The Evil Queen & The Allure of the Grown-Ups

There’s something about Ira.  Although unarticulated, I felt it from the first time we met in the park for my interview.  She, being four, ran from her mom and I as we entered grown up talk about background, needs, and scheduling.  She gave me a grin as she left; it glittered like pebbles catching the light in a clear stream.  It was one of those perfect early Fall days where you are still wearing flip flops and smelling growth in the air.  When her mom and I finished talking, I did something uncharacteristic, something she probably just thought was good business practice for a nanny: I asked if I could go play with Ira for a while.  I forget the theme of the play exactly, but we made each other laugh, and I remember flopping around energetically in the sand because my foot was being eaten by a shark.

Months later, I am now convinced she is special.  Yes, she’s an only child and so she relates to adults more easily.  Yes, she puts up very few active fusses when I ask for something.  Yes, she thinks I’m hilarious.  But, it’s more than that.  I’m convinced she is closer to her roots, the Source, the beginning, than a lot of other children I’ve met.  I can’t be certain she’s an Indigo child, but she’s told me over several conversations about her ladies and their grand parties in the forest, she speaks a made up language that her parents assure me is not Hindi, and when she needs to solve, strengthen, or celebrate…she SINGS, and I mean sings made up songs at the top of her lungs that raise the goosebumps on my arms.  Soulful.  Connected.

But Ira is growing up, or is it growing away?  Maybe it is necessary but I don’t know if I could stand it if I was a mother.  Every entry into play used to be welcomed, but as she gets closer to five she has started telling me, “No silly, that’s just a toy, it can’t talk.”  When I returned from Portland her room had undergone major changes.  The bunk beds shrank to one story–no more ladder to jump from, no more glorious perch from which to belt her songs while all the toys listened.  And, most distressingly, there was a clock on the wall.  “Chelsea, it’s ten o’clock!” she proclaimed with glee.  And she was right, and I wouldn’t take that power or joy from her, but then Wednesday the Evil Queen showed up.

She announced gravely as I came in, holding up a doll and a plastic sheep figurine, that the Evil Queen had stolen her magic.  Her face was troubled.  I told her in no uncertain terms that we must get her magic back today, but all of my proposed solutions were shot down.  The stolen magic was in the Evil Queen’s stomach along with the keys to the closet where we kept our saliva suits so we couldn’t go in and get it.  Her henchman, the sheep, ran around manically biting all the dolls till we finally had to start flinging animals and figurines onto the bed.  We climbed into the bed with our snack Cheerios and huddled together.  I gave the Evil Queen a kick in the head as I left the floor.

“Nooooo, Chelsea you can’t kick her, she has your powers too.”

Now, usually I don’t argue with little kids during playtime.  Play is not about getting your way, but rather creating together.  But something in me gasped as she said that and I looked straight into Ira’s universe eyes: “No, she doesn’t.  I have my magic, my magic is stronger and better than it has ever been.”  I wanted her to know, the place she was being escorted out of was the place I was just starting to find again.  And instead of pushing the point, she tilted her head to the side for a second, and we just looked at each other.

Who knows what was happening in that young mind in that moment.  Maybe nothing consciously.  But as I looked at her face it seemed to ask, “What is the difference between kids and grownups?”  And if that was not the question, I feel she was searching something nonetheless.

We beat the Evil Queen that day after another very epic song creation.  When the magic was regained and the queen left, Ira said, “Imaginary world is safe.  She’s going back to the real world!”  I had known our play was myth that day, was teaching, but I hadn’t realized what domain we were defending.  She realizes what direction the threat comes from, and is working out the conflict the best she can.  I will continue to celebrate her accomplishments, sounding out words and getting her boots on with no help, but I will also tie these stories around her waist so that, like Ariadne, she might have a way to start her journey back if she gets too far from the center.

Do we have to leave before we can really appreciate the beauty of our home?  Is leaving ourselves a coming of age or a wound?  I know we don’t always have a choice in the matter, but I don’t know the answers to these questions.  Maybe we are finally given a chance to grieve our own leaving when we witness the layers of someone else’s goodbye.

There will come a time when the door to Ira’s Imaginary World closes, either partially or fully.  There will come a time when the Evil Queen is all there is.  Don’t forget the bed full of stuffed animals and Cheerios my friend.  Don’t forget our singing.

 

To Portland…and Beyond

I have never traveled much.  A junior high mission trip to Mexico.  An exchange trip to Germany in high school.  A trip to a boyfriend’s family reunion in Minnesota right after college.  I don’t like flying, winding drives can make me carsick, and I find it generally distasteful to be somewhere that I don’t know how to get help if I need it.  Travel puts me beyond the illusion of control.  In addition, for many of these trips I was a commodity of some sort, a showpiece.  I was not there for the land, for the people, for an experience sans agenda.  I was trying to please someone else, and as always, that is stressful.

Thus, it was a little confusing to know I needed to travel when I left the classroom in June.

And I mean I knew I needed to travel.  There was not a week when the thought was not trying to dig and scratch it’s way out of the pit I had thrown it in.  Nonetheless, it took me till the end of August to get myself to Niagara Falls.  It was astounding.  I can still feel the water, warmer than you would expect, pour over my head on the Hurricane Deck in the Cave of the Winds.  I can still hear the lusty howling that came out of my throat, and watch the white butterflies waft over every inch of the park.  Nevertheless, a lot of that trip was spent on talking myself through the remnants of old reactions to life, realizing in a lived sort of way, that there was now no one to please beyond myself.

Having accomplished that rewrite of my narrative, the feeling was qualitatively different when my boots touched the ground in Portland last week.  I wanted to be with the place as it was.  I was glad it was 36 degrees out.  I was glad for the rain, melting snow, ice, and bright green mosses warming gnarled trees.  As this feeling grew over the course of the week, I was able to see changes in myself that had been happening right under my nose, one’s I couldn’t quite track in my everyday landscape.

The first came in my resistance to shopping.  I woke up on day two of my trip, determined to head downtown, do my touristy duty, when I was met with a deep and persistent, “I don’t wanna!”  I didn’t investigate the feeling much that day, but rather set out to walk.  I covered over ten miles that day, sliding through the mud in Tabor Park, making lefts or rights based on red or green lights, asking shopkeepers or waitresses what their favorite parts of this area were, and getting lost in everyday, “boring” parts of Portland.  My feet were saying ‘fuck you,’ but my heart was saying, ‘YES!!!!”

The next day, I hadn’t quite learned my lesson.  I headed downtown, and after recovering from the book-gasm that is Powell’s Bookstore, I found myself totally disenchanted, wondering why I didn’t have a plan, when just yesterday I was reveling in my planlessness.  It finally hit me after leaving a shop where I didn’t buy anything.  Shopping is not how I treat myself well anymore.  What?!?  Come again?

Growing up, deprivation of “luxuries” was often necessary to make the rent and do things like eat.  Thus, as soon as I was able as an adult, I very rarely deprived myself of buying anything I thought I wanted.  The purchases may have been considered or impulse, on credit or in real money, but I made them…all.  But as I paused and felt myself in the middle of all this commerce, not only did I not want or need it, but I had an immediate desire to get myself to the nearest park so I could breathe.  I was enjoying myself without purchases to mark the occasion or even “celebrate” my birthday.  I was at home, I was satisfied, within myself.  And I was awake enough to watch the shift happening.

I took this peace into the Women’s March on Saturday, not at all bothered that it was on my birthday (believe me, five years ago the interruption to ‘my day’ would have made me apoplectic).  According to estimates, 100,ooo stood and marched in what was near constant rain.  My first few moments of the pre-rally were a little snarky, thinking about how many Californians would have melted into the ground already, but as I reached a spot where the crowd thickened, and we were literally shoulder to shoulder and back to front, an immense sense of rootedness washed over me.  The people here were rugged.  The landscape was rugged as well.  Individual trees throughout the city reached from the ground like the knuckled fingers of very old men.  Great swaths of trees stood, more imposing than any man made wall.  A few days before in the park, I had marveled at how much easier it was to walk in the mud when dead branches and leaves were present.  The dead weren’t with us in a floaty, always in our hearts way, but rather direct traction under our feet.

There were many moments of great soulfulness during the march, but watching the men that were there was particularly moving for me.  In one stretch of street, a young man was kneeling directly in the middle, forehead touching the wet, rocky pavement, hands outstretched.  It’s a pose that I’ve seen some homeless people take as they throw themselves on the mercy of a cruel world and ask for money, but I sensed there was more story here.  He had no clever sign, no special outfit, just an officer standing near, I hoped to guard him from harm.  I had no more than sixty seconds to see him and wonder, before he was gone from sight.  I won’t ever know his story.  An older man, probably in his 40’s, appeared not much after that, standing on a street corner with a sign that simply read, “Thank you Women.”  The force and simplicity of the love that I felt in that moment still brings tears to my eyes.  Finally, a man perhaps in his 70’s, long white beard, marching near me and talking to a friend said, “You know, I think this is even better than the marches I went to back in the day when we were trying to get the E.R.A passed.”  His face beamed.  Presumably, this man had spent a lifetime being an ally.

The toxic enactment of masculinity has scared me for a long time, and fairly or not, I have spread it over many men I’ve known.  It is a fear I am just coming to reckon with recently.  I see now, at least in part, what it’s stolen from my relationships with men, both friends and partners, and how it has dampened my adventure heart.  Returning home and to dance on Monday, I was sitting in the midst of immense love when this question posed itself: were you safe there?  In the embrace of this masculine land, these male allies, this external adventure, were you safe?  I was.  I really was, I answered myself.  Not only that, but I was met more solidly than I am used to.  There were no grand tears or grieving in this realization, just one more layer of profound healing.  Men aren’t the problem, and the more I look around, the more men I see who are active, available, and compassionate.  They see us–not as obstacle, burden, or competition, but as the rest of the soul in this life that we’re all living.

My internal landscape is shifting each time I travel.  My heart is asking for what it needs in each new trip.  And though unaccustomed to giving up so much control, I am listening, and I am learning to follow.

 

My Arranged Marriage Board

Texting with a friend this week, we got into the subject of relationships.  It was mostly the usual, but then I surprised myself by telling her I think I could get behind an arranged marriage if I had the right interview committee.  I named the people I thought would be good for it, and we left the subject at that.

But then I continued to think about it, and it continued to amuse me the more people I added to my list.  Thus, I present to you the panel of folks who will pick me a mister for my missus.

I’d start out with Julie and Kristy, two of the most intuitive, empathic, grounded women I know.  They’d listen in on the proceedings, potentially dropping in a question here and there, trading cosmic intelligence with each other via eye contact, and they’d just know.  They might not be able to tell me how they know however, which would annoy the crap out of my logical brain, so I’d have to bring in some other participants.  (For the record, they’d probably be right in the end anyways)

I think next I’d bring in my friends Andrew and Molly–two of the funniest, silliest, most joyful people I’ve ever met.  If he couldn’t make them laugh or smile, I’d have serious doubts.  If I, watching behind the two-way glass, thought for even a moment he was tolerating their playfulness, he’d definitely be out.  I’ve had my eccentricities tolerated before–not going back there, no thank you.

If he got thumbs up from Julie, Kristy, Molly, and Andrew–then I’d wonder what Claire and Peggy thought of him.  In different ways, they have seen me in everyday action.  Peggy, bone weary on the floor of the classroom with hours more work to go, and Claire in at least 300 hours of dancing in the last two years, as well as countless car rides and housesitting engagements.  They know who I am when I am not trying to prove or justify or imagine who I am.  If I ever go back to teaching, or find another all consuming work, Peggy will know if this is the type of man that can handle sharing.  And Claire not only knows all sorts of secrets, I’m sure, from watching me dance, but has similar OCD tendencies to me and will be able to determine whether his cologne is too strong or he is liable to leave the cap off the dish soap.

Next, let’s not forget that I want to have years and years of yummy, delicious, connected, smokin’-hot sex.  Who better to read the candidate in that department than Keith, my friend and lover on and off for many years.  The great part is that I know he would relish finding me a husband–he has said that he might be the best sex of my life, but I am a lot to handle for one man (tall girls, the weather really is better up here).  What would he look for?  I can imagine him studying the eye contact this man made with each woman in the room.  How did he sit?  What did he do with his hands?  Did his voice have enough bass in it to set firecrackers to my skin when he whispered in my ear?  Keith would definitely know.  He might be unfairly harsh on those who suffer with pencil thin lips, but other than that, I’d expect fairness.

Anyone who made it this far is probably pretty close to miraculous, but I’d still want to hear from my Mom–she’d know if he loved me anywhere near as much as she did.  I’d want to hear from GypsyJack and Dee–I’ve never seen two people so committed to both honoring themselves and supporting their partner at the same time.  It’s hard work that they make look easy…I think they’d have a sense of whether or not we could do it.  I’d want Greg and Michelle to tell me their thoughts.  Though I haven’t been in regular contact with them for years, they knew me in all my awkward, teenage glory.  That girl who struggles between hyper excited and ultra contracted is still very much with me in moments.  They’d know if he’d be good to her.  I’d trust my cousin, pseudo cousin, and Oma, Allison, Sonja, and Mina, to know if he loved or feared fierce and powerful women.  I’d ask Josh and John if he had enough substance to be leaned on.  Could I fall apart on him and trust him to hold the ground for a while?

There may be others that escape me at this late hour, but that would be my dream team.  Of course, this human doesn’t probably exist, but I’d be pretty happy with a two-thirds majority decision.

 

Let’s Get Naked!

I love the rain.  Except, of course, when I am walking umbrella-less in a downpour to retrieve my umbrella from the last place I left it.  Welcome to my morning.  As I prayed for my water-resistant coat to hold, and crisscrossed the streets to the sides with more trees, I started thinking about lost things.

The proverbial lone sock in the dryer.  Umbrellas.  Coats–I had a sixth grader come to me after school one day, one who didn’t yet understand hyperbole, almost in tears because they had lost their jacket.  “My mom says she is going to burn the house to the ground if I lose one more jacket!!!” All manner of rings and earrings.  Contact lenses.  Gloves.  We even lose our hair.  Humanity has spent millions of hours wondering where we put something.

But this morning a different thought caught my attention: why do we lose so many coverings?  Things that are meant to go around other things seem particularly susceptible to disappearance, and although I can sense my conspiracy prone Dad doing a jig somewhere as I write this, I start to wonder if it is not by accident.

Could the powers that be, be attempting to get us/keep us/beckon us to be naked?

I’ve heard plenty of people talk about vulnerability, been in many vulnerable moments, and read a fair chunk of writing that tries to crack the code to vulnerability.  It is a state we both long for and are afraid of.  We’re jealous of those who can “do it”, seemingly without shame or fear of judgement.  But, at least for me, it seems like there is often not much support for vulnerability.  There’s a sense of, you can put it out there, but be ready to be mocked, condescended to, looked down on, and a whole other host of things that will require you to defend yourself.  Living with bones, heart, and skin open, is not easy.

But what if nakedness was not something we had to create permission for?  What if it was an invitation to follow a natural pattern?  What if hiding was throwing our puny energy against the order of things?  Not only do humans lose our coverings, but trees lose their leaves, birds lose their feathers, snow melts, rock wears away gradually.  It seems like everything but people are comfortable with real visibility.

So maybe along with my other intentions for 2017: reconsider my purpose, investigate what makes me happy, and create space where voices are heard, I can add one more intention:

Get naked more often.

Everyone’s naked looks different.  I know I routinely shock people with the intimacy of what I say one-on-one or online, but put me in a group of people and suddenly I’m deeply, confusingly naked.  I can take all my clothes off with a significant other, but if I have to tell them I feel like I’m being boiled alive when the leave the cap off the toothpaste, I am tremblingly exposed.  I can write deep into raw and sensitive subjects, but should a piece ask me to abandon the rhythm for other considerations, I am once again a novice.

No one can tell me if I am naked or not, just like I can’t tell them.  But if the world is working so hard to strip us down anyways, shouldn’t we just start there?