Waiting

I’m not the world’s most patient person, god knows, but I’m pretty happy with how I’m handling my impatience this week. My checkbook is probably not so happy – I’m a stress shopper – but mostly I’ve been buying Christmas and birthday gifts and cards, candles and dog treats, so at least it’s useful shopping. 

I like to write in the kitchen when I’m stressed, and not because it’s where the refrigerator is. My kitchen has a lot of windows and some nice views. It’s cozy. There’s a bluetooth speaker on the baker’s rack and this morning I was vacillating between the 70s and the 80s stations on SiriusXM until I wandered over to The Coffee House when I saw they were playing a new Ray LaMontagne song, “Highway to the Sun.” Within a few notes I was leaned over crying into my hands, not for one particular reason and yet for all the reasons. 

Tea makes me feel better so I made another cup. Random recommendation: If you like loose leaf tea, I can’t recommend this tea maker enough. No more tea specks and dust lining the rim of your mug or floating at the bottom. 

Along with tea, I made a batch of suet for the birds because watching birds at the feeders is more calming than scrolling through news feeds. I also made marinade for fish tacos that I’ll have for lunch at some point this afternoon. The marinade is a combination of olive oil, spices, sriracha and lime juice. Another random recommendation: Like the tea maker, I can’t recommend this citrus squeezer enough. It’s easy on the hands and wrists.

Back to writing and finishing this short and wandering blog, I’m listening to Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers’ new album The Long-Awaited Album. No tears, just reminding myself how lucky I am that I have a kitchen with windows, the means to make suet and a perfect cup of tea, and that I can cry at a song and feel pain and yet still hope that peace and empathy, and not anger and hate, dominate the days ahead.

This One Has No Title

Turned 57 on August 14.

As if 2020 hasn’t been weird enough, these last few weeks have been particularly weird. Maybe weird isn’t the right word. I’ll keep writing and see if a more appropriate word becomes apparent.

It’s been a hodgepodge of things – both that I’ve made happen and naturally occurring – that have kept me on my toes. First off, my liver has decided it’s not happy with my food and drink choices of the last year or two – and I don’t blame it one bit! – so I’m on the wagon, both nutritionally and in the imbibing department.

Not drinking alcohol is kind of weird since it has been part of my routine for years. I don’t miss it physically or psychologically, as in I don’t crave it. In fact, I have way more energy and I sleep better. It’s the social aspect of it I miss. Drinking sparkling water with lime, which I love, isn’t the same as sharing a bottle of wine with my partner or making and consuming homemade basil gimlets with my daughters.

The food part has been a more difficult adjustment than the alcohol. I prefer white rice over brown, white pasta over whole wheat, and ice cream over sorbet. I know, this isn’t how I used to eat; this isn’t the me you might have “met” back in the Lynn’s Weigh days. But over the last few years I’ve basically – honestly and in a nut shell – not cared. Perhaps it was the years of restrictive eating, perhaps it was menopause, perhaps it’s living with a foodie. Whatever the reasons, the choices were mine and the “blame” falls squarely on me.

Unlike fifteen years ago, though, I’m not going to share my numbers or food woes, concerns or successes. I’m just gonna clean up my liver quietly and do my best to be a healthier fifty-seven-year-old (although I reserve the right to write around it here once in a while).

I bought a scale. I haven’t owned one in six years, and I haven’t been on one since October when I was last at the doctor’s office. You can’t weigh someone during a telemedicine visit, so I figured I’d better get one so I can update my doctor on my progress. Not that losing weight is the primary goal, but that’s what will ultimately happen in the long run as I “eat clean.”

I never look at the number on the scale at the doctor’s office, and I don’t look at the after-appointment summary which lists my weight, height, blood pressure, etc. I had a pretty good idea what I weighed, which I assumed has remained the same for years since all my clothes fit, but I needed to know the number. I looked up my last summary online and yes, it was what I thought. Not horrible, but a change will do my body good.

While my weight hasn’t changed, my height has! In my thirties, I was five feet, five and a half inches, and maybe a hair more. When I shrunk to five feet, five inches in, oh…2009 I think, my doctor ordered a bone density scan. Turned out that, in my mid-forties, I had the bones of a thirty year old. People shrink was the explanation my doctor gave me. Now, eleven years later, I am five feet, four and a half inches. Is it because I have new hips that I lost another half inch? If not, at this rate, I’ll need a car seat when I’m eighty!

Speaking of new hips, I officially own my left hip. I paid off the hospital today, thirteen months after my surgery. Not that I was worried that they’d repossess, but given this crazyass year, anything is possible.

Something I’ve noticed the last few weeks – as I’ve contemplated my liver and height and getting older – is that I’m more pessimistic than I realized, and I don’t think I can blame it on the pandemic. I’m not quite Eeyore, but I’m further away from the optimist I was at forty. I’ve noticed that at 3 a.m., when I do my worst thinking, I’m having even longer stretches of bad thinking before I break it up and remember that I can deal with / handle / change / work through whatever it is I’m turning over and over (and over) in my head at that moment.

For instance, last night I was all worried about the three-month subscription for smoothie powders my daughter bought me. Twenty different flavors arrived in the mail on Saturday. I was excited to try them, so I made one yesterday, mixing my milk of choice (an unsweetened nut milk) with the packet of powder. When I brought the bottle to my mouth, however, my gag reflexes went on high alert. I tried four times to drink it before dumping it down the sink. Maybe it was the milk I used, but if I’m going to try that particular flavor again, I’m going to need to bury it in something that will mask the smell, sort of like throwing lime on a deer carcass.

These powders aren’t cheap, and that was at the heart of my middle-of-the-night concern. “I don’t want to waste money. Oh, what’s the use, I’ll never get it right…” that kind of thing. But I just have to keep trying. That’s it. That’s the solution. Keep trying. Don’t give up before I’ve exhausted every possibility. You’d think I’d know that by now since that’s the solution to most obstacles we face in life.

Despite being old enough to get a ten-percent discount at Perkins, I’m not too old to employ new strategies for incorporating more positive self-talk than comes natural for me. I’ve enlisted the help of the Gratitude app. (You can find it on Google Play or the App Store. The logo is an orange square with a simple heart flower in the center.) It’s private, so no one can read your business, and it includes writing an affirmation every day. Today my affirmation was, “I am a writer, and today I will act accordingly.”

So here you go, a bit of writing that I hope, as always, will resonate with at least one person, because being alone in our thoughts and circumstances is a difficult way to live. I told you about my liver and height and the fact that it took me over a year to pay off a hospital bill because it helps to know, even if I don’t get feedback from anyone, that someone read through to the end, and maybe now they don’t feel quite as alone anymore, either.

I still haven’t come up with a better word than “weird,” so I’ll leave it at that. It’s been a weird few weeks, but nothing I can’t handle.

Chelsea Handler Made Me…Cry?

Chelsea Handler has made me gasp in disbelief (“OMG, did she just SAY that out loud?”) and laugh until I cry. But never has anything she’s written or said made me cry cry, as in, real tears of sorrow.

On Monday, Handler was on the NPR show Here and Now promoting her new book, Life Will Be the Death of Me…and you, too! Broadly, it’s a memoir about her psychological journey after the 2016 election, and more specifically, coming to terms with her oldest brother Chet’s death when she was 9 years old.

Handler and Here and Now host Robin Young covered a lot of ground in the eleven-minute interview, and I was … surprised? Is that the word? … by Handler’s serious and thoughtful exploration of her white privilege and the not-so-funny parts of her growing up.

At around minute nine, Young acknowledged that people tuning in to an interview with Chelsea Handler typically expect her to take down, in comedic fashion, the latest societal ridiculousness, but that their interview was pretty serious. Young asked, “Is Chelsea Handler going to be funny still?” Handler answered, “Of course! That muscle is fit and ready to roll. This other stuff is what I needed more of; this seriousness and thoughtfulness and to think about talking before talking.” I was sitting in my car, high-fiving (no one but me) Handler’s honesty and thinking how great it is to face that sh*t head on.

Then came the next question: “Where is Chet now? Where is he now in your life?” Handler broke down, and her answer is so heartfelt that I couldn’t help crying along:

“In my mind, now that I have a deeper understanding of awareness, of mindfulness, of like, you know, that people aren’t really gone, now I believe that he’s like — not that people die and they’re sitting around floating above your body, not that stupid nonsense — I believe that he’ll always be a part of me, and so will my mom…The people that we love are with us, and we should be spending our time honoring them, instead of grieving for so long. We can grieve, because we need to get that out, but we have to honor those people, and the way to honor them is by fixing yourself and getting healthy.”

I’ve written a lot about grief over the years, and countless numbers of readers have shared their experiences with loss, too. We’ve often engaged in what feels like an online support group. I will forever maintain that grief has its place.

To Handler’s other point (and maybe I’m splitting hairs), though, “fix” feels akin to “heal,” and nothing really gets “fixed” in our efforts to deal with or understand loss. When we experience loss, we’re forever changed. But she’s spot on about getting “heal”thy.

Something my pastor said to me in the days after my husband died has stuck with me, and I share it often with others who grieve. He said that time doesn’t heal, it only gives us perspective.

At the moment he said that, I was angry.

“What do you mean time doesn’t heal?” I cried. “It has to! It must! How else am I supposed to feel better and normal ever again if something doesn’t heal me?”

“Time doesn’t have the power to ‘heal,’” he replied. “Healing implies it all goes away.  But years from now, you’ll be able to recall this time, and feel everything you feel at this very moment. In time, you will get stronger, you will feel joy again, you will build yourself up, but this comes from inside you, not because a certain amount of time passes.

“It’s a lot of work and you won’t be the same person you were before he died. You can’t be.”

In time, I understood that he was right, and once I accepted that grief is a journey down a long and arduous road, I no longer put a time line on when it “should” end, because it doesn’t.

While “fixed” isn’t my go-to word or believe it should be our desired outcome when we are living with loss, Chelsea Handler is right about healing. We honor those we’ve lost by taking care of ourselves and not living in a rabbit hole of grief. It’s brave and takes a crap-ton of self-awareness to achieve acceptance, and I believe that it’s healthy grieving, even years later, that allows us to do that.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Let the Anger Eat You. Please.

20171227_120043Around 2 a.m. this morning, Zuzu the Wonder Dog needed to go outside. Most nights, in a sleepy stupor, I open the door, she does her thing, and she trots back in. This morning, though, before I opened the door, I saw standing under the neighbor’s yard light the silhouette of a large buck. He was looking in our direction and Zuzu was looking in his. God knows she loves to bark at and chase wildlife (just ask our cats and the bear she chased away from the garbage last week), and so I snapped on her collar and leash and took her out manually. I thought the buck would run away, but he just looked at us. He was quite amazing.

After heading back to bed, I laid awake for 30 minutes before I gave up sleep and went to the spare room. The windows were open and I listened to the crickets, and heard the faint call of an owl. It warmed me inside. Melted some of that ice cold anger I’ve felt since Dr. Ford said #MeToo.

#MeToo is so big that it can be overwhelmingly draining without self-care. It’s as important to make space to listen to stories of sexual assault as it is to honor our own emotions and reactive feelings. For me, the good that’s come out of the last few weeks is that I’ve strengthened my meditation practice, heightened my awareness, and deepened my compassion. Have I been a perfect practitioner? Just look at my Facebook posts. But I won’t turn away from the anger – it has an important place in our emotional lives – but I won’t let it swallow me whole.

In these times, I’ve found the practice of inquiry to be the most useful. Rather than try to fix anything, I sit with my feelings of anger, disappointment, and downright despair, and I name them. Examine them. Allow them to wash through me without doing anything except being fully aware of their power. My mantra is “I don’t understand why this is happening,” rather than a question such as, “Why do people knowingly inflict harm?” I’ve found that sitting with a statement gives me strength to contemplate a question. As Tara Brach explains, “The intention of inquiry is to awaken to our experience exactly as it is in this present moment. While inquiry may expose judgments and thoughts about what we feel is wrong, it focuses on our immediate feelings and sensations.”

Sexual power and religious absolutism are the gods de jure, and they need to be brought to justice one story, one protest, one vote at a time. But please, take care of yourselves and your emotional lives as you journey on. Use inquiry to identify what’s good in your life, too. Breathe. And then breathe again. And again. Listen to crickets or children laughing or even the hum of a fan. Before you act, do nothing more than focus your attention on a tree, a house, a piece of artwork, or a deer standing in a yard light in the middle of the night. Inquiry builds the emotional muscle we need to carry on.

Namaste, my friends. Have faith that in the long run, justice and goodness – and not paranoia and fear – will prevail.

Grief Really Shouldn’t End. Here’s Why.

Recently, the husband of a dear friend was killed when a tree limb fell on him while he was working in his yard. A freak and random accident, it has left my friend stunned and so very, very sad.

I’ve written many times in this blog about grief, and how it bounces in and out and around our lives, and sometimes lands in the most unexpected places at the most inopportune times (like there’s ever a good time for loss). But you know grief. It doesn’t wait for an appointment.

Sudden loss can feel like an ambush. It barges in and takes over everything, and the accompanying emotions crawl inside us, infiltrate and define our most tender feelings, and they never really leave, even when we don’t feel them as acutely anymore. Time goes by and we go about our lives, not thinking about grief, perhaps even (foolishly) thinking we’ve conquered it, feeling like we’re so over ____________ (fill in your loss), and then WHAM! We find ourselves in a friend’s kitchen, helplessly hugging her as she cries desperately in her own mourning, grieving a loss that, while uniquely hers, feels very, very familiar. The emotions from our own day of loss flood back, perhaps not as strong, but it is grief’s way of reminding us that it never, ever goes away.

There are times, too, when grief is more subtle. It refuses to readily identify itself. Your life, by all accounts, is fine, you’re holding it together, and you even dared to be happy and smile again. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you wake up one morning with an overwhelming sense of dread and sadness, feeling like you can’t pull the blanket off from around your head. You wander around dazed for a while – a day, a week, a month, longer – unable to put your finger on the culprit because, you know, that death/loss was so long ago and you’re, like, totally over it, so it must be something else.

But it’s not.

I write this to remind us that grief is not something we ever finish. And honestly, I don’t think it’s supposed to end.

I’m not saying we should feel miserable all the time or constantly remind ourselves of what we’ve lost in our lives. But loss and grief are inevitable for each one of us, and instead of trying to drink it away, drug it away, fuck it away, eat it away, or work it away, why not we use the hell out of it and grow empathy where perhaps there wasn’t any? Even if someone’s loss isn’t exactly the same as ours, understanding that the experience of loss is overarching and universal can train us to be more understanding, kind, helpful, and – when warranted – involved in bringing change to what is wrong.

Grief can strengthen us and, sadly, destroy us, but there’s no in between. The thing is, though, that even when we think it’s destroying us, it just might be strengthening us, teaching us more about ourselves than we ever wanted to know. This is not to say that what brought us to grieve is somehow a good thing. Personally, I’d rather my (and my friend’s) husband was alive, or the baby I miscarried had been born, or that the things I lost in the fire hadn’t burned, or that my brother’s memory was intact, or that any of the other losses I’ve experienced in my life hadn’t happened. But all of these losses make up my real life. Subsequently, grief, too, is a part of my real life, and I want grief to have meaning and a purpose, even if that purpose is simply to listen to a friend who is hurting.

P.S. We witnessed a simple and bittersweet lesson in grief recently when a female orca whale carried her dead baby on her back for 17 days before finally letting it go. She didn’t adhere to some cultural agenda that said you get a few days to grieve and then you’re supposed to get on with your life. She grieved in her own way, and so should we.

 

 

In 2018, Maybe Poetry Can Help

The Internet can be a brain suck, for sure. Then there are sites like Dictionary.com that can inflate the brain, sort of. For instance, the word “pajamas” comes from the Persian words pah, meaning “leg,” and jammas, meaning “clothing”. The British spell it as “pyjamas.” If I were in London, I’d still be in my “pyjamas”. But sadly I’m not. In London, that is. Here in the U.S., I most certainly am still in my “pajamas”. Happy New Year to me.

And Happy New Year to you! Have you made any resolutions? Established any goals for 2018? Still in your jams? I made no resolutions, but I do have a goal: to see The Moody Blues inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April!! I’ll stand in the parking lot if I have to, but I need to be there. IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME THEY WERE INDUCTED! Whoever thought inducting Dusty Springfield, Kiss, and The Animals before The Moody Blues needs some serious musical educating.

Looking back over 2017, there are several more things in my Best Of grab bag than I thought there would be, given how discomfited so many of us felt last year at this time. I had little hope for 2017, but a lot of good things happened. Jim and I had fun growing our on-the-side antiques business at a local antique mall. Zuzu the Wonder Dog moved in. I completed the fifth of six semesters of my master’s program (Graduation: May!).

And I solidly fell in love…

… with poetry.

I had the great fortune of teaching a poetry workshop this summer at the Indiana County jail. I’d taught a few classes in the women’s block, but this was the first time that my students were from two men’s blocks, and the first time the topic was all poetry.

I’ve always liked poetry, even though I have zero patience for epic poems like “The Faerie Queene” or the Sylvia Plath-ish ones that make me want to bang my head against a brick wall. But poetry asks us to pay attention to a moment for a moment. It gets in your face and says, “Look at me! What do you see?” It turned out that reading poetry with a group of men in jail was not a bad way to spend summer vacation.

Since then, I’ve fallen in love with poetry, and I wake up to a poem every morning in my email, thanks to Poem-A-Day from poets.org – another non-brain-suck website. While not every poem is a wake-up call or invites contemplation, each one is someone’s attempt to make sense of some part of their world. What speaks to you might not speak to me, but that’s the whole point!

I really like this book: Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. It’s a collection of poetry selected by Billy Collins when he was poet laureate (2001-03). Collins’ own poetry is accessible (meaning it shouldn’t usually make you want to bang your head against a brick wall). I use his work in my classes, and his Ted Talk is a lot of fun. It’s not a brain suck, I promise.

Suffice to say, poetry will help get me through 2018. I hope it lends you some comfort, solace, and contemplation, too.

Below are a few of my favorites. Please send me some of yours! Add them to the comments.

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World by Sherman Alexie

Losing the Narrative

A shattered bottle tore through my hand last month and split 
a vein until every finger was purple and I couldn’t
make even a tentative fist. I used the other hand to indicate
I’m okay. 
How unwise I am, how polite in a crisis.
In triage, an overheard photo of someone’s lover 
almost 3000 miles west made me seize with longing 
when I spied a palm tree in the background.
I understand what it says about me 
that my body lustfully wishes to place itself where it was never safe.
I have put enormous energy into trying to convince you I’m fine and
I’m just about there, no? 
Besides, decades on, poorly healed bones help me to predict rain!
though it’s true I like to verify weather
with another source because I tend not to believe myself.
I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t understand plot but
it would be a clever twist, wouldn’t it, if in the end 
I realize it’s me who does me in.
Credit:

Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem:
“I injured my hand rather gruesomely last spring and it took a longer than expected time to heal. That injury triggered memories of earlier, more traumatic injuries, which got me thinking about how my instinct is to always reassure everyone I’m okay, whether I am or not.”
—Lynn Melnick