Friday, November 8, 2019

Pathways

Dark settles in just below my eyebrows
because the sunshine lands bright upon my forehead
Gentle warm caresses my eyelids heavy
Heavy sinks deep into the bottom of my sockets
drains throughout the pathways of my sinuses
flowing into my skull full of mad
This hot pessimistic neuron trance 
is soothed by the solar heat my bare head basks in
Hard headed to say where one ends and the other begins
Pleasure and pain blur together
A stone soup of emotional weather
A sharknado of defenses and accusations
My soft self is swept up in the wind
While my ego says “surfs up dude!”
My hurricane lasts about 3 days
You can survive just fine if you stay in the eye
but the rest of the world gets destroyed
Wade through the flooding and debree
Fires and uprooted trees
Foundations have crumbled
Powerlines jumbled 
There is no lack of electricity
It’s just not controlled anymore
Ripped free and returned to its lightening
randomly striking
running amuck in the dark
A few seconds of spark
gifting flashes of pathways
leading back to the edge of the clouds
where the sun is still shining

Friday, November 1, 2019

You are the lake.

Eckhart Tolle says “You are the lake.  What happens in the outside world causes the ripples and waves.”

If someone throws a stone into the lake it will disturb the water.  Ripples, splashes and waves will form.  If I wait long enough the ripples will go away and the calm will eventually return.

When I want things to change in my life and I am at a loss for what to do, I often throw stones.  It's an annoying habit I have observed within myself.  Throughout much of my life I have avoided conflict but in other ways I think I am addicted to the puzzle of it.  I have habitually responded to what I often hear as criticism, within my relationships, particularly my romantic partner relationships, with defensiveness and anger.  Sometimes, rightly so.  But as of late…as of being tired of labeling myself as the angry one in the relationship...as of being tired of my same old communication patterns...as of being tired of repeating the same old mistakes in a new relationship...and as of listening to lots of Buddhist thought on the matter…I have been attempting to form a different approach.  The question is, “what would happen if I didn’t react to someone’s opinion at all.”  What if I listened, responded with “I hear you and I respect your opinion and I disagree”… if that happens to be the case and, most importantly, WITHOUT any further efforts put into explaining or reiterating my point of view.  What if I didn’t take the bait.  

Eckhart Tolle also says that there are two kinds of ego that we all have.  The positive and the negative.  The good version of ourselves and the bad version of ourselves.  Both are ego.  But the negative ego is the stronger one.  The bad version of ourselves holds on harder.  Mine sure as hell does. Blaming and guilt are both internal dialogues that we have with ourselves and others that strengthen the negative ego.  Blaiming and guilt are nothing but bait.  For the other person and for my own ego.  Within an argument there is so often a subconscious obsession with winning.  The irony is that this focus on winning actually reduces our own personal power.  The more we allow our emotions to control our thinking the more out of control we become.  Remaining neutral is a way to calm the water.  No reaction.  If I don’t react, then there can be no perpetuation of the same old actions.  Something different will happen.  I’m not referring to indifference, certainly not contempt or silent treatment.  The ego is sly.  Different might mean unpredictable and very subtle, anti-climactic even, but still different.  

Sigh.  However, I find that not reacting is actually an extremely difficult thing to do.  I hope it gets easier with practice.  I squirm like a cat in a leash every time.  For a good long while.  And sometimes it wins.  I take off the leash and lash out.  I am so conditioned to have a response but it really is an unnecessary reaction.  It’s ok to just listen, let what is said settle in and hear it very well.  

Then maybe a response will come or maybe not.  There is power in calm and silence.  It is a way to honor myself and my experience.  I don’t owe anyone an immediate answer.  I am allowed to think about something and feel something as long as I need to.  I am allowed to make space for myself.  If I am really done jumping for others, then I can take that all the way down to the details.  

This is the beginning of acceptance when in conflict with anyone.  It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion.  It doesn’t mean I agree with the other existing opinions in the situation.  It doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings and emotions.  It doesn’t mean my feelings aren’t valid.  It doesn’t mean I am allowing someone to push me around or bully me or use me.  It doesn’t require defending my position or validating the other's.  Acceptance is neutral.  The only thing it requires is listening.  That’s it.  To the other person but also to myself and my own reaction.  Instead of being swallowed by my reaction, I can see it, feel it and let it be there, instead of panicking to do something about it.  

The only thing to do, when I become angry and irritated, when a stone is thrown into the water, is pause and listen.  To the other person, to the silence, to my breathing, to my own maniacal thoughts, whatever.  Even if it’s only for 30 seconds, which is sometimes all I am capable of.  It stops the perpetuation of war, even if only for a moment.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Monday, September 30, 2019

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Byron


Optimism

Is grass supposed to smell like bleach?
Is air supposed to hurt your teeth?
Is sleep supposed to make you stiff and sore?
Are toddlers supposed to drink mountain dew 
out of a bottle?
Are dolphins supposed to die from plastic ingestion?
Why is the size of the allen wrench you need 
never the one you own?
Why would anyone make a toilet paper holder
that is tightened with an allen wrench?
Do rednecks really have to take their fucking shirt off 
for every picture?
Do rednecks ever have any muscle tone?
Does the dogshit bag always have to have a hole in it?
Are children supposed to be separated from their parents
and held in concentration camps?
Must every car I buy get scratched 
within the first two weeks I own it?
Do my richest clients always have to be 
the slowest ones to pay me?
How many white supremacists does it take
to turn on a light bulb?
How many days 
will my girl leave her socks 
on the bathroom floor?
Will my grandmother still remember me 
when I see her next?
Are the hardest conversations 
always put off the longest
sometimes until its too late?
Must the ones we love the most 
live the farthest away?
Will the freshly peanut buttered toast 
always land face down
on the floor
in dog fur?
Will I wake up grumpy every morning 
for the rest of my life?
If I am being a little bitch 
and my internal observer is aware 
that I am being a little bitch
and I have the tools and comprehension 
to stop being a little bitch
but I still cant stop being a little bitch
Will I be a little bitch forever?
If my beloved says me she loves me
tells me every day that I am beautiful
and says she will never leave me
Does she really love me?
Will she never leave me?
If I keep trying to be gentle
and learn how to love her better
trying not to hurt her
Will I never hurt her?
When the tornado passes through
destroying everything in its path
Will the birds still land 
upon the twisted branches
and sing to us in the morning?
Yes, they will.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Pondering on pondering



I have read so many self-help books that I have lost count.   I have a library at home and I have become aware of almost every major spiritual guru in the new age contemporary field over the last decade or so.  I am always trying to listen to what the conversation of our collective consciousness is.  Ted talks, podcasts, graduation addresses, audio books, motivational speaking, standup comedy etc.  It’s my own personal crack.  I have been listening ever since I was a kid.  I read the book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo and I think I beat him.  I grew up without television, but my family listened to the radio instead. It was always tuned to the local college public radio station.  I remember one particular show called New Dimensions.  It was the first program airing interviews of contemporary existential theorists that I had ever heard, and I was hooked.  I would sit next to the radio and do my homework when it was on.  I recall a variety of speakers, none of whom I was familiar with at the time, including the likes of Joseph Campbell, Eckart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, Leo Buscaglia or James Baldwin.  My dad started calling me his little existentialist.  Contemplation and debate on many topics was a common occurrence around the dinner table, led by my father and grandfather, who of course were not on the radio, but thoroughly enjoyed the sounds of their own ponderings whenever possible.  My grandmother and aunts also did their very best to save my gay, bohemian soul with their scriptures, fire and brimstone.  They failed miserably, just for your information and by the time I went to college I had very little patience or tolerance for proselytization of any kind.  Still don’t, but ironically, I enjoy the musicality and poetry of it, I have developed a hypersensitive ear for it and it is quite possible I have also inherited some skills and tendencies.   Probably because I have continued listening throughout my life anyway.  Some of it has been extremely interesting, and I try to integrate what I feel may be helpful.  

One of the many ideas that I have heard, throughout the years consistently, is one that I have been wrestling with for the last few.  Credit is often given to Albert Einstein for being one of the first contemporary thinkers of the last century to pose the question “Is the universe friendly?”  Is the universe for you or against you?  Supposedly, the shift in point of view, from against to for, will make all the difference. Existentialist thinkers have told me, books have told me, doctors have told me, therapists have told me, psychic readers have told me, my horoscope has told me, my partners have told me, and my own heart has told me.   It remains the hardest philosophy for me to adopt. 

There is a lack of clarity within the language of the question that I take issue with, lately.  I want so badly to believe that the universe is for me, but the phrasing “is for me” supports the illusion that the universe is going to do something for me, bring something to me or save me somehow.  It’s the genie in the bottle all over again.  It is a dangerous concept.  It has tripped me up psychologically for years.  If I hold too tightly to the idea and if I take the words literally, it gives me permission to wait.   The idea of “surrender” is lovely, soothing and temporary…and it also gives me permission to wait.  

Another phrase, which is often stated in conjunction with the former, is that “it is up to you to take responsibility for yourself and your life” (Thank you Rob Bell).  This is also true; however, it sounds directly contradictory to the concept of waiting for the universe to do something for me.  It isn’t that I don’t understand intellectually the deeper metaphysical and practical combination of these concepts. “It is not either/or, it is both/and” (Thank you Richard Rohr).  However, the less evolved areas of my brain have struggled with the added emotional and psychological stress that can be created by the contradiction, oversimplification and misinterpretation of such statements.  

What I have discovered through my own internal experience is that yes, the universe can be for me, but it is going to come from me, not come to me.  Nothing transformational is going to come from outside of me, so any magic I desire, any miracle I am hoping for is going to work through me.  And let me tell you, work is the operative word. When I am in a shit mood and it takes all frickin day to turn my thoughts around, pull my head out of my ass and open my heart back up, that’s a lot of psychological work.  Not to mention humility.  The kicker is “I never feel like doing it” (Thank you Mel Robbins).  The answer to that lack of desire that I always come up with is, “too frickin’ bad because that’s what taking responsibility means” (Thank you, Me).  My internal voice is not the most nurturing if you can’t tell.  “You do the work” (Thank you Iyanla Vanzant), so that the good and true can come through you.  I get to “ugly cry” (Thank you Oprah), my way through it so that “a greater vision, a bigger vision for yourself and of yourself can come through you” (Thank you Tony Robbins).  “It sucks because it’s hard” (Thank you Brene Brown), but I can do it.   I have to do it, if I want to, because I am the only one who is going to.   “You are the universe and your body, your mind, your heart and your spirit are your tools” (Thank you Michael Beckwith).


To respond to my own bitch, and be specific, this is where the work starts for me.  Slipping into and remaining within the trance of anger, sadness and depression is intoxicating.  It is literally the same neurological process as addiction.  Scientifically proven.  I am in no way discounting the difficulty of often lifelong addiction recovery, however, as many recovering addicts know, there are so many layers to the process.  If I think that I am “sober” because I  don’t ingest any chemicals from the outside, then I am mistaken because I am instead producing chemicals from the inside that I have created with the same kind of obsessive thinking that is physiologically interconnected to addiction.  The hard part is that I can’t just stop taking a substance.  “You must interrupt the ruminations” (Thank you Tara Brach).  I have to identify and halt and change the thoughts that generate the emotions and produce the substance.  “I can’t change is a deep habit” (Thank you Deepak Chopra).  

“The thoughts you repeat have created the neurological pattern, the path of neurons firing and wiring which releases the chemical, which produces familiar emotions, which then re-stimulates and reinforces the thoughts” (Thank you Dan Siegel).  It’s a loop.  A cycle.  It can be induced by personal trauma, generational trauma or genetic predisposition.   I am in no way discounting the Grand Canyon of the impact these life events can have or the Kilimanjaro’s they present.  The things that happen to me are not my fault.  I didn't do anything wrong.  “These factors are real, but not true” (Thank you Victor Frankl).  I can and have looked for all the events that created the thoughts in the first place, but ultimately it is my job to stop thinking the thoughts.  “Discipline” (Thank you Bruce Lee). Then I must knowingly and willingly go through withdrawal from the addiction to the chemical that I have recreated.  “Willpower”(Thank you God). 

Personally, I am addicted to control, anger, judgement, sarcasm, cynicism, self-loathing, worry, procrastination, my own personal brand of logic and storytelling.  I am sure the list is way longer, depending on who you ask, but you get the idea.   

“Very little grows on jagged rock.  Be ground.  
Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are.
You’ve been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
Surrender.”
(Thank you, Rumi)  

When I ‘surrender’ to acknowledging any one of my psychological addictions it feels like a scary freedom, the unknown and withdrawal.  I shake with DTs at the edge of a cliff every single time I address one.  I have observed from a very early age that most people are not aware of their own bullshit.  Therefor I have been trying to call myself out and own my shit, when I happen to be momentarily aware enough, throughout my whole life.  I work my way out of something just about every single day.  And frankly, I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of the work.  I am often frustrated. I keep expecting it to be cumulative. I read all about neuroplasticity this and neuroplasticity that.  Meditation, blah blah, yadda yadda.  However, I do all the blahs and the yaddas.  Whenever I can make myself.  There are no cures or fixes.  Yes, I know, I don’t need to be fixed, I just need to "accept myself", ppppbbbbbllllllllttt.  (Thank you, Buddha).  It’s a nice idea in the long run, but not very practical or helpful in the short term. “If you argue with reality you will lose 100% of the time” (Thank you Byron Katie).  In the good times I hold on to the tiniest grain of hope, or illusion, I can’t decide yet, that maybe my chemical balance will shift when I am not paying attention.  I know intellectually that it has shifted all along, but “in the midst of struggle it does not fucking feel that way” (Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert).  I do the work anyway, trying to let go of my expectations of results, trying to be a kinder, gentler person to myself and those around me.  I will probably work at it the rest of my life, or until I’m too old and grumpy.  I work at it to alleviate the sadness that comes with life, to release the grief I discover.  I work at it, so I might increase the love and joy in my heart.  So, I might stop poisoning my body with anger.  So, my partner doesn’t kick me out.  So, at the very least, the world isn’t a worse place.  Some days I do better than others.  

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Traffic

I have a strange superpower 
to be completely calm 
in the midst of the most insane 
metropolitan rush-hour traffic  
The crazier the bumper to bumper 
the more zen I become 
I think it frightens my passengers
because it’s like my body just surrenders 
to the complete lack of control 
I have over the situation  
My butt gets heavier 
my jaw relaxed
my senses acute  
I am concentration
I accelerate  
I break   
I weave through lanes
like young Michael Jordan 
in a playoff game 
I become a master of observation 
I can be in the middle of a city
under 3 layers of expressway ramps 
surrounded by semi’s 
in 6 lanes of traffic 
and pause
to marvel at the enormity of the machine 
the choreography of movement  
I easily release all expectations
combine minute quick reaction time 
with big picture strategy 
calculating moves 
faster than Bobby Fischer
I effortlessly maintain control of my emotions 
rarely lose my patience 
seldom ever panic 
go with the flow  
at home in myself
Fully present with buddhist mojo
If only I could do that with the rest of my life 
If only I could respond to everyone 
changing speeds 
changing lanes 
stopping hard
swerving sharp 
as gracefully 
as I do in traffic 
Maybe I have been in enough accidents to know
that you can hardly ever see the crash before it comes 
I wish I could maneuver through 
These 24 hour sun revolutions
the way I glide through traffic
Loosen this white knuckle grip 
on my egomaniacal sense of immortality
Fix this cracked windshield 
So I can see the opportunity 
to just play the game 
Stop the incessant anxiety driven 
useless insistence on prediction
and use my imagination 
Lighten the fuck up 
and just have some fun 
for a change 
Drive like my life depends upon it
because it’s quite possible 
that I only get one 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Hillbilly Hoedown

My family is not much for holidays.  I mean, we do our best to gather, geographically, around them, like most people.  We reach out, ask for plans, inquire if congregating in the same place, at the same time is possible.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc.  However, we are all musicians, of sorts, so holidays take on a different spin.  They are events that one entertains for.  Paid or not.  We have traveled and played, together as a family, at home and at gigs; bonfires, reunions, parties, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, festivals, holidays, etc.  

This holiday wasn’t an exception, we gathered at my sister’s house, as my parents had booked a fourth of July party at a bar in a very tiny, remote town in the west end of the U.P.  The “U.P” is the upper peninsula of the state of Michigan.  It is a beautiful, fairly undisturbed, stretch of hundreds of miles of wooded landscape, with a few scattered pockets of people.  The west end is one of the most remote areas and if it is occupied, it is by a few remaining, tiny, mining towns established in the late 1800s, early 1900s, during the copper and iron ore mining boom that tunneled through the land at the time.  There are minimal highways to choose from and endless dirt roads to get lost on.  You could literally get lost, with no cell phone reception, no people, and no modern conveniences.  It is still possible to die in a snowstorm if you didn’t know where you were and strayed too far out.  It is not for the faint of heart.  The people that remain or choose to inhabit, value the peace and privacy the location offers.  There is no one around to tell them how to live or what to do.  They are hearty, down to earth and fun loving.  Most people are of Scandinavian or Italian decent and there is a small Native American population that has persisted, comprising the only consistent minority group.   

So, through discussion of gig attire, I learned the bar we were headed to had the particular theme of Hillbilly Hoedown.  I thought nothing of it at the time.  Sounded like my whole childhood.  However, in hindsight, it may have been a good idea to give that a second thought.  You see, at the time, I had recently started gender bending my clothing.  I had been out as a Lesbian for almost 20 years, but at this time in my life I was learning to embrace the particular amount of gender fluidity that existed within me and a stronger sense of self comfort.  I wasn’t asking anyone for permission or approval.  Those thoughts hadn’t even crossed my mind.  I usually felt pretty secure, and rarely ever afraid in public, but I was spoiled by the shelter of living in the city for years.  Fear and insecurity are common states of mind that LGBTQ people juggle every day.  I have learned that self-acceptance is usually what other people need to accept you, accompanied by a silent, smiling lack of giving a fuck.  I wasn’t trying to make a statement or change pronouns.  I just wanted to relax into my own skin, even more.  So, I wore the clothing I had brought.  Overalls.  PERFECT!  Along with a white button down and a soft, pink, silk bowtie that my sister had made me.  Quite soft and feminine, actually.

All of us, Mom, Dad, brother, sister, her husband, their 2 toddler boys, and I, loaded up in our caravan and headed to the gig.  It was crowded and hopping already in the midsummer evening light.  The fenced in backyard open with a small bandstand awaiting.  We set up all the sound equipment and then my brother and I tooled around, wove through the crowd, met the owner and made our way to the bar to order a couple of beers before we got started.  Usual gig routine.  I started to notice, more than usual, side glances at my bowtie.  Which to be honest is pretty normal, but paired with the local personalities in attendance it began to feel slightly awkward.  My mind said “whatever”, as always and I pushed through the discomfort, as always.  When one is a member of the LGBTQ community, one gets used to being looked at and assessed.  However, also, when one is a member of the entertainment, one gets used to being looked at and assessed.  You see how my conceptual lines may have gotten blurred a bit.  As a musician, there is a lot of skepticism and judgement before you are allowed to play music and “prove yourself”.   It’s quite a masochistic place to insert oneself, but you get used to it, and learn to ignore it.  So at this time I mentally placed myself as a member of the band, ahead of the “other” membership flag I was involuntarily waving.

I made my way to the ladies room, or rather, the end of the line in front of, only to have all four women turn around and give me deer in headlight glances.  A large bearded man came out of the men’s room and gave me the same, as well as exchanging a quick look with the woman in line before me.  I contemplated going into the men’s room, as there was no line, but my gut said no, and I am very glad that I listened to it.  As the line shortened I made small talk with the last woman ahead of me and before it was her turn, she turned to me and said, “They do have another bathroom out back if you don’t want to wait…did you see that one?” I paused in my confusion, laughed and naively said “Nope, I haven’t been back there yet.  I will have to check it out later.”  “Oh” she said, nodding her head.  So, I waited, she came out, I went in, did my business and plunged back out into the bar without hesitation.  

I made my way to the backdoor, which didn’t actually have a physical door, shocker, and down the rickety stairs into the backyard when I noticed it almost immediately.  It had a clear, four foot space all the way around it, so was easy to see.  It was a clean white toilet, setting on the dirt ground, backed up to the tall, picket, wood, privacy fence that ran all the way around the open backyard of the bar.  A large American flag was hung directly above it on the fence and a cute basket of flowers sat on the top of the tank.  As I slowly approached the toilet I could see the seat was down and a sign written in red sharpie marker had been taped to the lid.  It read “Transgender”.   

I paused and stood there blinking at it.  It took a few minutes for my mind to register exactly what I was looking at.  This set up was placed here, I learned later, by the owner.  A joke, of course.  A cruel, hate filled, joke…which then turned into a very clear warning.  As soon as my brain caught up with what everyone else knew, all the faces I had interacted with as I had made my way through the bar made sense.  The bar was filled with a range of generations and reactions.  It was all a mixture of indignation, trepidation, shame and indifference.  As I processed the understanding of all those facial expressions, I could then feel all their eyeballs burning holes through the back of my overalls and knew it was time for me to move on.  I took a very long drink of my beer, turned on my heels, and walked away.

Now, I am not Transgender and do not claim to know what it would have felt like, had I been and encountered that.  I am an androgynous Lesbian, who often gets mistaken for a man in public spaces, so I am familiar with alienation, confusion, discomfort and on rare occasion violent behavior projected towards a fluid identity.  To be honest, I would be surprised if most of the clientele at this venue would know or care about the difference.  Wouldn’t matter anyway, it’s all “wrong.”  I cannot say that I am not familiar with the prejudices and stereotypes of this demographic.  I grew up amidst it.  It is sprinkled throughout every corner of this country.  However, it is still always a little surprising when a new avenue is opportunistically used to demonstrate the same demeaning, oppressive, aggressive and violent actions without even the most minimal objection.  As a lesbian or gay man, there are many ways to assimilate, which we learn, right quick, at a very young age.  However, when crossing gender boundaries, even with the simplest symbol such as a pink bowtie, as well as my personal demeanor, blending in was not an option.  I contemplated removing it, but somehow felt submission would make me more vulnerable, and increase justification for the intentions of the display.  Ironically it became the only armor I had on.  I was also lucky I was with the band.  It made me keenly aware of the possibility of violence that floated in the air like smoke, trailing behind me, anywhere I chose to traverse that evening.  If I had been alone, and tried to leave, it may not have been pretty, and could have been deadly, which scared the living shit out of me.  Just a tiny window, into the everyday life of every brave soul who does not fit the mold in this way, yet still chooses to venture out into this, at times, hate smeared country.  It makes me sick to my stomach.  I wish it had, literally.  I wish I had lifted the lid and vomited into the bowl.  Or better yet, undid my overalls, sat down and taken that living shit.


Instead, I swiftly took my place amongst the shelter of the ‘’band” and my family and danced with my nephews.  My family rolled their eyes and raised eyebrows in protest, but our business there was, well, business.  There was no room for moral or emotional dissension.  Nor could we afford it.  This was our livelihood.  If you piss off the proprietor, you don't get paid.  We finished out the time we had to play, the music lulling everyone into emotional unity, as it usually does.  We packed up our stuff as fourth of July fireworks were set off.  We watched the sparse, sparkly display quietly for a few minutes before piling into our caravan again to head home.  Prepared to hate this godforsaken place, forever, I offered to drive, as I had drank the least, choosing to keep as many wits about me as possible.  My brother-in-law happily agreed, sat next to me in the passenger seat, my sister and the boys in the back, and I gratefully drove away.