Friday, September 9, 2016

Back to Zen

Grace is the physical manifestation of my usual state of mind.

I started a new job in March, which is wonderful. I not only love what I do, I love the team I'm working with. The three of us have become quite close. As much as I love the job, it is a job and as such, it does take up a lot of my time. And then I've got those two kids. And the spouse. And a lot of friends. And hobbies and working out and going grocery shopping. So as you can imagine, I am pretty busy just like everyone reading this post.

But busyness can be a burden. I mean, sometimes it's great! I have so much amazing stuff to do and so many awesome people to do it with! And my kids make me laugh! And my husband spoils me! And I have a personal trainer and a therapist and a writing coach! I mean, damn, everyone should be so lucky to be busy in the way that I am. I totally get how extremely fortunate I am.

But still.

So.

Busy.

Busyness can become a state of mind in addition to a physical state. I'm running from work to day camp to hockey practice to working out to appointments to the grocery store. And while I'm running all over doing all that, I'm thinking of what just happened or what's about to happen or what I need to happen later that day, tomorrow, a week from now and next December.

Busy.

Busy.

Busy.

It's all good busy, don't get me wrong. I mean, crap, I have a housekeeper. So it's not like I'm busily scrubbing toilets. I'm busy doing a lot of things I love to do and a lot of things I'm happy to do for my friends and family.

But the mind can only take so much.

At one time does it rest? When do you stop all that and just Be? When do you came back into your own? I read a lot. I tend to think that's my "me" time and it is. But reading is another form of busyness too. It keeps my mind preoccupied.

The other night I went to yoga. I hadn't been to yoga since I don't even know when. Yoga feels like a luxury. Yoga isn't fast. Yoga doesn't fit in to my prioritized list of THINGS I MUST DO. Yoga fits into THINGS I'D LIKE TO DO IF ONLY I HAD TIME.

But I did it anyway. I carved out a space in the evening and just laid claim to it. I said to hell with putting the kids to bed or picking up kids from hockey or letting my husband go work out. I put all of their needs aside and said OKAY LOOK I THINK I ACTUALLY NEED THIS.

Though I didn't have to yell it.

I just had to ask.

Sometimes I think I'm bad at asking for what I need.

So I went to yoga after a very long absence from it and I stretched and sweated in the dark. I let the music fill my bones and resonate through my body. I stretched and moved until the sweat ran in my ears (SWEAT CAN RUN IN YOUR EARS?). I moved my body and felt the white hot sting of muscles and tendons that had not moved or stretched in this way in many months. I held the pose even if I was on fire. I held the space even though it was hot. I moved even though I wasn't quite sure what the next pose was supposed to be.

And in all that (perhaps another form of busyness too?) my mind became very still. The music pulsed and resonated through my body, the sweat trailed down my arms and spilled onto my mat. I stretched my hip and let the pain radiate until it became a pin-white spot of focus. I closed my eyes and the heat, the dark and the vibration became the womb. Whether I was moving or still, I was present in the thick warm air of the studio.

I imagined the heartbeat of my mother. I imagined a life completely sustained and all of its needs met by one convenient tube pumping your sustenance, your oxygen, truly your life blood, through it. I floated and calmed. I was just there with me. My own heartbeat. My own thoughts. My forehead resting on the mat, my breath coming back up on me. Hot. Wet. Dark. Pulsing. Calm.

Then the door opened and a cool sweep of air passed over me.

I breathed deeply.

I was one in that room with the other moving bodies. With the yoga teacher reminding me, "To let that shit go."

And it was good.

All was still.

It was the opposite of "busy."


Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Lifetime Sentence

Twenty-eight years ago I was raped. That may seem like a long time ago, a lifetime perhaps. But it's not. It's not when you are inundated with news articles and social media posts about rape. It's not when twenty-eight years later we are still trying to figure out a way to blame women for being raped. It's not when we discuss how a young rapist shouldn't have his life ruined because of "twenty minutes of action." That twenty minutes will echo and reverberate through that young woman's life. It will echo in her memory twenty-eight years from now, when you and I have forgotten this particular news story. Twenty-eight years from now when that young rapist has a career, a family and an entire life that has enabled him to forget the twenty minutes that he preyed on an unconscious woman behind a dumpster—she will not be so fortunate. That twenty minutes will resonate every time that she is in a situation where it feels as though something is being done to her against her will. It will resonate and come roaring back at the most unexpected moments. In meetings at work. In conversations with friends. In disagreements with her husband. When dressing her six-year-old daughter and she is suddenly seized by the fear that someday, someone will seize upon her daughter's unconscious person and violate her in a way that will haunt her and stalk her and prey upon her for the rest of her life. Her precious daughter. Her precious, fragile body. Her wiggly, joyful person. How could somebody do that to her? To me? To you? To any of us? No, twenty-eight years is not a lifetime ago because it comes roaring back to me all the time, at unexpected moments. I am seized by a fear so visceral I feel it in my guts. My hands shake as I reach for the Xanax that will calm me and help me to not cry, or scream or run. But twenty-eight years is a lifetime. It is a lifetime sentence. One that I pay every day and one that my rapist will never know.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day Forgiveness


On Mother's Day I give myself a little gift of namaste. My thought process is, "What a relaxing way to start Mother's Day!" I figure I'll be nice and chilled out for the day and that will make me a truly pleasant mom for the whole entire day while my family is forcibly nice to me.

(Just kidding. They're always nice to me.)

The yoga teacher plays a bunch of mom-themed songs and it really doesn't mean much to me. I pretty much cut myself off emotionally from any over-the-top mom sentimentality. I try to be pretty cool and unemotional about most overly treacly mother stuff because I have mom issues. 

I know, who doesn't? 

Maybe the difference is that I've been in therapy since I was 14 years old. I don't know whether to be proud of that or ashamed. I've never claimed to be a quick learner. I've taken those emotional intelligence tests online and basically I'm emotionally impaired. So cut me some slack. I'm medicated and in therapy. 

I'm a work in progress.

There I am, in yoga, with 50 other people jam-packed in a tiny room, listening to soothing sentimental songs about mothers, listening to the yoga teacher talk about moms and all of the sacrifices they made for you, and I'm totally focused on the physical aspect of it all.

It's the first time I've tried a regular Vinyasa class. I'd been doing slower Vinyasa classes during the week because I'm new at the whole yoga thing and my kinesthetic intelligence comes second only to my emotional intelligence. All 5'10" of me does not communicate smoothly or harmoniously. The head does not know what the heart, arms and feet are up to. 

It's potentially comedic.

But I'm doing it! I'm keeping up! I'm touching my toes and going in the right direction! Everything is so cool! I kind of roll my eyes at some of the over-the-top mother stuff because I'm still working through "My Mother Was an Alcoholic" even after 30 years of therapy. I'm medicated now, so the learning seems to come quicker. But I'm a hard girl with walls. I rarely if ever cry in therapy. 

I'm basically a badass.

But then: Eminem.

Motherfreaking Eminem comes on and he's rapping all angry and spitting out words about his mother like he always does. I usually don't pay much attention to Eminem save for the rhythm and energy and whole force of the thing—but I'm in yoga. It' dark. I'm sweaty and exhausted. I've built up emotional walls from all the sacrificial mother talk and I might be in a weakened state.

Suddenly there's Eminem wrapping about forgiving his mom, about being too old to cry about this, and even though the tone and the music are angry and driving, the words are wrapped up in pain and forgiveness and goddammit all, I'm crying for the second time in this new yoga studio.

"And I'm way too old to cry, the shit is painful though
But, Ma, I forgive you, so does Nathan, yo
All you did, all you said, you did your best to raise us both."

Fortunately it's dark and hot, everyone's body is running with sweat. No one is going to notice silent tears running down the sides of my sweaty face. I'm doing everything I can to not start sobbing. Like ugly crying. All I want to do is to go out to my car and rest my head on the steering wheel and cry from the depths of my soul, I want to cry so hard my throat gets raw and whatever nameless hurt in me is finally excised once and for all. 

"And as you left, I had this overwhelming sadness come over me
As we pulled off to go our separate paths
And I saw your headlights as I looked back
And I'm mad I didn't get the chance to thank you for being my Mom and my Dad"

But I'm in a yoga room packed with people on Mother's Day. I'm a civilized person and I keep my shit together. I'm really good at keeping my shit together. Finally we all lay on our mats, palms up, eyes closed, and the room is filled with a new song. I keep pulling it together and then those rebellious tears run down the sides of my face but I'm in the back row and I'm silent. I'm so good at being silent. So good at remaining unnoticeable. I blend into walls, I blend into carpet, I blend into the hallways at school so no one notices how bad everything is at home. 

My god, can I blend now please?

I blend and bleed into my yoga mat and suddenly: hands on my face. Hands stroking my forehead and hair. Sympathetic hands that soothe and rub out the pain and I'm torn between mortification and gratification. I hope the teacher's hands have moved to every one of those 50 faces in the entire class. I hope it's not because she saw that the water running down the sides of my face wasn't sweat.

And then a cool cloth on my eyes. Gentle hands that press it down on my eyes. I accept this kindness. I accept this love. I let go of the fear that she notices my pain.

Then class is over and I remove the cloth from my eyes and see that everyone else has a white washcloth over their eyes too.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How To Meditate When You're Too Damn Busy To Meditate


Life is stressful. Relationships are stressful. Kids are stressful. Jobs are stressful. It's all so much sometimes. I do a pretty good job of staying calm. Staying even. I'm a pretty patient mom even until about 8:00 p.m. And then I am done. Patience gone. Irritability up. Way up. And I get growly.

My husband has a demanding job. He's a lawyer but I suspect that even by normal lawyer standards he works a lot. He's just go go go. Sometimes he really can't stop. I admire what a machine he is. He can work for eight hours, ten, twelve, sixteen. He forgets to eat. He forgets what time it is. He forgets everything on the planet except for that one luminescent Goal. Deadline. Argument. Twist.

Sometimes I wish I could be like that. I would have written twelve novels by now.

But it takes a toll. The human body can only take so much, and the human mind perhaps even less.

Lately he's been practicing mindfulness of a sort. A sort of walking or sitting meditation. He's been walking his mind away from negative thoughts. When he notices them bubbling up and appearing, he walks himself away. Each time. Over and over again. The stress burbles up, he feels it in his bones, and then he remembers to walk away from it.

I've been practicing this noticing and walking away for many, many years. For me, Buddhism and psychotherapy have worked hand in hand. I went to my first therapist at 14 and my first good therapist at 15. I started practicing Buddhism at 18. Learning to recognize my thoughts and to move away from the destructive ones has been a long and steady practice.

It's like a muscle. You've got to work it. You've got to do reps. You do it over and over again for days upon days, weeks upon weeks, months upon months, years upon years. It simply must become a daily practice. A part of your life. The norm.

So last night, we sat.

My husband asked for my help and to be honest, I'm sort of zen and spare about my approach to meditation. I don't think you can teach it. I don't think you can read about it. I don't even know that you can take a class about it. Sure those are all well and good—good starts—but none of them do a damn bit of good if you don't do the work.

So I suggested we sit.

I turned off most of the lights in the house. Our daughter was upstairs sleeping. Our son at hockey practice. I pushed the coffee table aside and we sat in the dim light of the house.

Our house became a temple.

I heard the old lady—the house built in 1924—creak and groan as though getting up from her own mat. I heard the low rumble of a car about to lose its muffler. The furnace kicked on and I felt the warmth flow over my legs.

I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

Every time my mind wandered, I went back to my breath. The simple in and out. The sound of the passing car.

And it was all good. The simple sounds of the house breathing. The movement of the world outside. Sitting with my husband in a quiet room. Feeling his presence but not talking.

It felt good and safe to be alive.

I forget about that. I forget how quiet it can be. Everything is such a constant noise in my head. My brain narrates the Internet, the text messages, the emails, the status updates. All of it noise, clamoring for attention in my head. All of it distracting me from the presence of ... me?

And everything around me. All around. Outside. Inside. In and out. Deep breaths and the pulse of life.

It was a good reminder to unplug from the frenetic pace and to plug-in to the inner self. The inner being that resonates with what's real and natural and silent. With the pulse of life. The pulse of heart. The breathing in and out of love.

Presence. 

Once a night. On the rug. On the mat. Let this night be our daily practice. Let this moment be its own.

Just sitting. For fifteen minutes. Ten minutes. Seven. Five.

Whatever you have.

Just sit. And breathe.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Auto Prom

I'm standing in front of a car!

I think it's clear there's a problem and we haven't been talking about it. I've been neglecting/avoiding this blog. If you want to know the truth, the culprit is perfectionism. My husband frequently says, "The enemy of the good is the perfect." Or something like that. Anyway, if I don't have anything profound or hilarious to say, I don't say anything at all.

You'll find neither profundity nor hilarity here. What you'll find is pure and unadulterated fluff. Consider it a baby step. And what's a fluffier piece than OMG DRESSES!


My first Auto Prom! Such a baby!


Each year, Detroit hosts the North American International Auto Show. It used to be the Detroit Auto Show but the marketing geniuses figured that would scare people away so they changed its name. We also wanted the Japanese to come.

Just kidding. I have no idea if that's why they changed the name or not. I just know that we Detroiters find it kind of annoying so we still call it the Detroit Auto Show just to be annoying in retaliation. Just like when the concert venue Pine Knob changed its name to the DTE Energy Center. We still call it Pine Knob, so there.

Stick it to The Man!

Along with the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), there is a Charity Preview which is a black tie event in which Detroiters can get all dressed up to walk around and look at cars. And also look at each other. You've got all kinds that attend the show. Automotive executives. Local news anchors. Radio personalities. Rich people. Not so rich people. Black people. White people. Hispanic people. Arab people. Asian people. Any event that happens in Detroit is pretty much going to be diverse and I find it fucking awesome.


Note to self: STAND UP STRAIGHT!


It's something I love about Detroit.

I love to watch the sea of glittering dresses. It's Vegas for one night. Sequins as far as the eye can see. Satin and taffeta. Long flowing gowns and micro-mini dresses. Lots of black but lots of gold and red and blue. Leopard print and florals. Architectural styles and bohemian clouds of fluff.


Me with the handsome Mr. MandyFish.



I love it and I'm not sorry.

Oh yeah, and the cars are pretty freaking sweet too. All shined to a near impossible glow. You want to rub your hands over the finish. You can sit in cars you could never afford. $100,000 cars. $200,000 cars. $300,000 cars. More.

It's a dream for a night. And dammit, Detroit deserves it.

So I'll get dressed tonight and I'll wear the biggest, fluffiest dress I can find. Detroit goes all out tonight. There are no rules. I'll get my hair and makeup done. I'll suck it in while my husband heroically zips me into a dress that won't let me breathe. And my daughter will say:

"YOU LOOK LIKE A PRINCESS!"

That's what Auto Prom is for me. All the magic that Detroit makes in one evening. Power muscle cars. Daredevil SUVs. Luxury sedans. And oh, the Germans and the Japanese too. But I'm mainly proud of my hometown.

It's a night to glitter and forget. It's a night of magic and excess. It's people watching like no where else in the world. It's irreverent, self-important, hilarious and elegant all at once.


Hanging out with celebrity blogger and best-selling author Brittany Gibbons.


God damn I love my city.

And god damn I love Auto Prom.

Hope to see you there!


OMG I'M IN THE DETROIT FREE PRESS BITCHES!



Monday, December 7, 2015

And the Bride Wore Gap Maternity

As my sister sat poised with a hammer aimed at my wedding dress, you'd think I would've had a moment's pause.

You'd think for one second it might occur to me that this might not be a good idea. You would think that since the one and only experience I'd had with my sister and a hammer had resulted in a hole in the wall next to my head, I might have been more cautious. But no. I am not that bride.

You see, I'd put off buying the dress for weeks if not months. I knew I was either getting married over Thanksgiving break or Christmas break, and that's a lot of time to a pregnant woman. I couldn't buy the dress until the wedding date was near. I now realize that at Thanksgiving I could have worn a normal dress, but as Christmas arrived it became clear that the only place I could shop for a wedding dress would be a maternity shop.

While I've had great success ordering online from Gap Maternity, I'd put off buying the wedding dress to such a late date there was no time for shipping. Fortunately I'd found a Gap Maternity store about 30 to 45 minutes from my house, in the lovely town of BFE. Once I'd found the store in the "outdoor mall" (who the hell makes outdoor malls in Michigan?) I was in maternity heaven. I didn't care that the Gap Maternity "store" was actually the back room of a Baby Gap and there were no sales people there to help. I quickly took over the entire room and tried on every pair of jeans, every sweaters, dress and shirt that I could find and left with an armload of clothing that I hoped would last me four more months.

I picked out two dresses, unsure of which to wear. One was a bit more "evening," the other a bit more "day." I was disappointed they didn't have a red dress in my size, but settled on either wearing gray or black to my wedding. When you're six months pregnant, there really isn't a need for white.

Fast forward a few days and it's about an hour before we have to leave for the courthouse. I'd selected the gray dress because it seemed more appropriate for an afternoon wedding in a courthouse. I also look good in gray. I think it's my color.

I trotted down the stairs to show my sister and niece my cute gray Gap Maternity dress. They both ooohed and ahhed over it and told me how adorable it was. Then my niece gasped.

"What?" I said.

"Oh no!" She pointed at the back of my dress, where there was a giant white plastic security device attached to it.

"Dammit!" I said. "I'm getting a pair of scissors."

My sister was right behind me, muttering, "We can get this off." My niece who just quit her retail job in August so she could attend her freshman year of college tried to tell us that the security tabs were difficult if not impossible to remove. She said something about stopping at Target real quick and talking a sales associate into removing the tag for us.

"We haven't got time for that," I said and waved her off.

My sister and I stomped downstairs to the basement where I kept my tools. All three of them.

"Do you have any needle-nosed pliers?" My niece asked, feebly trying to talk reason to two crazy women on a mission.

"Just give me a hammer," my sister said. "I'll get it off."

"It's coming off," I told the niece. "One way or another."

My sister and I quickly entered The Zone. The zone for crazy. I made one futile attempt to "cut" through the metal pin of the security device with a pair of scissors to no avail.

"Just give me the hammer," my sister hissed. "I'll get it off."

So I handed her a hammer. It didn't occur to either one of us that it might be easier if I removed the dress before my sister took a hammer to it. No, we thought it best that I, a six-months pregnant lady, kneel on the cement floor of my basement with my dress stretched out over the floor so my sister could pound at it.

"I don't think you should hold the tab," my sister wisely noted as she held the hammer over my hand.

We both watched as she whacked at the plastic tab and it started to break. Elation! She tried to pry it off but it would not budge.

"Hit it harder!" I said.

She lifted the hammer over her shoulder and really waled at it. No luck.

"Try hitting the side!"

"What side? There is no side."

"On the side, on the side, like this," I snatched the hammer from her. But I couldn't kneel, hold the dress out and hammer all at once.

"Here, let me do it," she said. We both watched with the fiery glow of security-tag-removing zealots as she hammered the shit out of that dress on the cement floor. When she stopped, we sat there panting and surveyed the damage to the security tab—which was nil—and then the damage to the dress, which was considerable.

"You hammered a hole in my wedding dress," I finally said.

"OH MY GOD I'm so sorry!" My sister clamped her hand over her mouth and stared at me wide-eyed.

So we stared at each other in horror. I briefly wondered what Dr. Freud would think of this and admired the moment. If I were a poet, I could write a poem about it and call it "Sibling Rivalry." After a long pause, we both started to laugh. Maniacally.

"It's okay," I said. "I'll wear the black dress."

I stomped upstairs and put on the black wrap-around dress with the ruffled collar. I was pleased my tights still worked with the wardrobe change. I wore the black shoes with the off-white flower on the strap. I found a necklace to wear with it.

"Oh, this dress is much better!" my sister and niece both agreed, a little too eagerly.

On our way to the courthouse, we finally spoke of it again.

"I can't believe I let you take a hammer to my wedding dress," I said.

The niece, my sister and I all erupted into laughter.

"What were we thinking?" my sister gasped.

"I tried to talk some sense into you people!" my niece protested from the back seat. My sister and I cackled even harder.

"I could write a wedding advice book now," I said. "I already have the first three tips: 1) Never give your sister a hammer on your wedding day 2) If you do give your sister a hammer on your wedding day, don't let her anywhere near your wedding dress and 3) always buy two wedding dresses."

My sister laughed like a mad woman again and then covered her mouth with a look of horror in her eyes.

I should put "a look of horror" in quotes. To be honest, I think it was more of a "sparkle."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Heart at Sea

Years ago, I went to the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. and saw a collection that had been donated to the school by an old couple who lived in a tiny house in a blue collar community. They had hundreds of great works by modern artists in their home—lining the halls of their 3-bedroom ranch. In boxes. And crates. In the basement, the attic and stuffed into the spare bedrooms. I forget how many millions this collection was worth, but after a lifetime of collecting, this old couple gave the whole thing away.

When I stepped through the entrance, "The Heart at Sea" was the first painting I saw. It was a bit abstract, modern and not my "thing" per se. But I stood in front of it for a long time and became transfixed. The black sea was a tangled mess of angry strokes, turbulent and textured, with the red dash of a heart lost in the mix.

I felt the painting viscerally.

This may well have been the first time I'd had such a reaction to a piece of art, aside from the first time I saw "Le Victoire de la Samothrace" in the Louvre. Seeing that famous sculpture in person took my breath away and I felt as though the wind swept around both me and the robes of the marble figure. I felt the the lift of the wings. Maybe that was my surprise—that rock could have so much life.

And here was a painting, abstract, modern, heavy-handed and black and it almost brought me to tears. At the time, I'd just left my husband of ten years, I was skeletal in my despair and my sense of loss. I stood there a wisp of my former self, not knowing where to go, not knowing who to turn to, completely and utterly alone for the first time in my life. And believe me, I understood that heart at sea.

I'd suffered from panic attacks for the first time since I was a teenager, when I lived with an alcoholic, fretting that she'd drink herself to death and I'd find her cold body with the break of day. Those same palpitations that felt everything like what I suspected a heart attack would feel like, snuck up on me in the night. I crouched on my living room floor at 3 a.m., unable to sleep, preoccupying my hands with cutting up words in magazines and making poetry out of them.

My heart would catch in my throat and flutter, and flutter some more, and not stop. I couldn't catch my breath, and I wondered how long it would take someone to find my body in my empty house. Everyone kept asking me my dieting secret. I'd dropped twenty pounds in two months and no one believed me when I said it was anxiety and stress.

I had a hummingbird heart and it beat a drum in my chest all day and night.

As I stared at that painting, I noticed an oddity of modernity that at first I did not like. There appeared to be a stick of wood stapled to the canvas. I found it out of place and too kitsch-y. It was painted a sloppy yellow. But as I stood and stared, lost in the rumbling sea, and the bleeding, drowning heart—my eye was drawn to that yellow beam of wood.

A beacon in a storm-tossed sea, for a storm-tossed heart.

A way home.

Last night I lay on my bed and thought of you. My heart fluttered and not in that panicky-way, but for joy. I remembered the late night heart palpitations and feeling so lost and unloved I didn't know what I would do. I remembered what it was to be a heart at sea. And for once, I didn't feel lost.