Open eyes

I found your writing.

You call yourself a writer but where are your words? Why are they hidden?

Writer is a big word in my book. You don’t just throw that around lightly.

When I was in college, learning about writing by real writers, they said you aren’t a writer until someone pays you for your words. That one stuck with me over the years.

I’ll admit, I worried about this writer business. What if you’re better? What if you are
a painfully bad writer? Where do we go from there?

Some writers dwell within the neatly spaced paragraphs of their published work and others just make a mess of their keyboards.  Do the good writers even know they’re good? Do bad writers realize they are bad? Is everyone really just a scared kid on the inside?

I think It’s like that with painters and piano players, too.

They all turn themselves inside out to show you their guts. Sometimes it too much to bear, all this beauty and blood.

I found your writing.

It scared me it was so good.

Now, 

I’m twisted inside out.

I feel as if I’ve taken a secret lover. I can’t breathe. I know too much, too fast.  

I feel your pain, I said out loud.

But I don’t feel your pain.  I don’t know your pain. What I mean is: Your words made me feel my pain. That is the only pain I know. And I wanted to take that hurt child — was it me or you? — into my heart. Maybe that’s what they mean by compassion.

 Maybe I can trade jealousy for admiration. Maybe I can break the wild horses that run uncontrolled across my mind.

I want to take a picture of this moment so I can see myself with open eyes.

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Mind matters

My right leg is a mess. Shin scraped raw. Knee swollen purple and scabby.

My instinct is to hide the mess.  It’s what I do with all the messes in my life. Throw a cloth over it and call it good.  But we’re in the grip of a fierce Indian summer; there’s no hiding the legs in shorts and skirt weather. Uncharacteristically, I’ve been showing off my wounds.

I earned these abrasions on an amazing ride. Geographically, it was seven difficult miles. Metaphorically, it was a personal journey of a million light years.

Yeah, I’m still the same old me on the outside, prone to injury and scar-covered to prove it. But under those scabs are the seeds of enlightenment. Seeds so small you’d need a microscope. Nonetheless, they’re there.

This pain is the fruit of a standing date I have with a good friend. We meet on Tuesdays. We do something outside: walk, ride bikes, ice skate. Whatever. I suggested bike riding on this last Tuesday. She named a park — one I’d never visited before — and I agreed. Little did I know what sort of trails awaited at this park.

Within moments of entering the densely wooded single-track, I encountered sandy hills, hairpin turns, exposed tree roots, low-hanging branches, large rocks, wooden bridges spanning water and mud, and gravel, lots of gravel. The first five minutes nearly killed me. I was in the wrong gear and couldn’t gain enough speed to shift. Eventually I got off the bike and began pushing it. Then I stopped.

As I scanned the dense woods for a sign of my friend, I thought about my yard sale hybrid bike, which has never felt sturdy in the grip of my hands.  I thought about the bike shop guy (who calls me “ma’am”) telling me to keep this bike off trails with bumps and holes. I thought about how little I knew about real mountain biking and how the last time I really rode like this I was a child, testing my mettle at a customized bike lot in my Detroit neighborhood. I remember the humiliating trek home, dragging my little blue bike in three pieces after it broke apart going over a gnarled tree root. I remember the punishment that followed the discovery of the bike in ruins. My head buzzed like a jar of angry bees.

I was slipping into a hole of despair, one I’d been working on all my life, digging with a small spoon. I lost track of time and place. My friend, no doubt blissfully navigating the bends and twists far ahead, was out of sight.  It was just me, the woods, and my mind.

My fucking mind.

It’s killing me.

You can’t do this, said the mean girl in my head. You are a lazy, gutless poser. I felt tears building in the corners of each eye. I felt the smack of shame on each cheek.  The logical, bespectacled part of my brain piped in: Excuse me, but this is a one-way, narrow, seven-mile trail, it said. You’d best stop this nonsense and get moving.  Another part, probably the loving, grandmotherly part of my brain, nudged its way to the front:  Hey, hey! it shouted in a motivational way. Look around you, embrace this gift of a day, go find your friend, you have two legs that work and a healthy heart and lungs. So maybe you aren’t rippling with muscle tone.  So what? So what if you are behind? So what if those guys on their fancy bikes with their fancy gear sneered a little as they passed you on the trail? So what if your daddy hated you so much he gave you a junkyard bike? All of these things are excuses for quitting. You are not a quitter or have you forgotten?

Shameless whiner? Yes. Quitter? No. I clamped an open palm on the yapping mouths chattering in my head, jumped on the bike and tried to distance myself from his awful thing that had me in its grip. Something happened. I lost awareness of my feet, pedaling and pumping until my quads erupted in flames. But even that pain felt distant. I lost focus of my hands, which somehow steered the bike around hazards and shifted for the trail ahead. For a few beautiful minutes, I was a multi-colored spirit gliding through shapes, shadows and dimensions.

Then I crashed. Hard.  Both front and back reflectors snapped off my bike. My water bottle toppled into the underbrush. As I lay in the pebbled dirt, panting, feeling the sweat drip from under my helmet, I felt the abdominal contractions of a laugh. I lifted the bike, stood, inspected it for the expected (but nonexistent) damages, looked at my shredded leggings and at the dots of blood oozing from open skin. My eyes leaked. My nose ran. My body rippled with joyous laughter.

My friend found me. Are you OK? she asked. Never better, I said, alternately laughing and panting, swiping my runny nose on my sleeve as I gathered the scattered plastic and brushed bits of rock and dirt out of my open wounds.

My friend offered to trade bikes. Even in the swap she disappeared quickly on the trail as I wobbled around the curves. That’s when I missed a tree and ran into myself. Clarity flowed into that jar in my head, displacing the buzzing bees.

It’s not the bike. It’s not the trail. It’s not my shitty childhood.

It is me.

As if life itself grabbed me by the collar and pushed me face-first toward a pool of still water, forcing me to look into the mirror of my truth, I choked on the clarity.  I carry a backpack stuffed with convenient  excuses for every obstacle. Every bike I ride has a flaw. Every trail is designed with failure in mind. Facing the mirror of truth, I instinctively look away. Instead, I search for the familiar, distorted sketches in my mind. The box is empty.

Enough.

What if I dropped the load? What if I let go of myself long enough to ride the current? What if every day could be as exhilarating as this one?

Since that ride, I attempted another trail with little success. My still-throbbing knee sent a message to my brain that said: Soon, but not today. This week, I bought a better bike.

My leg is healing. My head is somewhat clearer. What will the next ride deliver?

 

 

 

 

 

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Snake charms

Garter Snake, close up, taken in North Ontario...

It's NOT gardener snake. It's garter snake. Without arms or legs you cannot effectively raise crops.

Having been reared by a person rife with irrational fears, I’ve had to work hard all my adult life to reign in the crazy. Two things I’m still working on in the fear department: packs of feral dogs and small electrical appliances spontaneously combusting. (I’ve had an unfair share of freak accidents involving home appliances.) The former is a justifiable fear as I live one-half mile from a particularly mean part of Detroit that regularly expels feral dogs. The latter, well, that’s what therapy is for, right?

I do not have a fear of snakes, per se, but when I go West I take measures to avoid rattle snakes.  LIttle did I know some folks keep them as cuddly pets. (Stop goofing around and click on over to The Bloggess; you won’t get what I’m saying unless you do. Plus, she’s so funny.)  I showed this post to my husband and he gave me “the look.” Even though our marriage is so good it goes to eleven, I know my husband doesn’t always get a certain side of my humor.

The Bloggess’s post about snakes — or is it about signs? — reminded me of period in my life when posting crazy signs all over the place was a major part of my weekly routine. The best ever? Removing all the toilet paper rolls from the ladies room (two floors up from our office in a crumbling old high-rise), posting explanatory signs on the stall doors about paper rationing and how employees could earn squares on the merit system, and stashing the emergency supply on the 23rd-floor fire escape. (Wow. Who knew wind could unravel toilet paper so quickly?)

The Bloggess’s post about signs — or is it snakes? –begs me to share this:  On a bike ride through a thickly forested park last week, my friend and I happened upon two women walking their dogs. Suddenly, they began shrieking and waving their arms. We pedaled over to see if they needed help.

“Snake!” they shouted and pointed toward this bitty little striped garter snake slithering silently past my front tire and over a bed of fallen leaves.

“It’s harmless, only a garter snake,” I told them.

Then, (It was not my goal to be a bitch, but I knew it was bitchy the minute it came out.) I said to the snake: “Go on, little snake, before someone runs over you or steps on you.” Because I knew, just knew, that if we hadn’t come along, a foot or a log was coming down on that snake.

Silence.

“Well, we’re not afraid of snakes,” one of them finally said.We just didn’t expect to see one out here.”

Of course not. The dense Michigan woods is no place for a small snake.  They belong in the Wal*Mart pet department next to the goldfish.

Now, if I were shivering in a paper gown at the hospital awaiting a colonoscopy and I saw one slinking along the carpeted floor, I might scream and wave my arms because there was nothing in the pre-procedural literature about snakes. Nothing.

 

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Let’s go out and play

Girl from the East has a new best friend and it’s a boy.

They secretly became best friends in preschool, unbeknownst to all the parents involved.

The first blush of spring delivered news that Girl and Boy were now best friends. I remember my surprise because I’d never seen the two of them so much as look at each other at school. I considered it a passing fancy.

A week later, Boy’s mother called and said Boy just had to have a play date with Girl. So, we scheduled one. All went well. Many more followed. Sometimes we had to peel them apart when the play date was over. We declared their friendship “adorable” and “sweet.” At preschool graduation, we figured the friendship would be forgotten; Boy and Girl were going to different elementary schools in the fall.

The phone calls started mid-September. First, from the mom saying that Boy, who was sad, had written notes and colored pictures for Girl during summer break. Then, the dad, when I bumped into him at the grocery store, told me that Boy was begging to have a play date with Girl because he was worried that he’d never see her again.

Yesterday was the second big play date of the school year for these two.

I took Boy and Girl to a nearby nature preserve tucked along a small river twisting through a neighborhood. Indian summer spread its buttery glow over the forest, scattering orange and red confetti to the wind, stirring the hunt-and-gather instinct. Red squirrels with nut-stuffed cheeks scampered over the leaf and stick carpet and clambered up tall oaks, barking at us as we passed underneath.  Ducks paddled along the lazy river’s edge, following us with hope of a food reward. Boy and Girl, oblivious, ran races along the dirt trails, stuffed their backpacks with leaves, slid through muddy patches, threw acorns in the river, teased the ducks, found a grassy hill and rolled down like logs, then discovered a playground and played hide-and-seek until the sun cast long shadows across the lot.

I snapped a lot of pictures. I smiled a lot.  I thought about why these atypical pairings grab our attention. When Girl has one of her gal pals over, I think nothing of the hugging and hand holding and proclamations of never-ending devotion. When this happens with a boy, I add a heavy dose of my own romanticism and idealism to it.

Here’s the thing: Boy-girl play dates are so much easier to referee, at least for this mother of two daughters. They just — play. There’s no squabbling over who gets to wear the sparkly princess tiara during dress up or who gets the Malibu Barbie when they’re playing doll house.

This little slice of sweetness between Boy and Girl is different for me and it’s been a joy to watch. It’s a reminder that there are moments of pure bliss in life, when your legs will take you anywhere, when your eyes are open to everything, when wonder and adventure await around every bend in the path.

Go outside and play with your best friend.

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