Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A moment with Mary, Rumi, and Special Friends

“So every day
I was surrounded by the beautiful crying forth
of the ideas of God,
one of which was you.” 

Forget the mundane of your life for a moment. Forget that you have to take your kid to the doctor and a get together an hour later and don't know how you'll get it done, and you are almost out of dog food, and there is a load of towels in the washer that will get moldy if you don't switch it very soon, and you have planning to do for your trip next week, and the bathtub is dirty. And the car needs an inspection. And the weeds have grown up tall. And you have to use the chicken in the fridge TODAY or it'll be garbage. And what do you have left? What's left after work and busyness and obligation and maintenance? 

People. Nature. The unstoppable force of the turning of the earth, the seasons, time. Strip your life down to it's most essential elements, you'll find music or art or words or trees. Children, parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, lovers, spouses, soul mates. Outside of these, little else has mattered, will matter. All we do is of small consequence, it is just a means to survive so that we can create and relate to one another.

Life is so full of chores that must be done, which is out of alignment with the people that fill my heart. I have known so many characters in my short life, who've brought laughter, compassion, companionship, blessing, and curses. But then the curses are blessings too. Many times I have thought that I had lost someone, who turned out not to be lost at all. Many times I wished to lose people, who just wouldn't be lost. Often times I have overestimated a person's value to me, which never hurts as bad as underestimating.

We are all one, we come from the same spiritual and physical source- interconnected and interdependent. There is no boundary between us.

“Why struggle to open a door between us when the whole wall is an illusion?”

A sweet friend I met when our oldest's were in preschool is going away this week. Far away. It reminds me of when my folks left, or my sister left, or that dearest old friend or or. Everyone leaves, most of them return. But they can't really gets away if you hold them in your heart. This does not have to be a sad business you know. This missing someone can be a celebration of their importance, the joy and pain they brought you, the wish for their well being and renewed physical closeness...even if that may never happen again. 

Yet, never, is an impossibly long time. And in my experience, no door is ever fully shut. Even those I'd missed a decade or more, found their way back. You cannot forget love and tears shared. Or you can, if you doggedly refuse to think about anything but oil changes and shopping lists and flea baths for the dog. There are so many important things to live for: justice and charity and the spread of mercy, but none more important than people. Not as a collective, but as individuals. To create for and share with and tend and nurture and please and amuse. Special humans. Special because they are YOUR humans. Nothing causes you the pain that the other humans can. Yet nothing nothing nothing causes more joy.

 Another one of my humans is going physically away. But she can't get too far. She's held in my heart, along with the rest of you. Those with whom I've drunk dirty stream water, watched fireflies in the forest, cried with and over, laughed with and over. The chance to see you, my people, and connect with you again each day is the only reason worth waking up. For my lovely daughters, for my mom and dad and sister and nephews, for you my dearest friends: far and near, contact or none. You make my life. You are the way I know that God loves me. There is terrible longing in the human heart, and because of you, mine is largely satisfied.

“They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,
or anyway beautiful people to me, of which
there are so many. You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe
missed. Love, love, love, it was the
core of my life, from which, of course, comes
the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned
that some of them were men and some were women
and some — now carry my revelation with you —
were trees.”


Thursday, June 18, 2015

You can take the girl out of the neighborhood...

But you can't take the neighborhood out of the girl. Wait. No. Let me try again.

You can't take the girl out of the neighborhood.

I'm moving. Hallelujah, praise the Lordy, I am moving. Are you ready for this...a whopping one mile away. Exactly. I know, that's probably not enough distance between you and your ex. But we are fine, thanks. No creepy late night drive-bys for us, don't worry. Here's the deal: apparently, I cannot bear to leave this 2 square mile area. It's in my blood. My grandfather was raised in Winton Village, then my father, followed by my sister and I, and now my girls. Actually, I am in spitting distance of the house I grew up in. I guess I can't shake this place. Who would want to?

I grew up playing in the street, lulled to sleep by the sound of cars whizzing by on Winton Road, walking to CVS to get Teen magazines, buying lottery tickets at Euphoria with my mom, ogling the boys walking down the street towards Tryon Park, trash talking and bouncing their basketballs. The dads went to the Winfield, Ellisons, or Colters after work. The kids hung around the Atlantic Ave. intersection buying pop from the Mobil and making a commotion after school in front of the Winton library. Dad walked to his neighborhood Catholic school as a boy. I walked to mine. The neighbor kids were my first friends, and some of them I went all the way through High School with. It's the city, but we grew up just like every child of the 70s and 80s did: running wild, piles of bikes in driveways, floating between houses, sitting on the sidewalk or laying in the grass talking about big grown up important stuff like how to read your sister's diary without getting caught, which hair metal band singer you were going to marry, and what you heard eaves dropping on your parent's last argument. Except it was here, in this little corner of the city by the bay. I am sure where you come from is magical too. Not because it's idyllic, but because it's what you knew. As for the Anderson family, it was our touchstone. For me, it still is.

I love every inch of  'Murica.. and I have seen quite a lot of it. I can think of about a half dozen places that I'd like to call home one day, but so long as WNY is home - Winton Village is home. If I have to be here, ain't no place I'd rather be. I was so blessed to find a great house to land in for a few years while I finish my education. It came faster and easier than I thought...all I needed was patience and a little faith. Trail magic, remember? That's how it works. Always. You just trust, wait, and listen hard to your belly. Then benevolence intercedes.

Now, who wants to help me move...?

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Summer of Shelley

It's been a long winter, in more ways than one. In Western New York there are really only two seasons: "Winter", and "Not Winter". My favorite time is the hottest part of "Not Winter", which in other states is known as "Summer". I kind of forgot how much I liked doing "stuff". There was a long time that I was unable to do "stuff" because I had young children, a spouse with wildly different interests, and friends who stayed home to watch their young kids and hang out with their spouses who had wildly different interests as well. But things are changing, in more ways than one. I am actively looking for a new place for the girls and I, and anticipate that we'll have something chosen by the first of July. And though I only have a tiny bit of time off from school here and there this summer, I am determined to make the most of every moment. Winter seems a heartbeat away. And so are troubles. Always. I think it is incumbent upon us in this, the beginning of June - the precipice of the most wonderful part of "not winter", to launch ourselves over the proverbial cliff and into the pit of revelry. Don't get me wrong, there is an unholy amount of work to do, and I am still living in quite stressful times. But if we wait until conditions are perfect, we are pretty much destined to do nothing. And that goes for every aspect of life, not just the recreational.

So I have decided to declare this "The Summer of Shelley"!

To celebrate my independence, good health, and good fortune, there is going to be a lot of fun had in between studying Physics.

First, there's this event this upcoming weekend with a gang of boisterous characters. Why? Because beer. And food trucks. What other reason do you need?

Then, a whole weekend of Dave over Fourth of July in Saratoga, complete with awesome friends and camping. (Dave, fireworks, AND sleeping outside? WIN!) If loving DMB makes me a frat boy circa 1996, then call me "Dylan" and pass me a PBR. Cause I love my Dave.


There will also be a lot of this: Mmmm. Everything tastes better delivered out the window of a van and eaten standing in a parking lot.


And this with the girls, natch.

And of course the Adirondacks, greatest place on planet earth, with our best friends.


And definitely at least a few days lost in the woods.

That's just for starters. You cannot possibly tally all the trips to the beach, adventures, and ice cream cones from Lugia's... as well as picnics, parades, and festivals. BRING IT!  I hope to see some of your faces out and about (mouse over the photos above for more info on each), and that you will stop by and see me and the gals in our new digs.

 I challenge you to do something bold and declare your own "Summer of George". Who needs an occassion? Life is the occassion! If you've got your health, make this season count.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hereafter and Ever to Live Separate and Apart

I have decided this will be my last post in reference to my divorce. Maybe you are disappointed - sometimes it's fun to rubberneck other people's pain and drama. I respect that. I like to be useful. If my ex-husband's and my suffering have brought you comfort because at least you weren't US, then I am pleased to have been at your service. But I can't help you in that department anymore.

I am no longer part of an "us" or a "we". It is just "me" - pass or fail, for better or for worse. Hereafter and ever we live separate and apart, as the language of the divorce agreement goes. The comedian Louis CK aptly pointed out: "Marriage is for however long you can hack it. But divorce is forever."

I cannot tell a lie. My ex-husband confuses me, and always has. I take pride in my ability to recognize a person's inner spirit being, to predict behavior based on what I know of psychology, as well as to determine what those I love need, and find it in myself to give it. But he was as slippery as an eel. No sooner had I felt I gained a hold on who he is and what motivates him, before he'd twist out of my grasp and confound me. He made me feel like a drunk trying to walk a straight line and say the alphabet backward. Muddled, clumsy, and so obviously bound to fail. I tried my brains out but was never able to deliver to him the un-nameable thing he was looking for. At the end of the day, no matter what one of us did or didn't DO to the other, we were a terrible fit on just about every meaningful measure of compatibility. And this is the real deeper problem. We didn't relate to each other, though it wasn't from lack of trying and it is really no one's fault we didn't make it. Yet it is both of our faults. We chose to get married. We should not have, but we did. And now have beautiful daughters, and have been transformed by our respective sufferings, and are so much more lucid about what we DO want in our lives. So it's good, very very good indeed, that we did make this "mistake". And if I could go back in time, I'd make it over and over again.

Despite where we are, despite all the valleys that we not only crossed but made lengthy encampments in, I loved the man. Desperately stupidly hopelessly loved. Else, how could I have been so willing to hurt for so long? And in his ways, ways that are not mine, I believe that he must have loved me. He is not a monster. He was my darling, and I wanted so much to be the direct cause of his happy life. Instead I was his stumbling block and source of strife. And he, mine. No one intends this. No one finds a suitable prospect and says "Yes. I do believe that I would like to torture this person mentally and emotionally until they feel broken and desperate to escape life." Yet, it's what we did to each other. In my view, I brought good things to him. But what he received from me was not what he wanted, and so he got bad things. Yes, the marriage transformed me through suffering, but also through moments of laughter, friendship, and shared love for our children. Through him I have learned that nothing is black and white. No one is all bad or all good, no relationship all bad or all good. Things just are. If we are truly blessed, the balance leans more heavily toward the good. Many many of us are unlucky though. Which is why many many of us, are divorced.

I am moving very soon. I tell all who ask and care to know that my ex-husband has been an absolute saint this last year and a half. Both of our efforts to make our children comfortable and live peaceably with one another while we sorted out the details have been unparalleled; imperfect of course, but really admirable. No one can believe we've done it, and not gone crazy. Or fought like animals. Or poisoned each other's food. I don't care much about the past except for how it informs the future. What we went through changes who I am, and how I will live and love going forward. He is a fantastic father, and our daughters are incredibly lucky to have him. I know that we will work together and continue to support one another as parents in any way possible.

Thank you again so much from the bottom of my heart for the variety of ways you have encouraged me and shown your love to me through it all. I cannot re-pay you. But I promise that you have taught me valuable lessons about kindness and tolerance and friendship and patience that will never be forgotten.

So, for this season of life, it is a memory. I am done talking about being a wife, and the road to becoming an ex-wife. I keep coming across this poem by Pablo Neruda; one of his few poems that wasn't about love, but the loss of it. I post it here to honor what we wanted to be, what we tried to be, and the honesty of what we were. I pray peace and blessing on every member of our small family - for family, we will always be.

Saddest Poem

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

Write, for instance: "The night is full of stars,
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance."

The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her.
How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
To think I don't have her. To feel that I've lost her.

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

What does it matter that my love couldn't keep her.
The night is full of stars and she is not with me.

That's all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.
My soul is lost without her.

As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.
My heart searches for her and she is not with me.

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, we who were, we are the same no longer.

I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.

Someone else's. She will be someone else's. As she once belonged to my kisses.
Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and oblivion so long.

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.

Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
and this may be the last poem I write for her.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Mourning Doves

I love birds. One of my most favorites is the Mourning Dove. My neighborhood is loaded with them, and their lonesome coos ring outside my bedroom window each morning. They are aptly named. Their calls do sound distinctly, like they are sighing again and again in grief.

Grief, is a funny thing. It is not linear. I kept thinking that if I took one step then another, that it would progress predictably - in a pattern of less then less each day until it was gone. But it hasn't. Neither is it circular, because it comes irregularly and each time it feels oddly new and unexpected. There are all kinds of grief, so much that I guess you could say it comes in 31 flavors. But despite the differences, it is all made from the same raw material: severed connection. What varies is intensity and duration. No, one can't compare the loss of my niece Harper to the loss of a marriage to the loss of a job, but it all stings in that same visceral way, making us feel naked, vulnerable, and adrift: "it's gone it's gone it's gone".

I have been divorcing in heart, mind, and legal documents for about 20 months now. At first I lay in bed for hours every night unable to sleep, breathe, blink from the absolute terror, utter sadness, and incomprehensible decision I was forcing us to make. I'd quit. I'd tried so hard for so long, and then, like that - I just quit. But no matter how many ways I turned it over in my head, quitting was the only answer. So what right have I to be grieved? And how, after all this time, could it still be happening?

We have muddled through almost a year of legalities in the same home, and are within 2 weeks of signing our marriage away. My husband and I get along as much as we need to, which isn't much. You can keep a home functioning surprisingly well with a minimal amount of communication, actually. And though we will always be family, because of the way our daughters unite us, our relationship is well and truly over. There is clearly nothing there for one another in the feelings department anymore. So I was shocked on Friday when grief showed up like that annoying neighbor who sees your lights on and pops over because he is just dying to ask what you paid for your new lawn mower.

He had decided to go to the mountains for an impromptu overnight. Something we usually did together. Something that, at the very least, I always planned and packed for. So when he came home looking to go, I did what a wife normally would do: I mothered him. I scooted around the house opening cupboard doors and closets. Packing emergency supplies and food - compass, toilet paper, extra water. Admonishing him to hang his food to keep it safe from bears and use the map. Putting fresh batteries into the headlamp. And as I am dumping all this at his feet for him to stow in his pack, I am suddenly struck with the absolute absurdity of the situation. Maybe he was too. It made me terribly sad and I had to excuse myself. What I have learned is that grief isn't just for the person you've lost, but for the future you had planned, your dreams and hopes, and even silly day to day rituals. He comes home and puts his coffee cups on the counter to be washed, and I come over and throw them in the sink. He brushed my car off in the morning this past winter, just like the 11 winters before that. I still cook foods that he likes and slide it in front of him with a selection of his beloved condiments. If the kids talk back to one of us, the other says "what did Daddy/ Mommy say?" in defense of our spouse. When he left for those big bad mountains, I almost wanted to hug him. I settled for a text later on: "have fun. don't die." "Thanks. U 2", he replied. It was the nicest thing we'd said to each other in over a year.

It's not only old habits die hard, it's old lives. I have wanted to make my own decisions for so long now, with nobody to answer to. But it suddenly feels overwhelming. Paralyzing. Sad. No, we weren't good together. Not by a long shot. But we weren't alone. And godknows there is safety in numbers. I have learned that when you think you are done hurting, you are really just on hurt hiatus. Sometimes I will be struck all over again by my niece Harper's death and I'll double over and howl like a wounded animal. That's to say nothing of how it still affects her parents. And always always will. Grief doesn't go away. The time in between it's visits becomes extended. And when it comes you know how to bear it. But, it'll never stop. I will always, in some way, mourn the loss of this little family unit we have made. Things will never be the same for any of us. In many ways that is an opportunity for so much more and better, yet in other ways it is a great loss. But, I just summed up the condition of being human, didn't I?

Every morning and evening I walk my dog around the block, and listen to the lonely sound of the doves:  "hoo-oo, oo oo oo", as they call to their mates. Sometimes those calls sounds an awful lot like what I have in my heart. But most days it just sounds like sweet music from a beautiful animal. What I know is that we are all visited by grief - some larger, some smaller. And we suffer for it. And that pain, along with the opposing joy is what unites us as humans. The only way it is bearable, is if we help one another bear it. What I am learning from this season of life will be put to good use in future seasons, and in support of others. And that is the point to suffering if ever there was one. To build a bridge between me and you, and you and him, and him and her. And on and on and on.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

"The Turn" : Mind The Ducks 2015 Race Report

"Keep walking, though there's no place to get to,
Don't try to see through the distances,
That's not for human beings. Move within,
but don't move the way fear makes you move."

What is it like for the former race director to run the race she started? It's a little bit like being a guest at a party someone is throwing at your house. But it is also a bit prophetic, because if you've been here longer than five minutes, you'll know that when I dreamed of this race in August of 2009, I didn't see myself directing it. I saw myself racing it. 

I wore club colors with pride for an hour, until it got too dang hot and the tank top came out. With the plaid skirt and compression socks, I had a bit of a Catholic school girl look going on...if you are into that sort of thing. ;-)

There was a lot of clowning around in the early moments as me and my girlfriend Kathy, who procured a couple of the race director Gil's old dress shirts, silly pins with his 1980s passport picture, and mustaches fashioned after that throwback look, started the race in costume.

"I stand up, and this one of me
turns into a hundred of me.
They say I circle around you,
Nonsense, I circle around me."

There was just a small problem in that it was about 7000 degrees outside today. (Or 90, but you know...it felt like more because less than 2 1/2 weeks ago, it was snowing in Rochester. So we aren't EXACTLY acclimatized yet.) The good news is there was a stiff breeze. The bad news is that most of the day, it just felt like a hot hairdryer in the face. 

Surrounded by my best ultra running friends, I did the things one normally does in these situations. I ran and walked and sunscreened and poured ice in my bra and ate ate ate. This report isn't about my mediocre performance of 45 laps (or about 46 miles), or the sun beating down on my shoulders, or the will to keep going. Though it was and it did and I had it. It is really about going within and living this very moment. 

I reflected on the years I directed, and on the faces I've seen running year after year, and the pride in accomplishment. How good the new RD has done, and how he has turned it into something kind of major locally. I am proud of my hand in that, satisfied with the transition over the last couple of years, and grateful it is no longer my work. 

"A secret turning in us
makes the universe turn.
Head unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning."

I chatted with dear friends as the miles racked up. I spent way too much time hanging around at the aid tent, but I didn't care so much because it's not like I was going to win or anything. The goal was fun and release and transcendence and that goal was admirably reached. It felt good to get out there and turn my feet into hamburger and do the death march in the final two hours. It felt right. It felt like home.

I was inspired by Rumi, a Sufi mystic poet from the 13th century, if it's news. His poem "The Turn: Dance in the Blood" fell open as I shifted my book of poems around this week. I thought it was so fitting. Running in circles, making circles, is my favorite way to run. It is meditative..with no traffic or decisions to concern yourself with, it is easy to unplug from your life. It becomes a moving meditation. Just like the subject of the poem, the whirling dervishes.

I went inside myself with the aid of my music and the beautiful day, and didn't give one iota of thought to my school work or my troubles...joyfully detaching from them and letting the wind carry them off. In the end, though the mileage was meager and the dead bugs sticking to the 1/2 inch of sunscreen on my skin were plentiful, it was an incredible day. Brought to you by good vibes and some very spicy ginger beer. I am sincerely grateful for the help, support, and cheer of all who had a hand in putting the race on.

"Dance when you are broken open.
Dance if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you're perfectly free."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The 3 Most Important Phrases in the English Language

"Help me, please."
In eastern cultures, which are largely collectivist, the idea that that this phrase gets stuck on the end of western tongues or lodged in the back of throats is very likely absurd. But here in the land of John Wayne, self-made-men (and women), and a culture that values competition (of the physical, economic, mental, and even spiritual self) above virtually all else, the idea that needing help..or admitting you need help is almost unthinkable. Embarrassing. Demoralizing. "I need help" is akin to saying "I failed". In this country we teach children from a young age, in a myriad of ways, that it is superior to do things on your own - solve your own problems, dig yourself out of your own hole, and succeed without the assistance of others. We love those rags to riches, under-dog stories so much - and that they permeate our literature, our mass media, our consciousness. But our rates of unhappiness speak for themselves. The isolationism that we practice in our families, neighborhoods and in all areas of our lives is to our great detriment. We need one another. To create, to grow, to thrive we need support...and not just one, but like a whole team. An inner circle who has your back implicitly. It is in relationship that hurdles can be surmounted, battles won. We outsource and institutionalize our ill, our elderly, and our needy because we don't want to deal with them. But one day, "them", will be all of "us". Reaching out for help in shouldering a burden is not weak, it takes incredible bravery...especially in 21st century America. Nothing will humble you, make you more grateful, or teach you about reciprocity faster than being on the receiving end of a person or persons on your team showing up for you in the clutch. Learning how to ask for it and accept help is one of our greatest tasks to master in this life. Don't blow it.

"You got this."
There are not nearly enough encouraging people in the world. The fact is we've all had hecklers, and been hecklers. But what we really need is a cheerleader: someone who believes in your strength to face a problem, slay a dragon..even if they aren't sure you can...the saying so can make the difference. But it seems as if there are not enough of them to go around. Yes, I know, our inherent sense of value and worthiness has to come from ourselves - from knowing we are valuable as a part of creation, as a unique soul. But what skin is it off your nose to walk by someone in the hallway and say "I like your haircut"? or "I noticed the really good job you did parallel parking" or "Congratulations for getting out of bed and getting dressed today." You laugh but, excuse me, this shit is HARD. Right? Sometimes it's less hard, but every day is a challenge in some way. I believe in karma. And of course I want to ensure that I am rewarded in some way for doing good work here. But as a core motivation, that is pretty selfish. Really this is more about just not being shitty. Being a person who feeds the machine, instead of exclusively taking from it. It literally costs nothing to change the dialogue from "haha, look at how sucky that sucky loser is" to "hey, good job on the kick-ass pie you made. I believe you can do it again. And I would be happy to taste it for you." You never know what is going on inside of someone...what they need. Why not try to figure it out and be that for five seconds? You don't have to be some martyr, laying down your life for a cause. This is a simple act that can occur multiple times a day. Watch, I'll start with you: "I know today/ yesterday/ tomorrow is tough. But I believe in you. You got this." See how nice it is to hear?

"I see you"
To me, these are the three most important words in the English language, when uttered in that particular order. This is a culmination of the importance of the other two phrases. It is virtually impossible to be happy when you are anonymous. As evidence: facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, youtube. We all want to be stars, to be recognized for our unique us-ness. But the reasons these mediums fail is because we keep needing a bigger hit, like drugs, because they never satisfy the craving to be recognized. Because the recognition you get is for your public self: when your hair and makeup are looking good, when you are being witty or brilliant or winning at croquet. For real, when was the last time you went on facebook and admitted that you offended a friend, that you have a persistent fear of tall grass, or that you forgot your mother's birthday. And those don't even rank compared to your real darkest dark and scary demons. Like "I am afraid I am unlovable" or "I can't forgive myself for fill-in-the-blank awful thing." To be satisfied in life, we all need unconditional love and acceptance. Someone to let us know that they see all the sucky ways that we suck and fail and mess up on the daily, but that they still like us. And we're acceptable. And it's going to be okay. And you aren't alone. It is the deepest cry of the human spirit - to feel safe, accepted, loved, forgiven, and supported. It is why we DO all this crappy stuff - search for relationships, coupleup, get married, put up with someone else's dirty underwear on our floor. Because we need to be known. And I would argue that we need to know others, and learn to accept who they are as well. Try this. Listen to someone who is having a rough time. Look them in the eye. Tell them "I see you." And witness as their heart opens like a flower and they are filled with peace and awe. Friend, I pray that someone will say it back to you someday. I bet you deserve it.

Your turn.