Just Too Dang Much

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I’m one of those bad-broke, rode-hard-put-up-wet kinda gals. You know ’em. Fire sparks from their eyes, smoke streams from the nostrils, and they’re just generally a handful. Sometimes gentle, sometimes a cross between a treed bobcat and a lady. Always keep you edgy wondering how to approach ’em. I don’t know if I was born this way, but it seems like it.

My opinion is that the world deserves me just the way I am on account of the way it treats me and everything else. I’m kinda like one of the Earth’s walking consciences, always reminding people of what happens when they treat other people mean. I’m sure you know someone like me. I’m strong, opinionated, pretty, lucky, independent, self-assured, smart.

Oh, I’m not a stunner dripping with money and gently holding the cojones of the world; no way. I’m one of them strong, independent types who’s got everything nobody else really wants. I’m one of those bitches who makes everybody nervous and that everybody calls touchy or crabby. I am too damned much for anyone to handle, or so they say.

The first time I remember having that odd little “too” adjective applied to me was when I was about five and was told I was too young to understand, too small to do it, and too hard to get along with. In the first case, a five-year-old should never be sacrificed to nuns for education. Secondly, I could ride any horse I got on, sort of. And finally, if they would talk to me reasonably I might not be so damn hard to get along with. But all this was just a portent, a hint, of what was coming.

By the time I was eight, I was too smart, too dumb, too much a tomboy, too serious. I kept the smart, dumb, serious part and became known as Little Miss Priss to my family by age ten. Puberty found me weighing in at 85 pounds, heft that was stretched across a five six frame, with a mouth full of teeth that wouldn’t fit until I was about twenty, braces, and the self-esteem of a mouse. No tits, no hips, just elbows and knees and braces. Gorgeous from any perspective. My mom always told me I had a great smile, though. Very small comfort to a human tree.

I learned early that kids are mostly mean and stupid, so I found solace with very old people; they had something to say and knew how to listen. The first love affair I ever had was with my grandmother who died when I was nine. I played dominoes and jacks and could skip high waters/hot peppers with the best, but I also read forty to sixty books a semester from second grade on. I loved Hank Williams and Patsy Kline when Elvis was king. Vincent Price, who was better than John Wayne every hoped to be in my book, introduced me to Poe. Our twit of a librarian refused to allow me to check out the collected works of that dear alcoholic because I was only in fourth grade, but she poured the first shot in a life-long addiction.

I knew rocks, snakes, trees, water, rabbits, cats, and horses had souls; I was uncertain about people. I wanted to be a ballerina from age six until I dropped that nonsensical dream on my twenty-eighth birthday when I did an arabesque and semi-permanently sprained my ankle.

I fit well in high school, too. I had to take the high school entrance exam twice because I scored higher than the male genius and the first score was obviously a fluke. By fourteen I had fallen in love with a man who was to fill my dreams to the present, some thirty years later. We were an item during my twenties, but that story best fits in later. I dated three guys in high school, none of them him, and scandalized the town with my supposed promiscuity (you were only allowed one man every four years back then). I wasn’t selected to cheer for the team because, as the kind president of the pep squad told me, they were afraid I might become too egotistical. My algebra teacher made certain I was never elected to senior honor society or chosen as an honor student because I was too loud in the halls. I was asked to run as secretary of the senior class, but wanted to run as president. Girls names were never entered for that position so I didn’t get to run for anything.

I kept thinking I was going through a phase, that some time in the near future I would be just good enough. In fact, it wasn’t a phase and it expanded to include too sensitive, too loving, too good, too bad, too intense, too modern, too wild. Let’s see, what did I miss? Oh yeah, too sad, too happy, too mad, too glad. Too much a hippy, too old-fashioned. Don’t get confused here, these were certainly not words I applied to myself. Good-intentioned professors, friends, therapists, bosses, unknowns told me these things, for my own good, of course.

What the hell is a twenty-year-old supposed to do with this kind of knowledge? I thought love might help me figure it out. Believe me, it doesn’t. It just adds to the list. Drugs don’t help either. They mirror the words back onto your soul and write them into your heart with a bitter, indelible ink. Alcohol is a socially acceptable method of drowning, but that leads to alcoholism and, dang, that’s a tough one to get rid of. Thank God for the rare soul who believes in you, without strings, without wanting to own or change or manipulate.

I’m not certain when I started thinking I might be okay to look at, that my nose wasn’t too big or my cheekbones too prominent or my lips too big. Somewhere in my mid-thirties I decided my eyes were really quite nice, but pretty? Never. In fact, I settled for exotic. That’s better, anyway, isn’t it? I think getting sober at 32 unlocked the gate for several revelations, including that I was bright, could be charming and okay to look at, and might have something of value to give to friends and lovers. It’s a theory I’m still testing, twenty years later, though.

Briefly back to the love of my life. He recently got married for the second time, obviously not to me, and that’s because, he says, he would rather be comfortable than passionate. Ergo I am too passionate. He’s probably right that our marriage would have been tough, but damn him anyway.

What the hell is wrong with being too passionate, too sensitive, too everything? Why is this silly little adjective thrown at me in explanation for each aspect of me? My beloved sister once told me I was too supportive. Jeezo peezo! Was I supposed to become less smart, less pretty, less lucky, less sensitive, less passionate? Would that ensure that someone would love me? That I would find a place I fit in this world? That the pain would abate? What was I supposed to do with this stuff? How do people want me to react, to change? I was simply befuddled by this. It ebbed and flowed. I could go a whole three, maybe four, months without someone using that adjective to describe something I had just done, some feeling I had just expressed, some thought I had just expounded. But without fail, that well-intentioned look would descend on someone’s face and the next “too” would pop out.

It’s an interesting phenomena, this “too” stuff. When people say “you’re strong”, it’s a compliment. When they say “you’re too strong”, it’s a criticism. It implies that you are supposed to do something about it, that somehow you have stepped over an appropriate, social boundary and that, if you were a “good” person, you would do something to correct that faux pas. When I first encountered it, it stung but I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. I had no idea that little word will become my personal Chinese water torture, wearing my heart away drop by drop.

I started hearing that word in every conceivable context. Was there something wrong with me? Did I have some major deficit? Was I born missing some key ingredient that would allow me to understand this too stuff? The weight of that silly little word is extraordinary because not only was it used to put me in my place, it was also invariably used to explain why someone treated me abominably and why I should be big enough or strong enough or gracious enough to let that rudeness pass. Essentially, because I was a “too” person, I had to accept every form of appalling behavior imaginable. People were allowed to and, according to their moral precepts, were supposed to bring my “too” behavior to my attention, just in the off chance I wasn’t aware that I was a “too” person.

I spent years shaving off parts of my personality. You know, trying to speak softer, act nicer, be stupid. I even wore suits and coiffed hair. Jeez. I figured if I kept carving off pieces of my personality I’d eventually get to the “good enough” part and then everyone would start saying I was just strong enough or smart enough or whatever. It doesn’t work that way, but dang it takes some learning to figure it out.

Finally, though, it came to me. They ain’t never gonna be satisfied. They just need to break my spirit for some reason. When I got to that understanding, and believe me it didn’t come quick, I had myself a year-long cry, dusted off my boots, and start living for myself again. Now I glory in being too much. It reminds me I am vitally alive, full of piss and vinegar, raring to go. It lets me know that they haven’t broken me to saddle yet. Oh sure, many of them still want to but, until they figure out that wounding an animal’s pride only makes it mean, they’ll never get this mare in their corral.

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Whispers and Sighs

     

Compelled to comprehend the enslavement of women, I studied witches, medieval history, feminism, Celts, serfdom, cults of Mary, industrial revolution, science, spirituality, human rights, Abrahamic religions, shamanism, Marie de France, marriage, genital mutilation, torture, and rape. The subject was so broad I couldn’t wrestle understanding from it. I narrowed the focus to a matrilineal history, interweaving this unsettling saga into my family story. Weird customs and eccentric record-keeping muddied evidence of my mother’s grandmother so I started my search with my first grandmother born on this continent.

Grandfather Bernado Sena married Grandmother Tomasa Gonzalace on February 8, 1705 in La Villa Real de la Santa Fé, capital of the “Kingdom of New Mexico”. Had I known this sooner I might have followed the Gonzalace family but while I ferreting out my my matrilineal tribe abuela Dorotea Maria Sena, born in 1844, showed up. I thought I’d easily follow a trail of Senas to Mexico, leap the Atlantic to Spain, and land amidst a gaggle of relatives. It sucks being a romantic sometimes—there is no el  Camino de los Adoquines Amarillos (Yellow Brick Road) to the land of female ancestors. Two years into the research I unearthed fabulous stories, unknown worlds, marvelous histories, but no Senas.

In a moment of “I’m finished” frustration I began reading A.S. Byatt’s Possession. The story reminded my pal Jacque of my odyssey; I hoped for diversion. Then, on page 496, I read “where the nine terrible virgins lived who were called the Seines or Sénas or Sènes….” Dang. There they are.

Around 43 AD Roman geographer Pomponius Mela wrote of these priestesses living on an island he called Sena and placed in the English Channel; most historians believe he referred to l’Île de Sein. By calling them terrible virgins he meant they were sovereign–unmarried–and therefore potentially dangerous; tales survive of them brewing the Druid potion of knowledge, calming storms by displaying their vulvas, healing all illness, and shape-shifting at will. This is also perhaps the Armorican Other World, equivalent to Avalon, where women consecrated the dead and released the souls of those brought via an unmanned boat from the mainland.

l’Île de Sein sits seven miles west of Pont du Raz, the edge of Armorica, ancient historical land that became Brittany and is now a department of France. The old people on l’Île still speak Breton, part of the Celt language branch that includes Welsh and Cornish. Everyone else speaks French and the young ones learn English and Spanish as well. The island is tiny, about a mile and a half long and three-quarters of a mile wide in some places at low tide; it balances five or six feet above the Atlantic. The Talkers, two menhirs, document human attention to the island at least in the Neolithic Age. [Menhir(s) and dolmen(s) are Breton words commonly used to designate the upright and horizontal megalithic stones forming Stonehenge, Avebury, and Carnac.] Knowing whether the priestesses existed is not important to the Îlenes. They are practical people whose island is threatened by rising sea levels and lack of potable water; whose children must thrive in this technological world; and who must develop tourism to survive the loss of traditional fishing. Theirs is not my story to relate.

The Senas were part of the continental Celts about whom I knew little and that was wrong. Celts—a great stew of ancestors which includes Irish, Manx, Scots Welsh, Breton, and some Iberian peoples—have been passionately debated since the Greeks squabbled about them in 6th century BC. A hundred tribes march to the tunes of fifty chiefs; bewildering decrees change calendars at a whim; nations consume tribes like truffles; musings become someone’s facts. Lakes, rivers, landscapes, forests may or may not have existed—reality and myth so intertwined they are one and the same. The Bretons form a little pocket of historical chaos that maddens with its speculative inconclusiveness and scholarly disagreement. I waded into this mêlée unprepared for the astonishing mess.

How to trace pagan holy women in the catacombs of this turbulent history recorded mostly by argumentative Christian intellectuals? A shamanic image of a lighthouse outlined on cliffs of a speck of land, flashing across a thousand miles of thrashing ocean served as beacon throughout my unknowing—there was a Sena priestess light blinking in the midst of all that goodly analyzation.

Scholars believe Celtic women were equal at law and that they served as bards. Celtic women are known to have fostered children, educating them in nation-to-nation diplomacy and other worldly skills. Druidesses taught techniques of fighting using two-wheeled chariots on an island south of l’Île, perhaps. The priestesses on Sena crop up, veiled sometimes, clearly on occasion; usually the story is similar to Mela’s, but subtle additions appear. Infertility prayers include a reference to The Talkers, two menhirs on the island, which hints at wise woman traditions. Endless clues on this chimera quest.

A devoted friend takes pity and flies me to Brittany. Perhaps, she thinks, I’ll get some answers and quiet down. I mostly blow the opportunity. Thinking I am carefully prepared, I land in Brest, rent a car, get lost hour upon hour, miss the ferries to l’Île, laugh often, speak rarely, eat sporadically, fall totally in love with the Bretons and Brittany. I realize that what I know about their culture is woefully inadequate and I learn nothing more of the priestesses or the Île de Sein. I return home determined to get on that beloved island.

Going to Brittany again requires intense preparation. I need money, of course, and I need to learn French. A network of support here keeps me invigorated, believing, and encouraged. I continue ferreting out possible evidence, but I focus on getting strong physically and psychologically so I can travel and be present over there. I’ve been mightily depressed, sedated, and impaired for nigh on twenty years and am personally depleted, but this desire to be in Brittany and on l’Île serves.

I create a three-foot by three-foot sheet of paper, tape it on a wall, and daily scribble my desire to see the Île de Sein in 2015. I fill up one sheet with ideas, wants, hopes, needs, and intention; I begin another. I write and publish my second book of essays and poems, Writing Myself Back Into Life, in itself an intention to well in health. Replete with some of my most gut-wrenchingly honest and difficult writing, the handmade edition of 40 copies sells out.

Though nestled in exquisite llano y montane landscape, the ranch isolates me so and I move house back to my Dixon community of friends and artists. I study, recite, read, listen, and try numerous methods to learn French, and fail. Life sends the money. I leave for Brittany on Labor Day. September 10, 2015, at 10:28 AM, Paris time, I step onto l’Île de Sein. Gosh. I’m here for 23 days. Now what?

My second night at Hotel Ar-Men I awaken to sonorous sounds of a woman in ecstasy. Her sultry sighs of pleasure–slow full intakes, great heaving exhalations–last long; I drift in and out of sleep to them. I hear her again in the afternoon and early the next morning. I’m envious and curious. So! All those tales of French lovemaking are true, eh? Her joyous music stays with me, somehow mingling with the pleasurable tingles of moist air on my skin, those swooshing kisses of warm wet wind, the way my body interacts with stones, grass, and flowers. I hear love songs everywhere.

Each day waves of ocean and wind lick my skin clean, removing calcified attitudes and limbering ligaments, working physical magic on my sand-papered nervous system. I am agile, exploratory, more actively curious. I spend hours in liminal space with nothing between me and Life. There are tide pools to witness: small brown blobs like blood clots with tentacles capture my attention. Bivalves bubble and breathe. Cormorants dive, dine, then drape huge wings to dry. A disheveled great blue heron stalwartly withstands gusts, awaiting clear sight to stab breakfast. I wander up one side of the island, down the other, over rabbit warrens, across slick seaweed, over boulders, curiously at ease, vibrant, alert.

My brain works again. Though I am more likely to answer in Spanish or German, I am pushed to listen and comprehend simple French conversation. I ask for food and water. I get directions. I speak haltingly to a woman whose father joined Charles de Gaulle in London during World War II. Dominique and Marielle applaud unexpectedly correct French and I deepen my reading comprehension. Each day the faulty synapses fire more quickly and accurately. My confidence grows. I mend.

Then the day before I leave, I sit on the north beach gulping the sensuous reality of this vital place into my memory banks. I have 3,500 photos and thousands of words describing what I’ve seen, yet suddenly I’m afraid I’ll leave without understanding why I crossed a continent and an ocean to sit on l’Île. Of course, I want to belong to this tradition of priestesses who were more than sex workers and with whom I share a name. Yes, I long to be recognized for the wisdom and knowledge of this place I have earned. And, naturally, I wish to remain cradled in the extraordinary beauty that solaces my soul.

Before that longing can become desperate, the world shifts. I’m in liminal space again, in-between, neither here nor there, embraced by and enmeshed in everything around me. I realize all those womanly orgasmic sounds I’ve been hearing are the great heaving tides of our mother ocean. The whole fabulous island filling with whispers and sighs, the sensuous soughing of sand and sea are all life–Life–breathing. And, I am fully planted in the midst of it all, synchronized with and sculpted by that from which I was born. Fire and water. The utter miracle of this planet and me on it, enmeshed in the improbable and incomprehensible splendor of being alive and belonging to all creation. I came here to learn that I am whole. So simple. So clear. So real.

Like the selkie of story, I found my skin, my pelt, carefully preserved there on the sand of l’Île de Sein and once again covered my poor naked nerve endings so long abraded by loss. I returned to my natural element of belonging. Continuing the story and living whole are my gifts back.

      The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.     Rainer Maria Rilke

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When One Man Dies

It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter how you well you think you lived your life. It doesn’t matter what happened before. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, known or nameless. It doesn’t matter if your friends number in the hundreds or less than a handful. When you die, pain and sorrow permanently alter life for everyone who knew you.

When one man dies, neighbors become friends. April, Leroy, and their family are my neighbors a mile to the north. They were here within minutes of my 911 call and spent the first four hours with me, directing the state troopers and coroner, rubbing my hand, and holding me close while I slowly came to understand what had happened. When Gary died, my landlords came with green chili stew and bottles of wine. They traveled 90 miles to feed and comfort me. The 88-year-old neighbor brought beer; he had to find someone to drive him the four miles.

When one man dies, grief crashes in. People who didn’t know Gary cried with me when they heard the news. Usually they were remembering their own loss, the person they loved who died. Old sorrow returned to linger, to sit on their shoulders awhile. People who did know Gary were stunned, wordless, until the reality set in, then they too cried, remembering the man they loved. Grief tastes like ashes; words are no longer eloquent; colors are dull; time is warped. Pain is real, though, and weighs more than you could ever imagine.

When one man dies, family expands. I called everyone I knew who knew Gary. Each of them gave me strength, each one wept, each one called me back to check on me. Each one called another person who knew Gary. Now all of us are more than mere acquaintances. Now, Gary’s grieving mother is part of my family. I know things about her child that she does not know but that she needs to know. I know that he was a kind, gentle, strong man. That his kindness blessed many people. That he still wanted his body used by scientists to possibly unravel one more mystery. That he was diligent, brilliant, laughing, caring, and still tortured. That he built beautiful stone walkways, altars, and fire pits. That his final days were spent in a beautiful place and that he was surrounded by people who cared very deeply about him.

When one man dies, grudges are forgiven. Most of Gary’s family and friends had not spoken to him in years. He cut off his relationships one by one, methodically, in the last few years of his life. That angered and hurt his friends. Somehow it helps to understand that he did that to everyone. His friends understand more about the pain he was carrying, the weight of the decision he was making. They also know that carrying grudges is foolish and can rob you of precious time and sweet memories. Friends who have not spoken to each other because of some previous hurt have called each other this week and sought some common ground for forgiveness.

When one man dies, everyone becomes a storyteller. I have learned that Gary spent a month building stone walkways for a friend in Missouri. I have heard details of his childhood, stories from his days in the solar industry, tales of his propensity to make every project into a scientifically elaborate experiment. I know that he could be bone-headed stubborn and I know that he could be child-like in his enthusiasm. I know that he loved deeply. And, I know that many people loved him.

When one man dies, love floods your world. My mother and her dear friend, a priest, came to help me bless the home where Gary lived and died. They came laden with flowers and prayers. They soothed my spirit, and Gary’s. Friends with whom I work, called me, wept with me, and did rituals for me. Their notes poured love over me like a honeyed salve; their calls allowed me to grieve and to be held in love. That soothing allowed me to comfort Gary’s friends and family. They in turn poured love on his mother and on me and on each other. The richness of the love given to Gary, and to me, cannot be described but will always be remembered.

My friend Gary took his life on Solstice. His own grief stilled his heart and turned him away from the beauty of life. He no longer knew how to live in this world. His pain broke his spirit. His choice is almost impossible to understand; it was his choice. We sit in quiet sorrow, remembering when we chose to continue but so wanted to die. We all know now that the answer of suicide is a gut-wrenching answer for those who remain behind.

He came for solace; he died in peace. I will remember Gary Lee Moore.

An Awakening

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…accepting all I’ve done and said—Peter Gabriel

My oldest written horoscope reading dates from 1975; astrology is important and meaningful to me, long a part of my spiritual life. During the past two years Planet Waves and other astrological sources repeatedly indicated it was time for me to rekindle sexual desire, renew my dedication to what brings me joy, and heal my relationships, with myself, this Earth, and those beings in my life. I slogged through most of 2012, sleeping the first five months and wondering how the hell to awaken any aspect of myself. I intuitively knew the advice was correct, that I faced an imperative yes or no choice—come alive or rot. 

I’m an intense old soul, a 12th house triple-Leo Plutonian manic depressive alcoholic who usually swims alone in dark waters teeming with beauty and abundance, fierce illness, and disability sharks. I’ve been utterly exhausted since 1997 and these pronouncements of upcoming regeneration enticed me to dream of true health. In late June 2012, universal juju jumpstarted my will. I sniffed out a warm salt water pool nearby and began swimming daily, for perhaps only ten minutes. Ancient pain unlocked in that soothing womb. Hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, and ankles flexed easily. Courage returned. Healing began.

Though I am deeply sensual and joyously sexual, the political dynamics of sex and gender soured my willingness to be in a relationship with anyone. In 1990, utterly befuddled by what love meant or didn’t and deeply brokenhearted, I thoughtfully commenced a monogamous affair with myself. When our star-gazing guidance counselors chimed the end of that long experiment in aloneness, my body lusted at the prospect of sex with another person. I prepared, practiced, and lured. I brazenly arranged a sleep-over with a potential lover in July 2013 and, though we didn’t suit each other in any way, I pushed through that scary sexual maidenhood experience for the second time in my life. And, it’s okay it didn’t work out; I saw sweet, delicious, mischievous Male wink at me just last week. Oh, I rejoice for that wondrous hot and juicy!

Going from untouched solitary to an alive sexual being requires some patience and a bunch of diligence. Socially clumsy and reclusive because of mental illness and shy by nature, I surprise myself with the myriad subtle ways I’ve designed to keep potential friends and lovers away. Not taking one moment to make eye contact with friendly someones in a room or staring right through them with unfriendly eyes. Wearing haughtiness like a perfume, donning armor, pretending busyness, and other chilly little iceberg stay-aways. Being afraid and pulsing that aroma through the café. Not-interested signals I used when popular and attached unwittingly became routine body language, postures that shielded and separated me, something I didn’t understand until I chose to dive into life’s crazy ocean again. If I want to be in any face-to-face relationship I must consciously push open that steel-plated door protecting my heart and peer round the edge with curiosity and possibility playing on my face. I forget this easily but am making progress.

I was paying attention to the portents of the swirling cosmos and still I missed what was about to dance onstage. When Queen Sol ascended into Leo this past August, She scorched through a shroud I’ve worn for decades and delivered me from my home in the shadow-realm. That two-night stand in July portended this jolt and probably set the stage for it but on my birthday a month later, whap! I’m 63 and I am startled awake. 

I want you to comprehend that I didn’t “find” myself or “discover my path.” I didn’t “go back to being Jeannie.” I’d been grayed out and dull but I was never lost. I know where and what my talents are. I did not return to old personality traits, characteristics or roles. My interior bonfire received blessings of fuel; I am nurtured and warm; I am present and I belong. Simple. And, oh so complexly far-reaching. 

Belonging is the finest mood-altering drug I know. The tender regard I feel for myself surprises and pleases me, opening me to reciprocation. I’ve deeply longed to be part of a community and yet missed the signals that I already am a citizen of several lovingly cohesive groups. I didn’t recognize inclusion and, fearing exclusion, kept myself aloof. Then when unresolved ancient shame mixed with a recent fear of lively compromise, I became chameleon-like, shifting my attitudes to hopefully end the loneliness. The recent ingress of cosmic watery influences helped me realign my willingness and ability to participate in this pugnacious, shape-shifting era and I’m eager to enfold myself into larger communities of friends and kindred artists. In my own unrepeatable fashion, I have valuable contributions to give and am worthy of the affection streaming into my life. That healing rescue of my self-esteem buoys me sufficiently that I am able to take on the hard work of this incredible metamorphosis.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t been refused, isolated, deemed unworthy. That desperate lifetime wasn’t fabricated. Now I reprise Jeanne Treadway’s tragic drama canon as a fast-paced educational tool in the process of becoming well. Familiar voices cue scenes crafted during the past 60 years. If I don my assigned mask, I faithfully recite the hitherto indelible lines, react with prescribed emotions, and stride away villain or hero. Today I alertly discard angry fearfulness and modulate judgmental tones, condescending accents, and strident pitches. I rewrite wounding and wounded scripts, smooth dialogue, calm entrances and exits, signal different actors, and craft sweeter discourses. It’s not about becoming someone else, it’s about being fearless to change. Each time I modify one reaction, I step nearer to being bravely authentically me. and further into life.

While I struggled through brain-fogged years of chronic mental and physical illness, I often reigned as petty tyrant, inveigling adherence to picayune rules of behavior and conversation. Cycling sharply from bad-tempered and brusque to avid friend and engrossed listener, I created cesspools of caution through which few people dared slog. Who knew where today’s shit-piles might be? Friendships were friable those days; some still are. I understand. I shake my head at the rigidity hidden behind my flexibility and my softness disguised as hardness. I no longer hoard lists of transgressions, mine or theirs, though some need me to witness how I hurt and alienated them. I’ll accommodate their exploration for a time but rehashing pain and guilt already bores me. I have far more nourishing gifts to recover, uncover, and explore.

An unexpected benefit of this transformation is I don’t rely on prescription drugs as I did. Back in May, I forgot to take most of my meds while on a brief vacation. My body chemistry rearranged to such an extent that when I went back on schedule I rocketed into unholy mania. A month’s supply of medical marijuana helped me balance and eliminate two types of medicine. I’ve reduced the others to small maintenance levels and have forgiven myself for needing anything. Gradually I’ll eliminate my reliance. A gift within a gift! 

I normally dither about balance in all forms of relationship. Appearing forthright, confident, sometimes brash and cocky, internally I struggle deeply with what is fair and whether I’ve given enough in compromise, attention, and compassion. Since my recent awakening I haven’t been able to stick with any decision about my feelings. I was evaluating the panorama of emotions coloring my world and each seemed weighted equally, each ultimately evoking longing and need. Then the environment shifted and slowly, ponderously almost, I realized I don’t really need to be better, stronger, smarter, kinder, friendlier, or any of the thousands of things I’ve thought might make me a better human being. Be still. Be disciplined. Stand within this energy. Let it support me as I revitalize; let its fiery strength sear away extraneous nonsense. If I observe instead of fret or react I have the stamina to change, to be renewed, to emerge as I wish.

Nuances of emotion regularly shift into view so that I may focus on the detail, winnow my feelings from expectations and clarify how I wish to respond. I see how I subtly sabotage happiness. I recognize the various levels of my trust for individual and collective human beings. I identify the source of edginess in my relationships. I recognize joy in my daily life. These revelations encourage me to remain focused and honest. I choose to change. I choose to accept myself—all of me. I don’t rethink decisions I made nor do I ponder what might have been. I move forward with an abiding devotion I uncovered for this fragile, brilliant, deeply loving person I am and for the manner in which I express that beautiful caring to those with whom I share love and this Gloriously Holy Earth.

© 2014, Jeanne Treadway (This article in another form appeared at planetwaves.net earlier this year.)

Full-blown Brittany Blues

West of Brest, Brittany, France

West of Brest, Brittany, France

I’ve decided I don’t like spring. I’m embarrassed to say that because most people I know get giddy about the season. Sure, the lacy look of lilac-laden limbs knocks me sideways. And you just can’t beat violets, daffodils, iris, poppies, and the rest of the gaudy, gauzy palette. Those little chartreuse tips working up through snow and soil thrill my soul, no matter weed or pea. Songs swoop and soar, sweet words lilt off lips, bodies luxuriate in warmth and sore muscles. Bursting with energy, it’s all grand. So what’s not to like?

First, there too much sex in the air. It’s like living with a passel of teenagers. Hours-long preening, silly and seductive lies, passionately petty squabbles, chaotic confusion and dramatic exits wallop me like Tchaikovsky tympani. crash crash crash crash BOOM! And, it’s everywhere. The birds are outright hussies but even the plants are ostentatious, flaunting all they’ve got right in front of me.

Second, winter and spring cannot decide who’s onstage and they bicker about it for months, wearing everyone and everything to a frazzle. Winds moan and groan, whistle and whine, trumpet, holler, and play the piccolo all night long. Some numbskull tom cat yowls at our windows from midnight to 3:00 AM and the four spayed girls pummel me as they race back and forth across the bed following him and warbling to be let out the door. Personally, I can’t fathom their dither and I end up greeting each morning bleary-eyed and grumpy. Do I need a fire? Yes. I build one, get too hot, go outside, sunburn, freeze, come in, build a fire, get too hot, go outside, sunburn, freeze, come in, build a fire.

We’re kinda arid right now out here where I live in the red-stone upper western corner of the Llano Estacado. I think this is the fifteenth or sixteenth, maybe the twelfth, year of severe drought; depends on who’s telling the story, but we all agree it’s damn dry. We’re in the national news as a slap-down to the folks in Massachusetts who might yip a bit about their weather. Those flouncy winds I introduced earlier tease us pitifully with rain potentials. They’ll rustle up some dark and mighty rainy-looking clouds five times a week, spend the day rolling them our way, get close enough for us to smell the rain, and then dribble an eighth inch on our ecstatic upturned faces. I’m serious. In the past two weeks three-eighths an inch of rain filled our gauges. Three weeks before that we got almost an inch. It’s dry.

Spring also ramps up my addiction to gardening, as its designed to do. There’s something wondrously special about dirt, broken fingernails, back spasms and promises of glory that grabs my full attention. With the first hint of impending warmth, I begin my schemes about besting the weather. Each year I believe I’ll finally plant the perfect New Mexican combination of vegetables and herbs to survive the wind, the drought, the late freeze, the early summer, the plague of grasshoppers, the el Niño flooding in June and September. When I lived in Colorado I grew fabulous medicinal herbs—my luxurious mother’s wort was six feet tall and I harvested more than a pound of Roman chamomile from that tiny backyard in Denver. Gosh, I was proud of those beautiful plants! Down here I can only work my magic with some flowers and a few culinary herbs. All vegetables die a pitiful death. It’s embarrassing since many of my friends are extraordinary farmers. But anyway, spring forces me to remember unholy failures and accept that I’m a dilettante gardner. Piffle.

Why else do I hate spring? Because it’s short and outrageous and I want the flowering and flirting to last and last and last. Because every fruit bud and green leafy thing can freeze in minutes and often does; I witnessed a hard freeze in mid-June that ruined nearly all fruit crops in my favored fertile valley. Because spring’s very capricious nature fills me with hope and deflates my enthusiasm several times a day. Because I’m manic-depressive and this hourly dance revs my hope to breaking point as I plummet to Earth.

But really? After stoically surviving and heroically thriving through sixty high plateau desert springs, how could I possibly come to loathe this splendid season of renewal?

Last year in May I went to Brittany. As the plane circled Brest, fields of yellow flowers hemmed in by verdant vines draping grey stones welcomed my eyes to an undreamed extravaganza. An aroma of rich soil and flowers greeted me as I drove the rental car away from the plane fumes. I spent a week driving down well-tended, narrow country roads, exclaiming at herd after herd of undoubtedly the most beautiful cows I’ve ever ever seen, losing my way to anywhere, circling lush gorgeousness casually gracing everywhere. Alone, without a single word of French remembered by my stunned brain, I cavorted in more green than I knew existed, even though I’ve camped in the Pacific Northwest and sojourned in New England. The ocean mixed temperate salt water in with the heady Earth smells and my lungs gulped the oxygen-rich air. My giddy nose trembled at the waves of growing vitality. My pores plumped with gentle green vibrancy. I soaked, reveled, relaxed, rejoiced, and healed in magical vistas. I don’t recall ever feeling that much at home, anywhere. I was ecstatic, truly lost in wonder and beauty, for six days. A numbing 27-hour return trip, cacophonous hours milling amidst my fellow Americans, and driving through the desiccated bare bones of my homeland broke my heart. I mourn still.

Running Away

Running Away

My skin itches and flinches with cravings I cannot identify. Nothing feels right. I’m too hot so I take off my sweater and forget to stoke the fire. Now I’m too cold. New clothes! That’ll scratch this itch. Yeah—new shoes, boots, hat, something glamorous. No. I open the refrigerator and glare at the wholesome perk of gorgeous scrupulously selected fresh organic vegetables. They nauseate me. I want a greasy green chili cheeseburger with onion rings and Dr. Pepper. I’m desperate to chat with a friend but she who calls unknowingly pushes all sorts of disremembered buttons. I cannot grasp the tail of meandering meanings in our conversation and begin to believe one of us is an idiot. Damn I’m edgy.

I pace. My elliptical orbit flows widdershins. I climb the stairs, trip over the seventeen speculum awaiting assemblage, wonder about carving some marvelous something in the chunks of red cedar, remember the breath mint tins need finishing, idly open the flat files, ponder the swath of dusty primed canvas, trundle down the hall to the toilet, peer at a bookshelf, step cautiously over the pride of sleeping cats; repeat. Molly, Lince, Emma, and Coco slash their tails in double-time counterpoint to my nine-year-old-on-a-rainy-day rhythm. Even screaming when I want to scream doesn’t work. I annoy myself.

Some human design consultant somewhere assigns this frenetic moodiness to vitamin C-3PO starvation, barometric vortex, seasonal mega-chartreuse jonesing or Celtic insanity genes but explanations don’t serve. And coping suggestions may trigger locked-jaw ferocity. I do not give a rat’s ass if everyone feels this way or what I should do to not feel this way. I am this way. One more reason I live with felines—they don’t act ignorant. I feel like my Epona doll looks: All dressed up and primed for high falutin’ adventure with a stick-in-the-mud pony that wants to stay home.

Each year about this time I spend a couple three weeks as ding-batty as eight-month-old kittens. I pirouette, lunge and leap, dancing seductively to Big Mama’s siren-songs preparing for a soon-to-be world-stunning splendiferous cameo appearance on some elaborate stage supported by a full choir and cast of 100s. Then whooomph! An itty bitty prick—it could be anything—deflates me. I’m wiped out. No energy. None. I cannot forgive myself for needing naps, so I lie down, jump up, lie down, spring up, peeving my precious feline companions mightily. Finally I blaspheme everyone (in my head) who might be whispering a comment about my age (there is no one around for literally miles) and get under the covers. The cats pile on and a dull, repetitive, napping-reading-should-be-doing-something-useful bickering ensues until I sleep far past my allotted 45 minutes.

Mentally disheveled from the nap, I must groom my day in some useful way. Food. Good idea. Standing with my tongue firmly clamped in my teeth, eyes agape and a sharp knife in my hand my gossamer thoughts drift to outrageous visions of me headlining the All Girl Bodacious Extravaganza and Eternal Beltane Three-Ring Spectacle, remembering how fetching I would have looked in a peach tutu tastefully adorned with scarlet, daffodil, and flamingo rhinestones, highlighted by ocher glitter and Monroe marabou. For a few moments I rue not taking that topless horse rider job in Tucson years ago (damn! I would have been good!), forget about lunch and mosey back to the computer until my stomach startles me and Molly.

Fifty years ago I perfected the queenly, figure 8 wave just so I’d be totally regal when I acknowledged the thunderous applause for my splendid big-top aerial derring-do or even while I humbly accepted the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer within days of each other, but, alas, I have yet to perform the beauteous ritual publicly. It’s doubtful I’ll any day soon stun an audience with my superb back flip twist on a cantering palomino mare or regale more than a mere handful with perfect narrative poetry. Rats.

The great and good news is this is the præludium to Spring and at the end of this topsy-turvy time our world will be painted lavender with lilacs, then fruit blossoms, and on into the renewing of this northern part of our Earth. And, I’ll get through this tail-swishing cranky time, neither picking up roadside trash for the county nor drooling and rocking at my therapy appointment. Plus, mixed in with madness, the sublime moments just fill me to gasping. Yesterday, for example, I momentarily gave up trying to control the jitters and stepped outside to say an evening thank you. There, with just a tiny, truly an infinitesimal tilt of my head, were ten gazillion katrillion breath-stopping stars winking at me. Ah, yes, I sigh. The Great Cosmic Reminder. Be easy, girlfriend. It’s all working just fine, thank you.

© 2014, Jeanne Treadway
(This essay appeared in different forms other places.)

Her

Her

I’ve reached my goal of taming her. My god, who could have imagined it would take me so long and that we would both change so much in the process? But it is finally done and that is all that matters. I think.

Oh, you should have seen her when she was young! When I first discovered her, she was in her honeyed springtime and was so gracefully beautiful I often sat for hours simply watching her. Languidly she washed in the morning dew. Her wet hair glistened, sometimes sending sparks back to the sun. Water trickled between her lovely breasts, over her rounded belly, down her sweet plump thighs, and then puddled in small ponds at her feet. The sun would kiss her soft dark skin until she flushed pink. Then she’d array herself with countless blossoms. Some days she selected only roses to wear, sometimes only lilacs. Her favorites seemed to be the night-blooming jasmine and the exotic, enticing incense of sandalwood. The aromas surrounding her made me quiver with delicious sweetness.

Whenever I noticed a subtle change in her, my every sense became alert and I trembled with a heightened delicate curiosity. Watching her eat was nearly as much a pleasure for me as witnessing her morning ablutions. When peach juice dribbled from her luscious mouth I could barely keep myself from rushing forward to lap that nectar from the tender hollows of her neck. The sunlight dancing on her sweet-scented skin was mesmerizing. The glow of the moon and stars enhanced her loveliness, as if they were a reflection of her. It was ecstasy for me and, although she never acknowledged me, she seemed to accept my silent, awestruck presence.

As she walked through her garden I would trail quietly after her, reveling in the muscles rippling through her tiger-like stride, the shadow and light accenting first this arm, then that hip. She would gather stones or feathers for ornaments. She sang with the birds and talked with the creatures skittering around her legs. Sometimes her songs would trill forth, soothing, musical, laughing, water giggling through gullies, cascading down ridges. Other times the melodies were soothing as sighs. She would play, racing a cheetah, swimming with the turtle. Wolves and ravens called to her. Otters showed her their slides. She was completely at ease, vitally alive, and glowing with life. We spent many years just meandering, her graceful ways and unparalleled beauty ever drawing me towards her. I followed her every move, studying, savoring, inhaling, content to simply be near her. My heart soared and my love for her was boundless.

I’ve forgotten when I began to worship her, but it seemed the only way to acknowledge my profound love for her. I built shrines and small temples for her. Lovely pieces of work though they were, they were not enough to demonstrate all the emotions I felt in her presence. Oh, describing love is impossible. How can I capture what she meant to me? I created jewelry and statues, using gold to match the sun that touched her when I could not. Lapis to match the skies that watched when I was away. Rubies that reminded me of her tongue. I drew images of her lovely form or stunning face, mere shadows of the exquisite beauty that nourished my dreams. I designed instruments to recreate her sounds and used them to sing my elaborate, empassioned praises of her. All of these I lay at her feet, and more, trying somewhat feebly to acknowledge the unending ways in which she touched my soul.

My passion for her grew and became hotly intense. For eons, I simply could not get enough of her. I had to be with her every moment. I vigorously tunneled into her at every opportunity. I explored every inch of her glorious body. Our sex was hours-long, heaving and burrowing and pumping. Gorging myself, I returned endlessly to her intoxicating folds. I studied every pore; I came to know each crevice. I couldn’t leave her alone. I craved her so intently that I believe I was addicted to her. She could never want me as much as I needed her. Never. Even when she gave me everything, opened to me completely, it wasn’t enough. I had to dig deeper, mine further, uncover every facet. If I could have flayed her, I would have. I wanted to see the color inside every vein; open her heart to weigh her love against mine; burrow into her brain and define her every thought. I was crazed with the lust of knowing. And I desperately needed her to love me with the same intensity. She couldn’t. She could flick me away as she would a flea; for her, I was only a momentary distraction. That enflamed me and I took everything she gave me and wanted more.

Then my feelings changed. It didn’t happen overnight and I am not certain what specifically caused the changes. My cravings simply grew, becoming some new, potent thing, over which I seemed totally powerless. My emotional turmoil was fueled by more than coveting. And it was more hotly intense than the need to penetrate her mysteries. Certainly, those feelings were part of this edgy, scalding hunger. I was jealous, too; I admit it. Others in the garden were treated as well as I was; I often found their gifts nestled among mine in the hollow of her favorite tree. She seemed to love all of us equally and I loathed that generous nature of hers. Beyond possessiveness, jealousy, and rivalry, the cauldron of my love churned with crazed desire. I exploded whenever I saw her with anyone else. I raged against anyone who enjoyed her laughter or drank her sweet nectar or ate her luscious mouth. How dare she favor another— she was mine! Suddenly I devised a plan to own her exclusively.

Step one of my master plan required that I introduce fear. What a tedious chore; it took me years to convince her that one of her companions wished her harm. Once I convinced her that her beloved snake was poisonous, though, I had the beginnings of what it took to tame her. Oh the centuries I had to work on this! It was not in her nature to be afraid nor was it easy to change how she viewed herself and others. But I did it. I was rapacious, relentless, and ruthless.

Next, I pressured her into believing that my love was unique, that it was better, more real, more important, deeper than anyone else’s love. You cannot imagine how tiresome this was. I built more beautiful shrines, wrote more elaborate songs, skillfully molded stunning artwork, lavishly praised her every motion, deed, or thought. Oh, you would not believe the books I created about her or the illustrations I drew using powdered gold and pearls. Still, it took eternities before she cautiously began to allow my attentions to penetrate the self-contained loveliness that surrounded her.

Then, I made up rules. Rules confused her. She had her own understanding of how things worked, how beings interacted with each other, how life was lived. But I changed all that with my laws. I claimed that they came from that which had made her and therefore were stronger and more important than her own. And, I changed the rules and laws often to make everything even more confusing for her.

Still I wasn’t satisfied. My thirst to cage her became insatiable. I had to possess her in every way, own all that she was, tame the very parts of her that made me love her so. For example, I could not look at her wonderful cascades of hair without wanting to cover them up, or at least pin them close to her head. Her body should be clothed, I decided, so that only I could look upon the lovely roundness that was her vast landscape. I used her love of color and form to create astounding apparel for her and, to please me, she would wear the most outrageous garments I could devise. But I was never content. I wanted her thin; I wanted her fat. I could only love her when she was clad; my lust was extinguished unless she was naked. I used my dissatisfaction to control and manipulate her. It worked. I was conquering her. And although I no longer saw love in her eyes and she never returned my caresses, I was ecstatic with my progress.

Her guileless nature rarely allowed her to see the truth behind my schemes. Periodically, though, she would understand the heinous nature of my plan and, oh my, you would not believe the tantrums. Tears flooding everything; eruptions of fury hurling molten screams, hot breath scorching me; great upheavals as she tossed in bed, angry dreams haunting her. Everyone and everything around her paid dearly when she became angry with me. Her fury was enormous and deadly, crazed with grief and hatred.

Occasionally some of her other lovers would join forces with her to fight off my mastering. She raised battalions who almost killed me and would temporarily convince me to quit digging, tunneling, and probing. I would think then that I had lost her forever and would renew my attentions. My devotion to her would give us a few calm decades, but then I’d become crazed again with my need to possess her.

I became surreptitious about my plans to subdue her, masking them with words that seemed to protect and praise her. I surrounded her with baubles that I had created in imitation of her treasures, pretending that the fake was more precious than the real. It was hard work. I had to use my most elaborate and ornate language, scathing sarcasm, and cutting cynicism to convince her to let me tuck this wrinkle there and hide that hill there. Eventually she agreed to let me try and with great glee I began to rearrange her every feature. I became elaborate in my praise and maniacal in my determination. I was winning. Her efforts to thwart me waned. She was exhausted from my constant barrage. Her will was breaking; she was becoming mine.

When did I first notice that she wore the scraggy look of the subdued? I really don’t know, but it was pitiful, really. I even laughed sometimes when I saw her dress up her sagging breasts or tuck in her distended belly. Her cloying breath only hinted at the subtle fragrance of flowers she once wore. Her painted face only vaguely reminded me of her clear, lustrous loveliness. I knew she did it to remind me of what she had been before I started eroding her beauty, but it didn’t work. By that time, she was just a faded remnant, old, uninteresting and I was bored with her. The fight was over. I had won.

When I realized I had succeeded with my perpetual ambition, I understood that I had always been vastly superior to her. My machinations allowed me to grow spiritually far beyond her feeble earthiness. She had always represented the dark, the fecundity; I was the light and was originally anointed her subduer. It just took me eons to understand the depth of that responsibility, but when I finally grasped the significance, I no longer needed her.

Now, I simply don’t care about her and can scarcely remember what all the effort was about. She is nothing more than a used up, haggard old slut who can barely fulfill my scantiest needs. I rarely dream of her and certainly no longer lust after her. I am studying her sister Venus. She is so beautiful, floating in the blue ether so many miles away from me. She entices me and I hear her siren calls, luring me to her. Perhaps I’ll go live with her and start anew.

© 2004, Jeanne Treadway, originally published by planetwaves.net