I have my family on my back. In tattoo form. A montage of trees and plants, flowers and leaves. They are the rendering of images that arise from Celtic Tree Astrology—the belief that we are born not under the power of the stars but under the power of the trees. Why this resonates so deeply with me I am not completely sure. I know that the need to have plants on my body came before the desire to have the trees that represent my family on my self. I feel—when I sit deep in that knowing that lives in my belly—that I was once a priestess of plants and flowers. A maker of potions and a guardian of all that grows from the earth. But in this lifetime the gift of growing that which begins in the dirt alludes me. The desire is there yet the skill has not passed through on this current journey of humanhood and so I place flowers and leaves on my skin in homage to the gifts of past lives.
I am the Ash Tree. In Celtic Mythology, the Ash tree is the World Tree—the tree that spans between worlds and the tree that represents The Tree of Life.
My son and middle daughter and my husband are all Holly—one of the most beloved and respected trees and the noble one among Celtic Tree Astrology, the Holly possesses protective qualities.
My youngest daughter is Hawthorn—one of the most sacred trees and the illusionist. Just like Gemini in Western Astrology, this shapeshifter isn't all that it appears to be. Fairies live under the Hawthorn tree as its guardians.
I am thinking lately about this forest on my back because two new souls have entered my family's lineage. Two new babies are now of this world and I feel the call to represent them on my skin. Conveniently (or not) they are both born under the Birch Tree. The first of the tree symbols, the Birch is the symbol of new beginnings. regeneration, hope, new dawns and promise of what is to come.
The promise of what is to come.
This meaning is lovely and right and makes sense to me. For this promise of the future, these babies hold this space. There is no expectation in this but merely the truth that they are the manifestation of the continuation of life. They are the as yet unknown opportunities. They are the creators of what is to happen. They are their next step in the evolution of their lifetimes—a huge undertaking and still a small step in the journey of their souls.
I am in awe of this and of them and the placing of them on my back as a part of the whole is an important task for me. In the nurturing of all that grows, their leaves intermingled within the others plants on my body means that I can feed them and hold them as they too grow forward into this time called their life times. This placing of the leaves in still to be determined locations is sacred. It is an honoring and a welcoming while it is a marking of time and place. Adding these two babies to the whole in this permanent way is my way of thanking them for choosing to become part of this family that they now belong to.
And so I will make time to get my ink on. And will find a rendering of the Birch Tree that captures what these new beings mean to me as they compliment the art on my back, a sign of their contribution to our tribe.
I am sitting here this morning thinking that this is the morning of the last day of 2018 and feeling this need to write something. And then sitting in the need for this and trying to figure out if I want to write something. And then examining the expectation that I have obviously now created for myself and figuring out what that exactly is and finally coming full circle but not really because I am ending up in a completely new place not in the place I started even though I am at this place where I am feeling the need to write something this morning.
I started this weekly writing that has turned into, over this last year, a monthly or a bit more than a monthly writing, in December 2014. This is four years ago. This is really cool. There are a lot of writings here. Many are deep in introspection. Some are light and filled with my mind's musing. Many, many (many many many many) are about my dog because she is perfect. And a few of them are funny.
These are the ones I want to write about today. Or rather share about today. The funny ones. The ones that I still think about or read again and laugh out loud with.
And to give credit where credit is due, this journey into the funny is inspired by my daughter, Teagan, who shared with me this morning that she had read last night my very first writing and how funny it was. Is. And I went, ah ha, because I had this feeling that I wanted to write something this morning. But didn't have something I wanted to write about. Until then. Now. And now I am writing about this. Finding the funny.
My very first writing. A funny trip down my aging body. But really a deep need to connect to others: Why I Wear Very Good and Extremely, Obscenely Expensive Bras and Other Healthy Ways of Coping with a Changing Body.
My parents came to visit and we had a very full day. CVS played a huge role and we ate donuts: CVS, Sinfully Sugary Donuts and a Salad.
While the conversation around my perfect dog is constant—how could it not be considering how amazing she is—there are other times that I spoke about other pets. This is one of those times: This Is Ophelia.
And this is another one: This is About Phoenix - and All The Other Pets We've Had.
There are still others that make me laugh. Some a lot. Some not as much. But laughter still. Moments perhaps in a deeper writing where laughter still springs forth as I read and am transported to that time when I was writing. Laughter about what I was writing about or what was happening during the writing—as often the experience of writing the writing is the most funny of all.
Here are two of those: the family bed took on a life of its now in our lives: The Family Bed, and the brilliantly coined adapta-jeans. . . need I say more? We Are In Nantucket But This Is Not About That.
And so you have it. A finding the funny in reflecting back on four years of writing. And a photo of my perfect puppy in wings. :-)
Happy New Year. Thank you for reading my writing today.
And it was just amazing.
An afternoon of open heart and deep sharing and community connection and these amazing musicians and talented artists offering their work and this yummy food and great wine and cold beer and we sold books that allows us to give even more to our community through the Greater Goods Relief Fund.
And we talked about Paradise, California and Malibu, California and we held these towns in our hearts and in our prayers because we understand. And we talked about climate change and our earth and we honored the spirits of the North and the South and the East and the West and gave thanks to their power and promised to honor and care for this land.
And I met people I already knew through social media and through the making of this book. Faces were added to names that I had been saying out loud for soon it will be ten months and to meet these people who gave their stories and their photographs and their art and their heart so willingly and with such grace and candor—this was amazing for me.
And we made the front page of the New York Times! I mean...the NEW YORK TIMES!!!!
I feel blessed to have been able to create this book with my book partner and sweet friend and I feel such joy that this launch was such a beautiful gathering. To be able to support my community—the tangible losses of home and job and the emotional grief that comes when a town is surrounded by fire—this fills my heart.
At one point a friend pulled my eyes up for a moment from the books I was signing as the Ojai sunset graced us with a beautiful pink sky and I took it all in.
Thank you for reading my writing today.
FROM THE FIRE: Ojai Reflects on the Thomas Fire
I am writing after not writing for quite a while. It is an uneasy flow writing. A thinking about writing, writing. These are not the writings that I love. I love the ones where the thoughts are fresh and run like rain that pours down into rivers and washes free and clear. I like writings where the ideas come to be without the thoughts first. Just that light of knowing and then the words follow swift and free and my writing is here to share. These I love.
But this, this writing with effort, this is not what I love. Yet this too is something important. And now, in this instant as I am typing these exact words I have my ah ha moment. And now the writing comes with ease because the message has become clear. This is why I am writing this. This is why I write.
I have gone through different stages in my life. Some easier than other. And through all of them I have always had these different thoughts. Sometimes, for many of the times, the thought was that it was ok or really quite right that the times were difficult because this is part of the journey. That we learn from the times where the growing is hard, the hills are steep, the pain is fierce.
But then I think more recently that it is in the ease of things that the path of truth flows through. That our lives are not supposed to be difficult. That when we stand in exactly where we should be it is natural and light and unfolds in effortless beauty.
But then I second guess again. Because those times where it still feels like a struggle at times, when this happens and I give up in those times—when I shift direction or turn around or stop cold in my tracks—what I have to see is whether this is honoring that the path is wrong because it is laced with boulders and steep ravines and dangerous falls, or whether I am avoiding the challenge to grow through the tough stuff.
Is everything that is right supposed to unfold with ease?
It is all much like this writing. It began in stops and starts. Sweet good words and then pauses of empty space where I did not know what came next. And then there was that opening. That moment where I went oh, this is why I am writing this. This sitting in the unease of it is part of the flow. It is not an all or nothing thing. It is an all and everything thing.
I am going to be a grandma! Which is probably one of the most wonderful things ever. And more than that, I am going to be a grandma twice! Two of my three children are having babies—three weeks and five days apart to be exact. Well, if they come when they say they are coming. They meaning the ultrasound and OB/GYN people. The they that are these perfect beings that are soon to be babies, they will come when they want to come and so I have been sending out loving and grandma like messages to them asking them to maybe work together and come far enough a part that I can get across the country from one to the other when their sweet breath and small hands and full hearts enter our world. I am thinking they are probably not listening to me. They are too busy growing and making their lungs strong and their kidneys healthy and tapping into their mommy's and their daddy's voices and love.
So this grandma person that I am now. That moment when I heard, when I learned that I was becoming this, that I was moving into this new place that I would inhabit and my heart filled with joy, grief came along too. It sat quietly but certainly let me know it was there. Tender actually in it's presence and it's knowing and I let it linger for a bit and then got down to business.
Grief when you are becoming a grandmother I googled. And what came up over and over again was "grieving because I will never be a grandmother" and "helping a grandparent who is grieving." Google did not understand my question and no matter how much I changed my words and rearranged my thoughts the information about this was the same.
This was much the same way when my son got married. I went a 'googling to see if I could find words to capture the strong feelings that arose from deep within my core. But there was nothing. So I wrote about it here. The fullness and joy of my boy and this beautiful woman who I just loved since she was seventeen getting married! And along with this, the deep sadness and loss. And grief.
I wrote back then there is wonder in this. And joy. And sadness too. But a good sadness. More an honoring of the passing of time and the change that is taking place in his life. And in my life, too.
And I wrote that I could not quite get what it all meant. And so, to learn this lesson fully, the universe gifted me more experiences to illuminate this message so that I would understand.
It was not a loss of my son, it was a loss of my self. A loss of who I was in that instant before and those moments before that. For when we step forward into the new place that fills us up and awakens the joy in our hearts and our souls, we step away from the place we were before. Every time.
There is loss in transition. And there is grief in loss.
I do not think this is talked about much when the grief settles in on those times where the world sees only joy. But really every moment forward is a loss of what is now past us. Every stone we step on as we move in our journey down river means we have left our wet footprint behind and can no longer see those flowers that grow along that part of the riverbank. We leave behind everything we love every day even as we love these things again when we awake.
And so these babies. These miraculous gifts of life that are coming forth into this world through my babies. This is spectacular. And now I know the lesson they are bringing with them. I can just now start to see them down river, they are waiting after the bend that will then block my view if I look back upstream. They are small and sweet and will define this new place that I am moving towards as I settle more deeply into my own life. They are the physical manifestation of the movement of life. And they will embody this transition fully.
Sometimes a writing comes along that touches that inner spirit, soul-journeying, power place and you say, ah, yes. These are words that sit with me. This is such a writing. Written by Deva Temple.
When you realize that this is your last lifetime, you suddenly find beauty in strip malls and you pay more attention to the way dried grass blows with a subtle breeze. You notice the solidity of a hug and the way dust is time's messenger. You tremble and release, tremble and release... You practice the jump into infinity. You weep for every reason. You meet joy and sorrow, love and grief, with utter equanimity, welcoming all as dear, old, sacred friends. You watch how smoke goes up into an empty sky and you recognize the mirror. You know that living your truth until the very last second is worth every possible price. You know that time is precious. You will never come this way again. You will not wait in line at the grocery store, wondering what the person in front of you is thinking. You will not be held up in traffic or make love or turn pebbles about in your hand or pluck at the grass or listen to the waves. You will not sing your favorite song. You will not drink beer or hold an asana. You will not laugh nor will you cry. Your story, your entire story, not just this story of you in this particular body at this particular time, but every story, every body, your entire transmigrational tale, it is going to disappear. You know this. You prepare yourself to be Nothing. You know yourself to be Everything. One by one, you let go of each thing: your family, your desire for money, the quest for power, old journals, clothes, beauty, youth, the yearning for life... You give up making love. Your body changes but you don't care. You stop caring if other people care. You give up fame. You give up striving. You give up all attachments. A fire comes and burns it all down and you stand there, open armed, open eyed, open hearted, and watch it burn, a sacrifice, your life, your being, an altar. You watch the smoke merge into the naked emptiness above. You recognize the mirror.
When you realize that this is your last lifetime you start to gaze at your beloved a little longer. You notice the way light reflects off his eyes, the depth of color, the tiny imperfections of the iris which make his windows so perfectly unique. You notice the souls all around you, making their way in bodies light or heavy, burdened or carefree. You notice their fear, their "I don't think I'm good enough," and you know that they are. You see the beauty of God in the old man sitting in front of you on the bus, how the sunlight illuminates his thin skin, how his liver spots tell a story of his unfolding journey. You fall in love with the heavy woman in front of you in line at Walmart. You see how Divinity hides in the movement of her flesh, so alike water. You forgive the rapist and the murderer. You hope that the truth you leave behind helps all of you on your journeys home. You know that we are in this together. You know that there is nothing "out there." You know that there is only One of us here. You open your body. You meet your fate: the pain, the love, the loss, the beauty, the horror, the surprise and the knowing... Arms outstretched, heart forward, you rise up like the mist, like sunlight, like the scent of hyacinth in the springtime, like a child's first cry. You escape. You dissipate. You expand. You release. You surrender. You pass through. You do not stop to admire the brilliance. You do not look back. You do not cling. You do not ask "what if..." You merge into the Emptiness. The all-knowing Void of Conscious Love. The singularity of time. You recognize This as your deepest Self, your most familiar Home. Origin. Source. Being. Truth. God. The Ineffable Infinite. Great Mystery... You hold this knowing without attachment, without regret, without longing, without doubt, without thought. You become utter Stillness. Empty-Full. Full Circle... Complete.
We did the family bed thing. For like years. And a friend once asked me—way, way back—if this was just the way it is...and what did I do if my kids said they wanted to sleep in their own bed? Well, I said, I tell them no, because this is about my needs. She was shocked. And I was shocked that she thought I was serious. Because this, this family bed thing, that's not what it's about. It's not about me. And it's not about this we-are-doing-this-one-thing-exactly-this-way thing. It's about comfort and reliability and connection. And it's about respect and growth and maturity. And about being independent while being interdependent and recognizing that both exist at the same time. It's about knowing that it's safe so that you can sleep anywhere because you know that you can sleep right here when you need that. This is what family bed is.
It's child led. And so it ebbs and flows and changes, sometimes in the same night. And it makes a good night's sleep complicated sometimes but makes every night's sleep a good sleep because your baby is safe and your child is close, whether they are in their own room or yours.
To make this work for us—my husband and I—we got double size beds in all our kid's rooms. When they went from the crib to a bed it was not a kid bed or a training bed or a twin-it-just-fits-one bed. It was a true double that two adults could sleep in comfortably bed. Because we knew that we would be in it a lot. In each bed. Either together—as in me and him—or with one or more of our kids, possibly not with the child who's room the bed was in. And of course with an assortment of cats and dogs, too.
Our nights were busy. Sometimes our children fell asleep in our bed. Sometimes they fell asleep in their bed and made it to our bed in the night. Sometimes one was in our bed and two were in another bed. When all three were in our bed we went to another bed. There was a lot going on.
There were those moments when I would hear a child cry out or reach out or call out and I would jump from a bed and run into the hall to have to stand still for a moment and remember what bed I just left to know what bed to go to to find the child that needed a hug or a hold or a soothing night voice. And there were those moments where my husband and I, we spent the night alone in our bed with each child in their bed and I would wake in the night for just a moment to listen to the quiet of breath through the house.
And it was all good. The busyness of it and the calmness of it. The moving from place to place and the comfort of being in one space altogether.
We did this for years. We did this until they didn't do this anymore. Even when they still did. When my son came home from college one year and I woke in the night to find him asleep on the daybed next to my bed. When my daughter stays over and lays in my bed because a mommy's bed is always the most comfortable even when it's not. We do this even when we don't do this—back then and now—because what this is, this family bed thing, it is that we are here. Whether when they were little and we held them close in sweet deep sleep or now when they know that we will always be just a bedroom away even if we are many states away. We are here. We will always be here. That is what this is all about. Always.
FROM THE FIRE: Ojai Reflects on the Thomas Fire. www.fromthefirebook.com.
I'm creating this book. With a friend of mine. We are new friends. I believe I have written about this book before and so you may already know this. We met on Facebook because we both wanted to create a book about the Thomas Fire. We have combined forces and are creating this most incredible anthology of our town's experience in what is the largest wild fire in California history.
We are finishing up the submission stage of this book. In truth, this stage was supposed to be finished in March. That was our deadline. Then May. Then June. And now, now. But this time is the real time. It is a hard stop.
And I am heading to Oregon next week to layout this book with all it's photographs and poetry, and reflection. And the interviews. We interviewed over 40 community members about their experience with this fire. And so we have this comprehensive fire story told from all these different angles - we know this fire.
And so, because I am so in this, this creating of this book I am feeling a bit stressed. As in really stressed. And this is really what this writing today is about.
First off I want to say that the fan on the Mac is running very fast and so I can hear it. This is new. It started to happen with I downloaded Chrome on this computer and then added theses two extensions because I wanted to back up my google drive to my dropbox. And then I freaked out because I am worried when I deal with technology. And so I ended up not doing that. And then the fan started. So I googled that and it said it may be because of Chrome which is what I was thinking since it never did this before this. So... I dumped Chrome in the trash and then dumped the trash. But here is my question... if I dump Chrome, so that it is off my computer, are the extensions off my computer, too? Since they are Chrome extensions. If someone knows the answer to this please let me know.
Even before this happened today I had a challenging day because I ran my car into a metal gate. This was an accident. I was going up to this beautiful spot in Ojai to interview this lovely man about his experience with the Thomas Fire and I went through the gate and misjudged the opening and scraped the passenger side of my car against the metal. Fuck. This is not a little scrape. This is an I bent the gate and dented my car and now the passenger door will not open kind of scrape. Uggghhh.
So that was that today, too.
And I am hungry. I am taking this breath text thing to see if I have "Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth" and so I could not eat anything but like plain chicken and rice. And black coffee. And then I need twelve hours with no food and then I breathe into a bag like a dozen times in different twenty minute intervals and send it off in a Fedex bag and voila - bacteria will show up or not. I think.
And not only am I hungry because of this I am stressed, too. Because I do not quite know how to administer this test and my lack of focus and ability to keep my attention to understanding instructions is preventing me from figuring it out at this time. It's an ADD thing that I have even though I do not have ADD. More, as my kids always said, I have the attention span of a squirrel. Which may be ADD. I don't have the focus to go figure that out either.
And so, this fire book. It's going to be quite amazing and most of the time I am loving creating it. And proud of it. And moved by it. And so grateful that so many people are open and sharing and supportive and excited about being a part of this book. It will be beautiful.
This is one of the few pictures of me and my sisters from our week away in Nantucket. When I first looked at it I didn't realize that my brother-in-law was lurking in the background and photo bombed my shot. But there he is. So this is a sisters with a brother-in-law pic. And is the best pic of the three of us from this trip.
The first attempt at a photo of the three sisters looked like this:
Selfies are not my skillset obviously. But still I do love this shot. It makes me laugh.
So does this one:
This is my younger sister and I seeing how I look with her hair. This is the kind of thing we do when we are together. This is why we laugh a lot. My older sister did not participate in this moment but I was able to catch her in another, equally funny moment.
Why, you may ask is my sister lying face down on the floor with her arms on a bunch of books? It is part of a menu of positions the my son is having her do to heal back pain. I actually have this same position in my group of positions, too. It is amazing how something so simple can work so well. You can learn more about it here.
I was thinking, when I started this piece today, that I would write about all the lovely parts of being sisters with my sisters. And then I went through the few photos I have and realized that short and sweet today is the way it should be. A few photos, because I did not take many. And a few words. And a lot of love. Because that is the best sister thing at all.
We are away as a family. It is a family tradition to go away. My dad is awesome about this, he takes us to places like Mexico and St. Thomas. Us means us, as in himself and my mom and the three of us sisters and our husbands and - until this current trip - all of our children. That is a lot of us's of us.
This time it is an adult us only trip even though half of our children are adults - perhaps more adult adults than some of us are quite often. This adult trip was an idea that came up around my parent's butcher block table in their kitchen last fall. We were talking about what should be our family trip and came up with the idea to have it just be us (see above).
Explaining where we are is an integral part of this writing because I am not writing this writing alone but instead with my sister -except I started without her - who I have written other writings with already. We've written about our dad, and about being happy together and about perspective. And today we are writing about adaptogens - but more specifically adapting to the current place that we are in, in our lives right now. Because when you start to need adaptogens you might also need adapta-jeans - a newly coined phrase for jeans that expand and mold to our ever changing bodily needs on any given day, (which are different than stretch jeans or maternity jeans.
An adaptogen is defined as "a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes." The operative words in this definition are the "bodily processes" because we started this writing because my sister went into the coffee shop and they were selling adaptogens and instead she bought a muffin. Actually this is not true, she bought a protein ball and a latte but she wanted the muffin because we're really talking about hot flashes.
Actually, we are not talking about hot flashes, we are talking about when our bodies change and how we navigate that in the best ways we know how. So while hot flashes are a part of this, it is more than this. It is our skin getting soft and thin and our hair changing color and texture. It is about the weight of our selves and the weight in our minds and our hearts when we look at ourselves and don't look like ourselves.
Looking outside ourselves for something to help us adapt to where we are at, while we are at where we are as we write this together, sounds so appealing. For example, taking adaptogens, or wearing adapt-jeans. But what we know - even when we don't want to know this because looking for a quicker fix is a lot easier than this other process - what we know is that looking within is really where the process starts.
Being aware of what we need means being aware of what we don't need. That sometimes we need to eat the muffin and sometimes we need to take the adaptogen. The problem is that we are so inundated with messaging from outside of ourselves telling us what to do to be ok inside of ourselves that we forget to look within and listen to what we know about our selves.
Looking within to recalibrate where we are. It is an examining of the flow of information through observation and is it the being able to distinguish the information we observe - to separate it into those things that truly sit with us and those things we can toss away. In other words, knowing what we need and knowing when we need nothing at all.
Now, about that muffin, we are going to go to this amazing donut shop at some point this week while we are here on this island.
Mother, Wife, Friend, Sister, Daughter, Dancer, Dog and Cat lover.