Monday, June 29, 2015

Well I Dreamed I Saw a Silver Spaceship . . . .

My Replacements

Top Row:  Ian Allen, Victor Allen, Azalea Allen  Middle Row:  Doc (William) Stodden, Molly Allen, Heather Allen, Eleanor Allen  Front Row:  Lori Allen, Mica Allen, Mallary Allen   - Photo by Sam Wormley

I am a headline reader.  One headline has led me to ponder my children as my replacements when I am gone.  This, in turn, has led me to wonder if my ancestors looked at their children and imagined them as their replacements?  I can't help but believe that in recent generations, this may not have been a comforting thought.   I felt my parents and grandparents (and probably generations before) were judged not only by their parents and grandparents, but by a society that called for repression of feelings and conforming to expectations set out in laws and norms. Maybe the world is still that way and I am living in my own idea of how the world works. . . . which is another topic for another day.

If there is a stream of consciousness that extends from my ancestors through my grandparents, parents, and now me - how do the departed ones regard me?  Did feel sorrow at the darkness that I tried to mask with being funny as a child?  Did they cringe at my sexual profligacy as a teen and young adult? (It was the 70s you know.)  Was it their voices, disguised as my own, who kept asking "what are you doing?" before each marriage?  Or was it them silencing my questioning by feeding me mantras of "You can change, You can change him.  Then love will grow"? Now, do they recognize my aspirations of becoming an artist and writer as the beginnings of a delusional old age?

I may be delusional about how the rest of my life will unfold, but I hold no delusions that, like me, my ancestors were no examples of perfect mental health themselves.  I would like to think that if there is some kind of residual self that continues after death, that the post-earth selves, the ancestors, have opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth - just like those of us who are still earth bound. I hope the chuckles I sometimes hear in my self-talk are part of a chorus of the ancestors, I hope they have all developed a sense of humor.

Though I laugh at myself from time to time, I do not think I am now, or ever will be, irrelevant. I just think my role is shifting from accomplishing and doing to mentoring and being.   I am so much less judgmental of my children and their partners than I was of myself as a young parent.  My admiration for them comes from watching them navigate parenting, challenges, missteps, dreams, embarassment, and accomplishments like the bosses they are.  I celebrate their joy mostly from afar,  I try to respond to the hard parts with "you've got this" a thousand times more than with "let me give you a different way to look at this."   If I have ever said, "here's what you need to do . . ." I am sorry, so sorry that I am blocking it from my memory.

I also  ponder the lives of the children who will be replacing my children, that is, my grandchildren. It is easy for me to let go of any anxiety about their futures.   I feel confident that these young children will grow to enhance, cast off, or integrate the gifts of their DNA - from all the various families of  ancestors who are watching them.

I do not know if anyone in my direct ancestry line has or will set anything in motion to save the world.  Or even a small part of it.  That would be nice.  But in lieu of reversing global warming, curing diseases, or negotiating a lasting global peace - I hope that those people who come into our circles will be compelled by our love for one another, our service to our fellow travelers, and our joy in creating as much beauty as we can.

Now get out there!  You're replacing someone, too, you know.  When you are very silent and still, you can feel their gaze upon you.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Arc of the Universe . . . .


I've tried for DAYS to write a post about my feelings about the state of our country.  Everything ended up sounding preachy and self-serving.  So - I will let these pictures and the websites below, speak for me.   Peace to all who seek it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


The past, present, and
future, bonded at mid night, form
Kryptonite for sleep.

I have heard it said that if you are awake in the middle of the night, it is because you are awake in another's dreams.  Once upon a time, I thought this a romantic or loving gesture on the part of the dreamer.  As episodes of insomnia visit me with increasing frequency, I now think of those waking me with their dreams as slumber thieves who need to let go of their grudges, regrets, and plans of revenge against me.

Or, perhaps it is me who is keeping myself awake these nights.  In the late night garden of imagining my past, present, and future, the seeds of my insomnia grow and flourish in the mid night moonbeams.  Do not fear that I will keep you awake in my insomniac dreaming with me.  No, all grudges and regrets in these waking dreams are inflicted upon myself, all revenge is a non-violent dream of casually "showing them" my future successes.

Now please, someone begin dreaming of me, your friend and poet, in restful slumber.  If only I could, dear ones, I would dream the same for you.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


"I believe in the intuitive or artistic comprehension of truth, even beyond reason." ~ Maryanna Shorba Manfred

It was never my
intention to become you,
but I had no choice.

One of my most inspirational mentors and friends was Maryanna.  She was the editor of the church newsletter where I worked as the religious education coordinator and office administrator. Each month I would bring her the copy for the newsletter, wait in her living room as she bloodied the papers with her red ink editing marks, and then hope for a few words of praise about the parts I contributed to the newsletter.  When I told her I had some poems and a few short stories, she graciously invited me to bring them to her.  

One day, sans children, I brought over some of my writings.  Just as when I brought the newsletter, she took my copy and motioned for me to wait in her living room.  Her usual complaints of writers not knowing basic rules of grammar were absent.  The "Jesus Christ what's this?" comments were not offered.  I even imagined the pen was scratching with less frequency than what was usually used on the newsletter.  There was an eerie silence as she read my work - compared to the newsletter.

After what seemed like an eternity, I heard soft footsteps coming to the living room.  She appeared in the door, moved some papers from a chair and sat down across from me.  "These are, well, hmm, pretty terrible, " she finally blurted, her hands thrown into the air for extra emphasis.  As her hands returned to her lap, atop papers, she just stared at me from behind her oversize glasses.  I was fighting back tears.

"I don't know what to say," I finally coughed out.

"I know," she said.  "Jesus Christ, I know."  She looked back down to the papers and started shuffling them.  "Do you like writing?  I mean is it something you want to do.  Because your ideas are good.  Your ideas are real."

A ray of hope.  I perked up a bit.  "So you do like it?  I mean, it's good?  or okay?"

"No, no," she shook her head empahtically.  "It's pretty terrible.  You tie everything up so neat and tidy," she offered.  "It's sort of sickening to read this - it's like you have access to some universal brilliance that the rest of us don't.  It always ends well for you."  Our eyes met as she looked at me and said, "you're not fooling anyone, well maybe yourself, but those of us who know you know that you haven't had an honest thought about your life in a long time."

I was not expecting an assessment of my life, just some advice about how to pace things, where to place commas, that sort of thing.  I closed my eyes and held my eyelids gently, worried my tears would wash out my contacts.  After what seemed like an eternity, Maryanna came and sat next to me on the couch.  She didn't touch me.  Or look at me.  She just sat there.  When I stopped crying she asked, "you done?"  I nodded that I was, trying to contain the clear snot with my sleeve as it ran from my nose to upper lip.  "Okay," she said as she moved back to the other chair.  "Let's talk about turning your great thoughts and ideas into good writing."

That was the first of maybe a dozen meetings we had that encompassed writing and exchanging the stories of the realities of our lives.  She was thirty-six years my senior, but we had shared experiences on our path.  Too soon I moved a state away, but offered promises to continue our exchanges via mail.  I never sent her anything to edit.  She sent me birthday cards, inquiring if I was still writing.  I was not.  

Our relationship dwindled down to the annual hug and hello when I visited Sioux Falls, but so much of her stayed with me.  She had some helpful suggestions for writing, but most of all she encouraged me to claim time and space for me, to claim importance for the things I was doing in life.  "No one will give you more than you think you deserve," is her mantra that has stuck with me all these years.

A few days ago when on a road trip,  I stopped in Sauk Center, Minnesota for fuel.  Maryanna's voice popped into my mind as I waited for the gas to fill my tank, "go see it."  I could not help but chuckle as I thought of a story she told me about her irreverance during a famous author's memorial service in Sauk Center when she was a young woman.  

"I can't," I laughed in response.  It would be fun to find the cemetary and grave, but I was in a hurry to see my family just an hour away.  I pushed the thought away, got into my car and headed back to the freeway.  Then, with intention, I drove past the entrance for the west bound lanes.  I didn't get on the freeway.  Instead, I  pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned building.  I googled Greenwood Cemetary, Sauk Center, Minnesota.  It was just a mile or two away.

I turned back into town and followed the directions of the voice on google maps.  I drove slowly around until I saw the tall marker.  I got out and walked over to it.  "Was this so hard?" came Maryanna's unamused gravley voice.  I answered with deep breath, a touch of his tombstone, and a quick retreat back to the car.   "Thats not how it works," she admonished.  "Sit down.  Read his books.  Channel him, not me."

Just like twenty-three years ago, I quit paying attention to her.  I headed the car back to I94, toward the lives I was eager to join.  I tuned in the local rock station to distract me, and in an hour I arrived to squeals of delight that made me feel like, well, a long anticipated grandma.  It's good to be a hero, no matter how small the tribute.  

But, I can not stop thinking of Maryanna.  Which is why I am sitting here, in giant glasses that could be hers, at a local coffee shop in Moorhead, fixing chapters six and seven of my book.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Consort Parvati

Like every Mother 
on Earth, you can't be contained
in one single Name.

     con sort [noun]  1. conjunction, association; 2. group assembly
     con sort [verb]   1. to keep company; 2. accord, harmonize

One thing I will say about the Hindu religion, I love how they frame relationships.  I loved reading the story of Ganesha to the children of Unitarian Universalist churches, introducing them to the elephant god's parents, god Shiva and his consort, goddess Parvati.  Just as in any religion or myth that has lived through the centuries, there are subtle differences in the tellings, but always I found Parvati referred to as Shiva's consort.

This would sometimes raise questions from the young ones, "What's a consort?" or "She was a concert?"  even "Was the mom, like all, able to, sort of, fold up?"  I would then tell them the definition based on the Merriam Webster dictionary listing.  Interestingly, I think, no child ever equated the relationship to marriage, never asked if she was his wife.

I am a person who has found the title, role, and expectation of being a wife difficult.  So difficult, in fact, that once I was willingly, and once not so willing, removed of the title.  Maybe I would have been a better consort than wife.  By the time of my first marriage I had a well-defined idea of what a wife was based on some pretty unhealthy models that surrounded me in childhood.

I tried to reject the misogyny that was present in many marriages in my families of origin, while trying to embrace the media marriages that played out through weekly television dramas and sit coms.  Those media moms, if inept whiners, did have nice houses and husbands who adored them after the week's debacle was resolved.  Sometimes the wives were wise and sly, manipulating their spouses into feeling smarter, braver, and stronger than they really were.  None of these models served me well as I sought to create my own definition of wife.

What I am saying is the title wife, and husband for that matter, can be limiting,  The word has a lot of baggage.  It is said that the Goddess Parvati, because of her many attributes and talents, has more than one hundred names in local Hindu mythologies and theologies.  How expansive for her to be known in so many ways rather than defined by her intimate relationship with one other.

So cheers to Parvati - gentle and nurturing Hindu goddess of love, devotion, and fertility; and to her consort Shiva - destroyer, recycler, and generator of the Universe, of all life.  Only a power couple like this, with knowledge and ownership of their individual mastery, could combine their resources, control their egos, and express their love for one another in the creation of a being such as Ganesha.

I am not saying I am looking for a long-term relationship again in my life, but if I find one . . .  it will be a commitment and honoring of one consort and another.  And, this relationship will definitely bring forth a dog.  Most likely, the creature will come from the local humane society rather than by complicated surgeries and species-combining, but there will be a dog.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Trust Your Heaviness

This is what the things can teach us:  to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.          ~ Rainer Maria Rilke 

I leap - heaviness
grabs my back.  My sole defense?
My strong beating wings.

Trust your heaviness.  That is hard for me to do.  My entire life I have felt heaviness. As a child, even before I started school, I knew I was heavy.  Well, fat, was the word that was used.  I was confused as to why girls were compared negatively to other girls who weighed less than they did, while boys were lauded for being heavy.  For boys, heavy equaled strength and growth and presence.  For girls, at least for me, heavy equaled fat.  My heaviness seemed only related to my body, while boys' heaviness related to positive traits as well.

I tried early to manipulate how I spoke to others about my heaviness.  As a ten-year old, saying aloud that I weighed sixty-three pounds felt so much lighter than the real sixty-seven pounds the PE teacher whispered to me as I  stepped off the scale.  And so my personal relationship with body dysmorphia began.

My dysmorphia did not just involve my body.  I also had the sense that I was not a very good person. My adults were constantly pointing out my shortcomings and telling me how I affected them.  I felt I was this fatty lump of disappointment to many.  

Looking back, literally - looking at pictures of myself as a child - I was not fat.  I was not thin.  If we were measured in percentiles back then as children are now, I would have been in the 50th - 60th percentile for weight and height.  I was that way as a teen, a young adult, even a young middle age adult.  Looking back in pictures, I was fine.  Just fine.  But that is not how I felt or saw myself during those time.

There was no real scale to measure my emotional heaviness.  The only measurement on my emotional scale was that I was fine.  And funny.  To distract myself from my real emotions I provided comic relief whenever possible, making myself a joke. Underneath, I was sad, and mad, and scared.  Until, as an adult, I discovered falling.  Falling saved me.  Less dramatically stated, falling helped me see choices.

I have identified that there are three choices when beginning to fall. The first choice is what I tend to do most often - quickly, reach out and grab onto what ever I am falling from.  I grab on to that relationship, that job, booze, eating, spending money - whatever ledge I was sitting on before the fall.  It will probably hold me until the next storm pushes me off the edge.

The second choice when falling is to, well, fall.  To crash to the ground.  I have been fortunate that my crashes have not been fatal.  Some people I know crashed and that was the end.  

The third choice is, of course, to fly.  As Rilke says even birds have to trust, for as they launch, their heaviness will bring them down until they flap their wings, catch the updrafts - and fly.  It's not easy. There are random moments of gliding, but flying requires near-constant beating of the wings, navigating tall buildings and mountains, and finding safe shelter in the storms.  

May all your falls end in flight.  Okay, realistically - may many of your falls end in flight.  May the rest end safely with you in a better nest.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Kwan Yin's Quest

Deepening self-love
is not for the squeamish or
shallow of spirit. 

Kwan Yin (or Quan Yin, Kuan Yin) is the compassionate Bodhisattva whose quest is to bring a deepening of self-love to the world. This is one scary thought for many of us.  To deepen our self-love, we must fully know, accept, and honor who we have been, who we are now, and who we hope to become.  

Kwan Yin's quest reminds me of something I read of our "true self" in Parker Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness.  Parker likens one's true self to a wild animal.  We know that they are lurking somewhere in the darkness of our fear-filled forest.  Occasionally we'll glimpse the creature darting behind a tree.  The possibility of coming face to face with it makes us stop and draw a quick breath. Our heartbeat races.  We are as equally terrified of coming face to face with the elusive creature as we are by missing an opportunity to see it up close.

It is only when we go slowly and quietly, when we still our heart, that we will be able to find our true self and coax it to stay with us.  Sudden movements, shouting, chasing, or wailing will only drive it back deeper into the woods.  

I like to imagine that one day my true self and I will have met and that we will have come to terms with each other.  We will decide it does not make sense to have one of us living a feral life, not known to family or friends, while the other has to put up with bank accounts, laundry, weight loss plans, and re-writing by-laws for every organization she belongs to.  

My real-self and I will make an agreement.  She will remind me that all I really need in life is sunshine, rain, air, a bit of shelter, and food that the earth gives up freely.  I will occasionally treat her to ice cream, binge-watching made for TV series, and driving in cars rather than walking everywhere.  

Because I learned from my last two relationships that all my expectations may not be met, that maybe some of those expectations were even a bit unreasonable, I will not expect her to totally move in and take care of me. Although, that is the loveliest thought I can imagine right now.  I wonder what her hopes are for me?