a year of new songs

August 16 – Birthday

Back to dreaming and remembering dreaming. Have missed that. The dreams are not hyper-insightful, but they are interesting, such as last night’s where I attended a once brother-in-law’s wedding. Neither ex nor BIL were there, but I got along fabulously with his new husband, and the party atmosphere was just my vibe… colorful and inventive pastries, champagne and dancing. The feeling was: I’d gotten the day off work as a surprise, then found myself in the midst of a bright celebration.

It’s amazing I can take one group of memories—this person whose wedding it was and I were similar in some ways, and I thought we would get along beautifully forever—and weave that seamlessly into a time where he likely thinks ill of me and doesn’t have my interests at heart. Still, there feels no contradiction. It’s easier for most people to be that way, to choose their loyalties and stick to them. I don’t blame him, but sometimes wish I could… blame everyone who rejects me. I want to hold grudges and not understand where they’re coming from, but just can’t quite. 🙂

The saddest of all phrases, “what might have been.”

It’s a good thing I’m melancholy in general, and can almost enjoy the imagination that comes with regret. Who can say what actually might have been; if not one thing there could have been another. Perhaps I chose exactly well, but may never know. Perhaps I will one day find myself so blissfully happy that it will put all pain and heartache into new perspective, like the experiences of having children, where one accepts even the hard toll on their body and even lessening of years, for the reality of love they come face to face with.

It’s nice to receive birthday messages this morning too, although there’s something hollow in a few, where they feel less familiar than they should, a little like the birthday messages one receives from the dentist or ophthalmologist. I’m reminded that humans try to hold on too long sometimes, try to pretend their favorite very show is still ongoing (Better Call Saul finished last night, with a worthy ending). This doesn’t really seem avoidable, but I think we can, with intention, loosen our hold and let the components of memories and wishes fly out of the contexts we fix them in, let them land in new places, shapes, and times.

Let this be a year of new songs!


I’ve long been drawn to the biblical story of Mary and Martha, especially contrasting the characters’ modes of being. I think of myself as having strong Mary tendencies–admiring Martha-type industriousness but not striving toward it, so I can set everything aside when the right moment arrives.

But, many who know me in daily life would see me as more of a Martha. 🙂

The two came to mind because with sudden urgency I went plundering a decade of emails last night, looking for my Buddhist refuge name; I’d shared it with one friend. I’ve newly taken on practices more comfortable than any in ages, so it seemed right to search for ‘my name’ as a locator…part of a set of coordinates, if you will.

I’m turning 52.

When I took refuge, now 12 years ago, my name was written on a small card I then promptly lost. The meaning of the name was written on the card as well, which I couldn’t read and was too shy to ask about.

Thankfully, although I couldn’t find it, my friend could. 🙂

It’s a funny name really; it’s visual representation would be something like this:

One note I happened upon when searching, was regarded the Mary and Martha story. In it, the same wise friend shared the sensibility that we’re both Mary and Martha at different times in our lives, or, he said, “More accurately, we are always both Mary and Martha.”

They may be presented as a contrast, but are not truly in competition.

I didn’t see this simple truth when first given this name, I felt I had to not place too much importance on what I thought of as the trappings of what I was embarking on. Perhaps I was untrusting of myself, suspicious of falling into cult-like behaviors. Praise from elders and connection within groups is a deep longing for those who yearn for family, and the idea of available love can be very seductive.

Certainly true for me.

Even so, ultimately I had a hard time ‘obeying’.

[In a a vivid dream of walking down a busy highway with Jesus, I
turned to ‘evangelize’ to a group of ‘unsaved’ people my age,
Jesus didn’t. When I noticed and looked back, he
was still walking, so I abandoned course and jogged to catch up
with him instead. It took me weeks to come to the conclusion
that I had to question, even go against,
what my church was urging. I’d prided myself then, as many seem to now,
on being willing to go so far as to embarrass myself ‘for my faith’.
Many can recognize this when they see it from others,
especially in political buffoonery, but don’t most
religions have some version of killing ego? ]

Thank Goodness. My rebelliousness, what my ex-husband called my feralness, won out. Perhaps the lama could see that as the case? I like to think now, that he picked up on an underlying ferocious beneath a more gentle exterior when he chose the name. 😉

“Emptiness and appearance do not negate each other. Just like a rainbow
can appear, but doesn’t have to have truly existing entity. Knowing this
true nature of all phenomenon is the darshan of Manjushri.”
-Dzongzar Kyentse Rinpoche

I described to my therapist the feeling when, after waiting and waiting, with many buses stopping and going, a bus finally approaches that seems to be your bus. The numbers are fuzzy but there are the right number of digits, then those digits slowly take shape. It’s within this context that I’m willing and happy to take on more structured practices now. It isn’t performative, and if it’s just for a time again, that’s okay.

Speaking of names (I’ve mentioned this before), I work across the street from the bus stop a boyfriend wrote as the setting in ‘our song’. The lyrics describe our second meeting, two years before we became involved–a very long time when young: “Won’t you be my friend, and tell me, what’s your name? Won’t you be my friend, don’t turn and walk away. Won’t you be my friend, believe me when I say, I have hopes that some day we’ll meet again.”

He was a lovely person, and although the relationship lasted a blink, the bus stop is a daily reminder to me that auspicious timing is worth waiting for, and names can be like signs over the doorposts of life chapters. When I later met my (now ex) husband, I asked him jokingly “Don’t you know who I am?” He startled, believing I might be someone ‘important’, which indeed I became to him.

So many worlds in play, none of them ‘me’,
Who may be sitting in a garden somewhere,
Under a tree.

Another favorite bus stop song:

High Volume

Waking while dreaming another family related dream. Why now? This time I was visiting my sister and her husband. I arrived wearing clothing very far from my wheelhouse: white faux fur coat, boots, and perfectly curled high-volume hair. I was greeted very warmly by them… except that everything I touched had to be erased right as I touched it, so that my mother wouldn’t have any idea I’d been there or that they’d treated me nicely. When I mentioned something about this, as my nephew handled something I’d either given him or was mine (not sure), my sister behaved as though it was very offensive to point out the obvious.

I love the way dreams spell out true things, things one knows but isn’t saying. In this case how I was welcomed by my family as long as I played along, as long as I behaved as a polite outsider without stakes in anyone speaking in truthful ways about past, present, or future. It was often the case that I’d let my mother tell blatantly unreal stories that painted herself in a bright motherly light, only saying sometimes to my sister on the side, “It really didn’t happen that way.”

I always knew the price for not doing so. And I guess I always knew there would come a day when I would push back, when the cost for not doing so was too high. This happened when my grandfather died, years after my marriage falling apart, and I considered moving closer to them. I knew we’d either have to forge more honest balances, or that she’d be ‘done with me’ the first time I didn’t play along, which I could only do as a visitor, not as someone living nearby, interacting every day, being interdependent with them.

“I”m right there in the room and no one even acknowledges me.”

We know what occurred, which is the ‘done with me’ part, but the part I’m still working through is the role my sister played. I had my sister on a pedestal, I think, as someone who played the needed games better than I did, but who would eventually be my ‘surviving’ family. I saw her as the more resilient one, the more strategic one, but as someone who, having been through so much as a child, realized I was there for ‘all that’ too. I learned through this that she was quite happy to be the only child left standing in our mother’s life. Whether anger toward me was in service of the necessity of rejecting me, or its own thing, I’m not sure.

It’s quite a story really… out of five marriages and five children, the only one left for my mother is my sister, playing these games together, doing what’s needed to get what’s wanted. I can’t articulate the money part; it’s a big, but not the main, factor.

I don’t feel upset by all this on a daily basis now. I have thoughts that pass by and I think something along the lines that it would have been so beautiful to have figured out the balances… to have been valued and loved enough to have included as someone worthy of having their voice and stories heard, their real presence around, etc. I wonder about my niece and nephews, wonder if my sister or mother ever wonder about my kids, who they knew and pretended to love for decades. I wonder if I should feel badly for my kids not having the kind of family around them others have, or whether they are fortunate not to be entangled.

Again, as with my in-laws, I chose reality, and it didn’t go well for me.

But then again, it did. Eggshells are scarce, my health is a lot better, and so many things about who I am being are more okay.

I think the dream is saying that these patterns are still there, although I don’t feel them, and that they are working themselves out on their own. As long as I don’t suppress them, I think they’ll gently move their way through, allowing me to relax even places I don’t experience as tense and knotted. This will further help my health, further allow my energies to flow where they are welcomed and needed.

When these kinds of knots let go, one thing I’ve found happens is that I can see farther into what occurred and/or is occurring. I can see back into choices I made to counter one type of longing with another, one type of belief system or influence with either its opposite or complimentary. I am not a mastermind, as evidenced by the way these schemes didn’t work out ultimately, but when I think about what I was saying to my family by my choices, because I couldn’t be honest with my words, there was a lot of rejection of their ways. I was always finding ways to opt-out of their thinking, without expressly saying so. I was always introducing ‘other’ ways to see and do things. I raised my kids differently, without corporal punishment, etc.

This was actually my way of staying in their lives.

Is this why I was so dressed up? Was that how they saw me, coming in as a fancy outsider? I usually downplayed things so as not to trigger those accusations, back then, but I guess here I am myself, playful and “high volume” whether they give permission or not.

The wonderful thing is that the more these underground tensions release, the wider the sky seems to be, too. These are gentle shifts and explorations, not bothersome. When I woke this morning I said aloud, “Why still these dreams?” It felt like I was bored by them, rather than hurt by them.

I’m just not finding this carousel particularly interesting anymore.

Found this sweet image searching google when at the end of writing this post the phrase “big hair don’t care” popped into mind.

How fun! 🙂

The Absurdist

Various components of the absurd are discussed in the academic literature and different theorists frequently concentrate their definition and research on different components. On the practical level, the conflict underlying the absurd is characterized by the individual’s struggle to find meaning in a meaningless world. The theoretical component, on the other hand, emphasizes more the epistemic inability of reason to penetrate and understand reality. Traditionally, the conflict is characterized as a collision between an internal component, belonging to human nature, and an external component, belonging to the nature of the world. However, some later theorists have suggested that both components may be internal: the capacity to see through the arbitrariness of any ultimate purpose, on the one hand, and the incapacity to stop caring about such purposes, on the other hand. Certain accounts also involve a metacognitive component by holding that an awareness of the conflict is necessary for the absurd to arise. [Wikipedia]

Absurdist is the way I’ve been describing myself these days, because when pressed to give an answer for anything, especially anything that could be called a belief, that answer usually has a lot of space around it, and a dozen or more qualifiers. I’m way more full of possibilities for what could be wrong in what I’m saying or ways I might fail to be right–way more loopholes than formulas.

Since everything is but an illusion,
Perfect in being what it is,
Having nothing to do with good or bad,
Acceptance or rejection,
One might as well burst out laughing!


For instance it is often tricky to talk about my spirituality with anyone not so inclined, because well, I’m rather devout, while not having beliefs per se, while also totally and entirely buying in! Do I believe in deities? Well no, except yes absolutely, just not as separate beings; I don’t believe in beings at all for that matter, and am entirely committed to them. There’s just so much like this, and I’m so aware of what it must sound like and seem, which means there’s almost always an irreverent mischief beneath the surface.

W.H. Auden captured so much when he wrote “We are here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for, I don’t know.”

Psychological Doomscrolling

I may be toward the end of this stint in therapy. It’s a little hard to tell because, when doesn’t one need to feel heard? When doesn’t one need to hear themselves more clearly? But, I also don’t want to always be examining tendencies and unraveling patterns. There are times to just cut through.

I was lightly startled awake a few weeks ago, when a conversation with my son turned nostalgic and he said, “Mom, I’m sorry but you’re talking to me like your therapist.” Which may sound mean, but isn’t in our context actually, because he knows I like to catch myself. It was a gentle nudge, a loving “Look and see.”

There’s still such a strong tendency in me, to believe that if I can just draw out a clear enough map to how we got ‘here’, it would be possible to make a convincing case for fixing <insert issue>, re-writing the script. Especially, I want to own my own part of things, as though if sufficiently aware and remorseful, the previous possible timeline I’d envisioned many moons ago would be available again. It seems a relic of childhood experience, where a child makes their parent feel better and then is allowed to go to the party, or have the thing. As an adult, however, I’m not willing to be bought in this way. I want to be truthful, and I want others to be truthful, just as my son was in this instance.

Rather than feeling slighted or dismissed by him, I felt thankful. In that moment I recognized a false idea I’d been carrying around, that my grown kids still need me to re-explain where things went awry between their parents. Each is going to have different interpretations, and when they ask, I’ll be happy to attempt to answer. I just don’t need to keep figuring it out. Figuring out can largely go on without me because it isn’t as though their dad is asking those questions or having these discussions with us. It isn’t as though I need to write a book about family dynamics, etc.

Would I love to be able to articulate my “side of things” once and for all? Who wouldn’t! But is that what’s happening in therapy? Not really. And actually I’m always learning, so my impression of what have helped or could have been different, is always being revised. The big things are pretty obvious, and although their effects can still pop up, catch me off guard, recovery is usually swift. As a friend would say, I do bounce!

Therapy is my eye in the storm, but the storm is rather predictable now. I have more supplies and a steadier plan. My therapist is a lovely woman I can imagine being a good friend with outside of the therapy context, who often shows acceptance I couldn’t find from either the family I was born into, or the one I married into, and who takes my side. She also catches me mid self-condemnation and exaggeration–psychological doomscrolling–to ask “But is that true?” “Is that really your fault?” “Could you have foreseen that?”

Does it help to doomscroll? What good can come of this?

The first therapist I went to see, in about 1994, ending one session asking me to consider why I think everything is my fault. I dismissed her question out of hand because I reasoned, “What good does it do to see the situation as someone else’s fault?” I couldn’t change or convince anyone, also didn’t want to … didn’t want to manipulate the way I’d been manipulated. But her question stayed with me, and would come up at the oddest times until I had to pay attention. She was right that I leaned that way and was willing to absorb blame just to have peace. She was right that I found it hard to trust others to do the work of self-reflection as well. My current therapist is also right that the tendency has remained, even with so much more space around it.

That being so, it might be time for a more surgical strategy.

Just the greeting, just the wonder

I feel as though I’ve been in some awkward spiritual state for a while now, missing highs and lows present in most of the rest of my micro-lifetimes. Mainly, it is a certain synchronistic flow that has so often seemed ‘me’ I’ve had to get used to not being as strong nor obvious. Perhaps trust means looking for that less and less, not contriving nor contorting, just allowing that strong sense of ‘spiritual me’ to fade even more.

In favor of?

Sense of wonder about the world? Yes, that’s here. I’ve spent the last few days gazing at the astounding Webb Telescope images, leaning into unknowing. The practice is not to disconnect that sense of wonder with the greeting of everyday life, or just to see how that is so.

Just the greeting, just the wonder.

How to be Estranged

I came to the end today. Two years and eight hundred pages since starting the journal I titled How to be Estranged when reeling from my grandfather’s death and my mother’s overdue abandonment. I love the way I’ve written this, including for the first time photos and more creative writings with the worries of the day, dreams of the night.

My first entry was a dream:

Covid. July. 2020.

A small, quite ridiculous creature appears uninvited; there is no door. It has a large mouth which, as one looks, gets bigger and bigger, revealing more and more sharp menacing teeth. Its already small eyes are quickly hidden. Lurching out from beside, clasping its own mouth over the creature’s, my even smaller, yet fiercely loyal protector, breaks the spell.

The dangers of our times are absurd. Could the antidotes be simple?

My last entry is this image from the JWST:


No words.


A work friend’s family was in attendance at the Chicago parade, two parents and two very young children, huddled together with strangers in the stock room of a nearby store for 2 hours while the shooter was still on the loose. How terrifying. She seemed okay, grateful, and relieved the store was slow so we had some time to talk about it.

Everything to say about the US right now is too obvious, but I find it comforting to directly communicate with people, check in, temper feelings of isolation. This is the heart of why I think I panic when faced with the prospect of not being able to do what I’m doing. There’s a bittersweet flavor. I’ve been fortunate to encounter such wonderful people, also to have had busy hands and attention during a time when without it I might sink into social media and despair.

I tried really hard today, to connect with a young man who has worked in the store for just a few weeks. I just can’t seem to make a connection, which concerns me because he is like this with everyone. When asked what he’s interested in, nothing; what he wants to study, nothing. He doesn’t engage. He quietly does his tasks, but doesn’t feel as much there as others do.

I may have been projecting too much onto him because of so many young disconnected men in the news, but it seems right to be a source of warmth, lightness, in whatever ways I can.

degrees of freedom

The world is perceived as an apparent objective reality
when the mind is externalized,
thereby abandoning its identity with the Self.
When the world is thus perceived
the true nature of the Self is not revealed:
conversely, when the Self is realized the world ceases
to appear as an objective reality.

-Ramana Maharashi | Indian sage

Fourth of July. Writing from bed because my back insists I not willpower my body into working the way others work, pushing the way others push. I didn’t do anything to injure myself; it was a simple day. Yet, by the fourth hour standing tears were breaking through–not even from the pain itself, but from my imagining dire consequences around not being able to continue, as though I’ve always done this, every day, rather than part time for the last three years. Although I’ve been considering a new role or change, I want to do so on my own terms this time.

A tendency toward catastrophizing, on the flip side generalizes personal experiences and puzzles as having much larger implications in the wider world. Yes, the personal is political, but the range can reach delusional degrees. “If I forgave my mother, would the threat of US fascism retreat?”

I am “always trying to save the world”, my grandfather would say, not as a compliment. But how can there be a difference between self-preservation and preserving one’s world? A sudden memory of him sometimes surprises me, like the day we walked around property he owned in Georgia, showing me what he intended I someday inherit. There were deer tracks running through the land, which I’d never seen before then, and I immediately began visioning out plans for the space. Excitedly, I told my mother that I would open a home for unwed mothers there. He changed his mind, of course. I wasn’t thinking of property values or neighbors. I was young. When he did pass away a few years ago now, the property he left came with lots of strings attached.

Someone I dated a few years ago:

[Him] You give money to causes and campaigns? I’d rather drive a nice car
[Me] I’d rather drive a crappy car and live in a nicer world...

I’ve doubted this tendency lately, have been suspicious of trying to be good, questioning my deeper intentions. But my therapist says that’s the product of looking to adults for love and validation, yet receiving criticism. If intention isn’t pure, that still doesn’t mean one should not follow a generous inclination. Questioning intentions can lead to greater sincerity.

Building on that, I’ve come to realize that there is nothing wrong with striving for excellence, or even goodness, but to expect perfection is to deny the very nature of our evolving humanity, of openness, of further possibility. It is to become critical, flaw-minded in a negative sense rather than a wabi-sabi appreciative one. One mustn’t turn on themself, abandon themself, even if that’s been modeled.

I remember being a little concerned that the Zen aesthetic I was drawn to could feed into perfectionistic propensities, once I recognized them. I felt thankful to see the opposite occur.

Although as a teen I developed intense stubbornness to show how little I could need or be hurt by someone withholding ‘things’ (by the time I left home at 18, my bedroom and closet were already nearly bare). I’m not afraid of having things, now, and don’t give away everything that comes to me. Back then, that space had been the only space I thought of as my own, and felt most powerful when it was empty.

That was then. Lately when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, instead of shopping online, I make donations. There isn’t much I can do, but it feels good to try, and generates hope in a time in which it’s deeply important to be hopeful. Last night I happened upon a women/youth shelter, which linked into the memory of my early intentions well. The feeling of finding that shelter was is: closure. I can validate that early yearning and imagining toward saving my world, myself.

It’s difficult to describe how Buddhism helped me come into healthier distinctions, but I think in part it has to do with tantra, and the way one can experience so much on the level of intention and imagination. There is so much to love and appreciate across such an unfathomable range of possibility! There is so much space in things, after all, and so little is actually hindered in the ways I might conceive of when forgetful-of-true-nature.

As for my weak back, and the work that requires a strong one, I don’t know. I find myself writing and dreaming about, my family-of-origin more. Could it be that just as I feel safer having things, it feels safer to tell my stories, too?

P.S. The Maharshi quote at the top of this post came to me via a note Andrew Holocek sends out each night for those subscribed. I’ve only been receiving these for a few days, but it’s a lovely way to signal winding down for the night in a dreamy-minded way. https://nightclub.andrewholecek.com/

flying under

A wee-small-hours of the morning dream stayed with me throughout the day, which is unusual on a work day, when I generally shift into such an entirely different gear so as to forget almost everything else. Often before work I sit in my car for a small meditation, hold an intention to bring that energy into rest of my time, only to blink and be right back in my car, several hours having passed in a blur. So I’m not sure why this dream is so potent, but it may be its great vibe… a weirdly optimistic Bladerunner aesthetic.

There were street markets and hidden gathering places. People were generally poor, but a sense of community was present, and life didn’t feel unsafe outside of a vague sense of surveillance far away. It felt like some idealistic vision had been realized, an alternate timeline that was missing greed, somehow. No one was showing off for one another at all.

What I remember most strongly, and what kept coming up all day, was the sensation of flying in a car driven by a friend, and the seamless transition between driving on a road into flying. Who this friend was keeps changing in my recollection, but the way she told me we were only able to get away with flying the car at the height we were flying, as the way to access places we were going, remains vivid. I looked up when she said this, to see another layer of the daytime sky I hadn’t been aware of before, and a globe-shaped vehicle traveling through that space.

As I mused with the dream earlier I realized, “Ah, we were flying under the radar!” And I thought of Bob Dylan’s line “To live above the law you must be honest.” Interesting associations, but there may be more to consider.

After all, here I am, writing about it now, shaking it for further treasure.