Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fight Club




My very first memory of life was seeing my mother being beaten by my stepfather. I was three years old, helpless to stop it. To this day my mother has health issues related to those beatings, and we all bear the emotional scars.
I was a good-natured child with a sunny disposition. I was eager to please, and would do anything I could to make my mother smile; sing, dance, tell jokes. I was also a little shrimp – the smallest kid in my class throughout grammar school, and sometimes I got picked on. But one day when I was about 10 years old, a boy tried to bully me, and I got angry, really angry. That was the day I started to fight. I was not going to end up helpless on the ground like my mother.
I got my ass kicked now and then, but I went down swinging. The above photo is of me, twelve years old, in a fight, (the only time I got in a fight with a girl). I’ve always been ashamed of this time in my life, this time when I was angry and tough and cynical. I never told anyone about it, because it’s not who I am today. I always felt I should apologize for having that in me - I’m a peaceful person who wants to be a force for good in the world. But it was that anger and ability to fight that helped me survive. So when an old friend turned up with this photo, I had to claim it. Yes, that was me. Angry little girl, trying not to end up on the same road her mother travelled. (and seriously, I had to give myself props for fighting in heels.)
This fight phase only lasted a few years. By the time I turned thirteen I had learned how to defend myself with words.
I hate to fight. I want to be the little girl I once was, before all the ugliness became reality. My whole purpose on this Earth is to heal myself, and to in turn be a healing and peaceful person for those who come in contact with me. But there are times when you have to stand your ground, and it’s not pretty (even in great shoes).
The wind is blowing today. I hate the wind, it creeps me out, and even worse, it does horrible things to my hair. The wind has always reminded me that change is coming, and change is uncomfortable, sometimes painful.
I’m in this awful fight phase now with my crazy violent neighbors, fighting to protect my children and the neighbors from their vicious pitbulls. To make matters ten times worse, some of the people I love most are behaving in hurtful ways at a time when I am fragile and vulnerable. So I am typing, typing, typing, hoping that some amazing epiphany is going to flow out and all this ugliness will make sense.
Nothing so far.
Type, type, type….still nothing.
Right now, life just sucks, and there is no apparent reason for it. Guess I could just put my dukes up, and put on some strappy heels.
Or I could pray for peace and healing ….
It just may be that both are in order.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Love, Courage and Chaos


At this moment, it certainly could be said that chaos is swirling all around me. That bothers me so much that I’m up at 2:30am writing about it. Chaos is the last friggin thing I want in my life. Throughout my life I’ve watched other people who seem to have it all together, all their ducks lined up in a row. Their houses are clean, their garages are organized, their lives somewhat boring. I envy them. Boring sounds kind of awesome right now.
I have never had so much as one duck lined up in a row. My house has two dogs, three cats, a four-year old, our grown son and his pregnant wife who is nesting like crazy, filling the house with every baby necessity imaginable. Strollers, infantseats and boxes of IKEA furniture line my entryway. (I have tried, unsuccessfully, to convince them that they don’t need a “baby wipe holder” but nevertheless …the pile continues). In the middle of the night, I might step on a stray lego, or trip over a dog toy. But it’s our life, and we love each other, so we make room for the chaos.
And in the midst of all this normal everyday loving chaos, we are in some awful chaos with our next-door neighbors, which started when their pitbulls attacked our dogs (and many other neighborhood dogs).
Eleven years ago we moved into this unconventional neighborhood that is much like Topanga Canyon. Wild peacocks roam the neighborhood, everyone hikes the mountains with their dogs off leash, we have happy hour in the streets on Fridays, and all the kids run outside and play together. All that stopped when these pitbulls moved in - and I’m not just talking about the dogs.
After my dog was attacked, I put signs up warning neighbors to keep their dogs on leash due to pitbulls attacks on our street. When our neighbor saw the signs, he ripped them down, and went after my husband, his pitbulls straining to break off their leashes, snarling and lunging at Troy, just inches from him, the neighbor promising to “f*ck him up”. As the neighbor got in Troy’s face with threats and insults (“faggot” was an interesting choice) Troy stood his ground like a Zen master, looking straight at the guy, never taking the bait or engaging, sending the message – we will stand strong against you, we will not be moved. I was so proud of him. But it was a horrible experience, and we have barely been able to sleep since.
CHAOS.
On top of that, someone hurt me deeply today, telling me I “had it coming” because I posted those signs. All the xanax in the world couldn’t contain the anxiety I feel, my chest pounds, I can’t sleep, this ugly comment turning my stomach. How anyone could justify threats of violence against another person, or say that it was in any way deserved, is beyond me.
Maybe chaos will never stop swirling around me. I have a fierce heart, and I love deeply. I will stand up for the ones I love, even when its uncomfortable. The more I think about it, every bit of the chaos in my life came somehow from this love. My deep sense of justice came from this love.
A baby is about to be born in my house because I love my son, and although this baby was not planned, he and Aya couldn’t bear to abort it. So we stepped up. And yes my house will be filled with more people, more noise, more chaos, more LOVE. Bring it on.
I lost my job singing in a band last year (that was fronted by a Mormon) because I stood with my family in front of the Mormon church to protest against Prop 8. I did this because I love my friends, and my brothers, and I want them to have the same rights that I do. So I was fired from the band. Bring it on.
I have five pets because every one of them was abandoned and left on the side of a road somewhere, and that was unacceptable to me. So my house is full of dustbunnies and my sofa is destroyed and there’s always cat litter on the bathroom floor and I’m being sued by the person who abandoned my little dog. But I love my little buddies who are there to absorb my tears whenever they fall, and who lie beside me when I write, and when I sleep, despite the cat vomit at 3am and the dogs barking at 6am. Bring it on.
And yeah, I posted signs to warn my neighbors about the pitbulls, so other little buddies don’t get hurt, and that angered my neighbor and caused him to threaten us. So what. I wasn’t going to stand by and see another animal hurt, when I could have stopped it. Bring it on.
You take a risk when you love, when you allow your self to break open wide enough to really care deeply about things. Yes it makes you vulnerable, and sometimes people will hurt you. Sometimes you have to stand your ground. Sometimes you have to fight. I will do that for the people I love.
There is a lot of love in this house, and in my experience, love breeds chaos. Chaos is the nature of the Universe. The only thing I can control is the peace in my heart. I could choose this life, or I could hide away and protect myself, living in fear, never confronting, stuffing my feelings down inside of me. But that’s not me.
So you know what I’m gonna say - chaos, schmaos….
BRING IT ON.
But I am still a little jealous of those people with the structured boring lives, because I know I’ll never have one.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Your Earth

Today I am using my blog to out a friend. You see she's a wonderful poet and artist, but like I once was, she's in the "closet" with her writing. Oh, she's had a few things published here and there, but that's her secret. She never lets anyone know...

So here is a Poem by my good-as-gold friend, who reads and edits for me all the time....

By CINDY SLEMAN:

Your Earth

I want to explore your Earth,

tunnel you like a mole,

overturn your rocks

and watch your insects scamper,

submarine my hands in your muddy sea,

get you under my fingernails,

in my kneecap creases,

around my taproots.

I want to taste you in the rings

of ruby beets,

smell your raw stew

brewing in skywater,

feel your grit in my grassy eyes

washing you out.

I want to weed you,

dig you,

tuck you in,

blanket you in moonshine,

be your evergreen,

your grandiflora bouquet.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Flying South

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite moments of Fall was the sound of geese migrating. In the 1970s, the San Fernando Valley was clouded over with smog every day, (this was before EPA standards), so we were lucky to see so much as a squirrel. I could never see those geese, but I heard them, honking away incessantly as they flew. I imagined that, in goose language, they were giddily chatting about their vacation, and all the things they would do once they reached their destination. I wanted to go with them. They were getting the hell out, and I knew that one day I would, too.

I was really cranky this weekend, and I thought about those geese. Oh lord did I want to jump on a plane and head South, anywhere.

For the past four months my life has been a whirlwind of planning and hosting. If it’s possible for a person to have too much fun, I think that may have happened to me.

Imagine one of those montage scenes in an old movie, where the calendar pages start blowing past:

February - Twenty days to plan and host a wedding for my son, one week to throw a bridal shower. March - brother and family come to visit, parties, Disneyland, beach, Hollywood, T.V. show tapings… April – gigs galore, sequined gowns, disco and torch songs, old friends visiting from out of town. May - Another brother family visit, birthday parties, concerts, Disneyland, beach and Hollywood all over again, my two best friends birthdays, then yesterday - a baby shower for my daughter in law. ..

And its not over… June promises another whirlwind, with the baby about to be born, my daughter’s birthday, and then Aya’s mother coming in from Japan to stay with us for a few weeks. Every one of these events is a blessing that I’m so grateful for.

BUT….

Yesterday I hit a wall. Hard. I was hosting a baby shower in two hours, but I could hardly push myself through the morning, making tea sandwiches like a zombie on auto pilot, my four-year old running around in his underwear, dust bunnies threatening to overtake the house, and of course, the septic system leaking into the yard, which it always does on special occasions.

It was go-time, but I wasn’t going. Soon my house would be filled with people and fun, but I found myself craving solitude. I wanted to curl up into fetal position and throw the covers over my head. Because through all this fun, fun, fun, go, go, go I am getting up early every morning, writing six hours a day, trying to finish my book. It is a memoir of my childhood, and believe me, it is not an easy one to write. All morning, I’m immersed in some tragic event of 1978, reliving the moment. Then at noon I shut down my laptop and bring my little one home from preschool. He’s bouncing all over the place “Let’s play Candyland Mommy”, but my head is still swirling with the violent events of the past, and at times it feels like I will implode.

The absurd dichotomy between what I’m writing about each day, things like seeing my brother covered in blood after he was shot in the head…and what I’m living now…party, party, party, fun, fun, fun….all of a sudden became too much to handle. You hear people speak of the writer’s life with such romantic notions, but for me, it’s like vomiting. It feels awful, but you gotta do it, and actually you feel a lot better afterward. So I’m "vomiting" every morning, running around party-party-party planning every afternoon, waking in the middle of the night with anxiety, stomachaches, and nosebleeds. Yesterday morning I just shut down. My eyes glazed over, I was stuck on pause.

My best friend Erin walked in, and in her no-bullshit manner said, “What’s up with you? You look like a Stepford Wife whose plug was just pulled.” Then rolled up her sleeves and started working the kitchen.

My husband took one look at me and said Uh-oh, (after twenty-two years, he knows my every facial expression) Give me a list, and I’ll get it done. God I love him. My friends, my kids…everyone started pitching in to make it happen.

Which brings me back to those geese. On their long journeys one takes the front position, the others fall behind in V formation creating an uplift in wind current for the rest. When the lead goose tires, another moves into position. By flying together, they can move 70% faster than on their own. This is how it is with friends. Many times I have taken the front position, but not now. I am being carried. Thank God for them. Thank God.

Maybe what I was pining for, listening to the geese all those years ago, was that feeling of being carried, of being connected to something bigger than myself. Maybe all that honking away wasn’t, and isn’t, idle chatter about a vacation, but constant assuring of one another – I’ve got you, and I will never let you fall.

So once again, my beautiful family and friends filled up the well that had run dry, making me feel human again, filling my day with laughter and gratitude. The baby shower lasted five hours, and even that seemed too short.

Last night, I sat at the dinner table with my husband, my three children, and my daughter-in-law who is carrying my soon to be born grandson. Over dinner we told stories and laughed, oh wow, did we laugh a lot last night. It was just one of those moments of absolute perfection, and as I stopped to soak it all in, I realized – I don’t want to fly South. I am right where I want to be.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Workshop Experience



This month I was blessed to have participated in a powerful three-week writing workshop with Hope Edelman. I’ve read her books and have great respect for her talent, so I was thrilled to have the chance to work with her.

When I pulled in to the parking lot for our first meeting in Topanga Canyon, I was flushed with excitement to meet this new group of women writers. Coming from my circle of gushing, huggy, lovey-dovey women friends, I walked in feeling all bouncy inside, like an overgrown golden retriever puppy ready to pounce on everyone with affection. But right away I could see that this was a get-down-to-business serious workshop. I reeled myself back in and did my best to prepare, but I felt so out of my element.

Hope not only got her Masters in creative writing at the University of Iowa and won a Pushcart Prize, she also teaches at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, the Shangri-La for writers. The other women in the workshop had MFA’s, one was a lawyer. And me? I’m a college dropout, shoot-from-the-hip writer with no formal training. So I got quiet and listened. Themes, arcs, forms, structures….all were discussed and I wondered, did my story have these things? I never thought about it, I just wrote. Listening to Hope, and to the feedback of all these brilliant women in the workshop, honestly I was intimidated. But I threw myself into it, sink or swim. ( yikes- a cliché! One of my bad writing habits…)

Last night was the third and final meeting, where my piece was to be discussed. We had each submitted a piece up to 20 pages in length, giving hardcopies to Hope and all the other writers. Everyone was to read them in advance, making notes that would eventually be returned to us.

The way Hope runs her workshop is all the writers discuss your work as though you weren’t in the room. They talk about what the themes are, the secondary story lines, what they loved about it, what didn’t work. You have to sit back quietly, like a fly on the wall (cliché!), listen and take notes like crazy.

Up until this year I was completely private with my writing – a “closet-writer” if you will. I never let anyone know that I was working on a book. It was for my eyes only. So it was fascinating and somewhat surreal to hear these women who I’ve only just met passionately discussing my life, my family members as “characters” (yes, they are!), and me as “the narrator”.

I was moved, and would even say changed by the experience. But aside from this, one of the things that stood out the most to me was Hope. When I first met her, of course I noticed that she was an attractive woman. But I have to say that when she was in her element last night, animated and passionate in her work, she was stunningly beautiful. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Her eyes flashed bright with fierce intelligence, her hands moved gracefully as she spoke. You could almost see her aura growing big and bright. And this was absolutely true of every woman in the workshop.

I learned so much about writing, learned about lyric essays (had never heard of or read that style before but, wow…) and so much more about myself as a writer, my silly little bad habits (ending a sentence with a preposition – duh!), learned about character motivation, secondary story lines, where the arc should peak, etc… I’m still reeling, letting it all settle in.

But overall, perhaps the greatest thing I took away from the workshop was this: When we are standing in our truth, letting our authentic selves shine, is when we are most beautiful. I learned that from Amy Ferris, and saw it in full force last night. There is no face cream, no cosmetic, no designer anything that can even come close to a woman owning her power.

So today, I am inspired, motivated, elevated….and behind. Holy cow - I’ve got so much editing to do!

Back to the old drawing board....(cliche!)




Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chutes and Ladders


Today I played a marathon game of Chutes and Ladders with my four-year-old son and let me tell you, that game is not for the faint of heart. It gives “Risk – the Game of World Domination” a run for its money.
The object of the game is to move the 100 spaces to the winners spot at the top. Along the way, you are provided “Ladders”, where you get to skip many spaces to move up the board, and then there are “Chutes", long slides that punish you and send you reeling back to the bottom. (sound familiar?)
Lately my son’s been very preoccupied with the idea of winning. In fact, everything is an opportunity to win. He finishes a glass of milk, slams it down empty on the table and claims, “I win!”
So we play games like Candyland or Don’t Break The Ice and when he wins, he shouts out “I win and you lose, Mommy!” He doesn’t say it with any malice, and technically he’s right, but I explained to him that even in winning we must be gracious, and encourage the other person for playing a good game. So now when I lose, he gently pats me on the back and says in a sweet sing-songy voice “Congratulations, loser!”
So today we’re playing the game, and I just happened to get lucky and make it to the winners circle. I won. His face was a little sad. He dropped the dice and started to pack up the game.
He said, “Aren’t you going to say Congratulations loser to me, Mommy?”
And suddenly, the importance of this moment sunk in. My son isn’t a loser because his roll of the dice was different than mine. He didn’t lose because his journey set him back on the gameboard. My head was spinning as I related this preschool game to my whole life. I could see our history on the multi colored spaces….
The Dexter’s Real Life Chutes and Ladders:
1993- My struggling business finally turns a profit after four years of loss. “LADDER”
1994 – It burns down. “CHUTE”
2003 – We take out a loan and build my husbands recording studio, which is booming with business. “LADDER”
2004 – It floods. “CHUTE”
2010 – We’ve finally paid off our debt. “LADDER”
2010 – We’re being sued. “CHUTE”
But did we ever pack up the game and walk away? Hell NO! We kept rebuilding, kept going after our dreams even with the knowledge that although other “chutes” could be in our future, the winners circle was still up there.
So I told my son, “Wait a minute, why don’t you finish the game?”
He looked at me confused, “But I lost, Mommy”
I answered, “Just because one person makes it to the top first, doesn’t mean the rest of us are losers. You keep going.”
So he did, and bless his little heart, every time he got to the very top, he’d land on this one terrible chute that would take him right back to the beginning. And I’ll be damned if that didn’t happen four times in a row. It got to the point where he was laughing so hard when it happened, he fell over in his chair. It took him another half hour to finally make it to the winners circle, but boy oh boy was that a sweet moment. We jumped up and cheered. Isn’t that just like life?
In teaching my son this lesson today, I think I’m the one who really learned the value of never giving up. When I think of the times I’ve been so discouraged, the times I just knew that someone else had already done it better, faster, slicker than me, whatever it was, and I just wouldn’t try. All the times I packed up the game and walked away, because someone else had made it to the top first – they had written the better song, the brilliant book…I walked away from my own chance to win.
And that chance is still there for all of us. Some of us may take a long time to get there. We may be middle-aged, hell, we may even be old (Betty White’s comeback at 88? Helloooo!) but we can still have our day in the winners circle.
….And if we help each other, maybe we can avoid a few of those chutes and get there a little sooner.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gratitude



If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thankyou, it will be enough.

- Meister Eckhart

Every year I struggle emotionally on Mother’s Day. Yes, I know it’s a fabricated holiday, created by Hallmark cards, and all that. But the sentimental ads, the tear-jerking commercials, well, they get to me. And it took me a whole week to get it together to even write this small blog entry.

Many of my friends on facebook gathered last week, as motherless daughters, to have lunch and celebrate each other on Mother’s Day. In a way, I envied them.

I, too, am a motherless daughter. Although my mother is alive and lives only 20 minutes away, she is not a part of my life. For years, I wanted so much for that to be different. I hoped beyond hope that we could mend the wounds of the past. When she wouldn’t join me in counseling, I went alone for years. But even my therapists told me to let go of the hope.

It’s like this: Sometimes we break a bone, and it can be broken clean in half, but with love and healing, the break can mend and the bone made whole again. Maybe not exactly the same as it was before, but healed no less. And then sometimes…sometimes it is just mangled, shattered and twisted to the point where there is no choice but to amputate, or die. And that, unfortunately, is how it was with us.

Even when I was little, I learned early on not to count on my mother, but thank God I had the good instincts to seek out healthy role models and look for other ways of being in the world. It took me a while to perfect that searching – I picked the wrong people quite a few times and got burned bad.

But I look at my life now and I marvel at all the people who helped me to grow up and become a whole person.

My husband, my children, and my new-found family surround me with so much love.

My friends, oh my god do I have the most amazing friends who inspire me and encourage me, who make me laugh, who sing with me, write with me, paint with me. Brilliant, brave strong women and men who just blow my mind with their gifts.

I remember years ago reading about the lotus blossom that only grows in the deepest sludge of the pond, and I hoped that would be me one day, learning to bloom in the muck. Even though I am now at mid-life, I feel like I'm just beginning to blossom in my heart, and all the ugliness and pain of the past got me here. That, and the love of those who surrounded me and pulled me into bloom.

So today, here is what I wanted to say on Mother’s Day, when there was no Hallmark card that said: thank you to all those who have nurtured my spirit and helped me to thrive.

Thank you Mother for giving me life when you were only 16 years old. You taught me to survive.

Thank you Father for working so hard to be a better man, after spending fifteen years in prison. You taught me never to give up, and that no one is ever beyond hope.

Thankyou my sweet husband for being the patient gardener of my spirit, tending me, watering the hostile ground, pulling out the choking weeds.

Thank you my precious children for needing me, so that my checking out of this world was never an option. Thank you for loving me to the moon and back, as I have loved you.

Thank you to my friends, my true blue always-there friends who have become my family.

To my new friends who have become the wind in my sails.

To my old childhood friends, found again, who have become as necessary to my life as breathing.

And thank you to my furry friends who lie beside me contentedly every morning as I write, purring, snoring, drooling…

What once was shattered has been pieced back together, becoming the mosaic that is my life, and every one of you is a beautiful shining piece in it.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Trust Fall




I’ve always thought of my life as a wild, white water rafting trip. I spent most of my days merely trying to stay in the boat, but I hoped that as I grew older and wiser, I’d learn to navigate a little better, handle the rapids, and to, at all costs, avoid plunging over the edge. There were a lot of years where I think I was actually under the boat, being dragged along the bottom, over the rough river stones, almost drowning at times, but still hanging on mightily. (The funny thing is I’ve never actually been river rafting – too dangerous! And that is probably the grander metaphor for my life, but I digress.)
At times when my boat got too heavy and threatened to capsize, I had no choice but to throw a few things overboard, like old baggage and toxic relationships. This was next to impossible for me, because I’m ridiculously sentimental and loyal. There would be these energy vampires hanging on to the edge, and I would keep reaching out, until they finally cut my hand off with a machete. And even then, had they ever apologized, I would have reached out yet again, with my other hand of course. But they taught me the hard way how to let go.
I have even plunged over that edge a few times, and am still here to tell the tale. (Oh but I don’t really like to.)
But now…what a magic time. I am in this magnificent flow. I’m riding with the current, rather than struggling against it, and its actually carrying me so beautifully I barely have to paddle. I’m feeling inspired, writing every day, am surrounded by magnificent people who give me so much love and encouragement. I can finally relax on this journey, lay back and enjoy the scenery. Right?
Oh no no no. My neurosis compels me to analyze how I got here, what caused it to be, how long will I be here, when will it end? Rather than being in the moment, I want to lasso the moment, break it and ride it at will. But if I’ve learned anything in my years on this planet, it’s that the sweetest things come when you let go of the reins.
Yeah, you know that Trust Fall thing? I’ve never been so good at that. Surprises? Don’t like ‘em. I’d much rather have a plan, maybe even a detailed diagram of how it’s all going to play out.
These days I’m pep-talking myself every morning - Life is good. Go with it! Every time I start to stress, I say “Surrender Dorothy!
So this is me - learning that life can be beautiful. Let go and trust fall……(breathe…breathe…)
Ready.
Set.
Here I goooooooooooooooo…………..