Fly Away Home

My sister was my best friend, my partner in crime, and in many ways, the love of my life.

I knew I wanted to write of her, to speak of her today, to relate in words the depths of her richness, her grace, her beauty; but alas, my head was full of the static shock of her death.

Thus, I sought out the healing, calming force of an old friend, an old mother, the Ocean. It was late yesterday afternoon, a rainstorm made the breeze cold on my face, the sand wet on my feet, and I zipped my freshly purchased Ron Jon’s hoodie and tried to get myself comfortable. I walked, rubbed my arms, pulled up the hood and tied it, all to no avail. There was a chill in the air and I could find no comfort. Thick peels of clouds striped the sky, the sun blotted out among them. For several minutes I watched these fat white and purple ribboned clouds, gauging their direction, and saw that they moved eastward, in such a manner as to keep the sun hidden behind their infinite trails. Perhaps better, I thought, shuffling my bare feet in the damp sand, to just pack it up and head home.

And yet. There is always the chance of a mischievous little miracle, giggling, awaiting the perfect moment for a grand entrance. The wind shifted upon my face.  Marching orders had changed from somewhere above, and with one glance up I watched the army of clouds turn southward, and the liberated sun shone down upon me. I knew in that moment how deeply I was loved, and I knew who was loving me; the mischievous little miracle that was Noelle.

And thus, we sat together, or rather, she enveloped me, in ocean and sand and sun and sky. I asked her, like a child upon a knee, to tell me a story, and she whispered “Sit down, watch the ocean, and I shall show you a story, a story of life.”

And so I watched.

There were pelicans, riding air currents, gliding inches above the water, then circling, scouting, and diving for a delicious meal of unlucky fish. Both nourishment and death in one fell swoop, opposites collapsing into each other.

There were cruise ships, gleaming white and mighty, each boasting of celebration; fun and festivity and fruity umbrella drinks.

There were couples freshly in love, walking and laughing and holding hands. There were couples long past freshly-in- love, prosaic yet peaceful, held together by commitment and effort, newness and novelty replaced with depth and understanding. All good stuff.

There were seashells. Beautiful, glistening, intricately designed, abandoned little homes, artifacts of times passed, the adornments and artful handiwork of the sea herself.

And then, in the center of this masterpiece, echoing through the cacophony of activity surrounding them, were the waves, the juncture for that which is above and that which is below.

The wave is an exquisitely beautiful and utterly unique phenomena. Like snowflakes, no two are the same. Some are raging, others soft and sweet. Some are good for playing in, some are dangerous for playing in, and some are both. The wave expresses itself as art in motion, with frothy caps and dancing sprays or thundering white fists pounding the sand, and always it comes rolling with its own energy, its own unique signature upon the shoreline. Each wave leaves a little something behind when it lands, a little sand, a little seaweed, perhaps some shells, secrets of the ocean given to the care of the shore for a time, and as each wave slowly loses its energy, flattens and recedes back into its source, it takes a little something with it, a few secrets return to their watery origins.

And in these quiet, contemplative moments, sitting with my sister on the beach, I saw that we humans are as the waves are. Each of us an exquisitely beautiful and utterly unique phenomena.

And all around us, this life is happening. The beauty and death of it all, the romance, the celebration, the mundane, the abandoned, the emptied, the intricately crafted, the loved, the forgotten, we are surrounded by all these things. They reach out and touch us and shape us as we thunder and roll to the shore, on this journey we call life on earth.

The wave takes only temporary form. For only the briefest of moments, the wave holds the illusion of being separate from the ocean. But in those briefest of moments it creates its dance, crafts its twists and turns and tumbles, orchestrates its own crashing music, explodes upon the shore leaving its own unique mark upon the sand, and then the wave returns to its source, never to be distinguishable as that wave ever again.

In the same way, we are here for only the briefest of moments, holding the illusion of being separate from God. The human form is fleeting, a trifle in universal concerns, a temporary encumbrance of spirit perhaps. But also an enormous privilege and freedom. For the unknown time that we are in body, we have the incredible gift of self-expression, of individuality, of roaring to the shore on our life journey in whatever manner we choose. We are art in motion. The beauty and magic and despair and tragedy of humanity are captured in our art, in our dance, in the waves of our lives. We give a little. We take a little. And in the end, we recede from form, return to source, return to God.

I stared out upon the horizon and saw my sister in the playful ocean, in the vibrant blue sky, in the sweet beeming sun. I saw her everywhere, just as I saw God everywhere. There was no distinction. She was home, and she was whole, unencumbered, and utterly, completely joyous.

In human form, she was the most tender-hearted, accepting, loving, and beautiful person I have ever known. There never has been, nor will there ever be, a smile such as hers. She completed a side of me that I do not have. She filled in my blank spaces. She colored my emptiness, she delighted my heart and eased my mind. She was my medicine, my magic, my love.

In her memory I shall craft the most beautiful wave. I will be brave for her, I will be giving, I will be daring for healthy risks, I will be wise, I will be kind. I will look up to her and let her love shine down upon me, and when I feel her I shall fall to my knees and bow my head to that which I love so dearly. I have faith, sister.

You are one of the best things that ever happened to me. How precious you are. What will I do without you?   Only one thing. I shall hold you in my heart and live every day a better person than I was the day before. My final signature in the sand shall be as beautiful as I can craft it, and I craft it for you.

I love you.

On Life, Death, and Angelfish

Angelfish

The above is a picture of our magical angelfish, taken by my husband.

There are moments in life when beauty and emotion collide so intensely in the human heart as to command a sudden paralysis of mental faculties; a suspension of logic, explanation, understanding. At this juncture of  the collapse of the critical mind and the surge of raw feeling , one approaches a rather peculiar threshold between the sturdy land of the Seen and the deep dark waters of the Unseen. For a moment, one totters on the edge, with a choice to make.

Run back, or dive in.

Adults tend to run.   We have learned to temper these intense situations; hold them at an arm’s length, shrug our shoulders, chuckle, roll our eyes, mutter under our breath, perhaps cry as to mimic what we saw the beautiful movie star do in the blockbuster. This must be how to be sad. This must be the way to express feeling. We have traded real feeling for a script on feeling; traded the land of emotion for a map of emotion, because real feeling and real emotion can hurt, can knock us on our asses.

Children have not traded the real for the manufactured. Not yet. Children still hold the curious union of courage and vulnerability within their hearts.  And children dive in.

On a recent family trip, my ten year old son made friends with a tiny barracuda swimming in a canal next to our rental unit.  Fish were a rare find in this murky canal, and this fish was, by far, the most exciting fish to be found. The others were rather normal and gray, still fun to spot, but nothing like a silvery saw-toothed barracuda. Whenever we returned from some tropical escapade, he and his sister would search for this special fish.  One evening, after a day of sightseeing, they tumbled out of the car and darted to the canal, combing the green waters for the hidden treasure of camouflaged fish among the docked boats.

Within moments they found their friend, swimming around in his usual spot. My son cheered and pointed, his sister still squinting and searching. Finally, with a cry of excitement, she too saw the fish, and also followed its quick movements with her finger. It was a joyous reunion.

Until the world changed.

A young man staying in the neighboring building came suddenly charging from his patio with a steel fishing spear. He followed the two little outstretched fingers with his eyes, and by their direction, thrust his weapon. With some ridiculous stroke of luck, he hit his target. The struggling barracuda flopped helplessly on the sharp silver tip of the spearhead.  The fish had been pierced through its middle. The man began to holler. A large woman came yelling and hooting from somewhere, pulled out the spear, and stabbed the fish again.

My son fell backward, as though he’d been punched in the gut. His mouth fell open, his eyes filled with tears. This was his fish, his friend, and in his eyes, its death was his fault. The merry routine of reunion with an old friend had turned to fatal betrayal.   He was utterly stunned and heartbroken, and so was I, for both my son and his little friend.

No amount of hugs, explanations, consolations or distractions were of any comfort to him. He was distant and lost to me; unreachable in the land of reasoning and logic, in the land of sensory distraction.  I began to feel the tug of overwhelming despair and fierce love.  I felt the pull of the deep, dark waters, for there were no answers, no liberations in the Seen. So I too let it take me. Thus, we dove into the Unseen, together.

Logic, understanding, all normal thought processes were tossed aside by the waves of this dark ocean. My mind reached for an anchor, and it found the fish. Yes. The fish, the creature that had been temporarily collapsed into a little barracuda was now a great, magical part of the whole universe, and I knew it. The fish was done with this little canal. He was ready for something else, his next great adventure. And most importantly, he was ok. His little fish energy told me all this, and thus I told my son. He listened, and nodded and his eyes lifted.

After some time and contemplation of his own, he asked how we could be sure this was true.

Well, because the fish will give us a sign. Were the words that came.

And how will we know what the sign is? He asked further.

We’ll just know. ­

I answered with such speed and confidence as to surprise even myself. My son also seemed surprised with my answer, but as he still, in his youthful eyes, considers me his all-powerful omniscient mother, he accepted it.

I, however, began to worry. Would there be a sign? Was this fish like Santa Claus? Some superfluous mental concoction, with the unnegotiable requirement of parental participation? I began conspiring to create a ‘sign’; perhaps to spell out “I AM OK” with little white seashells on the dock or some other creative, well-intended foolishness.

But that would be cheating, polluting the waters of the Unseen with my own narrow notions.

Ultimately I settled on noninterference, save offering up a prayer to the fish with my son and daughter as I tucked them into bed that night. We introduced ourselves, expressed our sadness at his untimely death, sent our love, and humbly asked for a sign that he was, indeed, ok.

We were to depart the following day.

The next morning, as I was cleaning out the refrigerator, washing salty towels and stuffing souvenirs into over-packed suitcases, a miracle happened.   My husband had taken the kids down to the dock, to have one last look at the water and give mom some space and quiet.   There was suddenly much commotion, squeaks and squeals and exclamations. The door burst open and my husband informed me that the kids must show me something, and quick!

They were on their knees, leaning over the cement barrier and peering into the water. After ensuring that no rogue spear-wielding neighbors were lurking in the shadows, they revealed their discovery. With keen little eyes and overflowing hearts, they pointed out a dazzling, vibrantly yellow and blue angelfish. It was so exquisitely beautiful, and seemed to almost glow in its graceful movements in the water. It was surrounded by a colorful escort of parrotfish, all big lipped and flamboyant like a circus troupe security detail, making the angelfish seem all the more demure, divine.

A sign. The sign. And we all knew it.  What better sign from a deceased fish than to send an angel fish as his earthly messenger?  In that moment, magic was palpable.

A little barracuda of God’s great creation had graced us.  Our own little guide, who, as his last act in life as a fish, offered an open door to the in-between space, the Unseen.

In this in-between space, the sweet Lady Imagination meets Mr. Reality, and softly kisses his cheek. She is the phantom of the Underneath, the spellbinder of gnosis and growth and change. She holds him in her own divine, wise, innocent embrace. The magical touches the mundane, and miracles are born.

There are secrets hidden in murky waters.  There are angels hidden in barracudas.

What is hidden in you?  Go deeply and find your magic.

 

 

La Florida, the Feast of Flowers

clouds

They are mothers, the clouds

Voluptuous, soft and sweet

Grazing on the magic of the blue sky

Plumping the sun’s rays with their blessings

As they shine down on the happy human heads below

Slowly to be absorbed

To darken the skin

And lighten the hair

To bestow a lush vitality on all the little earthlings

Thriving and sweating and bending and blowing below.

bellydancePoppyTop

There are entertainers here

Troupes of palm trees

That dance according to their tribe.

Some sway and swoon like sultry belly dancers,

Others gambol and frolic like sprightly girls

With shocks of ribboned ponytails atop their thick barky trunks.

Some are smooth and regal and vibrantly green,

Fully possessed of themselves

Like royalty.

Some are fireworks

Exploding in precise patterns

Of angled greens and browns and yellows.

 

And these trees

Keep an audience

In those fortunate, untouched, under-landscaped spots.

A riotous and jubilant cacophony of

Party-going shrubs and trees and bushes

Displaying all manner of heights and hues and foliage and temperments.

And then charge the piercing little sawgrass patches

Who are always looking for a fight,

Ready to prove that ferocious spirits

Sometimes dwell in squat bodies.

 

And we are, all of us, blessed

By the sun and the clouds and the rain.

We are all loved  intensely.

 

And even when the sun gets a little too excited,

Grows a-slight too big and heavy for those below her,

And burns our cheeks and noses to a pinky crisp,

Like an overly doting mother who means well,

And gives so deeply that sometimes she gives too much

When her clouds do not temper her fiery spirit

But let her soar free through the sky uncensored,

This is still very good.

 

For what a glorious feeling that must be.

To soar.

Blazing hot and bright and uncensored.

 

I will take a burn for her

So she may fly free.

 

I think, perhaps,

All I ever wish to amount to

Is a beach bum.

Griswold Revival

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“I dedicate this house to the Griswold Family Christmas!” – Clark Griswold

At this festive and whimsical time of year, a time of sharing and gratitude, I feel compelled to share a little secret of mine; a sometimes embarrassing though always endearing fun fact, known only to my childhood friends and neighbors.

I was raised by Clark Griswold.

No, not Chevy Chase, he was just the actor. My father, I am certain, was the inspiration behind Christmas Vacation; the movie’s jubilant and mildly mischievous muse, wrapped in a thousand blinking strands of Christmas lights and hung with moosey mugfuls of frothy spiked egg nog.

Now, looking back, I recall with immense gratitude and joy the quirky assortment of memories that have become Christmas to me. So grab your beverage of choice, put your slippered feet up and dim your lights to an appropriately magical and Christmasy ambiance, as I take you down a bit of my memory lane…

Growing up, we had many a wild Christmas tree that just couldn’t quite squeeze itself between floor and ceiling, and though no squirrels ever launched themselves from among the sappy branches, I do recall a mass exodus of coniferous creepy-crawlies squirming and scrabbling up the living room walls.

Intense exterior decorating ensued promptly on the morning after Thanksgiving, and would continue well into the night. The house often looked to have been hosed down with Christmas lighting by a rampant host of runaway, drunken elves. (In reality, if one were to search among the sparkling bushes or under the twinkling trees, one would find scattered bottles of Sam Adams Winter Brew as evidence.)  This was all very fantastic. Less is more did not apply.

However, with a ‘more is more’ approach to holiday decor, my father has also been known, as his movie character so precisely expresses, to take things, ever so slightly, overboard. My mother does her best to support his antics, often quietly adding her own touch of class (usually elemental versus electric and plastic), to smooth out the random tackiness, though there have been times she’s had to firmly march him back to Wal-Mart to return a life-size waving Santa Claus or 10 foot inflatable snow globe, or some other accent piece for the front yard. She did, however, let him keep the projector beeming all manner of holiday insignia upon our home; snowflakes, candy canes, little snowmen, all arcing across the front of the house in constant parade.

I recall on one of our annual Christmas pilgrimages from Florida to Wisconsin, my father insisted my sister and I stand outside in a remote and snowy landscape, two shivering Sunshine State teenagers dressed in thin, ill-fitting jackets borrowed from cousins, until he snapped the perfect picture. I remember we finally had enough of it, and with appropriate adolescent attitudes turned up our chapped noses and marched back to the car. Which was locked. We turned around, and there he stood, in his own thin jacket. He, however, grew up in Wisconsin. He was not cold. “Take your time girls.” He said with a smile. “I’ve got all day.” Needless to say, my sister and I posed with wide, blue-lipped grins.   We even ventured upon a frozen lake for a few snapshots, which we later learned from a horrified aunt, was not fully frozen.

He has chauffeured countless Christmas cruises, piling all available family members into the car (even the grumpy ones), cranking the carols until the speakers shook, and, and no matter the weather, rolling the windows down to fully enjoy the neighborhood’s decorations.

He will wake with the sun to brew the most recent seasonal roast of coffee for a sleepy household, and at night he will build a fire, even though he lives in Central Florida and it’s 80 degrees outside. On a cool night.

For my own children, he dresses as “Tropical Santa”,  donning what looks like red furry boxer shorts with white fuzzy trim and a short sleeved top of equally silly design. Weather won’t stop him from being a Griswold. He adapts.

He has instilled in me a love of all things Christmas, whether it be the latest flashing yard accouterment or the newest soulful ballad offered up by a pulsing deep south church choir over the radio waves. Because of him I hold a deep affinity for plastic reindeer, a certain fondness for the old Christmas cartoon specials, knowing most of the songs and dialogues by heart, and am an undercover connoisseur of every variety of Christmas tree . Christmas carols, in my house where I am now the momma rather than the child, start well before Thanksgiving, and sometimes make a surprise appearance in July.

But there is much more to this man than just silly memories of seasonal brews and Santa suits.

My father has taught me the insurmountable value of celebrating for the sake of celebration; that gratitude, mirth, and plenty are states of mind.

Thank you for the unorthodox approach to life that almost never takes offense, but nearly always finds humor (even if its offensive humor).

Thank you for showing me that laughter is always appropriate, even when it’s not.

Thank you for teaching me levity and goofiness are not only always options, but often medicines.

I raise my moosey mugful to toast. Cheers to you dad. Thank you for blessing me with your twinkling humor, your love of merriment, your goofy nonsense that shines on me like the northern star. It will forever be my beacon and my strength. I am revived by my family memories. I love you.   Merry Christmas.

The Fierce Poetry of Madam Chicken Legs

http://picsart.com/i/15543285267

“I know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head.” – Primo Levi

I have never been particularly strong of body. Regardless of the hearty, home-cooked meals my mother always provided, I remained a hopelessly skinny child. During my tumultuous middle school years, my bony frame earned me the nickname Chicken Legs.

Neither was I gifted in coordination. Repeated basketball team tryouts resulted in repeated first cuts for me, despite hours of dedicated practice with the hoop in my driveway. Weeks of dance lessons ended in “um… maybe you should just sit over there and watch the other girls”.  Frustration. Tears. Embarrassment.

While other girls were blossoming, I was simply lengthening.  A long, wispy weed of a girl. The boys looked elsewhere. The coaches looked elsewhere.  I felt invisible, weak, feeble. Betrayed by my own body.

I was, however, very strong of mind. I was the perfect student; learned quickly, loved to write, mathematics came easy. In academia I shined, I was at the top of the class.  My body had given me great self doubt and pain, but my mind held the big ideas, the big knowledge, the big money. I (unconsciously) vowed never to challenge myself through body again.

Somewhere in college, amidst inflated dreams of material success, the straightest of A’s and doting professors,  I decided I’d become an ace business woman. Shrewd, creative, rich, fabulous. I envisioned a loft in Manhattan, first class business trips and five star hotels, standing at the head of the boardroom’s long, glossy table, ruthlessly presiding over my neck-tied male minions, and my God, I’d don the most gorgeous heels.  Three inch heels , in fact, with never a tripped step.

Fast forward about 15 years, and much has changed. I have traded in the New York loft for a quirky, amazing house in New England, the hotels for an equally quirky and amazing family, and my shoe preference has morphed to flip flops or boots, depending on the weather.

My mind I have nourished well. I have feasted on Lao Tzu, Rumi, Hafiz. I have devoured Eckart Tolle, and nibbled around at Gurdjieff and Blavatsky. I have rubbed my belly happily after tasting the sweet morsels offered by Steiner. Through much work I have changed who I am by sharpening purifying, exercising, loving my mind.

And yet.

I had been neglecting something, and it always chewed on me, squirming around in the corners of my being, something that was slowly being starved to death. Something that I feared and disliked, that made me vulnerable and nervous; a little piece of me that I had exiled to the categories of hopeless, silly, and unimportant.

The strength of Body.

Two of my children began taking Tae Kwon Do this past summer. I was intrigued; the dojang is run by a Korean master, a man with such grace and presence as to make every visit a spiritual experience. There is authenticity here; a depth and richness as cannot be created without the magical ancestral blessing of a great heritage passed down a strong line. There is something of divine plan and beauty in the movement of this people of Korea.

Unwittingly, I began imagining myself on the floor practicing with them; kicking, punching, shouting, sweating, which led to inner excitement and dread. What must it be like, to move like that? To be that alive in the body?

You don’t have to do it, you just have to analyze it. My mind comforted me. I am very good at that. Don’t you worry about it.  Just sit here in your nice comfy chair and watch the kids.

Oh yes, my mind could see it, could tally it and mull it and crunch it, describe it utterly, like a very talented NFL announcer. The John Madden in my head was quite skilled with his microphone, but grass stains, bruises, and pigskin were just well…far too primitive for his tastes.

I was afraid. So I signed myself up.

I remember my first class several months ago, I was shaking. When I go to class tonight, I will still be shaking.

Recently, in an especially fast-paced class, I was partnered with a kind man; high school math teacher by day,  bad-ass black-belt by night, (I have a sneaking suspicion he might also be Batman). He was doing his best to help me.

In theory, he was supposed to be trying to punch me, and I being Bruce-ette Lee, would be artfully dodging and roundhouse kicking him to the kidney with acute precision and timing. In reality, I resembled corn popping, sporadic little bursts of unruly energy, flailing limbs. Pop pop plop!   No good. His eyelids sunk to half mast, but he offered me a smile and took a new approach.

“Try to get into a rhythm.” He kept telling me. “Try to flow.”

“Like poetry!” I declared. “Rhythmic and flowing, like poetry!”

He was now utterly befuddled, and slightly more exhausted.

“I like to write poetry.” I offered timidly.  I fought back the urge to tell him I had been an excellent math student and even took Pre Calculus in high school.

“Um…ok. Like poetry.” He conceded. “but fierce.”

YES.

I realized then a deep piece of my nature; of my dreams, goals, desires.

I want to BE fierce poetry. I want to light fires with my words AND my movements.

I want to synchronize. I want to revolutionize. I want to be strong, fast, bad ass, beautiful, amazing, descriptive, illuminating. I want to be the magical, the mystical, the wise, and the physical.

The body does what the mind cannot do. It transcends the mind’s structure and rigid rules, the ego’s hypersensitive defenses. The body is an instrument of beauty, of primacy, of power.

It offers a visceral mysticism. Corporeal fusion of the divine and human, of the mind and body, the sacred union of mental and physical that leads to robust wisdom and freedom.   The body, I have realized, is just as suitable a vessel for this freedom, this wisdom as the mind. They are sisters.

I want to feel with my body the curves of intensity in the concepts my mind has embraced. Beauty. Freedom. Love. Power. Wildness. Potency. Fierceness. Poetry. What do these things feel like?

I want to feel with my body the letters that make the words that build the written concepts.   I want to feel, embody, the letter V.  Smooth and sharp, quick in it’s motion, yet long and velvety in its sound.   Yes. I want to feel the V leading the concepts of Velocity, Vivify, Vivacious.

Very verbose vernacular vacillating among violined vampires, ventriloquist voices, voracious vaccuming vixens, venting violent victims and a victorious velvety villainess…yes…all that is me…

Come play with me.  Come dance with me. Come fight with me.  Come write with me.

Let us be fierce in our poetry.

 

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