A Love Letter to My Mistakes

It’s beyond my scope to write this, because in this moment, the unknown, including mistakes, feels terrifying.  But I started thinking of my kids tonight, the biological offspring that I will not have.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because Mother’s Day just passed, and the phone message from my mom said, “I’m proud of the life you have made.”  It moved me, but then my panic grew in the last few days as I obsessed over the message.  How did I make this life, I wondered tonight?  What would I tell my children?  The answer came simple.

I would tell them I made many beautiful mistakes.  Useful mistakes.  Mistakes for which I have intimate fondness, and I plan to make many more until I die.

As I stayed with this phrase it resonated, it grew.  I’ve been wrong a lot and it’s helped me be new when I had no other way forward.  So although I can’t believe I’m saying this, to my imaginary children, may you make beautiful mistakes.  May you give too much love to a cause, a faith, an institution.  May it shut down two thirds of you and make the other third bloom and sizzle with fireworks that pull down heaven.  May it bring you hundreds of trusting eyes that say, “Okay, it’s hard, but I’ll try,” and may you cry over every single one of them until there are no tears left for you.  May you leave way later than you should so that you will be ready to understand that time is not linear, control is an illusion, and to be whole you must be allowed to stay fluid.

May you follow a boy or a girl who does not love you across a state, a country, the world.  Outside of your bunker, may you see everything that your old gods kept from you.  May your anger at being lied to burn the whole fucking city to the ground.  Yes, your buildings will burn too, but the things that survive will now catch your eye in a way they didn’t when they were background clutter.   Don’t flutter or bat an eyelash as you bend yourself into the wrong shape, for her or him, so you may know what the right shape is– uncurl your toes, scoop up the skin that melted at his touch, and listen to the green blood of trees till you can hear and reconstruct everything.

May you put your trust in friends that will betray you when their wounds conflict with your future.  Collect scrapbooks, movie tickets, theater programs, plan to buy houses next to each other and live there till you die.  Then cry and scream and throw it all in the trash one night because you are not property, you are not a bandage, and you are no longer in need of a ceiling on your house.  May you heal slowly, so that the ones who enter now do so on fertilized ground, not stumbling over corpses.  May you pay too much for friendship so you realize that you don’t have to pay anything.

May you leave many things that are good enough, scandalizing the faithful, worrying the vigilant.

May you bounce checks but still pay rent.

May you do all manner of stupid, ill-advised things that bring you face to face with terror and the silence in your own center.

May your mistakes send you over cliffs and not into brackish ponds, so that your grief filled lungs get strong and fond of screaming.

May you do all your errands belatedly, but always make time for a friend.

And yes, there are consequences to all these mistakes.  You will pay, you will burn, you will grieve, but you can hardly begin to believe the you that is in you, sitting quietly, waiting for the correctness to pass.

Can you let it be done?

I danced with a chair last night.  You heard me, a chair.  The invitation during the night’s meditation cycle of sit, walk, dance, was to feel into what it is like to be beloved, to know your presence matters to others.  And though it was not posed as a question, my mind translated:  how would I move if I were certain of being loved?  I have little problem with loving myself.  That wasn’t always true, but the amount of romance between me-myself-and-I is downright blush-worthy these days.  It’s other people’s love I am not always sure of.

As I got ready to leave the first sitting meditation, I almost missed my own quick whisper: take the chair with you.  Wait, what?  If you really believed you were loved, you would not feel you have to do anything to earn that.  You would plop a metaphorical chair down wherever you needed.  You would learn to be, and be involved, without doing.  Oh.

I can’t tell you how awkward I felt.  Not only does a chair have different weight and dimensions than my usual dance partners, but I felt very visible.   Carrying the possibility of not working for love,  while still asserting my right to take up space, felt dangerous.  I was afraid of accidentally poking people with the chair legs, and when I finally picked my moments and my spots to sit, right amidst all the other dancers, I had no idea what to do.  In short, it was perfect.

I know it doesn’t sound perfect, but I find myself contemplating another question lately that is closely tied to this one:  how do I notice oncoming exhaustion and do something different before it gets here, including possibly leaving?  This can apply to exhaustion with people, events, places, or ideas.  Needing to earn love is part of why I have little blueprint for how to do that.  In this light, I feel mercy flavor my frustration for myself.  I’ve been trying to protect what I once viewed as a finite love supply, by running myself into the ground (gotta love perfectionist logic).  In this same vein, I realized a few weeks ago that I have been confusing protection for support.  Turns out they are not the same thing, though they may be related.  I’ve been staying where I feel protected, not seeing that there was little to no UNCONDITIONAL support available–people are surprisingly willing to protect their martyrs, those who have died for the cause, without being willing to step into the lions den with them.

I have however started to change these patterns in recent years.  Exhibit A: It took me multiple years to recognize that I was exhausted with both Christianity and public education.  Exhibit B: I stayed with my last relationship about a year past the point of being done.  Exhibit C: I only stewed in my done-ness with being a flower shop girl this Fall for about a month.  I understand much more quickly these days when things aren’t fitting, but I still stay with bad fits for longer than I would care to, feel the need to justify my leaving with, “I did everything I could.”  I have trouble softening the rigidity of my thinking when things are “good” and I decide steadfastly to stay forever.  I pledged my undying love to the salted caramel ice cream from Rick’s Rather Rich in Palo Alto….somewhere during the first bite?  I then ate it for months, till I could barely stand the smell of it.

Thus, I am once again marshaling my creativity to once again face this piece of myself.  I am accepting, mostly with gratitude, how many smaller questions and lessons flow into this larger one.  I dance with chairs.  I stop eating halfway through. I’ve even entertained the possibility of taking a Monday a month away from dance, not to deprive myself, but to allow for things to stay flexible and not dogmatic.  I can leave the good, I can leave the bad, and endings are rarely tied into a perfect bow.  Sadly, I know I have tremendous resistance to all of this: not being exhausted, not being a perfectionist, a martyr.  I’ve literally played a couple hundred games of Fruit Ninja on my phone in the last few weeks, always when I finally have some time to write this post.  This is a tremendously confusing paradox, since I have enjoyed nothing more this year than slowing the fuck down.  I could guess at what I am afraid of, but I haven’t really met it yet.

I now have this unfinished mandala hanging on my bathroom mirror.  It literally makes my skin crawl and my ears itch with all the white spaces that should be filled in, but I will leave it there as I keep learning (even if sometimes I have to brush my teeth in the living room as a result).  I’ve hit on a foundational question for me, and I am willing to stick with it while I learn how not to stick with it.



Moving Day

It doesn’t feel like a lot; a few bags of books, folders, and classroom decorations.  There’s another box of thank you letters and posters in the closet.  Even if I was a classic teacher pack rat, the emotional weight of thirteen years would still be greater than the physical weight.

And I’m seized with so many competing, colluding, colliding thoughts and emotions as I sit on my couch and watch it all on the kitchen table:

I want to cry and look at all of it, piece by piece, hour by hour, for a senseless amount of time.  I will post each item on Facebook and all the teacher tribe will reminisce together over virtual beers.  They will know that there are just as many stories surrounding my classroom pencil sharpener as there are my first yearbook.

I want to jam all of it under my pillow and see if any part of it will whisper to me something I have missed, part of the secret magic that everyone knows but me.

I want to tear out some pages, maybe from my first year teaching journal, maybe an old worksheet full of sentence frames, and lick them, maybe chew them.  I think my stomach might digest what my brain fumbles through.

I want to throw it all together in a book, exactly how it is now, no order, personal notes and reflections right next to curriculum  and lists of parents to call.  Would that book make just as little sense and be just as beautiful as the last thirteen years?

I want to throw it all off a fucking cliff.  Not in a spiritual purification kind of way, but in a hahahaha, I don’t have to get up before the sun anymore to do things that hurt my integrity and require a partially numbed heart to accomplish.

I want to pick up all the pieces and bang them very loudly against different surfaces of my house.  I am curious about their music, now, from the outside.

I want to start carrying pieces in my purse and leaving them all over the Bay Area.  Someone would find a gong in their driveway.  Someone else would find a gold leaf copy of Madame Bovary sitting on their table at Pho Hoa.  A communal scavenger hunt.

I want to whine to this pile of props, tell them how it is not fair that I can’t have both me and the classroom.  While my body can stretch two directions at once with no pain, my heart cannot, and it is NOT FAIR.

I want them to tell me if they think I’m crazy to consider living outside the box, outside the groove.  Yes, these inanimate objects are definitely judging me, asking who I’m kidding to try and not be a creature of habit.

I want to save the bits I could one day pass on to other teachers–the strivers, hopers, magic makers, balance keepers.  I ask them if they want to go live on my new teacher farm one day, prop up the newbies with this bone deep, wise paradox.

They said they’ll get back to me.


This Land Is Your Land–Fuck You, No It Isn’t

I have a hard time with change.  And before you say, “But everybody does!” I need you to know I HAVE A REALLY HARD TIME WITH CHANGE.  I am continually in dialogue (used to be conflict, but I’m learning) between my yardstick of a left brain, my hot fudge sundae of a right brain, and my dancing body.  Likely because of this, I get many opportunities to study people in the midst of transition, myself included.  How is it that we are one way today, and perhaps an entirely different way tomorrow, next week, or next year?

A part of transition is leaving.  You must leave a person, place, or thing in order to go somewhere else.  You’ll find these blog posts absolutely pockmarked with my distaste for leaving and the necessity of it.  Yet, here I am again exploring a new layer of what it means to leave.  I’ve decided to end the romantic portion of a long-term relationship with a lover.  I know this is not a new dilemma in the history of humankind, but I have received some very new information about myself this month during the process:

I do not really know how to leave anythinig until I am exhausted (more about this in upcoming posts–the next few weeks worth of posts are basically going to be me processing this subject).

This all landed me thinking about colonies yesterday.  I know that feels like you’re missing about fifteen steps, but remember readers, my right brain=hot fudge sundae–it’s delicious, but things tend to melt all over each other in there.  The writing that resulted was done in a park, on a concrete stoop, and on a dance floor.  I was going to wait and give you an edited version, but I like the first draft, even the parts I don’t really like, including the fact that WordPress fucks with my line spacing any time I copy and paste a poem I’ve written.  Not made for poets, are we WordPress?  Join the rest of the world on that one.

This Land Is Your Land–Fuck You, No It Isn’t

How can it be as a white woman–

unraped land,

unerased language,

unscattered clans–

that I can know anything about colonies

beyond 8th grade Social Studies?

But then what do I call the unfinished stories

of my mother and father,

crawling up my neck,

braving gray matter waves?

They lay stakes,

poor foundations

in the place my vision

wants to tangle and creep.

Or the lovers,

who told part of the truth

so I could never release or blame them?

Put covers and locks

on the wells of my heart,

made my blood private property.

Every person I’ve left really,

threatens to punish the stride in my step–

regret is the new religion of the new state.

Forget you used to know courage, adventure,

and connection to a borderless tongue.

And I know it’s not the same, but these colonies,

and a thousand others, threaten to smother

with benevolent hate, promenading as protection.

Some days they “just” deny me a vote,

others I’m caught in the street with my hands up

begging an agent of this power,

“Don’t shoot?”

My sovereign shares the crown with other powers

in a place that is my home.

The promises made for pleasing both

are immense and fake as set pieces

for a low budget musical.

I begin to see why I have trouble leaving before I’m exhausted.

And I know it is not the same.

So maybe the question should change.

Instead of, “Why do we continue to colonize

those who are already free?”

Why do we sometimes turn away from violence done to us–

and sometimes relish inflicting it on others?

A butterfly landed on my shoe in the park today.

It didn’t stay for very long.


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.