Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Miles Drentell, Don Draper, and the Insatiable Dragon

Last week my pals, Danta and Satish, requested I add more books to the basket in the backseat of my car.  Whenever I'm tooling around town with the boys, they eagerly devour a wide variety of titles, so just for fun, I included a stack of Robert Munsch's picture books, ones the boys loved when they were little.
"Hey, Katie, thanks!" Danta beamed.  "These are great!"
"You're welcome," I said.  "Say, want to read me The Paper Bag Princess?"
"Sure!" Danta nodded eagerly. 
As we made our way home, I listened to the story about feisty Princess Elizabeth who's engaged to handsome Prince Roland.  One day a dragon burns down her castle, all of her clothes, and steals her fiancĂ©, carting Roland off to his lair.  Donning a dirty paper bag (the only thing she can find) Elizabeth immediately sets off to rescue Roland.  She courageously ignores the dragon's zeal in saying he'd love to eat a princess for lunch, but is too tired after demolishing her castle.  Outfoxing him by covertly suggesting he showcase his prowess of burning down forests and flying around the world in less than ten seconds, Elizabeth knows that once the dragon has been worn down, she can sneak into his lair and liberate her beloved.  Soon enough, the dragon is exhausted from showing off and falls fast asleep.
Alas, when Roland sees his brave heroine, he sneers, "Elizabeth, you are a mess!  You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled, and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag.  Come back when you are dressed like a real princess."
To which Elizabeth cleverly replies, "Roland, your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat.  You look like a real prince, but you are a bum."  In the end, she dances off into the sunset, happily free from both the dragon and the man who was revealed to be an ungrateful egomaniac.  
After reading that storybook more than a dozen times, you'd think I'd be inoculated from ever getting involved with a real Roland.  
But no.  
More than one man has entered by life as a seeming savior, only to be revealed as an uncompromising narcissist. 

I suppose I could blame it all on my fascination with Miles Drentell and Don Draper.  
Back in the early nineties, I loved watching thirtysomething, particularly when the main characters interacted with a character some critics called a New Age Darth Vader.  Miles Drentell was an amoral advertising executive who doled out Japanese wisdom like it was Pez, and got away with triangulating, manipulating, and intimidating his employees simply because he held all the power.  Even though he was an expert puppeteer and The Boss from Hell, his employees acquiesced to his every demand for fear of being fired.  Back in the day, television viewers loved to hate Miles, much in the same way we'd eventually love to loathe Don Draper's escapes on Mad Men.
In an episode near the end of thirtysomething's last season, Miles tried to manipulate Michael Steadman into reworking an entire ad campaign.  When Michael attempted to rebuff him, Miles unearthed his incredibly cynical view of advertising, saying in part, "No one wants to be unpopular.  That's the dance of advertising.  We help people become popular.  Through popularity comes acceptance.  Acceptance leads to assimilation.  Assimilation leads to bliss.  We embrace people with the message that we're all in it together...and that there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong.  That's what we've always done, and in return for our humanitarian service, we are made rich."
Spoken like a true narcissist.
Of course, Michael quit immediately, never to return to the fold of a man who recruited desperate, needy people to feed the insatiable dragon of his ego.  
I know the feeling all too well.
A long time ago I was a client of a local psychologist.  In an attempt to work on my issues in relationships, I thought it would be wise to work with someone of the opposite sex.  Back then I was young, naive, and fragile, all of the things *David could spot on a dime.  I used to put any man who was an authority on a pedestal, so I didn't think it was inappropriate when David covertly groomed me by disclosing his personal history during our first session, nor did I think it circumspect when he eventually revealed that he was engaged to a former client. 
However, things began to unravel over the course of our year and a half together, and I began to see a dysfunctional pattern emerging.  Nine times out of ten, our sessions involved him telling some long-winded personal story that coincided with what I was saying.  One morning when I was talking about how difficult it was to deal with clients and coworkers who had completely blown me off the previous week, David's cell phone rang...and he answered it.  I shut down for the rest of the session, but when I confronted him about it the following week, David came up with some banal excuse, never fully taking responsibility for his actions.
Eventually my therapy became David's therapy, especially during one difficult hour in which I was trying to move beyond my fear of intimacy.  He said dramatically, "In reality, Kate, you will never be able to say you've never been assaulted."
"I'm not being assaulted now," I shot back, angry that David was trying to drag me back into the past. 
He blinked nervously.  "Well, I can never say my grandmother never tried to strangle me."
I leaned forward, looking at him hard.  "She's not strangling you now...unless you want her to be."
The last straw came a few weeks later.  In front of another female client who I knew well and was sitting in on a session, I point-blank asked David why he was so hesitant to help me figure out a way to reconnect with men.   "Is it because your daughter and I have the same name?"  I asked.  "Do you think of me as your child?"
"No, not at all," David replied, flashing me a Cheshire grin.  "It's because if you weren't my client, we'd be dating."
Of course, knowing what I did about his fiancĂ©e, his comments not only made me feel powerless (as if I wouldn't have had a choice in the matter), but also left me wondering if he was saying it simply because he had a captive audience.  
Without thinking about it twice, I terminated therapy and never went back.  Unfortunately, my emotional work was left undone and so was I a few years later.

While living in Big Sur, I was briefly involved with a man who turned on the charm, then turned the screws on me once he got what he wanted.  Actually, *Raji immediately triangulated our relationship by saying, "I wonder if I should tell the woman I'm casually involved with about you."
After initially keeping my mouth shut and hoping Raji would return to being the man I had met months before, I eventually realized I couldn't listen to him talk about other women anymore.  I tried to connect with Raji after he left Esalen, but when he didn't answer his phone, I wrote him an email saying that what he did was his own business, but that it was difficult for me to know about, especially since he wasn't interested in anything else with me.  Raji wrote back with some psychobabble, saying he understood how I felt.  Yet when he returned to the institute, he tore into me with vicious intensity, turning the tables, trying to make me the one who was being unreasonable.
For the first time in my life, I stood up for myself, telling Raji he could take his game playing, mind screw elsewhere.  Then, of course the next woman he had bedded after me showed up on campus and he made sure I knew I had been easily replaced.  Then there was another.  And another.  And another.  I couldn't walk through the lodge without hearing someone talk about Raji and his revolving cycle of women.  After being betrayed by a counselor who revealed my affair with Raji to the powers that be at Esalen, I was utterly humiliated when Raji angrily began a very public campaign to paint me as just another crazy woman in his long line of paramours.  It didn't work for long, but the damage had already been done.
The entire experience broke my heart, but in the shattering I discovered how resilient I could truly be.  In the end I stood up to Raji's diabolical behavior more than I cared to, yet never again fell for his charisma, charm, and good looks.   Even now I will never be thankful for having been involved with a man like him, but I am forever grateful that he was the last one.
I've had a few opportunities since then, but have kept my desires in check, for I've come to understand that men like Raji will initially sell me a cleverly crafted line, only revealing their light, keeping their inner dragon chained up in a darkened dungeon until his hunger becomes overwhelming.  Kind of like how I wanted them to stay all bright and shiny and didn't want to trust my gut when their actions spoke louder than their words. 
Enter Don Draper, yet another manipulating ad man.

I've watched every episode of Mad Men at least four times.  At first I was fascinated by the parallels between Don and Betty and the main characters from a novel I had written five years previous (A Tapestry of Truth).  Now I know that the underlying attraction was in recognizing parts of my father in the main character.  Both Don and my dad were chain-smoking, high-powered businessmen.  Both carried a lot of social clout.  Both had a wife and three children.  Both had lost their mothers, Don at birth, and my father at age seventeen.   
Perhaps the most spine-chilling scene that revealed their innate similarities was the one in which Don visits Peggy in the hospital after she's given birth to a child she has given up for adoption.  "Get out of here...move forward," he tells her.  "This did not happen.  It will scare you how much it didn't happen."  This gaslighting technique is one with which many of us are all too familiar.
While Don Draper was a womanzing narcissist, when he was with his children, he did his best to be a kind father.  My Dad called me Hippo or Piggo from the time I was a little girl.  Even when I was struggling with an eating disorder and my weight plummeted, I was still Hippo to my unrelenting father.  Ironically, he would sometimes call me Elizabeth, my middle name, but I have no memory of him ever calling me "Kate" or "Katie" until I was in my mid-twenties and demanded that he stop calling me by those horrible nicknames. 
Like Don, Dad was a distant father, yet always worked hard, providing us with an abundance of food and clothing, annual vacations to the beach, and the gift of a college education.  Still, I would have traded all of it to have had a personal identity in his eyes, not some projected caricature he created to avoid the intimacy of calling me by my name.   That explains why in every man after him, I searched for the kind of person I had wanted my father to be:  genuine, attentive, able to love and accept me as I am.  And it explains why all of them could never fill those shoes because they never existed in the first place.  
Every single one of the dysfunctional, narcissistic men from my past eventually showed me all of who they were, but as Don Draper skillfully reveals in an episode from season four,  I ignored it because I wanted them to be who I wanted them to be.  In the end, they all probably wanted the same things from me that Don looked for in his clandestine endless supply of ego boosting, selfless compassion, gregarious generosity, and unwavering support of their paradoxical choices, no matter how much they blew me out of the water.  Because I wasn't aware that I was trying to placate their crazy-making in order to feel safe with them, I was able to provide what they wanted for a time.  
Once their inability to want me beyond their own selfish impulses was eventually revealed, I cut my losses and moved on.

I imagine many of the metaphoric Rolands from my past continue to wrestle with their insatiable dragons.  As for me, I know that no amount of love, sympathy, or heroic gestures of kindness will ever be enough to tame the beast that lies within each one of them.  They alone hold the sword that can ultimately slay it, and the choice is theirs to do so...or not. 
Now I can finally let go of needing to be right or justified or anything else that ties me to people who cannot see beyond their limited perception of my worth, and I no longer believe I have the ability to rescue anyone but myself.  Like the Paper Bag Princess, I can dance into the light silently saying to the unhealthy men from my past, "Thank you for the opportunity, however unconscious on your part, that allowed me to discover the missing pieces of myself so that I can now be whole and free."

*Names have been changed.

You can read part two of this blog here:  Growing the lotus

If you or someone you know has been challenged by being in an unhealthy relationship, go to for more information.

Friday, March 25, 2016

An Easter Story

It's Good Friday, one of the most sacred days on the Christian calendar, but when I was a child I couldn't understand why it was named thus.  Why would a day when a holy man was crucified be called "good"?  Where was the logic in that?  Over time I came to understand that Jesus lived an incredible example by His incomparable courage in the Garden of Gethsemane, His calm forbearance of the betrayal of His friends, and the ultimate acceptance of His death, all of which were gateways to His subsequent resurrection.
As an adult, I've reframed Holy Week as a time not only for honoring events from the distant past, but also bringing to light what I need to learn in the present.  Now I fully accept that any rebirth in my life can only come through enduring something that's been uncommonly agonizing, accepting something I can't change, surrendering to the unknown, and ultimately trusting that even though I might lie in darkness for a while, Light always comes afterward.
When I was fourteen my life was in shambles.  Even though I was a straight "A" student, sang in musicals, participated in church events, and put on a brave face in public, I was also struggling with anorexia nervosa, chronic anxiety, and a budding addiction to over-the-counter stimulants that kept me awake at all hours so I wouldn't have to endure repetitious night terrors.   When I was in school, I could channel my nervous energy:  I helped my teachers after hours.  I rehearsed for plays and choir concerts.  I edited the yearbook  well after dark so I wouldn't have to go home and face another dinner that ultimately went to waste on my plate.
By the time summer rolled around, I was frantic.   Now where could I hide?  Most of the time, when I wasn't riding my bike or running at the park, I cocooned myself in the cool, dark basement, reading encyclopedias and paperback novels.  I hid my body in baggy clothes.  Hid my food in napkins, then deposited it into the trash when my mother wasn't looking.  Hid myself as best as I could, all the while knowing that I would eventually be found out, that Mom would yell at me for being too thin, that Dad would be angry about something I did or didn't do.  That no matter what, there would always be something wrong with me.
When we went on our annual beach vacation that year, it was a relief to spend most of the day outdoors, body surfing, building sandcastles, and crabbing in the lagoons around Kiawah Island.  But at night, I still couldn't sleep, couldn't stop thinking about how my older sister always managed to find a holiday boyfriend while no one seemed to notice I existed.  I couldn't stop dreaming about slithering snakes or mummies chasing me from one end of the Art Museum to the other. I couldn't stop wondering if anyone could really understand how it felt to be trapped in a body I hated.
On Friday, the last day of our vacation, I left the villa after dinner, telling my mother I was going for a run up the beach.  She didn't try to stop me, but her disconcerting look was code for don't you want to be with your family?  "We're going to play cards tonight, " she said.  "Don't you want to join us?"
"Maybe," I shrugged.
But I didn't. 
I'd rather run as fast as my legs could carry me to the south end of the beach where the inlet curled around the island and high tide often came in with pods of dolphin.  So I laced up my shoes and stepped out into the muggy southern air, both happy to be by myself and desperate for something I couldn't quite explain.  After running a mile up the coast, I started crying.  Tears fell down my face, blurring my vision, but I didn't care.  By the time I reached the edge of the island, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally spent.
I'm so tired of living like this, I thought, peeling off my shoes and tossing them near a sand dune.  As I walked in the sea foam that ebbed and flowed along the shoreline, I continued my silent conversation.   I can't live like this anymore.  I don't know where I belong.  I don't know who I am.  So God, please send me a sign that You hear me.  Please show me I'm not alone.  Please...I'm begging you.
For a while I stood and watched the sky, looking for a rainbow or a sundog or maybe even some God rays shimmering through the clouds.  But the sky was clear, the sun was sinking, and time was running out.  Looking back on that moment, I know I was desperate enough to walk into the ocean and let it claim me.  But I was also hopeful enough that my silent prayer would be answered, so I walked to the edge of the inlet and sat down, dipping my feet into the cool current.   For a long time I sat in silence, watching the waves, looking for dolphin, waiting for a sign.  There was nothing to buoy my faith.
Until I looked down. 
In the time I had been sitting there, the tide had gently washed away the sand and right next to me emerged a large, lovely conch shell.  I picked it up, then rinsed it in the cool water beneath my feet.  Turning it over to see if it was home for a little sea creature, I found that it housed a completely different kind of miracle.  For there, plain as day, embedded in a lush, lovely background of crimson and ginger was a bright, white cross.  I cradled the shell in my hands while I watched the horizon as the sun set behind the dunes.  The sky turned peachy pink, mirroring the interior of the precious gift I had just been given, mirroring a place that had miraculously opened up inside of me.
Then I walked back to the villa and into the rest of my childhood.
I kept the shell for almost two decades.  It sat on my bedside table all through high school.  It traveled back and forth to Miami through four years of college.  It was a harbinger of courage when I moved out on my own at twenty-one and rented a little apartment in Troy, Ohio where I felt like an adult for the first time in my life.  It was a talisman I held onto eight years later when I finally began to unravel the unhealthy motivations beneath my workaholism, eating disorders, and inability to have a meaningful relationship.  The shell more than buoyed my faith;  it was a miracle that kept me mindful of the fact that I was never alone, never truly hopeless, never unloved.
When I turned thirty I knew that I no longer needed the shell to remind me of who I am or where I belong, so I gave it to one of my first grade students who was traveling to the Carolinas with his family that summer.  I asked Andy to throw the shell back into the sea, to return it to the place where it had found me sitting on the shoreline, lost and alone.  I knew that someday someone else would need to find it, just as I had all those years ago. 

Earlier this week I was running, and out of the blue, tears started to fall.  It's not been the easiest month and I've done a lot of soul searching about many things.  Why I seem to live a cyclical life.  Why I often make the same choices, albeit for different reasons.  I've had to surrender a lot of what I thought I wanted in order to accept what is, and I don't much like it.  But who does?  We've all got our proverbial crosses to bear and this year, I've discovered that I'm finally ready to put mine down, to allow a part of myself to die to the dreams I once had so that I can be reborn into a something new. 
I just made the difficult decision to delete a novel I started writing three years ago, a fifth book in a series, for it reminds me too much of a past I've already healed, and I no longer want to write about characters who have long since been put to rest.   I've been watchful for what will fill this void in my life, this place that was once occupied by drama and unrest and most recently by long nights lying awake in bed, waiting for a sign of things to come.
I didn't have to wait long.
A few days ago, I spent a glorious afternoon in my garden.  The trellises were anchored, the flower pots set on the porch to welcome the warm, spring rain.  The backyard swing was put back together so it can be ready for long, lazy summer afternoons, and the raised bed has been prepped for planting.  While I was raking some leaves out of one the beds, I found something that had gone missing a couple of years ago, a stone I had found on the beach in Big Sur on a gorgeous Friday in September, a speckled gray rock with a lovely white cross in the middle which has become an anchor in my garden and a reminder of quiet miracles
With every yoga class I teach, I'm reminded that even our human bodies create a cross, the most ancient of holy symbols.  If we hold out our arms, they become the horizontal line; the space from the crown of our head to our feet, the vertical.  Where they intersect is in the heart, the place where everything begins and ends, the place of healing and love and grace.
And if we allow it, the place of infinite peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A son just like me

Last week I did something I swore I'd never do.  Yet, persuaded by a couple of little men in my life, I found out that yelling at the television during an action-packed basketball game can be quite cathartic.  
Who knew?
On Friday when I picked up Satish and Danta from school, Danta eagerly asked, "Did Mummy give you our message that we want to skip Mr. Freeze and go straight home?"
"Yes," I nodded.  "I knew something had to be pretty awesome to miss out on ice cream, but then I remembered it's March Madness."
Danta beamed, "Michigan State is playing Tennessee in the first round and we don't want to miss the second half."
"We'll get there before halftime," I smiled, glancing at the clock on the dashboard. 
Danta is a HUGE State fan, so I knew he couldn't wait to get home.   Satish was looking forward to the University of Michigan game that night (even though he told me they weren't ranked very high), but to him, any game during March Madness isn't to be missed.  Sure enough, the minute I pulled into the driveway and put the car in park, the boys had unbuckled their seatbelts, grabbed their backpacks, then made a mad dash to the front door.  Seconds later, the TV was on and we were dismayed to see that State was behind a few points.
"Oh, don't worry about it," I said, unzipping my boots.  "They have half a game to go."
Danta made himself a Nutella sandwich while Satish crumbled cookies into a bowl filled with milk.  Then we all sat on pins and needles watching the Spartans battle it out with the Blue Raiders.  Once his snack was finished, Satish bounced a basketball around the living room to quell his nervous energy, easily sinking shots into a hoop over the doorway to the entrance hall.  After a particularly intense play, he stood right in front of the screen with his hands on his hips.
"Hey, Satish!" I said cheerfully.  "Move over...I can't see the game."  Immediately I thought, Who the heck just said that? 
You see, I'm what you'd call a mediocre sports fan.  I can take it or leave it, but if people I care about are cheering on their players, I'm right there enjoying their enthusiasm.  Still, it was a first to yell at the television as if the players could actually hear me.  But Satish's energy was infectious, so soon we were hooting and hollering as the game quickly sprinted toward the last five minutes.
I looked over at Danta and his face darkened as he was more than worried his team might be in trouble.  Usually bubbling over with excitement, Danta continued to be uncharacteristically quiet as any hope for a turnover quickly diminished. 
"They need to score some three!" Satish said, sinking another basket. 
"Yeah!" I cried.  "Rebound!  Come on!  Rebound!"
As the clock ran out, Danta sat on the couch, curling up into a ball.  Once the buzzer went off, I glanced at my little pal and saw his chin quiver.  Then he covered his face with his hands and rubbed his eyes.  I looked to Satish and he shrugged, not knowing what to do.  I waited for a moment to see if Danta would say anything, and when he didn't, I crossed the room and sat next to him.  As I gently put my arm around his shoulder, I took off his glasses so they wouldn't get in the way of his tears. 
For a long time we sat in silence while the post-game interviews dragged on.  Danta barely made a sound, but the tears kept falling, so I held him closer and whispered, "It's alright to feel sad.  I know how excited you were to watch your team play.  To have them lose in the first round...that's got to be hard."
"Yeah," Danta whimpered.
"It's disappointing when you had such high hopes at the beginning and they got crushed so quickly, huh?"
"I know how that feels," I said, kissing the top of his head.  "That happened to me recently and I've cried about it, too."
Danta sniffled and wiped his eyes.  "Most of the Seniors are graduating, so next year they won't have as good a chance."
Satish nodded solemnly.  "Yeah, but some years are team building years, so that's how next season could be.  You never year State could be the underdog."
"I'm sure all the Spartans are upset right now," I told Danta.  "And so are all the fans of the other top-seeded teams who lost this week.  It's been a strange first round."
"'s totally messed up everybody's brackets," Satish said sadly.  "All these upsets...well, that's why they call it March Madness.  Anything can happen."
"Yep, that's the truth," I replied.  "Say, speaking of games, Danta...will I see you Satish's soccer game this weekend?"
He shook his head.  "I have a game at the same time."
"You do?" I asked.  "I should come to yours then because you don't have that many and I've been to all of Satish's."
"You came to the one in Perrysburg," Danta said.
"Yeah, that was when I drove you and your friend and he said I was the craziest woman he'd ever met."
Danta smiled through his tears.   "Oh yeah!"
"Did he mean crazy as in really nuts or crazy as in I'm a little strange?" I asked.
"Crazy like you're a weirdo," Danta giggled.
I burst out laughing.  "Well, that's alright with me."
"Yeah," Satish chimed in.  "'Cause you know weird is the new cool."
I gave Danta a silly smile.  "If weird is the new cool, then you and I are coolest people in this whole house."
Danta laughed out loud.  "Yeah, we sure are!"

When I was a child, my mother was often exasperated with my incessant shenanigans.  If I wasn't chasing my sisters with a fist full of worms, I was arguing with her at the top of my lungs.  Or perhaps I was sequestering myself in the basement to read a book while the rest of the family was upstairs watching television.  Maybe I was being a sassypants or a smartypants or even a pain in the ass because I was bored, angry, or frustrated. 
Mom told me on more than one occasion, "I hope you have a daughter exactly like you someday!"
"Me, too," I sassed back.  "Because then I'll understand how she feels and will know how to raise her."
I don't remember how Mom responded to my retort, but I do recall consciously filing that comment into my memory banks and pulling it out whenever I taught a little girl who reminded me of my often-sensitive, sometimes-ornery little self from years gone by.  I practiced patience.  I let the child speak her mind when she needed to.  I often held her on my lap and just let her cry.  One year in particular, several girls were my personality doppelgangers and it was sometimes overwhelming to be confronted with a Mini Me in every row of students. 
In the end, I didn't really need to give birth to a daughter just like me because I taught dozens of them.  And thanks to Lauren, Chelsea, Kayla, Crystal, Samantha, and a host of other incredible little girls, I was given the unique opportunity to meet myself year after year, child after child...moment by moment as they all became like my own kids while they were in my classroom.
What fun that even though I've long since let go of my teaching days, the learning never ends.

Satish is very much like the adult I've evolved into during the past twenty years, but he had me beat when he was four years old and we met in his preschool class.  I remember watching him work with younger children, marveling at this kindness, clarity, and sweet sense of humor.  Even now I don't really think of him as a kid...he's more like my contemporary and I listen closely to everything he says, for there's never a time when he doesn't come up with a hilarious one-liner or a bit of wisdom that allows me to see the bigger picture. 
But Danta's different. 
Our birthdays are only one day apart, so it's not all that difficult to understand when he's a chatterbox and it's hard for him to finish is dinner.  Or when he has a million and one things he wants to do and has a difficult time choosing what to tackle first.  I laugh my butt off when Danta reads stories in hilarious dialects and diligently work with him on tricky puzzles until every single piece is put into place.  We yell at the top of our lungs when we're outside playing baseball or soccer or basketball, then have to remember to use our inside voices when we come in for a game of Monopoly. 
Danta is sweet and silly and sensitive and unique.  We both wear glasses and our hearts on our sleeves.  We love books, warm blankets, and long conversations.  He's a lively reminder of the little girl I used to be...just in shin guards and short hair.  Well, actually he and I are letting our hair grow this year, so there's another thing we have in common. 
When Danta was upset about the Spartan's loss and let me hold him while he was crying, I thought about my mother's gentle admonishment that I should have a child just like me.  I might not be Danta's mother, but if I had a child, he'd be as close as I could get to a little boy who mirrors so much of who I used to be...and who I can still embody today.  Every time we play together, it's as if I become a little girl again, overjoyed to walk hand-in-hand with a kindred spirit so much like myself.  Someone who embraces my inner-weirdo and all of my silly quirks.  Someone who makes me smile just by being there.
Someone I couldn't love more even if he were my own son.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

I was "woo woo" when "woo woo" wasn't cool

Twenty-five years ago I taught myself how to meditate.  Not long after that I became a strict vegetarian and started practicing yoga.  Then I went gluten-free, dairy-free, and got Rolfed for the first time.  In addition to donning yoga pants for decades, I've worn flowing dresses, dangly earrings, and decorative scarves longer than I can remember.  For a quarter of a century I carved out a Bohemian lifestyle, bucking what society often thought of my mala bracelets, essential oils, and shelves filled with books about spirituality. 
Back then, long before Lululemon and Eckhart Tolle became household names, I was considered to be a nut or a novelty.  Even when I lived at Esalen, I kept my mouth shut about my knowledge of chakras, kundalini, and ancient mystery schools for if I heard it once, I heard it a dozen times:  "Kate, you're a little too woo woo for me." 
Well, these days I can't go to a social event without finding myself encircled by a group of people enthralled that I can describe one of them to a "T" just by watching him/her walk (because our biology is our biography) or knowing their astrological sign (because, as a quintuple Virgo, I love to figure people out).  Eventually someone always whips out their cell phone and logs into an astrology website so I can take a peek at the rest of their natal chart, then describe in great detail their personal habits, relationships, work life, and the like.   It's all in good fun and I don't mind at all.  I suppose people are catching on to the fact that there's more to life than meets the eye...even if what they discover in the world behind their eyes is a little unsettling.  
When my intuition was awakened, it shook me up a bit, too, but now I'm happy to say that back in the day, I was woo woo when woo woo  wasn't cool.  So here's a remake of Barbara Mandrell's I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool for all the ageless hippies and timeless Bohemians out there.
          Om Shanti Namaste.

"I was woo woo when woo woo wasn't cool"
Sung to the tune of YouTube's "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool"

I remember wearing flowing dresses and mala beads
Even when they weren't in style
I remember chanting in meditation class
Until my whole body seemed to smile

And I was listening to new age music
When all of my friends were digging rock and roll
And rhythm and blues
I was woo woo when woo woo wasn't cool

I remember going on weekend yoga retreats
Turning down the noise, listening to silence instead
I remember when no one was looking
I was balancing my chakras, standing on my head

I took a lot of kidding
'Cause I never did fit in
Now look at everybody trying to be what I was then
I was woo woo when woo woo wasn't cool

I was woo woo when woo woo wasn't cool
I was woo woo from my third eye to my roots
I still act and look the same
What you see ain't nothing new
I was woo woo  when woo woo wasn't cool

They called me a weirdo hippie 
For going my own way
I'm just glad I didn't take it to heart
Because it's a gift to "be here now" today
I was woo woo when woo woo  wasn't cool

Yeah, I was woo woo when woo woo wasn't cool


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Waffle house

When I was a kid, my family traveled to a barrier island in South Carolina for our annual summer vacation.  One of the things that made the often tedious, seventeen-hour road trip more palatable was a stop at Waffle House for breakfast.   There I could eat what would normally be considered dessert, especially a pecan waffle with lots of whipped cream and extra syrup.  After downing the high-carb plate of sticky sweetness, I usually went into a food coma for a few hours while my father drove on through Kentucky and Tennessee, the dashed lines on the highway blurring together as I stared out the window. 
         Now I can't drive past a Waffle House without remembering my favorite pit stop on the way to the beach, for it was on those vacations that I began to understand my propensity to desire the dichotomy of what a week's vacation would stir up inside of me.  On the one hand, I loved being near the ocean, body surfing, beach combing, and making castles in the sand.  On the other, I knew that school would soon be starting and I looked forward to seeing my friends, settling into a routine that would give my life structure...and the fact that I'd soon have a desk of my own that I didn't have to share with anyone.  During long, lazy walks along the shoreline, I'd count the days left of vacation, the days until I'd head back to the classroom.  Both were bittersweet, for I knew that I'd never be able to have both simultaneously. 
These days I'm looking forward to an August trip to Sedona, Arizona.  It's an excursion my friend and I have been looking forward to since our teaching days, but was made real in January of 2015 when Sandy booked her timeshare during the week I normally enjoy a "stay-cation" at home.
"We're going to celebrate your birthday by going somewhere really special," she smiled, handing me a gorgeous carry-on bag that will one day be filled with hiking poles, Tek Gear, and a bunch of Cliff Bars.  "It's taken nearly two decades, but we're finally going!"
It will be the first trip I've taken in six years -- the last being in 2010 when Sandy and I traveled to Yellowstone and Glacier Park -- and I can't wait.  Once I book the flights in a month or so, it will all become pretty real and like Sandy always says, "It's always good to have something to look forward to."  Isn't that the truth?

Still, there's a lot to be said for the incredibly wonderful, every-day life I've been leading this year.   Even though I have a fairly regular yoga schedule, workout routine, and always-evolving social life, no two days are the same -- probably because I'm never the same day-to-day either.  Yesterday, someone at the gym asked what I did this past weekend and I told her, "I honestly don't remember."   Seriously.  I had to stop and think, What did I do on Saturday?  On Sunday?  I suppose all the yoga and meditation and Rolfing I've practiced over the years are working their magic so I can stay in the present moment more fully. 
Now that I really think about it, that's more like a miracle. 
When I was younger, I used to spend the majority of my days rehashing ancient history or projecting into an uncertain, distant future.  But no more.  In 2010 when I thought I was dying of a heart attack, my whole world changed and I've fully embraced the fact that since I'm still here, there's more work to be done.  More novels to write.  More yoga classes to teach.  More people to love.  Even though I don't have much control over what's coming next, I trust that more will be revealed over time, when I need to know it...and not one moment earlier. 

I've learned I can't have it both ways.  I can't be on a fabulous vacation and be in my peaceful, comfortable home.  I can't dive into a new book when I'm still swimming in edits on the previous one.  I can't open my heart to anything new when I'm still stuck in memories of the past.  I can't waffle between what was and what might be any longer.  For as my friend, Tony, reminded me recently, "The masters teach us:  The mind should not be interfered with by the four sicknesses:  to be surprised, to be afraid, to doubt, and to be indecisive.  The four sicknesses of the mind...that's universal, man."
"No doubt," I laughed.  "Pun intended."
It's a relief really...this ability to be present with whatever is happening in the moment and to consciously choose to experience it, to take it all in, no matter how uncomfortable or incredible or challenging or boring.   Because each time I do, the kaleidoscope of life turns that much more, the colors shift, becoming more brilliant and vibrant, allowing me to be more aware of what's being revealed.  Sure, it's fun to remember all the great times I've spent with Sandy in the past, and even better to anticipate a wonderful week with her come early August.  But the sweetest thing is knowing that the more fully I can live in the here and now, the more fully I'll be able to enjoy every single moment in Sedona. 
I teach my yoga students that the left hand represents our past experiences, and the right hand, our future.  When we bring them together at the center of the chest, the universal gesture for prayer, they represent the present moment.  I'm certain that someday soon I'll be hiking on a vista in Arizona, my heart wide open, my spirit ready to take wing when I'll stop and gently press my hands together in appreciation for a trip that will be the culmination of twenty-three incredibly demanding years that have led me to the gateway of a place I've never been but have been preparing for most of my adult life.
And upon returning home to Ohio, I'm certain there will be no waffling at all when I take another step forward into the incredible unknown.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The squirrel and the $100.00 walnut

Many moons ago, I was actively preparing for a Christmas Open House to which I had invited my yoga students, friends, and neighbors.  Peppermint candles gleamed on the mantle.  Lights on the tree cast blue, green, red, and yellow shadows on the wall.  Bing Crosby crooned "Silent Night" on the stereo while I busily set food on the dining room table.  The guests were expected any moment and after a long day of preparation, everything was finally ready.
When I went into the kitchen to wash my hands, I noticed the sink wouldn't drain properly.  The disposal was working, but the right side kept filling up with mucky, hummus-soaked water.  Try as I might with a plunger, then a bottle of bleach, then a spoonful of Drano, nothing worked.  Finally I just gave up, realizing I'd have to call the plumber the following Monday.  It was Saturday night and I wasn't thrilled about the idea of having stinky, stagnant water in the kitchen for the rest of the weekend, but what else could I do but light another scented candle and throw a towel over the mess?
The Open House went off without a hitch, and hours later after everyone had gone home, I got on my hands and knees to wash the dishes in the bathtub.  Counting my blessings, I was grateful that the clogged sink wasn't in my one and only bathroom.  I was thankful that no one noticed the plethora of dishes that had stacked up on my teeny, tiny counters.  I had gently waived off offers to help me clean up because honestly, who wants to bend over a porcelain bathtub in nicer clothes? 
Still, I wasn't at all thankful about the prospect of having to spend more money during a season of high gas bills, Christmas gift-giving, and an uncertain yoga schedule looming around the corner.  In the end I reminded myself of the time years earlier when my finances were even tighter and the sewer line backed up right before the holidays.  Back then I had prayed for a miracle while the fellas from Rotor Rooter toiled in the basement and it was instantly answered when a $58.00 reimbursement check for a dental cleaning arrived in the mail.  Of course the sewer cleaning bill was exactly $58.00 as well, and from that I learned I would always have enough money to cover whatever I might need.
But this time around, what if I needed to replace the whole sink or pipe system?
I spent an anxious day wondering and worrying until I could call the plumber on Monday morning.  Mike's been my go-to-guy since I bought the house; he's been a godsend during times of leaky pipes, a broken disposal, and faucets that needed imminent replacing. 
"I'm not sure how you're going to fix this one," I said, explaining the situation.
Mike got right to work and sure enough, after an hour, couldn't figure out the problem.  "Everything looks good here," he said.  "The trap's empty, the pipes are fine."
"Now what?" I asked.
"I'll go downstairs and take apart the drain pipe," Mike replied, gathering his tools.
Twenty minutes later I heard him laughing.  "Kate, you're not going to believe this."
"What?" I asked, heading to the basement where Mike stood behind the washing machine with a small brown object in his hand.
"I found the problem," he smiled.  "This walnut was shoved into the drain pipe."
My eyes widened.  "How in the hell did that get in there?"
Mike went outside for a moment, took one look at the roof, then said to me, "I'll bet a squirrel got upon the roof and shoved it down the pipe."
"What for?" I asked, aghast.  "Aren't squirrels supposed to bury their nuts?"
"Ida know...maybe he thought he was putting it in safe keeping for winter."
I knew which squirrel Mike was talking about...the ornery one who had begged me all summer long for food.  The very one I had given the odd apple core, the handful of strawberries, the peanut butter-covered celery.  He was so brazen sometimes, I thought he might come into the house to plead for a morsel, so I often chased him out of the yard before my cat could escape and give him a run for his money.
I could just picture that squirrel up on the roof the previous Saturday night while I was getting ready for the party, rubbing his furry little paws together, chuckling to himself, "I've been saving this big ass walnut for a long time and now I'm gonna show Kate exactly what I can do with it!"
As Mike packed up his gear, he handed me that stupid walnut and a bill for $100.00.  "I'm sorry it's so much, but I had to charge you for the extra time."
"I totally understand," I said, pulling out my checkbook.  "The peace of mind in knowing it was a simple fix is worth it."
"That's the most expensive nut you'll ever own," he laughed.  "But it's also a once in a lifetime story you'll get some good mileage out of."
"Yep," I nodded.  "Every single Christmas when I see a bowl of walnuts on my mom's coffee table, I'll be reminded of this moment."

But it's not only during the holidays that I pull that tale out of my back pocket.  Just this week I was talking to a friend who is ready for some serious changes in her life.
"How did you feel when you quit teaching and didn't have a job?" Angie asked.
"I was terrified," I told her.  "Utterly and completely terrified.  But I kept focusing on what I wanted, which was something very different than what I had."
"Yeah, but how did you do it?" 
"Financially it was totally scary, but I always had what I needed." 
Then I told her the Rotor Rooter story. 
"That's amazing," Angie said.  "But hasn't it been hard to live like that all these years?"
"Sure...I've been scared out of my mind more times than I can count," I replied.  "The worst was when I was driving home from California and the engine nearly blew up outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.   I kept thinking I'd have to unload all of my stuff in some strange town and buy a used car just to get me back home.  But in the end, all it needed was a valve replacement and I was on my way.  Truth be told, not every story has a scary element."
Then I told her about the squirrel and the $100.00 walnut.
"Oh, I feel so much better after hearing that!" Angie said as she burst out laughing.  "I can totally picture that stupid squirrel up on the roof trying to figure out a way to get you."
"He got me alright," I said with a tinge of sarcasm.  "But I took that walnut and threw it into the Ottawa River, promising myself I'd always trust that no matter what nutty thing might happen in the future, I'll always be able to deal with it."
"How do you do that?"  I heard the uncertainly in Angie's voice.
"I just go through it," I replied.  "When I was starting my business, I took it day by day.  When I was driving home from California, terrified the car would explode even though it had been repaired, I took it mile by mile...minute by minute.  How did those Rotor Rooter guys clear out the sewer line?  They had to drill through it."
"Yep...that sounds right, but it's not easy."
"Neither is washing dishes in the bathtub," I snickered.  "But what can I say?  I do what I have to do."

Nowadays I don't have that kind of extreme, dramatic stuff going on in my life.  While I may have challenges now and again, they're nothing like the ones from my past.  Always...and in a variety of ways...abundance comes to me through people, through places, through surprises in the mail and telephone calls on a Tuesday afternoon when the only place I want to be is listening to a friend in need, sharing a silly story that makes her feel lighter and more able to move through whatever she's experiencing.
But just in case, I'll continue to make sure the squirrels in my neighborhood are well-fed this summer 'cause you never know what mischief and mayhem they might be plotting come next December. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Fly like an eagle

Spring is almost here and for the first time in a long time I'm sitting next to an open window in my office listening to the birds chirp, feeling a cool, gentle breeze on my skin, marveling at how much I love the return of sunshine to our little corner of the world.  It's not been a wicked winter weather-wise, but it has been a long, dark one, so I'm thankful for any opportunity to let nature into the house once more.  Every year by early March, I'm tired of being trapped inside, trapped in the car, trapped at the gym or the library or any place else that keeps me restricted to four walls and a furnace. 
Still, an open window invites more than just the sights and sounds of nature to permeate my senses.  My next-door neighbors walk by on occasion and if I'm not working on a project, we'll catch up while my little cat, Aditi, makes eyes at Rhett, the Basset Hound/Labrador mix who romps in the driveway.  It's a great opportunity to stay connected to others while I write in my quiet little space here in the Heartland.  Living and spending most of my work day alone narrows my focus to what's right in front of me, and while that's all well and good, I also need the broader perspective of the bigger picture.
Just now I met a friendly fella who will be subletting the duplex upstairs.  After my former neighbor introduced us, Steve asked about my yoga classes.  "I hear you're an instructor.  Just watching that stuff hurts me...I'm not flexible enough to do it."
I smiled.  "I always say if you can breathe and climb the stairs to my studio, you can practice yoga."
Steve nodded. 
"If you have a flexible body, you've got a flexible mind," I added.  "So the reverse is true, too...flexible mind, flexible body.  But it's all a process, right?"
"Yep...thanks for the wisdom," Steve smiled.
"Oh, I'm full of it," I laughed.
"That's what I hear," he shot back.
See?  Spring isn't even officially here yet, but already the fun's begun.

Over the weekend I revisited The History of the Eagles just for fun, too.  I first wrote about the documentary in the blog "Mysterious Ways".  Since then, we've lost Glenn Frey and it was surprising how sad I was when I heard of his passing.  It's more than the fact that I'll never get to see the original Eagles in concert.  More than missing yet another American icon who died too soon.  After watching the 1978 concert on DVD, I realized that ever since I was little, The Eagles have been on the radio, providing a broad, beautiful soundtrack for the endless, quiet moments of my life -- Take it to the Limit being a song that has inspired me in so many ways, I cannot begin to describe them all.
A friend recently wrote me saying she wished she could embody my courage.  Over the years I've heard how brave I must have been to quit my job.  Move to California.  Move back with no prospects on the horizon.  Stand up and speak when others would sit down and cower.  Walk away from toxic relationships even though that meant walking into the unknown.  When I was in the midst of any of those things, I didn't think it was courage that allowed me to change my life.  I simply felt pigeon-holed into a place too small, too narrow, too constricting, too negative. 
I was more afraid of what would happen to me if I stayed in it. 
Time and again whenever I was in the midst of upheaval, Take it to the Limit was on the radio.  Just a couple of weeks ago I drove home to find my house permeated by the scent of skunk and when I walked in the door, Randy Meisner's voice was on Pandora belting out:

So put me on a highway and show me a sign
Take it to the limit one more time

Yet again I was reminded to stand in my center, honor my path, say what I needed to say and move on, no matter what might happen next.  My limits have been stretched over the years and while I may not always like the opportunities for expansion,  I think of what a very wise woman said to me when I lived in Big Sur:  You be keep going.
And so I do.

These days it's not enough to stay hyper-focused on my own little world.  Sure it's important to do what I need to do in the moment, but I've come to more fully appreciate the grand scope of the forest outside of the little tree of my life.  I just got back from a long hike at Wildwood where I softened my eyes and looked as deeply into the forest as possible.  The horizon line was a host of tall, bare trunks and branches, not quite ready for springtime, but not fully frozen either.  That's been a metaphor for my life lately:  I'm ready for change, but it's not all that forthcoming just yet.  That's when I wish I could fly like an eagle, surveying the territory from a higher perspective. 
While meditating last night I could clearly imagine being high above the earth, looking down on the whole of my life...the past, the present, the fuzzy, unformed future.    In doing so I realized that experiences I've had since the New Year have not-so-gently revealed that my childhood and my young adulthood and the year I spent in California are all gone. 
It's about time.
I've come to a place where I'm tired of playing the same records over and over again.  Tired of the same old lessons coming into my life in new, yet very familiar packages.  I'm finally ready to let go of walking through the world via a revolving door that doesn't lead anywhere, just an endless circle of recognizable, yet very limiting circumstances.  I'm done taking it to the limit.
Now I want to be unlimited, and to do that, I'll need to shift my perspective.  Thank God for the Steve Miller Band.  Time does indeed keep slipping into the future.  As I move into the second half of my life, I'll be broadening my horizons to include more than what I can see in my home, in my neighborhood, in my little corner of the world.   
As winter melts into spring, I'll unfurl my wings and see how high I can let my spirit carry me as I fly like an eagle into the future.

"Fly Like an Eagle" by The Steve Miller Band