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 peopleĀ  – 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 filledĀ  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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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love, everywhere.

May 23, 2010

i love love. not as in i love love you. or i love love a rainy day. rather, like this: i love, love. or, i LOVE love.

i love wine. in a cozy restaurant, or on my couch, with my feet pulled under my legs, swishing it around in an over-sized glass. i love it with my mom, because it means it is quiet, and we are across from each other, girl talking, something we don’t get to do much. i love how it warms the throat and the tummy. along those lines, i really love tequila. but that’s a nastier love, for a grittier blog on a grittier day. and i love it with friends – tamela jo comes to mind – and with dinner on the hot nights and the cool ones. i love it with tina because it is always the perfect bottle and it means she is in town for the weekend from santa barbara. i love it with edric at his house or mine when the day is over and the shoes are kicked off and we are prepping for tv, another rarity in my life, and one i admit i like so much.

i love road trips. especially with my sister. she lets me stop for coffee whenever necessary (the grandest indulgence… have i mentioned yet how much i love coffee?), and though she forces me to listen to country music (most of which i do not love), everything else is perfect. perfectly so. i laugh really hard with her, and often. i drop everything, in a way i don’t with anyone else. i sleep. i read. i am a little sister, and it is delicious.

i love my kid. the gorgeous one with the green eyes and the wicked wit and more currently wicked temper. she is driving me absolutely crazy with her extreme sass and irascibility at the moment, and yet, i love her so. amazing! but i can’t help it. her cheeks still have that warm, sugar-cookie smell of little-hood, she walks as though there is a book on her head with her perfect posture, and her kisses and crashing neck hugs rival all else in this world that brings happiness. god you must all be so sick of hearing it! but this pull from the gut, the biological vortex of being a mom and knowing you would do anything to protect your child, give her anything to learn and thrive and grow, this love in its enormity, simply surrounds me and softens me and every once in a while i have to scream it to the world. or, at the least, to the blog.

summer is coming, the end of school is weeks away and light lingers later and later in the evenings as time passes. the roses and lilies are blooming, the crepe myrtle is full of green leaves and loquats are hanging heavy from the branches in our front yard. the jacaranda trees that are everywhere in long beach are blanketed with tiny purple flowers, a sure sign here that spring will soon turn to summer. it is all so lovely, it is all so… love. and the signs are everywhere: a gesture, a kiss on the neck, a card in the mail i couldn’t have anticipated. an unexpected look, or touch, or thought, all of them landing practically in my lap and me thinking, how can so much come my way and then realizing, oh yes, i asked for it, i keep asking for it.

though there are tough things as well, knock-you-down tough things that can overwhelm in moments, the rough spots wilt more readily in the face of sweetness than i imagined. and those signs that abound, the ones felt, experienced and seen, well… i put my trust there, and my energy, and my faith that the rhythm of the world is intact as long as i keep seeing proof of such goodness. i speak to that part of the world and it keeps speaking back. just look how it speaks back. and while you’re looking, it might mean something to know all these signs of love showed up over the last six days. love, everywhere.

tree love.

frosting love.

chetlace love. maya found it like this.

japanese cracker love.

orchid love.

pancake love.

radish seedling love.

kid love.

love.

maya had eye surgery on thursday morning. god it was daunting to watch my daughter being rolled away on a surgical bed in to the operating room at cedars sinai. her lanky frame was much too tiny for that bed, and her eyes were too big as ricky and i assured her that we would see her very soon and that there would be cookies and juice and getting spoiled by the nurses as dr. wright had promised at the pre-op appointment the week before. an hour later it was all over and we were sitting next to her in recovery as she slept, and this sudden whoosh of feeling scared and relieved and impossibly in love with this sleeping bundle of all things gorgeous and complicated (that is maya, no way around it. intense and delicious and thank god i am hers and she is mine) moved through my body and then suddenly, exhaustion took over.

this isn’t the first whoosh of emotion to hit in these past weeks and months, but it has been the one hanging out there in front of me as The Scary Moment Coming Up. and it’s not just my whoosh; many people around me have been in and on this same swirl. i wrote some time ago – a year, maybe? – about losing friends. people uprooting their lives and families for something better or more compelling somewhere else. friends in different moments of their lives than me, and therefore, our fit no longer…well, fitting. school and work and love pulling people i adore towards something, and away from me. but these recent losses, of friends and traditions and history and ideas, these are different losses. things haven’t just taken a vacation, they are gone. irrevocably, undeniably gone. and there is a shimmer, a vibration, a sort of resonance that is clanging silently for a handful of us who are left in the open, quiet space that is their absence.

i hung up the phone moments ago with my sister. this is the sister that rises far and beyond what is expected and common, to give to the people in her life; me most especially, as i am her one true sister. loreen spent the past four or five months caring for her best friend, peggy, who had been battling cancer for two years and who lost that fight in april. loreen had minutes and hours and days to be with peggy and to find peace and quietude within the fact that peg would only be here with us on earth for a short time more. the service for peggy took place a few weeks ago, and amongst a handful, loreen was one who spoke about peggy and her extraordinary presence in this world and in our lives. loreen summarized and encapsulated and handed to those of us listening her perfect take on peggy’s shine and shimmer as a friend, wife, amazing mom to her amazing kids, sister, and daughter. opening, loreen took a moment to mention the freshman-year kiss to peggy’s boyfriend at a party that led to their friendship, and noted how often peg and loreen have thought to thank tim corey for being a fifteen year old romeo. their friendship happened because of it.

tim corey died a few hours ago. those moments ago with loreen on the phone are the same moments she received an email from tim’s brother. her voice disappeared and came back, and loreen read the email out loud so we both got the news in the same moments. an aneurysm, tim doing okay, a turn for the worse, and his own choice today to be taken off a ventilator with the knowledge his body would not survive without it. loreen is sideswiped, needed to make calls, catch her breath, sit in another layer of loss. i am here, in my quiet house, wishing i were with her and wondering where this writing will go, how i will pull together what i originally intended as i sat down, before my call with loreenie, to write about loss, and discovery.

i don’t know where to go except to the church courtyard at peggy’s funeral three weeks ago. the sun was out all day but it was soft, and there was a breeze, and the courtyard itself was filled with people and trees, so the light was filtered and dappled and forgiving. there were so many people there, gathered to celebrate peggy’s life and grieve her death. many faces i didn’t recognize. there were familiar ones that at some point had made up part of the landscape of a younger life, yet i was at a loss for names and intersections beyond having grown up in the same small town. but there in the middle of it all, like ropes of twinkle lights or christmas tree ornaments, were the faces i have known for years but not seen in so many. my sister’s friends. the ones that sparkle like peggy sparkled, showed me kindness, love, disdain, possibilities of different paths, and the strength of women. i felt fifteen, but for moments only, and suddenly, in the church, with my parents and sister close by, and one of my own dearest childhood friends a breath away, i was clearly my 45 year old self. with my own sparkle and scars and stories but most importantly, the recognition of loved faces filling mine and i can only imagine bouncing back to theirs. so large was the joy i felt.

i asked inappropriate questions. horrifically so. do you make hoards of money doing what you do? how is it to have been with one person for so many years? did divorce knock you down in the way i imagine it might knock me down? i wanted to say: i heard so many years ago that your husband, my friend, had my handwriting analyzed, and it kept me from you. or, i wanted to be part of your life that was about family before my life was about family, and yet i wasn’t invited and didn’t know how to enter, and i have missed you. these thoughts fluttered like butterflies for just a moment, and disappeared as the bigger questions pushed them aside. questions to ask about the path chosen: whether it had boded well, been fortuitous, brought joy, experience, wisdom? have you woven a fabric that supports you as i am working so hard to do to support maya?

suddenly, the bigger questions disappeared also. maybe they joined the fluttering butterflies in another garden. what remained, not in their shadows but in the bright faces full of beauty and experience and their own questions, was, simply, love. unbridled, non-judgmental, love. it could be different, i know that. being a little sister gives you a sort of backstage pass, at least while you are little. you are loved by default, or proxy, and it is a place of pure privilege, a sort of big girl’s secret garden. but it doesn’t always remain as such. we all grow older and make choices, things can land that clutter a clear path. the path to my sister’s friends was lined with sunshine, and then i was gone, for so many years, and the path was gone too.

that saturday, in the courtyard, in the visceral wake of peggy’s death, was for me a moment to see how circular our road traveled can end up being. the world is starlight-deprived without peggy here, and learning about tim tonight alongside my sister filled me with her pain and my own. we can turn our heads and in one moment, everything can change. my beautiful friend meredith, who was in a terrible accident just days after peggy died, has fought tooth and nail, literally, to be here, alive. we don’t know ever when the journey will end. and so again, i am reminded of the gift that is, simply, being here. people are gone, yet people remain. i want my path to cross your path as often as possible, to soak in your beautiful faces and listen to your voices and revisit history and laugh and rejoice and grieve and celebrate this weaving road built of winding paths. while i am here, i want that.