Beautiful jewels of wisdom

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The title of this post comes from one of my favorite quotes:

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. 

That’s from the British philosopher and writer James Allen, and I came across it during one of the more challenging times in my life. This was before I started my meditation practice and so I did not yet know my capacity for true calm. I understand it a little better now, though like most things, it is a work in progress.

My (second) cousin asked me, and several other people, to write a letter to her daughter who recently graduated high school and is off to college. She asked me months ago and it took me a while to compose something in part because I don’t write quickly and I edit obsessively and in part because, as I said in the letter, I don’t feel terribly wise these days. However, I managed to cobble something together.

I think many of us have a lot more wisdom than we realize. That wisdom may lie beneath the surface, but when we need it, if we trust that it’s there, we can learn to access it. A large percentage of our problems stem from our getting in our own ways, and more often than not we know just what we need to do to fix certain aspects of our lives. Of course there will always be things over which we have no control, but I do believe that most of us have far more control than we allow ourselves to acknowledge. Because having control over things is scary. Because if we have the power to improve our lives, does this also mean that when things go wrong we have ourselves to blame?

No, it doesn’t. It means that many of our challenges are in our control, and to me this is comforting. Again, there will always be plenty of things over which we have no control. How refreshing, then, that what we can do is learn to change our behavior, and our responses to our often messy (and always valid) emotions. That is where that beautiful jewel of wisdom comes into play. One can’t cultivate it over night, but with practice and determination, one can develop it. And learning how to better respond to our negative emotions is the cornerstone of wisdom.

The day after I sent my cousin-letter I was talking to someone whom I know casually. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I’m in a creative rut.” He said, “Okay—so get out of it. Set small goals. That’s how you win.”

And so I did, I decided to start working on a new novel that has been marinating in this (occasionally calm) mind of mine for the past month or two. I am not abandoning the other one, I am just stepping away from it for a little while so that I can get back to it with a fresher perspective. I told myself I would just set out to write 500 words, and I did, and then I wrote 500 more the next day, and then I had more ideas so I jotted those down. I’m going to take a very different approach to this project then I did the last, going to make every effort to bang out what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft.” Perfectionism kills creativity. Or, to paraphrase a writer friend of mine, I’m going to write the first draft so that I can tell myself the story I want to write.

Will be spending the next week at the beach, thereby cramming an entire summer into seven days, and I hope to get more writing done there. I am also looking for some freelance work to support my book-writing habit; if you know of anyone or anything that needs writing, editing, copyediting, proofreading, and so on and so forth, please keep me in mind!

Namaste.

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Let love shine

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It is getting autumnal out there. Which, of course, reminds me always of singing Edith Piaf’s version of “Autumn Leaves” in Babette’s kitchen in the Richmond in San Francisco. Once 9-21 passes, I will Skype her for an encore. Or I’ll go visit her, which is actually a far more appealing option. I did travel a fair amount this summer, to the country and to the beach, and I have the urge to get on an airplane and add a stamp to my passport.

I had one of those modern-day dreams the other night where I sent an elaborate, detailed, and brutally honest text to the absolute wrong person. Like, imagine writing your dealer to complain that the last batch was definitely cut with something and accidentally texting your mom?! That wouldn’t happen – my dealer’s very upfront with me. Just kidding – he’s a jackass.

Because most of the people who read this don’t know me or don’t know me anymore, I feel compelled to assure you that most of the pithy bad-girl asides are sarcastic. The vague, at times overwhelmingly emotional ones are not.

For the past two nights I’ve had a variation on a recurring dream in which a youngish woman tries to steal my wallet – or in one case my purse that had my wallet, keys, and phone – and it was frustrating beyond belief. I never actually got them back before I woke, though it seemed promising. As I purport to be a decent analyzer of dreams, let me see what I can do with this one – someone or something is stealing or sabotaging a very important part of my identity. Or my whole identity, perhaps, as the wallet contains links to so many things (I know, because I recently left mine behind). I am wrestling – in one case literally – with this someone to hold onto what I can; in the other scenario I begged a go-between to help me get my things back.

I’m making, as many of you know, some fairly drastic life changes these days and poof! There goes identity. In this case the end goal (not really an end, it’s all a work in progress) is meant to be a positive one, one about changing old patterns and habits that I’ve long relied upon and that have never worked out in my favor. Or, as I said to a friend in a card I just gifted him, “my version of perfectionism has proven to be anything  but,” and so it’s time to alter my view of what “perfect” me would look like, because this ain’t it. Perfect is inaccurate, for it’s through cracks and imperfections that beauty and light shine through. It’s about using these imperfections to my – and the people around me’s – advantage. And it’s about letting go of things that just aren’t working. This means something different for everybody – this means many different things for everybody – and I’ve found myself making certain pledges in the past few days, one of which is that I will no longer waste time with people who choose to view me through a lens of resentment. I’ve let this happen to me so many times in the past and while I don’t want to wish I had that time back, I choose to never again forfeit it to that dynamic. I’ve had resentments in the past and it’s nearly impossible to maintain a dynamic where they don’t slip out and cloud whatever conversation or situation is at hand. I urge you all to do the same, to purge your lives of anyone who sees you for your trappings only and not for who you really are or, most importantly perhaps, who you want to be. I have a tremendous tolerance for overlooking behavior and finding the person within who I just know would come out if he or she could get past past pain and unproductive behaviors. And that can make the years roll by with nothing more to hold onto then the specter of what might have been.

I signed up for bike riding lessons. Yup, I don’t know how to ride a bike.

Yet.

 

You’re a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly

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Yesterday was the funeral for someone who was once a very dear friend, a brilliant, artistic, successful, strong willed, exotic beauty who was a good friend in high school and then again for a few years in the early – mid 2000s. Unfortunately we had a falling out in 2006; we were both going through transitions in our personal lives and we met up for dinner on a night when we were in entirely different head spaces and there were drinks involved and it spiraled out of control and that’s the last time I saw her.

A few years later we exchanged a brief email; I apologized for my part in things and we agreed to, as they say, let bygones be bygones. I reached out to her this past spring when I was getting ready to host a gathering in honor of the people who’d come to town for my high school reunion; I wanted to let her know that she was absolutely welcome in my home if she had any desire to attend. I didn’t know  then  – in fact, none of us did – that she was sick. A few weeks ago – September 5, actually – I had what I guess was a prescient dream about her. I don’t recall the details, just that it was troubling. I sent her this: “You were in my dream last night. I hope you’re doing well.” I didn’t expect a response, but I certainly didn’t expect that she would be no longer with us less than two weeks later.

This is a very weird grief – at first it was just bewildering, then I felt an uncomfortable detachment that I rarely associate with death – I guess it was due to the fact that so many others are mourning more viscerally. Now that’s gone – Saturday it turned into heartbreak, sadness, confusion, and regret for the way things ended between us. I chose not to go to the services yesterday, not because of any ill will whatsoever; these sorts of things evaporate immediately in the face of death. I chose not to go because I felt that I need to mourn this one in a private way. And I’ve begun doing so. I’ve prayed, I’ve asked for forgiveness (and I know I’ve gotten it), I’ve wept and I’ve done my best to keep to myself on this. I tried to talk to my mum a bit about it but she doesn’t, as we know, like to hear about these things, so I keep it in and talk to myself and the universe and to my departed friend. I had second thoughts about not attending yesterday but I feel in my heart it was the right thing for me to do, to mourn her in private and let those who were more actively connected to her spend time together. I’ve been through these things enough that I know there are no rules as to how or where or when one grieves. It is such an intensely personal thing; I remember when a friend died some years ago and another friend made the active decision to not attend the services. This was confusing but she told me that the services are really hard for her for reasons that have nothing to do with our friend – and that she chose to honor him in her own way. I absolutely get it now.

And so I will choose to do the same with our beautiful Khakasa, who is now in the stars. She was always a star, and she always will be.

Gone from my Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

 Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

 Gone where?

 Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

-Henry Van Dyke

See the sky in front of you …

ImageI try not to talk about the weather; it makes me self-conscious. BUT … it’s been awfully strange lately. After relentless heat and humidity for several days, it was autumnesque yesterday. Beautiful, but I was underdressed, and it smacked of that bittersweet change-is-in-the-air turn-of-seasons thing that makes me nostalgic. Not that most things don’t. I could feel, though, that tremendous transformation is taking place in and around me. The last two nights I went to bed early and had hours of pure, unadulterated sleep. It was blissful, and while I know we can’t catch up on sleep, I feel somewhat restored after two weeks that were far from tranquil. Which my friend who is an amazing Tarot card reader had foreseen when she read for me two Wednesdays ago. She told me to  brace myself for two difficult weeks, and she assured me that a new phase would follow them. Right on schedule – this past Wednesday was promising. She gave me a reading in late March, right before my vacation to Europe, and saw a couple of people who would come into my life – or rise in significance – one a few weeks after our reading and one the following month, and both proved accurate. She saw their age-ranges and the purposes they would serve. If anyone in New York is interested in a reading with her, I will happily put you in touch. She’s the real deal.

That change of seasons thing has always impacted me – not in a seasonal affectedness disorder way, but in a way that evokes decades-long sense memories. The summer-into-fall transition is about reinvention, starting over – probably from the school years of yore and the fact that I’ve started many new jobs in the autumn months. When it’s cool and sunny I also think of 9-11 (I know, I know, but I do), which was a beautiful and crisp day, and I think of studying in Paris in autumn 1990 – trying to get my bearings and wandering around the city looking for unoccupied phone cabinets so I could call home. Scary things were happening at home and I needed to be in touch. Those two years aside, though, it’s an optimistic time and I’m determined to capture and hold onto that optimism this year. Though I’m nowhere near ready for summer to end; yesterday was a brief reprieve. I plan to spend more time at the ocean and to soak up the sun as much as I can before the season fades.

If all goes according to plan, I will be seeing music tonight, a lineup that includes Bob Dylan, whom I’ve never seen live and always adored.

Happy birthday, Mick Jagger.

Better think of your future …

ImageGetting down to our best versions of ourselves is as much about eliminating toxic people, places, and things as it is adding positivity. This is the lesson I’m choosing to take from recent events. I, too, could remain mired in the pain of past mistakes and past hurts and betrayals, and it’s taken quite a while to get to this point, but I absolutely refuse now to hold onto the darkness if I can possibly avoid it. The hours, days, years I’ve spent focusing on the inconsequential is time I can never recoup, but I don’t need to. Recent events have forced me to face uncomfortable truths about some of the people in my world, people I mistook for friends who made it quite painfully known that they’ve cared only about certain aspects of me. I could go over the past 16+ years of perceived friendship with a fine-toothed comb, could think of all the confidences I shared and kept, all the generosity I’ve displayed, all the hurt this should equal, but I am actively choosing to not do that. It’s not worth it, when the world is full of beautiful, amazing, and genuine people who would never dream of treating me — or anyone — this way. Like all of you.

Speaking of all of you … deep breath … I need lots and lots of positive energy sent my way. I have a medical test tomorrow, the results of which have a slim chance of being horrible. I know some of you who know me in three-dimensions will wonder why I’ve not told you about this, and the short answer is that I’ve put it out of my mind in order to function over the past couple of weeks. I’d like to say that it will all be fine but just to be sure, please think good thoughts. Thank you.

That was weird – someone I referenced not by name many posts ago just accidentally called me. I’ve not heard from this person in years and there was no message left. My initial thoughts on seeing the name pop up were simultaneously that they had a psychic vision about my tomorrow and that they were issuing a cease and desist regarding my post.

Tomorrow night I get to go see live music with two of my favorite people and one new friend. Music is playing a big role in my life again, and I’m very grateful for this.

Gravitate toward the light, my dears. Life is precious. Be good to yourselves.

Love somebody real

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I’ve cycled through the emotions this week – most of them – and while it’s been a bumpy ride I have managed to stay intact, productive even. I feel, as I said earlier, understood and appreciated for the things for which I’ve longed to feel understood and appreciated for a very long time. I’ve made some decisions that were out of character and the world hasn’t spun off its axis. I’ve been temporarily displaced from home for quite a banal reason, and in the course of this I’ve found safety and comfort. And trust. Lou and I very much enjoyed our vacation in the west village, our old stomping ground, his very first home in New York.

This has not been the epic week of art and music that last week was, straight through Sunday, but it’s been an important week in many ways. Trusting myself is a very good thing. Being able to pour my surplus of love and nurturing into the right people, as opposed to expending that same energy trying to get the wrong ones to see me as I am, has nourished my mind, heart and soul–three things that remained malnourished for decades. Cutting myself some slack and recognizing my limitations, allowing myself to say no to things that I needed to say no to, this is new territory for me. This is out of my old character and into my new. In time those who need to see this and are able to recognize it will. I am separating the wheat from the chaff.

This is a very self-indulgent piece, which was not what I’d intended. This is also the first time I am writing this on my iPad, and if I let autocorrect take over it would be the work of typewriter-banging monkeys.

The Vanishing Man did me such an enormous favor it’s hard to put into words. He freed me from his clutches and in so doing, he freed me from myself.

Hearts can heal.  This is to you – yes, you – you told me how similar you and the lovely twin are emotionally, how you’ve bonded over this fact and how comforting it was. She has found happiness, and so will you. I promise you. I promise.

Love is the drug

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The other day, I felt the blues trying to sneak up on me at a most inconvenient time. I was on my way to see my mom — we went to the ballet — and I am trying my best to minimize her worrying about me. A friend who understands these things all too well (I wish you didn’t, of course, but selfishly, it helps that you do) agreed that I should “fake it” — because sometimes this actually works. I did; I smiled throughout the cab ride uptown in what I hoped was a beatific manner but that was probably closer to maniacal. I held the door for everyone in my path at Lincoln Center. I rolled my eyes and agreed with the line for the Ladies Room that waiting so long is an injustice against our gender. And by the time I saw my mom, I was feeling much better.

Since I’ve been writing about depression I’ve been searching for my own metaphor. It’s something like a fog coming in (and not, as Carl Sandburg said, on little cat feet), but fog is too pure; it’s more like a thick smog. The ability to sense its coming is invaluable. 

Grief is an entirely different animal. When I was little my mother and sister were driving in a rain storm and a massive dead branch fell on their car and shattered their windshield; thank God, they escaped unharmed. That is a good analogy for grief — a wet broken branch that falls with a thud and shatters whatever it lands upon. And grief, again, takes many forms — death of a loved one is the most profound, but the loss of any relationship can be as traumatic, particularly when it takes us by surprise. So, “At least you’ve still got your health. At least no one died” doesn’t apply; every ending is a death of sorts. Folks-who-are-going-through-this, allow yourselves to grieve and don’t let anyone make you feel that you should snap out of it, because we can’t just do that; adding pressure to the feeling makes it that much worse. Change of any sort is difficult, and it makes perfect sense that we struggle with it, that the unexpected takes its toll and we are temporarily paralyzed by the fear that we’re not sure how to get through, what to think, how to feel, how life can possibly work from here on out. You ARE going to get through it, and you’ll figure out how life is going to work, but these feelings are entirely valid. Rely on friends, rely on music, on art, on exercise, allow yourself to feel the loss and allow yourself to believe that you have incredible strength that will rise to the surface when you need it most. 

The Vanishing Man contacted me again, via email. I’ve still yet to respond to a single attempt on his part. I’ve nothing to say. I wish I didn’t derive any semblance of satisfaction from his “suffering” (hard to believe the words of the delusional), but I can’t help it. I went through hell — briefly — because of him (in part because of him; he doesn’t have the power to wreck me), and I made my feelings known to no avail. I’m pretty sure what I feel now is indifference. Of course I don’t wish ill on him — I wish no one physical harm, ever — but if he’s now having a hard time emotionally because of the world he created through his action and inaction, so be it. Not my fault. Not my problem.

I’ve come to the point where I truly believe that, more often than not, we’re best off making our thoughts and feelings as clear as we can; any “rejection” this causes is much purer and less worrisome than what would exist if we hadn’t put ourselves out there in the first place. If our genuine selves send others away, those others could never have been right for us. Because despite our best intentions, despite how hard we try to be on perfect behavior at the beginning of a relationship, to woo through what we think will work and act in such a way that we will keep the object of our affection interested, eventually our true selves will shine through. I think I’d rather be rejected for who I am, hard as that can be, than for who I want others to think I am, for not expressing enough interest if I have it, for not putting my heart out there. At least then I know I’ve done whatever I could to love completely and without subterfuge. It’s important, however, that we don’t make the loneliness = heartache mistake. That we don’t perceive promise where there’s never been any and let this determine our happiness or sense of selves. No one person can make it all better for us. Sometimes not crossing the line of platonic love in the first place is the best thing we can do. This is not the same as acting on physical impulse once (or twice) and realizing it’s a mistake, because as sentient and sensitive beings, sometimes in-the-moment makes all the sense we need it to. But regaining our wits if we haven’t succeeded in keeping them about us is crucial. And not blaming others for our indiscretions or changes of heart (or other parts) is mature and kind. Much more to say but I’ll have to come back to it.