Vacation and Other Miseries

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I’m posting from Portland, Oregon, where we are with friends on our annual trek to the Rose City to enjoy food and wine, a weekend ‘bacchanal’! Tomorrow, Sunday, is the International Pinot Noir Celebration’s ‘Passport to Pinot’ in McMinnville, where we’ll enjoy tasting over 130 pinot noirs from around the world. Today we wandered a farmers’ market in the Hollywood area of town. David bought ingredients for and made his traditional “Saturday in Portland” lunch: sautéed greens with bacon, mushrooms, hazelnuts, and cherries. Yum.

It has been a wide week with a lot going on in a small space, much of it right between my ears.

I spent last weekend with my women’s group at the Russian River. Most of us arrived with our baggage and noise around all the ways we weren’t yet who we wanted to be (like thin enough to feel comfortable in a bathing suit). We were quickly called to notice our noise, with the help of our Zen member, Juliet, and to remember that life is about joy. We can leave our suffering behind. It was like flipping a switch! Suddenly I felt peaceful, expansive and full of hope, the quiet kind that doesn’t require dogged forward motion to prove its presence.

We paddle-boarded at the River on Sunday, reveling in the sound of children screeching and laughing as they do near or in water. On Monday morning, the river was more peaceful and three of us took a Stand-up paddle (SUP) board yoga class. Our instructor guided us through a yoga routine on our boards on the water, often suggesting before we moved into a pose, “remembering where you are…” Of the seven students, I was the only one to fall in, with gusto, as I tried to move from a seated position into a standing warrior’s pose.  Just another part of a magical weekend with my women’s group.

When I got home, David was out and most of the condo surfaces were covered with a fine white layer of dust, created by the drywall repair man. The restoration of our first floor was finally underway. When I left on Saturday, the first floor had some organized chaos on in it, including piles of laundry – sheets and towels – that had needed washing after our return in March but had gone to storage in April as we cleared the condo of stuff for the first part of the restoration.  It probably didn’t look like a system with a plan, but it was. On Monday, everything was pushed out of the way or piled into boxes so the dry wall man could do his work.

What is it that allows, or makes, a person transition from a posture of peace and acceptance to having a lizard brain do the driving?  I was supremely cranky and discontent when David got home, and couldn’t find my way out of it. I seemed not to be able to handle the disconnect between my peaceful weekend experience and the reality of our disrupted living conditions when I got home. When I tried to explain how I was feeling, I felt that David wasn’t listening and didn’t understand, which only deepened my crankiness.  It took until the morning for me to have some insight to my mood, and to apologize to David.

This whole year, and certainly since our return to San Francisco in March, has had little of the grounding I had hoped for during my gap year. I love being home, and had imagined finding a new routine in my life without work in San Francisco. Yes, I had wanted the two plus months in Canada in the early part of the year, but I also wanted to be home once we were back. When we got back in late March, we stayed in Airbnbs or similar lodging for six weeks, and even once we decided to live in the construction zone, two of our floors were disrupted for months. The hole in the concrete slab on the first floor was open for 3 ¼ months; the concrete pour just took place on July 15. The first floor restoration will continue into the first two weeks in August, coinciding with our nieces’ visits (they’ll have to sleep on an Aero bed in the dining room!), exactly what we had hoped to avoid.

All this by way of building the case for my conclusion early last week that the last thing I really wanted, or needed, was to leave home to go on vacation to Canada in mid-August. Two years ago, we signed up for a week of fishing (fly fishing for salmon) on Vancouver Island with our friends from Seattle, tagged to our bi-annual scuba diving trip to, you guessed it, God’s Pocket Resort. I just felt overwhelmed by the idea of packing up, driving north, and not being home for another chunk of time.

So I ventured the truth with David. He wasn’t happy but he seemed to accept it. I felt some initial relief, but continued to worry the ripples of such a decision (How would our friends feel?  Could we fill my spot on the dive charter so as not to lose the money? Etc. etc.)  A few days later, David came home from errands and said that he wanted me to reconsider and to join him on our planned vacation. While had been out that morning, I had, in fact, come to the same conclusion.

What I know to be true is that we are each in control of our world view. If I think these three weeks will be hard and not good for me, then sure enough, I can look forward to three weeks of vacation misery. But I also know life isn’t black and white, and that marriage takes both truth and compromise. I told David I would go, but that I might not fish a lot, and I probably wouldn’t scuba dive. He said, wonderful man that he is: “tell me what you need and we’ll make that happen.”

What I need is the freedom to sleep and read, some quiet, alone time between group activities and fun, and some routine (with his participation) around exercise and healthy eating. What I need is to speak the truth about what I want to do or not do, even if that’s not convenient. I know it would be easier for me to have all that at home. Being home would also fill the hole created by being away so much this year, and by being dislocated and disrupted in our home even when we were there.

But I also know I can have whatever I want wherever I am (well, except being physically home if I’m not!). If I can hold that truth, and ask for and allow for what I want, I can trade misery for a lovely, adventurous vacation. And I’ll be home in no time at all.

Love,
Susan

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, or even Friday. Sometimes, like today, when the week has been hectic, I’ll post on a Saturday… Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Violence, Paralysis, and Hope

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It has been two weeks since I last posted, and I have struggled to identify what to write. My guiding principle is always to write what is on my mind, that way I can always be authentic and try to find a way to put words to even my most confusing times.  Here is what has been on my mind, and what I have wanted to write about… but haven’t.

July 5 – the killing by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge Louisiana
July 7 – the killing by police of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota
July 7 – the killing of policemen Lorne Aherns, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa by a sniper in Dallas, Texas
July 13 – the sight of a pod of 10 orca swimming north through Christie Pass, in front of God’s Pocket, completing sightings of the “big seven” over the month (bald eagle, humpback whale, otter, seal, sea lion, wolf and orca). Later that morning, on our way to check the crab pots, we saw a gray whale swim right near our skiff, passing with a different pace and breath than humpbacks do
July 14 – leaving God’s Pocket after a month for our return to the US, and a few days with our friend Elizabeth in West Seattle
July 14 – the killing of 84 people in Nice, France on Bastille Day by a terrorist in a truck  July 15 – news that the 30 inch hole in the concrete slab in our condo had finally been filled with fresh concrete, after 3 ¼ months
July 17 – the long drive from Seattle to San Francisco: we made it in 12 hours 59 minutes  July 18 – the ambush of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, resulting in three dead: Montrell Jackman, Matthew Gerald, Brad Garafola
July 18-21 – the Republican National Convention, and Trump’s official nomination for the presidency
July 18-22 – the chaos of getting home, our condo still a construction zone, and the intensity of city life on the senses after the quiet and peace of God’s Pocket
July 20 – inconclusive blood test results for our cat Lucy who has lost yet another 1.5 lbs since May, and is down to 7.2 lbs. We had hoped for hyperthyroidism, since there’s treatment for that
July 21 – Lucy gets an ultra sound and has an enlarged spleen. She may have mast cell growth or maybe lymphoma. If the former, there are treatments, including a spleen-ectomy; if the latter, we will love her until she dies
July 22 – Opening 25 boxes of ‘refugee stuff’ from our condo from before the 2nd floor restoration (May 23rd with the expectation that we’d have it back out of storage within 3 weeks) looking for a printer cable from David’s office and the charger for my camera batteries. Needle in a haystack but we found them, and were able to move a lot of 2nd floor things back to the condo. My instinct is to put everything in the dumpster.
July 22 – the killing of 9 people in Munich, Germany by a (terrorist) gunman

I list the names of the dead in the police incidents because I want them to be real for me, to know that all were someone’s child, all loved and were loved by others. I want to honor their lives in this small way, knowing that their deaths would be felt acutely by many.

What has been on my mind is a mix of the quotidian and the basics of my life, and the bigger issues that demand my attention, demand our response as citizens. What to think about the violence that has taken over our national and international experience and narrative? More importantly, what to do?

I found these two recent blog posts, by writers I follow, to be useful to me, so I share them in that spirit:

For my part, I have felt a bit paralyzed, and not just about what to post. I have been deeply troubled by the national and international news, and I keep hoping for a few days of quiet and peace on that front. Personally, I’ve felt stuck: I’ve hardly exercised – except for moving heavy boxes – and have slept poorly. I know that self-care matters even it if doesn’t change the world.  I’ve also had flashes of joy – like Lucy stretched out with her arms over her head between me and David at night in bed in “the valley of love” – and been in awe of nature.  I have experienced quiet moments of peace, and recognize the grace in that; not everyone can say that.

None of those good things came from the Republican Convention. Although I have generally felt it would be wise to stay away from politics in my blog, I find I can’t.  I find Trump appalling, even as I understand the anger and disruption in the lives of some people who have become his supporters. I just don’t believe the narrative and the tone is helpful to progress, or to national unity, or frankly, to a just and civil society.

I was reminded the other day of a moment years ago, stunning in the shame response it created in me, when I expressed my disdain for the reality show “Survivor.” I commented that I thought the show brought out the worst in people, both on the show and in viewers. The husband of a friend of mine, someone I didn’t know well but had respected for his position in academia, said “oh, poor baby – you can’t handle it!” As if “handling it” was better than wishing human nature – human behavior, in any event – weren’t so bald or crude. I chose to hope that we can all be better than our baser instincts.

I’m off to the Russian River tomorrow for a long weekend with my women’s group: stand-up paddle boarding, walks and wine, and generally hanging out and being together. I’m looking forward to it, even it means being away from home (again!). I know we’ll talk about how we each want to navigate our lives internally and in the world in this moment. And we’ll share laughter, wisdom and hope.

Love,
Susan

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes, like today, on Fridays… Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.

Melancholy and Magic

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I had stepped away to our cabin after dinner for a few minutes of quiet. The guests, a charter of kayakers mostly from the United Kingdom, started to convene around the fire pit where David had staged the logs for a burn. I could hear them laughing, telling stories, and eventually, singing. As I listened, I felt my sadness growing, punctuated by the sounds of people, strangers to one another just days earlier, creating friendships. I knew I would be welcome if I went down to join them but I couldn’t imagine how to get there from where I sat. I just felt so sad. And alone.

David came to check on me, and gave me hugs. He wanted to know what I was feeling. This place I sometimes go is very difficult to explain, and it’s not at all intuitive for an extrovert. For my part, I’m still surprised when my melancholy sneaks in and takes over, even though it has been a familiar visitor over the years. I know that when I am tired, over-extended interpersonally, and haven’t had quite enough quiet, meditative time, my balance is disrupted. In spite of my outgoing personality, I am an introvert, and my reserves get depleted occasionally without me noticing.  I told him, in that moment, that I sometimes felt I didn’t know how to find the on-ramp to joy.

“Don’t believe everything you think” is a saying I associate with the lessons of a meditation practice. It makes me laugh because it is so true: we really shouldn’t believe everything we think! When you notice and allow all the wild and chaotic thoughts that your mind in “monkey” mode can have, you also notice that all your thoughts aren’t created equal. They don’t all deserve your attention, and they shouldn’t all be followed. I can know this, and recognize the melancholy-dipped lies my mind is telling me. I can know all this and still not easily shift to a different mood.

The antidote for this sort of cloud cover is to get out, shift my body, and so my perspective. Last night, I felt so stuck that I knew my only other remedy was to turn off the light and sleep. A good night of rest and the dawn of a new day would help lift the darkness.

What is wonderful about the transition from one day to the next are the possibilities born in the new day:  grace, redemption, joy, and sometimes, what can only be described as magic. This day can stand in stark contrast to yesterday, and moments of transcendence can emerge and be held.

This morning, I woke up late, and David let me know that the guests were all going on a morning boat ride to look for whales and otter. We both decided to go along, and had an extraordinary time. The guests are delightful and adventurous – several of them stayed out on deck in the rain for the three hours we were out.  We saw numerous humpback whales on our way to a sea-lion haul out, a small island covered in sea lions.

And then magic happened. Just on the other side of the haul out, we stopped the boat because a humpback whale was right in front of us in the narrow channel. As she surfaced near the shore, we saw she had her calf alongside her. They surfaced with a slight delay to one another, one blow half the height of the other. Rather than the more concerted surface-dive motion that adults make, the mother and baby seemed to float up and down between breaths. They were so close to us, and to the shore. They rounded the point of the island, and made their way into the wider pass where we eventually lost sight of them.

We then headed over to a small cluster of islands where Bill had heard that otter had recently been seen. As we neared, we saw over a dozen otter, most of them mothers with little ones on their chests. They scattered a bit as the boat slowly approached, but stayed nearby, giving us a chance to observe them swimming with their young. They observed us back. On a large rocky outcrop just past the otter group, we noticed seals draped on the rocks, well camouflaged by the match between their fur color and the shore. As the boat navigated around the rock past the otter in the water and the seals on the rock, we saw several seal mothers with their pups.

Within just a few minutes, we had the extraordinary experience of seeing three species of mammals with their young in their natural habitat.

Bill, the captain, decided to take us home through Browning Passage, one of the most spectacular channels in the world for diving. The Pass is a quiet place, especially today with the steady rain and low cloud cover. The channel is deep, and although there is shore on the east side of the Pass, the west side has a rocky, vertical drop into the water to depth. Both sides are lined with trees and dense forest. The boat progressed slowly down the passage and all our eyes were trained far ahead on the eastern shore, looking for wolves before the boat noise might spook them. Suddenly, we saw two wolves trotting in our direction along the high-tide line. They stopped as we neared, and then trotted up into the trees, out of view. Everyone saw both animals. It was exhilarating, and we laughed and chatted giddily.

The boat continued through the passage, headed for a spot near the end of the channel where hooded nudibranchs are often found. Known locally as ‘hoodie nudies,’ these members of the slug family have a translucent appearance, like jelly fish, and when out of the water are known to smell like watermelon jolly rogers.  Nature can be so unusual sometimes… When we came around the point, instead of hoodie nudies we saw two more wolves. These animals were harder to see than the ones we’d seen at the high tide line on the other side of the pass, as their colors matched more closely the stones and beach sand. They were also much less concerned with our approach: one of the two stood for a few minutes looking at us before turning and walking toward the tree line.

We came back to God’s Pocket that morning having seen six of what I call “The Big Seven” animals available to us in this area: humpback whales, bald eagles, sea lions, otter, seals, wolves, and the missing seventh, orca. The eighth animal is bear, rarely seen in this neighborhood. We were all a bit wet and cold, and yet our energy was high, excited about what we had seen.

Seeing so many of these animals and their young in the wild waters and on the islands of British Columbia anchored a special day of fellowship and shared experience on the boat. For me, it was a reminder that I am both small in the universe, and yet still an important part of my ecosystem. My melancholy may visit, but my world is full of magic and miracles if I can let myself see through the mist. And when I can’t, I can let today go and trust in a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow will bring new possibilities, including grace and magic.

Love,
Susan

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes, like today, on Fridays… Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.