  There is no railing.  Never in my life have I felt so heavy and unable to pick myself up.  The waves are relentless.  The concrete underneath my hands has turned into jagged stones, they are cutting my hands now.  I am bleeding.  I am crying.  Why is this so hard.  All I want to do is to get to the end of the wall, where the twin torches burn, where I might be able to see one last good thing.  I think I see a wooden boat, old – creaky – burnished wood glinting under the moon, tied to the end of the wall, waiting.  I keep crawling but I am going nowhere.  I have giant pendants of various natural stones around my neck and they weigh more than I can carry.  One is deep indigo, shaped like a long tooth or a cornicello.  It glows and I don’t know why.  I cry again and ask the sky:

“WHY CAN’T I MOVE?”

A voice – deep, resonant, and without gender replies,

“Child, but you can.  Rise.  Can’t you see?  Rise.”

I keep trying.  It is impossible.  I keep asking the voice over and over again and the voice – sometimes masculine, sometimes husky feminine, keeps telling me I can get up, if only I would, pet.  If only I would, lamb.

A huge wave crashes over me, I am soaked through to the bone and a thought comes through so forcefully that I sob:  I am afraid.  I am petrified, I am so scared.  I am scared that a wave, as soon as I stand, will wash me over.  There is no railing.  The water is deep, wild, black.  I am as afraid as I have ever been.  And almost as instantly as I heave a sob and realize how scared I am, I recognize the voice.  The lilt is there, the West Texas drawl.  It is Mrs. Lamb.  She had already given me a hint.  I break out in even more crying and ask why I can’t see her.  Why she is just a voice.  And she tells me if I stand up, she will come.  She says:

“The sea will calm when you stand.  This ocean calms and storms for you alone.”

I stand up.  I am unsure, wobbly.  I  take a few steps.  They seem like shuffles, I can’t look around, I keep putting my wet boots one in front of the other.  They look like a child’s boots.  She says:

“The sea apologizes to no one for its actions.  You are as powerful as this sea.  You crash and rage and calm all because you have that same power.  The sea never says, ‘I’ll fix it’ or ‘I’ll change.’  There is no living your life and ‘fitting in’ the ocean.  You are either part of it, or you are not.  Which will you choose?  Will you walk to the torches?”

“You said you’d come.”

“Walk.”

I walk, slowly, then stronger, and the sea calms.  The waves are almost motionless – soft, kitten-licks of white crests coming over the black rocks below.  I walk.  I am there.  She is there.  We each take a torch.  We cross them.  She says:

“When you feel that fear – at any time – look into your heart.  Connect your heart to your mind’s eye.  Connect with thumbs to your heart, and index fingers to your third eye.  You make that connection.  You say, ‘I am the sea.’  This is how you will find the strength to walk out of that place.”

I ask her for a chair.  A chair appears, on the end of the wall, between the torches.  They burn, but the night is gone.  The sun is coming up, faintly.  I sit in the chair, resting.  She stands behind me.  I say,

“There was a boat.”

I can hear the soft, low chuckle behind me.  She says:

“You thought you needed one.”

She is gone.  I am alone.  I drift in and out, watching the waves.  I get up after awhile, take a torch, and use it as a staff to walk back up the wall, to the neath-tree, to go home.  The staff is my stang.  It is three-pronged, and burning bright.  My clothes are dry.  The green pyramid that was a pendant around my neck is now gone, given as a gift to my teacher and mentor.  I ascend the steep stairs back up inside the tree, and when I get to the edge of the tree-heart, my three crows sit waiting.  One has a worm in her mouth.

I am awake.

 

I Should Write More

I have six unfinished drafts in my “Drafts” section, all with titles but like, one sentence.  So it has become clear to me that I should just start writing stuff, see what happens, NOTHING CAN GO WRONG, RIGHT?  I mean, I’m sure someone out there wants to read about my cats and my patio filled with mostly dead plants and “marine layer” grunge and the fact that I cannot seem to get a decent night’s sleep to save my life right now.  I have projects that I know need doing, like cleaning the aforementioned patio and maybe clean out a closet or dusting anything at all ever.  And yet, this past weekend, I watched all 18 episodes PLUS the live show of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season 4.  I don’t even LIKE musicals.  (Rachel Bloom is a goddamn genius though and I love her.)  Am I procrastinating?  Tired?  Afraid?

Probably all three.  While the Menopause Saga has gotten better thanks to modern medicine and taking naps on weekends, I’m still kind of being a weird recluse because things just take too much energy.  Shaving my fucking legs takes too much energy.  Clothes are annoying and I don’t want to wear them anymore.  None of these situations are options.  (I mean, they are options for someone, just not me.)  I have been moderately successful at cooking things and driving places and generally getting shit done, but not without resentment.  And then maybe gratitude a little later.  But the space in between those feelings is a little too big (read:  CAVERNOUS) for my liking.

So here we are, World.  I’ll just throw some words out here and see what happens.  What have I got to lose?  Thank you, 3 readers, for sticking with my inconsistent self.  I’ll keep trying because that is all any of us can do.

Menopause is Real I Think

See??  It’s not even a week later and I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER.  A combination of things must have happened:

Hormones less crazy.

I stopped giving so much of a fuck.  Or I gave different fucks.  Not sure.

The sun came out.

Either way, I’m singing songs and laughing and sleeping.  I realize that some of what I am doing at work is pretty futile and no one, I mean NO ONE is holding me up to the set of standards that I myself insist on trying to maintain, so maybe I should just NOT DO THAT.  I also went to see a doctor.  And while this expensive-ass HMO insurance doc seems like 1/2 a step in either direction of a Primacare, I actually did something about how I was feeling.  So…goal?  I mean, we’ll see.

Point being, I was right.  I so rarely am.  It’s refreshing to know that me telling myself “HEY LITTLE CHICKEN YOU WON’T ALWAYS FEEL LIKE THIS, like crawling into a cave and never coming out, like only grunting when other people try to talk to you, like eating All The Food Available…it won’t be forever, Dearest”  – THAT talkback was fucking RIGHT.

So we can chalk this one up to mood swings or whatever, but I think there’s more than one important lesson to learn here:  A, if I can keep telling myself that I’m gonna make it to the other side of whateverthefuck is going on, that is valuable, and 2, this will happen again, and finally, IT’S REALLY OKAY.  It really, truly is.  Whatever that happens to be in each moment.

Breakthrough?  Eh.  It’s hard to see that you’ll ever come out when you are down in it, but I will choose to trust myself next time when I tell myself I will.

 

The Next Right Thing

I have a bunch of drafts started and some of them are funny, and some of them would be poignant AND funny, a double-whammy of Writing Which Other People Might Care to Read.  But none of the drafts sum up how I feel today.

Those in AA say that around the annual date of your sobriety, you get…emotional.  I don’t know if that’s what this is.  And before this goes completely off the rails, look.  Listen.  I know I am putting this out there for other people to read, and I want to feel like if it helps one person out there, then that is what my intention is and I can pat myself on the proverbial back as a Writer Capital W and we can all sleep soundly tonight.

Except that’s not what this is.  The voices inside my head scream that this is self-introspection and belongs nowhere, for no one but me to read later, how selfish am I, why do I think anyone would want to read about my days or times or trials or whatever?  Honestly, do I really think this is something other than navel-gazing self-aggrandizing by way of self-deprecation?  The answer is two-fold:  I don’t really WANT it to be that, and hey, Feelings, you don’t own me.  Shut the Fuck Up.

So I guess that’s what this is really about.  How the voices in my head lie and how my feelings don’t have to enslave me.  It’s just right now.  And let me tell you, right now has been pretty shitty for a while.  This is life.  Things will go wrong.  Things will suck.  Sometimes there are months of suck in a row, and maybe a bright day in between to break it up, hell, even just a bright hour.  Or you rode your bike by the ocean and it smelled like for real ocean.  Or you made bread and it turned out pretty fucking good.  Your husband hugged you and told you that you were great at something.  You held a child on your lap and played a game with them that the child will never remember and probably won’t even remember YOU, but it was kind of nice for 10 minutes.  I don’t know.  These moments exist.  And while you are right now in the throes of wanting to shove your face in a bagful of raspberry Zingers and after that chips and salsa and after that WHATEVER ELSE IS WITHIN GRABBING DISTANCE, you know it’s not the answer.  Food comes to mind a lot faster than a drink these days, and I suppose that is a bit of a saving grace, but those 20 pounds you have put on in the last 6 months on top of the already 40 pounds you needed to lose are…telling.  One addiction for another.  One escape for another.  Life’s fucking hard, sometimes nothing feels good, sometimes you want to crawl in bed and stay there for as long as someone will let you.

But the thing is, you don’t.  You slip back into Martyr Mode and fulfill all the duties that you think are yours.  You work listlessly but long hours.  All the bills get paid, the clothes get washed, the groceries get bought, the cats get fed, and still you find yourself at a stoplight ready to burst into tears.  You cannot hold it together.  You force yourself to hold it together.  You are not questioning the validity or worthiness of your life – you are not looking for someone to tell you how to fix whatever “it” is.  You just have all these emotions, and they are strong, and THEY. DON’T. FUCKING. OWN. YOU.

But sometimes it sure does feel like they have all the goddamn power.

5 years tomorrow, I stopped drinking.  I am grateful for it.  I would never be asking these questions or having these feelings if I had not stopped.  And while it has been a brutal journey facing myself, it is a journey.  Alcohol did not allow for the journey at all, alcohol allowed for the mask and that’s it.  Never in my head was the thought of “Feelings don’t own me.”  I didn’t feel at all.  So, big surprise that five years on, I’m still trying to put myself back in a fucking box.  Except that’s not where I belong.  I belong out here, feeling all this shit no matter how hard or painful or exhausting.  And it is all those things, but it is also hearing my husband laugh, or having that child hold my hand for a minute, or smelling the ocean.  What is worse.  What is better.  It is all just life.

And I am doing the best I fucking can and it is far from perfect and there is nothing wrong with me.

One day, I’ll really believe that.

 

The Post in Which I Review A Dance Performance? Ok.

Let’s start this out by saying I am not a columnist anywhere, I am not an expert of ANY world – let alone the world of dance, and my review isn’t going into any fancymag or you know, going to be read by a whole lot of people.  I do my writing thang for me, in hopes that someone somewhere (besides me) gets something out of it, gets a laugh, feels uplifted, whatever.  I’m just sayin.  Also, I’m no dancer.

But I fucking used to be.  I was a dance minor for a hot minute in college, actually.  I don’t talk about it a lot because it was short-lived and I gave it up pretty quickly.  Ever since I was a small child, dance has been a way for me to express everything from joy to sorrow.  I may be older now, but I’ve never NOT loved dancing, or watching those that do it a million times better than I ever could.

Enter Keone and Mari Madrid.  I don’t watch network TV all that much, had no idea they have been quite the dance sensation.  We’ve lived in San Diego since July and are finally getting settled, and I heard about this performance called Beyond Babel that was calling San Diego its home through November on the local NPR arts segment.  I looked it up and watched the posted videos about how they basically turned a warehouse-type small building into a theatre, how they came up for the concept for this show, and I didn’t care how much the tickets were anymore.  I was instantly captivated by the creators.  This show.  Holy shit.  If you live anywhere in Southern California or are coming to visit anytime soon, you need to see it.  If it goes on tour, which I hope it does, buy tickets as soon as you hear about it.  But I mean, let’s talk about why.  Because me just saying it’s great is all nice and everything, but if I felt so strongly to write about it the minute I got home, there are clearly things you gotta know.  IMMEDIATELY.

 

I appreciate a lot of different forms of dance, and hip-hop is among the most demanding  – grueling level changes, impeccable isolations, high energy – I can say, even when I was young, this shit kicked my ass and it wasn’t even super prevalent yet at that time as a form you could learn in a class.  What Keone and Mari have done in Beyond Babel is create a story through their choreography that is both timely and timeless – the story of a wall, the soldiers of that wall, of love torn asunder and separated, of death and life, and of the divisions of the world we live in today.  Set to contemporary music, every piece is crafted in such a way that you feel this story, not just see it and hear it.  The rest of the ensemble, in muted shades of street clothes for most of the numbers, shine – no matter that they are wearing grey.  The use of six pieces of tall, rolling chain-link fences, various crocheted designs adorning most, is so inventive and adds a dimension to the story and the dancing that is hard and cold when necessary – bright and joyous at other times, with all of the crochet work on display.  The rolling fences, some wooden crates for levels, and crochet yarn – very few props are needed to depict what the performance intends to get across to the audience.

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While Keone and Mari created the show along with production company Hideaway Circus, the other dancers in the show are undeniable in their force, their love of what they are doing, and their sheer power demonstrated through every move.  The subtle nuances in their upper body movements especially are just fucking amazing.  If you are a fan of syncopation and dance being choreographed to more than just the obvious rhythm of a song, you will be amazed.  The slower pieces are simply beautiful, with sustained movements and long, slow, controlled expressions.  The amount of effort it takes to perform the slow pieces, as any dancer will tell you, is just as intense as a fast and energetic piece.

So I could talk for forever about what I can remember of each piece,  but I think what’s more important – and what I think the creators intend – is for me to talk about how it makes me feel.  From the opening sequence, I felt hope, pride, beauty at these performers who are 100% emoting all that is happening right now in the world and giving those emotions back to the audience.  The producers were sitting behind me and to the left, and I’m pretty sure they thought I might have been nuts – but checking their Instagram feed, I am not the only person that evidently cries during this show.  There are movements that are so dynamic, so expressive, so fundamentally a depiction of everything many of us are feeling during the times in which we live that one can not do much else but cry.  I have seen a lot of live performances in my life.  I have been part of a performance a time or two.  I can honestly say that this was like nothing I’ve ever seen and it has made a lasting impression.  I want to see it again.  And again.  And again.  Thank you to these amazing dancers that have created something so powerful that people can’t help but talk, write, and think about it for what I think will be years to come.  Thank you for taking a snapshot of where we are in history and making it personal –  more than that.  Making it pivotal.

Bravo.

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