I Call Do-Over!

After seventeen years of no homework, it hasn’t been exactly easy to get started again.  I love my new field of study–in fact, I love just the title of it–expressive arts therapy.  This particular school uses the body as a road map for discovering-telling-integrating life stories, and our first month focused on the legs and feet.  This was all well and good until I got to the homework.  Among the drawing, dancing, and creative writing, the following sneaky question was slipped in:  What do you want to take a stand for and how?

I instantly hated the question.  It made me feel embarrassed that I am no longer doing something big and grand for the world.  I thought back on all the times I had “taken a stand,” both in and out of professional contexts.  They had all been so rigid, so exhausting.  It occurred to me that I don’t really know how to stand for something without locking my knees and digging my curled toes into the ground.  I was sure that was the kind of “stand” the question was asking me to commit to.

But, being the reformed perfectionist that I am, I sat down to answer the question anyways.  The words that tumbled out shouldn’t have surprised me considering who I’ve worked with and the life I’ve lived.  Needless to say, they did.

I’d take a stand for revision.  The right to change your mind, your mood, your life.  The right to keep reaching towards life even when it appears far away or others call you greedy for doing so.  The right to be many things.  The right to adapt quickly or slowly, whichever is more real.  The right to people who love multiple versions of you, throughout the years or within the course of a day.  The right to leave those who don’t, won’t, or can’t.  The right to stand out in the rain until even concrete gets wet enough to melt.  The right to invest resources in following whispers around corners or shouts off the edges of cliffs.  The right to not feel guilty when you stop telling the old stories.  The right to take generic advice until you know what you specifically need.  The right to dabble at the outside until you’re gutsy and well-resourced enough to dive into the center.  The right to fear and confusion.  The right to pride and astonishment.  The right to heart-stopping questions from unexpected places.  The right to dismiss other possibilities without wondering, “What if?”  The right to fail and make a giant mess.  Revision.  I have worked for this and will again.

My heart has been awake for some time now to the joy I have in helping people find their voices, but this was an update to that familiar theme.  Not only do I want people to know, value, and use their voices, but I want to help them follow the changes to that voice, preferably as they happen.  I want to sit next to people as they create, but also as they re-create an outgrown form.

The only part of the question I could not yet answer is ‘how?’  I’ll be getting new homework in about a week though, so stay tuned.

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The Loneliness of Leaving

Transitions are lonely.  Whether you asked for the change in front of you or not, you can’t be two places at once. Leaving an old way of being often requires leaving behind the people, thoughts, places, and routines that used to keep you company there.  Not only is this space inevitable, but necessary in preparation for the new.  You can’t see and adapt to something coming if you’re too busy to look towards it.  Small transitions may require less space, but the need remains.

However, this conventional wisdom seemed wholly insufficient as I read my writing partner’s daily writing yesterday.  He, like many in the Bay Area, is exploring the move towards an intentionally nomadic life–no fixed address, limitless possibilities. The writing starts with the story of his bad day, but the last few lines speak powerfully of the loneliness that can infiltrate everything during transition.  As I often do with his lean and elegant prose, I felt jolted.

Why is transition so lonely?  I turned the usual answers over and over in my head today, like suspiciously perfect pebbles.  After supporting people in transitions for almost twenty years, I felt like I should know this one.  I’ve also managed to stay friends with myself throughout deeply difficult transitions in the course of my life.  This has been no small feat of belief.

During the most recent, leaving public education, there were some astoundingly lonely moments.  I have arguably had the best friends of my life in the last few years, but knowing I was supported didn’t always help.  It definitely didn’t help knowing I had chosen to walk into this place of isolation.  Even when focusing on the beauty this move brought to me, and continues to bring, the beginning still felt like I was stranded on an island with no fruity drinks to take the edge off.

Of all the unhelpful, true things in these times of transitional loneliness, the most unhelpful and true is this: sometimes you are supposed to be lonely because of what you learn there.  Loneliness has gifted me immense healing, understanding, and love, especially when I don’t try to escape it.  But the moment before these gifts arrive?  I still want to know why I am sinking in the quicksand of dislocation.

I have been thinking a lot about the collective unconscious in the last week: the words, themes, and images that hide beneath the surface we present to the world.  Could it be that transitions are lonely because we don’t know what the big ones are really about till years later, if ever?

On the surface, yes, my writing partner doesn’t want to keep spending more than he makes.  He’s after a specific quality of life that can’t be created with those constraints.  On the surface, yes, I needed to leave teaching to learn to exercise all my gifts in a more sustainable way.  But almost two years later, I am more and more convinced that leaving teaching wasn’t really about leaving teaching.

So what was it about?  I am at the outside edge of that answer now, packing supplies for a journey into its forest.  I grasp its form in image and metaphor, and a moment later it’s gone.  But because it’s hard to know the real why, it’s also hard to explain it to people, to plan for it, to talk to yourself about it, to do a thousand other things that would make it feel less lonely.  You simply have to trust and keep moving forward.

Transitions aren’t going to get easier, but you and I can get more curious, more patient, more willing to close the door, draw the shades, and see what comes.

 

Rewriting the Robot

Onan.  At six years old, he is taller than some middle schoolers.  Highly sensitive, fiercely brilliant, deeply lonely amongst peers; he has been one of my favorite young minds to support through play.

Since the day I met him, much of Onan’s play has centered around narratives of being a robot, or on a good day, a cyborg.  These metaphors allowed him to show off his unique abilities, but this robot also had elaborate meltdowns which required complex codes and frequent rebooting.

His robot self has always been a part of our adventures, until today.

Today, Onan was a dragon.  He told me that his wings had only recently come in, and we talked at length about them and all the cool things they could do.  Baby dragons can fly to the moon, and adult dragons can get all the way to Jupiter even though they sometimes need a rocketship to give their wings a break.  In the midst of this he mentioned having a friend at school now.  It’s the first one I’ve ever heard him talk about.

After all this talk of flying, muscles, bones, and warm bloodedness, I was curious how his dragon self was received amongst peers at school.  “What does your friend and your teacher think about your beautiful new wings?” I asked with my fingers crossed.

“Oh, I can’t be a dragon at school,” he replied. “My mom says I have to keep my helmet on at school.  I also wear special t-shirts so people won’t know.  It’s very hard to find t-shirts that fit dragon wings, you have to cut just the right amount of the sleeves.”  I had a hard time believing that his real life mother would discourage dragon Onan, but this was his story to tell.  “What about your teacher?” I answered him.

“She would kick me out of school if she found out.”  He hung his head.

“How do you feel about that?” I asked.

“Bad,” he replied.  “Hold on a second Chelsea, I just have to kill this mouse that climbed into my lair.  We blocked all the mouse holes, but I think we forgot one.”  With this, he reached for his hobby horse and proceeded to beat forcefully on the ground.  I was surprised by my encouragement of this action until I realized, I have equal disdain of things that try to sneak in after I’ve plugged all the holes.

Clearly, dragon Onan still has some need to hide, so maybe it doesn’t mean anything that the robot self never showed up.  But it wasn’t just a metaphor change that was different today.  As a dragon, the speed of Onan’s play slowed down.  There were still moments when we paced the living room telling stories together at break-neck speeds, but that frantic edge was gone.  In fact, at one point he was engrossed in building an elaborate machine gun out of magnet tiles and he asked me to sit further away from him.  This has never happened before, and while some would say anti-social behavior does not seem like an improvement, I was elated.  There was something both tender and powerful in him protecting his building space.  As a cyborg many months ago, he repeatedly tried to get me to become a cyborg as well, but as a dragon we both had choices.

His movement from robot to dragon made for an unexpectedly emotional day.  I thought about my own robot years and wished I could’ve rewritten the story as early as he seems to be.  These thoughts are no longer an everyday part of my life, but when I look back I still feel the sadness of them.  I was also thrilled for him and a little scared–I know how wobbly transition times can feel, both for those undergoing changes and those offering support.  Finally, there was a deep tide of appreciation for both of his parents.  Raising children is difficult in the best of circumstances, but they’ve had to be extra skillful to help him both hold on to himself and enter the world.

As we danced joyfully in the dragon egg hatchery to a bass laden song that asked, “Where my freaks at?” I stopped thinking so hard. Dude, I met a dragon today!  Together we defeated a pernicious horde of zombies.  Moving forward is good.

 

 

How I Learned to Surf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.