Tides

blue-boats

Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I feel brittle. My face is set, full of worry and the obligations of life. There is an edge I can not name that builds, and shows itself to me in a glance, or an unexpected reflection in a passing window.

My husband and I have lives that are too busy. We behave like separate ships on the sea, sending signals and flashes of light while moving in turbulent waters, our attention fully given to navigation.

But once in awhile all that turbulence stops. The sea calms and we drift slowly into shore, rediscovering each other like long lost friends, wondering how we ever drifted so far apart. Those times are precious to me, the coming back times. The sharp edges of our lives melt against candle light. Our faces soften. Our bodies reach toward the warmth of one another, and suddenly I no longer feel old, rigid or brittle.

We lived in this soft place when we met. We could not pull ourselves from it, but now it takes a snow storm or an act of love to remember the truth of who we are together.

The scent of ginkgo and vanilla blend in fragrant oils and infuse the space. A musical tapestry woven with harp and voice washes away the outside world. The phone is unplugged. I study the way my hair falls against my face in the shadows on the wall, as I tenderly stroke the white of his beard, and trace the lines of his lips with my finger. Our bodies find each other in celebration.

When did the mundane gain so much attention and power? When did the entrance to this soft place become veiled and difficult to find?

We have been in retreat, but I can feel the tide approaching. The sea is calling and we will soon slip back into the way it was. There will be day after day of appointments, business meetings and obligations. In the evening we will embrace, have dinner and fall dead tired into our beds, or stay up half the night to meet excessive demands.

During those times, I will remember and long for this retreat. I will imagine our shadows and tenderness played out against the bedroom wall and wish for it. I will notice, and wonder how we can slow down enough to find the veiled entrance into this softer, gentler place.

Meeting the Prince

Meeting the prince 6She was up past her bedtime and delighting in every minute. My little Isabella Rose was having dinner at Newport Bay with the grown-ups, patiently ingesting the main course, while impatiently waiting for the promised sundae at the end.  “Ma, I don’t want the nuts on my ice cream, just lots of chocolate sauce and extra whipping cream. Do you think that’s okay?”   I did.

After her cherished indulgence, we moved to the ladies room to wash the sticky remains from her body. The restroom had a single wash basin and mirror, being fully occupied by a woman applying lipstick in shades of fire engine red. Fishnet stockings with attached rhinestones crawled up her legs, intersecting with a gold lame skirt, which barely covered the essentials.  Her stiletto heels glittered, as did the plunging neckline of her blouse before opening to reveal a red lace bra against aging breasts. When she finished painting her lips and cementing locks of colored red hair with spray, she refreshed eyeliner by drawing little wings that moved seductively toward her hairline. She seemed completely unaware of us, as she dabbed perfume in her cleavage, then adjusted the dangle of rhinestones that fell from each ear.

I was thinking paid escort or street walker, as I glimpsed the emotionally weary spirit behind the glitter. The next thing I knew, Isabella was tugging the hem of her skirt, her eyes lit with wonder. The woman looked down, as if seeing us for the first time. “What do ya want?”

“Are you on your way to the ball?” Isabella asked. “To meet the prince? You look beautiful, just like Cinderella.”

The woman smiled, a crack of warmth opening in an otherwise hardened face.

“Yeah, somethin’ like that sweetie, somethin’ like that.”

Little Piece of Heaven

empressMy son, Clay, was young, a teenage boy, when we headed to one of Seattle’s finest hair salons. I’d agreed to give the owner tarot readings in exchange for appointments but regretted the decision almost immediately.  I hadn’t realized what it meant to be privy to the inner workings of a salon filled with drama, love affairs and a stress driven owner. I was on the verge of calling it off when I took my son in.

A young stylist wearing a short skirt and broad smile took Clay to the shampoo basin, where she caressed his head into a lather of suds, then rinsed and toweled him off.

This was not treatment he was used to, having been given cuts by yours truly, until I got distracted one day and clipped his ear.  After which, he burst from the house, declaring our hair cutting relationship complete and final forever! There was no going back and no forgiveness. It was over.

His young stylist squared his shoulders to the mirror pulling strands of hair skyward, while lifting and stroking fringe near the base of his neck.  Clay purred beneath the attention, not knowing that his delights had only begun. The stylist then pulled him back against her enormous breasts where he released a long low sigh, as if resting on great celestial cushions. And the more she cut, the more he relaxed, his smile spreading slow and sweet, like honey on toast.  And when she finished, she brushed little piles of his blonde hair from the shelf of her breasts.  “There you go sweetie, you’re all done.”

He was a boy feeling handsome and cared for as we made our way to the car, his attitude erasing any resentment I’d felt.

“Mom, I really liked that haircut.  I’m pretty sure I’d like to come back.”

I smiled, a mama’s insightful smile.  “I thought you might.”

Snapshot

garden cahirYesterday a young couple (everyone is young to me now) came to buy my collapsible patio furniture, only it didn’t collapse.  She and I were content to load it in the truck as it was, but her man would have none of it.

Instead, he examined each chair and the underside of the metal table, hyper focusing on the task at hand.  I could almost hear him thinking:  “Ah, an opportunity to use WD-40 and a screw driver to solve a mechanical man puzzle.”

We women drifted toward the garden, speaking of plants and pots, as he worked to  solve the problem.

“You like that pot?” I asked.  “You can have it. No charge.”

“Oh thank you! Bob look. This will replace the one you broke.”

Bob looked up confused and apologetic.

“I broke one of your pots?”

Obviously an event so inconsequential, that it warranted zero memory.

After a brief moment of feeling muddled, he returned to work. “Oh, that’s it. They pull from the back, not the front. They were just rusted.”

Having successfully folded the set, Bob migrated toward a disabled scooter with exposed motor.

I watched his enchantment with the scooter, as she lingered in the garden, thinking again about how men build houses and women make them homes.

How different the worlds that men and women live in, and how nearly impossible to relate. And yet we do, deeply and lovingly. Their simple interactions left me with a sweetness that lingered.

The Leap

lion on fireToday I’m thinking about that space in between. The space between what you have and what you want. I’m thinking about the effort and trust required to go from solid ground into thin air, with the belief that your leap will be met with footing that is not apparent until you step into nothingness.

The idea of nothingness lands heavy, like breath stuck in your chest, inviting fears that have been  neatly tucked away to reveal their shadowed face. A visit that leaves brief paralysis.

But that is not who you are and you know it, so you gather yourself, breathe, and call on the light. “Yes, you can do this,” it encourages. “You can be terrified, unsure and resistant, and still step away.”  And you can trust. Not from blind faith, but from something older and wiser that oversees such things, something that knows that the death of the old can be endured, and even celebrated given time.

But these fears  don’t go away with good thoughts and pretty words, because you are opening and vulnerable. In this place you deny, reach for food, entertainment, drugs or anything that will numb the knowledge of what you must do.

Your dreams encourage you to jump, painting radiant pictures of a future self, while a frightened part believes that it cannot, and will not rise to the task.   “Retreat,” it cries,  “into places where growth is not required.  No, no, not today please, maybe tomorrow.”

And so, night after night,  you go to bed with the dark privacy of your deepest fears, wishing things could magically change, or that someone else could save your life. But there is no one else.  When morning comes, you wake raw and exposed, knowing you can no longer live with the pain of staying still and small, because something inside has shifted, something you can no longer deny, numb or turn away.  And so you prepare, asking what must be taken and what must be left, but not with words, because the answer lives in the language of feelings and instinct.

You know that the only way out is through, but even as you prepare to leap, the dying self clings, screaming excuses in your ears. “Stay small, stay safe!” But your listening is all used up. So on that terrifying and celebrated day, you close your eyes, call on whatever forces may guide and protect you, and finally, both with and without courage, you step away from what was. And that very act, that willingness and broadness of heart, opens and delivers you.

Efficiency Expert

writerwebI gaze out the window in that dreamy way one does when slipping into a new day, soft memories of night still clinging warm and welcome against my skin.

My assignment is to make a schedule and stick to it, to make the wide open spaces in my life boxed and labeled in order to be more productive. It’s not who I am or who I’ve been, but I’m determined to be happier at the end of the day because of all I’ve accomplished.

I sit to do it now as tea fills my nose with the scent of peppermint, and another radiant blue sky washes over the emerald expanse of the Topa Topa Mountains.

So, what shall I put in this morning between 8 and 10? I think about going back to bed with a heating pad, but return instead to the task at hand, dutifully making boxes with a ruler.  I draw Monday thru Sunday, dividing each day into morning, afternoon and evening.

Resistance creeps in slowly, like incoming fog.  There are so many what-if’s to consider. But my words won’t be set in stone, right? I get up to turn on my computer but it won’t start. Hum?  Must call the repair man. Unless of course it magically repairs itself, as it often does, like some cranky old man, agreeing to show up for work on some days but not others.

The Ojai Valley News waits in the driveway.  I saunter out in my favorite over sized shirt, flatten the paper’s curl to full attention and plop in an Adirondack chair beneath towering sunflowers. Twenty minutes later I know what’s happening in the valley and head back inside.

It’s 8.30.  I’m not doing too well with my calendar making. I’ll get back to it after oatmeal and a brief cleanup of the kitchen.

9.00. I study the lines, hours and days trying to imagine myself the kind of person who keeps a schedule, no matter what.  I usually swim between 7 and 10, unless I’m too tired, like today, then I might wait until 11. How do I write that in? How about swim sometime, does that count? I search for the answer staring into nothing, my eyes finally settling on remnants from a small battlefield to the right of the curtain, where corpses of smashed bugs still cling to the wall, their bloody little bodies adhered.  I remember the victory and my haste in running out the door before cleaning up.

I put down my tea, spic and span the mop and begin to scrub, which leads to multiple cobwebs in multiple corners all around the house, the grand finale happening in the bathroom, where drops of ceiling moisture above the shower have turned to orange stalactites.

Oops.  Off task again.  Since I don’t seem to be doing my scheduling, I vow to appease the Organizational Gods by making one difficult phone call before noon.

9.30  Is the computer ready yet? Maybe if I push the start button with something hard like the end of my pen. Nope.  Skype client at 3, computer must be repaired by then.

Ohhhh… I’ve left my red pen uncapped near the monitor and ink has bled into the Amish patchwork my now-dead mother bought me.

Big breath in.  Remain calm. Big breath out.

Okay, sorry mom.  I cover the stain with a wicker basket and begin making a list. 1. Drop a packet to Dennis on the way to the gym.  (Is it too late to go swimming?)  2.  Buy more stamps.  3. Call the computer repair man. 4. Pick lemons on the way home, oh, and we’re out of bread again.

It’s cool enough now, maybe I’ll forget scheduling and make an apple pie, or go back to bed with a heating pad. I really want to do that and pick this up in the afternoon.

10 o’clock. I’m in bed with welcome heat on my back. Birds are singing out the window and life is good.  I’ll do better tomorrow.

To walk in beauty

bathhouse

I have never felt better in my entire life. Dare I say that? Something inside fears I may challenge a contrary part of the universe with such boldness, but there it is. My life is better than I ever imagined.

Each morning I sit in my backyard, as receptive to the sun as an Ojai orange, letting gentle morning light kiss every cell of my body,  ushering me into sublime states. I’ve been listening to Wayne Dyer demonstrate the power of sound, so I incorporate it into meditation with phases like, the universe dwells in me, as me. I place all limitation in the museum of old beliefs. And, the universe has unobstructed flow through me. I do not limit my abundance.

(I’ve never been comfortable with the Christian idea of God, so I use the word universe instead.)

After that I take a long hot soak in my outside bathtub surrounded by trailing petunias, nasturtiums and purple hyacinths. The roof opens into the bluest sky one can imagine – every single day – dotted only by the arrival of scrub jays dipping in and out of a bath of their own. A gift of wind chimes from my sister accentuates the silence, reminding me of our history, bond and love.

Blended strawberries, beets, ginger and yogurt propel me out the door and through the wooded bike path to the Athletic club, where I get to swim, stretch or do yoga with some of the finest instructors in the world. One could not imagine a more ideal setting. And when that’s finished, I pedal back home ready to meet whatever the afternoon might hold, with an open heart and grateful spirit.

When I saw my acupuncturist last week, she said I had the body of a twenty year old. Well, she’s right because it’s been in storage for decades wrapped and preserved against the cold, my only activity, some Olympic indoor swimming to outrun the devil darkness.

But I walk in beauty now. My days are full of richness and a kind of grace and gentle spirit I could only imagine in my former lives. I craved the sun before, complaining to anyone who would listen about its absence. I was depressed and heavy for years, like a plant put in a closet. I withered and become diminished in spirit, never fully comprehending the personal cost. Now, thankfully, all that has changed.

I remember my first days in Ojai when I realized that shorts, tank tops and sandals could be daily apparel, instead of fleece, long underwear and sweat pants. Literally ‘seeing’ my body every day was like visiting an old friend I had dearly missed.

“Oh, there you are. How nice to see you again! So that’s what you look like, I’d nearly forgotten. Welcome Home.”

Belonging to one another

street sleeping

Mother Teresa tells us to find the divine in each person, the divine in all its distressing disguises.

“If you really want to do something,” she said, “go out on the streets. Find someone living there who believes they are alone and convince them that they are not.”

I remember the first time I saw a homeless person sleeping in the street in New York City. I was a child on my way to a Broadway musical with my parents, when we literally stumbled over someone.

“Dad stop. There’s a man that needs your help. We’ll have to go to the show later. Look at him. He’s fallen to the sidewalk and is staying there.”

My father shook his head, giving my hand a tug. “We can’t stop for every bum in New York or we’ll never get anywhere.”

“But how do you know he’s a bum? Maybe he’s a good person who just fell down and got dirty? It’s getting dark and cold. What will happen to him?”

Father’s well groomed hand shown in sharp contrast to the crusted skin of the man on the ground.  “It’s the way of the world, Karen. Get used to it.”

But I never did get used to it and doubt I ever will. How easy it is for us to react and judge, and how different life would be if we stopped to tend our brothers and sisters. How often I have heard words like, “They’re just a bunch of street people, losers and drug addicts. They’re not contributing to society. You can’t help them because they don’t want to be helped. They could work if they wanted to. They’re just a bunch of stinking vagrants, thieves and boozers. They should  get a job like everybody else.”

So, let’s back up a little. None of us comes into this world as a dirty drugged out homeless person. We come in as innocent beings full of light, dependent on those around us to feed, comfort, house and nurture our spirits.  When that doesn’t happen, we go into hiding, and when hiding isn’t enough and bad things keep happening over and over again, we become smaller, fearful and broken, finally believing that life and all the beautiful things in it belong to someone else.

The solution is rarely a question of providing a disadvantaged person a job, rather it’s a matter of slowly building trust, so they are able to overcome self-loathing, beliefs of not deserving, and fears that have been rooted in physical and emotional trauma. Wounding that manifests in self-sabotaging acts, like addictions and bitterness need to be addressed before life can be successful. Because all healing is first a healing of the heart.

One late evening in my thirties, I was riding around the streets of Portland, Oregon in a shopping cart. Yep, that’s what I said, a shopping cart. I no longer remember who was doing the pushing but know there must have been a few glasses of Merlot involved. We’d come from giving a late night performance at Storefront Theater and needed to let off steam. I was sitting on my coat, balancing a bouquet of roses I’d been given at the end of the show and acting silly and loud.

“Look at me. I’m the queen of the grocery cart, the queen of the city. And all I survey is my kingdom.”

I saw a woman sitting against a storefront window as we rounded the corner on airborne wheels. “Over there,” I said. “Take me over there!”  I was a tad too trapped and tipsy to leave the cart, so I bent over the front.

“Here, these are for you dear lady. Now you can be the queen of the city.” She stared up at me, confused. “Take them,” I said. “I’ve come all this way to give them to you.”

“No.”  She cast her eyes down. “I don’t deserve them.”

“Oh, but you do. You most definitely do.”

She refused, so I tossed the long green stems and blood red blooms near her blanket, where they surprised me by scattering against the cement like garbage. That’s what burned into my senses, the way a symbol of love and celebration in my reality transformed into trash when they landed in hers, like they’d passed through an energetic field that changed all meaning and relevance.

We create different realities by our thoughts and beliefs but we are not really different: the homeless person, the housewife, the corporate president or bus driver. We like to think we are because of our station in life and all we’ve achieved but inside we’re the same.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.” Mother Teresa.

Transitions

street with lightAre you feeling restless and ill at ease?

There is a great stirring now to put away the small version of ourselves so we can open and allow the brilliance of our inner being to have voice.  Friends describe the process in conversations, clients seek guidance through the discomfort of the birth canal and I am pulled in the very same way.

It feels like our souls are trying to burst from confinement, so we can wear our purpose and passions on the outside for all to see.

I believe this is the revolution the Mayans foretold, the great ending and new beginning of civilization.

And since my feet are in the fire with everyone else, and my granddaughter thinks I’m older than God, I thought I’d offer a few insights for the journey.

First, pay close attention to the connection between your thoughts and actions, for it’s your thoughts that direct your life and mood. The phrase, whatever we think about we become, is absolutely true. Is your head filled with the beliefs and opinions of others or past hurts? This is a good time to sort all of this through because it’s yourself you owe. No one else.  If you feel stuck, invest in therapy or a shaman or whatever works to move you beyond limited vision.

Trust your intuition! In your heart you know where you should be and what you should be doing, so learn to trust that voice. Listen to your impulses, urges and inner guidance. That voice knows what is right for you and will lead you to your best realization.

Next, imagine what it is you want and know yourself capable of, then project it forward with emotion, desiring it with your whole heart. Think about what you can do and forget about what you can’t do, because everything is what you think it is, no more and no less. Everything you have ever imagined you lived, so put a picture in your head of whatever you want to become. It’s your thoughts going ahead of you that become your present, thoughts that always bring precisely what you expect.

Notice the creative force in all life, the divine part of everything that lives. This creative force is in the earth and every plant and flower and every creature that walks and flies. This divine force is in you, awaiting your instruction. It wants you to succeed and come forward in the fullness of your best self, because the world needs you be seen, present and living your gifts.

And last, appreciate the visionary in you. Because you can set things in motion there is often impatience, thinking that because you saw it as already done, that it should be manifest. It’s difficult to allow the passage of time necessary for dreams to become physical, and with waiting comes doubt and fear and thoughts that perhaps your inner voice was wrong. Well, its not. The best way to deal with that is to create a fearless confident self who refuses to have anything to do with fear and doubt.  The old you might feel overwhelmed but the bigger you can hold steady, knowing that what you want is on its way.

Case in point:  Years ago, as a young therapist, I worked with a woman from Science of Mind who affirmed every day that she was going to receive a huge inflow of money, I forget the amount but it was very large. I thought privately that her time and energy would be put to better use tending the poverty of her life than fantasying an improbable future. But she proved me wrong. It took nearly ten years but a distant relative died and left her the exact amount she’d asked for. A strong lesson for me in the ability of our minds to create our reality.

Starting Over

full of beansI’m sitting today in the gentle grace of the Full of Beans coffee house in Ojai California.

We’ve barely flipped the calendar from January to February, yet I can unwind on the patio beneath the sheltering branches of a Chinese Elm, soak in an abundance of sunlight and relax into my relatively new life. I try not to feel guilty knowing that friends and family are winter bound in the upper regions of Oregon, Vermont and New York.

There is something wonderful and terrifying about having this blank canvas on which to paint my life. Pulling away from forty years of northern existence has allowed the luxury of leaving decades of history behind, and the way one becomes solidified in the minds of others. For example, no one here knows me as the single mom on welfare, crazy enough to think she could make a living in the performing arts. And nobody is saying, “Hey, I remember when you taught at Portland Community College and went out with that guy that was so wrong for you. What was his name?” Or “Oh my God, remember that cross country trip in the hippie van with all the street musicians, and Big Bush, whose Afro took up the front seat?  And what was the name of that guy who did acid about 400 times?” Ah, the wildness of youth wiped clean. Regret nothing that once made you smile!

The downside is the limited way my eyes engage with those around me. When there are years of friendship, a light of recognition passes in a twinkle, landing someplace deep inside. But when there’s no history, you’re just another face. Eyes don’t invite in the same way, they only meet you on the surface, pulling quickly away. No cataloging of memory to be computed and filed, smiled about or declined.

My work has changed form here as well. It flows easily or perhaps it’s the openness of those who live in the sun who are easy. When I lived in Oregon my window faced a forest of old growth trees. Several were damaged by storms forcing them to grow to the side instead of straight up. They were vulnerable but strong as their trunks grew in bizarre shapes, pushing through tangles of neighboring trees until they found enough light to reach for the sky. I often thought how similar our human experience is and how resilient our spirits. When we can’t grow in one direction, when we are thwarted, we reach for another.  We don’t think about it, we just reach because survival depends on it.  It’s the hand we’ve been dealt, the environment we’re born into, our inherent gifts and the limitations we’ve come to grow beyond.

I did seriously wonder if a healer could make a living in a sun-filled place, without the advantage of the Oregon rainforest making everyone depressed. But it seems I can.

I lean into my wooden chair painted in primary shades of playful, listen to wind chimes dancing in an easy breeze and smile as a neighbor’s boxer-lab mix pulls against his leash hoping for a taste of my croissant.

Could life be better?

Missing Dylan

Dylan

We were a house of three women. I worked as a healer a few blocks from home, my daughter, Kristen, studied at Marylhurst University and her daughter, Isabella was tricycle age.

We had new neighbors, Genevieve from England, married to Troy from the United States.  We’d met briefly on the street with a wave and welcome but little more. Until one morning Genevieve knocked on my door, her young son, Dylan in hand.

“I have a job interview in a few hours and no one to watch my son. Would you take him for me please? It should not be long.”

Her desperation coupled with his big brown eyes could produce nothing but a definite, yes.

That afternoon young Dylan walked through our front door and straight into our hearts. He fit in our family like he’d been born to it, making all of us look forward to any occasion that might bless us with his company.

One memory stands out – a room to room chase with Isabella and Dylan tearing through the house,  their screams and laughter filing the air. I had just toweled dry in the bathroom, my hair still dripping as I made my way to the dresser.  Then, slam! My bedroom door sprang open. Dylan raced in, saw me naked, stopped like he’d been struck by lightning, eyes as wide as dinner plates and said …not a word. Clearly his first revealing look at a woman’s body.

“Sorry dear,” I said grabbing underwear, “better run back out and play.” And he did, with a changed look in his eyes. Oh my, I thought.  Best be careful.

We were all in love with Dylan and he with us, so much so that when he began daycare the following year, he took a photo of his three women to tape to his cubbie. His mom explained as she froze our smiling faces in Fujicolor. “It’s to help him feel at home.”

Then came the sad day when Genevieve and Troy announced their return to England. I remember holding Dylan on my lap under a cloudless blue sky in the cozy comfort of our side yard. He fingered my long hair as he turned, his innocent young eyes looking straight into mine.

“If we go so far away, Ma, how shall I ever find my way back to you again?”

I promised we would always stay in touch with his parents, making a clear trail for him to follow. This gave him shallow comfort as he pulled painfully away from our lives and hurting hearts. And they did come to visit years later, but I was living in the country, far from Kristen and Isabella, too ill to make the drive.

Honestly, I have no idea how many years have passed now, but Dylan has a younger sister older than he was when we knew him, and the young master himself is more young man than boy.

I found this photo of him on Facebook today and wept from missing him.

The Dance

A poem by Lena Star Helen describing her healing experience. This was such a delight to read, I had to share.

(Photo by Kristen Francis Photography)

To talk about the journey
the journey of my soul
down through the underworld
deep into the chasm of unknowing

Karen,  my guide,  my teacher
holds a place of honor
delicately opening the passage of knowing
uncovering the untold tales of self
Revealing the pulse,  the force of my existence
We journeyed

Karen,  Mountain Woman to the Cherokee,  Spirit Keeper to me
offered direction,  like a mother beside her infant,  gentle
like an elder in his wisdom,  cutting

A cup of salvation, life in the garden
clear, abundant, all ways new
The liquid of redemption cradles my wounds

We journey,  she beckoned,  I entered
a dance
Her leading,  me following
a dance
Where my heart is born,  healing
a dance
Where my spirit rises, singing
a dance
Where my soul rests,  bows humbly and says
Thank you

Giving Thanks

It’s dark. Six o’clock on Thursday night and I’m at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club finding my spot on the floor. The lights are soft – the room, clean, spacious and airy.

Robert, my yoga teacher, bounds in, ready to pretzel us into health and vitality. I smile, remembering my initial reluctance. “I’m not a yoga person,” I’d tell anyone who asked. “No thanks. Who wants to spend an hour on the floor with bent knees?”  I came to class as a curiosity, because I’m a swimmer. That’s all I’ve done, and it’s been enough.

But after trying, I saw how easily accomplished the exercises were, and noticed enhanced strength pedaling home on my bike. So now here I am, occupied with folding poses like “downward facing dog” around a recently eaten burrito, or trying to do a reclining twist without putting my foot in Nelson’s face. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. No chanting, just good solid body therapy, smiling faces and Robert’s teaching delivered with joy, humor and reverence for life.

I reach for my toes, amazed that I can touch them. When did that happen?

And my neck that has always resisted turning to the right is now fully mobile.

The class exhales into bridge pose, as I remember a card from my chiropractor in yesterday’s mail. It read, Long Time No See. I’d long ago accepted that my low back would always hurt, I could not bend at the waist enough to touch my toes and a visit to the chiropractor would be a monthly thing. But in seven short months, all that disappeared.

Music by Louie Armstrong fills the room:

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I am filled with gratitude for this beautiful athletic club, new friends made, the masterful teachers who work here, the beauty of Ojai and my ever improving health. I savor the music and the moment as Robert’s voice trails toward the door, “Thanks for showing up everybody and for keeping me employed.”

Nobody dies

This past week I was privileged to connect two of my favorite women whose sons both died in the prime of their lives. But it was not loss alone that reached nearly 3,000 miles to open dialogue between them, it was the fact that both young men found ways to communicate with their mothers after death.

Below is a series of letters begun by Pat, who lives in upstate New York.

Hello Karen,

Since my son, Doug, died at age 17, I associate feathers with his spirit. No matter where I am, a feather appears. Only yesterday I was working cutting hostas, got all done, put my tools away, shut the shed door, looked down at my autumn joy plant, and on top lay the littlest fluffy feather. Strange how they always show up when I am not thinking about them. Or maybe I want them to show up. I am hoping you have some answers for me. Am I a nut case?  Love pat

Dear Pat,

There is a whole world of sensitive people out there, who can be called nut cases if you like, but I would choose kinder more appropriate words  to describe the eternal  bonding between a mother and her son.  I believe what you experience is fairly common, but folks have no place to talk about it.

I remember feeling distraught about this ‘gift’ of mine, when I was meditating, maybe 35 years ago, while sitting under a tree in Seattle. In my mind, I said, ‘Am I just nuts or are you really there? I need to know because it’s no fun being so different.’ I got up to make my way back to see a client and saw a penny shining from the ground in a way that got my attention. I picked it up knowing it was a sign. After that I saw a penny every time I had a client, and if the penny dropped from my hands or rolled away so I couldn’t get it again, they would cancel. At some point that stopped. Just didn’t need the proof anymore, I guess.

I forwarded your email to my friend Dicksie who lives in Arizona and asked her to write you. She also lost a son, only he leaves dimes in her path. Lucky you for having the comfort of that connection.  Karen

Hi Pat.

You don’t know me, but I am a friend of Karen’s. She shared your email about the feathers because if you’re a “nut case,” so am I.  I lost my son 16 years ago – and for me, its dimes.  I’m not sure how it started, but when he was still with me, I once found three dimes in one day and something good happened – can’t even remember now – but from then on, I declared them as good luck.  When I found one, I’d throw it in my car to help keep me safe, or stick it in a windowsill, that type of thing.  After my son died, his wife gave me a little box with three dimes in it.  When she was cleaning out his truck, she found them.  She said she knew he’d thrown them in there because of me.

Since then, I find them at the weirdest times in the weirdest places – and I know they are a message from him, just saying “Hi Mom!”  I have told friends and relatives about this – and then they started finding them too and would write or call and tell me about their “dime experiences.”  I was visiting family in Utah once and told my two nieces about it.  They were both silent and I was sure they were thinking “poor Dicksie.”  Then my one niece, who had gotten in the back seat, looked down at the floor and there was a dime!  That made believers out of them.  My other niece wrote me a card a couple of months later – said she had been really depressed, had been out mowing her lawn and found two dimes!

So, I don’t care if I am a nut case, it makes me feel good when I find one – and it makes me feel good that others find them and call me or write me to tell me about it. Enjoy your feathers.  It is a lovely way to stay in touch!    Dicksie

A final note from Henry Miller:

Of course you don’t die

Nobody dies

Death doesn’t exist

You only reach a new level of vision

A new realm of consciousness

A new unknown world

 

The Gift

He couldn’t stay in his body, the pain was too great. It was Joe’s leaving time, but my mother couldn’t let him go.

I was in Oregon, gathering car keys, handbag and notebook. It was a racing-out-the-door morning, my thoughts intent on teaching and the forty-five minute drive between my house in the Columbia River Gorge and Marylhurst University. Photographs of my New York family were ensconced above the fireplace, mingled with decorative candles and a ticking clock.

Did I have everything? I thought so. Just one more pass through the living room to make sure. Then I saw it, Joe’s photo glowing with light, a sure-fire way for the unseen reality to get my attention. I stopped. Everything coming to an abrupt halt as I picked up his picture, dropped to the sofa and closed my eyes. Acceleration and tension drained from my body. I softened and exhaled. Joe was in the hospital in upstate New York but his spirit was there with me.

“I need you to talk to your mother,” he said, hovering in my vision. “Help her to let me go. I want to die before my birthday, but she has to release me first. I need to hear her say it out loud. I need to know that it’s alright to go. Ask her to tell me, then ask her to open the closet and begin giving away my things.”

My chest filled with the light and energy of his message, his words floating around my cells like weightless sand. Then he was gone.

That memory, nearly twenty years old, drifted through my thoughts as I sat at the dinner table listening to Julio describe a week-end with his family.

“When I speak about my art,” he says, spooning brown rice next to carne asada, “it’s as if they can’t hear me. I show them my paintings in The Art Detour brochure and they say nothing, their expressions are blank. Yet I feel disapproval because I am not working in the way they think I should be.”

Julio comes from a family of laborers and field workers who strive to keep their pockets full, their personal dreams diminished by a harsh reality.

“They have no frame of reference for it,” I tell him. “Art is a foreign world.”

A deep well of sadness lingers in Julio’s eyes, a longing for an acceptance that can not be given, a longing I’m familiar with.

I remembered replacing Joe’s photo on the mantel, wondering how I could bring such news to my mother.

“This is my daughter, Karen,” she’d tell her friends. “She is a free spirit.” And later, behind closed doors: “When are you going to get a real job?”

Intuitive work didn’t show up for my family. When I spoke of visions or predictive dreams, my words were met with confusion, talk of brain tumors and lingering looks of concern. Eventually, I learned to keep my mouth closed and a sensitive nature to myself.

I called that evening, knowing what a difficult time mother was having, though she rarely showed vulnerability. I hedged, not knowing how to bring up the topic but needn’t have. Near the close of conversation, she surprised me:

“Do you get anything for me?”

“What do you mean, get anything?”

“You know, psychically.”

I was silent. Joe had openly ridiculed my gifts and yet come to me for help.

“Yes,” I told her. “I do have things to share.”

She listened respectfully as I closed my eyes,  a vision of Joe’s pain-filled body hovering in my awareness.

“He wants to go before his birthday, but your love is holding him here. He wants you to let him leave.”

“I can do that,” she whispered, her voice private and internal. “I’ll tell him today. And there’s a young man from the firehouse that would fit one of his coats. I know Joe would like him to have it.”

I hung up, aware of the healing that had taken place. A warm sense of gratitude washed over me, like some long awaited rain in the desert.

Joe was born on April 8, 1920, and died on April 3, 1993.

I reached for mother’s hand as we stood in the funeral home reception line, hushed pieces of conversation passing between us.

“What made you ask for my vision during our phone call? You’ve never done that before.

“Just a feeling,” she answered. “It’s not that I don’t respect your work, sweetheart, it’s that I’ve never understood it. How could I? My life has been full of children, bookkeeping, salesmen, running a restaurant and hotel. How could I know anything of what you do?”

Julio looked up from his plate,  bringing me back from my reverie. “I wish I had my family’s support. It would make such a difference.”

“Give them time,” I smiled. “How could they know anything of what you do? How could they conceive of the gift you’ve been given? A talent that takes you to the core of yourself, allowing you to heal and shine in ways they never imagined. And when you succeed, and you will, you’ll be doing it for all of them, for all the men and women in your bloodline who never knew the joys of freedom.”

Money From God

“Our life drawing model canceled,” Norma told me. “If you know of anyone, please let me know.”

My mind drifted to an old Mexican man who often biked past my window, a tattered sombrero shading a weathered face, sandal wrapped feet laboring against an uphill grade. I’d watched him sorting discarded bottles and pop cans with callused hands.

“I think I know just the person,” I told her. “An old man whose face is full of character, strength and ancestry.”

“Perfect! Find him and let me know. If he can pose for three hours we’ll pay him $100.”

It was two weeks before I saw the old man again. Temperatures of 106 kept me inside, hiding behind drawn curtains but I continued thinking about him and what $100 would mean to a man who made his entire income collecting bottles and cans.

Then one morning riding my bike from the health club, I spotted him. Excited, I pulled over and used the only Spanish I know. “Senor.  Hola.  I have work for you, dinero.”

He looked at me as he poured the remaining liquid from a beer bottle he’d found beneath a pepper tree.

“Do you speak any English?
He shook his head. I put my hand over my heart.

“My name is Karen, Karen. And you?”

“Raul”

“Raul, I have work for you, dinero.”

He studied me like I was an exotic bird that had perched on the redwood rail that divided us.

This is not going well.  I held up my hand.

“Wait, don’t go.”

I dug in my gym bag, found my phone and dialed Julio. I needed an interpreter. No luck. A recording. I snapped it shut.

I smiled, motioning toward the health club.

The Ojai Valley Athletic Club is one of the finest in the world, intimidating even me, but bless his heart, Raul trailed in after me, never missing a beat. Jose, the manager of the café was seated in clear view. I went over.

“Jose, this is Raul. He speaks no English and I speak no Spanish. Would you do me a kindness and talk to him on my behalf?”

Jose was sorting morning receipts, white clothes accenting black hair and dark eyes.

“What do you want me to tell him?”  He silently took in Raul’s appearance without apparent judgment.

I placed my gym bag on the table and plopped down next to him, relieved.

“Tell him there’s a group of people who would like to paint him. And that if he can hold still and pose for three hours that he could make $100. Of course, it would not be three hours straight. There would be breaks for walking and stretching.”

Jose looked at me. “I’ll pose for $100. Use me!”

“Thank you, no. It’s his face I want.”

Jose is a handsome man but his essence is not unusual.  There is something in Raul that is primitive and raw, a face untouched by civilization.

Jose studies me for awhile, then translates my words.

“Why would anyone want to paint me?” Raul asked.

“You have a strong face,” I say. “Hermosa.”

Because I didn’t know the date, I had Raul write his address on a napkin, telling him I’d be in touch when I knew details.

I returned home excited. Got on the computer and shot off an email.

Re: Model for Life Drawing:

Success. I have found the Mexican man, spoken with him and he is willing. Let me know your next open date and I’ll pick him up and bring him over.

Reply: Re: Model for Life Drawing:

We don’t need him anymore. We found someone else to fill in. Thanks anyway.

Thanks anyway? But I gave him my word. I promised him income and got his hopes up.

For two days I pondered the situation. Finally deciding to pay him from my own pocket.

In this town people pay $100 for lunch and think nothing of it. But to this man it could mean much needed groceries or health care. I hedged. But I’m not working and my resources are getting low. Maybe I’ll just offer him $20 or $30. Why would I give him $100?

Because you gave your word and oddly, it feels like the right thing to do. It really does seem the right thing.

Maybe $60, how about $60?

When Julio came home I explained my dilemma, asking if he’d drive with me to speak with Raul.

“I’m thinking of giving him the full fee anyway.” I confessed.  “It just feels right.”

“Oh Karen, that would mean so much.”

The certainty and tenderness of Julio’s reply erased doubt, convincing me to go ahead.

When we arrived Raul was in front of his house talking with a neighbor. Julio lowered the car window, explained the situation and told him I was going to pay him anyway.

Raul refused, shaking his head. Words passed between them I couldn’t understand.

“Tell him it’s important to take it,” I said.  Raul hesitated, then came to the driver’s window speaking again to Julio.

“What did he say?”  I asked.

He said he would take it because it was money from God.

I smiled. “Yes, Raul, that’s exactly what it is. It’s money from God.”

It will grow

Image

I have no one to blame but myself.

Susan Miller’s Astrology forecast for Sag said: The new eclipse on June 5th will help you see yourself in a completely new light, so much so that you may be moved to change the way you wear your hair, dress or even change your name.

I wish I could point a finger at Astrology or some errant brain wave that zapped my grey matter while I slept, but I can not. Taking responsibility for ones actions is not all its cracked up to be. I miss the less conscious days when I pointed a finger and said, You, You, You!

This is what happened. I entered the realm of the hairdresser, which is one of the worst things I can subject myself to.  Every decade or so I tend to forget what is best for me, believing the same experience will yield a different result. This tendency to deny my best interests shows up in other parts of  life as well, like believing I can trust the invitation on the face of the makeup artist in Macy’s and not come away looking like Tammy Faye Bakker on a bad night. Or like listening to my mother who loved convincing me that the miracles of pharmacology could override a lifelong tendency toward seasickness.

“No dear, you will not become deathly ill crossing the English Channel on a cruise ship and spend hours with your head in the toilet praying for a life flight helicopter, while I dance in my prom dress with one of the ship’s escorts. Not this time.”

But I digress. I told myself it was safe to go to the hairdresser because ALL I wanted was for her to show me how to wear long hair. I wanted a few new tricks with barrettes and bobby pins.

You’re completely safe, I told myself. This won’t be like the time you were touring with Tears of Joy Theater and stopped in Montana to get a perm, then had to finish the tour wearing a headscarf.

When that woman asked how tight I wanted the curl, I’d said, “Make it last.”  Wrong answer!  A touch of Henna and I came away looking like a stand in for Ronald McDonald.  No, this appointment will be fine because I’m older, wiser and in control.

I entered the salon with confidence. The hairdresser was young, (okay, almost everybody is younger than I am these days) capable and cute. We talked. I explained. “No, I did not want her to wash and trim my hair, just show me some options like a friend might do.”

That was going fairly well until she began talking about my face as a picture and my hair as the frame.

Apparently, my picture was not looking so great in the frame because she longed to layer, shape and trim.  She wrinkled her nose, holding the length of my hair at a distance, like one might evaluate a trout past its due date at the fish market. That was the moment she hooked me.

Of course, I needed more than styling options. What was I thinking? I needed much much more. I felt suddenly at risk. Yes, I definitely needed a new frame for my picture and the banishing of my seaweed ends. She was here to save me from myself by producing a fully modern, acceptable version of the woman I had been only moments before.

And so I did it.

She shampooed, cut, layered, thinned, blew my hair dry over a circular brush, showed me how to use a curling iron, then straightened and mouseed each lock until I was the spitting image of …………her.  A thirty year old woman with a hairstyle I would never want.

I thought of my sister who’d come home with an awful cut not long ago and the comment her daughter had made. “Mommy, I think the lady who cuts your hair thinks about other things while she’s at work.”

This woman was not thinking about other things, it was I who vacated myself.

So I thanked her, wrote out the check, got on my bike and pedaled home, immediately showering in the hope of finding some semblance of myself below.

Toweling my hair in the mirror, I said what I always say when devastated by a bad hair decision.

It will grow.

Aqua Abstravanganza

 

It was 8.30 in the morning under a cloudless California sky, when I waded into the shallow end at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club swimming pool, determined to try every exercise class offered, at least once. This one was called Aqua Abstravaganza, which I hoped would supplement lap swimming.

Warm water pooled around my waist as I greeted those who’d already arrived, noticing their hats, eye glasses and tee-shirts worn to ward off the coming of another sultry day. A woman with flowing grey hair smiled in my direction, introducing herself. The others followed, offering kindness and extended hands. Being greeted with such gracious acceptance is part of what I love about coming to this club. It’s an extension of the grace, beauty and specialness that is Ojai. Unfortunately, I forgot their names minutes after being introduced, my aging memory as short as my eyelash.

A young woman from a dark-skinned, dark-haired country told me this was her second class.

“I’ve come back because I love the teacher’s humor,” she confides, her cinnamon eyes catching rays of light from the water. She radiates health and youth, her long hair carefully braided and tucked out of the way. She’s attentive and eager for the class to begin.

The others are older, much older, being called by the grace and support water allows the elderly. The instructor, Debora, appeared in snug black pants and grey top, brown hair cascading around her shoulders. She too extends a hand. “Oh, you’re new. Welcome!”

This group has obviously been together a long time, as a kind of social club.

“Okay class,” Debora begins, “we’re starting today by running in place, so bring those knees up.”

A birdlike woman peering beneath the twilled rim of a khaki hat pays no attention, preferring to visit with her friend instead.

“Did you watch that reality show last night? Well I did and that man never should have won. They count on people not calling in but I’ll tell you what. I did call in because I think the judges are crooked. It’s just not fair. Anyone can see he was not the most talented. It was the singer, she was the best and then the girl with the dancing dog.”

Obviously an urgent conversation, much more important than the matter of moving about in water.

A series of jumping jacks propelled me near another huddled couple.

“So how was your trip to Thailand? We really missed you here. Did you know that Peggy broke her foot? Yes, she did, but is recovering nicely. Said she’d try and make it today. They have her in a walking boot. One just never knows, does one?”

At 9 o’clock, (yes, I was counting the minutes) the instructor suggested we venture into the deep end. Frankly, I was completely surprised anyone noticed the request. But move they did, like a great water-bound pod of visiting couples. At this point the exotic beauty with the braided hair leapt from the pool, grabbed her towel, a splashed copy of the New York Times and darted toward the changing room, clearly late for something.

The men were in the deep end doing just as much talking as the women.

“Are you having trouble with this kick, Bob?” The instructor asked. “Bob?

Bob are you with us?”

Bob looked up as if coming out of trance. “What kick?”

Knocking on the door

Julio has gone from being a dishwasher to an artist in residence, our residence, and I could not be happier. He takes self-doubt and desire for expression to an outside canvas, opens paint jars and steps into his private piece of heaven. He is a beginner, unseasoned and open, living in Ojai where masters reside. His passage will not be simple but is fully his, a door opening, a passion, a path.

He is being mentored by Gino Hollander, an international treasure and 87 year old legend. Gino writes: “This beginning time for Julio is hugely exciting and equally insecure, something each starter of anything worthwhile for the soul has to deal with. The more he is involved with painting and himself and working things out by himself, the better. For me, I want no one around when I work nor any comments. Painting is a very personal thing. What maintains the work is the aloneness with it. I won’t be commenting in the hope that he works and works and works. As he applies himself with time and effort and sincerity something incredible will happen.”

Greek mythology gives the ‘credit’ in incredible to the muse, their source of inspiration for the arts. Here is what I imagine:

Each time we make the effort to create anything we are knocking on the door to another realm, which is opened or not – by the spirit or spirits who oversee mastery. When you begin knocking you are not taken seriously. You’re a first time visitor and nothing more. You knock. A spirit peers through the window – says, “I don’t know you,” and turns away.

If you come the next day, the next week or the next month, the spirit will begin to identify your face, but still the door will not open. These are the days when the less serious give up, going on to something other. “That wasn’t for me,” they’ll say. “I just wasn’t feeling it.”

It’s only when you forge a path by coming day after day and week after week, when you wear the soles of your shoes thin with travel and your thirst is deep enough, that the bolt on the door begins to unlock. And still, it does not open wide, only a crack, allowing crumbs of inspiration to fall into eager outstretched hands.

Then finally, after months or years of traveling the same path, on a day when you least expect it, something changes. The door is thrown open and you are warmly greeted by spirits anticipating your arrival, perhaps having discussed which gifts to endow over morning toast and tea. You are expected. You’re family now and they want you to succeed. This is no longer a strangers place, but part of breathing in and out. You have tapped omnipotent mind and become a vehicle for earthy expression.

Some folks call this discipline, a word I’ve never liked, because it engenders sister words like restraint, control and obedience, expressions that don’t fit my idea of creativity. I prefer words like perseverance, heart-connection or even crazed. But whatever you name it, stepping out of the ordinary into worlds of imagination and vision brings you closer to the sacred pulse of the universe.

And so I wait, watching from the calm of my sitting room as Julio begins his journey. He is a determined walker and his thirst profound, leaving no doubt that the doors of mastery will eventually swing open and he will be embraced by all that is.

Bookcase kind of roots

 

A quiet morning. My car is broken and my body the same, so there is a welcome lack of running around. I think of all the things I have to do and am grateful for the respite, a time to reflect and write. I look out at adirondack chairs with peeling paint and rotting wood. The man who delivered them distaining my choice, “These are nothing more than firewood.” But I know I can sand and scrap and fill and repair until they shine with new life. But not today.  

I own a bookcase now which is a revelation in itself and one of the reasons I can’t move from my bed. The young part of me thought it fine to carry it in, but my intention landed on months of lifting, hauling, hammering and Thanksgiving cooking. My body screamed, “Enough” and down I went.

The bookcase is a big solid fellow standing firm and steady, like a living room sentry emanating stability and a sense of home. Without fully realizing it, I’d made a decision long ago to keep moving and stay light on my feet, because where ever I landed would be temporary, a resting place until the next place and the next and the next. I needed to keep moving, which meant owning few possessions.

I had therapy about my lack of connection to place and earth, blaming it on my spiritual nature, personal wiring, or disconnection to family. It became something to live with and endure, a depressed sad place, like a low grade toothache that would never be repaired.

But then I moved south to Ojai and the sun and a tiny town of artists filled with people I could relate to. I rented a big house and found myself filling it daily with treasures from sales and thrift stores. The hunter gatherer in me came forward and the minimalist walked away. I’m putting down roots now, bookcase kind of roots, which are heavy, lasting and not easily moved.

Who is this person with all this furniture? Is she some relation to me? Life is so new and different and rich and sweet, with none of the adjustment trauma I feared – just a homecoming pure, simple and over-due.

Dear Julio works in the house and art space making earthy magic while dancing salsa and singing Spanish songs, friends Gino and Barbara tell me stories of Spain as they luxuriate in creativity and 60 years of passion. Lee makes silly jokes at the thrift store, delivering purchases in exchange for homemade cookies, and Teryn, a Portland real estate transplant, has embraced me like a lost sister. Old friends, clients and family stay connected, reminding me that I’m still loved and cared for. And I have my son, Clay, Khrystyne and my California granddaughter near, so where is the trauma in that?   

Diminishing funds return my thoughts to healing work, an obligation to reinstate my financial life, but the work refuses to manifest, because it belongs to the person I left behind.

And so I wait and get scared and anxious, but mostly I trust, because the universe has brought me away from rain and wet and grey and dark and pneumonia, into a place of natural splendor and light. Surely this last piece will come forward as well, like the final note of a symphony hovering in the air – waiting for just the right moment to sound.

What is there about a BMW?

I’ve devoted my adult life to helping people heal so they could stop living in pain, and learn to embrace joy and possibility instead. This was not an easy work.  It could have been, if I’d done it halfway, seeing people on the hour every hour for the fee alone, but that was not my style.  The work was intense and deep so I could do little of it, which often resulted in living hand to mouth.

I drove economy cars, my favorite being a Nissan Sentra, which I bitterly grieved when it broke beyond my ability to fix.  I was married at the time with a holiday trip to Los Angeles planned, so we scurried about searching for a vehicle in our price range. At the last minute we found a 2002 BMW which drove like a dream. The used car guy gave us a deal and the credit union plugged us in at $200 a month. It was doable. The car was definitely a boy car with black leather interior, glowing jet plane dash and sports tires hugging the road on every curve, the price of gas and repairs astronomical. The car was a thoroughbred race horse in need of exquisite care.

One year after purchase, my recently married husband split, offering car payments as a parting gift. Then my mother died, leaving me enough money to move from Oregon – bless her generous soul. And so I arrived in my new California home looking like a rich lady with a fancy car and some bills in her pocket, instead of the single welfare mom I’d been most of my life. 

The thing is – I am just me, the same country girl I’ve always been who is not afraid of hard work, dresses for comfort instead of fashion, and has no airs at all. But apparently my car speaks louder than I do.

People believe that folks who drive BMW’s are rich. They just do and I used to too. I remember when a young doctor came for sessions, asking for a sliding scale. I considered his school loans and said yes, but when I saw him speed off in a vintage Beemer I was furious. “That’s the last time I’m giving anyone a sliding scale,” I said aloud. I felt had, taken advantage of, resentful, and all because of my beliefs about his car. 

Let me back up here and share some of my BMW interactions.

First there was my client, Susan, who drove a brand new BMW while speaking of her financial woes. Her abusive husband had more money than God, but kept her on a tiny budget, causing her to steal grocery money for our sessions. “Things are not always as they appear,” she told me.

Over dinner, a woman from my writing group expressed how much she hated those BMW drivers – those people. “They always push ahead of everyone else on the freeway and have no manners at all.”

“But I’m not like that,” I countered. “Maybe it’s because the car is a race horse and doesn’t like to be reined in.” She was unconvinced. I had crossed a line and there was no way back.

My own daughter was uncomfortable driving the car to her daughter’s environmentally conscious school where the parents walk, bike or arrive in old Volvo’s. “What will people think?” she said “That car is not the image I want to convey.”

The BMW stigma baffled me, so I asked a client to share his thoughts as we made conversation on the way to his KIA station wagon. “Why do you think folks dislike BMW drivers so much?”  He didn’t hesitate. “Those people think their crap doesn’t stink.”  Those people.

Another client, a world famous rock star who tours the globe making several million a week often used sessions to lament discrimination toward the rich. At the time I thought I’d like to have such a problem. Only now do I begin to understand. Folks in Oregon have yelled at me, tried to force me off the road or made nasty slurs as I’ve driven by, things they never did when I drove the Sentra. 

In Ojai, at a recent yard sale, a man drove off in his BMW, and the woman having the sale was upset. “I don’t believe it. Here I was giving him deals and he drives away in a BMW.” I remembered the young doctor I’d felt the same way about and decided to explain that all BMW drivers were not rich. She was unconvinced.

Only yesterday my friend Barbara, being sympathetic to the 99% movement, waved her support through my car window, then felt embarrassed. “Oh my gosh, here I am saying I’m supportive while driving around in a BMW. How ridiculous that must seem.”

And this morning my friend Julio recoiled when I offered to drive him in search of employment. “No, no Karen. If I show up in a BMW, no one will think I need the work. I’ll take my bike.”

So that’s my story. Ordinary girl buys extraordinary car and gets stuck in a societal box. Don’t you think that’s a lot of authority for a car to have?  I sure do.

Truth be known, a pick up truck would serve my wants much better for the hauling, gardening and transporting I need, but I do love the way the car drives, its elegant spirit and beautiful interior.

And sometimes I have to admit that its fun and even helpful to have folks believe that I’m wealthy and successful, because in many ways I am. So for the time being, I’m that rich lady who drives around Ojai in her Beemer. Sometimes in a twilight zone of prejudice, but all the time enjoying a car that handles like it was made in heaven. 

Meeting Julio

It was five o’clock in the morning when I slammed on the brakes at my new house, eager to unload the things I’d stored in my son’s garage. I fumbled in the dark, balancing keys in one hand and boxes in the other. There it was, the click of the lock. I pushed the door open, then stopped. There were sounds coming from the back room. Alarmed, I dropped the boxes and switched on the light. Then I heard it again, only louder this time, a kind of scurrying and shuffling.

“Is anybody there? Is somebody in my house?”

I went to the back bedroom, opened the door and saw a young man looking embarrassed and ashamed.

“What on earth are you doing in my house?”

“I’m sorry, I’m very very sorry,” he mumbled in halted English. “I just needed a place to sleep.”

“How did you get in?”

“Oh, I didn’t break a window or anything, just took the screen off and climbed through.”

My memory flashed to opening the back window before I left for Los Angeles.  Seemed like a good idea at the time but I was regretting it now. He’d settled on the bed, a bare mattress waiting to be removed by the last tenant.

“I’m so sorry,” he repeated, covering his face with his jacket. “I just needed a place to rest.”

I studied his face for a moment, then grabbed a blanket and pillow from the trunk.

“Here, if you came to sleep, then sleep. I’m going to be moving things inside now, so it’ll be a little noisy. I’m going to close your door so you won’t be bothered.”

“Let me help you.”

“No, you came to sleep, so get as much as you can. We’ll talk about this in the morning.”

I made trip after trip from the car to the house, all the time thinking how desperate and broke a person must be to enter a stranger’s home for shelter.

Julio woke at 7.30, came out and apologized once again. I’d unloaded boxes but had no furniture for our ‘talk’ so we sat together on the floor.

“Tell me about yourself.” I asked.

He seemed shy and humble, told me he was 35 years old, had lost a job in electronics in Santa Barbara after being hurt in a car accident and come to Ojai with the idea of working in the orange groves. He had his bachelor’s degree and hoped to learn internet marketing when he recovered. But just last night he’d found work washing dishes from 9.30 in the morning, until 9.30 at night, with a two hour break in the middle. He was determined to keep the job but had no place to stay, so decided to sleep on the street. He’d tried sleeping near the library but was told to move along, then remembered the real estate sign that had been in front of my house.

“Are you going to call the police? Have them put me in jail?”

“Nope,” I answered. “I’m going to give you breakfast, wash your clothes and let you stay here until you get on your feet. How does that sound?”

Apparently it sounded pretty good because his eyes watered and he launched into ways he could earn his keep by helping in the garden or the house or anything else I could think of.

After our talk, he left to wash dishes, a one mile walk, returning during his lunch break to see how he could help.

I was headed to the hardware store and then the grocery, so he came along, insisting he push the grocery cart and carry all my purchases. It was a little surreal in a, Driving Miss Daisy, kind of way – the old white haired woman with her hired man in tow.

After lunch he returned to work, but not before advising me to close the gate and lock the windows.

I laughed. “What? You imagine somebody is going to break in? It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”

He smiled, than fixed his gaze on mine. “Thank you for trusting me. You won’t be sorry.”

And so the universe has brought me my first housemate, not the one I imagined and not the moneyed kind, but it appears we are rather a timely fit.

Be Green

It was a simple request. “Could you move my truck from one side of the street to the other?” Monday is street cleaning day in Los Angeles and my son Clay was running out the door. “Sure,” I answered. “No problem.” 

Clay drives a gigantic 2008 Chrysler which he calls his people mover, but I think of it as his Mafia car. Even though it’s flashy and expensive, I can’t see it without thinking of rap music and Blade Runner. It’s a car Al Capone might drive. That car supports Clay’s big city image, but it’s the 1970 pick-up truck that brings home his country roots, his childhood and the depth and integrity of his spirit. 

Several years ago I considered getting a masters in creative writing as part of an extension program. I loved the idea of combining education with trips to California to see Clay and my granddaughter, Brit. That way I’d be a frequent visitor. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. Still, I remember the day I visited the campus and was waiting for Clay to pick me up. I was completely overwhelmed by the city, as usual, until I spotted that friendly old green truck rounding the corner with Clay behind the wheel. As soon as I saw it, something inside me began to relax and breathe again. 

Today Clay parked at a meter near Melrose, giving me money to plug the thing until the cleaning was over, but when the neighbors began leaving for work I decided to back the truck up early to save him fifty cents. God help me, my mind works that way. I had never actually driven the truck, mind you, just sat on the passenger side and admired it from afar. So I took my little nostalgic self across the street and climbed into the cab. 

I slammed the door as memories of less complicated days, open pastures and family came flooding back. I took a moment to soak that in before getting down to business. First the seat needed to come forward, but it wouldn’t move. It was stuck and my feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. Hum, what to do? I balanced on the edge using the steering wheel for stability, as I placed the key in the ignition. It took a while to find reverse, a really long while actually, since the steering column held no clues. But once I started going backwards I discovered the thing had no power steering and I was not about to muscle it around other cars. So, I put it in drive and pulled forward, toward an alley where I hoped to back up more easily.

Let me pause here to say, that if you think it’s simple pulling on a steering wheel with all your might while balancing on the edge of a seat because your feet don’t reach the pedals  – well, it’s not. Turning that wheel made me red in the face. It required ten hard yanks to budge an inch. I was sweating and holding up traffic both ways on Harper Avenue, as I strained and pulled and smiled to reassure busy commuters in fancy cars that they would be on their way as soon as possible. 

Once I reached the alley and traffic had cleared, I found reverse again (Thank you, God) and worked to back it around parked cars and into a meter free space. All this to save fifty freaking cents. And I had not even moved it to accommodate the street cleaners yet! 

I moored a good yard from the curb, which seemed just fine, since my expectations had gone from neat parallel parking to not abandoning it in the middle of the street. I went inside, took a bath to ease my muscles, dressed and drove my beloved-comfortable-steerable BMW to the grocery, returned, unpacked bags and sat on the couch pondering what to do about moving the truck. I went outside to contemplate my dilemma, as if starring at the old boy might help, when my answer came walking down the street – a big guy who looked to be in his thirties, with huge arms and plenty of strength. I was saved.

“Hey, how would you like to make some money?” I hollered. “Do you have a minute to help?”

To my surprise, he kept on walking. “Sorry, I’m in a hurry.” Then over his shoulder half a block away, “What did you have in mind?” 

“Look, I’ll give you ten bucks, and all you have to do is drive my son’s truck from one side of the street to the other. It’s that simple. It’s just that the truck has no power steering and I can’t do it myself.”

He didn’t even slow his step. “Sorry, I’m from New York City and never learned to drive.”

What a thug. All he had to do was sit next to me and let me use his arms. Oh well, I reasoned, I did it once. I can do it twice.

So I got in the truck again, only this time there were no cozy, I love you, vibes, it was more, “All right you mother ******. I need you to behave and help me out here. I am not going to wrench my back or block traffic again. This is going to work!” And amazingly it did. I got the beast parked on the right side of the road next to the driveway, even found a little shade, slammed the door and got out. Didn’t even lock it, hoping someone would steal the darned thing.

When my son came home I asked why he still kept that old truck, and what good was it without power steering and a seat that would not change positions?

“Mom, you would not believe how many offers I get to buy that truck. It’s a classic now, a real gem. Plus I need it to haul motorcycles. Sorry you had such a hard time. I never thought about that.”

I guessed I could like that truck again too, given a little time, but not quite as much as I did before.

Cooper

I’m spending the week-end with Cooper, a gentle Buddha in a dog’s body, who’s been teaching me since I arrived. At first we were distant, studying one another from across the room. I was tired, having driven miles out of my way, convinced I knew better than the GPS. Like the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But I did arrive, saw some beautiful countryside and stopped to buy a gift of flowers, which unfortunately had rotten water-logged stems that I hadn’t noticed.  

My afternoon client session had gone well, if I didn’t count the gardener mowing outside the window, my client yelling above a leaf blower, and an occasional ambulance blaring up Melrose Avenue. Not the quiet sessions conducted deep in the forest I’m used to, but she was helped and I enjoyed working again. Unfortunately, the recording of her session produced a wave file instead of an MP3 (the mysteries of electronics), and I could not figure out where the file landed (the mystery of my computer) so that necessitated an unscheduled stop to see Stan, the computer man. I waited while Stan explained what was happening (operator difficulties) which is a nice way of saying I’m electronically brain-dead, which I already knew. He fixed the problem, sent off  the client file and I bolted out the door, inching on to the Los Angeles freeway. Just another mercury retrograde day. 

You get the picture, so when I met Cooper I was less than congenial. The dog studied me, waiting for my emotional levels to move from explosive to simmer, then paraded his stuffed animals past my feet. I let him smell my hand, then stroked his head.

“So, where is your food, Buddy? Looks like we should start there.”

He promptly got up, led me through the kitchen and into a back bedroom, where I found both food and feeding dishes.

“Okay, that was a little scary. What other languages do you speak?”

Cooper gobbled down copious amounts of food while I made a bed on the couch, cursing the fact that I’m still homeless. My dream rental fell through on Thursday when I opened the door into a space so small I had to hold in my stomach to get inside. I was coaching myself away from open windows and kitchen knives when a friend connected me with Teryn, a local queen of real estate, who not only took me to lunch, promising to help me find a new place, but also opened her home while she and her husband Bart went away for the week-end. So that’s where I am, rooming with Cooper.  

I woke at six ready to walk and discovered Cooper felt the same. Teryn said he needed no leash, which was a tad unthinkable, but I took her word. I untangled night time hair and put on a jacket as Cooper stretched and waited. Before I opened the door, he nosed toward the poop bags lest I forget, then waddled out in front of me. The old gentleman shuffled down flights of brick steps looking back to see if I was following. He was also making it very clear just who was taking who for a walk! 

Trotting ahead, Cooper peed on a bush, then waited patiently, like a parent with a lingering child. When I got close enough to touch him, he took off again, up a side road and around a hedge. I began panting and wondering how distant a walk he had in mind, when he dropped last night’s dinner in the grass and turned around. ( I got to do the part of dog walking I don’t like. Enough said.) We returned home the same way, with Cooper serenely waiting every few yards until he nosed his way to the front door. 

After wolfing an abundant breakfast, he urged me to play tug of war by dropping a green stuffed monkey at my feet. I grabbed the other end expecting a little equal competition. But actually thinking I had an unfair advantage, you know, being human and all. Ha! Not so. Cooper had the strength of a bull. That dog pulled me across the room like I wasn’t even trying. Not one to settle for defeat, I challenged him again. And again he won. And again and again. This dog could pull a car.  

We both took a snooze, then had lunch in the yard, where I read Tapestry, Barbara Hollander’s memoir about life in Spain. Cooper munched an apple. We mellowed in afternoon sun, a gentle breeze lifting the romaine in my salad. When Cooper finished his fruit and wanted to play, I refused.

“I’m not going to play with you. You never let me win, what fun is that?” 

Once inside Cooper burst with excitement, pushing against my side and stepping with a horse’s weight on my feet.  He loped to the bedroom, bringing out a brown monkey which he dropped until I agreed to pick it up. (The dog may be mellow but he’s extremely persistent.) Finally, I relented, grabbed the monkey and pulled hard, expecting to fly across the room again. But he surprised me. This time, he was gentle, pulled me a few feet, then feigned weakness, letting the toy tumble to the floor. The dog was letting me win!    

What kind of a dog does that? What kind of dog knows that? What kind of a dog takes me for a walk, shows me where his food is and the poop bags? Cooper, who in heaven’s name are you?

Tarantulas, fudge and altered reality

It was a doomed week from the start. Michelle Godfrey, an astrologer on facebook said, “There’s a big X in the sky right now, best to lay low.” I tucked that caution in my back pocket as I headed from Los Angeles to Phoenix to spend a week with friends, Suzanne and John, whose house is paradise. Being there is always a treat.

I arrived safely on Saturday night, eager to take a Sunday morning swim when I noticed something black floating in the pool. A large tarantula (the size grows with each remembering) was suspended in the water inches from my foot. I called Suzanne, who assured me it was dead, as she fished it out with a rake, plopping it in the stones three short feet away. But once his little tarantula feet hit dry land, he shook off the water and began moving around. That was enough for me. I no longer wanted a swim, was definitely not going in the pool and decided that the backyard was off limits as well.

As it happened, that same afternoon was the twenty-first birthday celebration of John’s youngest daughter, so the backyard was overrun with splashing grandchildren, drink-carrying adults and a very cautious me watching from the door. When I did step out I was served up like an imported delicacy to mosquitoes, who had trouble penetrating the tougher skinned locals. John assured me there were mosquitoes, but they did not bite, this assertion came as I was being bored into like a piece of swiss cheese, welts rising like a sudden case of chicken pox.

That evening I passed the hot tub and noticed a light blue salamander belly up on the bottom. Confronted with two dismal omens, I went to the internet for definition. The tarantula said something about bringing past and present together but the meaning that stood out said simply, dangerous and sinister.

The next day I decided to “man-up” and get in the pool anyway. Suzanne and I were floating when John came out of the house in tears. His 29 year old daughter had been fighting cancer for the past year and the disease had gone into her spine. She was in the ER, in the terminal stage of cancer. The rest of that day was spent in unreal turmoil as phone calls poured in, decisions were pondered and grief showed in everyone’s eyes. Three little boys ages 6, 5 and 3 would be left behind.

Tuesday afternoon opened a window for me to do a soul reading for Suzanne but not before an afternoon nap. The blazing sun, the trip over and family events were taking an energetic toll. Everyone else simply plied themselves with coffee but my body was too sensitive for caffeine, so I searched the freezer for a sweet that might give me energy. There was plenty of ice cream but that didn’t appeal so I dug and dug until I reached the bottom of the drawer. Then I spotted it, a Christmas tin, something I assumed had been stored and forgotten. I pried the top off and found cookies, fudge, brownies and some mystery sweets in silver foil. I took the fudge, ate it, replaced the tin and settled down for a short nap.

When Suzanne came out, we spread cards on the table and I began to read. I was nearly finished when I noticed my hands becoming clumsy, words spilling in the wrong direction and my mind lifting dangerously away from reality. I sprang from the sofa alarmed, couldn’t finish the reading, then burst through french doors, pacing next to the pool. Suzanne followed. “I’m sorry, I can’t finish. Something is wrong with me,” I said, “terribly, terribly wrong.” I feared I was having a stroke or psychotic break.

Suzanne was by my side every minute, inquiring and trying to comfort me, but there was no comfort. I was clearly out of my mind and knew it. Did I get caught in another reality? Was I being transported to another dimension? Would I ever be normal again? Would I be able to get my mind back, my life?

“Karen, if you were anyone else I’d take you to the emergency room but I know you wouldn’t go. What do you want me to do?” I sat with my feet in the pool staring into space. I thought of going in, but another part of me warned against it. You are not yourself; you may not come out again. “I don’t know what to do,” I told her. “Something in me has snapped.”

Suzanne put her arm around my shoulder and began talking about my future, the wonderful new life opening before me, my beauty, my spirit, every good and positive thing she could think of. She worked to weave a net with her words, a web of safety for me to rest in, while my mind raced in this unknown landscape. When she stopped, I knew I needed to be on the earth, to let earth energy hold me, but where? This was not the grassy Oregon countryside I knew; this was a yard of cactus, brick, palm trees, prickly aloe and desert rock.

I walked toward a gravel clearing as something exploded inside me, something fierce, an explosion that propelled me to my knees. I reached for white border stones, placed them on my heart and power center, and willed them to bring my energetic field and mind back to earth.

Suzanne talked of food poisoning, but I remembered nothing out of the ordinary. I feared my spiritual work had snapped the gossamer thread that kept me tethered to this place and decided I needed someone with mastery to bring me back. Suzanne found my phone book and called Lexi Parrott and Rebecca Singer, the only healers I knew capable of helping in those dimensions. She left phone messages as another violent wave hit my body. Then I remembered the fudge.

“Oh my God Karen, That was medical marijuana, very potent, made into a kind of butter and then confections. It’s been down there for two years. We keep it for my mom who has M.S.

This did not feel like my days of marijuana, this felt like rat poison, but there was comfort in understanding the break with reality.

John came outside eager to help but all I could think of was asking him to shovel vomit away from my face, since moving was out of the question. Both ends of me were busy expelling, and no one wanted to address what was happening ‘below.’

I opened my eyes into searing light and saw John’s face looking at me through the branches of an orange tree, his ever present white brimmed hat casting shadows across his face. I smiled up at him, having a fantasy of John showing a perspective client his tile work with me sprawled across the walkway, my face planted in the dirt, puddles of liquid flowing in each direction, looking like road kill on a heavily traveled thoroughfare. “And this,” he would explain. as they carefully stepped over me, “is our houseguest. Apparently a little sensitive to food.”

I thought of the Buddhist tenet. Do not take what is not given, and how often I’d played fast and loose with that one, and how I would not be in this mess if I had inquired, instead of taken. But Suzanne did not agree. “Oh darlin’,” she said in her southern comfort way, “You know you are welcome to anything we have.”

When John returned to the house I asked Suzanne to clean up the ‘other end’ of me, and bless her heart she did. All the time gagging and explaining why she could never be a nurse and how this whole thing explained the shit dreams she’d been having – which took our friendship to a whole new level, as you can well imagine!

When she’d finished I found the strength to make it inside to the bathroom, where I expelled for a few more hours. Too weak to remove my dress, I asked her to get scissors and cut it off.

Lexi called at the end of my purging, six hours later, and thankfully at a time when I was able to speak in complete sentences. Suzanne placed cushions on the bathroom floor and I settling down for the night, while Lexi and I talked and laughed. She began guiding me through a healing session. “Where ever you are,” she said, “is becoming sacred space.” I could not stop laughing. I looked up at the white porcelain of the toilet bowl, the tub and the war zone of the bathroom floor. Damn, I thought, if I can make this sacred space, I can make anything sacred space!

Rebecca called when Lexi hung up, offering to get on a plane to come help, but I couldn’t call back until the following day, couldn’t figure out how to make the phone work, so I listened to her message, feeling blessed to have loyal friends.

I spent two days in bed recovering my strength, while the household swirled with activity around the news of John’s daughter. The house was awash with visitors, many of their moods lightened by the story of my misadventures into the freezer drawer.

The morning I left, I swam in the pool, tentatively peering around the corner beneath the grapefruit tree to visit the scene of the crime. I was delighted and surprised to see that John had placed branches from a tree in the dirt where I had fallen and a pile of stones to heal the violence that had taken place. It felt like an apt memorial for a strange and perilous visit. 

Dream Guidance

I had a dream on Friday and found my house on Sunday. Here is how it went.

In the first part of my dream I met a man who showed me a house with a room for rent. He was kind and I thought I could live there, although it was not entirely comfortable. It was night and I could smell the sea at a distance. Then he took me through a dark tunnel and into another house. This one was empty and I knew for sure I wanted to live there. The man told me there was no electricity in the house, but I didn’t care. There were six cherubs that played in the room with me. They had short curly white hair and I held them on my lap and against my heart. Then I woke up. 

On Saturday I drove to Ojai and looked at a room offered for rent by a gifted artist. I liked the woman and could have lived there, but in the end, was uncomfortable with the idea of living in another person’s house. I had arranged to see a studio, but it could not be viewed until the next day, so I needed to stay overnight. (The dark tunnel that led to the second house.)

When I arrived and saw the grounds and the studio, I knew I had found my home. The landlady told me there was no stove in the unit, only a microwave, (There is no electricity) but I didn’t care. I rented it anyway.  It’s a start, a classy place, even through its small.  

There is a sculpture garden in the back with small figures cast in white marble (my cherubs) and is only eight miles from the sea. I can not move in until September first, but have officially landed. Insert the Halleluiah Chorus here!  

Now that the house is established, I am waking with visions for my work, much needed creative ideas about putting more joy into the experience and less sense of duty. So there you go. I found my place – or was led to it. Things are happening here, good things, which I thought I’d better share right away, since my last post was a tad raw. Thanks to all of you who have given me encouragement through this trying time. It means a lot.

Fetal Position

 

I’m homeless. Not in a cardboard sign, sleep on the street kind of way, but still homeless. Once a week I search the new rental listings printed in miniscule type on both sides of a real estate flier, but Southern California listings give me pause. The rentals are three times what I paid in Oregon.I have not worked in a month and don’t know when I will again. Still, I trudge forward knowing that this passage is not just an act of determination and will, but also a deeply felt destiny.

My son Clay and his lady Khrystyne have taken me in, so shelter and comfort are provided. But I have already stayed too long, putting both feet in the center of their lives, when all I intended was to touch down lightly.

Each day I struggle to stay positive and upbeat, but often I am immobilized by fear – the reality of my situation landing hard and raw on the uncertain landscape of my heart. At these times, demons spring from the shadows to rage and throw fireballs of negative thoughts across my weakness.

“You have no home,” they tell me. “You belong no where. You are not working. Nobody knows you. How will you survive? Where is your life partner? Why have you always been such a solo act, so extremely independent and alone? Everyone else your age is settled, yet you are untethered.”

These thoughts find me between wake and sleep, lodging my spirit in unreality, but I refuse to let them own me. They are the underbelly of my experience, feelings that catch me when I am fragile and unguarded. Some people soothe themselves through such times with alcohol, sex or drugs, but my medicine has always been movies, lots of wonderful imaginings to distract and calm a troubled mind.

Yet most of the time I feel excited, strong, brave and resolute. I like the person I am becoming because she has thrown off the stagnation of an unworthy life and is open – wide open to embracing new people, places, ideas and possibilities. Other’s like this new me also, but what’s more important is that I like her.

I can make myself crazy if I think of the years I wasted being crippled to joy, but I don’t want to. Instead, I pull myself up each day and make the phone calls and check the rental lists and connect with people I have never met, with the idea of enlisting them in my search and building future friendships.

Yep! This may be one of the most difficult things I’ve done – cutting away a 40 year history – and it is going much much slower than I had hoped, but I am doing it, one breath at a time, one step at a time.

And any day now, I will land and root, find my people, my clients and my teachers. Maybe even become prosperous and travel with a companion who can open my world a little wider. Maybe I’ll learn to splash paint on a canvas, laugh until my belly hurts and love from a deeper, more whole place in myself.

My culinary confession

Virgin Mary

Strawberry pie is not good for my body. When I eat it, each piece stays in my belly like a slowly inflating balloon. My head begins to ache and discipline flies out the window. I know I’ve crossed a food line and will pay for it later, but later is… well… later.

My mouth, however, doesn’t know any of this. My mouth thinks that strawberry pie has been sent for me personally, directly from the Gods, as a reward for salads eaten and vitamins popped. And I’m not talking just any strawberry pie, mind you. I’m talking my strawberry pies, the kind with homemade crust and yards of freshly whipped cream.  

It was Friday morning. Dicksie and Joe were coming to visit in Los Angeles on their way back to Arizona, and I wanted to treat them right, so I got out the last large piece of my special pie and traced a line down the center. There, I thought, those pieces are perfectly even. They will love them. Then, I made the grave mistake of licking a small dollop of whipping cream from the knife, a tragic error for which I most humbly apologize.  

The thinking of my evil twin went like this: 

Oh, so good. One more little taste won’t hurt, but this time I need some berries.

Yes, delicious.

Hum, maybe I’d better divide them again into smaller pieces, so I can slice off an edge on each side for myself. They’ll never know. Okay, that works, but the line is still not equal. I’ll need to even it up by having just a little bit more from each piece. Yep, yep, that looks better.

You know, the French serve extremely small portions and supplement with sprigs of mint or drizzled chocolate sauce.

Actually, the smaller the size, the more gourmet it looks. What a great idea.

I’ll keep eating from both pieces until they are fashionably petite. Yes.

Really, I wonder if Joe even likes strawberry pie. He might hate it. I never asked. And I seem to remember something about Dicksie watching her figure. Maybe pie would not be such a good idea after all. Perhaps its best not to mention I made it. That would be the wise road.

I’ll just wash the pie plate. But, I certainly can’t return two such tiny pieces to the refrigerator. That would be foolish, better just finish them up.  

And so my dear friends, whom I do love, came to visit. And we went out to eat and I kept my gluttonous secret.

Becoming Modern

I managed to go for 65 years without pumping my own gas, and now, wouldn’t you know it, my decision to move to California has pulled me out of my car and my comfort zone. I’ve filled up my tank six times and still don’t have it right, but each time I get better.

Last night I watched a guy hop out of his car, push the nozzle in the tank and walk away to wash his windshield, as if it were the easiest thing in the world. I was impressed, since my machine had already stopped three times. Once, because I didn’t shove the nozzle in far enough. Twice, because I tried to use the silver clip hidden in the handle to hold the lever up – and failed. And a third time, because I got distracted by the show-off guy and tried to do the same. I envied his wife sitting idly in the passenger seat examining her nails. One should never underestimate the gifts that come with relationship. 

The other thing I’m getting used to is a GPS, which came without an instruction manual of ANY kind, like a person should just know how to use it because of genetics, gender, or maybe age. Isabella, who was 11 years old at the time, gave me a quick lesson before I left Oregon. (She flies her dad’s airplane and is used to navigation systems.)  But she did not have the hang of allowing me to do it myself. Instead, she ran through the buttons quicker than a teller at the grocery. “See Ma? You just go here, here, here and here, and when you’re done, you push this.”

The GPS and the gas pump have been colossal challenges, with me tackling strangers to beg assistance. But when I reached Los Angeles, a one on one lesson from Clay, my son, helped tremendously. “You can always play the old lady card, if you get into trouble Mom.”

My biggest breakthrough with the GPS came when a bartender showed me a symbol that looks like a tiny bed in the lower right hand corner and announced it was the space bar. Ha! What a difference a space makes. In my defense, I will say that the clerk at the Morro Bay B&B could not find the space bar either. Anyway, the GPS and I have been doing very well – except for yesterday, when the hot California sun melted the glue that held it on the dash and dumped it in my lap.

Like my computer, I’m sure I’m only using one fourth of its capacity and that it has little GPS nighttime imaginings of belonging to someone who is worthy of it. But I am thrilled. After the initial shock of having a moving screen on my dash and another voice in the car, I have grown dependent, even delighted to be safely guided through the chaos of southern California traffic.

I still live in avoidance of gas station trauma and freeway madness but am adapting and getting better every day.

 

Dreams – Mine and yours

It was late, almost midnight. Mark and I had performed two evening shows and neglected to book a hotel room. “Don’t worry,” a young patron said. “Here is a key to my place. Save your money and stay there. I’ll be gone a few days, so slip the key under the mat when you leave.” We’d been touring for a year and I was delighted by the idea of staying in a home instead of a hotel. But my visions of warmth and welcome quickly faded when his key opened into a bachelor pad full of clutter, dirty dishes, soiled rugs and a hungry neglected cat. The bedroom was dark and fearful. “What shall we do?” I asked. “It’s too late to find another place.” Mark shook his head, “Nothing to do but crash here.”   

To say that I am sensitive to space and energy is a monumental understatement, so this was like dropping into the jaws of hell. I went to the van, found a packing blanket and placed it in the center of the living room, then sliced lilacs branches from a bush near the entry, making a circular mound around the blanket. With resignation and anger, I lowered myself onto the hard surface, willing nature and beauty to transport me into protected sleep. The scent and sight of the flowers helped but could not prevent absorption of the indwelling essence of the owner. 

That was an extreme case but unfortunately not unusual, since staying overnight anywhere other than home, can have dire consequences. A year of hotels and restaurant food left me ill and unable to continue. I had too many evenings sleeping in my car like a pretzel, rather than submerged in the unwelcome energies left in hotel rooms, where sheets are changed and tended but rooms are seldom aired or cleared. I have only to touch the bed spread or walk on the rug in bare feet to feel the energy of all who have passed before. Such heavily used rooms are an energetic Chernobyl for an empath or energetically sensitive person. 

The Oceanside Inn has been my only vacation place for decades, because the owner leaves the windows open between renters, allowing strong ocean air to whirl and spin-clean the space to pristine levels of purity. When forced to stay in difficult lodging, I have tried sage and candles, chanting and intention, which all help but can not rid the space of left over dreams. When I am in these environments, I slip into another’s dream field and wake unrested and worn down. Being in someone else’s dream field is like sleeping in a scratchy shirt, while experiencing the heaviness of their emotions, hopes and unfelt pain. It is tolerable with a life partner, but extremely unsettling with an absent stranger. 

The only time this trait has been remotely useful was when I accompanied my partner Thom to a therapy session and he could not remember the content of his last dream, so I did it for him. It took no effort to recall the whole thing, since I had been in his dream field. In this way my retelling helped him remember and gain understanding from the content. In case you hadn’t already guessed, having a live in partner can be difficult for an empathic person. For example, when Thom got a toothache, I was taking aspirin for the pain without understanding the pain was his. 

Today I’m traveling again so the awareness of this problem has returned, otherwise, I conveniently forget. My room at the Land of Medicine Buddha Retreat Center was clean and lovingly tended so the unseen effects were minimal, but still there was disrupted sleep and little rest. The lingering dream voice that remained in my room had a loud masculine quality, not at all like my own. This voice was bold and without refinement, as if stomping through a meadow in uncaring boots.

Pondering this puzzle makes me think of Collette, a student I met teaching an Intuitive Wisdom class at Marylhurt University.  “You know, Karen,” she said, “when I first had a session with you I thought it would be so wonderful to be as open and knowing as you are. I wanted to have the skills you had, but now that we have finished the class, I am grateful that I do not, because I see and understand that yours in not an easy road and that every gift comes with a price.”