Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Incomplete

I have been running so sweaty my whole life, urgent for a finish line.
And I have been missing the rapture this whole time 
of being forever incomplete.

Alanis Morissette

I've lost track of time this holiday break as each morning dawns and I can't quite remember what day it is or what I have planned to do until the sun sets.  Usually it's a tea date with a friend, or a walk in the park, or a trip to the library.  In the evening I read or knit or watch episodes of "The Tudors" until I'm sleepy enough to go to bed.  Yes, it's been a relaxing couple of weeks to recycle, review, relax, and renew.  And I almost forgot it was the end of the year until I was reminded by a friend that it is indeed December the 31st.
I've no big plans for this evening, save a quiet night in my yoga room writing in my journal, reading through the ones from the past twelve months.  I'm happy to say another year will soon dawn and I can let go of what has been to embrace what is to become.  Then again, if I've learned anything this year, I realize that I'm never done learning, that I'm never fully complete.
What a blessing in disguise.

When I was younger I thought that my life would begin anew when I had the perfect job.  The relationship I longed for.  A publishing contract.  When none of those came to pass, I shifted my perspective and thought I could begin again every New Year.  That with a single tick of the clock, all the drama of the past would be washed away and I could emerge clean and whole and finished with lessons that were often overwhelming.
But life doesn't work that way.
Yes, we can make resolutions, or in my case, name the year and set my intention to delve more deeply into whatever I'd like to explore over the next 365 days.  When I wrote "You name it," last December, it was my hope to learn more about kindness in 2014.  What I had anticipated was quite different than the reality, and I've learned that it's very difficult to be kind in a world that's often cruel and out of balance.  It's hard to turn the other cheek, to forgive hurtful words or actions, to step out of my anger or fear and into a place where I can see the other person more fully, as both a human being and a teacher.
My journals reveal experiences that have repeated themselves, but in a slightly different package.  Once again I discovered I was living in close proximity to heroin dealers.  Remember the blog, "My imaginary husband?"  Well, let's just say I'm glad I never approached the owner of the house to let him know about his worker's disrespectful behavior because he was recently arrested on a host of federal charges and will be spending the better part of the next decade in prison.  At least this time around I don't have to live in terror, knowing the FBI did their job well.  And I also didn't have to lift a finger to report him as I had for over a year in 2009 when a group of gang bangers were dealing out of the duplex next door. Still, the lessons of vigilance and courage I forged at that time are still with me, honing themselves each time I open the curtains and look into the back yard where a brand new fence is a daily reminder of what might have been.
2014 was also a year to work hard and see the fruits of my labor shine forth in my garden, with my yoga students, and in the books I've published.  But that's nothing new.  I love to work...the more challenging the project, the more I enjoy it.  And yet this year I learned my limits, not only professionally, but personally as well.  I've finally figured out that an endless struggle is often an omen of what is not meant to be...and I need to let it go.  For now.  Or for always.  The tearing apart of the tapestries I've woven has been difficult, but always yields a greater awareness in time.
For more will always be revealed.

I was going to call this blog "Wise women," as I have been surrounded by them lately...ladies who have known me for decades.  Some who have only met me this year.  All who have given me much food for thought, a different perspective, and the emotional support I yearn for as I make my way into a newer life...a more authentic way of being.  But then again, there have been a few wise men as well.  Men who show me another way to experience life.  Who cut to the chase when I'm busy spinning my wheels.  Who allow me to give to them my encouragement and love as they walk through their own life experiences, often barking their shins on the furniture as we all do from time to time.
Through their eyes I see who I used to be and how very far I've come in the past twenty years.  I've softened to the reality that even though I sometimes long for a tradition life, I'm not really cut out for it, that my spirit longs to be an eternal maverick in whatever form it might take.  I've seen reflections of my healing through their words and touch.  Through their own stories that weave effortlessly into mine.   In reflection, I lovingly embrace the fact that I'm never done...that I'm incomplete, and meant to be that way.

My evolution has been like a spiral, an ever-upward moving circle that revisits what I need to learn, but on a higher level each time.  Every new year pulls the thread of the experiences of the past into the present and shines a light on where I may have missed something.  Where I need to practice compassion or patience.  Where I need to expand into wholeness.  Like a spent sunflower, the seeds of what has been plant a new life, an existence that will look similar to the one before it, but always growing in harmony with how well it is nurtured in its new form.

Now I joyfully embrace that which is incomplete within me, knowing that the spiral of my life will lead me into greater understanding, abundant creativity, and the willingness to keep growing, year after year...life after life.
         

To listen to Alanis singing "Incomplete" on NPR, click here....

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"A Variety of Light"....one more excerpt from OPEN ROAD: A LIFE WORTH WAITING FOR

         By Monday I should be finished with editing and formatting (thank goodness) and can get back to writing original blogs.  Look for "The Empress's New Clothes" sometime next week.  In the meantime, here's one more peek into my memoir...for all my Esalen friends with love.

"A Variety of Light"

It's late afternoon and I'm gingerly walking down the steep passageway toward the craggy beach line, an old backpack slung over my shoulder.  This is my third trip today...after a long morning of bed prepping in the garden.  My arms throb and my feet ache.  But still, I make the cautious journey to search for large rocks that I will carry back to the yurt. 
The flip-flops I've foolishly chosen to wear give me no traction at all, so I take them off and leave them by the stairs.  Sunlight glints on the ocean, the jagged rock face, and the shiny wet stones.  Its reflection is so bright, it stings my eyes even though I'm wearing dark sunglasses.  But I don't mind.
I'm delighted to be back in Big Sur.  To work in the garden.  To live on the farm in a canvas yurt not far from the farmer's small house where Carl lives.  Ken and Gia live in tiny huts on the coastline and together, the four of us share this beautiful, quiet space.  This silent sanctuary away from the often frenzied energy of the south side of campus.  I adore Ken and am looking forward to all the time we'll get to spend together.  Gia arrived a few weeks ago while I was back in Toledo packing up my house and putting it on the market.  The three of us will be garden-scholars for this season, working and living among each other, bookended by the sea and the mountains.
The yurt was less than primitive when I moved in a few weeks ago.  Since then, I've added a box spring to get the mattress off of the damp floor.  Quilts from the Free Box grace the windows and I've started to clear the knee-high brush and weeds that surround my little home.  Later this month, I'm hoping to plant a perennial garden from the volunteers that sprout up all over the farm. 
There's no lighting to guide my way to the yurt after dark; my small flashlight only provides a modicum of safety.  The solar lamps that were once beacons to the yurt's deck were broken long ago and haven't been replaced.  No matter.
I've got other plans.
So here I am, walking barefoot among the rocks, choosing the brightest ones to haul back to the yurt and mark the pathway all the way up to its entrance.  With each trip to the coastline, I solidify my purpose in returning to this place that has completely broken me and taken me to my knees, yet given me the opportunity to rise up once again.  Each rock I gather and carefully place along the path to my home is another moment to forgive.  To release.  To transform into something better.
It's taken a few days, but I'm nearly finished.  Already I've noticed that the whitest rocks reflect the light of the moon and illuminate a safe passage home.  No longer needing to rely solely on my innate drive to protect myself, I'm embracing the light of what lies deep within:  the great strength in allowing my heart to be open and vulnerable in healthy ways. 
I have found a new way to be at Esalen.  In the month since my return, there have been challenges, yes.  But there also have been delights beyond what I could have imagined.  It's been a miracle to be able to put the past winter behind me and move forward.   To be here now...to be in good company and in good spirits.  What a blessing.
As Rumi said, "Let the beauty we love be what we do."
And so it is that I have come back to Big Sur, my spiritual mother, to walk softly on her land.  To nurture the chickens and the greenhouse babies.  To tend the flowers and seedlings in my care.  To teach and learn and live life more abundantly.
To find "hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." 

By late June of 2008, despite my love of the garden, despite the fact that I had my own room and kept my own counsel, life at Esalen was beginning to chip away at my resolve.  There were endless issues being batted back and forth between the community and the administration.  Endless challenges of living in a community that, while encouraging its members to embrace a “slow food nation,” was equally encouraging them to have “fast food enlightenment.”
As my advisor once told me, “Esalen has a long history, but a short memory because so many people come in, skip a stone across the surface, and then leave.  Some stay, but with many of those who do, the process repeats itself over and over and over.  Can you live with that?”
I wasn’t so sure.
By mid-June, I had had enough and was seriously thinking about leaving Big Sur once the garden internship ended, regardless of whether or not I was offered a job.
Then the Basin Ridge Fires started.  Lightening flashed onto dry land and for miles up and down the coastline, homes were being evacuated.  Initially the workshop participants were asked, for their own safety, to leave early.  Then the work-scholars.  Then anyone else who didn't feel comfortable staying.  In addition to the ever-approaching line of fire, rockslides were a very real possibility and road closures were inevitable.
After the majority of people had left, a sheriff came on campus and ordered those of us who had chosen to stay to fill out forms providing contact information of loved ones and even our dentist in case our charred bodies were unable to be identified.  Whipped into a frenzy of panic, many people waffled about what to do.  I calmly figured that with the firefighters being housed on campus, with the ocean to the west and the baths to the south, if the fire did jump the line across Highway One to Esalen, there would be more than one way to not get burned. 
So I stayed. 
By then the garden had a new manager, Shirley.  I'd been called a “brick house” by many of the men on our crew, but my new boss was amazing.  Hardworking, innovative, and a remarkable teacher, I loved working with her.  When everyone but Ken and I had left the garden during the fires, Shirley met the challenge of a drastically reduced crew and we made it through one of the most intense, but truly incredible parts of my Esalen experience. 
Ken was needed to help clear brush with the grounds crew and was unable to help us on the farm.  Shirley and I would begin each day in the lodge watching a hazy sun rise over the Santa Lucia, sipping hot coffee and nibbling freshly baked cookies.  Then we planned our day and went to work.
After all the beds had been cleared of their extraneous produce, Shirley and I bed-prepped and conserved water in huge grey barrels, covering them with plywood to keep out dust and ash from the fire.  Shirley showed me how to make “a poor man’s watering can” by poking holes into a tin bucket and attaching a handle.  Then I would dip the bucket into the water in the barrels and walk up and down the rows of kale, baby chard, and onions, doing my best to keep them alive. 

 We all kept each other alive during those very long, extremely exhausting weeks, yet it was the best time of my garden internship.  The population at Esalen dropped from over three hundred to just over fifty in a matter of days.  The peacefulness in the midst of morning update meetings was a gift.  The way each of us checked in with everyone, a blessing.
Everyone pitched in.  I spent the mornings in the gardens, feeding the chickens, watering the babies, and helping Shirley with the small harvest that would feed the community.  In the afternoons, I would don a long-sleeved shirt and help cut brush that lined the highway and covered much of “Yurtville,” a housing space located between the farm and south campus.   Sometimes I helped with cabins, cleaning and preparing rooms for the firefighters.  Sometimes I pitched in with the kitchen crew, washing vegetables or cleaning up after meals. 
It was the first time I felt that Esalen was truly a living community.  We all worked together and everyone’s needs were met because we each made sure it was so.  In working with the grounds crew, I was completely exhausted by the end of the day, and more often than not, someone offered to give me a massage in the evening. 
We took care of each other and the land took care of us.  While the fires burned, a dense fog surrounded Big Sur for days, slowing down its descent toward the highway.  The firefighters were planning to back burn so that it wouldn’t leap over the road.  Until then, they watched and waited...just like the rest of us.
One night, after a week of waiting for the fire to come down the mountains, I walked back to my room and stopped to look over the Santa Lucia.  There in the distance, I saw flares of light popping over the peaks in tiny bursts of red and orange…like fireworks.
“Finally...there you are,” I whispered to the fire.  “We’ve been waiting for you.”
In the days that followed the fire steadily burned, melting through our water supply line, but the copper pipes within them still provided us with what we needed, though at a much slower rate.  Ken and a host of other men valiantly carried a hose up the line to put out the fire themselves.  They returned as conquering heroes.  To this day I can still see their faces, beaming and proud to have kept the flames at bay.
In working with Shirley, in protecting and caring for the land in a space of quiet focus, I began to see Big Sur not as my home, but as my homeland, a place I wanted to continue protecting and preserving.  It was then that I changed my mind and applied for the Garden Manager’s position that would be available in the fall.

Much to my delight, the work-scholars who joined the garden in the month after the fires were incredible:  C. Ray and Eva, Margie and Tarek, Birgit and Lars, Ken and James, Carl and Benjamin, Shirley and myself…what a team we were.  With so much work that needed to be abandoned during the fire, our crew was eager to get started.  And what open-hearted, loving, joyous people they were.  Our days were filled with laughter, our process time with authentic work and the caring acknowledgement of each other.
I was excited to share my love of the land, of the chickens and the seedlings, of the greenhouse, the farm and everything in-between.  It was in working with that incredible group of people that I solidified my choice to stay in Big Sur.
To keep choosing growth.
To keep choosing the mysterious ways of grace.
One breezy morning in late August, the crew decided to stay in the garden and refurbish the herb beds.  Shirley and Benjamin were down in the main area, supervising the workers, while I was on the upper level watering the babies.  The sky was clear.  The sun glinted on the gentle waves of the ocean. 
From down below, I heard C. Ray’s soft laughter and its melodious sound reminded me of Granddaddy.  Just that morning he had lovingly called me the "Fairy Godmother of the Esalen Gardens" and it was a surprising joy to see myself that way:  "spreading light and love to all the baby seedlings." 
Stopping for a moment, I watched everyone enjoying their work.  The ease with which they were speaking with one another.  Benjamin’s girlfriend strumming her guitar nearby, singing songs to spirit the garden into being. 
“Remember this, Katie,” I whispered.  “Take a mental picture…you’re going to want to hold this moment close...always.”  
I walked to the edge of the rows of squash and chard.  Saw my handprints in the soil where I had weeded them the day before.  Marveled at how every single bed in the garden held my fingerprints…from the seedlings to the harvest…I had touched them all.
There have been few perfect moments in my life, but this was certainly one of them.  Even now, years later, I can still see Eva’s smile.  Hear Margie’s laughter.  See Tarek as he makes his way down the path, his long legs striding forward as he pushes a wheelbarrow filled with fresh compost.  I can see Shirley’s blond pigtails dancing in the wind.  I can see Ken’s smiling face as he walks toward me.
“Coming down?” he asked.  “We’re missing you.”
I nodded, tears filling my eyes.  “I’ll be right there.” 

To read the rest of "A Variety of Light," download OPEN ROAD
on Amazon.com.  Paperback copies will be
available soon...stay tuned for more information.



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Weird City...another excerpt from OPEN ROAD: A LIFE WORTH WAITING FOR

         Well, I'm three down, three to go in getting my books ready for print.  It's been a long marathon and I appreciate all the support from readers everywhere this month.  I love hearing from you as I post excerpts from chapters in my memoir that stir the pot in your own lives. 
         This one's for Maggie N. who is wise beyond her years...may she never have to endure the plethora of bad blind dates this gal has encountered over the years.
         Enjoy!

Weird City

I can't believe I’m here again…waiting for another blind date to show up.  At least I’m at the park and it’s a warm September day.  At least I don’t feel as if I have to impress this guy, even though we’ve only talked a couple of times on the phone.  Still, it annoys me that he’s late.  That he won’t tell me which yoga student gave him my phone number.  But I figure, “What the hell?”  I might as well try.  Even if all those other blind dates went nowhere, this one might be different.
I watch every man who walks by, wondering if he’s the one.  “Are you Greg?” I want to ask.  “Are you looking for a woman named Katie?” 
There are tall men. 
Short, stocky men. 
A really nice looking guy in running shorts with long brown hair and a two-day beard. 
None of them is Greg.  I check my watch and sigh.  He’s fifteen minutes late.  I figure I’m being stood up…again.
As I walk back towards my car, I decide to wait a few more minutes.  After all, he’s coming from work.  Maybe he got held up in traffic.  I can give him the benefit of the doubt.  It’s busy at the park and as several cars pass by, I lean against the trunk, my arms crossed, watching to see if any of the drivers are men. 
A small Mazda darts by driven by a creepy looking guy in a black track suit zipped up to his chin.  “It’s eighty-five degrees out,” I say under my breath.  “Why is he dressed like that?”  Then the thought hits me and I murmur, “Dear God, please don’t let it be him.  Please not him.”
Oh, shit...it is him.
Greg walks up to me and extends his hand, nearly covered by his dark nylon jacket.  He’s wearing long pants as well…and loafers.  His shaggy hair is greasy and plastered to his head.  His skin is doughy and ashen.  He looks like he hasn’t bathed in a few days although he’s wearing enough cologne to make me sneeze.
“I’m Greg,” he grins.  “Nice to meet you.”  His voice doesn’t match the one I heard on the telephone.          
He isn't familiar with the trails at Wildwood, but, having hiked here for years, I know them well.  I lead Greg on a connecting path, one that will take us maybe fifteen or twenty minutes to cross.  We make small talk and I tell him of my plans to leave Toledo as soon as possible.  I tell him that I’m getting tired of Midwestern life and long to go west.  Maybe that will give him the hint that I’m not interested in starting anything serious. 
He says he’s been to Portland and Vegas, but that’s about it.  “I like it here,” he says.  “And work is good…so what can I say?”  Greg is an instructor at one of the community colleges in town and says that Toledo suits him well.
"I could live here for the rest of my life," he says.
Strike one.
I’m practicing honesty, so I tell him upfront I don’t like the fact that the person who hoped to fix us up wants to remain anonymous.  “I know it’s not your doing, but I want you to know I’m a very private person.   I don’t like that she gave you my number, but doesn't want me to know it was her.”
Greg shrugs.  He doesn’t say, “I respect your feelings,” or “I can understand how you feel.”
Strike two.
We round a corner and I’m counting the minutes until this walk can end.  Five down.  Fifteen to go.
“Do you know where we are?” Greg asks.
“Yeah…I know this place like the back of my hand.”
“Well, then...,” he says, his voice dripping with what I imagine he thinks is seduction.  "Are you going to tie me up to one of those trees and whip me senseless?”
“Uh…no,” I stammer, willing myself to walk even faster. 
“Well if you were,” he snickers.  “I would have asked you to show up in a leather mini-skirt and chains.”
Strike three…and you're OUT!
Seething, I say nothing.  Greg suddenly realizes I don’t think his comment is funny and nervously chatters on.  I walk faster and soon we’re back in the parking lot. 
“Well, where would you like to go for lunch?” he asks.
“I think I’ll pass,” I tell him.
Greg looks dejected and genuinely surprised.  “Really?  It thought we said we could walk and then eat.”
“No…I don’t think so." 
“Why?”
I lift my eyebrows.  “Do I really have to tell you?”
The look on Greg’s face tells me I don’t.

As I drive away, I’m furious.  Furious with whoever gave Greg my phone number.  Furious that yet another man I’ve been fixed up with is a total jerk.  But most of all, I’m furious with myself.  I had promised myself that after going out with Mr. Bodybuilder Freak, after that terrible afternoon I had with Mr. Interview last winter, I would never go on a blind date again.  Why did I waste another afternoon in the hopes of finding someone here in Toledo? 
My life has once more reminded me that only weirdoes and creeps are left in the small pool of men in this city.  I cannot wait to escape and get out of here once and for all.
There must be normal men out there...somewhere.

For most of my life, it's been a challenge to find the balance in being selective, in having good boundaries and still be open to the humanity of men.  And yet, after all the stranger-than-fiction experiences I've had, I'm thankful I've learned to err on the side of restraint.
In struggling to move beyond my ill-fated relationship with Scott and several other unrequited attractions, I took some time to reflect.  And in so doing, I began to take responsibility for not speaking up when I needed to.  I also stopped lying by omission and began to practice being honest.  It wasn't easy.
Several of my girlfriends thought it would be a great idea to fix me up on blind dates with men they knew from high school, work, or through their husbands.  So in my mid-thirties I agreed to meet Pete, a local gym owner and bodybuilder who my friend Donna thought would be perfect for me.  A professional athlete and a yoga instructor.  What could be a more complementary couple?
In meeting Pete, I could certainly see why he complained about going on plenty of first dates and not many second ones.  A group of us were out to dinner and when he strutted into the restaurant, he immediately made a beeline for Donna’s husband, hoping to impress him with news about his thriving business. 
When Donna introduced me to Pete, she mentioned that I was her yoga teacher.
Pete quickly dismissed the idea of needing to practice yoga.  “Yoga is really for people who don’t want to get with the program,” he boasted contemptuously.  “Six weeks in my flexibility series, and you’ll never need to stretch out again.” 
I wanted to tell him that was tantamount to only showering for six weeks and then never needing to bathe again, but I said nothing.  Instead I patiently endured Pete's talking about himself, his career, his family, and his opinion on everything from what I should be eating to how I needed to lift weights. 
“You really need to eat meat,” he said, nodding at my plate of stir fry.  “I always bulk up before a competition.”
“I get enough protein with nuts and soy products,” I said politely.  “I’ll bet I eat peanut butter three or four times a week.”
Pete smirked.  “Peanuts are the worst kind of food on the planet….in my book, they should be banned."
O-kay, I thought.  How much longer do I have to sit here before this night is over?

A few months went by and another friend suggested that I come to her house for dinner to meet a colleague of her husband’s.  Shane was on his way through town and would be flying back to Colorado the next day, but still wanted to meet me.  So I arrived on a Sunday night, looking forward to meeting a man who had been billed as smart, charming, and outdoorsy.  I wasn't exactly hoping for a long distance relationship, but thought “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” 
Brenda met me at the door and led me into the family room where Shane was talking with her husband.  The minute he looked at me I knew Shane wasn't interested.  “Nope…not you,” his energy seemed to declare.  The blinders went up and I felt it instantly. 
He simply said, “Oh hi,” and turned back to Brenda’s husband.
At first, I was shaken, but I sat down anyway.  In the meantime, another couple came over and stood near the bar talking.  I asked Shane what he liked about living in Colorado and less than a minute into his answer, he looked toward the bar. 
Stopping mid-sentence, he said, “You know, I really want to get into that conversation.”   Then he got up and walked away.
I was stunned...then I got angry.  What I really wanted to do was go home, take a shower, and sack out on the couch to watch “Alias.”  Instead, out of respect for my friend, I slapped a smile on my face and endured a long dinner of trying to be courteous to a man who had all but dismissed me. 
By the time Brenda suggested we play Pictionary, I was ready to call it quits.  But to be polite, I acquiesced once again.  In the first round, the word I needed to draw was “Me,” and Shane was to try and guess what my word was.   It was hopeless.   No matter what I drew, he still didn't get it.  I realize now that all I had to do was sketch a pretentious jackass with wire-rimmed glasses and a blonde ponytail.  Shane surely would have blurted out, "Oh, that's me!"

Since my late twenties I've been stalked, publicly humiliated, and summarily dismissed.  Men have disregarded me as just another Sad Single Woman Who Lives Alone With Her Cats...and Knits!  They've pitied and pooh-poohed and patronized me as well.  It's a wonder that I even entertain the possibility of being in a potential relationship. 
It's not that I hate men...it's just that up until a few years ago, most of the ones passing in and out of my life proved to be untrustworthy, unreliable, and ultimately unfavorable.  I've settled into a space where I have male friends of like mind...and that's enough for me.  At least right now.
But I'm entertaining the idea that since I've changed so much in the past five years, perhaps I'll attract Mr. Right For Me Right Now.  You never know.

When I lived in Big Sur, skunks often appeared when I was on my way from the gardens at Esalen to the farm on the north side of the property.  There was even a mother and her two kits living peacefully beneath my hut.  Everyone wanted to rid their living spaces of these intimidating animals, but I welcomed them.   Sitting on the deck, I would watch their little black and white shapes waddle back to the hut as the sun rose, tired from their nocturnal adventures.  After the sun went down and I went to bed, I could hear mama and her babies scurrying out in search of grubs and other goodies. 
One afternoon I was preparing a sweat lodge with my friend, Matteo.  We chatted about our animal totems that have revealed the many life lessons we needed to learn and embody.
"You have some pretty powerful skunk medicine," he quipped.
"Yeah, I know," I sighed.
Matteo lifted his brows.  "Lots of lessons about self-respect for you this time around."
Placing some lavender into the crevices between the rocks we had arranged, I said, "And boundaries and sensuality and walking alone."
He nodded.
Knowing most people's reactions to seeing them on campus, I said sadly, "But who would want to be with a skunk?"
Matteo brightened.  "Another skunk of course!  If you respect you, as a skunk does, then you'll eventually attract someone who mirrors that self-respect and clarity."
I stood up and dusted my hands on my jeans.  "I've lived by myself for a long time...I'm used to waiting."
All these years later, I still am.

To read the rest of "Weird City," download
OPEN ROAD:  A LIFE WORTH WAITING FOR
on Amazon.com




Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Lipstick Maverick...another excerpt from OPEN ROAD: A LIFE WORTH WAITING FOR

       This week I'm knee deep in the final edits of all of my books, readying them for print this month!  So here's another partial chapter from the second edition of my memoir...an homage to my fabulous Aunt Karen who still inspires to me walk through the world in my own way.

"Lipstick Maverick"

It's five o’clock on Monday morning.  The sun has yet to rise and the house is shrouded in silence.  I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, studying my twelve-year-old reflection with bitter judgment.  My hair is too bushy, my make-up is too dark, and glasses hide most of my face behind a thick layer of plastic. 
“You are ugly,” I say out loud.  “You are fat and ugly and I hate you.”
My reflection does nothing but stare back at me with the same venomous look on her face. 
I step on the scale and find that I have gained four pounds since last week, no thanks to the hours I've spent running or doing aerobics.  My clothes are tight and uncomfortable, but I have to wear them anyway.  I have no choice.
Closing my eyes, I wait until the dark abyss fills my awareness, and then I say to myself, “I’m not me…I’m not me…I’m not me” until the feeling of dread passes.  I say it over and over and over again until I have distanced myself from reality...until I feel as though I am no longer standing there.  My anger folds in on itself and begins to retreat to the back of my mind. 
Once again, I am in control.
“I’m not me…I’m not me…I’m not me,” I continue chanting. 

A year passes.
Now I'm thirteen and my Aunt Karen has come to visit.  It's summertime and she and my cousins will stay for nearly a week.  Mom's youngest sister lives hours away, so we only see her family a couple of times a year.  It's a treat when all the cousins can hang out together.  We sleep in the basement and stay up late watching TV or listening to "Another One Bites the Dust," changing the lyrics to "Another One Bites Your Butt," an allusion to all the mosquitoes swarming our backyard this season. 
This year I've lost all the baby fat from grade school and now wear a size seven, something I'm simultaneously very proud of, but also hide from my mother.  She thinks I'm too thin, but I think I'm just right.  I weigh myself every day on the pink scale in the bathroom and if the needle hovers any higher than 103 pounds, I make sure to cut back on my food and walk an extra lap around the neighborhood.  It took a long time to drop all that weight.  I won't ever put it back on and have to endure Patricia's teasing again.  She even had the gall to tell me that one of the little girls down the street didn't want me to baby-sit her because I was too fat.  Patricia, of course, is skinny and can eat whatever she wants. 
I had to wear a bra in fourth grade which totally embarrassed me, especially when Adam Chandler would run his finger down my back every day.  I wanted to tell the teacher but was too afraid.  I got my first period at camp in sixth grade while riding a horse of all things, and, likewise, was too afraid to tell the teachers as well.  I pinned handkerchiefs inside my underpants, then buried the soiled ones in the garbage can when no one was looking.
Now I don't get my period anymore and I'm glad.  One less thing for Patricia to bother me about.  She's fourteen and still hasn't gotten hers.
Aunt Karen is staying in my room and I love watching her get ready to go out.  We're heading to the mall to visit Olde Towne and get our pictures taken.  They'll look like old fashioned photos from the early 1900's and I can't wait.  Aunt Karen teases her platinum blonde hair, then spritzes it lightly with spray.  My room smells like Shalimar and White Rain.  She's wearing dark blue jeans with wide back pockets.  Her blouse is colorful and gauzy.  I think she looks like a beautiful gypsy…or Marilyn Monroe.  I can’t decide which one.
Standing in front of the dresser mirror, she pulls a long, black cylinder from her make-up bag and uncaps the lipstick.  It doesn't look like my mother's short, thick tubes of Estee Lauder and it certainly doesn't smell like waxy chemicals.  Aunt Karen smoothes it on her lips, then turns to me.  "Here, Katie...want to try it on?"
I take the thin, black lipstick and look at the name written in tiny gold letters on the side:  toasted topaz.  I enjoy the alliteration.  I learned about that in seventh grade and love to say the words aloud.  "Toasted topaz would look terrific on my toes," I smile at Aunt Karen.  I walk the short distance to the mirror and study my face.  My cheekbones are prominent as are my brow bones, but I'm proud of the effort I've put into looking this way.  It's as if I can see my real face for the first time, not the fat-faced Hippo of my childhood.
The lipstick looks really nice against my olive skin now toasted tan in the summer.  I cap the stick and hand it back to Aunt Karen.  She slides the slender black tube into her back pocket as if it were a gun slipping into a tiny holster.  I wonder, How does it keep from melting when she sits down?
I've never seen my mother carry a lipstick in her back pocket and it intrigues me.
My aunt is a maverick, and in that moment, I want to be one, too.

I always loved to watch Aunt Karen do her hair and put on makeup.  She had an attitude that was vastly different than mine.  Sure, I was only thirteen and barely able to apply mascara without poking myself in the eye, but Aunt Karen knew her strengths and played to them by using the endless goodies in her cosmetics drawer.  She had the bluest eyes and lined them meticulously.  Her blonde hair was short, stylishly cut, and accentuated her features.  And when she pulled that lipstick from her back pocket to reapply a gorgeous shade of red or pink, I was mesmerized.  As she blotted the excess, then puckered her lips, it was as if she was saying to the world, “Stand back…I’m comin’ atcha!” 
All my thirteen-year-old self could muster at the time was a silent, “Am I good enough?”
Aunt Karen is still a maverick, although she told me recently that she now keeps her lipstick in her bra.  “That way I don’t have to reach as far since I’m older,” she laughed.  My incredible aunt inspires me to tell the truth, be who I am, and never settle for less than what is right for me even though it often means making many choices on my own.  We aren't rebels, my aunt and I.  We don't need to be defiant to feel unique or genuine.
We simply feel the need to go our own way.

I have a dear friend who is an artist extraordinaire.  Bella and I have made several trips to our incredible Museum of Art here in Toledo.  She taught me how to look at paintings and sculptures in a wide variety of ways.  Seeing color and texture was the first step.  Discovering the hidden stories in the canvas came second.  And as I listened and learned from her, Bella revealed one of the greatest gifts an artist can possess:  the passion to create authentically.  Perhaps that's what Aunt Karen was embodying for me:  authentic appreciation for her own beauty. 
She wasn't a pile of grapes to be admired. 
Aunt Karen was a lovely woman who wanted to engage the world.
It was Aunt Karen who inherently showed me that I didn't have to fade away to feel myself more fully.  I was a silent, yet captivated witness to the self confidence I would eventually embody in my thirties and forties. 
But it's better late than never.
Better to be authentic than fake it for someone else's comfort.
Better to be happily at home within myself than trying to balance precariously on the razor's edge of someone else’s expectations.



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