25 May 2014

Freedom's Just Another Thing

From time to time, disparate elements of my life -- books I'm reading, email messages and FaceBook comments, overheard snatches of conversation, etc. -- seem to be in conversation.
It happened this week. It started with a thought-provoking article posted on FaceBook:  "10 Things That The People Who Love Their Lives Are Doing Differently." My motivation for reading it was curiosity about recent brief but recurring lapses into hating or grumbling about my life. I wondered if the list would shed some light.

 They don’t bother trying to make others like them — mainly because they don’t care if they’re liked.

I've been marching to my own drumbeat most of my life, not caring much about being liked. But these last two years, living more socially isolated than perhaps ever before in my life, it is difficult sometimes to hear the beat. I won't go into a discussion of the specific causes of my deafness except to say that I have been hungry for social contact here at times. I have noticed I am increasingly uncharacteristically cautious, making more effort than is usually my wont to avoid offending the companion of the moment. 

It results in that awful arrangement:  being with people and feeling more alone than ever. In those moments, I do NOT love my life. I am caring more about being liked...

A few days later, an email from a friend called my attention to an episode of the great radio show This American Life entitled "Americans in Paris." It was a rerun of an show from several years ago but I either hadn't heard it or didn't remember the title.

As I listened to David Sedaris' frank disclosures about his social anxieties, seemingly unconcerned about what his fans would think, and his forthright confession that he has lived in Paris for years without visiting any of the must-see sights, I thought of the "10 Things..." list again. I wondered if he loves his life. And I think he does. He's far from what I would call "cheerful" and, yet, I think he lives on his own terms and loves his life.

In the final segment of  "Americans in Paris" we meet Janet McDonald, a delightful African American woman who lives and works in Paris. She speaks with insight and humor about experiential differences between being "black" in Paris versus the U.S. When the host asks her to explain her statement that "it feels very different to be around French white people than American white people," she says, "I feel much more comfortable. I feel that I'm not a black object..."

...and tears sprang to my eyes. It's not a secret that a large part of my motivation for going to 
Brazil is a desire to experience -- just once in my life....please -- living for an extended period among people who do not see me as a black object, but hearing someone else express the same sentiment was...heavy. 

She says: ". It's not just that we [black americans in paris] feel free of the burden of race, because we are still black. I still experience myself as black. It's just that that's not like the center of my identity. It's not the first thing people relate to when I meet them here.

Oh, yeah. Tears were streaming by now. It was not, as I was so often accused growing up, that I did not want to be black; it was that my identity, who I knew myself to be and what what I wanted to give the world, had so little to do with the color of my skin and it felt like there was no way, nowhere, to bring what I felt was the best of me.


Ms. McDonald grew up in a housing project and escaped a hard scrabble life there to attend Vassar ... where she navigated a new and different set of challenges. She wrote a book about the whole experience. Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, read her book and comments
"...She depicts herself as somebody who was depressed and embattled and sort of lost for years.
And the most striking thing about meeting her, if you've read the book, is how completely happy she seems today. She's one of the happiest seeming people I have ever met, just relaxed and funny and at ease. ..."

She sounded that way to me, too, listening to the interview. I was still reflecting on the "People Who Love Their Lives" article. I thought, "She loves her life" and I wondered "Will I ever love my life like that?" Maybe Brazil...
In the closing credits and acknowledgements of the broadcast, we learn that Ms. McDonald died a few years after the interview. Ira said he hated having to add that postscript to the story but I didn't feel sad at all to hear it. Near the end of the interview, she said

That's what's freedom is, though. It's not about nothing left to lose. It's about nothing left to be. You don't have to be anything. I was just thinking about it this morning. It's like I'm an outsider. I will always be a foreigner no matter how good my French gets. I will never really be French no matter how much of a wannabe I am. And yet, I feel that I'm home. I'm just home.
Yes! Beautifully said. She found freedom. 

And now, I think my journey with the "10 Things" list comes to a end. The mission, the issue, the "thing" is not comparing my life to those exceptional, special people who love their lives....learning their tricks of the trade. 

There are no tricks. I re-read the list (and another list  I found this morning called "17 Things People Who Love Their Lives Do Differently") and, for me, there's just one "thing," one "home" and its name is Freedom.

11 May 2014

Clear Sailing

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." -- Anais Nin

Photographer:  Gary Jones
It comes a little later than expected but it is happening at last. Spring is bursting out. From this chair on the front porch I see the lawn exploding in a profuse variety of weeds. What are their names? According to the weed identification chart so generously offered by MS State University with full-color photos to facilitate a search for an answer to that question, by my inexpert assessment, the lawn includes the following:

  • black medic
  • broadleaf plantain
  • creeping Charlie
  • orchard grass
  • tall fescue
  • white clover
  • dandelion
  • pennywort
...and a few others I didn't find in the MSU gallery. I have mowed three times already and really should mow today but it's Mother's Day and I'm treating myself well.

Then there are the insects. Gnats, flies and mosquitoes, wasps and bumblebees, crickets, spiders, ants and beetles, snails, worms....

Every day I see "the largest crow/hawk/bluejay/robin/sparrow/cardinal/woodpecker/etc. I've ever seen." The birds are huge. A plump, monster bluejay is at this moment perched on the fence a few feet away from the porch. He is nearly one-half the size of some lapdogs.

The neighbors with the four dogs moved away. From the day the dogs left, raccoon sightings have steadily increased in the neighborhood. Contrary to my understanding, they are not strictly nocturnal animals.

And they are fearless. One lumbered casually across the back lawn the other afternoon, not 10 feet from the porch where Carlton and I sat talking. Last night I heard a ruckus just outside my bedroom window.  It sounded like someone, rifling through a bag of tools. I went to the window to investigate, but because of the contrast between bright inside and dark outside, I could see nothing through the screen.

I returned to my desk and the sounds continued. I returned to the window, this time with flashlight in hand and cast a beam through the screen, scanning the yard for the source of the noise. The beam fell at last on a large raccoon. S/he looked over her/his shoulder at me but did not startle, did not run from the light.

I extinguished the light and went to the back porch. I opened the screen door and turned on the flashlight. The creature was still there, untroubled. Not until I stepped through the door and shouted "Get outta here!" did the raccoon retreat. I watched it run away, more in a mood of annoyance than fear.

At least 20 "volunteer trees" have joined the small forest army in the backyard this season. Some of them are tall and thick enough to cast a small shadow. Some of the shadows are well on their way to becoming "shade."

Mother Nature, based on an assessment of my immediate surroundings, is doing a bang-up job of mothering. She is prolific and vigorous. In nature, every day is Mother's Day; every day she is affirmed in an enduring vibrant display. No special cards of gratitude or acknowledgment are necessary. The World is Her and is Hers and the celebration is constant.

On this day that humans have designated for formal, outward expressions in celebration of mothers and mothering, I reflect with some sadness on my relationship with my mother and my experiences as mother to my son. Only in isolated moments has my life as child of a mother and mother to a child approached the cultural ideal. I know this is true for many people. My sadness is not envy of other children or other mothers. Or not mostly. Mostly it is, in the case of my own upbringing, a painful awareness of what I needed or wanted from her and never received. I survived without the nourishment my Soul longed for but it cost me something and on Mother's Day I feel the poverty of that price.

My sadness as a mother is a writhing, pungent, bone-deep ache. It is an agonized question, screamed in a vast, dark cathedral. What did I do wrong? My life from that day in August 1977 when I learned I was pregnant to this moment flashes before my eyes--and through my heart--at high velocity. I feel the impact of all the choices and words and places, a million scenes play out again with blinding speed and staggering psychic resonance. I am emotionally laid flat on the ground, worn out by the heart-breaking consequences of one decision:  to become a mother. Would I have chosen differently if I'd known how much pain would come from that choice?

It is a difficult and ridiculous question.  Contemplation of it has become a staple feature of my Mother's Day observance.

I've been studying Portuguese for a few months. The ever-present but never-focused dreams of living abroad and, specifically, visiting Brazil are coming into sharper focus. First application for a passport is in progress. Preliminary scan of CouchSurfing members living in Brazil is complete. I am saving my money. I am actively seeking contacts and making tentative plans to be in Brazil by December.

The robust forward momentum of nature inspires me. Fullness! Some fullness of living is denied by the mother-based sadness in me. It drains vitality that wants expression. It stops embodied engagement with the divine miracle of my existence.

That's how it it seems to me today. On this Mother's Day, I acknowledged publicly (on FaceBook) that I will celebrate myself today. My celebration is a personal acknowledgement of the gift of my Life. It is a re-commitment to breathing fully and living fully. It is making a conscious choice to relinquish the sadness and embrace the "Yes".

Life is messy and unpredictable and full of surprises. Life is tragic and mean and mysterious. Life is glorious and absurd and sweet. It's not the Hallmark card and it's not the horror movie, although it is both of those in fleeting instances.

Today I celebrate the fullness. I dance the courage and light and burden of my existence. I sing the pathos, the fury, the prayer and the ballad of Life, my Life.

Out of the doldrums. Sails filled with the winds of my willingness.
"And thAnd the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/anaisnin120256.html#GV1KcFJ4BdBCcZyH.99