Song Of the Day

What song haunts you?

What song sums up your life?

What tunes runs through your head on an endless loop and will not be forgotten?

River of Dreams by Billy Joel is the one for me. Today, anyway.

What’s on your mind today?

Peace Be With You

My new husband goes to a nice little community church. He would never pressure me to go along, but I could tell he wanted to introduce me to his friends there. How bad could it be? Hubby isn’t religious, so the church can’t be too dogmatic. He goes to remember his mother and to see people he cares about. I hadn’t stepped foot in a church service in decades, but I’m not scared of them. I strive to be open-minded, not judge-y or hard-nosed. That’s what I never liked about churches in the first place.

I can handle it. Right? Oy.

To be fair, this church is friendly. I was welcomed warmly. People of all stripes are welcomed here, which is as it should be. I can clearly see the value of gathering together to show gratitude, to participate in peaceful rituals and to sing, combined with a sense of working for the greater good. Members get together to hike and knit and eat. These activities bring a wonderful sense of belonging and contribute to the community at large in valuable ways. Loveliness.

What surprised me was the familiarity of the messages printed on the service sheet. Crucifixion, condemnation of the “wicked,” rapture, virgin birth, creationism, a lesson on finding a capable wife to run your household-wait wtf really?, believers shall prosper but others will not. Us and them, body and blood, sacrifice, sanctification, holy spirit, almighty father, Jesus Christ, lord god holy, holy, holy. What was I expecting? Church is still church.

My skin crawled as the congregation chanted prayers in unison. My head pounded as I tried to reconcile the words on the page with the truly lovely people surrounding me. Do they hear the underlying messages of the words they are speaking? How can they say words out loud without thinking about their meaning? Or do they believe?

I couldn’t do it. I fled.

Out the back and down the steps, I found the bathroom and then followed my nose to a full, unguarded coffee pot. I took (stole) a cup and a handful of creamers. As I gently pushed the church door open and eased it shut behind me, I was met with a face-full of sunshine and fresh morning breeze. First fall leaves skittered down the quiet street as I settled onto a rickety wooden bench tucked in the weeds of an overgrown patio. Steamy sweet coffee warmth filled my nose. Why can’t this be church?

Tension left my body. I will never escape my literal mind. The hellfire trauma of my childhood is best left undisturbed. My very much smarter than me husband goes to church because he has always gone, takes what he needs and leaves the rest. I admire his ability to do so, but I cannot join him there.

After church we got tacos and took the dog for a hike in the woods where we saw some amazing wild mushrooms and a turtle. All is well with my soul.

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Girls Walks Out of a Bar, a memoir

Big hard questions are making my head spin. Why is it that the importance of the separation of church and state isn’t discussed all the time, loudly? Where is the discussion of balance between the fundamental right of religious freedom and protecting children from the zealotry of their parents? When does religious freedom turn into abuse? Where is the line? How do we talk about this stuff and not end up fighting about politics?

These questions give me brain buzz and I have no answers, SO how ’bout a book review, instead?

YES.

Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa F. Smith is the current favorite on my nightstand. I heard Lisa speak at the Hippocampus Writers Conference a few weeks ago and knew I wanted to read anything she had written.  Turns out her book is a memoir about her addiction to alcohol and cocaine while holding down a job as a high rolling NYC attorney in a big fat law firm overlooking Times Square. No easy task. She managed to hide her struggles not only at work, but from her closest friends and family. Her honest portrayal of that grim reality is gripping, horrifying, messy. She does not spare the reader, which is why I like her.

Do we ever really know what is going on with those around us?

There is a moment in the book when she blurts out to her friends, “I think I’m an alcoholic.” They are at a party, as usual. Everyone is drinking, as usual. Her words are met with resistance.

No one asks, “What makes you think so?” or “How can I help?”

Her admission is met with denial by them all, except for the one guy who wouldn’t meet her eyes. I bet that guy agreed and didn’t want to say it or maybe he was thinking, me too. The other friends… hmmm… they didn’t want to hear it? Perhaps their own fear of having to change overcame a desire to reach out. Maybe they were thinking, you can’t be an alcoholic because that means I am too.

Who knows? Lisa doesn’t blame her friends or try to explain their reactions, but left the scene hanging to replay in my head.

Happy ending! Lisa gets help, kicks her habits and is now a sobriety speaker to the legal community, where addiction struggles are rampant. Her courage to reach out for help, risking her career and reputation cannot be overestimated. Everything was at stake. She did it and I am proud of her and for her, even though she is technically a total stranger.

I highly recommend Lisa’s book and personal presentations, as well.  She can be found on Twitter @girlwalksout. No one asked me to write a review, by the way. I really do love this book.

As for the other stuff, maybe we can help each other along the twisted path if we pay attention, reach out in love and acceptance instead of fear and resistance. What if we aren’t afraid to be curious and ask an honest question or two and then listen to the answers? What’s the worst that could happen?

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Feeling Free

A couple of weeks ago I found myself free to do as I pleased for a few hours on a summer afternoon near a beach. What more could a person want? Souls savor stolen moments.

Signage at the top of the steep wooden staircase read:

Clothing optional

No gawking

No cameras

I already knew the beach was clothing optional, but it was breezy and cool, so I had no intention of stripping. Let other people freeze their naked butts off. The last time I had been to a clothing optional beach, a woman who appeared to be a supermodel stretched out beside me with a friendly smile, her perfect breasts pointing to the sky. I just couldn’t join her.

At the bottom of the steps, a string of brightly colored sarongs caught the wind like wanna-be kites reaching for the brilliant sky. Sand and water swept the horizon before me. I put my phone away, took off my shoes and began to walk, toes digging into the soft sand. Happy as the proverbial clam.

The days prior and the days ahead were busy and emotional. Long awaited visits with my adult children behind me and my long awaited second marriage just ahead, brain and body needed the off switch. Worries, plans, and body aches vanished with the first step.  By the tenth step, I was sweating, because the breeze had also vanished and the sun was flexing its muscles. As I wandered down to firmer sand by the waterline, I noticed several naked bodies.  They were tan everywhere. Some of these folks must be hard core beach nudies. Huh. Not a perfect physique in sight.

I walked as far as the beach allowed and doubled back looking for the right driftwood log to lean against, wondering what it would be like to be naked here. The perfect spot appeared, so I plunked down in the sand, squinting and cursing my lack of sunglasses and empty water bottle. Sweat ran down my back into my underwear as the sun blazed hotter. As I scanned the horizon, a middle aged man sauntered past, penis swinging and free, utterly unselfconscious. Huh.

I furtively slipped out of my clothes and spread out my sweatshirt to sit on, unwilling to get sand absolutely everywhere. I glanced around. No one was anywhere near me, no one to see or care, so I settled back to watch the clouds and waves. I noticed that the breeze wasn’t entirely gone; I could feel it gently caress my body in places that had never felt fresh air before. My skin felt grateful and cool.

As the rhythm of the waves lulled my senses and swept out my brain cobwebs, someone with clothes on walked by and glanced quickly away with an awkward jerk of his head. Wonder what his problem is I thought, having already forgotten I didn’t have any clothes on. Oh yeah, I’m naked, I smiled to myself and felt sorry for him in his heavy cotton tee shirt and cargo shorts.

How did I come to be comfortable in my own naked bag of skin in my fifties after a lifetime of excruciating self-loathing? I was taught shame as a fact, that my female body was an offense, dangerous if uncovered, an abomination if fat, a death sentence if used. I carried those judgements like chains, even in my defiance of them. I don’t care anymore. Those chains may have left a few scars, but somewhere along the way they dropped off.

I wonder at the weight we carry sometimes. We can change inner dialogue from defensiveness to openness; allow others to carry their own opinions, their judgements, their perspectives without hefting the load. We can show ourselves compassion, too.

Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I would add, it is the mark of a free mind, as well.

I can’t wait to see if Facebook deems my knee and shoulder inappropriate.

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This Place Feels Sticky

I remembered something.  There was this weird thing that happened to me a lot in the Pentecostal church, so it must have happened to others, too. Maybe it happened to me more often since I ran wild on bible college campuses as a child. I don’t know.

Men would offer to be my boyfriend.  They would call me their girlfriend in intimate and flirtatious ways and pretend to want to date me. I usually knew they were not serious, but to have the attention of grown men as a ten or twelve year old girl was confusing and head-turning stuff.

Now I know their words were sexual predation. Grooming, if you will.  Had any of those men, most only eighteen or nineteen themselves, some older, had a more nefarious bent and tried to corner me in a dark room, I would have complied.  I would not have thought to resist.

As #MeToo moments go, being noticed in sexually or romantically suggestive ways by men is “not that bad.” I was never raped, have no violence to report, no molestation, no physical contact, except for that once, but I knew no one would believe me. And yet… I remember them all.

My value as a human was defined from day one by my appearance and my sexual value.  “You’re going to be beautiful when you grow up,” they would say, with a glance up and down, while everything sexual was condemned and shamed within the cult of the United Pentecostal Church.  Sex education was non-existent, information forbidden, genitals unnamed, normal developmental desires were an unspeakable sin punishable by the fires of hell. They were not joking.

Add in the Biblical philosophy of the second class nature of women and the demand for their submission, acquiescence, and silence.  The female body was vile and a dangerous threat; our shoulders and kneecaps an abomination to the eye, designed to tempt unwitting men. Scriptures seemed to be full of stories of women whose offense was to be curious or smart or beautiful (Eve, Lot’s wife, Jezebel) and they were always killed or banished for their infractions. Jezebel had the audacity to decorate herself and so was fed to dogs. Her story was a little more complicated than that, but the Sunday School literature blamed it on makeup and jewelry.

But, still, be pretty. Be pretty and wait to get laid by your future husband, a man of god who will pick you to have his children and play his piano. The scrutiny of every detail of females’ appearance played into this culture of sexualization, even of children. Our only value was sexual; our sexuality was also our shame. What a twisted fucking message.

In defense of those males, except for that one who knew better, they were victims of the same culture. I doubt any of them gave a second thought to the things they said to the Bible college campus child-pet and would probably be horrified to have their words marked as predatory or even inappropriate. Who knows what they got out of it.

“A woman’s body always stands on the outskirts of town, verging on uncivilization. A thin paper gown is all that separates it from the wilderness. Half of its whole being is devoted to remembering how to live in the woods. This is why Witch, this is why Whore, this is why Unlucky and this is why Unclean. This is why attempts to govern the female body always have the feeling of a last resort, because the female body is fundamentally ungovernable.”   —from Priestdaddy, a memoir by Patrick Lockwood

Of all of the books I’ve read that I wish I had written, this is the one I wish I had written the most.

Just Relax

IMG_1459Just relax the voice inside my head barks.

 I am relaxed, I snap back.

I mean, I’m trying. It’s harder than you think, I whine to myself.

I held my breath, standing on the brink of something.

Shut out of something.

Stumbling in the dark, I scraped against a crack in the wall, saw a narrow band of light streaming through.

Oh, it’s here, my insides screamed.

Then beating sobbing fighting pushing pulling and punching my way out with a splintering crash.

I am breathing hard and am somewhat bloodied.

Now what? I ask the open air with fists still clenched.

I‘m here, he said.

What if I disappoint you? I wondered to myself, but only nodded as he gently unfolded my fingers.

A lucky thing to not have missed love when it arrived. To hold the beating heart in my open hand and stroke it’s soft down. It’s quite another to expose the untended corners of my own heart, to stop trying to figure out who and how to be and just be.

Can I let you in, all the way in, where the sour bits desiccate, the dark heart places that have never seen light?  Can I let you accept my failures?

Can I let you love me anyway?

He said one time, he said if it doesn’t work out in the end, it’s been wonderful.

And my heart sank, because my head pounded with the need for a guarantee, but it turns out that’s not what love is. Love is not a contract or a deadline or an ultimatum or a deal or even a safety net. And then my heart rose because he loved me enough to not lie.

As it turns out, love is a whisper in the night, a how was your day?, a pat on the hip that means something more and listening without waiting for a turn. Love is making the effort, wanting to. Love is always turning toward.

And the ravishing.

It’s all here.

So, relax.  Just relax.