Tag Archive: Mindfulness

Cracked

windshieldcrackedLook, you say, cracks are how the lights gets through! We’ve surely all seen that meme…

Ugh I say. I mean, sure, of course. But let’s not forget that they’re also the way things shatter.

My husband and I were driving this weekend to the beach, for a quick and supposedly relaxing getaway at a friend’s place. We don’t get a lot of time together with our schedules and money is more than tight, so we try to squeeze things in when we can. We were grateful to have this chance.

The trip had already been shortened by a day due to our flooring install being pushed back and then taking longer than expected. Anybody that’s ever paid for work on a house knows that’s pretty much what to expect. Still, my work life had been a bit stressful, and then with the floors, I was feeling pushed around and annoyed, and really ready to get outta Dodge.

We were only about twenty miles out of town, just settling into that we’re going to be here a while lull. And then – dun dun dun – a motorcyclist zipped in front of us far too quickly from the passing lane, narrowly missing us, and slowed down even more quickly. Just as he pulled all the way over to the shoulder, a terribly loud WHACK brought me back to front and center. Something had hit the windshield right at my head level, and the cracks appeared immediately on the glass. They were only an inch or two long at first, but we knew they would the type that grew. I was grateful to the scientists who made this glass so much safer than it could have been. Grateful, but also skeptical.

Truthfully, I was filled with slow dread as I watched the cracks reach like very slow fingers for the dashboard. My mind, being already in a fairly dark place, started to wander into questions like “How far down can these cracks go before the whole windshield implodes on top of us?” and “So what would dying by a thousand cuts really look like?” and “Why haven’t I written that damn will yet?” You know, the usual…

I watched with continuing dread as the two largest cracks moved on a collision course with one another. That’s it, I thought, as soon as they hit each other, we’re done for. The entire window will shatter into blades, and with my blood thinners, I’m a goner before John even knows what hit me. It was just a waiting game at that point. Sure, I knew somewhere in the still-smart outer core of my brain that that isn’t how windshields work. Of course the window’s integrity would hold. Of course it would. Except, what if it didn’t? The very soft and silly inner core of my brain made some convincing arguments, and the outer core, knowing when it was beat, went to pout in the corner.

Staring death in the face, I started to focus on the reflections of the sun on the VERY sharp edges in the cracks. If I moved my head around just a little bit, I could make almost the entire edge shine, so sharp and deadly, and kind of pretty too. I mean, death is pretty sometimes, in some sort of cinematic way. Ah, the light was getting in all right, and all I could think about was how much I’m like that too, all damaged and cracked, and I could shatter too couldn’t I? Any time at all. Yes, it was all very pretty, but it was serious too. The edges of the cracks were all shiny and deathy in equal parts. And there it all was, the metaphor looming, no, growing right up in my face, menacing and real.

Broken things hurt. Shiny edges can cut. Of course being cracked means you can shatter, but it hasn’t happened yet. Not quite yet. Waiting around for things to shatter is not the funnest way to travel maybe, but hey, having a destination sure as hell beats standing still. For one thing, there’s the view.

Anyway, the cracks were going to grow now no matter what we did, so we just kept heading for the beach. The paths finally crossed on the glass after an hour or so. I imagined (again and again and… yes again) the center cutout piece just popping into my lap quietly. I would pick it up and hold it in my hands, staring at those shiny edges almost calmly, just before the whole window crashed in on me. Yes, again, I knew it was safety glass, but still, a perfect dagger-sized piece was just pointing right at me. How could I not poke at that in my head? It’s what I do.

Of course, we made it to the beach just fine, and I let it go for a while, swimming in the ocean and forgetting, until it was time to go home. Driving made the cracks grow faster, and this time I was sure that the second time the paths crossed would be it. The end. “They’re almost at a right angle this time,” I thought, “no way even safety glass can resist that!” I contorted my head the whole way home, watching the beads of sunlight ride up and down the edges, seeing myself in the light and wondering at the likeness. Wondering at how cracked I can be, and yet so shiny too.

Leather sofa seeks new adventures, and so do I

Old house in rear view mirror

So it’s been 2 months since I said we were selling our house, and guess what? We sold our house, with 4 offers in 2 days of showings. We bought a weird, character-rich house not too far away, much smaller, much older, much more us. And like us, it’s definitely a fixer-upper! Still, we love it, and don’t feel like we’ve lost anything we weren’t ready to lose all along. Yes, that includes a little bit more sanity. It’s okay though, we’re both ready to do this whole big new thing.

We gave up about 500 square feet of living space, and are still coming to terms with letting go of all the extra stuff. We both enjoy the lightness that comes with letting it go. But the tugs of memory are still there, attached to things that have been so much more than just things. The table where our kids did homework, learned (hopefully) table manners, played table-pong. I could write pages about the things that table has seen. But, alas, we have no dining space in the new house, so off it went. With each thing gone, I soak in the memories, roll around in them, and let them stick. The thing doesn’t own the past, I do. The thing doesn’t own me, I do.

And so last week I listed the old leather sofa for sale. The ad is below. Writing it was really kind of awesome – cathartic, you know? And I’m releasing the sofa, and all the things, out into the wild. Just like everything else, letting go is hard and amazing.

I think the Disney fairy tale has ruined our expectations of life. The plot is always just this One Big Problem, then it’s solved by some prince or other, and then, um, The End. Happily ever after, whatever the heck that means. Life isn’t just One Big Problem though, it’s full of problems and solutions and wonder and pain and growth. Some days you have to claw your way into just being OK. Getting older teaches us what we should have always known, that we can and will move on through whatever is happening at the moment. We are resilient because that is what life is for, I think.

So I’m selling my stuff, and keeping my memories, good and bad, and making new memories, good and bad. We’ll get new stuff, and it will age and tear and learn to adjust to us as things usually do. The wheel is still turning, and I’m going to enjoy the ride as long as it lasts, as long as the new sofa lasts, and maybe the one after that too.


used leather couch

Leather sofa seeks new adventures

This sofa has had an amazing life so far and is ready for a new adventure with you.

This soft, supple, brown leather sofa has been loved by children and dogs and assorted adults for going on ten years now. It has served as the base of operations for hundreds of hours of Netflix and naps, and overnight sleeps. It is so comfortable that the dogs and the children have fought semi-epic battles over it. Friends at parties have buddied up to fit four, once even five, happily on its ample cushions.

It has a few battle scars, and certainly a little bit of dog hair in spite of our efforts to keep it pristine. It resembles us in that way, there’s always a stray dog hair somewhere. We call it character.

There is a small tear hidden in its folds on the right armrest, and another on the cushion next to that. There are some additional scratches on the cushions – I blame the dogs, but even so, it’s really my own fault for being afraid to trim their nails more. And letting them on the couch at all – as if I had a choice. If there are any additional tears, I do not know about them.

This couch has never smoked a cigarette, nor has anyone nearby. I do believe someone “vaped” on it a time or two, but once caught, he was sent packing.

Why are we selling this love of our lives? We have downsized into a much smaller home and changed color schemes to brighten the place up. Much like us, our new house is going gray. Believe me, if I had a pool room or basement hangout, this couch would never leave my life.

We drive tiny cars and can’t deliver, and probably can’t carry it to your vehicle without help (we had young’uns carry it in to the new place for us). It’s about 38” deep, 88-90” long.

I’d like to ask $1000 for it, but realistically, how about $150? Hurry before I change my mind about the gray…


P.S. The sofa isn’t for sale just yet, the new one will take a while to arrive and begin its new adventures!

Flavor

art

If during your daily travels

you see some mad cacophony

of art and pain and messy life

and think

This is not for me.

then it’s ok to walk away

or run or crawl.

But if you find yourself thinking

Oh but what if I just tasted

one smidgeon, one lick,

I wonder what it’s made of, after all.

then taste it my dear

and learn the feel of it on your tongue

because it’s never too late

for a flavorful life.

 

~ Liesl Dineen 2016

A different way

My counselor told me I’m doing things a different way. It was the best thing she could have said in that moment, where I was calling myself a coward or a doormat or whatever. Rewriting my oft-rewritten history. Being incredibly unkind to myself.

And she’s right. The path I’ve chosen can sometimes feel like giving up, and when I look back I cruelly decide I haven’t grown at all and I’m still just letting bullies kick me without standing up for myself. No, no bullies ever actually kicked me, ouch. It’s a metaphor – stick with me here.

When my son was little, he started taking a school bus for the first time, and reported to us, his parents, that he was being picked on by some kid on the bus. Simultaneously, his father and I responded with advice.

“Tell the driver. Try to talk it out.” I said, believing in a system that has really never worked in recorded history except in pamphlets.

“Hit him as hard as you can!” said the father of our already far-too-interested-in-violence 5 year old.

And here folks, you can see the deep cracks between parenting styles that exist regardless of divorce, but of course would become much wider in that inevitability. And while I realize that the short answer, hitting back, would likely be more effective than my own sad little peaceful entry, I just can’t bring myself to call it right.

Over the last 8 or 9 years, I’ve been called crazy by that man, and by my children. I’ve been called abusive. I’ve been kept from my children and lied about, hated and ignored. And you’d think that with all my heart I would be ready to fight back, to hit him as hard as I can. But that’s not me, and knowing this in my heart has been a gift and a curse beyond anything I ever expected to know on this planet. Sometimes I see it as weakness, and I call myself names like pathetic. Sometimes I need the people who know me best to snap me out of it. Sometimes those people tell me to hit him as hard as I can. Nobody likes to see a loved one getting bullied, it’s a natural reaction.

But, and maybe it’s from all that Sesame Street I watched, all that Mr. Rogers, I just know where it goes when you meet ugliness with ugliness. You become ugly. It grabs hold of you and spreads across your skin and eventually into your heart, and you become a different and harder thing. I don’t want to be that thing. I choose not to, again and again. This isn’t weakness, friends. It’s actually incredible strength. It’s character, and it’s solid, not a quivering thing like I sometimes believe. I’m not quivering, and I never have. I mean, sobbing sometimes, which makes me shaky, but no, no quivering.

And so because I haven’t fought back, I’ve allowed myself to “lose” the last thing I was holding onto from the recent post-divorce part of my past, the house I bought to raise my children in through high school. True, my last child is still in high school, but I haven’t seen her since she was in, what, mid-7th grade? It’s not likely she will return to me before she’s done. And really, I’m mostly okay with losing this house. We made so many compromises, my new husband and I, when we bought it – a few short months before our wedding date. We bought enough bedrooms for all our kids, in a school district that would be the least trouble for my children’s father to get to. A lot of bad moments happened in this house, the struggles with alienation, and the loss after, the fighting we did when we had no idea what was really happening to us all. But so many great things have happened here too. We fell back into love in the quiet, began gardening, making the space our own inside and out. We began to foster homeless dogs, and threw parties, and built the fire pit of my dreams – simple, like camping. And we set stuff on fire!

And now, we’re ready to move on, looking ahead in spite of the low blows we’ve been dealt again and again. There is no real loss here, just regaining who we are, who I am at my core. I am doing things a different way, the same different way that has seen me through all of the tragedy a life of 50 years will bring, and all of the wonder too. I am proud as hell of myself, my strength, and my husband too. We are excited about the future, and the amazing new fire pit we will build, the gardens, the warmth of our crazy life together.

No, make no mistake, this isn’t a gift, it’s not a blessing in disguise. WE are what make the good that comes from ugly things. We are the blessing, and we aren’t in disguise. We’re right here beside you, the people who choose every single day to make the best of things, to act in kindness, mindful of the lives around them. To do things a different way. This way works. I hope you try it.

Oh, and, um, wanna buy a house? It’s got a magical fire pit out back…

12033064_10153139236104786_5358888560666154184_n

Leave a Note

MailboxEven though I live just a few hours away, I don’t get to the beach enough. I resolve every so often to change that, and keep failing to make it happen. So sometimes it takes a friend to get you where you want to be, and I was lucky enough to be invited by a lovely person to spend “Flotilla Weekend” at Wrightsville Beach. I went for just 24 hours, due to schedules, but it was a wonderful blend of old and new friends and surprisingly perfect weather.

The thing that really topped it all off was the mailboxes. My friend Bill is generous beyond what most of us can imagine, and opened his rental home to a large group of friends for Thanksgiving and the weekend after. While we were there, he told us about “the mailbox.” It’s north, he said, just keep walking on the beach until you find it. You see, there’s this mailbox, right on the beach, and people leave notes and the stories of their lives there. The mailbox has been there for a long time, and was once lost to storms and relocated slightly for safety. The museum in town is now home to many of the filled-up notebooks, because people keep coming, and they keep writing.

They write in the notebooks or on loose paper about their loves, their losses, their hopes, and their pain. Bill told us, when he caught up with us at the mailbox, that he’s read several suicide notes there before. There’s no way to tell what happened to the authors. We have to fill in the blanks for ourselves. Some notes are signed, some just left behind. Some are funny – one couple had each made lists of the annoying things the other did (“You talk too much.” “You’re always eating tacos.”) and ended each with an “I love you.” People leave their stories in the mailbox facing the water, no return address. They likely say things they haven’t said before and don’t want to say anyplace else.

I was so grateful that my traveling companions were more than willing to go on the way out of town. We found the mailbox, and they began to dive in to reading the notebooks while I waited a minute just inhaling the salt air. I am recharged by the beach, and sometimes just taken with the beauty of it all, and I tend to just stop like that sometimes when I’m there. A lovely older woman stopped to talk to me about my Maurice Sendak shirt. It’s from In the Night Kitchen, and every single time I wear it, I meet somebody interesting.

Me in my Sendak shirt, my friend Bill, and the mailbox.

This woman told me that Maurice felt like an old friend because he’d helped her teach her daughter to read, and I said, yes, me too, my kids too. She told me her story, how her daughter in the 8th grade had vowed to go to college right there by the beach, and how it had come to pass, how she’d visited the area first in 1980 and decided she wanted to retire there. How she’d wisely invested then, thinking it would all be ready for her later that way. How her mother had moved in when she was still living in Raleigh “just for a couple of years” and had stayed for 27, delaying the beach by a lot. She’s been living at the beach for five years now, and she looks wonderful, at peace.

“There’s another,” she told me, another mailbox, just a little bit farther north up the beach. She wasn’t sure which came first. When she turned back around to tell me one more thing, she laughed and said “Can you tell this is my people time?” I laughed in delight and recognition. I was having my people time too, and enjoying it while I was there, even though I was already longing to get lost again inside my own thoughts.

I read the notebooks then, and wrote one sentence, and Bill showed up, and we all read together mostly quietly. It was almost anticlimactic for me, I’d just had a great story from a nice lady, and I was already feeling filled up. It was time to go and find the other mailbox, one that Bill wasn’t sure existed, but I was. I was absolutely sure it would be there.

Mailbox1 Mailbox2

And so it was.

Even after Google searches, I can’t really tell which came first, just that there have been iterations of mailboxes. There’s another, as well, somewhere on Bird Island to the south, called “Kindred Spirit.” At any rate, to me, this one was the “second” mailbox, and I loved it totally just for being there.

Sadly, it was mostly empty though, with just a simple card inside. It was a funeral card with pictures and a short wrap-up of a life well-lived. There were other notes scribbled on the card; it was the only paper in there. This mailbox needed paper. I remembered then that I’d told my friends on the drive to the beach that I carried a small notebook that I’d been sent as a gift after donating to NaNoWriMo, but I never wrote in it. I send myself emails instead, odd cryptic things often sent in the middle of the night, to remind me what to write about next, what matters. I’d been carrying this notebook unused for months. And so, of course, of course, I knew the notebook belonged here in this mailbox, facing the waves and collecting stories.

Mailbox3Sometimes I get caught up in telling my own story. I’d written almost 55,000 words in November, all my own story. I still have more to write, and someday it will be a book and that will be a great day. But in the frenzy of all this writing, I realized I’d been closed off from the stories of others. I had joked with my travelling companions, truthfully, that my counselor ordered me to socialize during that wild month of writing madly. She said I needed a “tether” to keep me from floating off into my own bubble. She was kinder than that in her phrasing of course, but that was the point – I need people, connection, to remind me that I’m on earth, to keep me grounded, at least a little bit.

So when I left that notebook, feeling very touched by serendipity, I felt more connected to everyone than I have in a good while. We are human beings, and we are made of stories. Sharing them is such a huge part of what makes us whole. So please, like the mailbox says, leave a note, and don’t worry if anybody reads it, because you are here, now, and you have a story to tell.


Thank you to the friends who keep me attached, albeit a bit loosely, to this crazy spinning marble. I am truly grateful to share so many stories with you.

If your cup is full

Ripple in still water, when there is no pebble tossed, nor wind to blow.

Long ago, I went to Dead shows with the man who became my first husband, and danced. Always, I hoped to hear this song. It makes me happy, in that connected to music kind of way. I’m not sure if it’s a deep song, or the total opposite. It’s just Jerry, you know? I miss that dude as if we were really friends. I guess that’s what music does, and writing, and art. We want to make it all complicated, but what it comes down to is connection. It’s a hug across time and space, an extension of a hand for a friendly shake, or a smack on the back of the head. It’s a reminder that as alone as I sometimes pretend to be, I’m not. There are others.

I forget. I fall into the deep holes and think I’m the only one who ever had to climb my way back out. I sometimes want to paint the story of me on my face, so people can see, and know what I’ve been through. But there’s not enough paint, and that’s okay, because it’s not like I’d be the only one with face paint, we’d all be covered, and maybe that’s what tattoos are for. Maybe that’s the point, telling our stories on our bodies, in our music, words, anything, everything. Life is stories, and mine aren’t more special than yours. They also aren’t less special. That’s what art is, stories that remind us we’re connected.

I’ve wondered since I was just small why it is that most people can’t see that we’re all the same inside. Ask a shark who’s bitten us, we’re the same inside! This crazy existence connects us, and we’re born knowing that, getting it on some basic level, and then we spend most of our lives convincing ourselves that we were mistaken. And the world, the human world, just gets more and more whacked out every day with all these people trying so hard to forget that we are all alike inside. It’s so off-kilter now I don’t know how it stays in orbit.

People tell me to lighten up sometimes, when I tell them something isn’t funny when it’s not. Like rape jokes, race jokes, hate jokes, mean jokes, and stuff that separates, stuff that makes someone else smaller. And I tried for a long time, because like Amy in Gone Girl, I wanted to be Cool Girl. It meant so much to me to be Cool Girl, I was willing to step into someone else’s outline and try not to push it out of shape. It took a long time to see that it was a chalk outline, and I was dying inside. So I want you to know I’m not cool, and I’m okay with that. Those jokes suck, they’re a way to tell yourself that you’re better than, above it all. And you’re just not. Even if you own a thousand hotels, you’re not. You’re just one of us, living on this crazy spinning marble that somehow keeps making trips around this wild, hot, fierce star without burning up. And ever since I was little, I’ve known on the most basic level that we are so lucky to be here. Even at my lowest, I’m grateful for the trips around the sun.

I’m grateful, also, for the connections. The musicians and writers and poets and painters and thinkers are part of all of us. I wish I could live long enough to hear it all, see it all, read it all, write it all, and to just watch things unfold. So two lines from Ripple for you:

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again.

(full lyrics)

I wish you full cups of life, say a toast to all your neighbors on this planet, and suck that stuff down.

Infinity

hug

You who hugged me once

Did you notice the gift you left?

How some of you pulled right off, and stayed with me

And as you left I felt you sticking to my skin?

 

I’ve carried these traces of you

Over long decades or hours

Through fires and catastrophes

Into parties and late nights alone in the dark

 

And during the times I couldn’t love myself

I clutched my shoulders tight and felt you there

Knowing somehow I’m alive on your skin too

And this might just be the way we live forever

 

~ Liesl Dineen 2015

It was what it was

serenity

It may not shock you to learn that I’ve spent the last many years feeling that I wasted most of my life. That’s a rough statement, really, but true. Also, I probably did waste a lot of it. I mean, I took my own sweet time in limbo. And so, after years of therapy and deep digging, countless hours of agonizing over pretty much everything anywhere, I have come up with two words to say about that.

“So what?”

So… it really sucks.

“So what?”

So… some people are cruel and their actions and lies have hurt me and mine. Life isn’t fair!

“So what?”

So… oh. Um… Well, I suppose I could learn from it and move on.

“Yeah! You got this!”

Sure I still tell the tales of loss and woe here and there, but it’s just a story now. An origin story. My origin. Not as exciting as “I was bitten by a radioactive spider” as stories go, but you gotta work with what you have.

Everybody suffers. The world can be cruel and harsh, and so many humans are not humane. And so what? We are here, now. Who we are now is made up of who we have been and what we’ve come through. Of course our origin stories help define us. But when it comes to what we can actually DO about anything, all there is now is now.

I’m skating on the edges of serenity these days. I can feel the truth of things flowing through my awareness. I can feel the power of letting go, setting myself free from the guilt and obligation, and even the pain of my past. It is done and gone, and my trying so hard to change it has kept me standing still for a while now. I can learn from that too. Nothing is wasted of my life, I am here, now, because I was there, then.

Wait, I hate that, oh, I still want to fight that in my heart, because I want to agonize and hate my past forever, and light furious fires over so many injustices.

But no. The simple things are true. I’m here now because I was there then. 

It was what it was.

And now my feet are facing forward, and I can move ahead. That, all of that, the past, was what it was. Now is time for what is, and for thinking about what will be, if I choose to make it so. Now I feel the power, because I am creating my own life. I may not be Spider-man, but I am mighty.

I am mighty, hear me… meditate?

So yeah, serenity and peace can be hard, especially with all the chaos around us right now. But if ever there was a time for us to be kind to ourselves and one another, this is it. It is what it is because we are making it so. We can choose to waste our time (is it really wasted?), or to see things differently, or to set healthy boundaries, or to shake things up in our own way. We are not as stuck as we might think we are. We can change every moment that follows this one.

The past was what it was, and I’m slowly and gracefully (or not) becoming who I want to be, with at least a touch of serenity.

Lightening up

 

joy

Today

I noticed

How heavily the quilts

Of guilt and pain

Have been weighing

On my shoulders,

And I let them fall

Thumping to the floor

In a swirl of dust and loss.

They never kept me warm

Anyway

And I’m not sure

I ever really knew before

Just how miraculous

Freedom can feel

On my bare skin

And just how strong

My shoulders are

When I only have

Myself to carry.

 

~ Liesl Dineen

Day 5 of 5-day challenge.

Remedy

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You must practice this please,

At least three times daily.

Now repeat after me,

Because these words will change lives.

They will change the world.

And they will make you better.

Are you ready?

Steady now, here goes.

Remember.

Repeat repeat repeat.

“Me too.”

 

~ Liesl Dineen

(5-day poetry chain challenge, day 2.)

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