on Salon’s forgiveness column

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I read this column by Mary Elizabeth Williams – “My imperfect forgiveness project: How writing a memoir forced me to deal with old resentments on forgiveness a couple days ago and have been thinking about it since” – a couple days ago, and it’s stayed on my mind since. Like this part, which was instantly familiar:

And I felt freshly stung by the people I had loved and trusted who hadn’t been [steadfast and kind]. That’s when I realized I had to get to work.

So I gathered a bunch of friends together for some drinks and a healthy reality check of the abundance I do have. I worked more consciously on keeping a daily gratitude list, one of the easiest and most life changing things a person can do to feel good. I made a concerted effort to find opportunities for small acts of generosity I could do for others. And I asked a few wise friends how they have gotten through their own hardest moments of resentment and betrayal.

I wrote about forgiveness myself, back around Christmas, a column that prompted several positive emails and Facebook messages (and was also referred to in a Craigslist rant as “one of the saddest things I have ever read”). My first point, that you don’t have to forgive someone, especially if you’re a woman who’s been conditioned to always be the peacemaker, often at your own expense – this troubled some people, despite my later emphasis that we don’t get to be bitter and my agreement with the larger notion of forgiveness as a way to bring peace to ourselves. What I was fighting against with that opening salvo is this pressure we put people under – You Must Forgive! – as if one can wave her hand, announce, “It is done!” and then move through the world like Ben Kingsley playing Gandhi, all grace and bliss and impervious to the lesser emotions.

Williams writes this:

Forgiveness is a long process, one that takes place in fits and starts, one that often occurs without ever even hearing the words “I’m sorry.”

And that, that bit about “fits and starts,” so important. We have this romantic notion that we should be able to turn our lives on a dime. You know, this kind of stuff: “And then one day I woke up and decided it was time to be the person I wanted to be and from that day forward, I have been patient and kind, rich and thin, happy forevermore.” And sure, people have epiphanies from time to time, find God, quit drinking, discover the outdoors, and can pinpoint their new selves to a particular moment. But even when a specific event triggers the desire for change or the need for forgiveness, incorporating it into one’s busy life, overcoming one’s default programming, isn’t easy.

I spend a lot of my time wondering why human beings struggle so much to make what are clearly better choices – why do we order French fries if we’re hoping to lose weight? Why do we have a third drink when we know in the morning we’ll regret the blurriness of the night? Why do we peruse Zappo’s when we’ve told ourselves that we must pay off our credit card debt? Why do we stop and clean the house in the morning instead of running out to the beach when the later is clearly the one that brings us joy? (By “human beings,” I mean, of course, “me.”)

Changing habits is hard. Changing who you are is even harder. Grudge-holding runs in my family and overcoming that impulse is something that I’ve only been able to do successfully because I’m already too busy to remember what I meant to pick up at the Co-op, much less recall if I’m supposed to actively resent the person I’m passing in the canned beans aisle. Also I’ve grown up enough to realize that if people judged me on a sole act or impression, I’d likely have far fewer friends; humbled, I try to return the favor.

As Williams writes:

We all have things we need forgiveness for, and we probably have things we don’t even know we need forgiveness for. I’m sure I haven’t won any gold medals at the Sensitivity Olympics in my time. And remembering that keeps pain from turning into self-righteousness.

Ah, the slip into self-righteousness – it pains me to admit that’s a path I’ve slid down a few times for sure. The initial foray comes from a place of wanting, desperately, to be understood. If I can explain why something hurt/offended/damaged me in a way that hits home within the person I’m explaining to, then I’ll know my feelings are valid and that I have a friend on my side.

And I think that’s okay, this wanting to check in about my own reactions, to get perspective, to assess who I am and who my friends are. But if not done well, the discussion can turn into an argument about who is right – and if you’ve already been wounded, having to defend the fact that you’re clearly bleeding from someone else stabbing you, feels insane. Likewise, if you’ve been raised to be polite about the fact you’re bleeding all over the place, the effort of speaking up about it might take all your bravery and leave you unable to continue rising to defend yourself.

To find oneself in the position of saying, “I’m a victim and you suck for not getting it,” frustrates in so many ways. If you’re not the sort of person who revels in victimhood, for example. If you’re keenly aware of your own imperfections. If you care about navigating through life’s challenges with as much grace as you can muster.

Williams sums up:

I have to keep putting into practice, every day, the three toughest challenges of my adult life: patience, acceptance, mercy. It doesn’t mean letting toxic people into our lives, or forgetting the past. It just means putting pain and anger and disappointment in its place, and moving forward.

And I love that, too – her words reflect my own feelings and the complexity of forgiveness. To practice “patience, acceptance, mercy” does not require embracing those who’ve detracted from your life or pretending things that happened, didn’t. You get to make the call, every day, of who and what is worth your attention – I’m particularly keen on the who – and that’s the key. As the story goes, don’t feed the hate wolf.

It’s early in the day yet and I have two beach cleanups and a big nonprofit party to attend, all full of good people doing good work. Later I have a best friend’s party to go to, then maybe some kickass live music with my husband. A lot of work and logistical planning awaits as part of all this, but I’m optimistic the happy moments along the way will be worth the effort – today and all days, I strive to move forward.

when the house stays clean and every night is date night

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We sleep with the blinds up and so can see to the east and south from our bed. I often wake to the sunrise framed like a painting. Sometimes I’ll nudge Bobby, “Look! Look at the sky,” and he will raise his head, mumble, “Pretty,” and roll back into slumber. Today I watched as the slashes of cloud lit up, brilliant pink against the pale green-yellow of the twilight sky – that odd, inexplicable color – then faded to the standby white-on-blue as the day settled in. The pretty lingered in my heart, however. I love this house.

We only moved upstairs a bit over a year ago, after the girls had moved out and Nick had graduated. For over 15 years, through two houses, Bobby and I have taken the downstairs bedroom and the children have lived upstairs – we preferred the kids grouped together and ourselves a line of defense in case of break-ins. Also, the mess stayed somewhat contained.

In our first house, up in Ridgewood Heights, the upstairs rooms had been smaller, the downstairs one the largest of the three. Here in Manila, the main upstairs bedroom is the master one, complete with arched doorway, skylight and clawfoot bathtub – our landlords, who lived here first, are romantics. The other upstairs “bedroom” isn’t one, technically. It’s six-by-nine-feet and lacks a closet. For the first seven years we lived here, it also lacked a window. When I’d been looking for a place to rent, the listing had described “two bedrooms plus office.” I hadn’t expected the house to work, hadn’t expected to show up and discover the sort of house I’d dreamed of, wonderful light and wood floors, redwood deck and easy walk to the beach, salt in the air and the ocean steady in my ears – two steps in and I didn’t care how we had to make it work, I knew we’d make it work and that this was where we should be.

Fortunately my soon-to-be landlords felt the same way.

Since we had three kids to divide between two rooms, the deal struck was either you shared the big room or you had a room, albeit tiny, to yourself. It worked out for a long while. Once Chelsea left, Kaylee took total command of the master room, creating disparity, but when she moved out, Nick had the entire second floor as his domain. Bobby had already started pushing for us to move upstairs – we’d been in the unassuming downstairs bedroom for a decade – but I insisted we wait till Nick was done with high school. Navigating the rapid changes, drama and expectations teenagers suffer had exhausted me too much to further risk destabilizing our world. Letting Nick keep the upstairs through graduation was a way I could be nice at a time when so many efforts to be kind backfired.

When we asserted control of the upstairs and shifted Nick to the downstairs bedroom, he shrugged. Not a big deal. Bobby repainted the upstairs, making one of the walls a gorgeous blue. I gushed and asked, “Why didn’t we do this years ago?”

We’re still doing a bit of a kid shuffle – Chelsea moved in shortly before Nick moved out – so we’re not quite yet having the house to ourselves. What we do have is a growing understanding of the upside of losing parental control over our progeny.

To be clear, we worry as much as ever and we still do what we can to support and celebrate them all, whether responding to long distance laundry emergencies via texts or going over the FAFSA together at the dining table. We applaud good choices and attempt (emphasis on attempt) to refrain from criticizing the bad ones – telling someone what they’re doing wrong is one of the least effective ways to encourage change. It’s been a long time since we could “make” them do anything. When they were teenagers engaging in actions likely to result in bad consequences, we still tried, because as parents, you always have to try. Now that they’re adults, we must acknowledge they are very clearly their own people. (Good luck, kids.) And so after a lifetime of relating to each other primarily through shared parenting of these demanding, joyous creatures, we’re finding ourselves focusing on us. Soon, we think, the house will stay clean and every night will be date night.

We’ve never lived together without children!

We worry as much as ever.

We still do what we can to support and celebrate them all.

But the responsibility has lessened – whether we wanted it to or not – and with this lightening comes a little bit of freedom. And a view.

my life in hospitals

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When I was six years old, I had my tonsils out. My parents had given me a teddy bear nearly half my size to keep me company during the procedure. The doctor and nurses pretended that Jon-Jon, as I’d named him, would also be having his tonsils removed. A nurse tucked him into a hospital gown and cap, and as the anesthesiologist put me under, Jon-Jon was cuddled against me. They moved him away during the operation, but returned him before I awoke. I remember being happy he was okay. We ate lots of ice cream.

I wouldn’t go back to the hospital until 1990, when I was 20 and in labor. The movement toward women having ownership of their birth experience hadn’t reached Lancaster yet – the hospital’s procedure involved starting a woman in the labor room, moving her to the birth room, then moving her to the recovery room and the nurses were very much boss. My own shift into taking charge of my self-esteem also hadn’t yet occurred. I believed the people who thought I was an idiot for getting pregnant at 19. I had no idea how to assert myself. Labor hurt. They gave me an epidural, which eased the pain, but slowed down my ability to push. After Chelsea, perfect little creature, had emerged, the anesthesiologist shot me full of painkillers. “You’re my favorite doctor,” I told him. When we arrived home, I noted how huge the world was and how small my new baby. I hugged her tight to me.

We’d return to the hospital six months later after moving to Long Beach. Chelsea woke us with a horrible and continuous cough, so we bundled her into Bobby’s convertible 1967 Skylark – seriously bundled her as the top didn’t work, so we had to ride with it down – and raced to the ER. The hospital we landed at directed us via ambulance to another hospital, the one where our insurance would work, and within an hour, our baby’s barking seal noises were identified as “the croup” and she was admitted. Chelsea spent a week there, sleeping underneath an oxygen tent, an IV in her tiny wrist. I stayed the entire time, occasionally ducking out to the fire exit for fresh air and an unimpeded view of the sky. When the nurses first attempted the IV, they booted me out of the room. I paced the hall, listening to my baby scream in pain as the nurses failed to hit the vein. They raised their voices to better gossip with each other and that’s when motherly rage swept over me for the first time. I demanded they stop. I demanded to see the doctor. I demanded they not touch my baby again. The head nurse showed up, talked me down. She asked if I would allow her to try, just once, to do the IV. If it didn’t work, she’d get the doctor immediately. I gave her permission, but stayed in the room. She poked the needle into Chelsea’s arm, right spot, first time. We moved on.

My second child’s birth, in 1994, was at the UCI birth center, not a hospital – I’d found some confidence and a friend who introduced me to her midwife. Visits to the birth center reenforced that what I wanted mattered. Life, as it does, ignored my plans – we were in Lancaster when my water broke 16 days early. Bobby navigated the two-hour freeway drive while I clenched my hands in the passenger seat and tried to not scare Chelsea, wide-eyed in the back, with my groans. At the birth center, they ushered me into a warm tub, then set Bobby and I up in a bed with Chelsea in a room nearby. A group of students peered in, on tour. At some point, one of the midwives gently suggested I focus my energy “inward” as a younger woman down the hall was alarmed by my wailing. From water breakage to Kaylee’s birth was about four hours. We stayed the night, then high on postpartum adrenaline, charged out into the world the next morning. The rush lasted through dinner that night – we took our 24-hour old baby out for Thai food. The waiter laughed and said she looked like Tweety Bird, all big-eyed and bald and darling.

We would again rush from Lancaster when Kaylee was four months old. We’d moved back to the desert and in with Bobby’s mom, who did not believe in running the air conditioning, even when it was 100 degrees – or more – outside. Over the course of a week, K had been increasingly fussy, nursing less, looking unwell. When our pediatrician saw her, she ordered blood tests, then called to tell us, “You need to take her to Children’s Hospital in L.A. right away.” The heat had caused my infant to sweat so profusely that she’d become severely dehydrated. I have a photo of K that I took before we left, still all eyes but even more so on her shrunken frame – she’d dropped from 12 lbs. to nine in just 72 hours. By her second day in the hospital, an IV had plumped her back up and she’d started nursing again. I stayed at her side, wincing at the coughing children in the ward, worried we’d leave with tuberculosis. Her full stay in the hospital lasted six days. When we returned to Bobby’s mother’s house, the air conditioner was on.

In 1995, I gave birth to Nick in the same hospital where Chelsea had been born. Time had changed some things – fewer room transfers – and not others – the nurses were still condescending. I’d arrived already dilated to 10 centimeters, a mere hour after contractions had started. Barely a moment existed between one wave of pain and the next. My obstetrician broke my water and boom! there was Nick. He looked like a little old man, like his grandpa, exactly. We stayed the night, argued with the nurses about breastfeeding, took him home the next day.

His week-long stay wouldn’t come until he was 11 years old, after several weeks of feeling generally unwell and having to pee constantly culminated in a night of vomiting. At the time, I had no idea what was wrong, had pondered he might have a UTI, but with three kids someone had to be bleeding or something broken for me to believe it was serious. Nick had already been to the ER twice for staples and stitches, and this spate of lethargy didn’t rise to that level – so I thought. The reality was much worse and dropped on me by an urgent care nurse who smelled his breath and said, “Oh, he’s got diabetes,” as if she were remarking on something negligible. Her tone would have been appropriate if she’d been telling me I had something in my teeth. Life thus changed and Nick desperately ill, the next move was to airlift him to UCSF’s medical center. I accompanied him on the plane, a speedy red deal the size of an ambulance but sleek and cool. I was so troubled that Nick could enjoy neither this Hot Wheels of a plane nor the amazing view – my mind finding small things to worry about because the large concern was far too big. Once he was well enough to eat, I would leave the hospital only to buy better food for us down on Irving Street, then rush back. A week was long enough to get Nick back to health and to absorb a crash course in Type 1 diabetes, but not nearly long enough to understand the impact this disease would have. That would take – is still taking.

The years before and after this were punctuated with ER runs, notably the aforementioned stitches and staples, plus a series of visits when Kaylee was 10 and suffering from a mysterious stomach ailment that ended up with her on morphine at one point. Nick’s diabetes continues to necessitate occasional emergency care as recently as Christmas break.

But the next week of actual hospitalization would involve Bobby and a lung infection. Before we knew it was a lung infection, the doctors kept telling us cancer. Cancer, cancer, cancer. He was still on a gurney in the overcrowded ER hallway when the first doctor broke the news. After the doctor walked away, Bobby and I spilled out 20 years of apologies and explanations and I-love-yous to each other because we didn’t know what would happen. Three days and many tests later, another doctor who’d tossed the cancer verdict in Bobby’s direction looked up from his chart, puzzled. Not cancer, he said. Relief competed with frustration they’d put us through so much worry, but mostly the release from anxiety carried the day. Still, he’d been quite sick, dropping 20 lbs. in a month – the infection had nearly wiped him out – so further stay was necessary. I spent days at the side of his bed, bringing him food and an iPod full of music and books. St. Joe’s was undergoing construction at the time, so nights were full of clanging and banging in addition to the constant beeps and alarms. The nurses spoke kindly to us, however, and friends and family stepped up to help out – we were loved very much during this spring of 2010. (Bobby has been healthy since, but still refuses to go to the doctor when I tell him to.)

I have spent less time in hospitals than some.

I am grateful the hospital stays have coincided with the times we’ve had Medi-Cal or health insurance. I am grateful we’ve had access to decent doctors and well-trained staff. I am grateful, ever grateful, that all of the hospitals stays have ended with everyone leaving alive and whole.

2014: the good

January

Started working at the Northcoast Environmental Center, which meant I not only continued to have a job after being laid off by Ocean Conservancy, but was able to stay in the Greenway (aka “old Yakima”) Building, which boasts fantastic people, an office garden, sweet loaner bikes and an atmosphere of optimism.

February

My older daughter turned 24. Kj and I escaped for a day hiking through the redwoods and an evening spend at Benbow Inn, where C surprised us by having a gift certificate delivered. Love abounded. I used the word “motherfucker” in a Five Things column about not stiffing your server and people wrote in, offended, which caused the word to be repeated, repeatedly. I stood on top of the tallest building between San Francisco and Portland and reveled in local, coastal environmental progress.

March

My younger daughter turned 20. My writers’ group continued to meet, write, inspire. I began a love affair with the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center – oysters! wine! kombucha! excellent lighting! beautiful design! cheese! My friend Heidi Walters unfolded the story of the Wiyot tribe’s long overdue “Renewal.” My pal Ryan Burns wrote one of his best stories yet, an examination of a smear campaign against Shannon Miranda. A Sacramento trip provided reconnection with some of the ocean people who most illustrate success, who remind me of what I aspire to. I took Isla to the zoo.

April 

I helped judge a drag war. I helped my friends Steve and Amy Bohner build a distillery. I helped return a phone. I helped our NEC work study student understand Sacramento: inner workings, outer show and that sometimes in a fancy restaurant the waiter will place your napkin on your lap for you and yes, it’s ridiculous. I helped myself to friendship by accepting invitations to Easter, to brunch. I reveled in beauty, expressed gratitude.

May

A road trip to Bandon, Oregon with colleagues and co-workers led to bonding over mosquitos, flea markets and the wonder of turning beach trash into art. Bobby and I continued on to Portland, where we stayed with one of my dearest, most long-time friends, a woman I shared a room with one magical San Diego summer when I was 18, working at Gold’s Gym, seeing bands at the Casbah and falling in love with Bobby. A woman who will tell stories about that time we went to Ensenada. (Or better, won’t.) What a thing, to have a friend who has known you so well and forever. And then we visited more friends, a wife and husband with a baby and toddler, and we had the pleasure of their company, of helping out, of going eating, drinking, seeing bands. My knees went bad, but provided some writing fodder. Mother’s Day at the beach. Kayaking on the bay. Bike commuting. Tidepooling with Redwood Coast Montessori and Friends of the Dunes. Bobby did amazing art. Twenty-two years ago, Bobby and I married each other.

June

My younger daughter departed for Europe. I wrote about sending her off for the Journal, the editors of which continue to invite me to write more. I was grateful for small things. My cool genius brother Tag Savage went to the White House as part of a Tumblr gig. I toured on the Madaket, I traveled to Crescent City, I played impromptu pool at Hum Brews, I assisted in the creation of a sand sculpture – “The NESea Monster,” get it? – what a life! I kept writing. I made cookies with Isla. I decamped for the Bay Area, a week bouncing between San Francisco and Oakland, excellent friends and fine food and a rush to finish a grant report that found me sitting in Commonweath Oakland during a World Cup game, the entire pub staring at the TV high in the corner, under which was the only open table. There I sat, filling in grant deliverables and project outcomes while the crowd roared around me. Bobby, Nick and I attended our friends’ wedding in Half Moon Bay, a humble, adorable, romantic ceremony on the beach under a driftwood arch. Love abounded.

July

New York! Visited my cool genius brother and his brilliant wife in their new Park Slope digs. Bicycled to the Rockaways. Surfed Long Beach. Biked over the Brooklyn Bridge and wrote about it for Lost Coast Outpost. (Did not succeed in disconnecting.) Infatuated with this poem. Surfing and writing and Crabs games and Humboldt Folklife Fest and summer.

August

Insomnia is relentless. Outside Lands is fabulous. Drinking is dangerous. Writing is life (is sanity). Linda Stansberry is brilliant. Bobby is 51 and still loves me. The month ends with a beginning as Andy and Alanna, two of the sweetest people, make official their commitment in a ceremony that has attendees alternately weeping and laughing and weeping some more and laughing again. They won weddings and I remain honored to have witnessed the triumph. Love abounds.

September

Humboldt’s busiest month? HSU’s volunteer fair, political fundraisers, Coastal Cleanup Day, North Country Fair – the latter included street theater organized by my boss (who gets annoyed when I refer to him as “my boss”) Dan Ehresman, whose flair for dramatic messaging proved as humble as it was brilliant. Also brilliant, my friend Malcolm’s Coastal Cleanup Day video, which featured even more friends casually confirming that we live in a beautiful place among beautiful people. (Further elaborated upon as my stint in the Insider continued.) Somewhere in there, I traveled to Ventura for the Surfrider California Chapters conference, an annual motivational experience heightened by a keynote speech by Shaun Thompson. This month’s takeaway: “Commit.” To the drop, to the world.

October

Isla and I attended the circus. I discovered Mark Manson. I wrote emotionally, confessionally, embarrassingly. One of our NEC interns joined me for a trip to Mendocino, where we paddled Big River Estuary – a marine conservation area! – and I tried to convince her that Manhattans were preferable to froofy cocktails, because while the information I have to impart to the youth is minimal, it is still useful and true. We then traveled to Oakland, where a glorious birthday party unfolded along Lake Merritt’s shoreside. The birthday party in question belonged to one-year-old Viva, precocious daughter of friends Lila and Ian, more talented, beautiful people who inexplicably allow me to share their life from time to time. Blessings counted. From there we launched into the Treasure Island Music Fest. I was a million years older than everyone, bands included, and I didn’t care at all. I siphoned the energy of the youth and drank of their enthusiasm. (That is my secret, friends.) I drove all the way to Long Beach in a day, stayed up drinking margaritas with Deric, whom I met when he was a lad shoveling ice cream at Bon Boniere and I was a shiny new scene editor at the Arcata Eye. Now he’s a veteran of foreign affairs and my older daughter is older than he was when we first discussed the local music scene over mint chip. I am realizing that 2014 was The Year of the Friend in many ways and Deric and his wife Megan are some of my favorites. I collected my older daughter, her dog and two cats in the morning and drove the entire length home. More friends, more dinners, more parties. (Thank you.) The Giants won the World Series! I worried about things.

November

My son turned 19. I voted. Kept writing: fiction with my fellow writers, music for the Journal, ocean for LoCO. I turned 45, planned nothing, was spoiled all week by friends taking me to lunch, dinner, drinks. For the first time, my age disconcerted me. I think about that sometimes. Then shrug. What can a girl do? Just try to be her best, always. And work hard and be kind. And forgive herself when she stumbles. Those things remain true. And attempt to answer questions intelligently when your journalist friend interviews you about trails and Humboldt Bay. Friends invited me to picnic at Luffenholtz and I paddled out between the rocks for the hell of it. Nick moved to Isla Vista.

December

My Facebook habit ebbed. My friendships did not. I stood on a stage and told the story of how the Marine Life Protection Act came to the North Coast and people did not fall asleep (as far as I know). OK, I nailed it. I did! I wanted to. It meant a lot to me. I knew I’d do fine, but I wanted to hit all the right notes and look confident doing it and I stood up there and delivered my talk and said everything I’d planned and walked off mentally fist-pumping the whole way. I worked out. We attended multiple holiday parties. I drove to Point Reyes, all the way to the end of the peninsula for a retirement party, a celebration of ocean heroes. It was dark when I finally found the bunkhouse and dark when I drove away in the early morning. The drive took six hours each way. I dodged a landslide, cows, deer, slowed to a crawl due to heavy rain. It was worth it to be counted among people I admire. Who also know how to throw a party. Kaylee and Nick arrived for Christmas. This was the first time the whole family had been in the same place at the same time in three years. (And all that that implies.) Everything came together – gifts, meals, Bananagrams. Things were imperfect and successful. People responded, mostly well, to my thoughts on forgiveness. Isla and I watched Frozen. New Year’s Eve consisted of impromptu bowling, happy hour at the Carter House, dancing at the Logger Bar, rocking out at the Palm Lounge. The year ended much like it was lived: among friends, with joy. Love abounded.

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2014: the bad, the ugly

Scanning headlines the past few weeks has made two things clear:

  1. There are more “Best Of” lists than there were actual best things.
  2. 2014, it is generally agreed, was a horrible year.

I can’t welcome 2015 properly without a nod to last year, which, while full of marvelous experiences, wasn’t one of my favorites. The year, it felt, was to be endured. I utterly failed at moving through certain challenges with grace, particularly one with which many people in Humboldt must already be familiar: the painfulness of sharing small town social circles with someone who has hurt you.

I’m going to revisit this for a moment.

Not pressing charges at the time will remain one of my bigger regrets. Partly because men should be more often held accountable for grabbing, jabbing and otherwise treating a woman’s body as if that body is theirs to abuse. Partly because then the line defining right from wrong would have been more clearly drawn – one of the disappointing revelations of this year was (again) realizing that some people will shrug off sexual assault, especially if the man involved is charismatic and skilled at entertaining. And I get that to some degree. How many movies or stories feature a bad guy who is nonetheless appealing? We’re suckers for charming rogues. We want to like people who display qualities we find attractive, especially when they make it easy for us.

But understanding the appeal of a fictional antihero doesn’t do much to assuage the sense of betrayal when your friends share giggles with a guy, your own former friend, who laughed in your face when you begged him to stop. Jezebel’s Sara Benincasa responded nicely in her advice column regarding a similar situation:

Some of my close male and female work friends are still really chummy with my former friend and industry colleague who sexually harassed me a lot. Back when it all happened, I told my mutual friends about his behavior and they agreed he was out of line. They even said they’d tried to intervene and get him to knock it off (BTW he has a really great wife who is also our friend). They suggested I confront him in a direct, professional manner, and I did. He and I are no longer friends and merely acknowledge one another in public at industry functions. But it’s like my buddies think it’s totally okay for them to party with him and post fun pics on Facebook so long as they don’t invite me along, too. What should I do?

Here’s how I see your situation: you gave your friends information about the way in which a particular fellow acted towards you. They chose to support you in your decision to part ways with him. But they also chose to continue to support him as a friend. They have different relationships with each of you, and perhaps they have never experienced his creepy, gross, awful side… Now, I do not believe that the enemy of my friend needs to be my enemy, as well… I know it is entirely possible to love two different friends who can’t stand each other.

However, this isn’t just about two buddies who don’t get along. In this case, the man did something predatory and disturbing. I want you to ask yourself honestly if you need to maintain anything more than friendly working relationships with these colleagues. If the answer is yes, and you cherish any of these friendships on a deep level, speak to these friends one on one. Without any expectations, tell each person, “I care about you and I want to be honest with you about something. Your friendship with Douchebag worries me very much. He really hurt me and scared me, and I just don’t understand why you would continue to spend time with someone who did those things.” Listen to their rationale and judge for yourself if their arguments have merit (spoiler alert: they probably won’t).

So, yeah. The unfortunately defining circumstance of my 2014. After 16 years rooted in this beautiful place, I felt like Humboldt was no longer safe.

What turned out to be excellent, however, the proverbial silver lining, was the number of friends who immediately stepped up to support me, to reassure me, to let me know they had my back and continued to do so through all my inelegant struggles to navigate my way to some sort of peace. I express my gratitude toward them repeatedly (most lately by remembering to talk about everything else in life) and hope they know what a gift I consider their friendship to be.

And the others? I’m trying to be generous and gracious and remind myself of the bigness and complexity of people’s lives, that we’re often in different places and on our own journeys and all that. To note the goodness when it exists and remember, “…you are so much more than a victim. Life offers so much more than this one shitty act. The beach. The forest. Skinny-dipping. Goat cheese-stuffed dates drizzled with hot pepper oil. Frisbee.” I lost a lot of time, energy and tears struggling with this last year. I’m ready to leave it behind.

things that scare me

Things that scare me:

1. Being unable to protect my children from bad people, risky behavior, terrible decisions and freak accidents.

When you bring a baby into the world, that mama bear love overwhelms you. You hug the tiny person close and swear you’ll never let anything hurt the unbearably precious creature. And you mean it, but it’s an unkeepable promise because – unless you live in a remote, armed, stocked fortress, which I totally support – eventually bullies will push your kid around on the playground and men will grope your daughters and bad drivers will crash into them and politicians will make shitty policies and if those are the worst things that happen, you are still lucky.

The news is filled daily with stories you can’t even think about, the kind that involve children going missing, being gunned down – and these events are rare enough, you try to find some comfort or maybe stop reading the news, but then the children themselves toddle into the street, into parties, into cars, into dysfunctional relationships and you realize it might be easier to protect them from the world than from themselves. You’d hoped they would learn from your own experiences – someone should, right? – but no. They will go down the wrong path, sometimes willfully, sometimes innocently, and all you can do is pray to the God you don’t believe in that they come back intact.

2. Drowning.

3. Living too long. It sounds exhausting.

4. That when I hurriedly tug on my surf bootie I’ll immediately feel bugs writhing all over against my feet and it will take at least a minute to get it off because you have to tug hard and then a hundred sow bugs will tumble out because I guess leaving my booties on the deck for a week wasn’t a good idea and I’ll never be able to put them on again without thinking wiggling bugs trapped against my foot flesh.

5. That sexual harassment, assault, rape will never stop because not enough men care enough to stop it.

6. Related: That stupidity will emerge victorious. (See Idiocracy, anonymous commenting, no one giving a fuck.)

7. Heights.

8. People jumping out at me from behind doors. Or shower curtains.

9. That I won’t realize my own foolishness in time.

10. Drivers who don’t bother moving over or slowing down when passing me riding my bike on the highway or over the bridges. I envision myself tumbling broken into bramble or over the concrete barrier into the bay. This is not how I want to go out.

 

Things that don’t scare me:

1. Spiders.

2. Taking a stand.

3. People acting like jerks because they don’t like your opinion or because they devalue your experiences. Take your friendship and go, jerk.

4. Diplomacy and compromise. Which is different than kowtowing and caving. We’ve all got to get along in this world, more or less, and although letting one’s defenses down enough to find that common ground can be frightening – Oh my god, I’ve got things in common with that person?! – it’s less scary than living an us vs. them life.

5. Public speaking. (Usually.)

6. Tsunamis.

7. Traveling alone.

8. The threat of eternal damnation.

9. Gay marriage.

10. Committing to the drop. Wait! I am often scared when paddling into a wave outside my comfort zone, big and steep and fast and gut clenches up and I have to yell at myself in my head to paddle, goddamn it, and go! But I’m trying.

and… something totally positive and rad and happymaking!

Wow, last few posts have been the opposite of celebratory! Let me add some positivity to the mix with this story:

While having the remarkable privilege of attending Outside Lands this year, I found myself at fiftyseven-thirtythree’s clothing booth. I’ve been a fan of this Oakland-based company for years. I bought myself a long-sleeved hooded pullover. I also fell in love with this shirt:

Yes.

I didn’t envision wearing it myself, but I bought it anyway, knowing that at some point, somewhere, the right person would come along and I’d make his or her day. (Probably his since it’s a guy shirt.)

Last night was that day. Our friends in The Blackberry Bushes string band crashed at our house. We chatted sports and movies and books. Julian, the bass player, wore his omnipresent A’s hat. I realized, this was it! So I dashed upstairs, pulled the shirt from its special place, traipsed back down – I should mention Julian is reticent, more likely to quietly contemplate matters in the background while the rest of us are blurting out our thoughts on the pros and cons of watching the latest Netflix series.

So when I held up the shirt and said, “Hey! I’ve been wanting to give this to someone!,” I didn’t expect a rousing display of affection. When he responded with, “I’ve been wanting that shirt!” and “Rickey Henderson’s my favorite player!,” along with Henderson’s Oakland history, this small display of enthusiasm was worth millions. It was a perfect exchange.

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in which I offer up an excruciatingly emotional post of questionably redeeming value!

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The problem with keeping a journal, a friend and I were discussing, is we tend to write when we need to decompress, to vent, to sort through unhappiness via the therapy of words. “People,” I’d said, “would have thought I was the most depressed, angry person in the world” if I’d hung on to those sad collections of my darkest adolescent thoughts.

Social media has changed that – in private, we may still pour out grief, bemoan our lives, but online we want to be liked, are literally rewarded by how many likes we garner, and so our posts lean toward love, vacation, sunsets, gratitude.

And that’s okay. Celebrating the good, acknowledging what gives us joy reinforces our awareness of how much joy permeates our lives. (Sure, sometimes certain friends come off as bragging or in denial. We’ll give them a pass for now.)

Sometimes I look back at this blog, which has variously served as a place to record playlists from my radio days, chronicle my parenting experiences, attempt meaningful observations on social issues, note what books I’ve read, track my surf sessions and insomnia, and occasionally to serve as a place where I work through hurt – sometimes a combination of the above.

All this is just preface. Or, in unkinder terms, bullshit.

I’m reminded of my creative writing classes, how I would turn something in, some exercise, and and my teacher would cross out the first few lines, paragraphs, pages, then write a note with an arrow pointing out, “This is where the story actually starts.” So much of writing is a feeling out of direction, is timid in the face of the audience. Sometimes I can dive in. Sometimes, like right now, I grovel, disclaim, excuse, explain. I need you to like me first. Because if I started with, “I hated everything tonight,” would you still come along?

Because I hated everything tonight.

All day, disparate obligations pulled me in different directions. It was the mental equivalent of being stuck in traffic, hand on the stick, foot on the clutch, shifting up, shifting down, unable to ever get past second gear. After work I finally followed the path that usually proves cathartic: I tossed my board, wetsuit and wax into my truck and aimed for the beach.

But it didn’t help. Instead, everything bubbled up. “You’re in the ocean,” I told myself. “Be here. Stop thinking. You have such a good life. Look at you.” But my brain wouldn’t quit. I hated my knees because they hurt and are making me look like a beginner all over again when I stand up. I hated my wetsuit because the holes in it are going to prove problematic once this summery weather turns. I hated myself for not getting enough education to have a better paying job, for not saving enough money when I did. I hated how lonely I feel sometimes. I hated that no one will just magically make my life easy. I hated that life has peaked and it’s just going to be struggle and scramble forever. I hated all the stupid racist, misogynist people. I hated wars. I hated all the various men who have put their hands on me against my will. I hated that I never reported any of them to the authorities because it means the offenses aren’t official and therefore are only my opinion. I hated all my so-called friends who are unbothered by the assaults on my person. I hate this delayed-but-profound anxiety I feel over it all. I hated being abandoned, in various ways, by various people once important to me. I hated that I could not protect my children from the world’s callousness. I hated that I always have to plan everything, care for everyone, even as I knew “always” was an exaggeration. I hated being unsure of my place in life. I hated being 44 and not having life better figured out. I hated how embarrassingly self-indulgent I was in hating. I hated being out in the ocean, which I love, full of all this hate.

Eventually the darkness encroached enough that I had to make the last wave I caught my last wave. I wanted a better one, to tap into that energy that makes everything else recede, that one magic ride that lifts me out of the mortal world and gives me a taste of the sublime. Instead I found myself dropping off a fading right and paddling against the current, the shore questionably distant. What if I just gave up, I thought for a moment, let the sea pull me out? I could just rest my head on my board, my cheek against the wax, inhaling that sweet crayon scent. Except I couldn’t. I’m not a quitter, not really, tempting as it sounds sometimes. So I kept paddling. Reached shore. Trudged to my truck, aware, despite my mood, of the pink glow dimming along the horizon. Very pretty. I flung my board into the back, started to tug off my wetsuit, except the zipper caught at the end, trapping me in neoprene. That’s when I burst into tears.

See how pathetic I sound? Good grief, my life is just fine – I cringe to recall how two hours ago I was sobbing, tears falling on the sand as I twisted the hubcab locks free.

I arrived home, all deep breaths and shuddering sighs, hid in the hot water of the shower until the crying stopped. Toweled off. Comfy pajamas. Oh, how I love pajamas. And then I had sharp cheddar cheese and decent bourbon and buttery tortillas with hot sauce as an excuse for dinner, and Slice of Humboldt apple cider pie for dessert. And took photos of the cat for my middle daughter because she likes her daily Skimble picture. And wrote a venting email to my dear girlfriends who would understand the emotional throes I’m thrashing about in. And answered an email from another friend who has utterly had my back in an aforementioned situation, reminding me that I’m not crazy, that some people do think I have value and, hell, a lot of people do, and I am lucky in that, even if a few have removed themselves from my life over the years. So, as happens, the hate ebbed, the gratitude flowed in.

Sharing this seems almost ridiculous – perhaps it would better serve, greatly reshaped, as fodder for some other type of writing not so blatantly confessional? But I know people and I know people hurt from time to time and sometimes misery is eradicated by company, so please, if you are in the thick of despondency, hold on. Breathe. Cry. Eat some cheese. Or pie. Write. Reach out. Find your own reasons to be grateful and wrap them around yourself until your heart is warm again.

Not for use as a Facebook status update

Because Facebook, I like to keep that all happy happy joy joy. Partly because focusing on life’s best moments contributes to greater contentedness with the big picture, but also because I am far too aware of how fine my life is – any complaining comes matched with equal parts embarrassment for doing so. Plus I’m optimistic, having been around long enough to know that most of my problems are of my own making and therefore solvable, and that the passing of time has a way of making the serious stuff manageable and the minor stuff not worth troubling about.

But not today.

Or rather, I am grateful to be faced with no emergencies, to know my children, scattered as they are to the world at the moment, are whole. My husband toils in the garden while I answer emails from my bright, blue bedroom. We have running cars and surfboards and an immersion blender that my boss gave me for no reason other than I wished out loud one day that I had one. My blood pressure is excellent.

There. Blessings counted. And yet, under it all, this anxiety.

Normally, I can override the worry.

But not today.

I want to say I hit the proverbial wall, but it’s more like I failed to clear a hurdle, meant to leap, but instead merely tumbled over – oof – and find myself unable to get up and back in the race. Or even more so, as if some malevolent force tripped me, then sat on top of me, too heavy to fight off. It’s all I can do to breathe.

I forgot how feeling down can paralyze a person – which is another blessing, that these moments would descend on me as rarely as they do. I might be getting sick. Several people have reported coughs and colds in my presence. I might need a day off from being on. The obligations have snowballed into each other and steamrolled over any planned downtime. I might be feeling the cumulative effects of worrying about the children, the bills, the way my schedule and Bobby’s haven’t been jiving, the fact that a once-close relative cut us out of her life for no discernible reason a few years ago and that eats away at me most days – I am alone in the world, I think.

Objectively, I know, I am not.

That place that exists in the softest part of our heart is not dispassionate, however, and today loneliness pervades despite all logic.

When I write, I try to write with purpose. To entertain, to advise, to chronicle a story I believe worth telling. To put words together artfully so that someone else might find pleasure in the reading.

This is not my most artful post, I am well aware, so what is the point? To whine, oh, poor me? God, no. I wince and know I will hesitate to click “Publish” in fear it will come off as an exercise in self-indulgence.

Is it to evoke reassurance about my worth in the world? I don’t think so – I know I am liked and do good work and that my children need me and my husband loves me and my friends think of me as fun.

So I guess, what I am saying here, the thing that I hope will elevate these chunks of sentences to something worth posting, is that sometimes people inadvertently find themselves struck with a malaise they can neither shake nor define.

For the lucky ones, like me, it will pass. A quality nap might be enough to do the trick. (I am so very tired.) Or a walk on the beach (blessing!). Saltwater. Writing. In any case, I have responsibilities I must get to and eventually the distraction of doing will eradicate the despair – a therapist might say I use obligations as a survival technique.

I say, whatever works.

But for others, the crushing comes more frequently. Resources at hand might be more slim. Whatever life appears to be on the outside, a person’s inner world can be a troubled place. It is good to be kind. It is good to know one is not alone. That appears to be where I am going with this. Sometimes a person needs to hear that things are going to be okay. Today I need to tell myself, things are going to be okay. And if you need to hear it, please, trust me: Things are going to be okay. 

insomniasurfkidsoceannight

The door must have opened first, but it was the closing that woke me, followed by the motion lights coming on. I stumbled out of bed to check the driveway. No one. The side gate squeaked open, shut. A car’s headlights shone through the hedge. My son and his friends had decided to get a middle-of-the-night snack, apparently. I returned to bed, listening for them to return. To fill the time, I started worrying. About teenage drivers. About the potential for drunk or texting drivers. About the kids in general. About the event I have tonight. About recent rough patches in a couple friendships. About making it through a long day of work, a busy night and leaving the next morning on so little sleep.

I should’ve gone downstairs and found my headphones, plugged in and listened to one of my relaxation apps. But I didn’t want to get up. Finally I got up and decided to write.

Sometimes I miss writing about surfing, repetitive as it was. Last time I went out was Sunday. The sky hovered mostly gray, sunshine promised, but not yet forthcoming. Waves broke on my face in the channel. My bootie has a hole and my wetsuit’s leaking, but the water temp’s been steady mid-50s, not too bad. My knees ache every day lately, but I caught a couple waves and did all right. Nick caught some and, as always, watching him fly along from the back triggered happiness. Most everyone in the water was a friend. The waves were head-high, slightly over, and mushy. I had to wait until they were almost breaking to get into them – good practice, mentally, taking off later than I’m typically comfortable.

A set came, larger than the others, maybe a foot overhead, maybe more. Usually I either get caught inside or somehow miss the set waves, instead observing everyone else tear them up while I linger pathetically alone on the outside. This time, I caught one. Dropped down the face, bottom-turned, back up to the lip, slid down – just an average ride on an average wave that filled me with exceptional happiness because that is what surfing does.

Rode to the beach, where Nick was waiting. We had places to be, so I ended on that successful note and off we went as the sun finally emerged and the day turned brilliant.

I wish those moments came to me in the midst of tossing, turning, adjusting pillows, sheets. Instead, the anxieties I keep at bay during the sunlit hours assault me. I remember when I would get up and check Nick’s blood sugar in the dark. For years, I’d set the alarm, sneak into his room, poke his finger, watch the drop of blood spread into the strip. Wait for the number. Either I’d be able to go back to sleep, satisfied that he was, for the moment, okay – or start the correction process, which might take hours. He’s been handling that himself, at his insistence, for a couple years. I don’t miss the interrupted sleep, but I do miss being fully informed, having oversight. I wish we discussed his diabetes beyond him reassuring me that he’s fine. I believe he’s paying attention. I know he’s not paying attention the way I want him to.

But since when do the kids do what I want them to? They’ve been teenagers, near-adults, adults for a while. So much letting go. It’s freeing in many ways, this relinquishment of control. What doesn’t go away is the worry. I remain shackled to that.

So here I am, coming up on 7:30 a.m., wondering if I attempt more sleep or caffeinate my way through the day.

I have a big deal Ocean Night tonight (see Lost Coast Outpost at some point today for a comprehensive post), then off to Outside Lands tomorrow. Life is sweet, yes? Even without the sleep.

 

 

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