Mandalas, Taiko, and the BFG

“This is the third year in a row you know.”

“For what?” I said to my Pay Attention voice.  I was coloring a mandala after putting the last kiddo of the day to bed, washing the last dish, double checking the last door lock: I wasn’t exactly opposed to revelations, but I was tired.  I followed the thought anyways as I continued to pull colored pencils…

2015–While reading Women Who Run With the Wolves I resonate with the wisdom of The Scar Clan chapter, and before I know it, I am designing altars to parts of my life where I am leaving something behind–history that wants to be present, habits, foundational beliefs, others errors I’d claimed as my own. You name it, I found symbolic representation for it.  Then one by one, as I understood it to be time, I left them in different places.  One under a seat on Caltrain, one in a park near my home, one outside my dance hall one chilly Monday night while the sweat dried on my neck.

2016–I spend two months walking the labyrinth at the German/Chinese school.  I walk at night with the cleaning crew giving me a wide berth, I walk during the weekends when a church rents out the space–kids occasionally watch me as they play tether ball in the courtyard nearby.  I walk in the rain, I walk in the cold, I walk bored, and I walk interested.  All I really know is–I need to walk.

2017–My movement teacher gives the entire Monday night set up crew books of mandalas for 2016 Christmas.  Another friend gives me the loveliest box of colored pencils, bursting with shades of every color.  I consider that maybe I’m looking stressed out to people, but that brain squiggle disappears the moment I start my first mandala.  Around the same time, I decide to take up Taiko drumming with my whitey white self.  Why Taiko?  I saw a flyer one day walking down Castro Street and thought, “Yes, that.”  The rest is history.  I learn to get my tall self low to the drum, I learn to swing high and fast and hard, I learn how much Epsom salts I needed in my bathtub each Sunday night.

I was shocked and grateful as I wrapped the blanket tighter in the drafty house.  I know what I need.  I’ve always known, even when I’m not listening or don’t have the tools to implement actions.  I even know the best sequence in which to provide these things to myself!  My rational brain looked over the list and took stock of what I think I gained from each.  The altars helped me review where I’d been, but more importantly, they helped me start to shift my relationship to change.  In the past it had been something that was done to me, but I began to see that I could participate in it through both welcome and release.  If I was willing to pay attention, I could make transitions.  My days and nights in the labyrinth helped me to really start listening to myself again.  Even when I felt like it was a wickedly stupid idea on the way there, and my time would be way better spent on Netflix, on the way back there would often be a clear action I wanted and needed to take.  It deepened the process of slowing down and paying attention, this time to the present instead of the past.  Finally, playing in color and sound at the beginning of this year is shifting how I take up space and how I take in what’s happening around me.  Both music and color dissolve the boundaries and expectations I put upon things.  As two of our universal languages, they broaden what I can see through my limited cultural lens.  And as I inhabit this moment in my life, I very much want to see bigger.

In all of these very different, very meditative activities, I feel a new capacity arising: the capacity to welcome surprise.  And not just the good surprise, like flowers or an unexpected compliment, but the surprise of ‘the yearly rent hike is in and I have 18$ in the bank.’  A question I have recently asked myself is, “When life bumps you like that, or harder, could there possibly be love in the bumps/slams/dings/squashes/crushes?”  Though I have not had anything violent enough happen recently to test that question, my feeling is that the answer, underneath all the heartache, is yes.  There is love in the bumps.

Simply put, the universe seems to be investing a lot these last few years in helping me become more flexible, more fluid in the way I respond to my life.  I think where I get in trouble is when I spin my gears over the question, “Why?”  Is there a momentous thing coming that will require all these lessons?!?!  Maybe.  But I think it’s just as possible that they are simply for the “purpose” of helping me be me in the truest way possible in any moment.  Whichever line of thinking is “correct”, I know longer fear I’m going to miss whatever is coming.

Yesterday I watched the Disney remake of Roald Dahl’s BFG on Netflix.  It opens with our heroine wandering through a darkened orphanage with this voice over: “It was the witching hour, when the boogie man comes out.  The girls say the witching hour arrives at midnight.  I think it comes at three in the morning, when I’m the only one left awake, like now.”  She goes to the window when she hears a noise, and accidentally catches a glimpse of the giant.  Before you know it, a big hand comes through the window and plucks her away, and the adventure begins.  My reaction?  I knew I hadn’t been feeling like reading lately because I’d been thinking of the wrong books–esoteric, serious, grown-up titles.  They are all things I truly want to read, at some point, but my brain is asking for different fuel now.  I had the briefest moment of poo-pooing my desire to read children’s books, but then I simply said to myself, “We don’t argue about this stuff anymore.” I knew I’d be in the library before the week was over, checking out all the Roald Dahl books I could, both read and unread, to commence another meditative leg, to answer another curious call.  I will provide myself with what I need, even if I don’t quite know yet why I need it.

I’ll let you know how the reading goes!

Is It Still True?

5:20 “I want to take a bath when I get home.”

6:15 “I need to feed the cat before I take a bath.”

7:45 “I just want to go to bed when I get home.”

8:30 “I want to watch Frankie & Grace and eat mango mochi when I get home.”

Just now “Maybe I should put laundry in while I write this post and eat my mango mochi.”

I have stumbled on something powerful and scary recently.  For those of you who have spent large portions of your life well resourced, independent, conscious, and engaged…well, you may find it ho hum.  It is a simple question, and like all simple questions, has the power to rock one’s face off if invited.  It always starts the same:

Is it still true…

Is it still true I want to plop in front of Netflix when I get home?  Is it still true that I am feeling ready for bed?  Is it still true that I want to go home at all?  These may seem like mundane examples, but they are how I plan to continue building muscle around this somewhat new skill of actively creating my life.  I don’t know about you all, but I get into a rut pretty fast.  Nowhere near as fast as I used to, but still fast enough that I am serious about exercising my rut-busting tools when they are presented to me.

Because too many little moments of auto-pilot lead to large stretches of life on auto-pilot, core beliefs and strategies created without much consent, push back, or wisdom of intuition.  I realized just last Monday at dance that I was still interacting quite often as if I believed I had to be responsible for other people’s feelings, to rescue them even if they hadn’t asked for rescue.  I was still living as if I believed I was not a separate person.  But I heard my heart quite clearly as it attempted to catch me up:  “That belief is different now, you can interact differently if you choose.”  If we couldn’t ask about shifting truth, I would have missed this adjustment and the ways I saw it filter through my day-to-day life this week.

So, there’s little doubt in my mind that it is a powerful question to ask about something, but why scary?  Well, for one, it requires a lot more work, more attention paid, as does everything while it is being built into habit.  It is also an ongoing acknowledgement that most of what we consider as ‘truth’ is subjective.  I HATE THAT WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING!!!  My left brain wants, and will likely continue to want, to nail things down, make binding agreements, and then watch everyone and everything play by the rules.  That is part of why Christianity and public education were both so appealing to me at one point.  While all this huffing and puffing is happening on the left, my right brain, gently with her newly granted powers, says, “You know control is not real.”  But more than that, she’s taught me the delicious delight of being surprised when I am willing to attend to the moment.

I’m sure I will continue to do things just because I put them on a to-do list or in some other fashion flipped the auto-pilot switch.  That inattention to gentle shifts may or may not have serious consequences, but I feel like I can avoid it more and more as I wield my new question over the everyday.

And to answer your burning question, I think I will feed the cat, then watch Frankie & Grace in the bathtub.

Crawling Home

What happens when an ancient need is met, especially one you didn’t know you had?

I opened to a rare chance to peek at the answer this weekend.  The premise was simple: a four day conscious dance workshop that explored the physical principles of vibrant and lasting relationship building.  I know I just lost some of you with a loudly blown raspberry and a scoff of, “Too weird!!”  But for those of you still here…

I never learned most of these things, and I imagine most of us would say the same.  By a certain age, usually five or six for friendships and early thirties for romantic partners, you are just supposed to know how to be together.  But we started with the building blocks; how do you stay with yourself and not get lost in partnership? And we ended today with the vital; how do you stay resilient during bumps in the road and even reframe how you interpret them?  It is poetry–metaphorical, intuitive, direct, and though my mind still reels, my body and heart recognized it, welcomed it more and more deeply with each unfolding layer.

Though I am taking away many tools and much sweet relief, one exercise in particular will stick with me.  Dance partners were to pick a spot on the floor and dub it “home.”  Then, after spending some time in dance together, one partner was supposed to leave and enjoy their dance elsewhere on the floor while the other “stayed home” and held knowledge of the connection they had shared thus far.  When they came back they could leave again, or the other partner could leave and search for their destiny.  We did this exercise twice.  My first partner and I enjoyed our dances, but there was no real revelation there.  Before we started with our new partners, the facilitator made it clear: “The only fixed rule here is that one partner must stay home.  Otherwise, use your creativity.”

I knew instantly what I wanted.  I saw my friend Claire, one of the teaching staff for the weekend, sitting up near the stage on the floor.  I wanted to go lay down and put my head in her lap.  “Okay?” was the noncommittal response of my logic.

As we started to dance, I realized how delicious my partner was.  He and I had such effortless connection, such gentle flow, that I did not actually want to leave.  He wasn’t leaving either.  I considered just staying there, squeezing all the goodness out of him while I “had” him, but then I realized that partnering pattern was familiar also.  So, I finally started to dance away.

“Maybe I’ll just go dance near Claire.”

“No, you know what you want to do.”

“But everyone else is moving, I can’t just kick back while there is work being done.”

“But that’s what we’re going to do.”

“But what if we’re disturbing her.  This is her work time, she’s probably supposed to be watching the floor.”

“Chelsea, I love you.  Will you trust me?  Will you be on my team for this one?”

I couldn’t fight with that, although my love of propriety was still protesting.  I went and laid down on the floor next to Claire, halfway across the room from my partner, and without a word, plopped my head in her lap.

Then the most amazing thing happened.  She started to stroke my hair, like my mother did when we were kids.  Now, let me make clear, although Claire is a deeply nurturing person, we’re not really ‘stroke the hair’ kind of friends.  We say fuck a lot, mean girl out when one of us is having a bad day, she brings me germ fighting supplies when I’m sick, and I tell her stories about funny or inspirational children I work with.  This was not our norm, there was no plan for this, but it was peace beyond what words can say.  I relaxed into this attention as easily as I had with my partner.

After a few moments, or maybe it was an eternity, I remembered my beautiful partner.  I wanted to go home.  I should stop here and say that again: I WANTED TO GO HOME.  I did not go out of habit or supposed to, but because I was genuinely curious about what could happen there.  This was different than how I usually approached partnerships, romantic or otherwise.  I then went to get up but realized that I did not want to walk back, twirl back, stomp back, or skip back.  I wanted to crawl.  Maybe without the peace of the lap, another departure from logic would not have been possible, but I understood the “correctness” of this desire in this moment.

I started to crawl.  My chest tightened with emotion, my body all of a sudden heavier, my breath caught in my throat.  It was as if a large gong had rung right by my ear and the lines of many different realities wobbled together in that moment as one.  I knew my mother, Debra, was with me–never able to rest and so never able to fully grasp her own incredible strength.  I crawled a little further.  I knew my grandmothers were with me–my maternal, Hermine, deprived of her own mother’s lap since she died in childbirth, my paternal, Maxine, hiding under the table from a drunk husband with a shotgun, protecting six boys, their shield.  I crawled a little further.  I even felt Verna, my paternal great grandmother, helping to raise her six grandkids while the men went off to war, later protecting a daughter who was in over her head.  I knew they needed me in that moment to accept a new collective direction, to untwirl the shame and the vigilance choking our DNA.  I knew, most of all, that I was with me, completely and at a cellular level, with no need to serve the designs of another.  I crawled further still.

I was gutted with the surprise of how long I had wanted to do this for–to crawl home, bloody, messy, inappropriate, lost–and be met and received, no questions asked.  I was heartbroken by how little I had done it in the past, even when there had been openings.  In fact, I wondered, had I ever done it without reservation or regard for outcome?  I am quite good at reining in the mess, even a big mess, at the slightest sign that someone is inconvenienced.  I felt the Earth under me, covered by our warm, wood planked dance floor.  I had been here before too.  Little visible emotion was needed as my inner worlds and my motherline collided.  I knew I was held.  I kept going.

At this point I realized my partner, still dancing, was watching me.  And I will love this relative stranger forever for this, but here are the things he did not do: 1) Come and get me.  He let me have my entire journey, and he let it be about me, not him.  2) Show any sign of distress–looking alarmed, asking if I was okay, abandoning his dance.  Though my journey was breaking my worlds open, he treated it as normal in the course of an evolving human life.  3) (Most importantly) When I finally reached him, he let me stay there on my knees for a few moments, only finally reaching down to help gather me up.  I was let in the door, seen, and partnered with the exquisite grace I had always truly longed for.

It was healing.

So, what do you do when an ancient need is met?  You write, dance, and love with all the honey heavy gratitude that swells in you.  You play in the space that is left behind, exploring its contents, its corners, its permission and brilliance and rewritten narratives in the eyes of another.  You let other, more known, needs be met in quick succession.  Things that hinged on this cornerstone don’t have to wait any longer.

They form the first bits of the building tumbling up from this new foundation.

 

“Are you sure about that?”

I find it fascinating how little I know about myself.  Those who know me might be similarly bemused by this statement, knowing the reflective soul I am.  But I find myself wondering tonight if it’s the same for everyone.  After all, it only really occurred to me two or three years ago that I was not the other people around me, so maybe I am alone on this fascination island.  Or, is our larger cultural intolerance for mystery based on the fact that we’re all dumbfounded just keeping up with the changes of me, myself, and I?

I know many of my more enlightened friends would say there is no self, and while I increasingly see separateness for the fake-out that it is, I am not at that point yet.  I still believe in a separate self–currently manifesting physically as a Kleenex graveyard on my living room floor and highly pressurized right ear drum.  I am here–warts, wishes, and all.  And it is in these times of heightened joy or stress that I find myself tilting my head at the mirror and saying, “Huh?”

I, like many, am a big baby when sick.  Fortunately for me (insert sarcasm here), my switch from medium sized to little kids has put me in contact with a whole host of germs I have no immunity for yet–fucked up, steroid popping, rob-your-house-run-over-your-cat type germs.  And, not that I expect them to, but they have no hygiene knowledge yet (okay, I lied, I expect them to a little bit).  Last week, a fourteen month old sneezed in my eye after his not-even-guilty mother lured me over without mentioning his sickness, and then promptly snuck out the back door.  Now, I don’t know if you have ever had someone sneeze in your eye, to where you can actually feel the spittle land in your eyeball, but it really makes you question your life choices.  This ushered in my fourth cold in four months.

And I’m surprised, not by my whininess, but how inflexible and young so much of my thinking still is.  “I’m going to be sick forever!!!” I exclaimed to myself with true conviction at somewhere around 3am this morning, and even in my groggy state, I knew I meant it.  Something that had been happening for a little less than a week, was clearly going to happen FOREVER.  The darkness of my thoughts, relative to my actual condition, also catch me off guard–‘you are stupid to be sick again, you are failing at being an adult, people are tired of putting up with you.’  Again, not cancer, not loss of a limb, but all my shadows seem to have full reign during these last four colds.  Is the boundary between me and them really so thin?  They don’t feel this close in my non-couchbound life.

I’ve also been startled by my joys lately.  I set out to enjoy every day in March this year in order to make up for all those March’s as a teacher where I was stressed out and exhausted.  It’s been tantalizing and sweet so far, besides the whole getting sick part, but it occurs to me I don’t even know what brings me pleasure as well as I thought.  Walking home after a day full of delicious meandering last week, the thing that brought me the most pleasure was noticing a tree branch that was dripping water on a bone dry day.  It was literally oozing with the recent collection of rain.  I stood and took picture after picture of the water collecting and falling from the green branch tip.  I even managed to catch one drop in mid-air.  After sleeping in, making breakfast, catching good tunes on Pandora, a walk, a pastry and coffee, coloring, people watching, and park going–that branch topped all of them.  I can safely say it equaled my joy in the whole rest of the day.

And so maybe limited self-knowledge is necessary, both for continued knowledge and for yummy surprises.  It must definitely be a component of deeper compassion, both for myself and others.  If we knew how little we knew….I wonder what else would be possible?  As a three year old asked me recently when I said that we could grow the ingredients for stew, but not actually stew, in her mom’s garden: “Are you sure about that?”

Things Snakes Taught Me About Letting Go

I’ve been trying to write this post for three weeks.  I thought I was getting stuck with not knowing the objective of the writing, but it turns out I am just annoyed with the subject.  However, as I sat in the park tonight eating a sandwich, serenading everything as evening dawned, the trees told me that I should just get on with it already.  I’ve learned to stop fighting the trees.

The subject is leaving, letting go, or any other words you’d like to put to the experience, better or worse, of separating.  I’ve never been good with leaving, whether for my own health or that of another.  I know this is a struggle that many share, and since the last three years have been filled with almost constant opportunities for me to let go, there’s been a lot of struggle.  For all the awkward freedom and delicious uncertainty it keeps bringing, I am SUPER READY to be done with this topic.

Unfortunately, I’ve only swam to about the middle of Leaving Lake, and it is not quite done with me yet.

I felt moved to build this Winter’s altar around the subject.  It displays a weird and precious assortment of things I’ve recently let go, things I am in the process of letting go, and even things that are leaving me with very little conscious work.  It’s messy, it somehow doesn’t seem complete or logical, and yet I’m mesmerized by it.  Back in my Jesus days, there was a whole family of sermons around the story of Jesus telling disciples they had to “count the cost” of following him.  Years later, I find myself doing the same thing, but with me: studying what I’m giving up in order to really follow myself.  Some of the things bring me sadness to leave behind, and some of them I am beyond ready to do away with.

It occurred to me early into this altar building process that I spend way more attention on inhaling than exhaling.  Every time a mindfulness practitioner tries to get me to take a breath, my attention rarely follows the information offered by the exhale.  So, like any fixating nerd, I started to pay attention, and I mean REALLY pay attention.  Turns out, exhaling is fucking awesome!  It actually lasts for longer than the inhale if you count the cascade of untensing muscles that is still happening when the last breath leaves your lungs.  I could feel it go down the back of my neck vertebrae and out all of the roundy parts of me: knuckles, elbows, hips, knees, heels.  I could even feel the bottom of my rib cage on both sides.  If you’ve never registered awareness of your rib cage before, or lingered with the feeling of it, it is something I highly suggest.  I started to wonder why the word exhale itself had so many straight lined letters, there was suddenly not enough curviness, not enough oomph, to the physical appearance of the word.

I began sitting in front of this altar many nights, studying it while I paid attention to my exhales.  I rang my singing bowl.  And wonderfully, going back to my feeling of being annoyed by this topic, I didn’t think too much.

Some weeks later, I was sitting in a car trying to unspool the complexity of all this to a friend.  She looks at me after a typically verbose explanation and says, “So you’re shedding.”  Ding, ding, ding!  Yes, that.  And before you know it, I had moved on to reading and nerd fixating about shedding in various animals, but mostly snakes.  My brain felt beautifully blown up by the simplicity of all I found.  Maybe the reason some learning takes so long is because we are trying to reinvent the fucking wheel when the mirror of Creation is right in front of us.

Things Snakes Taught Me About Letting Go:

  • The shed skin can be up to twice the length of the actual snake because of how densely the skin cells are wrapped.  Oh.  Okay, so, it’s not just me that this is taking so long for?  It’s supposed to take this long.  Awesome, I’m right on time.
  • Lack of moisture can lead to incomplete shedding.  I hear a whole room of junior high kids laughing as I ask this next question, but here goes anyways: what makes you moist?  What hydrates my soul, your soul, the soul of our society if we still have one, in order that it can outgrow the things that hold it back?  Reading this simple snake fact brings me deep quiet.  Moving water has always enthralled me, pulled me back from the brink after too long days.  The reverence I felt at Niagara Falls this summer…my soul was doing what it needed to do without me having the exact playbook or why of it all.
  • Incomplete shedding around the eyes can lead to blindness if not corrected.  And as one website went on to say, in nature a blind snake is a dead snake.  Yes, I want to feel like I have shed old limitations, roles, habits, etc., but from blindness back to more integrated degrees of health, takes time.  A few years back I told a therapist, “I feel like I have ten years worth of ignored transitions to deal with.”  At a certain point we know the effect of incomplete shedding, and have to dive in and start to work where we can.  The websites all agreed that an owner might have to assist a snake with incomplete shedding by soaking it in a tub or misting it while it sheds.  And although I have not bought a spray bottle (yet?) to spray myself with, the visual amuses me.
  • Besides growth, shedding is necessary to help rid the snake of parasites that have clamped on to its skin.  Do I need to say more about this one?  Well I’m not going to–let the part of your brain where metaphor tromps around have a field day with this!
  • After shedding a snake often takes a big ol’ poop (note: no website actually used the phrase ‘big ol’ poop’ in a scientific fashion, but I find the word ‘defecate’ entirely too fancy for the act of pooping).  So after you let go, you let go again?  I’ll admit, this one has me stumped and intrigued.  It is definitely stuck in my brain in the last week that I’ve known it.

Getting back to my original worry, I don’t really know the purpose for writing this, or what it will shift in my/your daily practice of release.  At the very least, I can keep swimming with these lessons a few miles further thanks to these new goggles.

 

 

Will the Real Love Please Stand Up?

What self-respecting writer blabs about love anytime in the month of February?  Who wants to write about love after the confirmation of two arsenic laced, stinky-cheese, cabinet members?  Who wants to hear about love at all from someone over thirty?

Me, that’s who!

I have growing disdain for the prescribed holidays the older I get, but I had reason to get curious lately about the list.  You know the list–the file drawer full (or somewhat full) of perfect love moments.  We tend to think of them as belonging solely to romantic partnerships, and there are no doubt some good ones there to be mined, but they can happen just as easily with friends or by yourself (although admittedly, that took me a while to figure out).  They can be mere seconds or whole days.  These are the moments when you feel so perfectly loved that there is simply nothing else more to do or say.  You are completely relaxed, sated even, yet curiously engaged, without the bother of your standard fears and other narratives exploding in your mind like popcorn.  These moments help us understand the word ‘good’ as more than just a bland adjective.  It is GOOD when you have been loved.

Monday night, my usual night of study and joy on the Open Floor, was straight up fugly.  Less than 24 hours after resigning from the district, I realized quite pointedly, being on leave of absence and having resigned are two WAY DIFFERENT things emotionally.  I proceeded to a weird mixture of grief and panic, called myself all variety of names, and ended up crying all over my friend Andrew.  A word about standing solo and learning from your own difficult emotions: I have read about it, done it in small protected spurts, but nonetheless there is something infinitely satisfying about leaning into a tall man and absolutely ruining his shirt with snot and tears (this is a real thing gentlemen, please take it seriously).  We headed off to talk, and all the child self in me came tumbling out in my pronouncements of ‘not fair’ and ‘what now.’  My friend sat close to me and just listened till the steam died down and we could converse without me running a Shakespearean monologue.

As I got home that night, still held by the echoes of care, I started to wonder: what is the anatomy of these perfect moments, these times you know you are loved?  For some this might be obvious, but I realized that I have never stopped to consider it.  And I know others might say they can’t be dissected, which may very well be true, but is entirely unhelpful for an Aspie’esque gal like myself.  Thus, I started to think about the moments on the list, pulling them out of the drawer as I lie in bed and listened to the rain.  I would imagine there are some characteristics that are universal, and some that apply just to me and my list.

If you would, indulge me in thinking of the last time you felt truly and deeply loved.  With that moment in mind, how does this list sound to you?

First off, I think the involved parties have to arrive at these moments together.  This is more than just the proverbial timing, but some combination of timing, availability, and love of the question.  There are so many configurations we can mess around in that give the appearance of love without the deep flavor.  One person can sit behind the drive through window and hand out heaps of love without ever coming outside.  I’ve had two men in my life that would, on the surface, do anything for me, but would not tell me simple things like where they went to school or who their favorite author was.  Two people can also engage in love themed activities with zero connection–I once had a boyfriend who took us on a “romantic” Valentine’s Day excursion, horseback riding with a group and champagne picnic.  He spent much of the time way up the trail from me or on his phone.  When I later signaled my underwhelmption–he was shocked.  He reminded me of the hearts and crepes paper on the stable, along with how much the afternoon had cost him.  In addition, one or more parties can be distracted, speaking the wrong language, or trying to change the moment into how they pictured it should go.  No wonder it is shocking when we show up together, both ready to participate in the love that is always present.

A big part of this magical showing up seems to be in how you listen or are listened to.  Communication was created to get needs met, and yet when someone shifts into the role of listener instead of listening, it feels very much like he or she is going away.  Back in my Bible toting days, one of my all-time favorite, short and obscure passages, is about Job’s friends.  After traveling to be with him, they don’t jump into fix it mode, but rather sit with him sans yakkity yak for THREE DAYS.  How immense.  To listen as if this story could be your story too, thus you could read it in the breathing and gaze in the one in front of you.  Now, they go on to fuck it up and get all helper-y, but Job was kind of screwed at that point, so he probably needed that too.  My friend Monday didn’t listen to me because he was acting the role of a friend, he just listened.

Once you arrive together, all of my perfect love moments also share the element of no expectations.  There is no way it should be going, there is no way it should end.  You don’t need an answer to a question or a piece of advice you haven’t thought of yet.  I often walk away from conversations with my dear friends Kristy and Julie, feeling I have received a master class in expectation-less relating, and maybe because of it our conversations always surprise and intrigue me.  How can it be that two people, or me-myself-and I, can come into an encounter with enough of our own provisions that we have no needs?  I really can’t answer that, but I know that it has happened to me.  I walked into a restaurant sometime last year after an emotionally gut-wrenching day.  I didn’t want to go home.  I felt totally spent.  As I greeted the hostess I answered her question with, “Just one.”  “One is enough,” she said with a smile on her face, not missing a beat.  I teared up as I sat down.  “That is the most human thing anyone has said to me all day,” I replied.  She patted my shoulder and said she’d be back in a second with the menu.  It was a perfect love moment.  Expectation-less, abundant.

When you can let go of expectations, it is so much easier to see and show yourself to someone.  In my last major relationship, my boyfriend went to Paris.  When he came back and did the ceremonial unpacking of gifts, they were lovely, but lacking in much personality.  Always the true showman, he went to his pocket where he said “he’d saved the best for last.”  Out came a tiny spoon!!!  It may be helpful for you at this point to know that I have a lifelong obsession with tiny things–silverware, vegetables, animals, etc.  You name it, I find it ridiculously funny and fascinating when it is tiny.  Not only had he been sitting and having his own perfect love moment with a Paris streetside café, but he had thought of me, committed petty theft in a foreign country, and brought me home a tiny spoon full of perfect love.  I felt seen and appreciated for all my geeky awkwardness, just as I have always eyed the geek and the weirdo in others with such tender love.  I once watched my local cute, funny barista whom I was on a date with (I just picked him up that day I should mention–and I never miss a chance to mention it) struggle for an hour to find a way to nonchalantly come sit next to me, instead of across from me, in the bar booth.  Sure I could have helped him, but the look of sheer boyish glee on his face when he finally figured it out will be with me for a million years.  Many men wear their awkward adolescent self closer to the sleeve than women, but my friend Claire is a brilliant exception.  After a profound day at our last dance intensive, she tells me I must come with her right now.  I scurry across the floor thinking something must be wrong, but she finally stopped and positioned me by a window.  She told me where to look to see a tree that looked like it had an eyeball.  Now I had seen, and talked to, many eyeball trees before, but the fact that she brought me in to geek out with her so hard, and we totally did, was once again, perfect love.  To be seen and show yourself unpolished is not easy, even if you’ve never been hurt.  But it’s one of the best ways I know to find your true tribe and multiply your moments of perfect love.

As I continued to stare at the glow in the dark stars on my ceiling and listen to the rain, I could think of only one more common denominator in the moments that now lay scattered in my head: they were all physical in some degree.  For as much as I love to hug, squeeze, high five, rub shoulders, rub scalps, stand next to, and curl up in the crook of–I don’t do nearly enough of it.  I know I am not alone in this.  Partly it is because we live in a culture where touch is sexualized and so I tend to worry about messages I might give off, but partly it is because I don’t always know who is receptive.  I’ve had some people very dear to me who were absolutely not touchy-feely, and that’s okay.  But as I toggled between these moments to double check, all of them were physical, and that physical connection created a broader base, deeper roots, from which to slow down.  Crying on and then sitting with Andrew Monday night, his very nearness made me exhale.  I forget that I need that in order to translate love, to entertain the fact that the current of someone else’s blood may be as safe to me as my own.

So, which of these characteristics do your perfect love moments have?  Which would you add?  Take away?  If we understand these moments even a little better, might subtle impostors be easier to spot?  I wonder how long it has been since some in our law making bodies have identified love impostors in their own lives?  If they could spot them for themselves might they be able to spot them as they go after cabinet positions?  It’s by no means a simple business in a world where the impostors, both subtle and blatant, are trumpeted more loudly than the real.  I know I could use some more practice discerning.

 

“To dance the song until it ends…”

I wanted to start this post with something witty; namely, my private running joke that ex-teachers need a version of Alcoholics Anonymous to help us detox(someone more serious than me should really look into this) .  I’ve cracked myself up over the months with different ideas about what the twelve steps should look like, but in each draft, I am only on step three or four.  Thus, I figured it was better to start this post with something else, a plain fact that I used to know, left, and have recently come back to:

I am slow.

I’m not referencing my intelligence here or that of anyone with developmental challenges, but rather the pace at which I feel best about my life.  I have always felt like I was being swept away by the speed which others seem to adopt with little to no problems.  Maybe I have only started articulating it recently, but I have come up with so many ingenious and ill-fated ways to try and make more time, put the brakes on the current zip and zoom, and pretend that I fit in with the rushers throughout the years, that I know this has always been true for me.  I had no real plan to deal with this mismatch, until I started conscious dance in the Open Floor a few years ago.  Unintentionally, blessedly, I started to give and receive permission to come back to that original state, churning deep and slow, with no need to apologize.  It was and is freeing in a way I can never express in words.  Since this return I have learned at least two things:

  1. Unless I want to join my conspiracist father in his dream of making a compound in the wilderness for the end of days, I have to keep living in the delirious speed we are born into.  This means sometimes, I am going to have to make final decisions before they feel final.
  2. I WILL NOT GO BACK TO IGNORING MYSELF.  Everything has a beginning, middle, and end if you are listening.  I want to be there for all of it.

Enter Thursday.  I came home to a letter from my school district which basically said, “Knock, knock, know that leave of absence we so nicely gave you?  You’ve got about a month to let us know what you’re doing with that.  Hope this didn’t fuck up your day!  Love, Bureaucracy.”  I knew it would be here eventually, but it still came as a shock.

The day leading up to it couldn’t have been a better expression of how unprepared for decision making I am.  My first month’s book revenues were withheld because I misread the copy regarding tax information and disbursement periods—aka…I realized it is likely my rent check will bounce in February.  I felt not only disappointment at my mistake, but the creeping panic and shame that comes with thinking I won’t be able to take care of myself.  A salary looked pretty tempting after reading this letter Thursday night.  I also worked my third eight hour day of a nanny fill-in position I’m currently muddling through.  More than just hating the stay-at-home dad’s mansplaining and hovering, I realized again that I do not want to be anywhere for eight straight hours a day.  Coming home from that day I felt that sense of stagnation that used to be so familiar to me.  I wanted to take the few hours left to myself at the end of that evening and just not feel anything, especially my desire to not go back.

There continue to be both reasons to return and reasons to stay gone.

But the bottom line is, this Chelsea-not-Miss-Delaney-dance, is not finished yet.  Whatever this is that I am doing, I am somewhere in the middle of it.  Historically, my first year of anything has never been a good predictor of its reality.  My first year teaching, every hour came with a joy so extreme I wanted to cry and a fear so extreme I wanted to hide.  My first year living without roommates I almost poisoned my family with a gangrenous turkey at Thanksgiving.  I thought I loved my first boyfriend after our first date.  However, as time wore on the joys and terrors of school became more manageable, I read directions more carefully when I cooked, and I realized that love grows slowly, in proportion to action.  As much as I would like there to always be a win-win, sometimes there isn’t because ripening takes time.

About six weeks ago, when teaching was far from my mind, I piped in with this little gem: “You can change all you want Chelsea, but the system is not changing.”  This weighty little truth bomb continues to send shrapnel into old resistance and work into the blood.  I can’t make the process go any faster than it’s going to go, and so today I will tender my resignation.  I will write something clear, succinct, and meaningless, but first, what I wish I could say:

Dear Assistant Superintendent,

You want to know what my plans are?  First off, let me say that I don’t think you deserve to know.  No one is owed the heart just because they pay for the time, the mind, and the body that carries them.  And if I have no plans, if I am following an intuition and embracing the uncertainty of a journey, well you don’t deserve to know that either.  But, I know contracts are a thing, and I wish only beautiful things for my school, so here goes.  I plan to have a school shaped scar on my heart, right next to my god shaped scar.  Don’t worry, I’m not afraid of scars, at least not mine which are laced with both sweetness and regret, pride and shame.  They are holy, and as I age, I consider them a mark of risks taken, life lived.

Public education takes too–the hopes of hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, and does them little honor.  You have asked children and young people to disconnect from play, from intuition, from their hearts, from their everyday lives, in order to present you with an empty container to fill.  That filling may lead to money and prestige, and in the best of schools, a sense of responsibility to the greater world and an ongoing love for learning, but they ache for the parts they left behind.  They ache until the feeling is too strong and they stop feeling.  I have seen it.  It is chilling. 

You’ve taken millions of hours and dollars and tears from teachers, and still not given them some of the things that were actually in your power to give.  You’ve taken their health and their relationships when you could as well.  Do you feel the weight of that?  Or have you too, as an institution, dissolved your own bones and stopped feeling?  For all but a very small group, we have been lied to.  Yet we’re expected to keep, ‘focusing on the positive,’ ‘worrying only about what we can control,’ ‘stop putting yourself so far out for them,’ and ‘getting so worked up, it’s a marathon not a sprint.’  They all kind of sound like synonyms for ‘shut up.’  So my plan is to stop eating my integrity.  My plan is to meet young people, all people, where they are at.  Maybe this will bring me back to the classroom, maybe it won’t.  Part of me knows it would be the easier answer and longs for it, but would you be able to handle it if I came back?  I wouldn’t be sweet and compliant anymore.  In fact, I would probably be a huge pain in your ass.  And I’ve seen how you treat your pains in the ass–your Sharons, your Carmens, your Cathys, your Phoebes, your Teresas, your Anthonys.  You don’t honor the fucking immense brilliance it takes to scrape up resistance to the system when you have already given each drop of you in the classroom. 

My plan is to slow down; to create and support things simply because I love them and they meet my standards alone.  I really tried to do that in the classroom, and the better I got at presenting the obedient teacher façade, the more you left me alone to do it.  But we could never expand far enough.  Even when we were flying, we had to keep one fingernail looped to the window ledge of the school building.  They had to sit and click test bubbles, and I had to sit and understand my complicity in the system that was hurting them.  My plan is to let go.  I started to dream it when you gave me Creative Writing for the first time, so really the fault is yours if I have become unruly and confusing.  Watching them build their worlds and display their intelligence with no holds barred was revolutionary.  I couldn’t pretend anymore.  I couldn’t push and lift and bend them into things they didn’t want or weren’t ready for anymore.  They were fierce, connected, and powerful.  They already had the tools they needed to do the communication that was important to them.  When they didn’t, they were gathering tools around them, things we usually didn’t consider worthy or academic.  We missed it.

My plan is to follow myself and see what happens, to cheer for and participate with people who are making a new world.  I still want you to be part of it, badly in fact.  I have a child’s disappointment in you that I am ready to turn back into love if I could only find the slightest incentive, the slightest loophole, a way of being and responding that could make the disparities, conundrums, and WTF moments, “okay enough.”  My plan is to laugh enough, sleep enough, and create enough while I am away.  And I’ll do something for money, that’s a given, but for now I’ve untwined money and meaning.  The jury is out on whether or not I will retwine them.

Thank you for the gifts: strength, sadness, joy, heartbreak, rage, mirth, inspiration, regret, shame, intrigue, expectation, and disbelief, just to name a few.  If I never return, I will pay you back for these things off campus.

I’m done.

With Mixed Mind and Strong Heart,

Chelsea Delaney