"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Friday, March 26, 2010

Borrowed Wings

When you look back
in the rooms of your past self--
were you ever not lonely?
Were you ever strong?

I see you at sixteen
vulnerable and afraid;
worried and tempted.
But is this your reflection?

Or were you defiant…
brave (you thought) beyond reason-
only weak and broken
after the vows and the exchange of rings?

No matter now.
Your life has nearly passed.
Fifty years with someone
who might have robbed you of your spirit and soul.

What a choice to make
at sixteen, so young
in the shadow of poverty--
the grip of seduction.

I imagine your life without him.
Another choice.
Anything but the one you made.
Anyone but him.

I see you courted and loved-
not the twist of temptation.
Someone seeing you
in the small ways that denote you are seen.

You never had that.
At least not within my lifetime.
Not for the many years
I have watched you wither.

My sorrow for that
runs deep.
But I keep it at bay
in exchange for the pain I have endured.

You had other choices
after that first one.
No matter how looming his shadow.
No matter how lost your soul.

You could have gone-
disappeared with me
into the dew drenched morning
before he woke.

You could have stayed
and fiercely protected me;
showed me and him your intentions
even if they failed.

At least the battle
would have been fought
instead of the immediate surrender
of all of your purpose.

I was a casualty-
thrown to the front lines;
sacrificed because your strength failed-
leaving me behind in ashes.

My foundation was gone-
blown into the cloudless sky.
My sense of self
scattered in places too far to recover.

The things you didn’t get to do
Or see, or know, or have...
or be--
there is no way to undo a lifetime.

And I can’t be your only joy-
the weight eclipsing my own choices;
the guilt of all you lost
wrapped up in my biography.

I have to fly with borrowed wings
far away from all the wreckage…
Viewing from a high safe place
the choices you made.

artwork by Kathleen Piercefield.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Back in Time

A few years ago I was browsing in a little antique shop and saw a tattered wicker basket filled with photos. I sat down in a chair much older than me and started flipping through the photos. My family has very few old pictures as my mother and father grew up very poor- and the few pictures they took or had taken were an extravagance. So, looking at the worn sepia and black and white images, actually holding them in my hands, fascinated me.
I remember vividly coming across a wedding photo, the bride and groom’s apparel hinting at the era they belonged to. The picture was in a heavy cardboard frame that folded with a flap like a greeting card to reveal the picture inside.

I stared at that couple, the nervousness on the bride’s face, the humorous look of boredom on the groom’s. I turned over the photo to find the studio and the year the photo was taken, but no trace of a hint as to the identity of the people in the picture.

Even then, I couldn’t explain to myself why I wanted to buy it, but I did. And I started a little collection of vintage photos that I have added to over the years.

At first I thought I would just collect old wedding photos, and started keeping my eyes open when I traveled or wherever I saw an antique store—especially one I hadn’t been to yet. But then, as I sifted through photos over the years, others would speak to me somehow—a group of men photographed for a formal occasion with tan lines across their foreheads from working outdoors in hats, a seemingly ancient schoolroom with children all dressed in their Sunday best-looking solemnly into the camera, a sepia photograph of a mother holding her baby in her arms-gazing at her with such love and intention that it almost made me weep.

Without fail, I always wonder how these pictures have ended up where they are. I sit in a small damp store surrounded by items discarded or sold from another generation, and have trouble understanding. I can see tables and mirrors, knick knacks and dishes finding their way to a store a lifetime later, but family photos? Photos of weddings, christenings, holiday photos—how do those get separated from the family?

Having gone to many an estate sale in my time, I know that the odds and ends of a family can find their way to the auction block or for sale after everyone has picked through and chosen the things they want from family members that have passed. But these intimate photos stare back at me from another era and I have to wonder how they landed in my photo box—what journey brought them here and how did they get lost in the first place?

So there is some weird pull that I feel, almost to give these photos, these families a resting place.

The photos that I do have of my family, my grandparents, and my childhood photos are precious to me—even with my background with my family—it’s the history of those photos that mean something to me. Watching from one generation to the next as my parents left poverty to build an upper middle class life when the odds and their lack of education made that seem impossible. Seeing my grandmother’s eyes return in my mother’s face and then in mine. Seeing the resemblance of cousins, aunts, and great grandmothers in the mirrored reflection I see every morning. And maybe most importantly, seeing how my parents grew up—even with just a few photos—when trying to make sense of who they are…who we are.

I love looking into the eyes of these strangers and trying to imagine who these people were, what their lives were like, where they ended up, who they became, what they were thinking in the moment the camera clicked. I won’t have answers for any of these questions I am sure, but I keep collecting these pieces of history and adding them to my photo box, wondering what mystery I will find next.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

First Steps

Tonight I took a step back in time. I took a dance class.

Since the age of six, I took dance classes, and the dance studio became a haven for me. Home was confusing or frightening, school was awkward and stressful, but the dance studio was just comfort- something I was good at that gave me the opportunity to divert my attention away from everything else. You can’t focus on anything else during a dance class—nothing but the music, the steps and your own rhythm.

I continued taking classes all through high school and even into college, but the last time I was in a studio in a class was over 18 years ago. EIGHTEEN. I thought about that number in the car on the way to the studio. 18 years. That was probably going to be the age of most of the women in the class. So they were NEWBORNS the last time I was in a studio.

I was lucky enough to find an adult class in the first place, much less only a mile from my house. I knew I needed to go. I called months ago about the class and every week, something came up (real or not-so-real) that kept me from going.

I know I need to exercise and be healthy. I want to lose weight. And the only type of exercising that appeals to me is the main form I spent most of my young life doing. So taking a cue from my last blog post—I ran out of reasons to wait.

I got to the studio early and was almost overwhelmed at the response I had just moments in the door. A ballet class was finishing up, the students all around the age of 14. I felt such a sense of familiarity and nostalgia standing there, the music blaring, watching these girls—remembering when this was all second nature to me—when being in a dance studio was when I felt the most “right” and comfortable. That was when I started asking myself why I had waited so long to come back to dance. I knew I wasn’t going to be as light on my feet, or walk into the studio with the confidence I used to. I knew I was out of shape and a LOT older than I was the last time I was here…but it was a part of me—who I am—who I was---a part of my life I loved and enjoyed very much for many years.

I was a bundle of nerves watching the students file in for my class. All younger, most with tiny dancer frames, with varying levels of experience. I actually had butterflies when the teacher came to the front of the room to begin. For a second I eyed the door, afraid I would make a fool of myself. Then, the teacher jumped right in, starting the music from a remote in her hand, and I didn’t have time to think.

It was hard. I definitely learned how out of shape I was—and the figure I saw in the mirror seemed foreign to me—having stared at my much younger and thinner self in dance studio mirrors for so many years. But I was keeping up and sticking it out.

I had told myself beforehand that no matter what, I had to make it through the whole class. And although I was sweating and breathing harder than I had in awhile, there was no question about me making it through the entire class because I was having such a great time.

I remembered why I loved dancing so much. The freedom of expression- that beautiful unison of a group of dancers in sync, creating something graceful while exercising out stress, worry, and excess energy. The other thing I used to love was the kinship between dancers—an unspoken respect for each other—and an understanding of the desire to make each step right, have each beat spoken for.

And tonight, one of the most wonderful surprises came from my fellow students. I was definitely the lowest level dancer there, had trouble with some steps, couldn’t find my footing in more than a few instances. The younger girls especially were so sweet and encouraging—cheering when I got a tough combination (finally) that we had to do one by one across the floor. Not an ounce of judgment or questioning why I was in “their” class. So touching and exactly what I remembered from my fellow dancers so many years ago.

I know tomorrow morning I will be reminded of just how out of shape I am, and will discover pain in muscles I didn’t know I had. But I will also remember how I felt when I walked in that studio earlier tonight and heard those first beats of music.

I was ready to step back out on the dance floor.


Monday, March 8, 2010

The Waiting Game

In early 2008, I was talking to a friend about the writing career I wanted that I feared would never happen. She looked at me, incredulous, and asked, “What are you waiting for?"

The words couldn’t have been simpler. And I didn’t have an answer. What was I doing, really? Was I hoping that magically it would just happen? I couldn’t believe how focused that moment made me feel. I had been expressing how much I wanted something for years, but what was I really doing about it—except wishing?

And so, I did start writing, focusing, setting small goals and meeting them. And although JK Rowling and I aren’t sharing an agent (yet), I feel closer to my goal than ever. And I know those five words started it.

As of late, I have felt other parts of my life coming together—or at least beginning to. And I realize how much time I have wasted over the years waiting for so many things. Waiting for a boys to call, waiting for the right moment to do this or try that, waiting for a job I hated to get better, waiting for my family to change so I could heal, waiting…waiting…

Some waiting is necessary. You can’t control everything. But too many times in my life I took a passive role when I was scared or unsure of myself. Too many times I thought I would wait just a little longer, just in case—even though I knew in my heart that nothing was going to change, or that I needed to head in the opposite direction.

There are also small instances of waiting that I watch myself and others I am close to fall back on every day. The little things we put off that lead to big things...I will start eating healthier next week, I will actually take a vacation next year, I will start exercising when the weather is better, I will take that art class I have always wanted to when I have more time…

For the last few years, I didn’t want photos taken of me—because I felt so self conscious about my weight. I would purposely avoid all pictures—including some at very large company events I was so proud to have pulled off and some very special occasions with dear friends that I just couldn’t bear to be photographed in. As a result, there are years now with holes—memories without me in them when I was a central part—all because I was waiting until I felt better about how I looked to include myself in recording them. I realize now how silly that sounds—and the reasons run deeper than appearance. But I was once again waiting for something to get better—for ME to get better before I allowed myself to enjoy life fully.

Waiting can feel safe, but now I am training myself to ask if I feel safe and comfortable—or scared. Am I waiting for the right reasons?

As some parts of my life begin to feel safe and dependable in the best senses of the word, I am learning what I can trust and who I can lean on—what parts of my life I can sink into and enjoy, knowing I am in the right place. There are areas of my life that are still broken and in need of repair and that may take time. But I am no longer relying on some magic solution to make it all happen. I am living in all of the moments- scared, painful, happy, uncertain, perfect or broken. And life is more real and vivid than it has ever been—and incredibly unpredictable.

Just what I have been waiting for.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Same Cafe

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." -Mahatma Gandhi

With all the gloom in the headlines as of late, I came upon this story about The Same Café in Denver, Colorado where everyone—regardless of their ability to pay—gets a beautiful meal, some comfort, a great does of dignity, and probably most important of all—a moment as part of their community instead of a statistic or problem to be solved.

My words won’t add too much impact to the story itself, except to say I am inspired, and when I watch something like this I try and think of just one small thing I can do to make some kind of difference for anyone—within the next day or week. It reminds me why I love that quote in the first place. It is a reminder and a challenge—a call to action.

A call these owners have taken to heart --and have given as a gift to their community.

For more great stories like this about people making a difference, you can follow the MSNBC series Making a Difference on twitter here.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

About Face

Over the years, throughout the six or so cities I have called home, a letter or email would come from my high school reunion committee. For awhile, they even seemed to lose track of me—not a hard thing to do—as I have moved more than any one person I know. I was fine with that. I really had no desire to revisit an extremely awkward time in my life—and all the players seemed frozen in time-just as we all were then. That was fine by me, too. In a way, it made me feel better. At least back then, so many people expected so much of me—so many high hopes. If no one knew differently, I had achieved everything I was supposed to. So much so that I couldn’t be bothered to make it into town for a visit with old friends, past acquaintances, and school crushes.

The truth was, of course, completely the opposite, at least in my eyes. I imagined a party—all the familiar faces, and whispers behind plastic drinking cups about one another. How wonderful so-and-so looked. How so-and-so hadn’t changed a bit. And of course what people would think of me. Not married, a bit uncertain of my future, and weighing a few more pounds than I would have liked.

So when several close friends began encouraging me to join Facebook, I wasn’t the least bit interested. At the time, the only real social networking I was familiar with was My Space, mainly through my friend’s teenage children, and the thought of anyone my age spending time online for such a purpose seemed ludicrous. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing. What a waste of time.

As one of my friends went on to explain status updates and how you could share what you were doing at any given moment—I thought surely she had lost her mind. Who does this?

I can’t remember when I finally took the leap, although I think it might have been to prove to that very friend (and myself) what a bunch of nonsense the whole thing was. And at first, it did seem that way to me.

Then, a few friend requests popped up. Some faces I instantly recognized, others sent me to my bookshelf to find my yearbooks, turning pages—remembering—and a bit shocked that some of these people remembered me at all. I had felt invisible for a lot of high school and there was something revealing in knowing I was seen.

As my friend list grew, I rekindled relationships with people from my past, kindergarten classmates, friends of friends…acquaintances I met through past jobs, through travel, and through the other random moments in life. I found children I was a nanny for in college, all grown up with the same three year old grin hidden somewhere in their expression, and magically recreated in their own toddler’s faces.

It became all a little bit—captivating. No longer were all these people frozen in time---judging me and what I hadn’t done—it startles me to think how self centered and more than a little paranoid that thinking was. My own fears made me believe no one could see past well, the past, when it was me that was stuck in time, forgetting that we all step through trap doors, miss our chances, take new directions. We all do. And we become who we are because of it.

Even my closest friends that I stay in constant contact with have become dearer to me. I do know what they are doing at any given moment when they feel like sharing, and it is a gift. I no longer just hear from Judith through emails or the occasional call. I know that she just got great news, or shares pictures of her son’s visit from college, and I get to be a part of her life again—just as I did when I lived around the corner from her in Atlanta, even though we now live five hours apart.

I join in my friends' joy as they add to their families and share pictures of moments I would have otherwise completely missed. I see us all growing up, doing everything all over the map. And all my paranoid visions of judgment are laughable now. The love and support from people I once only knew from Algebra class and school field trips now encourage me before a job interview or send snarky comments to me when I need to laugh. My heart swells when someone is in crisis, or worries in the ER for a sick child, and a group of Facebook warriors from all across the globe keep thoughts and prayers flowing through message after message lighting up the screen at all hours. It has been a learning experience, and for any naysayers about social media, there is something so connected, real and genuine about it all, and I can honestly say it has enriched my life.

In those small snippets of text that grace the main pages, there is humor, wisdom, sadness, and acceptance. And for me, there has been more. It is how I met the person I love. Through careful steps, shared memories, and more than a little trepidation, we got to know each other. And I am absolutely certain I would never have been able to open my heart any other way. Coming from a shared background, knowing his past, him knowing mine, others knowing both of us (and encouraging a romance)—it was the perfect formula for me to step back into the world of trust.

And I did, one status update at a time.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Comfort Food

I constantly search for a way to quiet my mind once it starts whirling—a way to stop thinking, worrying, and fretting. At times when I feel overwhelmed, I need something to escape into. For many years, cooking has been a source of passion and comfort for me-- a way to sink into something else and change my focus.

Having been single for more years than I would like to count, it has too often seemed a waste, or at times too costly to do the kind of cooking I like to do. Nothing makes me happier than a crowd to cook for. I love all of it—the planning, choosing recipes, finding out who likes what, and then the shopping, preparation and unveiling the finished product. To me it is sharing love, giving of myself, and I enjoy so much watching others enjoy a good meal—and the camaraderie and laughter that accompany it.

I never questioned whether or not I would be able to cook…it was something I saw my mother and my grandmother instinctively do—with rarely a cookbook or recipe card in sight. I assumed it was a learned behavior like reading or riding a bike.

I do believe that part of that mentality is from a southern upbringing. At least from my mother's point of view, it seemed expected for a woman to be a good cook—it was all part of getting (and keeping) a husband. But for all of the backwards and sometimes time-warped southern traditions, I am thankful that learning to cook--feeling the need to cook is in my DNA.

In my grandmother’s tiny mountain cabin, which lacked a full plumbing system, and barely enough room for all of us to stand- let alone sit- in her house, she created aromas I am not sure have been replicated to date, even though my mother holds many of the recipes. Her gravy and biscuits still makes me ache for Sunday mornings, and even though I have watched my mother countless times, and have made more attempts than I care to mention, I can’t make them taste the same.

Because my mother grew up very poor, my grandmother’s cooking skills were put even more to the test, trying to stretch a thin budget to feed five children. Even still, my mother recalls my grandmother’s dishes with great admiration and nostalgia, and these same dishes have graced our table over the years.

And while growing up things in my house were strained, tough, and at times incredibly unhappy—some of the few peaceful times we shared as our disconnected silhouette of a family were around the dinner table. Looking back, it was almost as if when the kitchen timer sounded—all the chaos took a time out for dinner. My mother was and has always been an excellent cook, and many nights out of the week, we sat down to a great meal.

There is a calming effect with food—the anticipation, savoring, the focus. In the midst of the end of a workday, an argument, or just a swirl of activity, everything has to slow down, at least somewhat.

For me, cooking was always a little for daydreaming, too. I always imagined honing my skills, and how I would one day be a wife and mother, preparing meals for my family—my fresh start—to heal and begin anew. Over the years as that seemed further from reality, I still took comfort in cooking for my friends, coworkers, and my surrogate family members throughout all the cities I lived in.

And so many times when I was concentrating on the dreams that I didn’t see coming true, I didn’t realize that in many of my closest friend’s houses, the kitchen brought me a sense of family. I think of Judith’s kitchen in Atlanta, sharing so many meals in her home, the back of the house awash with light over early dinners of “mom’s special dish” (her son’s favorite). I think of “Nanny Rice” made with so much love in Debby’s kitchen in NC that I grew up associating it with comfort and her heart for me. I think of cooking meals at Patrick and Kristin’s house for friends and for their little girls, remembering when they still sat in booster seats giggling at me from across the table. And in just the last few weeks, my best friend Kim and I have shared and made each other’s recipes more than once. She is my teacher as of late, and I love knowing I have her expertise at any moment.

As I made a pot of homemade soup tonight at the end of a stressful day—after too many worries about money, work, and tough decisions- I found myself slowing down, as I chopped and sliced, sautéed and stirred. And a little bit of each of those kitchens—from my grandmother’s to Judith’s to Debby’s—and finally, my own-- helped me ease my mind and feel a sense of comfort and family.

And there is nothing more delicious than that.


Monday, March 1, 2010

The Other Side

There are times when I spend hours on a blog post, sorting through all my thoughts and sentences, wearing the pages of my thesaurus thin, not able to connect the exact meaning with my keystrokes. I always have a feeling of accomplishment when I am done--believing at least that I have gotten as close as I can. Sometimes the words resonate with readers and sometimes they don't, but I know I said what I wanted or needed to say.

Then, there are times when the words flow, when I can't get them down fast enough...it is almost stressful to write at a quick enough pace before I forget where my mind is heading. More often than not, these writing bursts happen late at night (or early in the morning)--as my nightowl tendencies lend me to greater creative connectivity past the hours of midnight.

And many times, those streaming thoughts are the ones that seem to connect--I know there is more of a purity there.

My last post, No Other Way, was one of those entries. I wrote it from beginning to end in a matter of minutes, and got some comments and emails so touching in response, that I was teary-eyed. I even printed a few out for inspiration.

But, mainly I was so heartened. I know that I have battled some of the darkest bouts of depression a person could ever go through, and have experienced so much seemingly bad luck in my life that my friends often commented to me that it seemed at times like a black cloud followed me.

When in those midnight-black places, I didn't want to hear from anyone that things could get better. It seemed like empty words coming from people who could not possible understand my pain or the sheer impossibility of getting to the other side.

And then, every now and then, I would read an article, a story, an essay, or a blog post and someone's words would reach me. I would see shared circumstances and find something that gave me a glimmer. Or, as in the case of Matt Logelin's blog, I would read about someone in completely different circumstances, but whose strength and grace just made me believe that I, too, could keep going. Those moments could sustain me for long periods of time.

So often when I share something of my life, the responses and stories I get in return from readers blow me away. The grace, survival, humor and ability to put it all into words is so touching and beautiful, and we all never really recognize how amazing our own stories are.

And although my life is far from perfect, I do know that I would never, ever have believed all the amazing things that have happened to me in the last year. Two years ago, I was so far away from all this--and if you are reading this--and if you need these words--please read them and know them to be true.

Even from the bottom of a seemingless bottomless pit, everything can change. Everything. It may not all be perfect, but it can be happy and hopeful, and more than you thought possible. It can. I promise.

And for so many of us creative souls, writing is therapy, healing, and sanity. Write-- put it all down. It doesn't have to be poetic. Even when I look back on some of my most heartbreaking journal entries or blog posts, I am so thankful I have those words--laced with all that pain. Because looking back, I know how far I have come, how little hope I had, and how nothing is ever written in stone.

And for anyone else who has come out of these dark places, whatever they may be...someone out there needs to hear your words of survival and hope. So share, trust yourself. It may make all the difference.

It did for me.



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