Monday, December 29, 2008

When the words don’t come, what do I write about? The fact that I can’t write, I guess. It’s been a hell of a ride lately. I’ve struggled mightily with my own brain, which sometimes seems like it’s trying to eat itself. But it’s telling me something, and I’m trying hard to listen while not taking it 100% seriously. That’s the thing about depression; you can’t trust what your thoughts are telling you, but your brain is the only way to interpret the world. It’s like being blind – you know that there’s a world out there that you can’t see with the organs that are designed to see it. You have to see in other ways. In depression, you have to figure out what’s going on in the world using tools other than your normal understanding. You ask friends, you read books, you try not to make any major decisions because you don’t know what’s true.

Mainly I’ve been using all my energy just trying to stay balanced in the storm of emotion, trying not to go overboard one way or the other. Trying to stay compassionate and open, flexible and forgiving. And having, honestly, pretty inconsistent luck at it.

Relationships are hard. People are complicated (including me). I’m sometimes na├»ve about people and what they want and need. And my brain thinks it knows how the world should be. But still, I’m trying to learn and not be reactive when things don’t go the way I think they should. It’s a lesson in acceptance, in being in the moment, in letting go of expectation, in unconditional love, and it’s a hard won lesson. Sometimes, like today, I feel like I’m getting it. And sometimes, I feel like it’s something I’ll never fully learn. That the world isn’t here to make us happy, but we can be contented and joyful no matter the circumstances, if we learn to appreciate what we have rather than mourn what we don’t. In the last month I’ve grappled with a lot of pain and confusion that are nobody’s fault but mine, and also had moments where I catch glimpses of the joy and expansiveness that can also be mine, if I so choose.

With all of this, it’s been hard to find the time to write.

Best wishes for 2009 and may all beings be at peace.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What A Summer….

So much loss, for myself but mostly for others. Three loved ones of friends dead, suddenly and too young; one long-time feline companion dead, suddenly; one relationship dead, one friendship dead that probably should have died a long time ago, and then…boom….in the midst of it all, I found it: the love I’ve been looking for.

Holy crap.

I've always been cynical about constant seeking. I know there are people who spend their entire lives trying to find the thing that will make everything okay, whether it's a particular religious teaching, a spiritual guru, a physical discipline, or a philosophy. The closest thing I've had to this is my self-help work, and even this I've mainly given up because, after years of self-improvement, I decided I'm fine the way I am and always have been. Even though I think we should all strive to learn and grow and be better people, I think too much seeking and focus on self-change is unhealthy and takes us away from the present moment, where, if we paid attention, we'd realize we are perfect the way we are. It's the same with constantly seeking happiness. I don't believe there is a place called Happiness. We can learn the habits of being happier and more content, but we’ll never reach a permanent place called Happiness. On the other hand, I realize I have been seeking something my whole life, and that thing is Love, with a capital ‘L’. A place no less mythical than a place called Happiness or a place called Truth.

As a serial dater, I’ve always had a vision of what I wanted out of a relationship; it’s never been so much how my partner looked or what he did for a living, although I've always had my assumptions about those things, but it’s always been more about a feeling I would have when I found that person I was supposed to be with. During the times I’ve been in relationships, I’ve always spent way too much time being anxious and worried when I haven’t felt that indefinable feeling that I’ve decided means I’m in the right relationship. Looking back on it, I realize I was making mountains out of molehills, most of the time worrying about things I shouldn’t have been worrying about, and occassionally not worrying about things I should have been worried about. The one or two times I’ve been with a man who could have made it work with me, I’ve been too judgmental and not mature enough to make it work. During every relationship I’ve ever had, I’ve always spun off into doubt, always spent time wondering if this was “the one”, even though, intellectually, I don’t believe in “the one” or soul mates and all that. And I’ve always managed to find a way to make it not work out, either by virtue of choosing someone who could never be a healthy partner, or by my fabulous ability to mess things up with the right partner. This is how I ended up 38 and single.

And then, right in the midst of doing it again, I just dropped all of that. All the rationalizing my own fears and apprehensions, pretending my reasons for not loving this fabulous person in front of me were valid and logical. I realized that I was being stupid, or at least immature, and that if I didn’t act fast and open my heart to what was right in front of me, I’d be sitting alone again, regretting, once again, that I had missed out on the opportunity to experience what I’ve been seeking all these years. So, on a walk in the park on a windy summer’s day, I did what my heart told me to do, ignored my head, slid my arm through his and embarked on a new adventure.


And then, a funny thing happened. I started to feel the way I've always wanted to feel. Not stupidly in love the way the Hollywood movies say, and not completed, because I've always been complete, but more balanced and stronger, more willing to step up to the plate because it's not just me, anymore. Safer. Less bored. More aware of the things I shy away from, and more willing to go there. And, paradoxically, more comfortable in my own skin.

And right now, in this moment, I feel I’ve found Happiness and Truth and Love, all in the same place. Not the fairytale kind, where nothing bad ever happens ever again and the knight on the white horse vanquishes the dragons and ogres to win my hand, whereafter we retire to the castle and the screen goes black; not that kind. The real kind, where monsters rear their ugly heads and we deal with it. Where we have moods and sometimes say and do the wrong things, where we have misunderstandings and fears and anxieties, where there are zits and farts and nosehairs and old baggage and family weirdness and jealousies and work and practical matters to consider. But where, at the end of the day, we fall asleep in each other’s arms and wake up there, too, just glad to be together, and more or less confident that we can deal with the stuff that comes up.

That’s all I’ve ever wanted, and if I had slowed down earlier in my life to see how my own neuroses were contributing to my unhappiness in relationships, I may have found this earlier. But that’s OK, because if I had found it earlier, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Happily in love with someone as complicated as I am, in a grown-up relationship with a wonderful grown-up man, looking forward to all those grown-up relationship things that someday I’ll probably complain about.


Maybe that's what grief teaches us: to pay attention to love and happiness.

Friday, September 19, 2008


With that Moon Language

-hafiz

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them,
“Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;
Otherwise,
Someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us
To connect.

Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,

With that sweet moon
Language,

What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
Hear.

Source: The Gift

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Take Care of Yourself!

Tonight, I'm going to a funeral. A friend of a friend, who I think was in his late 40's or possibly 50, but no older, died of a heart attack last weekend. He had diabetes and didn't manage it well. Now his friends and family are devastated. I was hoping to see him at a barbecue I'm holding on Saturday; now I'm going to his funeral on Thursday instead.

I had a boyfriend once, the subject of many a teary blog post here, who was (is) a serious alcoholic. He always used to say things like "I never expected to live this long, so I can do whatever I want now, since I'm living on borrowed time." I used to listen to this and in my heart, wonder "What about me?" I always half expected that he'd die of a heart attack, a stroke, or suicide, suddenly, and that I'd one day get the call that he was gone. Sometimes, when I couldn't get in touch with him, I would think "this is it." Once when he didn't show up for work and both I and and his boss had forgotten that he'd told us he wouldn't be in until later, I was convinced that he'd died in the night. I actually went to his apartment in the middle of the day and pounded on the door. In my anxiety, I thought I heard someone moving around in there. Of course, it turned out to be yet another false alarm.

I know several people - we probably all do - who don't care for themselves properly. None of us is perfect, and life is always unpredictable. You can live the perfect, healthy lifestyle and still die of heart disease - or impact with a bus - far too young. But we can better the odds, and we can do it, if not for ourselves, for the people in our lives who love us.

It's hard to take care of ourselves, and sometimes scary. Nobody wants to deal with diabetes, or get a bad diagnosis, or face our addictions, or go to the dentist. But getting ready to say goodbye to a man who had friends, and a child, and colleagues, and extended family, and who could have lived for a good 40 years longer, makes me want to shout at all the people who are burning the candle at both ends: Take the time to take care of yourselves! Go to the doctor for that troubling symptom you've been too scared to face; if you have a diagnosed condition, follow your doctor's orders; if you're getting older like we all are, get that prostate exam or that mammogram or whatever is recommended; if you know you have a problem with substance abuse (and you know it if you do, even if you don't want to admit it), get help. Do it, not for you, but for the rest of us. So we don't have to sit in shock, wondering at how the world can all of a sudden be empty of you. Because we love you.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Goodybe, Old Buddy

I lost a 14 year friend last night. Held his head in my hands as the doctor injected an overdose of anasthetic into his veins, watched as his eyes became still and that ineffable spark of life in his body went out. I was staring too hard at his face to notice when he finally stopped breathing. Even then, at 11:30 pm on a Friday night in the 24-hour emergency pet hospital in Berkeley, lightheaded from not having eaten enough and slightly nauseous from what I had to decide, I wondered at how one second, he was there, and the next, he wasn’t. It wasn’t just the breath, it was something else, some heat, some bit of life, that faded away like the image at the end of a movie. Blink. Something was gone, and then he was just a still, lifeless mound of black on a pile of blankets in a room at midnight.

The cute-in-a-scruffy-way young vet who had a hard time looking me in the eyes was pretty sure it was a blood clot that had cut off the circulation to Merlin’s hind legs. The prognosis was bad – any treatment would have been expensive, painful, and not likely to work. Most cats throw another clot soon after the first, which is incredibly painful. So, I signed the paper and sat with Merlin for the last five minutes of his life stroking his sweet face like black velvet, and feeling myself letting him go.

I think the loneliest feeling in the world must be to be in a stark, sterile room, alone, close to midnight, on a Friday, having to decide between the life and death of your closest companion. I can’t imagine the feeling of having to make that decision for a child or partner.

Merlin was a fat, cantankerous cat. He snored. He bit and scratched – not from meanness, but because he didn’t know his own capabilities for causing pain. He was lazy, and never caught anything but a tossed stuffed mouse toy. Any interaction was on his terms alone. Sometimes he gave me a look that, if it were a person, would have withered me in my tracks. As it was, I knew him for a big softie who loved to curl up with his back against me at night, loved his chin to be scratched, and hated it when I pulled on his tail (which I did anyway, just to hear that cute, cranky sound he made when I did it.)

Merlin and I were very close, probably too close. I sometimes joked to him that he was my real boyfriend; the most consistent, present, and affectionate male in my life who wasn’t related to me. He was the one I came home to at night, the one I missed when I was out of town, the one who shared my bed, the one I reached out for in the night when I had a bad dream or couldn’t sleep. I remember once, on a particularly bad night when I had had a fight with a boyfriend and was feeling low, I accidentally stepped on Merlin and he ran to hide from me. When I couldn’t coax him out to eat, I started sobbing uncontrollably. His withholding of love seemed to me the last straw, that night.

I got Merlin from the Berkeley animal shelter when he was 4 weeks old. He wasn’t that much bigger than a tennis ball. I had just moved into my first “adult” apartment – the first apartment where I had to pay the rent myself, the first place I moved into after college. He ‘s been with me my entire grownup life.

Waking up this morning, every little sound seemed to me to be Merlin, and after every sound, I remembered anew that he was no longer there with me. That wasn’t him jumping onto his favorite sunning spot in the window of my office, or him pawing food bits out of his food bowl so he could eat them on the floor (I always thought that was a weird thing to do, but hey, he was quirky.) He wouldn’t pad into my room, take his normal circuitous path to the bed, then sit and stare at me for a bit before curling up and going back to sleep. Or reach out his paw as I got out of bed, trying to snag some part of me with one long claw.

This has been a summer of loss for me, a summer that started out so promising. I’ve lost a friend, gained and lost a lover, lost a long-time animal companion. I know these losses don’t account for much on the spectrum of losses, and I’m grateful that I’m being taught my lessons in impermanence in such a mild way. Not that those losses haven’t hurt, but I know people who have lost more, much more, this summer. But you can’t compare grief, I guess. And grief and loss are necessary complements to love. You can’t have one without the other. The flip side of all the grief this summer is that in order to feel it, I must have the capacity to love, also.

I’m sitting here drinking strong, bittersweet coffee. That’s appropriate, I think. The weather is fabulous, the sky blue and sun strong. In awhile I’ll go pick up Merlin’s body from the vet and bury him along with Xochi, the other kitty spirit in my life, and think of how much he loved the sun.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

When the Heart Breaks

Heartbreak again. I know it so well, and it never fails to knock me to my knees like a sucker punch. Standing at the bus stop, walking in circles to keep myself from collapse, hoping against hope that the person who could take that pain away might appear out of the blue, seeing him in a car parked on the street, in a color, in a pair of stranger’s sunglasses, barely bothering to hold back the tears, I vaguely wonder what the other girl waiting there is thinking. I wonder what her heartbreak has been. On the bus, I wonder what sorrows the other passengers have seen. The woman in her wheelchair, talking softly to her companion; the teenaged couple – she black, he white – huddled with heads together, her eyes darting everywhere but never focusing on him; the older people who have probably loved and lost more than I could ever imagine; the young girl arguing with her mom on her cell phone.


Something funny happens when my heart breaks. I noticed it the last few times I’ve felt like this, and maybe – hopefully - it means that all my struggles in love haven’t been in vain. It’s this: when my heart breaks, just when I think I can’t take the pain anymore, it breaks further – and opens up. I let go, I feel warmth in my solar plexus, and I can see everything in the eyes of the people around me. The joy, the pain, the struggle, the universal human wish to be really, truly, at home and at peace.

When my heart breaks, I feel empathy where there was antipathy, love where there was ambivalence. I feel connected to the universe in a way I don’t when things are going “right”, when I feel so confident and in control.

When my heart breaks, my fear and judgment fade, and the people around me are all just people struggling, the way I struggle; wanting love the way I want love; mostly doing their best, often saying or doing the wrong thing, and all wanting the same things: to be seen, heard, understood, to be loved, and to give love.

When my heart breaks, it’s like I can feel all the pain in the world and can take it into myself, the way the Buddhists do in tonglen practice. I want to relieve suffering, because I suffer. Rather than hardening into resentment and anger, when my heart breaks, I soften into love.

Isn’t that strange?

Today, on my way home from work, I found myself analyzing the pain. What does it feel like? It’s a gaping wound in my gut, it’s a weird shifting sensation, like there’s no center to hold on to, it’s grief, it’s wanting, and, what’s so odd: it’s pure love. And just like that, I knew the answer to the pain. I knew that the answer wasn’t resentment, or anger, or hatred, or demanding answers, or lashing out, or crying (well, maybe just a little) or drinking, or mindless sex with someone else to take away the loneliness. The answer was so easy and simple: it’s love.

So, I walked home, and the mantra that popped into my head, that I kept saying over and over to myself, that seemed to ease the aching in my heart was “I send all my love; I send all my love.”

So I send all love to you, C, I hope you find your happiness. I want nothing more than to feel your arms around me right now. But if that can’t be, then go with peace. You deserve it.
I send all love to J, who taught me what unconditional love feels like, and what it feels like to really let go.
I send all love to R, because I hurt you and I didn’t know how not to.
I send all love to F because I should have treasured your love and instead I threw it away like trash. I think of you often, and wish things had turned out differently. I think you’re happy now, and I’m so glad.

I send all love to all the people I’ve disappointed and hurt. I caused hurt not because I was mean, but because I was clumsy.
I send all love to the people who have disappointed me. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me, and even if you did, you did it from your own struggle.
I send all love to the people who I’ve judged harshly.
I send all love to the people who reached out to me and who I rebuffed or ignored. I don’t always see or appreciate the love that’s offered. Heartbreak reminds me to be more careful of others’ hearts.

I send all love to M, my closest and best friend, who has been so patient and loving to me and who taught me what it means to be a friend.
I send all love to my friend JN, he of insight and humor, who keeps me laughing and thinking, both.

I send all love to the people who are fighting the flames right now; the red sun and my burning nose remind me to keep you in my thoughts.
I send all love to the people who are fighting the floods right now; may you stem the tide and find peace again.

I send all love to all beings who struggle and hope. My heartbreak reminds me of the essential truth that we’re all in this together, and that there is no enemy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I’ve been reading about this new book “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz (hear him speak here, especially the part about buying jeans) about – and I’m sure I’m oversimplifying this, because I haven’t read the actual book yet – how too many choices can actually make us unhappy. And one thing has been running through my head ever since I heard about it: that’s what the problem is with dating.

I’ve been dating for about 10 years. Mostly online (heck, Craig Newmark and I should just get married) , but also in the “normal” way (meeting people in dorm rooms, at work, at bars, in social groups, on the hiking trail, on the train). I’ve developed several relationships with men I met online and with men I met in “real” life, so I know the various sides of the coin. I’ve probably been on first dates with upwards of 50 men, some of whom I rejected for various reasons, some of whom rejected me, and most of whom just faded out of my life as I faded out of theirs. No drama, no discussion, no follow-up calls.

Most of those 50 guys were just not going to cut it; I knew from the first ten minutes. I wasn’t attracted, I didn’t feel like he listened to me or cared what I had to say, he wasn’t funny, he didn’t laugh at my jokes, he had a weird rash, or too many kids, or was too charismatic (or not charismatic enough). He invited me over to his hot tub too soon – or not soon enough. He tried to make moves on me. Or he didn’t. There have been as many reasons as there have been guys. The most common reason, of course, the default justification for not seeking a second date: there was no spark. And I’m sure, to the guys who never bothered to call me after the first date, there were reasons I didn’t make the cut: not the right coloring or body type, didn’t laugh often enough, didn’t come with my own rock-climbing gear. Who knows. There’s always a reason.

And I’ve been thinking recently how different it would if we really didn’t have that many choices of people to date; if Craigslist and Yahoo and the plethora of dating sites didn’t offer a daily selection of hundreds and hundreds of people, like some kind of human Berkeley Bowl (seriously, who needs 10 varieties of oranges to choose from?). What if we really couldn’t afford to be so choosy? If we knew the three available and dateable people in our town and knew we had to either choose one of them or move to a different town? Wouldn’t we be happier with the one we chose? Wouldn’t we be more forgiving of his foibles, think him more attractive, consider that we had made the right choice when compared to the other two? I think so.

I’ve actually often thought of how nice it would be, on some level, to just not really have that much of a choice. To have my parents steer me towards somebody, or to live somewhere where there just weren’t that many guys to go around, and so if I wanted one, I had to choose what was available. The way I feel more comfortable shopping at Whole Foods simply because there are only 4 types of apples and not 17. There’s something comforting in this idea that I wouldn’t have to choose from an infinite number of variables. I mean a choice of three is hard enough, but how can you choose between infinity? It’s impossible!

No matter who I’m with, there will always be the possibility of someone “better” out there. I know this is wrong, and unfair, but it’s still true. And then I wonder if this is why I’m still single, and why so many people are still single, not marrying until later, and generally seem disaffected by the whole dating experience. It’s because too many choices are making us unhappy – unhappy being single, unhappy with the dates we find, unhappy with the one we “end up with”, which more and more often means the one we date for two or three years and then break up with. We’re unforgiving of each other because we can always find someone else. We’re a culture of people with dating ADD.

I can see this in how my own mind struggles with the whole bullshit romantic ideal thing: the “soul mate” myth, the “don’t settle” myth. That’s all crap. We’re all humans, and no human is going to be perfect. Holding out for the perfect mate is nothing more than romantic idealization of a very normal and human situation that’s about as far from a myth as it can possible get. Yet I can’t seem to get past it, this idea that there’s some perfect man out there for me, one who will make me shake with desire at the same time that I intellectually admire his value system and commitment to those values; one who knows exactly what to say and when to say it. Sometimes I just wish God or Craig Newmark would just drop down from heaven, plop a man in front of me and tell me to forget all the bullshit and make it work.

Then again, like the joke about God saying "I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more do you want?" maybe I've already had that chance. Maybe I missed it. Or maybe it's right here in front of me.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Oh, Boo Hoo

OK, I know I'm not being very nice by laughing so hard at the current "gas crisis." I shouldn't be laughing, I just got my first car, and now gas prices are nearing $5 a gallon!

But I just clicked on CNN.com and saw an item they have on there which was described thusly: "The record-high price of gasoline is putting a strain on American motorists - and spurring some to shift their habits. Here are their stories." Oh good lord. Their stories about finally thinking about their consumption habits?? The photo spot next to the item shows a running slidehow of presumably normal (white) Americans, some with rosy-cheeked kids in tow, staring poignantly into the camera. "Gas is so expensive!" They seem to be saying, "How could you do this to me, God??!!"

All I could think was: It's about time, sheesh.

Now, I understand that the U.S. is a car culture , and it's not most peoples' fault that they drive so much. There aren't many options, unless you live in a big city, for getting around without a car, and even in most cities, the options aren't very welcoming. I mean I should know, I've taken the bus at 11:30 at night from events in San Francisco; I know the discomfort of waiting in the cold for a bus that may or may not arrive, when all you want to do is be home and warm and in bed. I know the shady characters that you seek to avoid by staring at your shoes as you take your seat, knowing, just knowing, that they'll choose you to sit next to.

I know that people need to work, and buy food, and have a social life. And because we don't have the infrastructure that most countries have, of a decent public transportation system, and that though we have the technology to make cars that pollute less, for various reasons such cars are not available for the majority of Americans, and that we have to rely on the options we have, which in most cases, are gas-fueled cars.

I know all this. But I still find myself thinking "It's about time. Sheesh."

Maybe because I know there are options out there for ways to get around without a car, and those options don't scare me, I don't find gas prices an issue. And I have to admit that my self-righteousness kicks in when I see these overwrought news items about how people are finding ways to get around by driving less. It's about time!

Another item I saw reported that the ridership on Caltrain has jumped by something like 7%, and that there's standing-room-only on some commuter trains. It's about time!

Because these ways have been around for years! These are not new options! In the 24 years that I have been taking public transportation, nothing has changed. There are still the same BART and bus lines that I have been taking since I was 14 years old. And why has ridership been down in recent years? Because people haven't been thinking about the gas they're consuming. Even with a pointless, bloody war over oil, most people haven't cut back on their driving. But when it hits the pocketbook: Oh My.

I'm hoping that gas prices stay high because I finally see people paying attention. In my ideal world, this will mean that whoah, we might see some efficient public transportation being developed! And amazing, we might see alternative-fueled vehicles that actually come to fruition, and might actually be affordable for more people. And my lord, we might see more development of sustainable live/work communities that include easy walking or biking access to the places that humans frequent. Oh, and, wonder of wonders, we might even see people developing communities around sharing: sharing cars, sharing food, sharing knowledge, sharing lives. Wouldn't it be wonderful? And it might all be because dammit, we can't afford to drive everywhere anymore.

It's about time!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!
or
Thanks, Universe!

I've never been the kind of person to complain about getting older. Heck, my 70-year-old mother says she's happier than she's ever been. I admit that as the first number of my age gets higher, I get slightly more anxious about each birthday, but I'd be hard-pressed to admit it. And I do have to say that my thirties have certainly been the most...interesting...years I've had. Not that they're over. Quite.

So here's another one coming my way, and I've found myself musing more than is normal for me about just how good things are at the moment. That being the case, I thought I'd send out some gratitude for not only the good things in my life right now, but all the lessons I've learned this past year (and previously) without which I wouldn't be who I am today, and most certainly wouldn't be wise enough to realize when things are good.

First off, I'd like the thank the powers-that-be for landing a very affectionate friend in my lap (and I do mean that literally). It's been a very long, very frustrating dry spell for me (maybe for both of us), one that I was pretty sure would never end, so I'm drinking this up like a person wandering in the desert would drink a bottle of cool water. With a chaser of really good tequila. Yum.

It is scary and somewhat exhilarating (depending on my mood) to realize how much I've learned about being intimate with someone, and how much more I have to learn.

Also, my loving, forgiving, just-nutty-enough-to-be-interesting family, without whom not only would I not have my car or my house, but I probably wouldn't have my ability to laugh at anything and everything, my love of the written word (and hence my career) and my curiosity about the world.

Then there are my loving, forgiving, trusting, listening friends who both indulge me and kick my ass, sometimes in the same conversation. I hope I do as much for them.

Finally, I'd like to thank the universe for (not quite literally) landing a free car in my lap. I know, I know, it's a material possession, but I've never owned a car in my 30-cough years, and though not having a car has taught me much (patience, problem-solving abilities), I'm now ready to see what having a car will teach me (Don't tell me: patience, problem-solving abilities, how to spend money like it's water). I'm still not used to being able to go somewhere else at the drop of a hat without having to have two hours' lead time. Luckily, the price of gas and my environmental activist soul prevent me from driving the two blocks to the mini-mart when I'm out of toilet paper.

There's lots more: a stable job with great coworkers (I sometimes grumble about work, but damn, I'm lucky to be somewhere where I'm part of a team and not a cog in a wheel!), a little house to call my own, good health, and a nice ass. What more could I ask for?

As for my life lessons this year, here are some choice ones:

  • When in doubt, say 'yes'
  • It's only money
  • Act as if you feel the way you want to feel, and you will
  • Being your true self with others is the best gift you can give them
  • And a related corollary: to accept another's gift is in itself a gift
So happy birthday everyone, and thanks for everything, universe!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

When Boundaries Make Fences

I’ve always been a person with a heightened sense of integrity. Even as a kid, I worried about money, wanting to be as independent as possible, to not put a financial strain on my parents (as if that was ever an issue; my dad was a doctor!). I rarely asked for things that cost money, and I got my first job as soon as I was old enough. Even then, every decision I made seemed weighty. Is it right? Is it good? Am I making that decision for the right reason? When I would go on road trips with my family, I’d see ghosts of the ancient decimated tribes who used to fish and hunt there. Once I understood what patriarchy meant, I spent years reading nothing but books by women and people of color. I always understood in some visceral way the privilege that my white skin and parents’ financial stability gave me. I was a pretty serious kid, as you can imagine.

Rob Brezsny recently wrote a horoscope for Geminis that told me to be on the lookout for, among others, “humble perfectionists who obsess over the integrity of every little thing they do and then mock themselves for being so conscientious.” I laughed at that, because that’s me to a T.

I’m proud of my conscientousness (is that a word?), the importance that personal integrity has in my life. Yet, I can also see how it has the potential to limit me, put fences around me and sap my enjoyment of life, if I let it. Sitting around with some kind of 24-hour flu thing on Monday, I started thinking about someone I’ve just started casually dating. Not a social change person at all, drives an SUV (though a small one), doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to be more compassionate or how to change the world for the better. I’m used to people like that – most people I know are basically self-obsessed and don’t have much mental room for world-changing. I happen to consider world-changing my vocation, but I know that's not everyone's gig. But he’s also fun, sweet, sexy as hell, listens when I talk, holds my hand when we walk together, likes my cat, and has a fine sense of adventure. Not to mention it’s the first time in 6 or 7 years that I’ve had a mutual attraction with someone who lives in the same state.

But for a stomach-dropping minute, lying in bed with fever, I knew, just knew, that I had to drop my new friend because he isn’t the social activist I’ve always seen myself dating. For a moment, that voice that makes every decision I make have to be about personal sacrifice and “doing the right thing” gained hold. I regained my equilibrium after a few minutes, but that got me thinking about how too much attachment to “doing the right thing” can also be bad for us, can be just as limiting as having no passion and no interests, like the guy I had to interview recently in Spanish class who claimed to have no favorite pastimes, food, movies, or books. I can’t even imagine!

My mom loves Starbucks. I can’t stand the jolly green giant, cloaking every urban area with its corporate mood-manipulation. Every time I see a Starbucks I think of that episode of the Simpsons where Bart is skateboarding through a mall where every storefront is a Starbucks except one, which changes into one as he rides past. Yet my mom loves Starbucks. And I love my mom. And sometimes when she helps me do errands (since I have no car), she wants to go get her favorite drink at Starbucks and treat me to one, too. Who am I to argue with her about that? To me, connection with my mom is more important than stiffing Starbucks the $2.50 they’ll get for my coffee drink.

I believe that my reason for being on this planet at this time is to keep learning and evolving, and to offer my life as a model for new way of being that isn’t about competition, consumerism, or self-righteousness. But part of learning to be like water is learning to flow, not to force change by hammering people over the head with my need for them to be like me. So with my mom, and my new friend, I’m practicing the art of going with the flow, and of not letting my inner magnet of integrity pull me away from the connections and experiences that matter. I still want to change the world, but I also know that this new world won’t be any fun if everyone worries endlessly over every little decision they ever make. Besides, love begets love, whether it’s in a Starbucks or an SUV.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Something's Happening Here....What it Is Ain't Exactly Clear

So I've had some kind of transformation lately. I haven't written about it because the truth is, I don't know what to make of it.

Let's start from the beginning. As the two readers of my blog know, I can be kind of cynical about self-help, even though I work in the industry (maybe because I do.) Posts like this one, and this one are a testament to my love-hate relationship with all things self-improvement. Actually, both "love" and "hate" are too strong. I'm mainly ambivalent about it. Partly this is because I've been trying to improve myself since I bought my first self-help book ("How to be Popular") in fifth grade, and have been trying out various therapeutic tricks and techniques ever since then. Therapy, books, "process groups", books, pills, books, you name it. After awhile, a girl just starts to get tired of having to improve all the time, right?

A few months ago, it dawned on me (and I mean "dawned", as in a slow, steady, ever-brightening realization) that part of my cynicism was actually resistance. Resistance to going deeper. Resistance to being uncomfortable. Resistance to looking myself straight in the face. Even resistance to really grasping what I'd been saying for so long: that there really is nothing wrong with me.

"Coincidentally", my boss sent me to a work conference on the science of consciousness - a highly experiential two-day retreat in Portland, OR - sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. many things happened in Portland, but the most intense experience happened when I was taken into a trance state and met two creatures in a dark, damp wood that should have been scary but wasn't. The laughing Cheshire-cat-like grey fox with bright eyes, and the laughing willowy nude woman with long auburn hair both answered my despairing question of "What do I do now?" with the same answer: "You're already doing it." "You're OK", they said, laughing, as they led me on a half-run, half-flight through the forest, "You're already perfect." In this trance I felt, really felt, in the core of my being, the basic and incontrovertable "okay-ness" that is every creature's birthright. The thing that people say they feel when they become enlightened. I felt it, and knew it, and nothing has been the same since.

Other things have happened in the last two months to support this notion of my basic, core, human goodness (the idea that I - we all - are completely and totally perfect and whole, deserving of all good things, simply because we exist). I've met amazing people, I've understood more about why I'm here on this planet, and I've understood more about how I can stand up every day and connect rather than isolate, love rather than flee, laugh and cry and dance all at once. It's been amazing and not something I can tell many people. That's why I'm writing it on this blog :-)

At the same time, I haven't become a trance-happy, grinning, lightheaded hippy-dip (nothing against hippies; I did grow up in Berkeley and am a hippie in my soul). I'm still me. I laugh at inappropriate things. I like movies and books that are dark and complex and use foul language. I still like to swear like a truckdriver, drink, talk about sex (and nowadays, I can even HAVE sex. With someone else. Imagine!) , get kinky, get frustrated, eat pizza, all the things I've always done. If anything, I'm more me than I've ever been.

Yet everything's different for me now. I've lost 95% of my habitual fear of people. I talk to strangers. I keep my office door open so I can talk to my coworkers as they pass by. I'm not as afraid in general. I can be patient with those who frustrate me. I've been getting an amazing amount of positive energy coming my way. I take more personal risks. I can have social events every night of the week and not get tired, where more than two nights a week used to make me exhausted and cranky. I'm more comfortable being uncomfortable. It's not that I never get depressed anymore, or get pissed off, or drink too much, or get bored, or think yoga is a waste of time. It's just that that core part of me that knows everything is now and always will be OK just comes right on back up, like one of those sand-filled clown punching bags from kids' parties.

Everything's coming up roses, because something in me is already a bed of roses - and callas and forget-me-nots, and daisies, and all other sorts of flowers - and always will be. Thorns and sweet smelling flowers, bugs and butterflies, and all. That's what I've been up to in the last two months. It's why I haven't written. I'm still transforming, I think. And I'm curious to see where it all goes. If anyone wants to write to share stories or insights, please do. I feel an urge to connect with like-minded people who are also transforming themselves, and the world.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Please Help me Help Others - AKA I Ask for Money for a Good Cause!

Some of you may know that last summer, I went down to New Orleans to help rebuild houses with Habitat for Humanity and some other organizations. After that, I decided I wanted to do more work with Habitat, but reasoned that, instead of flying 2,600 miles from home, I could do more good here in my own community.

To that end, I’ve signed up for Habitat’s “Build-a-thon” to be held over the Earth Day weekend (April 19-22). This project will involve completely framing six homes in East Oakland, and will eventually transform a former auto salvage yard into a healthy community for 54 families.

All I know about framing is what you do to pictures before you hang them up on the wall (or what often happens on cop shows), so this will be interesting. Of course, before I went to New Orleans, I thought “mudding and taping” was something kinky, and that hanging drywall looked sort of fun.

This is Habitat’s largest fundraiser of the year, so all volunteers are required to raise at least $200 per day that they work. That’s only 10 people pledging $20 a day! I’m working April 19 and 21, so that’s only $400, although I set $600 for my goal. You know, going the extra mile and all that.

I’ve very helpfully put up a fundraising website so you can donate to my efforts with only a few clicks. You can visit the site here: www.firstgiving.com/melissakirk. You can also click on that groovy icon in the top right corner of my blog, and don't let the fact that I've made my goal stop you from donating! Now I'm shooting for $1,000 (my original goal was $600, but $800 was donated, so what's a measly $200 more?!) And of course if you have friends with deep pockets and philanthropic sensibilities, please feel free to send 'em on down to my site!

Thanks in advance for your help. If I survive, I’ll regale you all with tales of my incredible building prowess.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Dear Soul Mate –

You know, I just realized I’ve been seeing you in my dreams for years. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been having dreams where I meet you and feel such sweet, warm, all-encompassing love – a love I’ve never felt in ‘real’ life. The funny thing is that you look different in every dream: dark, fair, skinny, stocky, once a dentist, once a botanist. Maybe that’s just dream language, maybe it’s because I love everything about you – all of your aspects. But there have been some consistent things throughout all the dreams: the love I feel for you and my amazement and joy at having found you. Your love makes me smile, makes me ache, makes me feel strong and proud, makes me feel safe.

I love your huge grin, your gorgeous laugh-lines, the depth of your eyes, the strength in your hands and your back, those lovely arms. I love your wide, wild spirit that reminds me to drink every moment as if it were my last breath. I love your commitment to living in love, to living lightly on our Mother Earth, your desire to make the world better and how this is reflected in the choices you make every day. I admire how you’ve let go of bitterness, grimness, and self-righteousness and instead have chosen hope, compassion, and abundance. I also love that you can fully experience the depth of your sadness, anger, and fear, but that these things haven’t poisoned the world for you – in fact, they make your life infinitely more complex and lovely. I love your eminent good sense and your goofiness. Your ability to say something silly and serious in the same sentence. I love that you can hold all of life’s contradictions and are comfortable doing so. I love your love for me.

You love my eyes the color of denim or grey seas, depending on the light and my mood. My quick smile. You love my love for color, my stubborn refusal to believe anything truly without experiencing it first, my deep care and compassion for all creatures, my wanderlust and the travels that we share – because traveling together is like never leaving home. You love my awe at the most ordinary things: the sun rise, the moon, the flash of a crow’s wing, the soft breezes of October, the white profusion of February flowers. You love that my little house is yellow, that my backyard is bigger than my house, and that I like weeds, especially, right now, all those bright yellow flowering ones that close up when the sun goes down. You love that I planted milkweed for the Monarchs and that I share my vegetable patch with the snails (but not with the aphids).

Together, we search for balance: joy and attention to the sadness of living, hedonism and moderation, dark and light, activity and relaxation, reaching out and drawing in, commitment and freedom. I love that you can share this all with me, that I can learn from you and you from me, and that we don’t complete each other – because we’ve always been complete – but that we magnify each other’s strengths and balance each other’s weaknesses. We know that a relationship isn’t about each person giving 50%, but about each person giving 110%. And we aren’t just twice as good together, we’re 1000x better together. Together, we can do anything, accomplish anything, can bring about a new reality for the planet that includes joy, awakening, laughter, love, justice, sustainability, creativity, and peace for all. I love that we’ve found such joy on that path. Our love fills the world with love.

In Love-

M

Thursday, March 06, 2008



Why the Housing Market Crash Has Been Good For Me

So one of my dreams has always been to own my own home. Even as a teenager, I used to dream about having my own place. It would be some old farmhouse, with a big yard, and maybe a big old tree. My friends and family would come over and we’d cook food together, share stories, create stuff, laugh a lot, drink wine, and maybe even change the world. Yes, I did spend a lot of time daydreaming back then.

A little over three years ago, I finally decided to do it. I had a good professional job in my chosen career, I lived in a moldering old practically subterranean apartment run by a slumlord, with a sunken kitchen that flooded every winter when it rained, and a shower with a drain that was open to the sewer (I kid you not.) Every once in awhile, my neighbor’s toilet would overflow into my shower. I had lived there for ten years, believe it or not. It was time to get out.

The choices were to move to another apartment, or finally realize my dream of home ownership.

When I owned my house (not an old farmhouse with a tree, but a circa 1943 shipyard worker’s house with a yard), I was not as ecstatic as I expected. Anyone who owns a home probably knows how I feel. It’s work! And money! And I pay a crapload of property taxes!

For awhile there, I regretted my decision, or at the very least was ambivalent about it. I loved having my own place, I loved the place, I loved the big yard, but I didn’t love the money, or having to keep the place up, or having to look at the horrible neglected weedy lawn every morning knowing I was the one neglecting it. I didn’t like living in the 9th most violent city in America, without a car, and having to walk under a freeway underpass every morning to get to the train station to go to work.

For about three years, I had one foot out the door, metaphorically anyway. I still fantasized about living somewhere else, the way I had when I rented my apartment. I imagined I’d sell the house in 3-5 years, and rent a nice place somewhere warm. I still grew veggies in my yard, had parties, and planted flowers, but I didn’t do anything major or permanent. Why should I, when I didn’t know if I was staying?

Right after I bought the house, the market slowed, then stalled, and of course now it’s pretty much in freefall. I was smart and lucky: I got a nice rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage, so no balloon payments or foreclosures for me. But slowly, I’ve been realizing that it would be stupid to sell the house now, and that things aren’t likely to be rosier in 2-3 years, either. And about four or five months ago, it finally clicked: I’m staying. Like it or not.

Once I made that commitment, my outlook shifted. I’m paying more attention to the house now, keeping it up. I hired my neighbor to install a drought-tolerant native garden in the front yard, and got the city to plant a tree in front of my place. It’s like I decided that, rather than give up what I have in order to keep looking for what I don’t have, I’ll do my best with what I’ve got. One of my goals has always been to live somewhere I love, but I’ve turned that around now: I want to love the place where I live. And this had been a major change for me. Eye-opening, actually.

I’ve started interacting more with my neighbors, trying harder to support local businesses, and planning as if I have a future here. Rather than thinking about how to manage to move closer to work (which just happens to be in one of the most expensive metro areas in the U.S.), I’ve started to think about alternative ways to transport myself, including getting my old, crusty bike out of the garage and fixing it up.

It isn’t lost on me that this new way of seeing things extends to my personal relationships, too. I feel like I appreciate my friends and family more than I used to. Despite their quirks and flaws, they’ve been there for me, with all of my quirks and flaws. Getting new friends isn’t the answer; appreciating the ones I do have is.

So, I thank the housing crisis. It made me sit down, take stock, and take responsibility for my own life. Not to downplay the amount of pain and suffering that others are experiencing around this situation (foreclosed homes are a dime a dozen in my town), but for me, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to take advantage of it. Because I can’t move, I will stay here and make this the place that I want to be.