string of beads

A string of beads has a thread running through all the beads, keeping them together. What we need is a thread too—of sanity and stability. Because when you have a thread, even though each bead is separate, they hang together. When we have the teachings in us, stabilizing us, there’s a thread to keep our life together that prevents us from falling apart.

The thing is, either it’s clear and I write about it, or it is not clear and I write about it anyway. Sometimes I slip into a space so uncertain I cannot articulate what I’m experiencing. It’s as if I’ve pushed a mute button.

The past few months have been a blur of work, party planning, various other need-it-yesterday obligations, extreme heat and humidity, broken plans, insomnia, extreme exercise, and some really big steps outside my comfort zone. These beads of my life rattled and bounced on a string that stretched ever tighter. In the past week the frayed string snapped. That I didn’t totally fall to pieces is a testament to my faith and spiritual practice.

Sure, I hurt inside. When I don’t hurt I feel utter emptiness. I catch myself wrapping myself in false dressings, then embarrassed at the attempts, rip them away and start anew.

“You are going through a major energy shift,” I’m told by one who sees and feels things. Energy shifts feel like rides at amusement parks. Sudden rapid acceleration followed by jerking turns and clunky stops. Then the waiting, the interminable waiting. This seems unexpected considering all the accomplishments of late: I’ve had freelance work almost all summer. I trained for a 5K obstacle race and completed it. I’ve taken on some long and challenging bike rides. I helped plan and execute Girl from the West’s graduation party. I kept up with all my volunteer obligations and met all deadlines. I made a number of new friends. Shouldn’t I be elated?

Inside I’m shredded by terrible anxiety and an almost unyielding drive to take on something even more difficult (like a 12-mile obstacle race). All year I’ve pushed myself into situations (hello, class reunion) and people (those who will challenge me, who doubt my ability and I feel I must prove them wrong) who I’d otherwise avoid like a mosquito-infested swamp.

Something in me tired of being sequestered in an empty office, of interacting with the world almost exclusively by computer. I joined more groups, said yes to every invitation, and now? I cannot stand to be alone. I’ve nearly abandoned most of my social media accounts, remaining loyal only to this blog and Facebook.

I think about how on the physical level, with running and boot camp training and bike riding long miles I endured the physical pain of sore muscles for the goal of getting stronger.  I thought it would be the same on an emotional level. The thing is, even inflamed tissue responds to ice and anti-inflammatory pills. How do you build emotional strength? When you bear through the discomfort of situations you want to avoid. When you march through the pain of doing the right thing, even if it feels terrible. Nothing but time, self-discipline, and patience can heal emotional pain.

I’ve been told I live life with so much intensity. That such a quality either grabs people or turns them away. I’m drawn to and attract others who do the same, which almost always leads to trouble of some kind or other. A friend told me she’s disappointed in me because I continue to deny who I am to please others and in the process I end up hurting people because they view me as a game-player. I do not see myself that way. But, for the first time I think I understand how that could be the way I seem to others. In the process of this growth I lost that new friend, someone who could have been a nice addition to my life, but my inner battle to be who I am against who others think I should be, sent me running, hands over head as if bombs were bursting overhead, into my hidey hole. Is there anything worse than being accused of something you cannot even understand or see that you have done?

I’ve had some great, high moments. I’ve earned the respect of people I admire. I can take pride in those moments because I was honoring my true self. But it’s the humbling, raw moments that stay with me, when I’m called on my BS, my lies exposed.  I’m scared. What am I supposed to do with a “big energy shift”? Invent something? Save baby rabbits? Trade my life for the monastery?

Here’s the thing. I need to get back out there and not retreat into that hidey-hole, which is my habit. I need to be my best self, put forth my best effort, and rebuild that string, bead by bead. All is not lost as it feels on the inside. I’m just focusing on one particular bead lost, and not on all the collected ones I’ve earned right there at my feet.

They also hold value.

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Name-your-color Friday

Color it white Friday? This year is a tabula rasa for us, a blank slate, because we dared to make our own plans, to sidestep tradition and celebrate our nuclear family.

Paint it a blue, brown and red Friday? On this last day of our little getaway, we visit a nature preserve not far from the hotel. The day unveiled the kind of blue sky only visible  in the cooler months, after the humidity lifts its haze. Cirrus clouds etched the blue, making a stunning backdrop to the blacks, grays and browns of a denuded boreal forest. We hiked miles on leaf-littered trails, through dense brush, small clearings and wetlands. Dog walkers, one or two other families, and chattering chickadees were our only company.

It’s another antidote in the medicine chest of elixirs we’ve self-administered this Thanksgiving. Our family of three (the fourth opted to spend it with her biological father) sought a refuge of sorts in a hotel room on the other side of the state. A pretty area with rolling hills, wide rivers, and thick forests. We played cards on the bed, ate in bed, swam in the pool, sat in the hot tub, ate a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner in a nice restaurant, walked the quiet streets. No cooking. No alarm clocks. No stress.

Color it a rainbow Friday, accented with unicorns and sparkly stars, sprinkled with fairy dust. It’s that fabulous.



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Gone with the wind

by watchsmart via creative commons

An odd day. When I opened the blinds and looked out on my yard, I noticed my prayer flags had disappeared. We had a strong wind rip through here last night. It tore the last of the leaves from the trees, sent limbs earthward, and made a mess of the neat pile of raked leaves at the curb.

Amid all the howling and rustling outdoors, I suppose my flags lost their grip on the wooden fence and sailed away. A brief search of the immediate neighborhood turned up nothing. I decided the grouping of five colorful fabric squares, as faded and frayed as they were, had done their work and needed replacing. Nevertheless, I was a little sad and unsettled.

As the coffee brewed, I opened my laptop to check e-mail and look up some information about prayer flags, I found that I could not get into Yahoo e-mail and Facebook. I’ll spare you the details except to say 12 hours later I’m back on e-mail but Facebook refuses to allow me to use my account. I smell trouble.

Prayer flags gone. Online accounts compromised. Small things, really, but enough to set my day on its side.



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Road map to confusion

For weeks I tripped over a cardboard box of books in the garage. I cussed, kicked the box, wondered from where it came. I made a mental note to move it to the trunk of my car to take to the recycling center. Except the trunk of my car was filled with bags of paper that needed shredding and clothing destined for the donation bin.

One day I couldn’t take it any more. I overturned  the box. Onto the concrete floor spilled volumes of those “complete idiot” guides and the “for dummies” books, along with some kindling in the form of a Rush Limbaugh book, some unknown volumes and this trio of curiosity:

In a roundabout way, a gift to me from my ex-husband.

I picked up the paperback “Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich and suddenly I was a junior in college, swept away by the flowing prose of D.H. Lawrence and satire of Swift. I wasn’t assigned Erdrich; I stole it from my then-boyfriend who’d become my husband (and discover my petty thievery) and is now my ex. (Apparently the book has traveled full circle into my life again.) I fell in love with Erdrich and her then-husband Michael Dorris and their deeply moving stories of Native American life.

As I fanned the pages, picking up the musty, smoky scent of time, scanning the highlighted passages, I remembered the day my ex and I divided our book and CD collection into two piles: his and mine. The Erdrich collection, the Dorris, the Dylan and Rolling Stones CDs remained in his pile.

The box was from my ex.

I can understand the need to thin the book collection, to maybe be nice and give me the book I’ve always liked more than he did. I cannot understand “Road Map to Ecstasy.”

They arrived via Girl from the West’s car. Perhaps he knows her well enough that a sex book in a box of boring books is a book that won’t be touched. Perhaps he no longer needs a guidebook.

I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll never know.

I’m choosing to say thank you.

Thank you, ex-husband, for the sex manual and the literary classics, not doubt selected to read afterward, in front of the fire, started with the Rush Limbaugh book.

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Playing God

Day 22 of Operation Butterfly Hospice

I am not playing God, I say as I coax the monarch butterfly on my palm, easing it toward a cotton ball soaked with sugar water.  I’m just taking care of a butterfly that couldn’t/wouldn’t make it to Mexico. This is an amazing opportunity to study this creature up-close.

Ummm-hmmm. You’re interfering with nature, the natural order of things. You know that, don’t you?

It’s not like I’m seeding clouds or anything. I took in a butterfly that would not have made it otherwise.

You don’t know that, do you? 

No. I’m guessing. I wanted to do the humane thing and so I moved it out of harm’s way. It’s wings were ripped. It was cold and wet outside.

Survival of the fittest. I don’t think the butterfly had a ticket on Southwest Airlines. Cold and wet are probably part of the migration experience.

I get that. I do. Let me tell you something: Twice in the last month I’ve been on the expressway going 70 mph, and come upon the remains of a dog. This last time it was a German shepherd, I think, strewn all over the road.  It was beyond traumatic to see and very troubling to think that someone allowed a dog to get in the position where it was on the expressway. I wish someone would have helped that poor dog before it was too late.

OK. That’s not right. I’ll give you that. But we are talking about an insect here, not a dog.

Now who’s playing God? Why should one life hold more value?

So are you saying I should be happy we don’t also have a German shepherd living in our bathroom along with this precious insect?

I don’t know what I’m saying. All I know is it felt like the right thing to do. Maybe it’s gotten a little out of hand.

I’ll say out of hand. You blew out our electric heater keeping this insect warm and cozy.

I didn’t mean to fry our only second-floor heating source but that butterfly needed to be kept warm. Think of what a great learning experience this is for the kids. Circle of life and all.

Oh, we’ve got a regular three-ring circus here, that’s for sure. First, the praying mantis, then the big, hairy spider in the jar, now this. All this effort could go toward a job. Just sayin’.

I’m saving one of God’s creatures.

What if God wanted that creature to feed a bird preparing for the winter? What if God wanted that butterfly to die right there on the sidewalk as a reminder of the delicate line between life and death? Not every butterfly makes it to Mexico. But it’s not our place to decide. You put more care and concern into that butterfly than you do yourself. Save yourself.

By saving it, I save myself. I am not playing God. I am playing me.


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The power of beauty

Emma, our rescued, flight-challenged monarch

Moments after I lovingly placed this rescued monarch on a flower injected with sugar water, I closed the door on its habitat (our bathroom) and grabbed a rolled-up newspaper and whacked to death a moth flapping around near the hallway light fixture.

— Day 13 of Operation Butterfly Hospice


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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.


“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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