Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sea to Shining See

An island off the coast of Maine looms ever closer on the horizon of the Atlantic, while whales begin their migration for our viewing on the edge of the Pacific.

Many summers over 40 years, my family has settled on Swan’s Island for lovely vacations and celebrations. Isolated by a ferry ride and not much to do (the coffee shop closes for lunch and the grocery store has not been rebuilt after a fire 5 years ago), we come with books and games, no agenda but to be together.

When camping was allowed, we set up a fine home on a bluff looking inland. In later years with husbands, a wife, and grandchildren, several houses have been rented to create an island “compound”, my family roaming on foot, bikes and boats.

Unable to attend and participate in these years, I have heard the tales and seen the pictures of the gatherings with a wistful envy that my sisters could make the effort to honor and celebrate the growing family while I did not. In my life, precious time has been necessarily focused on my own unit and our privacy together.

So, for better or worse, this year my son and I will dash along the high road across three states and take the ferry into our own little oasis of laughter and folk songs, hugs, and stories of life on and off the island.

It will be strange, however, because even as it is his first time to explore the one road and several trails--the actual place that has been just so many paintings on our walls—it may likely be the last for my dad. Also for the first time, my mother is too far gone to come at all to the place and times she loved so intensely, nor even notice the extended duration between her husband’s visits to her bedside.

With only a few days in between, we then fly across country, his first trip out of our time zone, to visit his older sisters in the land of their birth and life. Again, focused on the present day, the tales of 10 years of my past have largely remained unspoken to my younger children, a shrouded mystery, except for a volcanic eruption (how could I not tell that story?!!) and the occasional sighting of whales.

They know little of the drama that brought me to settle on the side of a mountain that was revered by the natives as something strongly spiritual, a tale of fire and death, birth and rebirth. I have been uncomfortably quiet about the incredible beauty of a place of pounding surf, towering trees and frightening winds, of eagles, elk, sea lions, and whales regularly seen from my balcony, of plane crashes, ship wrecks, daring rescues, and buried treasure (seriously!) within a short walk of my door.

Our journeys, though so brief, will take us—father and son (I so wish my daughter could join us)—on an adventure of discovery and reconnection (it has been 19 years since I last was there). He will visit family in their element, hear music made new with old, dear friends, see nature in magnificent, awe-inspiring form, and live openly to tell about it.

The baggage comes out of storage.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Not My Fault

It is so easy to blame.

Popular theory today explains that most of the behaviors, strengths and weaknesses in our adult relationships can be traced directly to the way we were treated as children. Unfairly simplified, an argument over the purchase of a new sofa can really be about not enough love a very long time ago.

We are taught to forgive because our parents did the best they could, given the tools they had to understand and cope with the problems they experienced in their own childhoods. My dad worked so hard and was a bit aloof because his father was 50 when mine was born, and had been working to support his family since the age of 11 when his father (my great grandfather) died.

We want to uncover some of this to better understand how we operate today in the world-at-large, and more specifically, in our own homes where we so greatly can affect our children and their tomorrows. I can recall the terrifying wish to run, to vanish, the night I stared at my soundly sleeping daughter, after I had read that a personality is completely shaped and unchangeable after the first three years of life.

We want to understand, but it so often comes out as blame.

Who am I to have such power over this little soul so helpless innocent and trusting? Newly launched into my own life and unclear about my own choices and answers, it is completely daunting to be responsible to provide for this tiny one. If she awakened and I sat with her and sang in the darkness, would I gift her the ability to be unafraid in her life? Or would I permanently scar her with the fear of facing problems on her own?

Now she can blame me for an inconsistent childhood of love and inattention. Instead, we drink a beer on the back porch and talk. I share my struggles to recognize and overcome my inadequacies, and she tells me about the contradictory loneliness and independence of life on a navy base while her husband is 10 months at sea in the Persian Gulf.

We acknowledge to ourselves and each other the depth of the pain we each experienced to live so much of her childhood 3000 miles apart. We celebrate how wonderful we made it feel on those relatively few nights when she slept in the room next door.

Likewise, with my mother no longer able to translate and interpret, I do little errands and repairs in my father’s apartment, and we talk. He hears me grapple with the concept of “friends with benefits” and “hook-ups” in high school, and confides that he respected my mother’s commitment to wait until they were married, even as he went off to war.

We do the best we can, one foot in front of the other. There is plenty of room to blame, but that keeps us standing still, immobilized, staring at the cradle. Love moves us forward.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Clear View

A very good friend (and landlord) told me that in life coaching there are four stages to create change: Awareness, Ownership, Plan and Build. I think my last entry covered the first two fairly well, and outlined the third. There is clearly a lot of work still to do.

The saying that “Insanity is banging your head against the same wall and expecting a different result” has resonated profoundly with me in the past year. I submit, therefore, that there must be a fifth element, one of Understanding, interwoven into the process, for without it, we are doomed to be gazing at the world through cloudy and distorted windows, banging our head on and on.

I am Beginning to understand the traits and habits that have brought me to this ugly point. Now more aware of the underlying sources of struggle, I can see how deeply ingrained they are and how hard I must work to remain vigilant that they do not sabotage my efforts to live a more authentic life. In tiny increments, I have begun to distrust my usual response to a situation, and no matter how uncomfortable, make a different choice, respond in a way that feels foreign, even inappropriate.

In this time, I have actually needed to go against my intuition. If my moral, conscious and emotional response to any situation was “A”, I have started looking at “B” or “C”, and experimented. The different choices are creating different results.

The process is terrifying, like holding myself underwater long after my lungs have commanded legs to kick for the surface. My brain still overrides instinct and I remain on the ocean floor, eyes wide, gazing upwards as my life as I have known it passes beyond me out of reach.

Now the floors in my apartment have been finished, I can truly take possession of this new space, new life. We brought in our old couch and set up the marble coffee table and TV like two kids in a clubhouse. The shoeless rule has been enacted now it is so much less a construction site.

Glass (often floor to ceiling), expansive views, and light have been distinctive characteristics in most of my homes. This one is truly a cave, buried on the side of a hill on the edge of woods, dark. The six small windows were half painted shut, rotten, with cracked and permanently dirty glass. The view from my Cave was distorted, blocked by splotched dividers and cheap storm windows. I focused inward, worked hard to realign the center structure, level the floors, and reconfigure the spaces.

Now, the recycled oak floors, sanded and finished to a golden hue, add light and charm.

Yesterday, I replaced all six windows with new energy-rated smooth-sliding double-hungs. Incredibly, the clear glass invites my eye to behold the wonders of the world outside, and with small, swift kicks, I head for the surface.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Confession of a Bad Boy

When things go wrong, a man wants very much to look for the cause and find a simple fix. On a roof, I like to call it the “Poke and Hope” method of repair, where we look for a hole, fill it, and wait for the next rainstorm to see if it still leaks.

In my own life, it takes a second failing marriage, a perspective of constant financial struggle, and alienated children to realize the extent of the leak. Simple pokes at making more money or bringing home more flowers have not stemmed the flow. The time has come to strip and rebuild the roof.

There are some who judge that I will never be able to take responsibility for myself and the “real” truth behind my recent changes. They surmise that even this blog is an effort to shape my world in a favorable light, to cast myself as a compassionate, sensitive soul of the best intentions and boundless love, when in fact I am a mess of self-delusions and inappropriate behaviors.

Although in many ways, I admit to a perplexing blindness of my own foibles, I have no misconceptions about the pain and suffering my choices have caused. It is easy to see the stains on the walls and, disregarding the other 50% that is the marriage dance, attach enough blame to myself for the damage that has caused the imminent collapse.

I choose to go deeper.

In the past, with incredible optimism, confidence, and determination to do the best for my family, I have launched into my own construction business, secured enviable projects, only to be overwhelmed and plummet into huge debt—not just once, but several times. So many broken promises to clients and subs, so much money desperately spent to plug holes and pay the mortgage, I have squandered my integrity with people who trusted me, were willing to back me. Sometimes, it would be far easier to run away in the middle of the night than to just move across town.

At home, the financial and emotional stress has undermined every activity of the family. Beyond bills being late and the TV inconveniently shut off, my kids have been subject to relentless and harassing calls from creditors, and lived under the shadow of a tax lien. They have witnessed their parents' humiliation when their card has been declined to buy groceries. They have opened our door to the sheriff delivering papers to their father.

I have been unable to adequately communicate the love I felt for my wife. She has suffered an emotional loneliness that I have failed to fill. Worse, in my despair and insecurity, I have compulsively explored internet chat rooms as if some relief could be found in a computer, an anonymous woman, who “talked” back. And for many years, to avoid looking at the truth of all this pain, I misled, then outright lied about the business failures, the unpaid taxes, the time on my computer.

I write all of this not to prevaricate or flagellate, nor to throw myself on the grenade to excuse or protect my partner from her 50%. That could easily be done in the silence of my own misery. I regret my mistakes and am so very sorry to have caused such pain to so many, but I cannot stop there.

This blog is about making change. In the humility and embarrassment that is common to all of us, we could walk with our heads down, eyes lowered, our fences high. But out of this pain, I am learning the beautiful lesson that in sharing our vulnerabilities, there comes union with ourselves and others.

There is new growth.

I have a great grandfather who, as county treasurer in 1890 Texas, kept the People’s money in his own small safe. When it was robbed, he was held responsible and worked for years to pay it all back. Though able eventually to settle his debts, he could never ultimately reclaim his honor. He chose to leave his family and end his life.

I will not do that.

Instead, I choose to go deeper still, to uncover the muck of personality and old habits that keeps me from living an authentic and satisfying life. It is cowardly to hide. Emotionally, it creates so many more problems to take the path of suicide. A true man, a warrior, identifies that something is wrong and seeks resolution, choosing the time to be patient and the place to do battle.

As a New Warrior I am beginning to use the circumstances of my environment and relationships to mirror the aggressor in my own soul. I am learning from my ancestors, honoring my own journey, and considering my effect on future generations. Instead of waging war, I am turning inward to fight my own shadows, fears, and misconceptions; turning inward to find balance in my life.

And only being victorious there, can I walk peacefully upon this earth, and in love with others.

I am willing to replace the roof to save the structure.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

New Growth

My floors are sanded and fully finished. I can begin to move furniture back in and get the things I really want.

Now on to repairing the rest of my life...

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Photographs and memories..."

I relinquished the photo album today.

Throughout my life, my father has painstakingly cropped and glued pictures onto black pages, filling album after album. Often, we would pour over them, alone, together, or with friends and partners, eventually (especially) with our children. As part of his final efforts to archive our family, he has scanned them all to digital (1,200 pages!) and given us each a DVD for Christmas.

Beginning my own adult life, I naturally embarked on the same effort, covers not as nice and matched, but still cropped pictures on black pages, monthly documentation as I had learned. I wanted my own children to enjoy them, show their friends and partners, have the tangible proof that simple days were full of fun. And I wanted them to recognize that the blank pages would eventually be filled.

It was devastating, a final blow of punctuation, to lose those albums to divorce.

This album can be scanned and the evidence of those memories shared. I can let go of the album today, having the photos saved on the computer and backed up on a disk, augmenting the memories preserved in my heart.

Although this marriage seems also to be ending, I can see the days of courtship and remember the hope and excitement that filled my thoughts. Pictures of the wedding and square dance after are treasured tokens of the best party EVER. An incredible moment is captured forever of a birthday in golden sunlight, seven months pregnant, and standing on the land that would become our home, house under design and yet to be built.

Pictures too there are of my daughter’s birth, followed later by a son, moments of joy so exquisite, impossible to tarnish by time and separation. And, equally, such simple days, a cup of coffee and a walk in the garden.

In 20 years there is so much to celebrate, so much happiness, like sunshine mixed with clouds, I can choose to describe them as warm, bright days, feel the heat linger on my skin. These pictures tell of vacations in Maine, countless explorations of tide pools; in Florida where dolphins danced in the wake of my in-laws boat; in Central Pennsylvania where I was welcomed into a community of family and friends.

A marriage involves whole families. We share in the celebration of other marriages and anniversaries. We cheer for the births of nieces and nephews, and watch them grow, delight in their transitions onto bikes, into new homes, out of schools, onto their own relationships.

So much can be destroyed and lost. I pray we can hold onto what matters.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Out of Darkness

I am lying awake, wide awake in the middle of the all quiet night. Several hours ago, I could not keep my eyes open; now I can’t hold them closed.

This might be for a reason.

Nor is it a coincidence that in my truck tonight after a tarot reading all about holding onto myself, the radio ignites to the best verse of one of my favorite songs:

“…sometimes we ride on our horses, sometimes we walk alone;
Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own.
Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world…”

More and more, I am listening, trusting, paying attention to intuition. Gifts of information are constantly around us if we are awake to see. So many thoughts or encounters seem random in the push of our daily lives, but related one to the next—like entries in a journal or a blog—they become a string of messages, guiding us like lights at the end of a runway bringing home a plane.

It is easy to be completely unaware and acting on cues sub-consciously, moving ourselves along in a random dance of addictions, or a straight path of rules set by others that never quite allow us to thrive. Missed opportunities can be recounted with a laugh and a shrug. We can plod ever onward, completing our tasks like assignments on a checklist.

One of my daughters would gladly swear, if ever asked, that she has seen a fairy. She will tell the time, place and describe the golden light of the sunset. Her belief is so clear, her comfort level so solid, it is easy to allow the truth of it since nothing but our own arrogant disbelief can say otherwise.

What if it were true?

Last month it was a shock to see my mother and the change that Alzheimer’s had cruelly affected in four short months. She slept at the breakfast table, waiting for lunch, slumped over, head askew, her hair long and unstylish, her soul nearly departed. To all the world, she seems to suffer the loss of mind and function, the vitality of life.

But what if we are wrong?

Enjoying the luxury of a massage 3000 miles away, my sister felt a powerful energy suddenly, and the therapist described a fleeting vision of power and motion, confidence and spirit, an indescribable mass cross and exit the room. Perhaps just a great massage, but my sister felt in that moment the utter safety and love of being in the womb, the gift that had come regularly in our lives to all five of us from our mother.

What if she could escape her tired body? What if she no longer needed it, but could come and go at will, returning now only briefly to be with my father when he comes to visit?

The changes within and without me in the last 18 months have been a series of decisions, some tiny, others huge, leading me away from a conventional and much-valued life of home, family, and tradition, to an experiment in living. The writing resurgence, this blog, began in no small measure to honor the memory of a lifetime of my mother’s urging and support, the proud way she listened and critiqued when I had read her stories so long ago. Such steps have not been clearly designed, or may even be linked together, but are often a response to an intuition, a feeling, a process of leaping without a net.

In Oregon, at the base of a Mountain, there is a place where surfers love to ride. As they catch the wave, there is nothing before them but treacherous rocks and certain death. They must trust that all the water they need to survive and thrive comes with them in the wave. And looking to the side, just at their shoulders, there is often a sea lion riding with them.

In companionship or happenstance, who is to say?

Out of a tarot deck of 78 cards face down, how can the same one be chosen over and over every second or third time?

Sometimes, we don’t have to have the answers; it can be enough just to notice the questions.

Ahhhhhhh, (sighing with relief), Now I can go back to sleep.

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