reasons for happiness.

December 3, 2014

for a longish week i’ve been posting pictures to facebook, black and white pictures. it is exhilarating and scary to put work in front of people  – even the smallest group of people – that i’m not used to sharing. it’s a bit like that here in this beginning wash of words which {hopefully/maybe} will have a beginning, middle and end that make sense somewhere and maybe even slap a nerve or a head or heart. i am not generally a nervous writer, and to expose myself in words is something i’ve grown accustomed to as i have spilled the beans online for the better part of six years in some of the hardest moments i’ve known. but this year has been particularly flattening at the same time it has been utterly delicious and life changing, and besides being painfully short on time, i haven’t known how to grapple with the riddles of getting older, and all that it brings with it, in writing, and in public. even a little tiny public.

i miss things. i miss my dogs, i miss painting, i miss my thirty year old ass. i miss my daughter as a four year old. i miss being in school. i miss my plump face and that plump line that stretched out in front of me for forever it seemed. 50 sits on the horizon but as much as i joke about it and lament it and screech with horror, it isn’t a looming, foreboding event that i am worried about. i am grateful to be here. god i have friends that are gone and they just fucking wanted to be here. so in the midst of my long fading youth and torn rotator cuff and the fact that i no longer want to work myself to the bone every day, i am peaceful. mostly.

i have written about my father in recent posts but since i have been here, my family and i signed the paperwork and packed up his belongings and moved him in to a senior/assisted living center. we searched for over a year to find a facility we could imagine him in, and though this lovely place is filled with amazing staff and wonderful residents who get to keep their pets with them and come and go as they need to, it has been a sobering and endlessly sad experience to watch the man who guided my life and taught me to foster uniqueness and my fierce need for independence, sink uncomfortably in to a life in a place he did not build and most importantly did not choose. reconciling his discomfort with the knowledge that this is where he needs to be, that he is safe and eating two meals a day and only fifteen minutes away, does little to assuage his sadness and our feeling of helplessness.

i want to twinkle my nose and zoom us all back twenty years to when i had moved home from san francisco to complete my illustration portfolio while i lived in the apartment on my parent’s property. my mom was still teaching, my father was driving to work in his old vw bus with his dog girl in the front seat, and tomatoes bloomed madly under his care in the stone planter boxes of their padua house. i was running baldy road and painting every day in the studio at the back of the old farmhouse that was his office, and he and i would drink coffee mid-morning in the front office while girl slept on his feet. it was a suspended set of months, the magical ones in southern california between january and june when the sky is azure and the mountains look like perfect cardboard cut outs and the air is crisp and fresh. i had been gone for a long time at that point – dropping down occasionally from other places but never for long – and so the slow work and quietude of those months of living simply amongst my parents and witnessing them in their day-to-day life after kids was one of the softest times i’ve had as an adult.

i try to remind my father of the importance of simple pleasures, but in a way it seems he has moved beyond them. reading the newspaper from front to back and relishing a gorgeous meal or gorgeous conversation appear to be out of his realm of desire; he is content instead to sleep too much and spend his waking hours revisiting his childhood growing up in iowa. this may be the natural course of things but i find it devastating. especially at a time when life is so crazy and packed with obligation that the idea of languishing over an entire newspaper is a fantasy i visit often, and the times that i get to spend hours with friends and food and drink can carry me for weeks i treasure them so much. i feel his disconnect acutely, as well as the fear that the years will scream by as they currently are doing and so much time will be taken up by the must-do’s that the perfect, enticing, beautiful things of life will be lost in the shuffle. my valentine and i talk about living in a house on a lake, where the birds are your alarm clock and the cycles of nature the movie you watch every day. my dad in a small way has such ease at his fingertips, but he is so preoccupied by the life he left behind {years ago, before circumstance dictated the need for him to have care} that he fails to see the gifts that surround him. though he sits literally in the fold of family, and we work daily to love and anchor him, he is unmoored, and terribly unhappy.

my rules for happiness seemed to have changed drastically over the course of the last decade – namely, my forties in their entirety. at what moment does the need for accrual become replaced with other, more compelling urges? some of the shift must be parenting, that set of moments that take place again and again over time that demonstrate how a heart can be filled  and a mind preoccupied with the delicate care of a little human being. but that cannot be the only factor, for i have friends without kiddos experiencing the same evolution away from self indulgence and toward a broader view of the beauty and need around them. i like to think, unless one is deeply entrenched in their own ego – and i know a few of those, don’t we all – that the glorious underbelly of growing older really is about finding balance, and a sense of humanity.

those of you who know me well know that the wrongs i feel committed to righting have everything to do with dogs in need. it wasn’t a plan exactly, but after years of having and finding and rescuing dogs, the mind-numbing, outrageous numbers of euthanization, disregard and abuse make it impossible to turn a blind eye. social media helps enormously in getting the good word out, but the flip side of such a huge platform on which to network and post is that you start to see everything. i have friends who rescue and do amazing things to make a difference where animals are concerned, and 95% of them are far braver than i am. from them i receive videos and petitions and a stream of reminders of the terrible atrocities inflicted upon animals, and some of it is so heinous and cruel that i literally cannot sit down and watch, the suffering is so painful. and yet if we don’t walk the brave walk and acknowledge it, how will it ever be fixed?

i write about this because i have struggled so deeply with the natural instinct we all feel to create happiness, and the reality of the world’s hardships. months away from 50, i know that life is not fair, even when i can look back at the thread of my own, and see how graced and lucky i am and have been. still, the work of reconciling the divide between what i want personally and what is needed universally can feel daunting and huge. last night in my sweet house with the heater chugging away and the rain hitting the windows, i watched maya’s long fingers writing as she finished her science homework, watched the dogs playing on their bed, took in my lovely old furniture and plants thriving in front of windows along the built-in and candles flickering inside their own scent. my thoughts turned for a moment – what about the homeless animals outside with no shelter from the wet and cold? i had to still the thought, and allow myself to turn back to breathing in the moment of peace i was witnessing while it existed.

maybe the reconciliation has to do with being present – allowing for joy and pain at the moments they are happening – and trusting in the idea that while you are immersed in one, the other is out there waiting for you. i believe in balance, that we are exposed to dark and light in mostly equal measure so as to fully appreciate their counterpart. and if there is balance, and we try with all our might to infuse the darkness with light whenever possible {because isn’t that impulse the brilliance of the human spirit?} then maybe, just maybe, i can sink in to the moments of sweetness fully knowing that they, like the work that most of us do somewhere to make a difference, are reasons for happiness.








One Response to “reasons for happiness.”

  1. sophia Says:

    Thank you.

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