Friday, October 24, 2014

Have I Been Wasting My Life?

"The world does not want you to fail. The world is forever supplying you with the information you need to do exactly what you want. ...Do not fear the information. It is always friendly." (William Kenower)

Once a therapist told me I needed to get quiet so I could hear my intuition. That's how we know what life is telling us: by getting quiet.

Not I'm-so-pissed-off-I'm-shutting-down quiet.

But I'm-watching-the-clouds-roll-by quiet.

When I shared my memoir manuscript with two writer friends, they suggested big changes of different sorts. I was thrown. Did they hate it? Did they hate me? Was my book a piece of crap? Was I a piece of crap? Had I been wasting my life?

Painful revision? 

I sat back and watched my mind spin fearful worries, justifications and explanations. I got quiet, watched it all like bad weather.

And then one day, in the calm after the storm, I faced my manuscript and it was perfectly clear what needed to be done. I followed the advice of one of my friends and sliced out 1/3 of the manuscript. It was like pulling weeds. What remained blossomed.

The other advice, which had involved structural changes, I now knew not to be true to my vision. Still, I was grateful she spent her living time on my book.

And she had been helpful. Because knowing what I don't want helps me get clearer about what I do want. The trick, though, is to not linger in the unwanted. Instead, I use it to springboard me in the most helpful direction.

"Go only forward; that is the direction of life." (William Kenower)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Arriving Again and Again

What's it like to think you're dying?
What's it like to radically change your life?

This is how my book opens, with two scenes that touch on these questions.

Arriving Again and Again (an odyssey of love, sex, spirit and travel) is being circulated to agents and editors now. I can feel it's just a matter of time before it's birthed out into the world.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Resist or Embrace

My dad always said, "The only constant is change." Being nomads shoves that reality in our faces a lot.

Yesterday we left our two-month house sit, saying goodbye to Max and Levi, the golden retrievers we cared for, and fell in love with. We also loved the house and the area.

Still, it was great to see Charlie and Jessica. They were thrilled the house was clean, the garden was thriving, and the dogs were happy.

Dave said he felt like our time there was a form of service. I hadn't quite thought about it that way, but I can see how it's true. We supported the home life of people who went to do good work in India. We did it for free--well, in exchange for a wonderful experience. It's all connected.

And now I feel like we have two new friends, people we met through Trusted Housesitters. When they came home, we had dinner waiting. We ate and talked--and did the same the next morning over breakfast. Then it was time to leave. They and the dogs walked us out to our car. I had tears in my eyes as we drove away, thinking about how I wouldn't be on the beach with those two sweet boys that day, and how I might never again hug their sturdy bodies.

There are four things I do that help me when I'm feeling sad:

1. I think about how sweet it is that I feel this way. That means capable of deep feeling, of loving and connecting.

2. I appreciate the hell out of the whole experience (the dogs, the Pacific Northwest, our journey as nomads who get to live so many different lives).

3. I turn my attention what's here (a drive through majestic pines)...

4. ...and what's coming up (Oregon coast! California redwoods! Music and friends in L.A.! Mexico!).

And so, five hours after leaving Port Townsend, Dave and I arrived in Cannon Beach, at the beach house of a friend. A friend so generous he let us use the house even though he's not here.

This morning we took a long bike ride on the beach. The beach is wide and long with packed sand that made for a spectacular ride. It was strange not having Max and Levi at our sides. But it was okay. The next thing comes no matter what. And we have a choice: resist or embrace.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What I Did when Someone Called Me a F***ing B****

Yesterday I took the dogs to the beach. What a gorgeous day. Everything glimmered.

Max came bounding toward me from the water and dropped a stick at my feet. When I bent down to throw it, Levi galloped down the beach. I wasn’t concerned; he always comes back.

I smiled when I saw from afar that he had approached two people with a dog, knowing how much he enjoys greeting other dogs. But as I got closer I could hear the women yelling. They were pulling on their dog’s leash to try to keep him away from Levi.

Soon I could hear they were swearing, yelling at me. Come and get your f***ing dog! What the f*** are you thinking you f***ing bitch?

Now I could see that Levi’s tail was wagging, and that he was nose-to-nose with their dog, a boxer mix, who was rearing back on his tight leash.

“Come! Levi, come!” I had to call a few times before he came to me. I put on his leash. I didn’t have one for Max because when I’m holding his stick, he won’t leave my side.

As I got closer, the women continued to berate me, calling me a f***ing bitch and an idiot.  Screaming at me to get both dogs on leash. My heart raced. My stomach tightened. I just wanted to get around them, like I would a raging fire.

Their words felt like physical blows. The urge to defend myself welled up. You’re the crazy bitches! The urge to justify: This is an off-leash area! There are dogs all over the place!

Noticing my mind’s machinations calmed me a bit. Was I going to get hooked? Was I going to add fuel to the fire?

As I skirted them—their dog lunging—one of the women screamed: “Get your dogs under control! Just because your dogs are nice doesn’t mean others are!"

To me, this place was a playground for dogs where they congregate and bound around together. I was tempted to say that, but I knew she wouldn’t hear me.

“Get your fucking act together!” she screamed.

I gave into the urge to say something, to lash back: “No wonder your dog isn’t nice,” I said. “You sure aren’t.”

“You’re giving me shit? Are you?” The woman not holding the dog moved toward me, chest out, fists clenched.

I didn’t respond, just passed by. I threw Max’s stick so he’d go running into the water, and picked my pace up to a jog so Levi would be redirected.

I felt bruised. Angry. Victimized. Those feelings moved through my body, like waves.

I thought about not taking it personally.

I felt hate welling up. I hated them. I hated the way they treated me.

I wanted to feel better. I knew that was up to me.

I took a few deep breaths. Watched clouds drift in the sky. I soothed myself: Good job, Kate. You didn’t freak out. You didn’t meet their aggressive energy. You calmly roped in the dogs and walked by, circumnavigating the conflagration.

Another woman with two off-leash dogs approached. My first thought was, Oh good, let them see I’m not the only one with off-leash dogs.

My second thought was, No, revenge might feel good, but it feels better to help someone out.

As our dogs sniffed each other, I warned her that around the bend were two women who were angry about off-leash dogs because theirs was aggressive.

“Why don’t they walk their dog somewhere else?” she said, pulling two leashes out of her pocket. “Well, thanks for the warning.” That felt good because my ego kept saying, I’m right, they’re wrong, I’m right they’re wrong.

Next I saw another woman gathering sea glass. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a light blue piece I’d picked up earlier. I said to her, “Would you like this one?” She looked at me like I was handing over a precious gem.

“Really?” she said.

“Sure,” I said, smiling, reveling in the good feeling of giving something away. My ego said, I’m a nice person. I'm a good person.

As I continued to walk, I thought about the times I’ve gone off on people: road rage, screaming during an argument, temper tantrums. I thought about times I've been blinded by anger.

Years ago I asked my therapist, “If I’m not supposed to repress my feelings or act out impulsively, what am I supposed to do with them?”

“Just watch them like bad weather,” she said. “They will pass.”

Pema Chodron says the root cause of aggression, conflict, cruelty is “getting hooked” by something someone else says or does. It’s a charged and sticky feeling. “And it comes along with a very seductive urge to do something. Somebody says a harsh word and immediately you can feel a shift. There’s a tightening that rapidly spirals into mentally blaming this person, or wanting revenge, or blaming yourself.”

I recalled a dog I had years ago who was snippy with other dogs and, once, bit one of my friends. I loved that dog, but it was nerve-wracking taking her anywhere. I didn’t know how to handle her.

I know what it’s like to be scared, to be angry, to attack, to feel out of control, to call people names. I know what it’s like to lash out, to get hooked. 

Violence can beget violence or it can beget self-awareness. Empathy. Tenderness. It starts right here, with me.

The sky and the sea melted together at the horizon. Max came back to me and dropped his stick at my feet. I wished relief for the two women, for their dog, for me. I wished us ease. Joy. Peace.