How I Learned to Surf

Wait?  What?  Weren’t you just talking about running in your last blog post?  Why are you now surfing, in December?

Simply put, these days the waves are not made of water.

Many of us have been here, though I don’t hear enough of us talking about it.  You leave one era in life, for me teaching, with a less than concrete plan or goal.  If you’d wanted to, you could have forced a plan into being; one that was likely to be problematic because you’re not yet approaching life differently.  But for once, you decide that casting off answers a deeper need, follows a wisdom that does not fit into the category of ‘things I can explain’.  Thus, you step into the unknown, rife with all the complexities I’ve been writing about here for the last two years.  Sometimes your choice feels validated.  Other times you feel crushing waves of ‘what the fuck am I doing?’

My waves have differed in strength, duration, and size for the last two years.  I’ve had everything from momentary pauses to week long knock outs where I fear for my sanity.  They can be triggered by rational things–you go to a family gathering and someone asks you what your plans are with a face that earnestly expects an answer.  They can also be triggered by what feels like nothing.

The latest wave, started night before last while navigating home from work.  I only had one freeway to travel to get there, but suddenly GPS wanted me to exit.  It didn’t make sense, so I ignored it.  It asked me to exit again at the next off ramp.  Then I started thinking, “Wait, in my tiredness, did I get on the wrong freeway?”  I started scanning the freeway for clues, but decided I better get off just in case.  Fifteen minutes of weird turns later, when the GPS wanted me to take the same freeway in the opposite direction, I looked to see if my destination address was correct.  Somehow, another stop had been added to my route, one I don’t remember adding.  I was enraged.  “I COULD HAVE BEEN HOME ALREADY GOD DAMN IT!”  I spent the rest of the trip home thinking about how dumb I was.  How hard is it Chelsea to put the right address/es in the GPS?  Why can’t you do anything right, especially the things that are easy for most people?  You shouldn’t even have needed GPS for this trip.

I woke up drained the next morning.  My week was overly long, but this was the kind of funk that comes after beating up on myself.  I barely brought myself to weekly rehearsal for my improv troupe.  While I usually bask in the energy and quickness of people much younger than me, this practice just made me tired.  They are all doing things with their lives–visible, observable, explainable things–not this interior landscape bullshit I’m involved in traversing.  They are dating and buying houses and starting companies and working towards well defined outcomes.  How can I be taking this meandering time to clarify purpose and direction, when the whole rest of the world is hard at work?  I walked away feeling foolish and frivolous.

And now I’m here again, water breaking over me.  I know I’ve moved my life in the direction it needs to go for now, but it feels deeply lonely.

What do you do with being neither here nor there? How do you handle suddenly being a beginner more than an expert, trusting processes without many outward measurements?  How do you move with the weight of self-accusation: foolish! frivolous! unrealistic! selfish! What rubric do you use to remake your definitions of EVERYTHING so that comparison to others enters the picture less, or preferably, not at all?  What does it take to keep following the quiet persistence of your heart that says, ‘you’ll be ready when you get there, but not yet’? How do you trust the unknown?  How do you give up trying to control it all?  How do you give up secretly trying to control it all after you’ve already said you’ve given up trying to control it all?

The answer is, I don’t know.  When these solid towers of uncertainty rise from the deep to meet me, their inhabitants rarely get in a polite line while I deal with one thing at a time.  They show up mosh pit style–every question, doubt, fear, and awareness of my shortcomings–frothing, foaming, and fighting the beautifully colored fish for acknowledgement.

Nonetheless, here’s what I’ve tried in these rough waters.  None of it is earth shattering insight, but maybe some of it will resonate for you?  Maybe some of it will inspire you to make your own list, reflect on the ways in which your legs have grown strong, meeting the surfboard in rough transitional times?

1. Tell someone.  Preferably someone who won’t need to fix it, or be upended by someone in the grip of strong emotions.  Last night, it was my friend Kristy.  My basic message was that I feel like I’m failing at this, whatever this is.  Everybody else’s path looks different than mine and I am so confused.  She empathized and told me she loved me.  It “fixes” nothing, but my chattering head felt so much lighter after doing it.  I’ve been graced with many others who have held that same space for me in the last two years.

2.  Create something that has a form.  I colored a little this afternoon, deeply pleased by the contrast between navy blue and orange.  I’m also sitting here writing to you, my faithful seven followers 🙂  It even felt really fucking good to just take out the trash yesterday afternoon.  It was something definite I could do, and then have it be done.  You may be in uncharted waters, but there is no such thing as total chaos (believe me, if there was, my family would’ve signed up for a lifetime subscription already).

3.  Move your body.  This morning, I took every doubt, fear, and feeling of isolation, out to the trail for a run.  Tomorrow I will dance.  Maybe you’re like I used to be and you’ve never developed a partnership with or awareness of your body.  Maybe you’ve only seen exercise as a way to keep the belly flat and not smack your kid/boss/husband when they say something stupid.  But this body we live in, this ancient architecture, is astoundingly intelligent.  Most of the time, I know the answers.  Sometimes, I know them before the question is asked.  Moving will often light them up and shake them loose, whether or not I decide to listen.  It is the best way I’ve found to turn down the volume on repetitive recriminations and general all around freak outs.

4.  Give in.  Not forever, but for a little while, just let yourself really wallow in the feeling that you’ve fucked it all up, missed the meaning of life, failed at everything you’ve ever tried.  I haven’t yet needed it with this current wave, but it has worked wonders over the past few years.  Grab whatever you need to make it happen: sad songs, snack foods, excessive blankets, bubbles, the sky is the limit.  If you really think you may not come out once you start down that road, set a timer.  Bottom line: you’re doing something different, something you’ve never done before–you’re “allowed” to lose your shit from time to time.

5.  Talk to yourself.  Not in the absentminded, “Where did I leave my keys,” sort of way, but intentionally, like you would a friend that needed the best of your best pep talks.  I like to have three conversations: one with my heart, one with my mind, and one with my body.  Often, their needs and concerns are overlapping, but I want to make sure that no one gets left out.  Here’s part of our conversations in the last few days:

~Hello my sweet, sweet heart.  I know you understand where I am right now, even if you’re not yet sharing that with my mind.  I feel your patience, so I don’t worry about you too much, but I also know you are tired.  You’re tired from lending me fuel to advance my borders, from helping me show up authentically in community, and from directing the constant stream of new information and integration.  Please, please, please, keep nourishing yourself.  Remember how many ways there are to do that, not just the ones you secretly hope for.  Because your belief in us, in the beauty and goodness of the world, is like one of our best things.  If we lose that, if we sway and topple to cynical or uninventive, if we go back to hiding out, we’re going to be in big trouble when we get where we’re going.  You are our life raft when we’re drowning.  Thank you.

~Dear multi-story mind.  I know you want answers and you’re scared that I can’t give you any yet.  Certainty and clarity were how you used to make sense of a confusing world so we fit in a little better.  For a long time, I made you carry this work, all the work really.  You were the only place I felt safe.  It must be a big adjustment for you to not have to do it all in the last few years.  You have to share space with the heart and the body, and getting new roommates can be tough, especially ones with opinions and advice.  I still need you–but I don’t need your efforts at controlling life anymore.  This includes, but is not limited to, all your obsessive tendencies.  In fact, when you throw up these gobs of questions like you’re doing now, you take away from one of your best abilities, that of constructing and honing a singular, beautiful question.  And let’s be real with each other, some of these defensive moves of yours, well they’re not even logical.  The whole, “Just go back to teaching because then you had a plan,” speech?  Nope.  I have more of a plan now than I did then, as weird as that sounds.  At 22, I fell into teaching, happened to be good at it, and loved many parts of it for many years.  If there was a plan at all, it was watch the years go by, do things with students so I wasn’t bored, and stay there till I retire or die.  I love you brain, but I am watching you.  Be as scared as you need to, but don’t think I won’t call you out on your bullshit.

~Strong, sensual, beloved body.  You’re doing a lot of rearranging of late, aren’t you?  Starting to run has brought some of the same things to the forefront as did dance three years ago.  I don’t know why you hold this mixed relationship to power–both wanting to embrace it and being afraid of it, but the heart and mind are here to give you all the support they can, as you have always, always supported them.  What do I need from you during this time, you ask?  A strong right knee, stamina, help with processing the rest of the Paradox weekend, and a willingness to keep unclenching, at multiple points and every time, these new waves of doubt threaten to wipe me out.  Keep reminding me that life is here, right now, and is already significantly better than it used to be.  Also, please help me to remember to have fun.  You know I love to delight, but I can also be such a big ol’ serious face.  As I embrace you more, I know the travelling I’ve been doing is likely to increase–that’s a good time to sneak the funsies in, besides dancing or playing with kids, both of which put me much more in touch with you.

So again, I may not have any new advice for the less than textbook transition, but I have broken a lot of boards in some killer swells while learning to ride.  Don’t let the waves keep you out of the ocean my explorer friends.  I need you in there with me, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

 

 

 

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Run, Chelsea, run!!!

I have been running for the past two weeks.  And for those of you who know me, the zombie apocalypse did not come to Mountain View and I am not being chased.

I have mocked running more than once in my life, not really impressed by the grunty seriousness of runners who woosh by me on my meandering walks.  Why are they going so fast?  I don’t trust it!! Not only that, but the clothes are significantly more boring than those I dance in, and the tininess of running shorts is just confusing–does no one make Bermuda length running shorts?  Do I really want someone to see that much of my ass as it jiggles past them?  Mostly, it just looks hard, and I have enough hard things on my plate at present.

So, no zombie apocalypse, no Bermuda length running shorts–then what’s going on?  It started a few weeks ago at a dance workshop entitled Both Sides Now: The Power of Paradox.  I was sitting at breakfast before class on Saturday morning, headphones in, fork in one hand, colored pencils in the other, working on my mandala coloring book.  All of a sudden I thought, I want you to start running.  My response?  “Let’s meditate on this thought and listen to what the Universe has to say.”  HAHAHAHAHA….NOT!!!!  My response, given here verbatim because I wrote it in my journal later: “I want you to shut your whore mouth.”  We left it at that, and I didn’t feel even a little bad ignoring this totally random idea.

During the last part of class on Saturday, we did an exercise called Voice Dialogues.  In it, through a process of partner interview, you are able to hear from different parts of your personality.  There’s no voodoo or schizophrenia involved, just acceptance of the fact that you play many roles for yourself every day, and they might have some wisdom to share on the evolution of your life.  As my partner interviewed the protector side of me, I heard myself say something stunning: “I didn’t originally show up for Chelsea, I showed up to take care of the other people in her life, and we just kind of adopted each other.”  I am still very much boggled by this revelation.

That night journaling, I popped back in with: You should run.  My response was a little less harsh, but it still fell along the lines of, “You should shut up.”

This continued through Sunday and Monday’s return to regular life.  It was by no means a constant chatter, but the moment my attention was on an unrelated topic, there it was again.  I need you to run.  My reply continued to be ‘no’, but it waned in enthusiasm each time.  I know when there’s a definite yes present and building, and this was it.

By the time I got to dance Monday night, my resistance was low enough to investigate.  “Okay you, maybe this is my protector looking to shift the terms of our relationship, maybe this is a mid-life crisis, but let me hear it.  Why the ever loving fuck do you think I am someone who needs to start running?  I may not be in great shape, but I am not house bound by any means.  I don’t get it.”  It was almost the end of the night, when I thought I was going to walk away with no answer, just a nagging sense of need:

You’re not as far into the unknown right now as you think.  

But, you’re about to go a whole lot further out and deeper in before you see land again.  I need you to run because I need to make sure you don’t get lost in what’s coming up.  You can calcify around chaos the same way you calcified around habit.  You have tools now to prevent this, but I need to bring even more on board.  Some of the things that have joined your life in the last few months are part of this.  I’m not concerned about making your body a different shape or fitting you into boxes you just recently left.  I just need you to have another way to grab movement again when you’re in deep.

I thought leaving teaching had been the outer reaches of my departure from the norm, but according to me, it isn’t.  Oy.  Who knows what ‘further and deeper’ will mean–big, visible changes, small but radical shifts?  Either way, my protector was showing up for me this time, this much was clear.  As the last few dances of the night slowed, my dance swelled and quickened.  It was a dance full of gratitude and of fear.  I walked away that night, happy to be clearer, but still not convinced that this was a good idea.

Thus, I was back to the equivalent of being poked on Facebook all of Tuesday and part of Wednesday.  I picked up the phone that afternoon to make my weekly Dad call.  Since he was diagnosed with lung cancer, I have been making a good faith effort to repair and build relationship with him, primarily through hearing the stories of his Forest Gump-like life.  Today was the day to hear about his time in jump school, training for the Paratroopers at age sixteen.  Though I expected to hear about boyish pranks and the adrenalin of jumping out of a plane, there was something else I did not expect, something that rippled through my chest like a gong:

We had to run all day.  We ran from the barracks to the practice area, practice area to mess, mess to practice area, and back to the barracks again.  And when you were in the training area?  Forget it.  There was absolutely no standing, sitting, or lying down.  You were running, either single or double time.  And it’s not like today when the guys get to wear sneakers.  We did it all in combat boots.  Easily fifteen to twenty miles a day.  It was incredibly hard. I had had rheumatic fever as a kid, and so I always thought of myself as somewhat of a weakling.  I was tall, skinny, awkward.  I didn’t think I could do it.  I was sent back to company twice, and I had to go what they call free back, which is basically starting over.  You do 8 hours of physical training a day for two weeks, and then you can go back to jump school if you haven’t quit by that time.  I don’t think they thought I could do it, but I did.  Always running.

I could feel his feet sweating and chafing inside heavy boots.  I could feel them hit the ground, both desperate and final.  I could feel the searing desire to remake a definition that was inherited, not chosen.  I looked at the cat after ending our call.  “I guess I’m going running,” I sighed.

What follows are excerpts from my week one journal (week two involves almost the same amount of pain, but a lot more confidence).  When spiritual journeys have physical outlets, we are healthier for it, and hopefully others get to giggle and relate and know they’re not alone.

Day 1:  Stupid tiny shorts!!!  I resent the money I spent on them at Target, and the semi-camel toe situation that had to be discreetly managed.  Set out after nightfall where no one could see me suffer/pick at wedgies.  Why oh why do I/did I have such anxiety about this?  My heart was jumping out of my chest before I even started running.  Was kicking my legs out in back of me while standing at the light on Moffett.  “What are you doing?”  I don’t know, runner stuff?  “Do you have any idea what that’s for?  No?  Then just stop, please stop.”  Don’t know if it is safe to leave my phone in the sweat pool that is my sports bra, but I need music.  Even through the music I sounded like a pregnant, constipated giraffe.  And WTF Pandora?!?!  What kind of crap songs are on your pre-selected workout playlist?  No, I don’t wanna “back that thing up,” thank you very much Busta Rhymes–in fact, currently trying quite hard to move that thing forward.  I was surprised at how good I felt….for the first three minutes…

Day 2:  Ow, ow, ow, I hurt, ow, ow.  I thought I was in better shape.  I feel like two days running is equivalent to two weeks of my ankles by my ears during sex.  Ran in the rain today, that’s how committed I am to not be caught experimenting with this bad idea.  I do like the fact that runner clothes seem to have slits in the sleeves where you can stick your thumbs, at least I think that’s what they are for.  I don’t understand the purpose of this, but I do quite like sticking my thumbs through my sleeves…will consider tailoring all clothes to this end.  Ran to my randomly chosen stopping point again.  Have decided to run the same route every time until I am faster.  The 30 seconds I allow myself at the drinking fountain is saving my life.  The wildness of running in the rain is not all bad…

Day 3:  Running in the daylight, no rain.  Good news, I am maintaining the same pace every day.  This means that if I have ruptured an internal organ, it hasn’t started to bleed into my abdominal cavity yet…internal bleeding does make you slower, right?  Catherine had her baby last night and early into this morning, and so I witnessed my first birth.  When I got home I couldn’t sleep, and the only thing that seemed right was to run–goddamnit I hate it sometimes when I am right!!  The bad news though is that even when I feel like I’m doing okay, people are flying around me on the trail like I am 100 years old.  Seriously, there were people running in pairs today and TALKING WHILE THEY RAN!!  I know I shouldn’t say this after seeing the miracle of birth, but fuck those people–I really doubt our species needs them.  Also, how is it possible I sweat so much in twenty five minutes?  Catherine did not sweat this much in five hours of labor.  I don’t know who I think I’m gonna win a prize from….

Day 4:  Break day.  Sat in hot water and saunas for two and a half hours at Lawrence Health Spa.  I’m personally not much of a fan of break day, but reading about shin splints yesterday, Men’s Health Magazine online hinted at the fact that I may need one.  They wanted me to take every other day off, but screw them, that’s no way to create a habit…

Day 5:  I felt good today–until of course I realized, I left my house key in the apartment, not in my shoe–burgling my own place was way easier when I could lift my legs unimpeded. Being a weekend, there were multiple people out, and some looked as pained as me!!  I even got a nod of hello from a dude bro runner.  I can’t be sure he was a dude bro, but he was wearing a bandana, and he looked like you might find him playing beach volleyball.  Since I have always been a non-entity to dude bros, this was fascinating.  Apparently I am at least a little successful in infiltrating this world.  Kudos to Men’s Health Magazine online–even though they want me to be a lazy habit builder, their advice on shortening my stride and concentrating on coming down mid-foot, did seem to help my shin pains.  I find it interesting that I spent most of my life on my toes, just in the last five years started finding my heels, and now here comes the mid-foot, ready to engage.  I will go get some insoles later today to see what that does.  Probably still need new shoes…

Day 6:  I was involved in a modern day parting of the Red Sea today.  A runner couple ran around me, him on one side, her on the other, strides then perfectly synchronizing again, strong backs pulling away in tandem like some kind of mythical cheetahs.  Does this make me all the Pharaoh’s men that then drowned in the receding sea?  I don’t know, but it was so artfully choreographed that I couldn’t even be mad at them.  I picture them not even talking about it as they strode up behind me, just the giving and receiving of head nods that all long term couples can do, and then, it was happening.  I wonder if I will ever be that magic again…

Day 7:  One minute faster today!!!!  And maybe even two since I over shot my usual stopping place by a dozen strides or so.  Good music really does make a mental difference, so I may have to create a playlist.  Is anyone else running to “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana?  Seems unlikely.  Today I noticed a moment that has repeated more than once this week.  I picture myself stopping on the trail and just screaming my lungs out, absolutely rageful for no apparent reason.  Historically, I haven’t been able to get very close to my anger about anything.  It freaks me out a little to think that running may get me closer to this historical frozen spot.  But, I am reading a book right now where one of the main characters says, “Where there is fear, there is power.”  Hmmm.  Maybe I will do some more night running so I have some latitude for anger practice.  I wonder if screaming causes more or less sweat to pool, because really, it’s gross already…

Day 11: (couldn’t resist this one ladies)  Running with PMS.  What. The. Actual. Fuck!?!?!?!?!?!?!  Why is that so hard?  I felt like my new bouncy shoe insoles had melted, and my knees were on strike, refusing to do more than shuffle my feet forward, and only then by extreme measure of will.  “I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing, I’m alive…” sang Sia.  Oh really?  Am I?  Fuck you Sia, I can’t feel my neck.  How much can a uterine lining weigh?  I will tell you…27 million pounds!!!!  And now I have to fucking run again tomorrow, because I can’t go to my next break day on that note…

I am an almost 40 book nerd.  I am an impassioned dancer.  I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.  I am following something natural and silent as it grows.  My legs currently hate me.  I grabbed the horizon this morning and felt free.

Challenge accepted, me.  Your turn.

 

Upon Waking

Back from my second road trip in a month; staggered and still, dirty and delighted from my time in Lassen National Forrest in California.

Before leaving, I had a chance to sneak a last minute job in with a new family.  When I arrived, they woke the 20 month old up from his late nap.  Although I understood the necessity of this, those of you with children know how the story goes from here because–NEVER WAKE THE BABY!  He looked at me with the sleep glazed eyes that I know so well from my own pre-caffeine face.  Within ten minutes, his parents were out the door and he melted down hard.  He went face down on the floor, probably because he was still sleepy, and cried so hard that there wasn’t much breath for anything but yelping sounds.  The snot pooled on the side of his face as I rubbed his little back.

I understood.  Maybe I am grown up, but I still feel utterly defeated sometimes when my expectations are not met, and at least once a week I want to stretch out on my living room floor and cry as wholeheartedly as he was.  He had been snatched from sleep, a place that is very far away, and then abandoned by the people that are usually there.  It was confusing and that wasn’t fair.  I made sure to breathe deeply to help him find a way back to calm when he was ready, but told him to go ahead and cry for as long as he wanted.

The next night, three hundred miles away in 30 degree weather, wrapped in a sleeping bag in a tent by the creek, my anxiety kicked in to high gear.  I script it now as dialogue, but these were all actual “problems” that my mind tried to sell me on.

“My chest is heavy, do you think I have altitude sickness?  Four thousand feet is pretty high up.”

“No, I don’t think you have altitude sickness.  Don’t you think that there would be some sort of clearly visible warning posted somewhere if it posed any danger at all to hang out at this altitude?”

“Okay, but it is pretty cold out here, do you think we’re going to freeze to death?”

“Very unlikely.  We can put more clothes on if it gets colder, but right now we’re quite toasty in this sleeping bag.”

“Or we could go home.  If we leave now we could be back by two or three am.  No one would have to know that we chickened out.  And technically it’s not chickening out, I mean, what if the creek rises and washes your tent in while you are sleeping in it?  Then going home is just good foresight.  You don’t know how well you staked this thing down.”

“We are not going home because our chest feels heavy and it is cold outside.  And you realize that the creek would have to rise like six feet in eight hours in order to even touch where we’re at.  There is no rain in the forecast this week.”

“Fine, but what about wild animals or crazy rapists?”

“I get that this is a struggle for you my heart, but no one in their right mind, human or animal, is out to get us in this weather.  But if it makes you feel better, I will go get the scissors from the utensils bag, and you can have something close by to stab at any animals or crazy rapists that may wander by in the night.  Would that make you feel better?”

“Yeah, thanks buddy.”

“You’re welcome, I love you, let’s try this sleep thing again.”

As my cat has been reminding me since my homecoming this afternoon, all this adventuring is a very new norm for me.  My internal parents used to be very boring, stay at home kind of people, but as I wake in these last few years from a very late nap, I find that they have changed and are continuing to change.  Sometimes they seem like strangers and I don’t know if I can trust them to hold me while we’re moving, the same way I trusted them when we were still.  I want to protest.  It’s too hard!!  It’s too confusing!!  So many curveballs to deal with, growth and changes I never expected at this stage in my life.

In this light, my increased anxiety chatter makes sense.  But, just like I talked to the little boy the night before, I could talk to myself.  I could rub my own back, sit with myself till I felt safe again, all the while holding firmly to the fact that I could not bring the old, boring parents back.  I’m who I’m “stuck” with now, and the fact is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yesterday, I went hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park (moderate hike my ass, Hiking Guide).  Anxiety chattered again on the way there–was that sound a bear? what if you get lost?  what if someone has stolen your car when you get back?–with countless things that would likely never happen.  I set a timer for how long the map said it should take and attempted to breathe gently with myself while the ground was still relatively flat.

When I got to King’s Creek Falls, the chatter went silent.

“Wow.  We found it.  This is so good.”

“I know.  Let’s get closer.”

I shambled down the face of the mountain, on what was definitely off the marked trail, until I found a ledge to nestle into, the strength of my back meeting the strength of the rock.  I pictured the generations that must have sat somewhere within my line of sight and watched the water fall.  I even caught glints of sunlight hitting spider webs as they swung across the valley.  I wondered if, as I sat here immersed and serene, spiders were saying ‘fuck it’ and taking the zipline ride of their lives.  I didn’t wonder what could go wrong in this moment, not even a little bit.

I continued to make my way down till I was at the base of the falls and could dip my head under a smaller stream before it plashed into the creek.  It was much colder than the head dip I took in the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls last year, but the thought was similar.  “Mother, bless me.  Come with me.  Help me move from fixed to fluid.”

However, the response this time was different.  “You don’t need a blessing.  You are a part of this.  All this strength, all this wisdom, all that I’ve seen in millions of years–you are part of it.  If you need the blessing, it is in you.”

I am a part of this.  The phrase stuck with me as I reluctantly made my way back up and out to the trail.  That would mean that my nervous, underslept two year old is a part of this too, as well as any future versions of myself in the making.  As I panted and my hip flexors helped me claim the trail summit once again, I could finally stop and really take in a view that was blue and green for miles around me.

I am a part of this.  We are part of this.

How surprising to wake and think you’ve been abandoned, only to discover you’ve been held closer than you can imagine, for longer than you’ve existed.

 

The Road that Holds Us

Dear Beauty,

I write this to you today, not knowing if you are the correct recipient, not knowing if writing to an abstract concept makes any difference in the world, but knowing that I am soft and heart full of unsayable things that must be said this morning.

I have stood slack-jawed and dizzy at your presence for as long as I can remember; the smell of a new book, the sound of running water, a two hundred person choir, a real hug, a singular body flowing over the dance floor.  I have tried, and then tried and tried again, to help people see it and feel it the way I do, with the force of ice cracking at the first Spring thaw.  You are breathtaking, from your smallest speck to your most towering moment.

Mostly, I feel like I fail at sharing this potency in a way that even comes close.  And so, sometimes I sit with my back to you for a while, never willing to leave altogether.  My relationship to you then gets sloppy and fragmented.  I know some people who can hold the constant influx of senses and emotions with more grace than I, and not be washed away by it, not lose their toehold on this planet like a rogue red balloon.  I am not there yet.  I get so very tired staying open to the heartbreak and elation of your gifts.  I feel so very foolish at times in this grand romance, especially when the world around us is flailing in shadows.  And it hurts when I am thought of as a child, quirky and amusing as I look at your world with deep delight.

But I remembered something very important this week while on a road trip through Oregon and California.  I say ‘remembered’ because it woke up from my body, instead of being told to my brain by others who have experienced it.  Like all great truths, it was simple:  I am not alone.  Our relationship is created by the Earth and supported by the people who see us.  With myself, the Earth, and others present, I felt the invitation to step deeper into our love affair, and not pine and sigh on the shallow end.

Driving down Highway 22 in Oregon, there were miles and miles where there were absolutely no other cars on the road.  Just my travelling partner and I.  We had only known each other for a handful of hours before setting out together, but in the last day and a half I had watched his nimble mind play with ideas, invite randomness, and not shy away from the intensity of passion.  When we were offered free apple cider the morning before at the Portland Saturday Farmer’s Market, and it was not a sales gimmick, the force of our collective giddiness almost went supernova in the chilly morning air.  It was easy to see that I was in the presence of a similar spirit who had his own sparkling relationship with you.

The landscape was equally in tune with us; the trees looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to red, yellow, and green crayons, and the air was sharp, cold, and sweet.  Every so often, brilliant patches of snow punctuated moist, red earth, and the waning afternoon light tilted and painted every surface an impossibility.  Even the inside of the car, with our clothes still drying from the hot springs, smelled like animals burrowed in together, ripe and secret.

Once our course of driving was agreed upon, my companion slipped into his daily meditation practice.  Our shoulders almost touched in the car, but he was clearly and sweetly with himself.  A moment or two later, I started to cry out of nowhere.  Softly at first, but stronger as I leaned into the deep safety I felt with my fellow traveller.  Wave after wave of emotion came up from what seemed to be the ground I was driving over.  They were low and sleek, but tremendously swift and full of awe and gratitude.  Once again, I looked you clear in the face, and was humbled as you started showing me new possibilities for our relationship.

I finally had to pull over, running my fingers over my chest to feel for what must be the undulation of my skin.  My new friend, to his powerful credit, stayed with himself until his meditation was through, and then laid a simple hand on my shoulder while he listened to me try to put words to the moment.  The steadiness and generosity of that hand brought my feet firmly back to the pedals and the road.

I continued to cry, on and off, for the four days together.  Even now, a few days later, I feel a thaw that stands out in sharp contrast to the chill of early Fall.  In the presence of love, in the presence of Earth, I took in more of you this week than I have in a while.  The marquee man, telling us his story, so full of joy.  The barefooted electric violin player all in white.  Jody, sharing her story and her backyard with us.  Strangers bonding over arcade games.  A man, who for all his love of logic and fundamentals, gave me fairy glitter mines just to delight my heart.  The laughter that bubbled from my belly like it was trying to water the sky.  The intimacy of storytelling, both lived and co-created.  The surprising elegance of walnut colored feet sticking out from under the covers.  The rush of the river.  The crunch of gravel and scratch of the pen before my tentmate was awake.  John Denver on the radio while we drove straight into a blanket of green trees.  Badly tuned, deeply felt, sing-a-longs.  Eating the world’s most delicious chicken with our fingers in the parking lot of a Safeway.  The cycles of quiet and convergence that lead from strangers to friends.

Maybe I don’t need to tell you all this, dear Beauty.  You were there.  In fact, you are always there when I encounter things I don’t understand, but need as much as I need air and water to stay alive.  You always pull me back in with a wink and a smile before I get too serious about leaving.  I continue to change, but the invitation to fall in love with everything, does not.

I want you to know I was listening.

Your Girl Unendingly,

Chelsea

 

Building Castles

I have spent a lot of time living in, building, and furnishing castles.

As a gung ho Jesus cheerleader, they were only accessible through miles and miles of winding roads, roads that felt like deja vu instead of progress.  The stones were made of the compressed spines of the faithful, but there were beautiful beds to sleep in while you were there.  The ceilings over these beds took my breath away night after night–all gold and purple and correct.  Few people talked about the locked rooms, and so I didn’t really worry about them myself until I got restless one night and started to wander the halls.  This didn’t last long before someone came to chase me back to my room and tuck me in with a platitude on the cheek.  It is only now, years later, that I hear secondhand what may have been in them.

As a school teacher, the roads to the castle were deceptively straight and the stones were transparent.  I was thrilled.  I knocked out every wall I could find in order to make room for everyone.  I banished the beds…and then seated them in cold, metal chairs that cut into the skin.  Only the sensitive ever named the cutting feeling, the rest just bled to death slowly with their eyes once again fastened on the ceiling.  I tried installing trap doors with paper covers, eight-and-a-half by eleven windows, anything to bring the attention horizontal, but they were too focused on the dragons crisscrossing the sky.  I have to admit, those dragons were hard to ignore.

As a daughter the castle I built was quiet, with a deep dungeon for even more unspeakable things.  As a friend, I bought a fleet of motorized golf carts to see to all my guests as quickly as possible, and I had fireworks going 24/7–not because I particularly cared for fireworks, but I’d heard they drew a crowd.  With every new castle the buildings grew harder to find and inhabit.

And then one day, like all good plot twists, I lost my building permit.  It was just gone.  Without it, none of the contractors would show up to work and none of the real estate agents would sell me land.  I checked my other pants pocket, and then I checked my other other pants pocket, and then I sat on the ground for a while to have a think.  It was a confusing time for a lifetime builder.

Thankfully, I have never been alone.  Furniture designers, carpenters, bricklayers, and all types of people who knew about structures that breathed, started to wander down the road to where I was sitting.  I have mostly listened, sometimes argued, and then started again, slowly, to build small things–a dance, a supply of colored pencils, a crew, a way to listen to my father, a smile, an ability to slow down.  I have heart rocking gratitude for these lessons, these teachers.

Tonight’s teacher was six, and surprise, I once again found myself building a castle.  This castle had sharks in the moat, but they were nice sharks, and all had saddles so people could ride them in to come visit us.  There was a dungeon “for people who annoy us,” but they were only allowed to be held for a week tops, the amount of time it takes for people to stop being annoying.  And, they were held on the other side of the diamond waterfall so that they could have something nice to look at while they were calming the fuck down (my words, not his).  This castle had a litter of newly hatched baby dragons, but no one worried when one of their enormous teeth fell out and pierced holes in the ceiling.  It made it easier to see when it started raining interesting things like lima bean sandwiches.  This castle had a café that served only ice cream and bacon (to which I stopped myself from saying “FUCK YES!!” out loud to).  However, when the chef came in (his Mom) and served us pasta, he explained that it was important to occasionally have veggies as well to ward off the highly contagious dragon flu from our staff, friends, and villagers.  This castle was full of friends for multiple parties, but we didn’t worry whether they liked it at our place or not.  In fact, we left during one party to go down the road to a movie theater run by vampires.  The people were all there when we got back.

This castle had room.

It had room enough for everything.

Nothing was turned away, nothing.

I am not as talented as he is, yet.

But I reject the notion that this talent grows only with children.

I clean off my old tools, I buy and accept new ones, and I start scouting the horizon for spaces.

Spaces for everything.

 

 

Sunday Love Letter

Driving to Fremont this afternoon, the hills were beautiful; all tumble down gold like pennies from a giant’s pocket.  I felt the overpowering gratitude of mundane moments that has swooped me up over and over again in the last few years.

Lately however, I’ve been wanting to find a more indelible way to mark one of the most stunning eras in my life thus far.  I’ve thought about getting another tattoo, but the first hurt badly enough to make that highly unlikely.  I’ve even considered getting professional photos, but as my logical side pointed out, no matter how lovely those might be, I can’t see paying money to look at pictures of myself.  So, for now, that leaves me with words.

What is it that I want to remember so badly?

I want to remember that at 35, I finally agreed with my Dad and entered “the best years of my life,” giving by far the fewest fucks about anyone’s judgement that I had ever given.  I want to remember that some of my biggest illusions shattered, and it didn’t kill me.  I want to remember that I stopped letting fear keep me consistently small, and started asking for its wisdom on what else was about to grow.  I want to remember that at 37, I left a career of 13 years, something stable that I was good at, because the price of maintaining my comfort and my ego were too high.  I want to remember learning to speak my own languages, all of them.  I want to remember that I started spending time outside–in forests, in parks, in labyrinths, in cities I’d never been to before.  I want to remember that I stopped seeing friendships as legal contracts, and started seeing them as a constellation of stars, beautiful whether close or far from me.  I want to remember that I faux-hawked my hair, and that I finally understood the power of my own femininity because I chose it, not just submitted to whatever definition was in front of me.  I want to remember that my body, mind, and spirit started all showing up in the same place, more often than not.  I want to remember all the roads I walked to the middle of; still terrified by the mess but also intrigued by it.  I want to remember that I started saying ‘no’ and ‘I’ll think about it.’  I want to remember falling in love with poetry again–writing, speaking, reading.  I want to remember sleeping and waking at times that make sense for me.  I want to remember finally listening to the trees that had been trying so hard to get my attention.  I want to remember leading 8th graders in meditation, and how their faces looked when we had to leave that place.  I want to remember my cat snoring on the pillow next to me while I write.

While getting my toes painted today the lady breaks in from several minutes of silence and says, “I remember you from before, with long, long hair.  You don’t look so happy then as you do now.”  And words aren’t enough for this, the fact that this is true, but I use them to continue to graft this gratitude into my skin, to continue to bring the world something that does not destroy me in the process.

“Mirror, mirror on the Internet…”

Like many of us, I keep online dating, even though it is clearly the seventh circle of hell.

I used to justify it by saying, “But my job keeps me from meeting people, so it’s really all I have at my disposal.  It’s better than nothing”  (Don’t get me started on how many stupid ideas keep running on the strength of that line).

However, since that’s not true anymore in the last year and change, and I do meet some intriguing men out and about, I’ve had to find another purpose for this system, or officially ditch it and thus risk falling asleep at late night jobs when I am not awake enough for anything else.  Plus, I have more than one single friend whose self esteem is in jeopardy if one more person gives up on the Internet.  My solution is brilliant–online dating as a mirror to self, almost a meditation of sorts.  Let me explain.

I have gotten to the point that I can tell what’s going on with me, based on how I react to men’s dating profiles.  Now, I’m decently self aware to begin with, but I find this to be a fabulous tap-tap-tap on the shoulder when I need it.  Examples, give us examples!  Okay, since you asked with such enthusiasm.

Some nights I will find myself staring at the dogs and cats in guys pictures.  I will notice which ones look trapped, and counsel them on how to run away and get to the nearest no-kill shelter.  Some nights, when I’m really feeling my duty, I’ll ask every dog or cat in every picture, “Are you sure about him?  I think you can do better.”  That’s when I stop and wonder, what part of me feels unguarded or unprotected lately?  Do I need to stand up and be my own advocate, and not the theoretical advocate to pictures of animals?  The answer is probably yes.

Other nights, I find myself staging whole conversations between the assorted buddies and family members in some of these fine gentleman’s photos.  I wonder how he made these friends, what his family is like, and before you know it, I’m shutting the computer down to call my Mom or check up on a friend I haven’t heard from in a while.  The brilliance of storytelling is that it is often easier to process your own web using stand ins.  The bummer of storytelling is when you never get to the self processing piece.

I’ve also been known to take on a defense attorney like conversation with some of the items in these men’s profiles.  “Alright, Jake of Menlo Park.  You say you are into hiking, so when was the last time you hiked?  Oh, you’re the strong silent type?  That won’t help you now Jake, you’re in my courtroom.  What is the closest hiking trail to your house?  What is the difference between a sneaker and a hiking boot?  ANSWER ME JACOB!!!!!”  This is usually when I look up to the cat/dog/goldfish I’ve just scared the shit out of–yes, I do have some of these conversations out loud–and wonder who I feel is lying to me right now.  What part of my life is currently out of integrity and trying to snap back into line?

Even tonight, as I plodded through profiles, I couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous everyone’s hair was.  Many of them also seemed one dimensional or douche-y, but other than that it was like Vidal Sassoon and Fabio had gotten together and built a master race of good haired robots.  I wanted to play with all the hair so badly!! Like life sized Ken dolls, boinging curls, bristling flattops, braiding long shiny manes like I used to with My Little Ponies in the bathtub.  “Why are you so pretty, goddamnit!!” was uttered more than once, I won’t lie (what would be the point at this juncture, I’ve already thrown all my weirdo cards at the Internet).  So, tomorrow, I will pick up my paints, or pick up some produce from the Mexican market that sells iguanas (even though I have never seen one), and give my fingers a chance to create and play.

In closing, if my next love, great or small, is somehow reading this, I know it sounds jaded as fuck.  It’s not really that as much as my frustration at how technology flattens and hides your story from me.  Get your ass in gear and let’s start this adventure!  My Romantic Smush Monster (RSM for short) has been sequestered too long 😉 Until then, the RSM and I will keep trying to tell me what I need, if I’ll listen.  Instead of beating myself up for not disconnecting from the technology deluge more often, what if I use it to listen differently?