Thursday, January 30, 2014


I love the new Pope. Love him. He is--very simply--a good person. I would totally sign on to being Catholic, if it wasn’t for that whole believing-in-God stumbling block.

I will never understand why some people equate being a good person to being a religious person. I know many people who don't just talk the "holy" talk, they walk the walk. I know many, many deeply spiritual people who are wonderful, kind, loving people.
My amazing friend Mary Pat has worked for many years as a Legal Aid attorney, forgoing a large paycheck to help families that need to negotiate the tangled court system in order to find safety and peace.

Sweet Jane Accostin’ fosters dogs that are waiting to find a new home. She gives them a temporary home that is full of love and care. Then, she loves them enough to send them to a permanent family.

Marni has worked for social support organizations most of her professional life. Actually, her working to help people started before she could even drive. Her amazing brother David has also served his community in both the public sector and in state government. He is one of a handful of State Congressmen that cared about people in our community, not about forcing people to live by an artificial moral code.

The Derby girls skate every bout to raise money for local charities. These amazing women will rally to help a fellow Derby girl with medical bills. They will always find a bed for a traveler, and they will always recognize when someone needs help.

My cousin Jan and her partner Anne spend huge amounts of time saving the beautiful island they live on. My dear friend Joe put off medical school to work as a PA in remote areas that needed basic healthcare. Jeremy and Nathan have channeled their passion for creating into teaching kids that they too can be artists.

These are so-called Christian values, aren’t they?
Sometimes, I covet people’s faith. (I know, I know... Thou shall not covet.) I envy their belief that something better awaits us. I wish I could believe that. I so want to know that all this will be worth it when I reach that something better. But… I’ve known too many “Christians" to believe that. I'm not talking about people that deeply and sincerely believe in Christian tenents. I'm referring to the people that throw quote marks around their religion.

Mr. Earthquake so wanted me to be Christian. He used to call me “pre-Christian.” I was his little theological project. But I have never met anyone-- smart as he was--that was so blindly and hypocritically dogmatic while acting so markedly un-Christian. He cheats, he lies, he betrays. Just like Jesus. Oh, wait… No… I don’t think Jesus likes that stuff. I think Jesus would call him a dick. (Broadway reference! Go see Book of Mormon musical! Right now! Or at least download the soundtrack. I'll wait.)

Mr. E would take me to his church, where I would sit uncomfortably and listen to the sermon telling me how to be a good person. E would sit next to me, singing hymns that I didn't know. Taking lessons that escaped me. Then he would say goodbye to me and head out to seek female adoration. Because that was the only way he could feel good about himself. So much for that sermon making us better people.
Mr. Earthquake was talking the “holy” talk, while I was the one actually walking the walk. I’m way more Christian than he ever will be. And I am an agnostic Jew that is only in it for the matzo balls.

I’m no bible scholar. Mr. E used to send Bible references my way when I was struggling with something. But they were mostly meaningless to me. I couldn't find how they fit my life. For this post, I had to Google “Christian values” to see what they actually were. The common threads through most sources were the following ten themes.

1. Worship only God
OK, so right out of the gate, I stumble on this one. But to be fair, I’m not worshipping OTHER gods. My kid told me he might believe in Zeus. I support that.
2. Respect all people
I think I give all people the benefit of the doubt. My default is to respect them, until they show me why I shouldn’t. I think the basic idea of this one is simple: be nice. Unfortunately, Mr. E was taking that whole “love thy neighbor” thing a little too literally.

3. Be humble
I am humble to a fault. I don’t “sell myself” very well. I never counter a job offer. I always apologize for taking up someone’s time. I don’t have swagger. But, I can actually live up to my own hype. I don’t hide behind false swagger.
4. Be honest
I’ll just refer you to previous blog posts on this one.

5. Live a moral life
I don’t always do the right thing. I make plenty of mistakes. But when I recognize a mistake, I work to correct it. That is my definition of being moral.

6. Be generous with time and money
People know that all they need to do if they need help is to ask me. I don’t have a lot of time or money to be generous with. But I will help out at a fundraiser, buy something I don’t need from a silent auction, or subscribe to magazines to help my nephew's school. 

Here is a story in the news today. Yesterday, in her infinite wisdom, the principal of Uintah Elementary watched as cafeteria workers served the children, checked the amount of funding in the children’s lunch accounts, then took away the food from the 40 children that did not have money in their accounts. They then threw away that food and handed children an orange so that they “didn’t go hungry.” How very Christian.

7. Practice what you preach; don't be a hypocrite
This is where most “Christians” stumble. It is certainly where Mr. Earthquake swerved off the rails.

8. Don't be self-righteous
Mr. Earthquake’s family didn’t like me because I was—GASP—not a “Christian.” His mother would pat him on his head and tell him he was a great catch. He is actually as great to catch as herpes. I was marginalized, disrespected, and excluded by his family. But the greater transgression was from him. He allowed that to happen to me. And then tried to explain to me about love and tolerance.
9. Don't hold a grudge
I don’t hold a grudge, but I also don’t forget. A grudge is not the same as processing and retaining the lesson that is found at the core of a transgression.

10. Forgive others
I forgive too often and too easily. And I'm not sure that is worth changing about me to save me from some pain. I can take the pain. I am a warrior.

I guess my point here is: Mr. Earthquake needed me to claim to be Christian. For some reason, I was not going to be good enough—for him, for his family, for his children—unless I claimed that Jesus loves me and got dunked in a swimming pool. But I think that I am doing a better job of being Christian than he ever will.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Johann and Me

I am pretty unlucky in love. Unlucky might be a bit of an understatement. I’ve had three relationships that have left a giant path of destruction in my life.
Aristotle tells us that we cannot learn without pain. Lessons learned. I think Johann Wolfgang von Goethe also learned those same lessons.

In my last blog post, I wrote about how truths speak to my soul. Goethe speaks the same language of my soul. His writings—almost 200 years old—touch me in a way that is hard to describe. But I equate it to be the same way I reacted to seeing The David in Florence. First stepping into The Metropolitan Museum of Art felt holy to me. The most spiritual moment of my life might be when a saw the first of many orcas swim by the whale watching boat in Alaska.

Goethe was a German philosopher, writer, and polymath. He wrote poetry, studied biology, and created beautiful art. He described himself as “not anti-Christian.” He was a humanist and a pantheist, believing that the universe itself is the divine. It is really no wonder that his works feed my soul.

I love recklessly. I know that I do. I have to wonder if Goethe had the same affliction. Regardless, his writings help me see the lessons that squirm out of the rubble.

The first disaster to cut through my life was like a tornado. My ex-husband is a very decent man and an extremely good father. But we weren’t destined to be together. And the very action I took to bolster our marriage was the one act that could only doom it.

When Number One was finishing graduate school, we both started to look for work to get out of the city we both disliked. He was talking to a company in Seattle. Living in Seattle has always appealed to me. Meanwhile, I was talking to a company in the Midwest. It was a dream job for me, but it wasn’t in a particularly rich city for One to find work. When I talked to One about the possibility of moving there, he balked. So when I was offered the job, I declined. I looked like an asshole to my good friend who had recommended me for the job. Then, One didn’t get a job offer from Seattle. We both lost. I think I always held that against him.

Goethe believed in dreams. He would have chastised me for abandoning my dreams to chase the dreams of someone else. I will never do that again.

Number Two was a tsunami that destroyed everything foundational in my life and hurt every person that I loved. I never loved Two, but I liked him an awful lot and he was offering me all I ever thought I wanted. So I sold my soul to that devil. And I will never forgive myself for doing so. The price it cost me can never be measured.

It was a confusing, chaotic time. The one idea that I clung to like a drowning woman was that good things can come from this nightmare I created. Strength will be found. Bravery will be discovered. Grace will be required.
I hurt the people I love. I will never forgive myself for that. But, I do believe that great beauty has come from that tsunami. Everything is being rebuilt.

Number Three was like an earthquake. After the earth shifted from under me, toppling everything I believed to be sound, I crawled from the pile of bricks and began to rebuild. Only to be struck by aftershock after aftershock. This earthquake destroyed my most valued trust. Three stole my trust in myself.
Like any betrayal of trust, the trust I had in myself needs to be rebuild slowly and carefully. I need to move away from the fault line.

I will never again allow myself to let someone else hold my heart or my dreams. I will never again sacrifice everything I want in order to get one thing that I want. I don’t mean I won’t love. I will. I will love and trust. But I will never let my heart—my happiness—be placed in any other hands.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Gospel According to Thrones

I really don’t think I believe in God. There, I said it. I never will believe in any God that cares who people love, how people eat, or demand to be worshipped. And why would a creator give her creation the means to rationally seek knowledge, then ask that creation to blindly believe beyond what is rational. Yeah, I don't buy it.

I do, however, believe in the soul. I think a soul exists in every person. I think it lives in your strongest muscle, your tender and wounded heart, and the dark and scary corners of your brain.  And maybe that soul is eternal. Or maybe it quietly dies with your last breath. Or maybe it gets shattered when you die, and the shattered pieces find their way into the souls of those you love.
But I don’t know.

I think the Bible was written by the Stephen Kings, the George R. R. Martins, and the J.K. Rowlings  of their times. All of these writers tell beautiful, magical stories. And all of us tend to find pieces of these stories that feel they are speaking directly to us. Maybe that is what our soul is for. Our lungs give us oxygen, our kidneys filter out toxins, and our soul recognizes the parts of the world that speak to our hearts and minds.

But I don’t know.

I’ve been reading Game of Thrones. It took me two false starts to get into it. But eventually, it reached out and pulled me in.  And I started watching the television series again, too. It is an amazing story that speaks to my soul. It’s like the Bible. With dragons.
My two favorite characters are Arya Stark and Tyrion Lannister. Arya is the spitfire tomboy that is both fierce and kind. Tyrion is a bookish dwarf who never lets his disability stop him from winning battles and living life to the fullest. Actually, it just occurred to me why I may relate to these characters so strongly. Arya is like the Derby Girl. Tyrion is like the MS patient.  They are people from warring factions who find themselves tangled in an epic tapestry. Thanks to my soul for grabbing those ideas from the ether.

Here are some of the truths I have found in both the written work and the theatrical work of A Song of Ice and Fire:

"Loyal service means telling hard truths."
In a scene where one character openly questions battle plans, his commander questions his loyalty.  For me, loyalty is both a tricky concept and a straightforward definition. I believe loyalty means both faithfulness and unconditional support. I’m not sure which of these concepts are trickier. But I think they both require the same thing. The truth. Only with the truth can there be trust. And only trust allows you to both give and receive loyal service.

"A bruise is a lesson, and each lesson makes us better."
Arya reminds herself of this when she takes a hit with a wooden sword during her dueling lessons. It is something we all need to remind ourselves from time to time. Each hurt in our lives, each injury, betrayal, or failure contains a lesson that we can only unearth once we clear the muck away.
"Only by admitting what we are can we get what we want."
The treacherous Littlefinger admits that he will never win a duel with strength or skill. He defeats his enemies with cunning and guile. He knows where he is weak and where he is strong. He plays his strengths. We all need to discover and foster our strengths and recognize our limits. We need to know our boundaries before we can break them down.

"What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her? A stupid saying. What we don’t know is usually what gets us killed."
Again Littlefinger drops some truth on us. He knows the only way to take the next step is to see where that step will land. Knowing is always better than not knowing. The people that don’t believe this, the people who think they are protecting you (or cowardly protecting themselves) from the truth are incredibly naïve. Truth always bubbles to the surface eventually. It is better to know.

"Every flight begins with a fall."
Didn’t the Bible use this one too? Poor Bran Stark has been shoved out the window and will never walk again. But in his dreams, he can fly. He is hesitant at first, because he doesn’t know how to fly. He is afraid he will fall. A friendly raven with three eyes reassures Bran that of course he will fall! That is how you begin to fly! The first step towards freedom is always the scariest.

"A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge."
Tyrion is asked why he reads. It's a valid question. Why do we read? Why do we learn? I think Tyrion's explanation is the best one. We need the thoughts of others to define our own thoughts. We should always challenge what we believe to be true. 
"There is only one god, and his name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: Not today."
Arya’s dueling instructor—or her “dance teacher” as she calls him, as to not tip off that a girl is learning swordplay—tells her this so she will begin to see the world from a new perspective. He first asks if she prays to the gods. Both the old and new, she answers.  But praying to the gods will get you nothing. The world is an incredibly harsh, incredibly brutal, incredibly beautiful place to be. Don’t waste you energy on praying that your wishes might come true. Open your eyes, look around, and embrace the now. You have already won if  you can climb into bed at night and say to yourself: Told ya. Not today.

I’m sure as I continue to read and watch, I will find more truths. That is the beauty of this world we live in. The truth often hides in unexpected places and is usually never where we are told to look by others.

But for now, I leave you with this:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

2014: Chapter 1.1

I've been sick for over a week. Miserably knock-me-on-my-ass sick. My throat felt like I was swallowing razor blades. I couldn't sleep. No food appealed to me. And this cold sent me off into some dark places. I was completely fatigued. Razor throat has left me weak from hunger. My thoughts are not nice to me when I am in this condition. I go to dark places.

From time to time, when my son is over-tired, he tells me that he is having bad thoughts. Then we will sit and snuggle and talk about happy memories. I get bad thoughts too. But no one is usually around to guide me out of dark places.

I was done. Done with everything. I was surrendering. I was going to quit everything and stay home and binge-watch Netflix. I was giving up derby and boxing, thinking that the couch I was curled up on was the perfect place to live out my days. I hadn't been on skates for almost two weeks. I was feeling quite defeated. My thoughts were betraying me. In fact, betrayal was abound. And I was not only burdened with these feelings of loss, I was fighting the fear that I am now damaged goods. I was terribly lonely. And who in the hell would sign up for life tainted by this MS nonsense? Why would anyone want to be part of all this?

I've annihilated my immune system in the hope that it will stop attacking my brain. I'm not sure that is why my cold was so bad, but I have a hunch it didn't help. I was just downright, old fashioned blue. I had made all these goals for 2014. Two weeks into the year, and I was already failing. I was already climbing out of the pool. Abandoning the notion of ever catching the beach ball. In fact, I was plotting ways to just puncture the damn thing. Then, even if it could never look like I wanted it to look, that ball could never float away.

But this morning, I woke up feeling better.

The first thing I noticed was that I actually had to be woken up by my alarm. I don't remember the last time that happened. And when I was brushing my teeth, I noticed that I drank my cup of water with nary a flinch.

And little things happened that are starting to add up to me being in a better place. Derby girls are encouraging me to get back on the track. Sara is back from her travel adventures. I so missed her. And she has also offered to skate with me. I think I have the energy to pound on a heavy bag. I know for sure that I have the desire to punch on one. My work is feeling like I have a firmer grasp on it. Kidlet seems happy.

I'm getting things back on the rails. It was a short delay, and it's over. Onward ho! But it is a little scary because I don't know what is ahead of me a mile down the tracks. I'm the kind of person that reads the end of the book first. It actually enhances my enjoyment. I know most people don't understand that. But some of you will know what I mean.

I want to know how it's going to end. I want to read the end of my book. I can deal with whatever it reveals. I just want to know. And I can't.

A year ago, I thought I knew where I was heading. Then things started tilting for me. I had my hysterectomy, which was a much bigger ordeal than I had thought it would be. Someone I thought I would know forever moved away and is fading from my life. My eye started to spark, alerting me that all was not well. I was introduced to the claustrophobia of the MRI machine. I learned to give myself a shot. I have weekly fever chills. And there are sharps containers in my house.

This was not what I wanted. This was not where I wanted to be. But... here I am. And, I'm OK.

I'm OK that it might take me twice as long to get over a cold than a year ago. Because I was just reminded that I can get over it. I know it will take me a long time to improve my skating, but I want to. I so, so want to. And I was reminded that a lot of people want to help me succeed. It will take me a lot longer to get over the loss of a love. But, these are the losses that make it so clear who belongs in your life. And who should not get that privilege. And that is important information.

These occasional times of being off the rails are actually quite valuable. Sometimes dark places bring clarity. They give you the glimpse of what you want to grab on to. And what you need to let go of. And damn it, I want the beach ball. I deserve it. And I don't have time for anything or anyone who doesn't help me get it.

So I hereby announce a restart. The last week is just not going to count. This week, 2014 begins again for me.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Deliberate Life

A couple of my friends have posted this article on their Facebook timelines.

Please take a moment of your day and read this article. It rang so true to me that I wanted to share it with you.

I don’t have cancer. I know my health issues are nowhere near as difficult or scary as those for people that do have cancer. But, I’ve certainly been swimming in the thoughts, doubts, and fears in (and because of) my Swiss-cheese brain. I was diagnosed with MS this last April. In many ways, nothing in my world has changed. In some ways, everything has changed.

That is why this article captured my imagination. It was written by physician Lissa Rankin, who interviewed women battling breast cancer. The thing she discovered is that people who have overcome cancer made a deliberate decision to live each day like it’s their last.

Here are the ten lessons she learned and the way in which they spoke to me:

1. Be unapologetically you.
I’m sarcastic. Opinionated. Thick skinned. Tender hearted. I have a sharp, dry sense of humor. I’m smart and nerdy. I like tattoos. I like people who like tattoos. I don’t censor my thoughts very often. But I know the right time to hold back my opinions (usually).

I wrote a couple posts back about how I need to quit apologizing. I think this fits into that plan. I am trying to stop vocalizing apologies. But I also need to stop feeling them. I need to not only stop being anything less than authentic, but I need to surround myself with people who love the authentic me.

I’m not sorry. (Except to you, Dad. Sorry about the tattoos.)

2. Don’t take crap from people.
I wouldn’t say I’m a people-pleaser in the Oprah sense of the term. I don’t care if the PTA president doesn’t approve that I have better things to do than bake for a fundraiser.

But I think I do take more than my share of crap. I don’t often or loudly defend myself when I am experiencing pain or injustice. I can’t explain that contradiction in my life. How I will fight to the death for the people I love. How I will, without caring what people think, call a stranger out on their shit. But I let some people stomp on me over and over. I have to quit doing that. And I’m not sure I know how to do that. But I need to figure it out.

3. Learn to say no.
I actually think I am pretty good at this one. I will say no to going out to lunch with slightly annoying acquaintances. I can turn down a dinner date for no other reason other than I just don’t want to put on a bra. I don’t often get talked into something I don’t want to do. It happens sometimes. But more often than not, the more someone tries to talk me into something, the more I dig in my heels.

4. Get angry. Then get over it.
But this one is harder for me. I tend to hold a grudge. And the more I care about someone, the longer it takes for me to put away something when I feel wronged. I really try to put these things behind me. I don’t really stay angry. Forgiveness is easy for me. Forgetting is near impossible.

Maybe that will be a MS silver lining someday. Maybe this ridiculous disease could eat through some of these hurtful memories and leave my vision alone.

5. Don’t obsess about beauty.
Here is another one I think I have down. I really don’t worry much about how I look most of the time. Sure, I sometimes wish I was a beautiful girl with size six hips and green eyes. But most of the time, I really don’t care. And some of the time, I am happy with the way I look. I have been told at derby practice that I should never lose my magnificent Blocker Booty.

I never really feel beautiful. I certainly never obsess about it. I am vain about some things. I used to love getting eyelash extensions. I had to give those up both because of the cost and the risk of infection. I like wearing stylish sunglasses.  I even enjoy a manicure every once in a while. But I never obsess. So I can check this one off as done.

6. Do it now.
I understand this one completely.  Dr. Rankin says it best, I think: Stop deferring happiness. I’m going to make sure I stop saying “someday.” I need to find things that make me happy today. This minute. Right now. I need to fix the parts of my life that are diminishing my happiness. Ain’t nobody got time for that.  All of our clocks are ticking.

Prioritize joy, says the good Dr. Rankin.

7. Say “I love you” often.
I tell my son I love him at least once a day. I have certain wonderful friends that I not only show that I love them, I tell them so.  I have to do better telling my family that I love them. I grew up in a very loving home, but the “I love you”s didn’t flow very freely. At least, that’s how I remember it. I knew my parents loved me. But we were not and are not the type of family to end a phone call with the word love.

The more life experience I get, the harder it is for me to say “I love you.” Actually, that isn’t quite right. Saying "I love you" is the easy part. Feeling loving is what gets more and more difficult.

I guess I really am a cynic.

8. Take care of your body.
This one is a new one for me. I’ve never really treated my body well. I smoked. I couch-potatoed. I ate poorly. But when Dr. Sister sat me down and told me that I needed to get my body healthy and strong, I took her seriously. She said I needed to do it in preparation for the day that I will need all the health and strength I can get.

So, I am trying really hard to change my habits. I think this is a pretty big deal for me, since I am still a little mad at my body for betraying me. Oh wait. I am supposed to get angry and get over it. OK, body. I’m over it (mostly).

Added bonus: I found Derby.

9. Prioritize freedom and live like you mean it.
We all have a finite amount of time left. I want to spend my remaining days—no matter how many there may be—living the best, happiest life I can.

10. Take risks.
It’s a cliché for a reason. Life is for the living. Do the thing that you always wanted to. Try the thing that you were always to scared to try. Learn to make one incredible dessert that you are known for. Find your favorite drink. Taste the frog legs. See the pyramids. Explore by yourself. And find someone who you know will explore with you.

Sometime the risk is in not doing something. Sometimes, it feels risky to stop doing something. Try that too.

The people Dr. Rankin interviewed may hold the key to a happy life. They know how to capture the beach ball. Here is the difference between these brave people and the oft-unbrave me. I keep waiting for the beach ball to find its way over to my side of the pool. These incredible women said, “Fuck that. I’m jumping in the pool.”

And really, we should all be living like that? Life is short. Jump in the pool.