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For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul. (Judy Garland)

I’m a perverse creature. On the surface, I am all calm, cool, and collected – a lot of the time. At first glance, I don’t allow much softness to come through. I’m working on that, actually… At first glance, you wouldn’t take me for a woman much given over to sentimentality or easily swayed by romance. At first glance.

The truth? Just because something seems to be true, doesn’t mean that it is…

So, last night, Jeremy and I watched What Dreams May Come – a movie I always watch with a handkerchief. It was his first time seeing it all the way through, and there were a few parts that got a little tough for him. He (politely) didn’t comment or make a big deal out of it when I dabbed surreptitiously at the corners of my eyes.

The movie over, my emotional needs satisfied, he thoughtful, we sat there. We each have our own blanket, and our own end of the couch, and then our legs tangle up and take over the middle. Sometimes we duel for dominance of the middle territory (this increases as warm weather increases, fueled by me), but today we were content and lazy and comfortably entwined.

And then we started talking about the movie. And he said, “I’d do that, you know. Find you.” And I just smiled in the way that only a woman can when a man pledges to do some knightly deed for her love (a smile that’s one part entranced, one part dubious, and one part patronizing).

He was quiet for a minute. He asked me if I thought it would be like that, when we die. I said I hoped so, that it would be something like that – reunion with friends and family, communion with others and with God, the presence of joy.

At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet. (Plato)

And then he blew me away. He said it didn’t matter to him – that if he died and it was all blackness and endings, and not the heaven that any of us hopes for or dreams of, that he would have spent all the days of his life hoping and dreaming with me and that was heaven enough.

I pretend that my heart is resistant to melting, but it isn’t. It puddled, instantly. He meant it. That is how he really feels. And it was equally humbling and exalting to know that.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. (Lao Tzu)

It made me think of all the times I lost my patience when he took forever to make a decision. All the times I got in a snit because he forgot to do something or I tripped over his shoes. All the times that he left a job half done (I saw it as half-done) and I got an attitude. It made me think about how that couldn’t possibly feel heavenly. And I wanted more for him, and for me – to see our lives in the now, in every moment, as he saw them – a little slice of heaven. Guess I really will have to quit “sweating the small stuff,” hey?

Seeing our life through his eyes, let me see it differently, too. I always say that we’re building an empire – I think he sees us already enjoying the one we’ve built. I always focus ahead, on all that’s left to do – he sees all that we have done, and all that we are and have. I see the promise of heaven, someday – he sees it now, in the moment.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place. (Zora Neale Hurston)

After I started working at the shop, and Dani saw Jeremy and I together for the first time, she told me later that I was different around him. I, somewhat panicked, said, “How? What do you mean?” And she said, “You’re softer.” And I thought, Hmm – that’s not so bad, I guess. It’s hard not to be when he says things like that and means them.

 

 

Maybe I’m not as lapsed a Catholic as I thought, or maybe there is just something ingrained in me from all the religious education classes I went to for all those years. Maybe it’s just something inherent about this time of year…this is Holy Week – the week preceding Easter, and all those miraculous happenin’s.

Probably not uncoincidentally, this morning I woke up pondering miracles. Reading through the blogs I follow, two of them were talking miracles in one way or another. It spurred further thought…

The dictionary defines Miracle as: an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause; such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God; a wonder; marvel.

What interested me, though, was the history of the word – the etymology, where it came from. Miracle originally described something that was an “object of wonder.” That’s important – nowadays, most people figure a miracle happens when tidal waves crush a home, but miraculously the toddler and the dog are found safely suspended in a tree out of harm’s way. There is no denying that is miraculous – but focusing on the big and showy has blinded a lot of us to the other miracles.

I’m talking about the “objects of wonder” – what I think of as the quiet miracles. The subtle ones. The ones you see and notice when you’re paying attention, when you’re focused, when you’re feeling that inner quiet just long enough to see through the eyes of wonder.

When I see something happening amidst a crowd – when I’m the only one who sees it. When I set my busy down long enough to let God get my attention. When I set my worry aside long enough to hear a new thought, to look in a new direction.

I know that I do not take enough time to simply revel, to marvel, at the world around me. When I think about all of it – really think about it, and let it touch me – I am speechless in amazement. At how everything fits together, at how each piece is perfectly within the whole, at the swirling veins on a leaf, at the intelligent look in my cat’s eyes, at the sheer weight of creation.

This week, I am going to seek that inner quiet and spend time contemplating those quiet miracles. I am going to spend time being in love with the world, and let myself get carried away with amazement. I am going to look out through child’s eyes, and see it all new and fresh.

It may be Holy Week for the Catholic Church, but it could be holy week every week for all of us if we let it. If we allow quiet. If we allow ourselves to reimagine our selves and our world anew. To see one another with quiet wonder, to honor the small miracles that we are to one another.

 

The other day, Jeremy (my fiancé) and I had an argument, and I gave lack of confidence as a reason (excuse) for my behavior in the situation. He, incredulous, turned to me and said, “I ran 400 miles away from my family, my hometown, and my past. You stayed here with all these same people, took it on the chin, and kept going. Don’t tell me you’re not confident! You’re one of the most confident people I’ve ever met.”

Where do I begin? My first thought was, “That’s a lie. I’m not confident. That’s bravado and stubbornness disguised as confidence.” My second thought was, “He really thinks that about me?” And my third thought was, “I never really had a choice.” In many ways, I see what he did as brave – venturing off to try his fortunes all on his own – and what I did as “cowardly,” I guess.

I suppose that one of the main reasons I “stayed here and took it on the chin” was that, in my family, there is no running away. They will come get you – if not physically, then emotionally. I was too well trained to the family expectations to go haring off to Ireland as I longed to do. When my life crumbled around me, I heaved a sigh (well, a few hundred sighs, actually), squared my shoulders and kept marching.

At the time, I’d thought that I’d changed dramatically – and I had. Everything I believed about myself, about others, about the nature of life and love and relationship, about reality, about success and failure, about individuality, about “good” and “bad” had changed. Everything had changed. I had changed.

I just hadn’t changed as much as I thought.

The moment we try to please another and abandon our own truth for theirs, we essentially hand our power to them, violate our own integrity, cut ourselves off from our inner wisdom, and – at least for a while – disconnect from our ability to love and nurture ourselves. (Betty Ford)

I was the Good Daughter. I did my duty. I tried not to disappoint my parents – I followed the code of behavior they laid out (both written and unwritten). I was very good at covering up misbehavior and lying “for their own good.” (Honestly, there are some things that parents don’t want to know their children are doing, that the majority of kids end up doing).

I exceeded expectations. I developed a strong perfectionistic streak. I attended all functions, I said the right things to the right people. I worked a LOT – too much (important in our family – being jobless for any reason is “shameful” – along with a lot of other things). Wherever they stated an expectation, or where one was unspoken, I not only tried to meet it – I tried to do it perfectly, so that I would be “beyond reproach.”

When being a “good girl” or a “good boy” becomes a way of life, we can be sure that exhaustion will accumulate, resentments will build, desperation and neediness will increase, and we’ll travel deeper into the land of victim consciousness. (Betty Ford)

So, when my life fell apart, when living by all those codes and rules didn’t automatically guarantee success, security and safety, I questioned everything. I suppose I went through a sort of “second adolescence.” I rebelled against expectations, figuring that if it was impossible to meet their standards, I’d do whatever I damn well pleased and pretty much courted displeasure as much as I courted their pleasure before.

And then the pendulum swung again. And I realized that in courting their displeasure, I was destroying my relationships with my family. I had to find the “happy medium.” At first, I thought that I’d just swung too far the other way (from people-pleaser to people-displeaser), but it’s really not that simple. All that I’d really changed were the externals. The circumstances, the situations, the conditions. Deep down, I was still aiming to eventually shine in my parents’ eyes, and in everyone’s eyes.

And now, I think I’m finally starting to “get it.” I didn’t take things far enough. I changed my course of action, but I never really changed my reasons for acting or my rationale. I never went deep enough. I hadn’t touched what Dani calls “my core foundational beliefs.” And I realize that until I do that, nothing will really change. 

Now, I’m working to try to rewrite that story. Recast myself. Discover what it’s like to do something just because it’s what you want to do – and not because you know that action will get you the pat on the head. I’m trying to imagine my way towards what it means to be me – without the people-pleasing.

 

 

Perfectionism is slow death. (Hugh Prather)

I separate all of my M&Ms by color, and then I eat each color in groups of three. I wish I were kidding. For the longest time, I really thought that this, among many other things, was simply quirky. I’m not so sure anymore.

There is a proper way to fold everything: large and medium bathroom towels get folded one way, hand towels another way, washcloths another way. I have another method for folding the towels and washcloths for the kitchen. There is a proper way to fold sheets, jeans, to tuck socks together. And all of these right ways are set up in a little system of rules in my head. Part of me argues the point that I’ve just figured out the neatest way to fold everything so that it fits into the space we have for it, and another part of me realizes that the preciseness with which I accomplish these tasks is a bit neurotic.

The other day at the shop, I was cutting apart my printed blog posts and securing them into my journal. I saw nothing odd about this. I cut them into pieces, then glue stick the pieces into place, and then cut tiny little strips of tape to secure the corners and kind of ensure (more) that they won’t fall out (someday).

Dani was standing next to me, watching: “What are you doing?” I told her. “But why are you taping them in? They’re already in.” I explained. She watched for a few moments more, and then just burst, “I can’t even watch this! It’s like, sick! It’s driving me crazy!” And off she went. I could kind of tell that it was getting to her – like nails on a chalkboard – but I kept going out of perverseness, I suppose.

My logic? No one but me really understands it. It’s another little code, another little set of rules. The title of this blog? Dreamphemera, alluding to the inescapable brevity of the human experience. Me including my (by nature ephemeral) blogs into my (less ephemeral) journals? That, I suppose, is me railing against that – me shouting into the darkness, saying that I, somehow, will circumvent the end we all come to and leave a legacy of some sort. That I will find a way to control that, too.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I’ve been thinking a LOT about all these little rules and codes, and unspoken taboos lately – these quirky little habits are like the visible tip of an insidious iceberg. Beneath the surface lurk all sorts of other little rules and codes for behavior, tasks, food, conversation, relationships, etc. AAARGH.

I’m frustrated. It’s frustrating. The more I think about all of it, the more I realize that it really is all about control, and the urge to feel safe. If I control the outcome and all the players, then it will be known, and therefore, safe. What utter hooey.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. (Anna Quindlen)

I am a total perfectionist. While Dani watched me cutting those strips of tape for my blogs, she saw me as doing each one uniformly, with uniform motion – all that I could see was that this strip was too big, that one too small, this one inserted crookedly.

This is something that’s been coming up for me consistently the past few weeks – first with the small things, the little routines, the subtle habits. And then, I started thinking about it on a deeper level – and I could see that it was like a fungus that had spread throughout the entire block of cheese, unseen. The only things I’d noticed were the quirky things that people commented on – all of the deeper stuff? I got real good at blaming it on something else (all excuses).

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target. (George Fisher)

Then Wittler and I had a conversation last night – issues resulting from one of the subtler and more damaging ways I “seek perfection” needed discussing. It was an awkward conversation. I had a hard time being honest. I wasn’t totally honest. And it didn’t feel good. Afterward, I lay in bed, studying the ceiling in the dark, and dwelling on it.

And came up with a few things:
Perfectionism is about control, not about seeking excellence.

Perfectionism kills creativity.

Perfectionism kills relationships.

Control is about avoiding fear and pain.

Controlling outcomes is an effort to feel secure.

Control is an illusion.

Security is an illusion.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

On this path, fumbling towards mastery, out here where everyone can watch, I’ve encountered challenges, I’ve changed mindsets and behaviors, I’ve worked on me, and all the stuff surrounding me. This is a tough one.

I couldn’t be honest in our conversation last night, because I felt like Linus. As though someone had asked me to set down my blankie, and walk the rest of my days without it, naked.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. (Anne Lamott)

If I don’t get honest about this with myself, I won’t be able to be honest with Wittler. And if I’m going to be honest, giving up this way, this control, terrifies me. Even though I can intellectually know that control is an illusion, giving that up just scares me to death. What do I put in place of it? And how can I ever hope to truly thrive, to truly grow, if I am so busy making sure that everything is in its appointed place, and done in the approved way?

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)

 Maybe it’s time to start relaxing into the fumbles.

 

 

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

It’s happened! It’s positively momentous! I’ve seen…….my first Robin of Spring!

Every year, I am like a child with this – I wait and wait and watch, and when I finally spot one, it’s officially Spring for me (no matter what the almanacs, meteorologists, and calendars say). I’ve done this ever since I could remember, even as a small girl.

Wisconsin winters are long, and tough. And, there’s something about the return of this bird, with his bold slash of crimson and his lilting song that speaks of promise and secrets, of renewal and rebirth.

Every spring is the only spring – a perpetual astonishment. (Ellis Peters)

Every Spring of my life, there have been mornings spent in bed, with windows opened to the fresh breeze, just listening to this song. When I think about them, it’s like I am there again in that moment, smelling the green air, and feeling the wet on the wind.

I feel jubilant today! Celebratory! Mad-cap! I want to go have adventures, and roam, and be outside!

Here’s hoping the rest of you are feeling Spring Fever, too!

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! (Mark Twain)

  

 

For the past few weeks, things have felt really intense. A few different things have been chasing around and through my thoughts – mantra-like – that wanted to be written. And every single time I sat down to write them, the words wouldn’t come, and nothing I felt was translated onto the page. It was obnoxious. So, today, I am determined to expel at least one of these imps into the blogosphere, even if it doesn’t come out quite right.

I keep thinking about my past selves. I keep coming back to the summer I was fifteen. It was a super sucky time in my life – my family life had entered turbulent waters, I was a teenager (‘nuff said), and I was dating a boy two years older than myself who was intensely controlling and abusive. Not a whole lot of bright spots there.

On Mother’s Day, the boyfriend and I were in the car, and we’d had a fight (can you call it that if you aren’t able to rebut anything? Then it’s really more attack-like – or at least that’s how it felt). On the way to an outing with his family, I already smelled trouble – he was in a dangerous mood, and on the road we took to get to our destination, the same set of train tracks crossed three times. He charged the train with the car at each crossing, as though determined to send the both of us to oblivion.

Things did not improve from there, and I ended up demanding to be taken home. On the return trip, I was alone with him and his anger, which poured out of him, came out and spilled over, seething. He sped – he knew it scared me, terrified me. The needle on the little car was buried, and I know that we were going over 100 miles an hour. And then he had a moment of clarity, of sense breaking through the rage. He tried to stop, but it was too late. The wheels on the car locked up, and we were still careening endlessly toward the T-stop, and the field of trees beyond it.

A strange thing happened then. I relaxed. I surrendered, knowing that there was nothing I could do to change it. I closed my eyes, and we crashed into the rear end of a van sitting at the corner, waiting to turn.

I leaned my face over the plastic console – I was bleeding profusely, and even then all I could think about was that he’d be furious that I’d ruined the upholstery in the car. It never even occurred to me that the car was demolished. He plucked me from the side of the car, and set me in the ditch.

A woman came, and she put her arm around me. She had a white sweatshirt on, with a pretty lace collar – the kind my mother wore. I never saw her face – too much blood and glass in my eyes. I pulled away, saying, “I don’t want to ruin your shirt.” She made me feel safe, and somehow, I felt no panic, no fear. She tucked me back into her, and said, “Don’t you worry about that now honey.” I didn’t see then or know then what she knew, what the boyfriend knew – that my face looked like hamburger.

The lady called my mother, on Mother’s Day, to tell her what a mother never wants to hear. There’s been an accident.

They strapped me in, and carted me off in the ambulance. I cracked jokes the entire time they scrubbed my raw skin with gauze and antiseptic. I laughed in the dark. They x-rayed my knees and told me the cartilage behind one kneecap was cracked vertically, and would eventually give me problems. That there was nerve damage. That there would be physical therapy. The only time I cried was when the doctor told me that they’d have to stitch up the cut on my eyelid (I sincerely detest needles – and there was going to be one repeatedly heading toward my eye. Shudder – still gives me the heebie jeebies).

I overheard the policeman telling my mother that if any one thing had been different, we would have died. That we should be dead. That it didn’t make sense because when cars hit like that, the engine comes up into the passenger compartment and crushes legs, and that didn’t happen. That we should have flown through the window, since we hadn’t had seatbelts on. That we shouldn’t be here. That somehow, miraculously we were.

They wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom alone – later my mom told me that she was afraid of what would happen when I saw my face. They took me home, and I lay there – a bundle of nerves and pain. I reacted to the ointment they slathered liberally over my cuts, and it burned. I looked like someone had taken a blow torch to that side of my face.

Finally, I went into the bathroom. Alone. I stared in the mirror at the stranger there. Scabs from hairline to jaw line, from ear to nose. Grotesque. Somewhere deep inside, a caged thing stirred. I sobbed, staring at this ugliness on the outside, feeling the ugliness inside. Who will ever want me like this? Who, who? Who will ever want me like this?

I’d had the appropriate amount of teenage vanity – I was no beauty queen, but I had liked my face. I had a pretty porcelain complexion, with rosy cheeks – the kind that turns absolutely crimson and livid with too much sun. I had a smattering of freckles, and my mother’s eyes. I had my mother’s face, reimagined. And now, I was a monster.

The boyfriend was shades of remorse for about two days and five minutes. It took far longer for my face to heal, much less my spirit. The scars stood out fuchsia and angry on my cheek – slashes. My friends said, “They look cute, like cat’s whiskers.” That so did not help, but I knew what they were trying to do, and I let them have that – I let them feel like they could make it better.

Who will ever want me, like this?

At the checkup, my mom asked the doc about plastic surgery. He recommended someone, and we made an appointment. Somewhere in my fifteen-year-old mind was the desperate hope that they would be able to work magic, to make it all disappear.

We arrived at the office and met with the surgeon. He said that if they attempted to fix any of it, it would likely make it worse. I would just have to heal on my own. I was choking on tears, but I thanked him for his time, and we walked out of the office.

I made it to the elevator, my mom rubbing my arm. I couldn’t hold it in anymore – I needed to grieve for the girl I’d been and would never be again. I sucked in hard, and started sobbing, quietly asking, Who? Who will ever want me like this?

The elevator stopped to let a woman on, and I felt ashamed for crying. I felt exposed – and still, I couldn’t stop the hiccupping sobs. My mom briefly told the woman what had just happened. And the woman, this stranger, tucked me into her and held me. Told me that I was beautiful, and that someone, somewhere would see that and know. She held me in all my grief and sorrow. She said the words I could never have believed out of my mother (your mother has to love you, has to see you as beautiful, no matter what happens). She held me and rocked me, and there were tears in her voice when she comforted me.

Years passed, the scars healed and lightened, blending into my natural paleness. I still have to avoid the sun, because that whole side of my face is more sensitive. For more than ten years, I picked small glittering shards of glass out of my cheek and forehead. Tiny diamonds. Everyone who saw me then, broken, thought that I would never look the same. For the most part, I do. But I never was the same, and that was the important part.

I made decisions following this that came from a deeper well of strength and courage than I’d been able to access before. I became more assertive. I wore the scars, for a time, as a warrior’s badge of honor. I wore them in daring, and with a chip.

And then I didn’t need the warrior so much anymore. And I was able to soften. Eventually, I was able to see in this what I was meant to see – that cry, that Who? Who will ever want me like this? had been there before the scars, and lasted far past them. That cry is universal. That cry reflected the brokenness and ugliness I felt inside, about who I was – and my fear that I was far too flawed for love.

I softened. Each time I think about the woman on the side of the road, and how she tucked me into herself, and held me, I cry. Each time I think about the lady on the elevator, and the compassion she showed a stranger, the way she held me tight like I was sobbing for both of us, I cry. And I know that we are angels to one another.

We turn to each other in elevators and lobbies, in checkout lines and on street corners, and say, “I see you. You matter. Someone, many someones, want you – just like this.”

 

 

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

 

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter

Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

 

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

It’s all right

(George Harrison)

 

This is one of my rock-out-in-the-car-by-myself songs. Where I sing loudly (and badly), and dance a bit, and hope that no one’s really looking (and if they are, who really cares?).

This is one of my feel-good songs, my the-world-is-a-great-place songs, my every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining songs. And I should be listening to it on loop right now, because I need an infusion of that hopeful and bright energy.

Today is yet another overcast day. I am downright hungry for sunshine. Yesterday morning, as I blearily stumbled out of slumber, I blinked several times in confusion, as I tried to determine the source of the glow illuminating my living room…it was sunshine. And yesterday, I got a little taste of what we’ve all been missing, and I want more.

I want to shake off this malaise that’s been pressing down on me. I want to cast off this pall and get motivated to do something, go somewhere, change something, create something.

Prescription? The Beatles – obnoxiously loudly – sung at the top of my lungs until I believe the words I’m singing. Anyone care to join? All together now….

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)